Dodge Stratus is the performance cousin of Chrysler Cirrus.

Cirrus wingtips, Stratus loafers. Cirrus bottled water, Stratus tap.

Cirrus and Stratus, to be joined next year by the Plymouth Breeze, are themembers of Chrysler's compact sedan family, the replacements for the DodgeSpirit and Plymouth Acclaim.

Cirrus and Stratus are to Chrysler what Ford Contour and Mercury Mystiqueare to Ford Motor Co., compacts dressed in aerodynamic duds rather thaneconoboxes on wheels.

We tested the 1996 Stratus ES. No complaints about power from the2.5-liter, 155-h.p., 24-valve, V-6 but it is a Mitsubishi engine and not aChrysler V-6. Any company boasting engineering prowess must blush when forcedto offer another company's V-6.

Chrysler has toyed with offering its 3-liter, V-6 in Stratus, but might bewaiting until 1998 and the arrival of its 2.7-liter, V-6 to be built inKenosha as the in-house V-6 in Stratus and Cirrus.

The 2.5 has some kick to it, but Stratus is primarily a compact economy carthat delivers 20 miles per gallon city/28 m.p.g. highway with 4-speedautomatic.

The Stratus ES starts at $16,110 and for the price offers a lot ofequipment such as power brakes and steering, power windows/mirrors/door locks,air conditioning, tinted glass, AM/FM stereo with clock, speed control,rear-window defroster, rear-door child safety locks, folding rear seat (a pullhandle in the trunk lets you release the seat back from outside the cabin),floor mats, remote decklid release, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, poweroutlet, dual cupholders in the center console with the one on the driver'sside suited for cups with handles and a rear-seat cupholder for round cups orrectangular juice boxes, stainless steel exhaust, fog lights and bodysidemoldings in addition to dual air bags and ABS.

The 2.5-liter engine, however, is a $1,250 option, perhaps at such a stiffprice because it's bought from Mitsubishi, and the 4-speed automatic runs$825.

Noteworthy features include the battery hidden under the front fenderbecause there's no room under the hood (an under-the-hood connection, however,allows for a battery jump); a rather cavernous trunk; rich-looking cloth seatpatterns; 15-inch road-gripping touring tires, and what may be thebest-looking sports aluminum wheel in the industry, more attractive than onsports cars at three times the price of Stratus.

But there are drawbacks. They include a heavy hood served by a metal proprod, tight rear seat headroom unless you lean back and push your legs forward,and unavailability of traction control.

The biggest complaint, however, is about the seats. To say they are stiffwould be an understatement. Granite is more forgiving. The seat backs havelittle play in them and long-distance travel in this sedan would be torturous.A redesign is needed--quickly.