The Dodge Intrepid, all new in 1998, is one of the styling successes of the decade from a company better known for its trucks than its cars.

The pout of its sharp-edged nose gives it an aggressive stance that carries through to a chopped-off tail. The steep slope of its windshield and the long arc of its roofline are graceful as well as aerodynamically efficient.

Most of all, its radical cab-forward styling, in which the base of the windshield has been moved forward almost to the centerline of the front wheels, makes room for a cavernous interior that will accommodate five people with ease. While the Intrepid and its siblings, the Chrysler Concorde, LHS and 300M, share the same basic chassis and body structure, the Dodge is more chiseled and bold.

Even after three years it looks fresh and vigorous. Dodge has continued to tweak and update it. This year, in a move to hold prices, the sporty ES model is available with the smaller 2.7-liter V6 and AutoStick transmission. This engine is exceptionally smooth and efficient. It has 202 horsepower and 198 lb.ft. of torque.

The larger 3.2-liter engine is optional, and that is how the test car was equipped. It puts out 225 horsepower and 225 lb.ft. of torque, which is the force that actually moves the vehicle. Consequently, the larger engine pulls up hills easier and makes passes quicker.

Before long, a higher-performance Intrepid R/T will be offered with a slightly detuned, 240-horsepower version of the 3.5-liter engine found in the 300M. AutoStick is an automatic transmission that can be shifted manually by nudging the gear lever from side to side when it is pulled all the way to the back of the shift gate. Ninety percent of the time, most drivers will not use this feature. When the mood strikes and the road turns curvy, it adds an element of fun and control.

It's not often a car with a 113-inch wheelbase feels as nimble as this one, but the ES' suspension is designed to deliver accurate and predictable responses to input from the driver. Let's say you decide to get off the freeway at the last minute and hit the exit a bit faster than you would like. Although the car may feel a bit nose-heavy initially, it quickly takes a firm set and drives through the turn with confidence. Its ride is satisfyingly firm yet flexible enough to soak up bumps and rough pavement.

On the highway, wind and engine noise are not intrusive, but a fair amount of tire noise does make its way into the cabin.

One of the Intrepid's main strengths is the generous amount of space that is packaged inside. It can easily accommodate tall, large people. Back-seat legroom is better than most of the cars in this segment.

A nice feature of the ES is a split-folding rear seat with cupholders built into the center armrest. With the seat down, the already spacious trunk can hold considerable cargo.

While some critics don't like the look and feel of the plasti c used for the instrument panel, I find it attractive and pleasant. Some sections are covered with a soft, leatherlike material, while the lower half of the dash and part of the console is covered with a cross-hatch pattern that adds texture.

The ES' gauges have Euro-inspired, white faces with black numbers. At night, the colors reverse to make viewing easier on the eyes.

The center console has a storage compartment, ash tray and cupholders that fold out from the armrest.

If you need room to haul a big family and want to do so in a sporty sedan that has exceptional style and above-average agility, the Intrepid ES is a fine choice.

The car I drove had a base price of $22,085. It was equipped with automatic climate control, an AM/FM/CD player that stores four discs in a single slot, a 240-watt amplifier and nine speakers, built-in garage-door opener, trip computer, power drive and passenger seats and leather upholstery.

The sticker pr e was $26,480.

Three years or 36,000 miles.

Point: The smaller 2.7-liter engine is offered for the first time on the ES, which helps hold the price.

Handsome styling, responsive styling and room for five (with their golf clubs) make the Intrepid ES a good choice for buyers who want high style, front-wheel drive and a reasonable price.

Counterpoint: It's hard to judge the parameters of the low, pointed nose, and that complicates pulling into parking spaces and garages.

More sound deadening would help make the cabin quieter at highway speeds.

ENGINE: 3.2-liter V6
TRANSMISSION: automatic transmission
CONFIGURATION: front-wheel drive
WHEELBASE: 113 inches
CURB WEIGHT: 3,489 lbs.
BASE PRICE: $22,085
MPG RATING: 19 city, 28 hwy.