The depth and breadth of Chrysler's comeback is nothing less than stunning.

First Chrysler launched the new Jeep Grand Cherokee in 1992. Then in 1993 came the award-winning LH mid-size sports sedans, the Eagle Vision, Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid. Last year Dodge launched the bold-looking Ram pickup and the Dodge/Plymouth Neon subcompact. All have become hot sellers for Chrysler.

An automaker is lucky to have one or two world-class vehicles in its arsenal. Chrysler seems to add one about every six months.

The latest entry in Chrysler's long hit parade is a sporty mid-size number called the Cirrus. This sedan is Chrysler's attempt to build a car that will compete with the Ford Contour/ Mercury Mystique, Honda Accord, Mazda 626 and several other premium Japanese sedans.

In one week I logged 411 miles in our test Cirrus LX. In that time I became convinced that the new Cirrus has the potential to give Ford, Honda and everyone else a serious run for the money in the mid-size market.

The import-oriented Cirrus is a refined, well-built, fun-to-drive, user-friendly vehicle that delivers outstanding value for the money.

It just may be the best, most-balanced car in the Chrysler lineup.

Note: Chrysler also offers a less-expensive version of the Cirrus called the Dodge Stratus. The Stratus is essentially the same car, but the base model comes with a smaller engine and fewer luxury features.


The Cirrus comes in two models, the LX and the more luxurious LXi.

Both cars are powered by a 2.5-liter, 24-valve Mitsubishi-built V-6 engine that makes 164 horsepower. It's linked to a computer-controlled four-speed automatic; in fact, you can't buy the Cirrus with a manual transmission.

The Dodge Stratus, however, can be ordered with a stick shift. But if you want a manual gearbox, you'll have to settle for a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine.

Generally, I found the Cirrus with the V-6 and automatic to be a potent and pleasing drivetrain. There is one area in which it can be improved, however.

When you accelerate quickly, the engine growls harshly. Such a ruckus seems out of character for a Mitsubishi engine, and it's the only thing about the Cirrus that I would say needs immediate attention.

On the positive side, once you reach cruising speed the engine hushes up and is no more obtrusive than normal. Despite some loud noises, the engine runs smoothly.

The transmission, Chrysler says, is one of a new breed that has the ability to learn the habits and style of the driver, and shift accordingly. For instance, if you drive with a heavy foot, the transmission will shift a bit later to give the car quicker acceleration. This may be so, but the transmission always seemed to shift at the same time. In any case the shifts were excellent.

One of the car's most endearing traits is the way it leaps into motion from a stop. The Cirrus delivers crisp, responsi ve performance at low speeds. It feels much like a Toyota Camry.

Fuel mileage was excellent. Our test car delivered 23 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway.


I've noticed a couple common traits in the new Chrysler vehicles I've tested. For instance, in the LH cars and Neon, you can hear the suspension system going through the motions as each car rolls over bumps, and noise from rough pavement makes a roaring sound inside each car.

I expected the same in the Cirrus, but Chrysler engineers have taken the Cirrus to the next level.

There are no untoward noises from the suspension system in this car. In looking at the specifications, I see that the suspension systems in the LH cars and the Neon rely on struts (shocks, basically) to absorb most of the energy from bumps. The Cirrus uses a series of arms and springs as well as shocks.

The difference: The Cirrus is by far the most refined-riding automobile ever to roll out of a Chrysler f ctory.

The Cirrus is sporty, stable, easy to steer and able to take a bump without much of the noise, vibration and harshness of the suspension system working its way into the interior.

The highest compliment I can pay the Cirrus is to say that it is very Toyota-like in its road manners. I say that because I believe Toyota makes the best-engineered and best-assembled cars money can buy.

You notice the Cirrus is unlike any other Chrysler the minute you make your first turn. There's a natural balance and smoothness in the suspension system that conveys to me first-rate engineering and manufacturing.

Not only that, but the Cirrus has a solid feeling to it that I can't remember experiencing to the same degree in another Chrysler car.

The power-assisted steering is a rack-and-pinion unit that is speed sensitive, meaning that the effort it takes to turn the wheel varies with the speed of the car. When parking, you'll notice that it takes slightly less strength to turn the steering wheel than it does when you round a tight corner at 35 mph.

Our dark red test car came outfitted with power-assisted front disc and rear drum brakes. An anti-lock system is standard. These brakes are powerful, maybe the best you can buy on anything other than a BMW sports sedan.

I drove the test car over a variety of roads and in a pounding rain storm. The car has a habit of holding the road tenaciously in all sorts of maneuvers.

In short, if you like the way a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry rides and drives, you'll love the Cirrus. It has a tight, import feel to it over the road.


Even though handling and the performance are two strong points for the Cirrus, it's really the interior where Chrysler engineers and designers have turned in their best work to date.

From its smoothly contoured dash to its comfortable seats and exemplary room, the Cirrus comes up a winner no matter what other car you compare it with in its class.

The Cirrus is aimed directly at those buyers who like the design and layout of sporty imported family sedans.

Up front, the Cirrus comes with two nicely styled bucket seats that are divided by a console-mounted floor shifter. The rear bench seat can be folded forward to allow access to the trunk. At first the seats felt a bit firm, but they proved to be extremely comfortable, and they supported my lower back well.

I can't recall a car this size that offers so much leg and head room in the rear seat. A six-footer can sit in the back and be perfectly comfortable.

The curved, one-piece dash houses attractive, cleanly styled analog gauges. The design, arrangement and feel of the switches and buttons are the best I've seen yet in a Chrysler vehicle.

When you press down the windshield wiper switch, you can't help but notice its solid feel. The four cruise control buttons on the steering wheel take a minimal amount of effort to operate. Kudos a lso for the nice feel of the headlight switch and the rotary air-conditioning controls.

Forward visibility is another strong point. The Cirrus has a big windshield with thin pillars on either side. The hood slopes down gently.

Chrysler has outfitted the Cirrus with a full complement of standard safety features, including dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, side-impact protection, adjustable seat belts and crumple zones.

Our test car offered excellent value. In addition to the V-6 engine and automatic, the Cirrus came with radio-controlled door locks, power windows and mirrors, rear defroster, automatic headlights and a powerful Infinity AM/FM radio and CD player.

There are few cars you can get with this much equipment for$18,000 and change. A comparable Camry or Accord is at least $5,000 more.

Once Chrysler engineers figure out a way to keep the engine noise from distracting the driver, the Cirrus will have all it needs to take on the best cars in its class- nd win.

Truett's tip: Chrysler's sporty V-6-powered Cirrus sedan delivers excellent performance, crisp handling, loads of equipment, ample room and class-leading style for a price few competitive cars can match.