The Concorde Limited is one of the more pleasant surprises so far of the summer. We called Chrysler a few weeks ago, hoping to get back into a 300M for the first time in several years, and wound up with the Concorde as a prelude.

The 2002 Limited is essentially last year's LHS, with several nice tweaks, including a freshened cabin. The base model is priced from just over $28,000; our test model came in at $31,340.

Perhaps the best thing about the front-wheel-drive Concorde -- and big domestic sedans of its ilk -- is that the imports don't make anything quite like it.

He: The Concorde Limited is an awful lot of car for $30,000. You get a full-size four-door with a 113-inch wheelbase, enough interior space for five adults and a cavernous trunk that looks like it could swallow one of those Japanese microcars.

She: At first, I was kind of miffed that when we took the Concorde Limited to Casino Windsor, I ended up in the back seat with my mother. You and my dad got to hog the front seats. What are the sociological implications of that? All of a sudden, I felt like I was 5 years old again. Never mind, don't answer. It gave me and Mama a real good feel for what goes on back there. And it's not always pretty.

He: That's what you get for telling me "OK, you be the man this time." That always confuses me. But maybe that's what you meant. I thought the rear seat was really roomy. But that tall parcel shelf bugs me. It blocks your rearward vision and makes backing out of a parking space a real adventure.

She: You didn't let me finish. The Concorde's beautiful styling, with the slightest hint of a wedge shape that rises toward the rear, makes the rear-seat passengers feel like they're sitting in a tub. And since my mother and I are already short, we felt like we were sitting in a hole. It was really noticeable in the 45-minute gridlock near the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. It would have been more bearable if the rear windows rolled down all the way, or if the rear seat bottoms had a height adjustment.

He: You spent plenty of time driving the Concorde, too, and you never complained about the view from the cockpit. And what's to complain about? The Limited has an extremely appealing instrument panel, with Art Deco-style gauges and a lovely little analog clock above the center console. Our test car came with a gorgeous walnut-and-leather steering wheel as part of a $520 luxury package that also included tasteful walnut trim throughout the cabin. I was also impressed by the quality of the materials and the fit of the various trim pieces. Definitely top-drawer, and better than the most recent Honda model we tested.

She: The Limited is so well-equipped, I was surprised that side air bags cost $390 extra. The standard equipment includes such features as antilock brakes, traction control, heated front seats and a premium Infinity audio system with CD player and steering-wheel controls.

He: One of the benefits of dri ving a full-size domestic car with a relatively long wheelbase is ride quality, and here the Concorde Limited excels. Our vehicle was equipped with 17-inch touring tires that felt just right in combination with a supple, all-independent suspension. Considering its size, the Concorde handles crisply and feels more responsive than most of its rivals from Detroit. The high-output 3.5-liter V-6, which delivers 250 horsepower, is quite lively and returns up to 26 miles per gallon in highway driving. The bottom line is, it's pretty tough to beat this package, in terms of looks, performance and price.

She: Chrysler should be applauded for the sophisticated color and trim combinations it offers on the Concorde. Our test model came with a steel-blue pearl-coat exterior and a dark-gray interior. If you're in the market for a large, near-luxury domestic sedan in this price class, your choices are really limited to the Buick LeSabre, the Pontiac Bonneville, the Ford Crown Victoria and the Mercury Grand Marquis. Hands down, the Concorde Limited is the style leader among those rivals.

2002 Chrysler Concorde Limited

Anita's rating: (above average)

Paul's rating: (world class)

Likes: Concorde Limited replaces last year's LHS. Extremely roomy interior. Above-average quality. Elegant touches, including Art Deco-like gauges and analog clock. High-output V-6 makes an ample 250 horsepower. Supple ride. More contemporary and youthful design than Buick LeSabre. Standard ABS and traction control. Roomy trunk. Handsome walnut & leather steering wheel.

Dislikes: Side air bags are an extra-cost option. Claustrophobic, tub-like feeling in rear seats (Anita). Rear visibility restricted by tall parcel shelf. Rear windows don't roll down all the way.

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger full-size sedan.

Price: Base, $28,135; as tested, $31,340 (inc. $625 destination charge).

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6; 250-hp; 250 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,180 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Bramalea, Ontario