Woodward Avenue runs west from the Detroit River through the heart of Detroit. It is a wide thoroughfare, the nation's first concrete highway, traveled daily by 70,000 cars and trucks. If you followed it the length of its 28 miles from city through suburbs, you could learn something about America and its passion for big cars with big horsepower -- cars such as the 2003 Dodge Intrepid SXT sedan.

Woodward is no place for wimps. Although it is congested, it is fast-paced -- its movement akin to a close-ordered drill. There is a pecking order to the movement. Foreign-bred precious metal gets no respect. Small cars are dismissed out of hand. Big American cars rule.

The Intrepid SXT is a big American car, although it is assembled in Canada and its parent, DaimlerChrysler AG, is a German citizen. It's the attitude that counts, and the front-wheel-drive, 244-horsepower Intrepid SXT has plenty of that.

The car is a swooped work of art, severely raked front to rear, where it ends with an in-your-face air spoiler atop the trunk lid. Even the wheels are players ("playahs" in Detroit parlance), which means they are purposefully hip and meant to be seen. They are 16-inch, machine-faced aluminum Momentum models finished in "sparkle silver." They show up well on an Intrepid SXT painted "inferno red" or "brilliant black."

The car's visage is menacing. You see it coming and you get out of its way, or at least give it some space. Besides, in Detroit, as in many other big cities, you never know who is behind the wheel. It could be a law-abiding citizen, a thug or a police officer -- the latter thanks to Dodge's return to the police beat this year after a 12-year absence. Dodge now offers some versions of the Intrepid as hot-pursuit vehicles.

Mechanically, the Intrepid SXT comes close to the police models. It has a high-output, 3.5-liter, 24-valve V-6 engine that develops 244 horsepower at 6,400 revolutions per minute and 250 foot-pounds of torque at 3,950 rpm. A good suspension is needed to help manage that kind of torque and power, and the Intrepid SXT delivers with a four-wheel independent-suspension system equipped with front and rear stabilizer bars. The result is an immediate throttle response uncorrupted by typical big-car lean and sway, especially around curves.

All this is good for people who want a performance and family car in one package sold at a reasonable price. But it is a compromise with notable compromises in interior styling, at least in the Intrepid SXT, which sits between the base, "value-priced" Intrepid SE and the decidedly more upscale Intrepid ES.

Interior materials in the SXT are pedestrian, workaday, uninspired. There's a mix of very-vinyl vinyl and industrial-strength cloth. Fabric and plastic-covered B-pillars -- the center pillars -- give the passenger cabin an institutional feel that is perhaps appropriate, considering that the Intrepid is now be ing used by some jurisdictions to bring some people to prison.

But it's exterior appearance and visible performance that count in the traffic combat along Woodward Avenue. The car looks big and powerful. The Intrepid SXT's long, low-slung body says, "Don't tread on me." The message is clear and unmistakable. In an environment where might, or the appearance of might, counts, it works quite well.