One of the big success stories for Chrysler in the last few years has been its big LH-series sedans. They took the American family car market by storm when they were introduced for 1993. But after five years of service, they were due for an overhaul. Which they promptly got for 1998. Now, we tested the premium end of the LH line, the Chrysler Concorde, a few months ago, and called it a big improvement over the innovative, but sometimes crude, original. Now it’s time to look at its more mainstream sibling, the Dodge Intrepid. Will we find the same kind of refinement on the other side of the Chrysler coin?
By that, we mean the sporty side! That favored by family sedan buyers who wish to mix a little driving fun with their everyday transportation. And the 1998 Dodge Intrepid certainly looks the part.
Like its Concorde cousin, the Intrepid’s styling draws heavily on a recent concept car. In this case, the Dodge Intrepid ESX, which wowed Detroit’s ‘96 auto show crowds.
But the production Intrepid carries even more of the show car’s racy lines over into the street, and shows just how adept Chrysler engineers are getting at translating their daydreams into steel and plastic.
The ‘98 Intrepid looks even longer, lower and wider than it actually is. It’s now instantly recognizable Dodge family look is more aggressive than Concorde. And, to our eyes, the overall shape is a bit more balanced.
That individuality carries over into the interior. While the Concorde dash is flowing and sedate, the Intrepid’s is more rakish, with sharp corners and wide sweeping lines. And, for 1998, depowered dual air bags. The Intrepid also gets stylish white-faced analog gauges. We liked their smooth, digitally-controlled movement, but wished for a more complete selection.
Unlike the Concorde, the Intrepid doesn’t offer a bench seat. But its front buckets are more thickly padded and supportive than last year. Manual controls are standard on this base car, while the ES gets full power. Though both get a standard, tilt-adjustable steering column.
Heat and ventilation are controlled by big rotary dials. Stereos, from a standard AM/FM cassette, to a full boat CD system, are similarly straightforward, but set too low in the wide center console, we think. The bigger-is-better theme carries over to cupholders that actually hold big cups, and an LH-size glove box.
But the real space is in the rear seat. Its 49.3 cubic-foot volume shames that of many more expensive full-size cars. As does the big 18.4-cubic-foot trunk.
Moving all this requires some horsepower. So for 1998, Chrysler gave its LH cars two new all-aluminum twin-cam 24-valve V6 engines. Base cars use a completely fresh 2.7-liter unit, that generates 200 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque. While ES-grade cars get a beefier 3.2-liter engine, making 225 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque.
Both feed power to the front wheels by way of a 4-speed automatic transmission. Though ES-grade boxes get Chrysler’s AutoStick manual shift feature.
With the 2.7-liter engine and standard 4-speed, our base test car hit 60 in a respectable 8.7 seconds. The quarter mile ended in 16.5 seconds at a terminal speed of 86 miles per hour. Throttle response was not as crisp as that of the larger 3.2. But the smaller alloy engine still pulled the 3,422-pound car down the strip with much more authority than its cast-iron predecessor.
Intrepid handling is still controlled by MacPherson struts up front, and a multi-link/Chapman strut assembly out back. The same touring package is now used in all LH cars, and replaces the brand-separate set-ups used last year. And it showed on the track. With its prominent front end plow, our base car didn’t really exhibit any more sporting characteristics than the luxury Concorde.
That’s not to say that Intrepid doesn’t handle very well for a 17-foot-long car. It’s just too close in personality to its Chrysler cousin. Swapping the standard 15-inch wheels and touring tires for the ES model’s 16-inch alloys with Goodyear Eagles does help a bit.
But we must confess to being somewhat disappointed that, despite its obvious abilities, the new Intrepid isn’t as individual as its predecessor.
Braking performance was one of those obvious abilities. Smooth, straight stops from 60 averaged 129 feet, thanks to 4-wheel discs, and Intrepid’s optional anti-lock system.
Out on the road, the disappointment we felt at the track receded. The Intrepid’s combination of solid ride and nimble handling, even with a full passenger load, equals that of many more expensive sedans. And while it does suffer the same prominent road noise in the rear cabin as our recent Concorde did, the LH platform’s high level of refinement was evident at every turn of the wheel.
If you’d like to wheel an Intrepid home for yourself, the price starts at $20,235. Our popularly optioned test car came to a modest $21,035. If you favor something a bit quicker and fancier, $23,015 will get you into an ES-grade car.
That’s not a lot of money for a genuine full-size family sedan. A value that’s even more apparent when you compare it to many more expensive, mid-size imports.
Automobile Magazine called it: “…a whole lot of automobile for the money.” While AutoWeek said: “If the cars hold together anywhere near as well as they look, these new sedans will succeed among an even wider variety of buyers.”
That kind of value puts price at the top of our list of hits. We were also impressed with the Intrepid’s racy new concept car styling, the sporty, roomy interior, stronger engines, and more refined ride and handling.
Misses? Well, call us picky, but we think that last year’s Intrepid had a more unique, less corporate, feel. We’d also like to see something done about rear seat noise. And positioning the stereo higher in the dash would be a good idea, as well.
So has flipping the coin from the Chrysler Concorde to the Dodge Intrepid revealed similar improvements for 1998? Absolutely! And while that improvement has not been without its price, the Dodge Intrepid remains one of the best looking, highest value, family cars available, and should continue to be a big hit with both buyer and seller. Heads or tails, this time everybody wins!
Engine: 2.7-Liter Twin-cam 24-valve V6
Torque: 225 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.7 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.5 Seconds @ 86 MPH
60-0 MPH: 129 Feet