Mid-size family cars are not known for their high excitement factor. Bland, even boring, yet roomy and dependable, are the watch words to gaining attention in this “middle” class. But we’ve come to expect more from the brand whose motto is, “Dodge. Different”. So when Dodge announced a complete makeover for its already stylish Stratus sedan, our interest was piqued. But was that interest rewarded?
Well, judging by the numerous positive comments in the log book after two weeks of testing, we have to conclude the answer to that question is yes! Our interest was greatly rewarded! And that’s because the redesigned 2001 Dodge Stratus is vastly improved. And those improvements are seen and felt from bumper to bumper. And a major one is found behind the front bumper and this sleek, Dodge signature cross- hair grille with its Viper-inspired running lamps.
It’s the Intrepid’s all-aluminum, 2.7 liter, DOHC, 24-valve V-6. And with 200 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque, our ES grade Stratus now has the muscle it needs to keep up with its import competitors. The Chrysler 2.7 also has 32 more horsepower and 22 more pound-feet of torque than last year’s Mitsubishi 2.5 liter V-6. And that results in a good-for-a-family-sedan sprint from 0 to 60 of 8.4 seconds. The quarter mile passes in 16.3 seconds at 87 MPH. An active intake manifold tuning valve gives this V-6 a strong mid-range punch, with torque reaching its peak at 4300 rpm.
The standard offering in the Stratus is a revised 2.4 liter, DOHC, 16-valve I-4. Output there is 150 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. Both engines use the same front-drive 4-speed automatic transmission. And, we must say, this is one of the smoothest shifting Chrysler trannys we’ve ever experienced. As long as it was left in full auto. ES models come standard with the AutoStick shifter. But, in the manual-mode we found our tester hooked up each gear with a jerk. And self- shifting did little to enhance acceleration performance.
But, a stiffer, more solid body structure does improve performance. And a 13 percent reduction in twist and 33 percent reduction in bending makes the Stratus a noticeably more stable car. And the Stratus’ all-independent suspension system has been re-tuned to take advantage of that added stiffness. With the short long-arm front set up receiving a new cross-member and rebound springs for the shocks. The multi-link config at the rear gets new bushings to reduce bending and friction.
The results are a near neutral feel through the low speed slalom, with just a touch of understeer on turn in. Side to side transitions feel balanced and the car remained firmly planted throughout the exercise. And while the steering does feel precise and nicely weighted, our drivers found the large steering wheel a little unwieldy.
The Stratus is equally responsive and fun to drive in the real world as well. And its more refined ride keeps the Stratus on par with other members in its class. Although Stratus interior noise levels still seem higher than they should be. Too much tire and road rumble makes its way into the car through the suspension.
But we’ve got no complaints about the larger, standard 16 inch tires on alloy wheels that now come on our ES. Or about the way the new Stratus comes to a stop. As the larger discs at all four corners, backed up by the optional ABS system, brought us to a halt from 60 in just 114 feet. And while our track testers didn’t care for the soft pedal feel, they couldn’t fault the car’s stability during stops and the quiet operation of the new ABS system called ABS Plus. It adds yaw control to the software to help reduce the almost natural tendency of a front- wheel drive car to begin a tail slide when braking hard in corners and on icy patches.
Now, in addition to the many improvements made for those of us who place a premium on the driving experience, there’s also plenty here for those who appreciate the Stratus for no other reason than it’s a great looking piece of mid-size family transportation. And a comfortable one, too. As the new Stratus has received a considerable upgrade in the quality of materials used throughout the commodious, well laid out cabin.
The wonderfully plush yet supportive front buckets in our ES were trimmed with optional leather. ES drivers also get standard 8-way power adjustments and a leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel and shifter. The Intrepid-inspired analog gauge cluster is understandable at a glance, and to the right within easy reach is a trip computer that also allows some personalized programming. The large rotary climate controls operate smoothly, and the Infinity stereo on our ES came with the optional 4-disc, in-dash CD changer and Premium Gold speakers powered by a 120 watt amplifier. It’s all surrounded by some of the best looking faux wood trim in the car business.
The Stratus is also equipped with Next Generation, Multi-stage airbags in the dash, and front and rear side window curtain airbags are optional. But the 60/40 split folding seat back makes the rear quarters more versatile by opening up the way to the 16 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk.
And the Stratus’ pricing structure leaves plenty of room for versatility in your budget, too. Base price for the 2001 Dodge Stratus SE is just $18,425. Our ES tester carries a base price of $21,010. Factor in the optional equipment and our tester totals $23,515. That’s about the same as the base price on Mazda’s 626 ES V6, and almost $1,500 less than the Accord EX sedan.
When it comes to the new Stratus, the “Dodge. Different” theme is more than just a slogan. An attractive list of standard features and knock-out styling puts miles between the Stratus and its more generic competitors. Add in powerful and newly refined powertrains, and the 2001 Dodge Stratus is ready and willing to launch you into the mid-size “Stratusphere.” Now that’s interesting!
Engine: 2.7 Liter Dohc 24-valve V-6
Torque: 192 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.4 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.3 Seconds @ 87MPH
60-0 MPH: 114 Feet