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AMR Week Peek: Dodge Stratus R/T 3.0
    By Michael Egan, Contributing Writer

The Background & Exterior
While spending the week in Chicago, I had the opportunity to drive the 2005 Dodge Stratus R/T coupe in a combination of highway, rural roads and of course city driving. My initial impression of the sportiest version of the Stratus is that its styling is a bit boy-racer for my tastes, but not completely over the top. After a couple of days, the styling didn't bother me as much, and I actually began to like it at some angles. For those who are not familiar with the car, it is a corporate sibling of the Chrysler Sebring, and is the replacement for the late Dodge Avenger. The Stratus Coupe is also basically a re-skinned Mitsubishi Eclipse, as was the Avenger. There are some other changes to the handling, but the general machines are the same, right down to the 3.0 liter engine.

Dodge Stratus R/T 3.0 Coupe
The shape is a wedge, the trademark cross-hair grill blending into a sloping nose, all of which leads to a short rear-end with a small wing on the deck lid. It is significantly sportier looking than its four door siblings. Fit and finish of the body panels is good but not great, as the gaps at the doors and trunk are wider than I'd like and certainly wider than those found on some of the competition.

The Interior
The interior of the Stratus coupe is a bit tight but nicely laid out. Controls for climate and the stereo are easily reachable, and the knobs are intuitive but basic. The stereo system included a 6-disc in-dash changer and six speakers but the sound quality was not great, which was a bit of a disappointment considering this is among the most expensive of the Stratus line. Given the target audience for this car, I suspect most buyers will upgrade the sound system quickly.

The vehicle I had was equipped with manual adjustments for the seat position as well as for the lumbar support. I would have liked to have more than just the basic adjustments as it was difficult to find a comfortable seating position. The seats themselves are supportive and comfortable and the seat bottom was long enough to provide full support to my legs. Lateral support is good with side bolsters that extend up to the shoulders but are subtle enough to not give the impression that these are sport seats. Aside from the leather wrapped wheel and shift knob, the plastics and fabrics inside the cabin are a bit cheap looking and the flat texture screams cost cutting. The test model had a couple of squeaks and rattles, which on a car with only 250 miles is just unacceptable. The dash layout is spread wide with a large empty section in the center — I would have preferred Dodge use a smaller wheel and tighten up the dash some. The faces of the gauges are white with orange illumination and are attractive if a bit difficult to see in direct sunlight. Again, this is essentially straight out of the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

This is a 2+2 coupe but only children will find any comfort in the rear seats (and only small children at that) as getting in and out of those seats requires some contortion. In fact, getting in and out of this car for the driver and front seat passenger is no easy feat either. Because of the low roof-line and high seating position, I bumped my head getting in and out more than once. Even after I had the technique figured out, I still found I had to duck my head considerably to prevent further bruising on my forehead. I don't know how well a six-footer would fare, as I am a few inches short of that mark. Our Editor-in-Chief is a few inches past that mark, and found the same trouble I did with entry and exit. If Dodge had offered a height adjustment to the seats, this may have been a problem easily handled.

Dodge Stratus R/T 3.0 CoupeWhile I wasn't able to really put the Stratus R/T through its paces as much as I would have liked, I did get a chance to drive it in a variety of situations and the R/T handled all of them without much difficulty but without shining in any one area either. While out on the rural roads, the R/T accelerates quickly due to the 3.0 liter engine providing 200hp and 205 b/ft of torque. This car accelerates all the way through the rev range and acceleration is smooth, as expected from a normally aspirated car. This car makes its power through displacement, not turbo-charging or supercharging. Once up to speed, the R/T cruises nicely on smooth pavement, but even small cracks in the blacktop get transmitted to the passengers — its not jarring but more of a bounce. Lane changes at speed are quick and without undue body roll, but getting the R/T back on center does require a bit of work — most likely due to the lack of grip in the stock all-season tires mounted to 17 inch alloy wheels. The R/T does suffer from some amount of torque steer since all of the power goes to the front wheels. This is not a sports car but rather a sporty car — and that difference shows in the handling department. A tightened suspension would greatly improve the feel of this car on the road. This is an area where the Stratus differs from the least a bit.

Fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, which seems on target. In my week with the car in mixed driving I averaged a bit less than 25 mpg, and I would expect that number to improve once the car is past the break in stage. For a 3.0 V6, that's a pretty good number.

Final Review
Overall, the Stratus R/T 3.0 is a pretty good car but not a great one. Sticker price on this car is $23,655 for starters, which puts it squarely inline with the Accord V6 Coupe, Toyota Camry Solara V6, as well as the car it's based on, the Mitsubishi Eclipse V6. It also makes it just slightly more expensive than a Scion tC with the new TRD supercharger, though I think Dodge would consider that car more Eclipse competition (if not Neon SRT-4). This is tough competition for the Stratus, and, against the competition, the Dodge just doesn't measure up. Dodge will need to improve the fit and finish as well as upgrade the interior plastics to better compete with the imports from Honda and Toyota. The good news is that Mitsubishi has completely reworked the Eclipse for 2006, so Dodge may be an additional beneficiary of those changes as well. Given the recent divorce proceedings at DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi, and Mitsu's basically walking away from the small and mid-size car development program it started with DC, I wouldn't be surprised if the next Stratus was not a re-skinned Eclipse. Then again, the car may not even be replaced, though it still wouldn't be a re-skinned Eclipse then, either, now would it?


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