- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001

Baby boomers are on the minds of auto executives these days, especially at DaimlerChrysler, where officials hope the new, redesigned Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring coupes will lure boomers back to two-door cars.

Boomers, after all, popularized coupes in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 2001, they will find newly styled and engineered DaimlerChrysler coupes that retain a large overall size with roomy interior, pack more features than before and are powered by two new engines.

Best of all, prices are affordable. Even the performance-oriented model of the bunch the 2001 Stratus R/T costs less than $22,000.

Note the name, however. For the 2001 model year, the Dodge Avenger coupe is gone, and the Stratus name formerly used on Dodge sedans now does double duty on the Dodge compact coupes, too.

The reason? Company officials decided to concentrate marketing efforts on a single name.

The test 2001 Stratus R/T shared a family resemblance to other Dodges, thanks to the familiar cross-hair grille in front. A sleek, sporty profile and big, 17-inch wheels and tires which are only on one coupe, the R/T add the proper cues to denote this isn't a mundane car to drive.

Built on a Mitsubishi platform, the Stratus R/T's overall size is much the same as that of the predecessor 2000 Dodge Avenger. It's 190.2 inches long, which is about equal to the Toyota Camry Solara, 7.7 inches shorter than the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and nearly 20 inches longer than the Toyota Celica.

The Stratus is wider than the Celica by a couple of inches, too, while the Solara coupe is nearly an inch wider than the Stratus and the Monte Carlo is 2.4 inches wider.

I felt as if I was sitting close to the floor in the Stratus R/T, even though I positioned the driver's seat, with optional six-way power adjustment, as high as possible. I could see the top of the car's hood, but I never saw the end of the hood from the driver's seat.

As its name indicates R/T stands for road and track power and handling are highlights of this new Stratus.

While a 147-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder is the base engine in the Stratus coupe line, the R/T comes only with the up-level, 200-horsepower, 3-liter, single-overhead-cam V-6.

That's 37 more horsepower than was generated in the 2.5-liter engine in the top-of-the-line Avenger.

With torque of 205 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm, the Stratus didn't waste time surging forward in passing maneuvers and in getting up to speed on city streets.

The test car had the optional four-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick, which allows manual shifts without clutch pedal.

AutoStick is well-tailored for the R/T, holding low gears when I wanted power at the ready. And I could shift gears even under full throttle.

Handling in the test Stratus was crisp, with just a bit of understeer evident in this front-drive car. The improved body rigidity was noticeable and body lean was reduced.

Note that this new coupe also has a front strut tower brace under the hood to help steering response and handling.

The suspension is unique for the R/T, with differently tuned suspension bushings and shock absorbers helping to give the desired sport ride.

There are a new MacPherson strut front suspension and a double wishbone design at the rear.

The dead pedal was positioned perfectly for me, but I did find that the brake pedal felt mushy in the test car. I didn't notice any braking power coming on until I had the pedal nearly three-quarters of the way down. The test car included the optional anti-lock brakes.

The ride in the Stratus R/T was mostly smooth. If I hit a sharp bump, there was an abrupt bounce in the vehicle, and big bumps were transmitted to passengers.

The Stratus R/T has a dashboard that is done with emphasis. Fuel and temperature gauges reside in protruding circles at either side of the instrument cluster, and circular air vents dominate the top of the dashboard nearby.

Below is an AM-FM stereo with an in-dash, four-CD changer that looked like standard Chrysler issue, with buttons like those in other company vehicles.

With big doors and door openings, the Stratus doesn't make it as difficult as I expected to climb into the back seat. The front passenger seat even glides far forward and folds to provide the maximum entry room. The driver's seat has a recliner memory that automatically returns the seat back to its original position.

Still, it would be a snug fit for three adults in back.

The Stratus R/T may be sporty, but its class-leading trunk with 16.3 cubic feet allows you to bring lots of gear on your travels.

The starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2001 Dodge Stratus is $18,405 for a four-cylinder model. The 2001 Stratus R/T starts at $21,400.

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