Dodge Intrepid Doesn't Let Its Family Role Crimp A Classy Style

Posted: December 18, 1998

The Dodge Intrepid makes a powerful case for the proposition that a roomy, comfortable family car doesn't have to look like a sleeping pill with four doors and clearcoat paint.

In fact, the Intrepid is stylish enough to pass for one of those brazenly sculpted concept cars that automakers trot out at auto shows - and rarely have the guts to manufacture.

But the folks at Chrysler do have the guts to build such wonderfully styled machines, and that's one of the reasons Germany's Daimler-Benz recently started holding corporate hands with this American car company.

In addition to sporting neck-swiveling aesthetic aggression based on Chrysler's signature cab-forward design, the Intrepid is a fairly big guy by family sedan standards. The automobile lives in the DMZ between midsize and large car and, in fact, has enough interior volume to get an EPA large-car designation.

If you compare it with a Ford Taurus, you find that it is about a half-foot longer than the Ford, and boasts three additional cubic feet of cabin space and about the same amount of extra trunk room. The 18.4-cubic-foot trunk - which compares with 12.9 cubic feet of cargo space in the midsize Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans - is absolutely huge. Many people use it to put up out-of-town guests.

The Intrepid is part of a family of cars that includes the Chrysler Concorde, LHS and 300M. All share essentially the same platform and drivetrains.

Introduced as a 1993 model, the Intrepid was reworked for the 1998 model year. The redesign included a fresh skin and interior, and a new engine duo. The fresh power plants are 24-valve, dual-overhead-cam V-6s. The one used in the base car displaces 2.7 liters and develops 200 horsepower. The 3.2-liter variant employed in the more upscale ES model I tested engenders 225 horses.

As it turns out, the new Intrepid's beauty is more than skin deep. It is handsomely designed inside as well, with sweeping, flowing lines and attractive materials.

Obviously, when you offer a well-equipped, roomy sedan at a starting price of $19,945, you can't exactly swath the interior surfaces in exotic African veneers. But you can use simple, unpretentious, matte-finish plastics, as the Intrepid's designers have, and come up with something considerably more tasteful than the petrochemical faux woods you find inside any number of more expensive cars, including the Chrysler 300M.

The Intrepid is a pleasant driver. The car feels tight and strong, and that perceived rigidity is reflected in low levels of cabin noise. The tester's buckets were comfortable and supportive (the Intrepid is also available with a front bench that raises seating capacity to six), visibility was good, and the instruments and controls were properly placed.

The tester's white-faced gauges proved a nifty, retro touch. They reversed at night, when you turned the instrument lights on, to display light letters on a dark background.

The Intrepid's independent suspension dispenses an agreeable ride and good handling, although the car is a little too big to feel nimble. The ES has a slight cornering edge over the base model because it substitutes wider, lower-aspect 16-inch touring tires for the 15-inch all-season radials used on the less expensive car.

If we can call the base car nicely equipped - and a standard-equipment litany that ranges from air conditioning and disc brakes to power windows and mirrors suggests we can - then the ES is really sighted in for big-game hunting. Starting at $22,790, the ES's no-extra-cost dossier includes an antilock braking system, premium sound, and a power trunk lid release.

Dodge Intrepid ES

Base vehicle: Front-drive, 3.2-liter engine, four-speed automatic transmission with ``Autostick'' manual shifting feature, power steering, power disc brakes, antilock braking system, 16-inch alloy wheels, P225/60R16 touring tires, air bags, rear window defroster, intermittent speed-sensitive wipers, 100,000-mile spark plugs, power windows, air conditioning, power door locks, keyless entry, speed control, tilt steering, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power driver's seat, split/fold rear seat, stereo/cassette, tachometer, cargo floor mats, power trunk release, fog lamps, power mirrors. Test model: Traction control, leather seats, power front passenger's seat, climate control, garage door opener, day/night rearview mirror, upgraded sound system with CD, security alarm, full-size spare tire, trip computer, engine and battery heater.

Base price: $22,790.

Test model: $25,540 (inc. shipping).

EPA city rating: 18 m.p.g.

Test mileage: 20 m.p.g.

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.

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