2003 Chrysler Concorde Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Looking good and priced to sell.
The Chrysler Concorde still cuts a nice profile, impressive given this design is in its fifth year. Most cars, particularly those with more daring designs, tend to look dated after a few years. This isn't one of them. The bold grille and fluid lines still look terrific.
Yet the sleek design does not prevent the Concorde from being a practical car with a comfortable, roomy interior, and beautiful detail and appointments. Backing up beauty and comfort are strong acceleration performance, a controlled, luxurious ride, and sport-sedan handling.
That description sounds like a car costing $40,000 or more. Yet the Concorde starts at just $24,825. Surely, the Chrysler Concorde represents one of the greatest values in the full-size sedan class. While not the best in class by every measure, it is very good by most measures. It is a lot of car for the money.
The Concorde continues essentially unchanged for 2003, aside from some new exterior colors. An optional six-disc CD changer replaces the four-disc unit offered previously.
The 2003 Chrysler Concorde is offered in three trim levels, each with a progressively more powerful V6 engine.
Concorde LX ($22,660) comes with a 200-horsepower, 2.7-liter V6, a cloth interior and a high level of standard equipment.
Concorde LXi ($25,390) is motivated by a 234-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Upholstered in leather, the LXi adds convenience features such as automatic air conditioning, automatic headlights, automatic mirror dimming, and a premium 120-watt stereo with a CD player. It also comes with a bigger battery, a more powerful alternator, and aluminum wheels to complement the more powerful engine. The LXi is a nice step up from the LX.
Concorde Limited ($28,285) boasts a 250-horsepower high-output 3.5-liter V6, premium leather seating surfaces, eight-way power heated driver and front passenger seats, 240-watt stereo, and other luxury features. Memory systems recall radio settings, and seating and mirror adjustments. Several features help make the most of the more powerful engine: Bigger (17-inch) tires offer more grip and come wrapped around chrome-clad aluminum wheels. Traction control, which reduces front wheel spin when accelerating over slippery surfaces, is standard, along with ABS, which allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time in a panic stop. Speed-sensitive power steering is also standard, making the steering effort light in parking lots yet maintaining solid steering feel at highway speeds.
The Chrysler Concorde remains a head-turner even though the design is now middle-aged by automotive standards. The big egg-crate grille, boldly three-dimensional headlamp clusters and fluted hood all testify to Chrysler's design courage. The Concorde pays tribute to the past while reaching into the future. Graceful, fluid lines recall the craftsmanship of classic automobiles, yet it looks sleek compared with other four-door sedans in its class.
The most noticeable design element is the grille, edged in chrome and adorned with a big winged Chrysler medallion. The front fascia was engineered to meet federal impact requirements without the need for a visible bumper. Sculptured headlamp bezels surround compact projector-beam lights with integrated fog lamps and turn signals. The shape they describe flows seamlessly into the undulating aluminum hood. In general, the body wears very little ornamentation, but there is great nuance to the sheet metal, which rolls and undulates like abstract art.
Viewed from the side, the aerodynamic lower sill complements the large wheels and tires and visually ties the unique front and rear fascias together. Another winged medallion adorns the deck lid. The model nameplates are centered on the rear fascia. Wrap-around taillamps use a red/amber split to delineate the stop and turn functions. Stainless steel exhaust tips suggest the added power and performance of the Limited model's high-output engine.
Last year, Chrysler merged the Concorde model with the LHS, which had been Chrysler's luxury flagship. This was relatively easy to do, as the two cars shared a body shell and most mechanical components. What had been the LHS became the Concorde Limited. At the same time, all Concorde models adapted the square, egg-crate front grille that had been exclusive to the LHS.
The Chrysler Concord comes with a handsome interior with sumptuous leather seats. Interior surfaces are soft to the touch and feel luxurious. The quality of the materials is high, though we've seen better wood trim. Colors match well, and gaps are minimized. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the space where the doors and dashboard come together (a yawning chasm on pre-1998 models.) The seats have relatively low side bolsters, making it easy to slide into place. Big doors open wide, too, although getting in and out is somewhat complicated by the steeply raked windshield.
The flowing shapes that grace the exterior are carried through inside. Concorde's interior design is spacious and creative. The cab-forward concept maximizes passenger space. This is a roomy car. The Concorde comes standard with an eight-way, power-adjustable driver's bucket seat with a manually adjustable lumbar support. (A front bench seat is available as a $150 option on the LX only; it increases seating capacity to six, while moving the gear selector from the console to the steering column.) The standard bucket seats provide good back and lateral support, and the detailing of the fabric is world class.
The rear seats are roomy and very comfortable. A three-point seatbelt is fitted to the center position for increased safety for the fifth passenger. The trunk offers 18.7 cubic feet of cargo space, one of the biggest in this class. The trunk hinges fold cleanly out of the way instead of intruding into the trunk compartment and crushing fragile items. A rear-seat cargo pass-through compartment provides an easy way to carry skies and other long objects in the trunk. But the trunk requires a high lift-over, which makes loading up a week's worth of groceries or heavy items a bit more work.
If there's a downside to the Concorde's sleek exterior styling, it's the fact that visibility is slightly reduced. It takes some time to get a feel for precisely where the front bumper is; you can't actually see the front corners of the car. And the view out the small rear window takes a bit of getting used to, also. Fortunately, the Concorde comes with big side mirrors.
Trim rings around the gauges brighten the appearance of the instrument panel, which is covered in soft material. Controls are easy to operate. We like the compass, outside temperature gauge and map lights that come with the available overhead console, which also features a trip computer and a universal garage door opener. It's a brilliant interior.
The Chrysler Concorde delivers a smooth ride, brisk acceleration performance, and impressive handling. This car handles rough roads well. The suspension filters unwanted vibration without isolating the driver from the road. Although not the quietest car in its class, the Concorde keeps noise and vibration low.
The Concorde feels extremely stable at high speed. Its direct, precise steering does rate among the best in its class. The chassis grips impressively in hard cornering and the brakes deliver a solid, stable performance. It's amazing how well this car handles given its size. It's easy and fun to drive on winding roads.
The fully independent touring suspension provides this handling prowess without sacrificing ride comfort. The secret lies within the Concorde's rigid unit-body and chassis. An aluminum crossbeam behind the instrument panel stiffens the structure just where it needs it the most, helping to reduce noise and vibration, and nearly eliminating body shake. The stiff body allowed tuning the suspension more precisely and effectively. The Concorde provides a smooth ride even when thumping over rough, beat-up roads.
The 2.7-liter V6, standard in the LX, is a modern double-overhead-cam design with 24 valves. It delivers good performance around town, decent fuel economy, and a Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) rating from the government. But it isn't the most refined engine in this class, and it can feel a little taxed when accelerating onto the freeway fully laden with passengers.
The high-output, 3.5-iter V6 in the Limited model offers a lot more punch. Quiet when cruising, it serves notice with an aggressive growl when provoked. Plenty of power is on tap for accelerating away from intersections, onto freeways and for passing on two-lanes. Yet the 3.5 is tuned with a broad torque curve, to provide instant throttle response at any speed.
We didn't drive an LXi, but we expect that its 234-hp V6 performs nearly as well as the 250-hp unit in the Limited.
All Concordes come standard with a four-speed automatic transmission that shifts effectively without hunting for the appropriate gear.
The Concorde's brakes are excellent, offering quick, predictable stopping power at the threshold limit. ABS is standard on the Limited, but it's a $600 option on LX and LXi. We recommend ABS highly; anti-lock brakes allow the driver to maintain steering control during emergency braking situations. Likewise, traction control is standard on the Limited, optional on LXi; traction control reduces wheel spin under hard acceleration, making the car easier to drive in slippery conditions.
An elegant interior, solid acceleration and excellent handling complement the appealing looks of the Chrysler Concorde. With its roomy back seats and generous legroom, the Concorde can haul four people in comfortable surroundings. Those surroundings are particularly luxurious in the Limited model with its premium leather. All Concorde models are supremely smooth and stable at highway speeds. We could spend many miles in any one of them.
LX ($22,660); LXi ($25,390); Limited ($28,265).
Options As Tested
side-impact airbags ($390); anti-lock brakes ($600); AM/FM/CD w/120-watt amplifier, changer control, 6 premium speakers ($525).
Concorde LX ($22,660).
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