2002 Stratus New Car Test Drive
Swaggering, sleek and muscular, the Dodge Stratus recalls a bygone era of big coupes, hulking, family-size coupes, that absolutely demanded your attention. Dodge's own Charger comes to mind. Arrogant and powerful, they were the toys and status symbols of the young and successful, some 30 years ago.
Stratus brings that excitement back, in a modern, efficient, and aerodynamic package, still with a family-size back seat, and all for starting price under $18,000.
Stratus was all-new last year (2001), when it replaced the similarly themed Dodge Avenger. Compared to the Avenger, however, the Stratus Coupe features a stiffer platform and larger engines, including a 200-horsepower V6. Changes to Stratus for 2002 are minimal, consisting mostly of upgrades to sound systems and other optional equipment. Sleek as a coupe, but roomy like a sedan, the mid-size, four-door Stratus sedan was totally redesigned and re-engineered last year for better ride, handling, and performance. Its improved road manners now boost Stratus squarely into the same league as the most popular imports, including the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord.
But for sheer style, the Stratus struts more individual personality than any 10 Pacific Rim products put together.
For 2002, Dodge has reinforced the individualistic image of the Stratus with a sporty R/T sedan, powered by a 200-horsepower V6 and riding on a lowered suspension and 17-inch Vertex alloy wheels.
Two trim levels are available for the Stratus Coupe, SE and R/T.
Stratus SE ($17,920) comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and the choice between a five-speed manual and (for $825) a four-speed automatic transmission. Air conditioning plus power windows, mirrors and door locks are all standard on the SE.
Stratus R/T ($20,940) comes with a 3.0-liter single-cam V6, which delivers 200 horsepower. The V6 also mates either to the standard five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic gearbox (again, $825). For $165 more, automatic R/T buyers can choose the AutoStick feature, which allows either automatic operation or no-clutch manual shifting.
Dodge makes the V6 available as an option for the Stratus SE, either as a stand-alone option ($850) or included in one of two Quick Order packages. One of these, Option 24A ($1,710), adds the V6, four-wheel-disc brakes and automatic transmission; that adds up to a very nice V6-powered coupe for less than $20,000.
The V6-powered R/T adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and premium sound system with cassette deck, CD player, and seven Infinity speakers. Optional anti-lock brakes (ABS) cost $565 with a manual transmission, or $740 with an automatic, as in the latter case they come packaged with traction control.
Safety systems in Stratus begin with the rigid structure that wraps around the passenger compartment. Add to that dual-stage front airbags, three-point seatbelts for all five seating positions and four-wheel disc brakes with optional (on R/T only) ABS and traction control.
Dodge also makes a Stratus Sedan, but offers it in different trim levels, with different engine and equipment options. (See separate nctd.com report.) Stratus Coupe and Stratus Sedan ride on different chassis. The Stratus Coupe is more closely related to the new Chrysler Sebring Coupe and Mitsubishi Eclipse; all three share engines, chassis and suspension designs, and are built at a joint-venture assembly plant between Bloomington and Normal, Illinois. The basic Stratus SE sedan ($17,400) is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams, generating 150 horsepower. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission available. SE is modestly equipped with air conditioning, power brakes and power steering, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM cassette stereo with four speakers, and power windows and locks.
Stratus SE Plus ($18,845) adds amenities such as cruise control, power mirrors, power seats, a CD player and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
Stratus ES ($20,660) moves up to a 2.7-liter dual-cam V6 rated 200 horsepower, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel and firm-feel power steering, sport suspension, lower-profile tires, a premium sound system, and other niceties.
The V6 may be added to the Stratus SE or SE Plus for $850.
Several safety systems are listed as options for all three models, including ABS ($565) and side-impact airbags ($390).
The new Stratus sedan R/T ($21,400) mates the 2.7-liter V6 with a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is optional, with or without Dodge's slick AutoStick manual override. ABS comes standard on the R/T, along with a performance-tuned suspension and P215/50HR17 Michelin Pilot all-season tires. The combination of V6 power and a real stick shift is growing increasingly rare in this class; kudos to Dodge for not forgetting the enthusiast driver.
Dodge also builds a Stratus coupe, in SE and R/T trim. But while it shares a family resemblance with the sedan, the coupe is a very different car mechanically. (See full review of the Stratus coupe at NewCarTestDrive.com.).