1995-2000 Dodge Stratus, Plymouth Breeze, and Chrysler Cirrus
The Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus/Plymouth Breeze, was introduced in 1995. It quickly garnered a number of awards thanks to its comfort, interior space, and driveability. It was substantially upgraded in 2001, when the Breeze was dropped and the others were renamed to the Dodge Stratus sedan and Chrysler Sebring Sedan.
Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus development story
When 592 people from the Large Car Platform Team started work on the Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus in 1991, the Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid and Eagle Vision had not yet been introduced in the market. Pioneering the effort was a small group of "thirty-something" engineers, product planners, designers and marketing specialists who took on a tough, new challenge - designing, engineering and manufacturing a family of cars that would provide tough import-loyal customers with a legitimate domestic alternative.
"Over the past decade we had been losing ground to the Japanese imports who took control of the compact segment," said Glenn Gardner, Large Car Platform Engineering general manager. "Developing cars for this market was a huge risk. To gain a foothold, we had to meet all the quality, durability and reliability targets as the price of entry and then leapfrog the competition in design, fun-to-drive attributes, packaging, refinement and features." It was a tall order on a $900 million investment target, when new cars (including Ford's Contour, which came out at the same time, but got fewer accolades) generally cost billions to develop.
"We spent a lot of time mystery shopping dealerships in order to help us size up the competition - from the product perspective, but also from how the dealership treated prospective new customers," said Steve Bartoli, Cirrus and Stratus Vehicle Program Manager.
The design and engineering staff began shaping a car that people could feel good about driving - an expressive-looking car that was both fun-to-drive and safe enough to transport the family. This would be a car that breaks out of the appliance-like category that many compact cars fall into.
With a range of powertrain engines - a base 2.0-liter, 1 6-valve, single overhead cam engine mated to a five-speed manual transaxle, a new 2.5-liter 24-valve, single overhead cam engine mated to a four-speed electronic automatic transaxle and a 2.4-liter, 16-valve, double overhead cam engine mated to a four- speed electronic automatic transaxle - and the tight handling of a short/long arm (SLA) suspension, driving enthusiasts lauded the Cirrus and Stratus.
An ad hoc team was formed to evaluate almost 300 product excellence targets. The targets were set after the team analyzed the industry's benchmarks in product quality.
"We focused on what our competition was doing and set out to beat them if we could or equal them at the very least," Bartoli said. Competitive vehicle evaluation areas included braking, ride and handling, climate control, fuel economy, performance, shift control, serviceability and quietness. Team members went so far as to spend Saturday afternoons in shopping mall parking lots watching how people loaded packages into their trunks and how they maneuvered their vehicles into tight parking spots.
"We tried to get a feel as to what makes a car easy to drive in common situations," Bartoli noted. "We found it has to be quiet, smooth, have easy to use pedals and switches and have a tight turning radius. A vehicle with those attributes can alleviate some of the stress in driving."
Realizing that the devil can be in the details, the product excellence team focused on quality targets as small as power-mirror switches. Attention was paid to the horn and windshield wiper ease of use as well, said Bartoli, noting that design and placement of such features should meet the customers' common-sense dictated needs.
"When it starts pouring rain, you want to be able to instinctively hit the windshield wipers and if you're in an emergency situation, the center of the steering wheel is where you look for the horn - and that's where it is even though it has an airbag," Bartoli explained.
"What we set out to do was to give customers a car that shatters their perception of the traditional family sedan - something that allows them some freedom of expression while at the same time provides functions that will make it easy to use and a joy to drive," Bartoli said.
The lines of the four-door Cirrus and Stratus were more flowing with no distinct beginning or end, according to John Herlitz, Executive Director -- Design Office. "Cirrus and Stratus have a strong, structural form with no noticeable breaks between the engine, passenger and luggage compartments, unlike the more defined 'three-box' philosophy that has been so prevalent in the family sedan segment."
Flowing designs had been common to sports cars, but virtually unheard of in more traditionally styled family sedans, Herlitz explained. "Exciting design had been lacking in the family sedan arena, but we started to change that with the introduction of our rnidsize sedans. just because a car is practical doesn't mean it has to look practical."
With a wheelbase of 108 inches, there was less overhang on these new vehicles (36.9-inches) than the Concorde, Intrepid and Vision (43.9-inches). The hood of the Cirrus and Stratus was actually wider than it was long.
"Every design element of the car was about reinforcing strength, security and form," Herlitz noted. "The technical hardware is a given, but how you make the surface of a vehicle look safe and how you give it road presence -- that's the task of the designer. We worked to design a vehicle that looks safe -- a vehicle where you'll feel comfortable putting your family."
Another challenge was designing a car for people who prefer the look of a two-door, but need the convenience of a four-door vehicle, said Herlitz. "We think we've achieved a sedan with the look of a coupe."
Also critical to the buyer of these vehicles was a spacious, easily-accessible trunk, and the Cirrus and Stratus offered two cubic feet more than the competition, a wide pass-through and full-folding seat for effortless storage.
The Cirrus and Stratus both eliminated the "stripper" base models of the past [this function would later be filled by the Plymouth Breeze]. Base and premium models came with the same exterior body-side molding, and the tires, whether 14- or 1 5-inch, would be flush with the sheet metal. "There will be no 'elephant in ballerina shoes' look about these vehicles," Herlitz added. "The expressive design will be consistent across the model range."
Cirrus and Stratus were 186 inches long overall, and were built on a 108-inch wheelbase. The result was a striking proportion even more advanced than the larger Chrysler models and quite different from anything else in its class. Interior space was greatly enhanced with an abundance of legroom, front and rear a roomy 42.3 inches and 38.1 inches respectively.
Cirrus and Stratus provided a choice of three advanced powertrains: a 2.0-liter 16-valve, single overhead cam (SOHC) engine mated to a five-speed manual transaxle; a 2.0-liter, 1 6-valve double-overhead cam (DOHC) engine mated to a four-speed electronic automatic transaxle, and a 2.5-liter, 24-valve single overhead cam (SOHC) engine mated to a four-speed electronic automatic transaxle.
Handling was aided by a four-wheel SLA (short/long arm) independent suspension including a multi-link rear mated to an extremely rigid structure. Two-time world champion and Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi worked with the Large Car Platform Team throughout development.
Safety and Security
Chrysler Corporation's emphasis on safety continued on Cirrus and Stratus with standard driver and passenger air bags, dynamic side impact protection, child guard rear door locks, front shoulder belt adjustable turning loops, available anti-lock brakes, rolling door locks and integrated child seat.
Research showed that men and women were increasingly concerned with personal security as it related to their vehicles. That's why Cirrus and Stratus offered available equipment like remote keyless entry with a panic alarm feature, a security alarm, illuminated entry, lockable folding rear seat with valet lockout and hidden storage compartments.
The second generation TCM, EATX II, used on Avenger and Sebring included these new features:
- Increased computing speed and power that allowed additional programming
- Double the electronically-programmed memory capacity
- Simpler and smaller packaging
EATX II also provided the vehicle-speed signal to the speedometer, odometer and engine controller. The speedometer and odometer were more accurate, the previous vehicle speed sensor (mounted on the transaxle) was eliminated and the wiring was much simplified. During service, it was impossible to install a wrong replacement vehicle- speed sensor. For TCM replacement, the technician used a correlation factor from the service manual to program a replacement TCM.
These vehicles used the newest versions of the engine control module, the single board engine controller (SBEC III) for the V-6, and four cylinder controller (FCC) for the 2.0-liter engine. It offered the following features:
- Two operating speeds for engine cooling fans -- the lower speed was used to minimize fan noise when higher speed wasn't needed
- A flash memory that allowed changes in computer programming through the data link connector
- New modular 60-way and 80-way connector systems, with selective gold plating for reliability
The Chrysler Cirrus and Sebring Convertible, and closely related Plymouth Breeze and Dodge Stratus, also continued with few changes in 1998. For 1998, Chrysler quieted the optional sunroof through better aerodynamics, used a quieter, smoother antilock brake system, added foam in the dashboard, put in dampers to reduce steering wheel vibration at idle, and used a refined cowl screen to reduce wind and road noise (the latter in the Stratus and Breeze only).
Also new for the 1998 Sebring Convertible was a four-wheel disc brake system with a low speed traction control. The system was included in the Sebring Convetible JXi Limited package and is optional on all other Sebring Convertible models.
Year 2000 changes
The Chrysler Cirrus, Plymouth Breeze, Chrysler Sebring (the convertible) and Dodge Stratus were repackaged somewhat to help increase sales while the 2001 cars were being prepared; all got a dealer-installed internal emergency trunk release, and a new long life automatic transmission fluid that claimed to be good for 100,000 miles. Chrysler Cirrus got an optional eight-speaker, 100-watt cassette stereo; Dodge got a new SE model with a new cloth interior and standard 2.4 engine; Plymouth got a no-charge 2.4 liter engine (the 2.0 was the base engine) and standard cassette stereo. The Sebring Convertible gained more sound insulation, a Chrysler medallion on the steering wheel cover, and next-generation front airbags.
Unequal length front axle shafts were used on all models. The shorter shaft included a dynamic damper. All axle shaft assemblies used plunging tripod inboard universal joints to allow changes in length with suspension travel and steerable "Birfield"-type outboard constant velocity joints.
For durability and long life, molded plastic was used for outboard drive shaft boots. Molded plastic had superior weather-ability and resistance to ozone. It also had higher tear and tensile strength to resist damage from flying debris.
Review from Mexico (by Johnny Ramirez)
I bought my 1996 Dodge Stratus "Teal Green" back in January 2005. It has 182,000 miles on the odometer as for today. I live in Northwestern México and this Dodge Stratus was imported from the USA. It has the 2.4 liter DOHC engine with the 41TE transmission. I was replacing my 1987 Dodge Shadow ES Turbo 2.2L 4-door Auto which still runs hard with its new owner.
First thing this car needed was to dump the transmission oil and have a fresh change of ATF+3 oil which isn't really expensive from the local Chrysler/Mopar store. A new radiator since the tanks were damaged, new tires and some minor repair to the starter solenoid. I am impressed that a car that has made more than 291,000 kilometers rides as smoothly, silent and fantastic as this Stratus. I love the transmission that predicts when I want the gear change done, it's smooth and fantastic.
I like to compare the Dodge Stratus to the Boeing 757: it's a beautiful design, with powerful engine, long and with excellent performance, it's not a widebody like the 767/Intrepid yet it has a fantastic road grip, a great maneuverability in tight spots, even with its long size (757s have great ground maneuvers too). Both are excellent performance, airlines love the 757s and all of the Stratus drivers I know love their cars. Every single people that comes for a ride in my car loves the roominess, the A/C and the feel of the car. It's free of rattles, squeaks and noise.
The engine is sweet, is like having the old 2.2L Turbo power but with the silence of an electric engine. In my hometown we have temperatures over 42C (107 F) and car goes nice using Castrol GTX oil (20W-50) on summer and 10W-50 on winter. Mechanics down here know their stuff and parts and service aren't that expensive, just had front brake pads and rotor processed for US$ 20 parts + US$ 24 for the work.
The Stratus is the most confortable, the most beautiful and the most amazing car on the road. I'll be joining the 200K miles club with this fantastic car.
Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus specifications at launch
Five passenger bucket seat/console, four-door body with standard driver and passenger air bags. Built in Sterling Heights, Michigan.
Engines (all have sequential multiple-point fuel injection and distributorless ignition)
2.0-liter, 16-valve, single overhead cam (SOHC)
Not available on Chrysler Cirrus. Standard on Plymouth Breeze.
Power: 134 hp @5850 rpm
Torque: 131 lb. ft. @4900 rpm
Drivetrain: Five-speed manual transaxle (webmaster note: this car had the fastest 0-60 acceleration!)
2.4-liter, 16 valve, double overhead cam (DOHC) - Available starting in January 1995
Power: 138 hp@ 5200 rpm
Torque: 156 lb ft. @ 4000 rpm
Drivetrain: 41TE four-speed electronic automatic transaxle
2.5-liter, 24 valve, single overhead cam (SOHC) - Mitsubishi sourced with Chrysler electronics
Standard on Chrysler Cirrus. Not available on Plymouth Breeze.
Power: 162 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 165 hp @ 4800 rpm
Drivetrain: 41TE four-speed electronic automatic transaxle
Front: High arm SLA (short-long arm): lower control arm with compression strut; concentric coil spring shock; sway bar linked to lower control arm
Rear: Quad-link SLA: A-arm, lateral link, tow-link and trailing link; concentric coil spring shock; sway bar linked to tow link.
Wheelbase: 108 inches
Overall Length: 186 inches
Overall Width: 71 inches
Overall Height: 54.1 inches
Track (front and rear): 60.2 inches
Legroom (front and rear): 42.3 inches/38.1 inches
Shoulder room (front and rear): 55.2 inches/54.7 inches
Curb Weight: 2,907 lbs. (Chrysler Cirrus LX), 3,118 lbs. (Chrysler Cirrus LXi), 2,876 lb (base Dodge Stratus), 3,085 lb (Dodge Stratus ES). Plymouth Breeze was similar to base Dodge Stratus.
Fuel Capacity: 16 gallons
Steering: Speed sensitive, variable-assist, rack and pinion, power assisted (except Stratus Base and presumably Plymouth Breeze which did not have variable assist steering)
Front disc, rear drum; Anti-lock brake (standard on Chryslers and Dodge ES)
195/65 R 15 ride tire (standard on Chrysler Cirrus LX)
195/65HR 15 touring tire (standard on Chrysler LXi and Stratus ES; comes with aluminum wheels)
195/70R14 (ride tire standard on Stratus base)