The Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus appeared in 1995, followed by the Plymouth Breeze. It swept up awards, despite the new Ford Mondeo, thanks to its comfort, interior space, and driveability. In 2001, the Cirrus and Stratus were upgraded, but the Breeze was dropped; the Cirrus was renamed to “Chrysler Sebring Sedan.”
592 people from the Large Car Platform Team started work on the Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus in 1991, when the Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid, and Eagle Vision were still being developed. Pioneering the effort was a small group of young engineers, product planners, designers, and marketing specialists, with the goal of creating cars that could go head to head with the best imports.
The Large Car Platform Engineering leader, Glenn Gardner, wrote, “... Japanese imports .... took control of the compact segment. 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 just $900 million, when most new cars (including the Ford Contour) cost billions to develop.
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 to breaks out of the “appliance” category.
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 targets, set after the team analyzed industry quality benchmarks. “We focused on what our competition was doing and set out to beat them if we could or equal them at the very least,” Steve Bartoli, Cirrus and Stratus Vehicle Program Manager, said.
Competitive evaluation areas included braking, ride and handling, climate control, fuel economy, performance, shift control, serviceability, and quietness. Team members spent Saturday afternoons in shopping mall parking lots watching how people loaded packages into their trunks and how they got their cars into tight parking spots.
Mr. Bartoli said, “We tried to get a feel as to what makes a car easy to drive in common situations. We found it has to be quiet, smooth, have easy to use pedals and switches and have a tight turning radius...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.”
The Dodge and Plymouth could have a 2-liter, 16-valve single overhead cam engine (developed for the Neon), hooked up to a five-speed manual transmission; the Chrysler came with a four-speed automatic. Optional on the Dodge and Chrysler, but not the Plymouth, was a Mitsubishi 2.5-liter V6, sporting 24 valves and a single cam, hooked up solely to the automatic. A 2.4 liter engine closely based on the 2.0 was quickly added (still in 1995); this engine became standard on the Cirrus, supplementing the V6, and was sold on the other cars as well, but only with an automatic.
While the V6 had more power, the fastest combination was the 2.0 four-cylinder with a five-speed manual.
All engines had sequential multiple point fuel injection and distributorless ignition. The latter was first used by Chrysler on the 1991 Spirit R/T.
Handling was aided by a four-wheel short/long arm (SLA) front independent suspension, using concentric coil spring shocks and a sway bar linked to the lower control arm. In back, the cars had a four-link rear independent suspension, using A-arms with lateral, tow, and trailing links, with a sway bar linked to the tow link. The rear also had concentric coil spring shocks. World champion and Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi worked with the team throughout development.
The cars had unequal-length front axle shafts, with dynamic dampers on the shorter shaft; 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. Outboard drivehsaft boots had molded plastic for longer life and resistance to ozone, weather, and flying debris.
For safety, the cars had standard driver and passenger air bags, adjustable front shoulder belts, optional anti-lock brakes, rolling-code door locks, and optional integrated child seats for babies old enough to face forward. Options included remote keyless entry with a panic alarm, illuminated entry, lockable folding rear seat with valet lockout, and hidden storage compartments.
A new transmission computer (“EATX II”) was more powerful than past models, had double the memory, and was smaller. It drove the speedometer and odometer, dropping the old transaxle-mounted speed sensor and simplifying the wiring; engineers made it impossible to install the wrong replacement speed sensor.
These latest engine control module was the single board engine controller (SBEC III) for the V-6, and four cylinder controller (FCC) for the 2.0 liter engine. It had two speeds for engine cooling fans, flash memory, and new modular 60-way and 80-way connector systems, with gold plating for reliability.
The lines of the four-door Cirrus and Stratus were more flowing with no distinct beginning or end, according to John Herlitz, Executive Director of Design. “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.”
Mr. Herlitz said, “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...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.”
There was less overhang on the midsize cars (36.9 inches) than on the Concorde, Intrepid and Vision (43.9 inches). The hood was wider than it was long.
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.
Also critical to the buyer of these vehicles was a spacious, easily-accessible trunk, and the Cirrus and Stratus had two cubic feet more than the competition, a wide pass-through, and full-folding seats for effortless storage.
The Cirrus and Stratus bypassed “stripper” base models, which would later be taken up by the Plymouth Breeze. All trim levels came with the same exterior body-side molding, and the tires would be flush with the sheet metal.
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).
New for the 1998 Sebring Convertible, which was based on the sedans, 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.
For 2000, the Chrysler Cirrus, Plymouth Breeze, Chrysler Sebring Convertible, and Dodge Stratus were repackaged somewhat to help increase sales while the 2001 cars were being prepared. All got an internal emergency trunk release (installed by the dealer on early cars), 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.
I bought my 1996 Dodge Stratus in Teal Green in January 2005. It has 182,000 miles on the odometer as of today [date unknown, before 2015]. 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.
I am impressed that a car that has made more than 291,000 kilometers rides as smoothly, silently, and well as this Stratus. I love the transmission that predicts when I want the gear change done.
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, it 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).
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.
Five passenger bucket seat/console, four-door body, built in Sterling Heights, Michigan.
Track (front and rear): 60.2 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).
Fuel Capacity: 16 gallons
Steering: Speed sensitive, variable-assist, rack and pinion, power assisted (except Stratus Base and Plymouth Breeze, which did not have variable assist steering)
Brakes: Front disc, rear drum; anti-lock brakes standard on Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge ES
195/65R15 ride tire (standard on Chrysler Cirrus LX)
195/65HR15 touring tire (standard on Chrysler LXi and Stratus ES; aluminum wheels)
195/70R14 ride tire (standard on Breeze, base Stratus)
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