The first generation of the Stratus / Sebring Sedan, 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. However, competitors quickly adapted, while
Chrysler waited for the second generation. By 2000, the Stratus,
Cirrus, and Breeze were still competitive, but no longer clearly in the
forefront. Given Chrysler's disadvantage in perceived reliability, this
was a serious problem.
Stratus Fear: Chrysler's Best-Kept Performance Secret
The 2001 Dodge Stratus was announced; the 200-horsepower Chrysler 2.7-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 engine was finally available, with the Mitsubishi V6 dropped. The base engine was a Chrysler 147 hp 2.4 liter four. A performance ride and handling package, with 16 inch wheels and AutoStick, was available. Despite improved headlights, new radios, and side airbags, the new Stratus failed to have the impact of the original, and sales started falling.
The most confusing change for 2001 was the name game. The Cirrus was
now called the Sebring Sedan, as it took on the name of the
Mitsubishi-made Sebring Coupe. (The Sebring Convertible, by the way, was
based on the sedan). The Dodge Stratus kept the same name, but the
Dodge Avenger was now called the Stratus Coupe, essentially a Mitsubishi model. It too had a 200 horsepower engine, but it was the Mitsubishi 2.5; the standard Mitsubishi 2.4 liter engine generated 150 hp. The Stratus Coupe and Stratus Sedan did not appear to share a single part. In essence, Chrysler
kept the names of the better sellers to save marketing money. You know
things were bad when, in the middle of a boom time, a company actually
gave different products the same name so they can run a single ad.
A more welcome change was headlights with 25 percent brighter
light and an improved beam pattern. A new instrument panel on the
Sebring had beautiful white on black gauges reminiscent of the 300M. A
trip computer featured a compass and other useful information.
In 2003, the new Stratus appearance made the Stratus and the Neon look almost identical from the front. The SE Plus package, which few people even knew about, was dropped. The Stratus itself almost seemed like a well-kept secret. A flexible fuel version with V6/automatic, that could deal with alternative fuel, was offered. SE and ES models remained even thought Neon dropped ES. This was not new, but the Stratus sedan was given a five-star rating by NHTSA for both the driver and front passenger in a frontal impact and for rollover resistance. In addition, Dodge Stratus achieved "Good" ratings from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) on 40-mph frontal offset performance.
The Stratus Coupe also developed some new features for 2003. The Coupe had a freshened exterior and interior with improvements in noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH). The New SXT package added remote keyless entry and 16-inch aluminum wheels to the base SE model. R/T continued but ES disappeared. New 17" wheels for R/T with chrome wheel option. SE and SXT get 16" wheels. Almost all of the Stratus coupe's exterior had been updated for 2003, including front and rear fascias, grilled, headlamps, taillamps, fog lamps and side sill moldings, hood, and trunk lid designs. The Dodge grille got chrome inserts. The exterior "draws from classic muscle car design cues," according to Jim Julow, Vice President - Dodge Division Global Brand Center.
Two new interior color schemes (Dark Taupe with Medium Taupe and Black) and new trim bezel accents featuring a geometric carbon-fiber look. An instrument panel with white gauges on the cluster was welcome to those who found the original panel to be poorly conceived. The Stratus retained unusually good cargo and interior volume. Seat fabrics were new, as were door trim panels. An auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass and thermometer were added, along with garage door openers and reading lamps. The center console had been improved, and the R/T included wheel-mounted radio controls. With cargo volume uncommon for coupes, the Dodge Stratus held its own and then some, with 102.6 cubic feet of total interior volume. The 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks also allowed for stowing long items including skis or snowboards.
The base engine was at 147 horsepower (158 lb-ft), not up to the Chrysler 2.4 engine in the Stratus sedan. The Mitsubishi 3.0 V6 put out 200 horsepower, just like the Chrysler 2.7 V6 in the Stratus sedan. AutoStick was optional with an automatic-equipped Stratus R/T, but it was based on the Mitsubishi transmission.
For 2004, Dodge offered four models of Stratus sedan for 2004: Dodge Stratus SE, Dodge Stratus SXT, Dodge Stratus ES, and Dodge Stratus R/T; and Chrysler offered three Sebring sedan models: Chrysler Sebring sedan, Chrysler Sebring sedan Touring, and Chrysler Sebring sedan Limited.
Dodge Stratus sedan got a restyled front end and new appointments for 2004. In addition to a front-end appearance on all Stratus sedan, Dodge Stratus R/T models featured a monochromatic grille. Consistent with the new appearance of the 2004 Chrysler Sebring convertible, the 2004 Chrysler Sebring sedan had a restyled fascia with scalloped headlamps and grille. In addition, the 2004 Sebring sedan offered new 16-inch paint aluminum wheels on the base and Touring models, and new chrome-clad aluminum wheels on the Limited model,
Dodge Stratus sedan got a freshened interior in 2004 including new door trim panels, new seat fabric and color-keyed accents on the instrument panel. An available electrochromic rearview mirror helped to reduce headlamp glare, and audio steering wheel radio controls were available for convenience on both the Stratus and the Sebring.
For 2004, Dodge Stratus sedan featured BeltAlert(TM), an enhanced seat belt reminder system. If driven without the driver being properly belted, the system will periodically activate a chime and illuminate a light in the instrument cluster to remind the driver to buckle up.
2004 marked the first year Chrysler offered Sebring sedan Limited model that featured bright exhaust tips, leather seating, leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel with radio controls. Safety features on the Sebring included an advanced occupant restraint system, beefed-up body structure and trim for improved impact protection, internal trunk latch release, best-in-class brakes with optional ABS plus, traction control, and available supplemental side curtain air bag.
A/C problems - sometimes, the air conditioner on 2004-05 models may not work after a
half hour to an hour city-traffic drive. There was a computer
modification to prevent this; but even before applying that, simply
shutting off the car and restarting it twice should work. (TSB
Mexico’s Alfredo M. Claussen warned about stabilizer bar links which were made of plastic and could crack, possibly leading to an accident, because if they failed, you lost the stabilizing action of the antisway or stabilizer bar suddenly. These links were installed in some 2001-2002 Stratus R/T and Cirrus (Sebring LXi) sedans. He also noted that the 2.4-turbo versions of these cars appeared to have the standard, base suspension; and that some Corvettes used similar plastic parts which were also prone to cracking. We did not know if this was a Mexico-only issue or if the part was installed in other countries as well.
Auto tech Joe strongly recommended that owners both change the timing belt as directed by the manual, and be sure to use the correct ATF+3 or newer transmission fluid. He had seen cases where just a little maintenance could have saved thousands of dollars on transmissions and engines.
Matt Hoffman wrote: My sister told me her 2002 Sebring sedan sounded like something “gave” in the back, with a loud bang noise, and then a loud rattle in the rear. I could see that the ‘stuff’ inside the right spring was different than the left side. I pulled the carpet back in the trunk on the right side, pulled the dust cap off, and found that the top of the shock was loose - I could move it with my hand. The shock looks like a strut since it had the coil spring around it, but just had one bolt at the bottom. I saw Internet claims that Chrysler used aluminum mounts which corroded, and changed them after the 2002 model year.
If you have a 2.4 liter engine (turbo or standard), you can change the cam sensor (camshaft position sensor).
The Mitsubish-made V6 engine of the last generation was finally
replaced by a Chrysler 2.7 liter V6. This was done as part of a
de-Mitsubishi process undertaken when Chrysler was not owned by
Daimler-Benz, and when Daimler-Benz did not own control of Mitsubishi.
In any case, the Chrysler 2.7 had 32 more horsepower and 23 more lb-ft
of torque, and was nearly ten percent more efficient. The 200 hp engine
had 193 lb-ft of torque at 4300 rpm. A new active intake manifold
tuning valve increased usable torque and mid-range performance, while
the AutoStick allowed manual control of the automatic transmission.
The 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine was now the standard
powerplant, with 150 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 167 lb.-ft. of torque
at 4400 rpm. Engine refinements focused on quieter operation.
A true manual was introduced on the 2002 Stratus R/T, with the
2.7 liter engine. The same powertrain (and instrument panel!) was used
on the Sebring GTC.
The V-6 now featured a dual-resonance intake manifold, like the one
on the Intrepid ES. The engine was transverse mounted. Output was
slightly less than in the Intrepid ES, but the Stratus/Sebring was
lighter. A four-speed automatic (with AutoStick on ES/LXi) was standard.
Don't confuse these engines with the Coupe counterparts. The 2.4 in
the Sedan was made by Chrysler, while the 2.4 in the Coupe was a
Mitsubishi. Likewise, the 200 hp V6 in the Sedan was made by Chrysler
(2.7), while the Coupe had a torquier 200hp 3.0 V6 (with 205 lb-ft of
A cross-platform team balanced ride, handling, engine performance
and quietness. Engineers and designers worked together to change the
shape of the A-pillar, windshield molding and mirrors to minimize air
turbulence. The hood, cowl screen and windshield wipers were redesigned
to minimize wind noise by forcing the wind over the wiper arm and
blade. The front door glass was even made thicker.
Other refinements included foam injected into the body,
redesigned doors with minimum openings for wiring, and full wheelhouse
Engineers used finite element analysis to optimize the rigidity
of the Stratus and Sebring sedans for a greatly improved body structure
that yielded a 13 percent reduction in twist and a 33 percent reduction
A retuned steering system with a new front suspension
crossmember, rebound springs added to shocks for improved control
without sacrificing comfort, and revised sway bar isolators made the
cars more fun to drive.
The Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus sedans featured a short
long-arm (SLA) front suspension system that provided superior balance
between handling stability and ride comfort. The rear multi-link
suspension contributed to refined ride and handling by reducing
friction and bending.
Larger tires and wheels helped maintain the fun-to-drive
characteristics of the Sebring sedan. Standard were 15-inch P205/65R15
tires compared to the previous 14-inch tires. New optional 16-inch
wheels and P205/60R16 tires were available. Larger four-wheel disc
brakes were standard equipment. Available "ABS Plus" was a
new, sophisticated software extension that sensed braking in turns and
controlled yaw in full and partial braking situations, as well as with
Other brake improvements included optimizing front/rear brake
balance with electronic brake distribution and increased brake
durability with larger front rotors, thicker brake linings and
corrosion-resistant rotors and brake lines.
For the first time, an available side air bag curtain, which
provided protection to both the front and rear outboard occupants, was
offered. Other new safety features included a rear center lap/shoulder
belt, multi-stage front air bags to reduce occupant air bag exposure in
lower speed crashes, front seat belt pretensioners and load-limiters
for improved occupant safety, as well as an improved body structure.
To improve side impact performance, additional front door
beams were added, while the B-pillar, sill and roof bow were
Additional safety features were lower and upper anchors for
improved child safety seat installation (LATCH), larger front head
restraints, internal emergency trunk release and structural and trim
changes for improved head impact protection.
The Dodge=sporty and Chrysler=luxury differentiation was clearly
made through tire, shock, and spring tuning. Both, though, benefit from
many innovations to reduce noise, including revised spring isolators,
bushings, and antiroll bar mounts.
The Chrysler Sebring, as an "affordable luxury" car, had a
lengthy list of standard equipment. Though the base engine was the
2.4-liter four-cylinder, it came with a four-speed automatic
transaxle, four-wheel disc brakes, and 15-inch wheels with chrome wheel
covers and all-season tires. Other standard features included air
conditioning, AM/FM stereo cassette, tilt steering, power windows,
customer programmable locks, power mirrors and trunk release, seats
including driver lumbar adjustment, woodgrain switch bezels, speed
control, rear window defroster, variable intermittent windshield
wipers, and headlamp off delay.
The Chrysler Sebring LXi came with the 2.7-liter DOHC V-6 engine,
16-inch aluminum wheels, fog lamps, power driver seat, leather-trimmed
seats with center rear folding armrest, leather-wrapped steering wheel
and shift knob, remote illuminated keyless entry, a traveler trip
computer including compass and outside temperature readings, CD player,
front reading lights, rear assist handles, and chrome inside door
Other options included cassette with four-disc in-dash CD
changer, theft-deterrent system, side air bag curtains, power sun roof,
120-watt sound system, full-size spare tire with matching wheel, chrome
plated aluminum wheels, AutoStick, electroluminescent gauge cluster,
three-channel remote system, and cargo net.
The sedans were built at the Sterling Heights
Assembly Plant in Sterling Heights (Michigan). From 2008-2010, they were made in Novgorod, Russia, by GAZ, which had purchased the assembly line and tooling. Production was ended at the end of 2010 due to the economic crisis, and the facility is now used for contract manufacturing instead.
All dimensions are in inches (millimeters) unless otherwise noted.
Is there an error on this page? Let us know and you could win a prize!
More Mopar Car and Truck News