2002 Dodge Stratus R/T Sedan Car Reviews
|Review Notes: 2002 Dodge Stratus R/T|
|Above Average:||Power, noise reduction, quality feel, acceleration, stereo, air conditioning|
|Needs Work In:||Price, gas mileage, marketing|
The Stratus R/T sedan, coupling Dodge's responsive 2.7 liter V6 with a five-speed manual transmission, was the first V6-manual transmission combination produced by Chrysler since the Spirit and Acclaim ended the run of the extended K-cars. The solid feel of the Stratus remains intact, and bumps are still well filtered, but there is more road feel, handling is markedly better, and, as one would expect, acceleration feels much better. The 200 horsepower 2.7 sounds quiet and polite on the standard Stratus, but sounds like a Camaro on the R/T when under heavy acceleration.
Generally, the Stratus R/T is an enjoyable ride, though harder to drive than the standard Stratus with its smooth automatic. The clutch feels like it was lifted from a Camaro SS (along with the muffler), and is heavier than most. It is still possible to operate it smoothly, but it does require more muscles than some want to devote to shifting. The shifter is pleasant with a good mechanical feel, making the position of each gear clear. First gear is relatively high, leading to some hesitation with this high-revving engine, particularly when the air conditioning is on. Fifth gear is relatively low, which means extra freeway power but lower gas mileage.
The engine itself is quite capable, but prefers to live in the higher revs, where it sucks down air and gasoline quickly but also generates lots of power - 200 horses, backed up by strong torque as well. Drive it gently, and you'll be rewarded with decent gas mileage. Mash the pedal down, and watch your gas mileage fall.
Chrysler went whole hog on fit and finish. It feels more solid than any Honda or Toyota I've driven, and the quality feel extends not just to the doors and trunk but to every switch and button. The AutoStick transmission on the ES is smooth and sure, whether it is downshifting or racing through the gears. You pay for that level of refinement, though, with a rather high price tag - especially compared with base Camrys and Accords. Of course, that price tag is before rebates, currently running at $2,500. The R/T model starts at about $20,000 before rebates - and that includes air conditioning, four way power disc antilock brakes, rear defroster, power locks and windows, the V6, a remote keyless entry (without alarm), lighting package, excellent CD stereo, tachometer, aluminum wheels, and trip computer. It no longer includes a passenger side door lock - in common with most Volkswagens and newer Chrysler products - which means that if your remote battery dies and your only lock freezes up, you're in trouble.
By contrast, the Nissan Altima V6 starts at $23,190 (including destination), and the rebates aren't quite so generous - if they exist at all. The Altima is, however, faster...as is the $26,000 Accord V6.
The interior is both spacious and well-appointed - about the same size as a Camry. While our ES had well-placed, tasteful simulated (or real?) woodgrain on the dashboard, the R/T used tacky black-and-silver plastic also seen on the Neon SXT and the 300M Special. The Chrysler Sebring sedan gets chrome rings around elegant gauges, but the Dodges get black rings and thick sans-serif lettering. This is the same instrument panel used on the Chrysler Sebring Convertible, but in that case, Chrysler simply used a Dodge instrument panel. (They seem a little confused about the brand engineering concept over in Auburn Hills - or is it Stuttgart that's confused?) In any case, all the Stratus sedans and convertibles have white-faced gauges, logical controls, and a good feel. An optional trip computer in the center of the dashboard was easy to read, with Chrysler's usual two-button control to cycle through compass/temperature, gas mileage, miles remaining, and other statistics.
The vent controls were easy to operate, even with gloves on, and the fan was quiet but powerful. The combination air conditioner/vent control was somewhat old-fashioned, but easy to understand and use. Air conditioning is superior to most Asian vehicles, and quickly cooled down the interior despite temperatures of up to 100 degrees during most of our test run.
The stereo was unusually good, with one caveat: it was not only an optional stereo, but an optional stereo with optional speakers and a CD changer. It's hard to argue with the result, which is one of the best stereos we have ever heard in a car. The bass was so strong that the car's lack of rattles is testament to its high-quality construction.
The moonroof has a clever "express open" feature which lets you hit the open button once, and it opens the rest of the way by itself. To close it, you need to keep your finger on the button. The moonroof on the R/T also has one button to lift into vent mode, and another to slide it open or closed.
One complaint with the old Stratus was its lack of power. The base model had a 2.0 liter Neon engine coupled with a five-speed manual, and actually went faster than the 2.5 liter Mitsubishi V6 version. No such disparities with the new Stratus; the 2.7 liter Dodge Magnum V-6, producing 200 horsepower, has no shortage of go-power, and the five-speed manual increases acceleration (but not, apparently, gas mileage). The variable intake system provides a moderate supercharging effect. Chrysler has been playing with the length of their manifold runners for decades, and this seems to be the logical outcome.
The engine was never obtrusively loud, even in the R/T, and passed very little vibration to the passenger compartment. In the ES, it sounded more Japanese than American, with a slight whine as it revved up. Gas mileage, on regular, was in the mid-20s. We had higher gas mileage in the automatic-equipped ES than in the R/T, but we also drive the R/T more in the city - and city mileage is very low, while highway mileage is not bad.
The Dodge Stratus R/T, with its stiffer (but not too stiff) suspension and moderately cheapened, but still well furnished interior, is a versatile mid-sized sedan that accelerates and handles surprisingly well, but is civilized enough for the family. It's a good overall package for those with muscular legs who want a versatile, user-friendly sedan that can hold its own at the traffic light or around the curves.