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Back a few years, when Chrysler had been written off by the automotive press, a team of engineers was sent over to Honda to learn how they designed cars. They came back with a few essential principles: a cross-platform team approach (already used by AMC), small engine bay, and wheels pushed to the four corners of the car. The Viper was the first test of the team approach; the company bet its entire existence on the LH project, safeguarding its investment by using a design which could be converted to rear wheel drive for police use.
In 1998, the entire LH series was in its second and final generation. The Concorde, Intrepid, and 300M were bargain-priced as full-size near-luxury cars with very competent handling and acceleration, and many feel they were the best full-sized front-wheel-drive cars ever made.
For 2004 Chrysler offered three Concorde models: LX, LXi and Limited. All 2004 Chrysler Concorde had V6 power, four-speed automatic transaxles, four-wheel disc brakes, and four-wheel independent suspension.
All Chrysler Concorde models were manufactured at the Brampton, Ontario, Canada Assembly Plant.
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After driving an Acura RL, we have to say that if you were to rebadge a Concorde as an Acura, most reviewers would say it was a viable alternative to the BMW 525 and Acura RL. It really is that good - and the Acura RL, at least, is that not-worth-$20,000-more. The Concorde looks better inside, and seems to have higher quality interior materials. The 300M is an even better deal, though it is a tad smaller. Many will be repulsed by this paragraph, but, given our experience in psychology and market research, we know how powerful a brand name is - if it was not powerful, the pre-Mazda Ford Escort would never have become a best seller, and the current Honda Civic would have lower sales than the Neon. So if you know someone who is contemplating a BMW 525 or Acura RL, blindfold them and get them into a Chrysler Concorde (with of course the name badges covered up) for a test drive first.
Most of what we noted about the 1999 model holds true, despite a minor redesign which added four inches to the 2002 Concorde. Our test LXi had surprisingly good handling which kept the big car firmly planted on the road. The 3.5 liter engine, standard on the LXi, produces 234 horsepower - the base 2.7 manages 200 hp, and the Limited née LHS 250 - with of course matching torque, but at a cost of two miles per gallon compared with the 2.7. Acceleration is very good but the quietness of the engine and the gentleness of the transmission take away some of the thrill. Torque steer is mostly absent on the highway, though you still can make the tires squeal a little on the road if you floor it while turning from a stop. Meanwhile, harsh surfaces and sudden bumps are well filtered, without any subsonic booms or other distractions.
As far as standard features go, we were divided between the trip computer, providing gas mileage, outside temperature, and a compass, and the rear vents, offering back seat passengers a choice between upper vents for cool air, lower vents for heat, or no extra air at all. Nice feature.
We also had the opportunity to spend two hours in the back seat of the Concorde on the road, and found the ride to be pleasant there as well. There is an amazing amount of back seat room, allowing tall people to sit in comfort, though a taller seat might have been more comfortable. The center console conceals a trunk pass-through, as well as a decent-sized storage space.
The instrument panel is fairly conservative, with white on black modern lettering and green backlighting. Attractive chrome rings around the gauges provided a luxury touch. All controls were easy to figure out and use, and the buttons and switches had a very luxurious feel - particularly the turn signal, which is much improved over past models. The cruise control is mounted on the steering wheel, with radio controls (optionally) on the back of the steering wheel.
The optional CD-cassette stereo had very good sound, with a three-band slider-activated equalizer to keep it that way. The automatic temperature control was easy to operate, and allowed individual features to be overruled (fan speed and vent choice) without losing automatic thermostat control.
The Dodge Intrepid and Intrepid R/T give up a little of the smooth ride in return for better handling - which most drivers won't notice. The Intrepid R/T is the basis for the new police squad package. The Limited adds the basic LHS package, including a 250 horsepower version of the engine that requires midgrade fuel (the 2.7 and standard 3.5 take regular).
The 300M provides a much higher appearance of luxury, along with a shorter length for sportier handling and slightly easier parking. The next generation will boost power and switch to rear wheel drive, which eliminates torque steer but makes it easier to lose control - something which is hard to do with the Concorde.
Overall, our impression - and that of our unbiased observers - was of an unusually nice $30,000 car, not a $24,000 model (as the sticker would indicate) or a $20,000 model (as you could probably pay in the showroom).
We can't believe the price of this car. We can see no reason to buy a Ford Taurus when the Concorde is in the same ballpark, yet offers much more room, convenience, comfort, and, we suspect, reliability (just before we wrote this review, it was ranked the best premium midsize car in initial quality by J.D. Power & Associates, based on their 90-day poll.) Unless you need a five-speed transmission or prefer small, nimble cars to large, luxurious ones, the Concorde is irresistible.
After testing many alternatives, we are even more firmly convinced that the Concorde and Intrepid are amazing bargains. We will suggest as options, however, the Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Stratus Sedan, Subaru Legacy, and, yes, the PT Cruiser.
The Intrepid is a bit different from the Concorde, though both cars are based on the same platform. Try both before you buy (or decide not to buy).
The key themes of the Concorde are gentleness and space. It is a massive car, as long as a minivan with a trunk that can hold many long objects. The interior is boundless and high; when they say it holds five passengers, they mean five large passengers with long legs and big hats.
Some parts of the interior are quite clever. We particularly liked the novel approach to cup-holders; they flip out of the front center console, and are integrated into the unusual rear center console (which includes its own storage area). The front console/armrest, which folds up, also includes a change holder and space for cassettes, CDs, and maps.
The transmission shifted incredibly smoothly, with barely perceptible shifts even under hard throttle. This is the only car we've ever driven where high-speed kickdown is gentler than most other vehicles' low-acceleration shifts, and the downshifts are equally smooth and quiet. If you don't look at the tachometer you might think there was only one speed.
Bumps and surface irregularities are handled quite well. You can feel the road, but it is never rough inside the car, even when you know the surface is harsh. On the other hand, the tires become quite noisy on concrete pavement, and there is more wind noise than we expected (though it was not apparent until we went over 60 mph).
Handling is good, but emergency maneuvers are met with some protest; the car, like a big ship, does not want to be yanked around, though it will comply if needed. There are no squeals of tortured tires, but the steering wheel stiffens, and you get the idea this is not the way to treat a Concorde. This seems to have been changed between 1999 and 2002.
Power was an interesting question. At first, before the transmission adapted to the way we drove, it was incredibly smooth, but forget about sudden bursts of acceleration. The 2.7 liter V-6 makes its power in the high rpms, and you rely on the transmission to kick down sometimes. After a week, the transmission had adapted to our driving style and the car had more vigor than it did when we first got it. The transmission was still incredibly smooth. See the update for the 3.5 engine.
The optional 3.2 (not available in 2002 or later models) boasts more power and probably makes it more quickly; the Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler 300M are no doubt tuned more for instant response and less for ultimate comfort. An AutoStick or, better, a manual transmission would go a long way to making better use of the 2.7, but we get the idea that we're missing the point when we say that about the Concorde. So, Chrysler, if you're listening...how about a manual-transmission Intrepid? (We do expect the 2.7 to go into the Cirrus and Sebring eventually, but not with a manual transmission.)
Ultimate comfort is, in fact, what the Concorde is all about, and if you drive sedately and under the speed limit, it's an excellent vehicle. You'll never lack for leg or head room, even in the rear seat. Need two child seats and someone sitting in the middle? No problem! It's great for handling babies, because you don't hit your (or their) head lifting them out of the seat. It also doesn't matter much how far forward or backward the front seats go, because the people in the back will still have more room than in competitive cars.
The controls are generally logical, with the usual exception of the climate control. Chrysler appears to be trying out many new ways to confuse its customers, usually tricking them into leaving the air conditioning on all the time; with the Concorde, they also seem to want us to leave the air on recirculating mode. The radio required quite a bit of reading. Maybe next year, a Delco model could be fitted? (It did have very good sound). Interior lighting was good, and there were no squeaks or rattles even when the car was cold. The driver's floor mat was fastened in place, and the horn was easy to reach and use.
There did seem to be a blind spot on the driver's side, so be careful when moving over to the left.
Under the hood, you can tell that the engineers were chatting with mechanics and owners. Everything is clearly marked, and all the fuses and electrical gadgets were in a clearly marked box. (The layout of the fuse panel was on the underside of the box - no need to get the manual). Every fluid receptacle was easy to get to. One question for LH engineers out there - where are the spark plugs? Or the wires? The innovative plastic intake manifold was visually quite interesting...and we appreciated the jumper cable connections. (Photos to be posted in January). Gas mileage was relatively high for a car of this size; the EPA guesses at 21-30, and we obtained 26. The highway mileage is helped by a fairly high overdrive.
The windshield washers were particularly effective; there were three nozzles for each side of the car, and the oversized wipers worked well at all speeds.
Nobody could believe the Concorde listed - not sold for, but listed for - $21,510. It looks like a $30,000 car, and if it was sold as a Lincoln or Cadillac, that's probably what the price would be, and people would line up to buy it. The interior is much larger than the other cars in that segment (such as the Taurus/Sable, Accord, Camry, and 626), and ride is excellent, and the value is just incredible. We do recommend opting for the 22D package, which includes the trip computer / compass / temperature gauge / universal garage control (with 3 remotes), an automatic mirror we found highly worthwhile, a premium cassette player, and 8-way power seats. We also recommend the antilock brakes and cold weather group, even if you live in the middle of the country; the cold weather group is just $30.
On the whole, an enjoyable car we look forward to owning when we're a little older.
Technical information was provided by Chrysler. We have edited this to avoid duplication, wordiness, and unnecessarily length self-congratulation. (Chrysler is by no means the only automaker to be guilty of wordiness and auto-back-patting; ever read a Toyota release?)
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