Dodge Stratus R/T Coupe(2001)

Stratus R/T

The Stratus is Dodge's midsized, front-wheel-drive coupe. It's certainly been improved since the last time we drove it. The biggest improvement: the name. It was previously known as the "Avenger." The Avenger? Come on! Chrysler marketers have a history of exaggerating their cars' attributes with overreaching names (see the Dodge Dart Swinger and Dodge Caravan Sport). Well, the teenage-y Avenger nameplate is gone, and "Stratus Coupe" is now used in its place. OK, so the car is now named after a cloud -- it's still an improvement.

What you get with the Stratus Coupe is a decent, personal, smallish, sporty car. It's a nice car for the money (the Stratus Coupe has a cars.com target price of $21,100 for the top-of-the-line R/T version we drove, plus another $1,000 for leather), but it may not suit everybody's needs.

Driving Experience

Our esteemed Producer, Doug Berman, opined that the Stratus felt quite a bit like the Mitsubishi Eclipse, which we liked. And we'll admit, grudgingly, that he was right for once. It has the engine, transmission, and chassis of the Eclipse. In fact, it's built on the very same assembly line. (The Stratus sedan looks similar but is mechanically different, as it's based on the old Stratus sedan. Go figure.)

The engine, a three-liter, 200-horsepower V6, is very smooth and powerful and pulls the car along easily in almost any gear. Needless to say, it was too powerful for Tommy's taste, as it exceeds his proposed .06-horsepower-per-pound limit. The transmission, a five-speed manual, had a good feel and performed well. The car was easy to drive. A four-speed automatic will set you back another 825 bucks.

The Stratus certainly looks sporty. OK, it looks extremely sporty. But the suspension is only moderately sporty. Dodge knows the buyers for this car (it hopes) are likely to be Americans, and Americans don't want to feel every bump. On the other hand, they made it sporty enough to take corners without significant body lean. It handles well, overall. One thing we didn't like was the cumbersome turning circle: your three-point turns may end up more like seven- or eight-point turns, should you find yourself in the wrong line at the tollbooth.

Driving over the familiar potholes of Our Fair City, we found that the Stratus felt tighter and more solid than the last Avenger we drove, in our humble opinion.

Interior

Stratus R/TWe should admit to our bias: we are not enamored of coupes. Of course, we're not the target audience either. Like most people who have families and bellies, we find two-door cars too impractical. If you have kids or dogs, or shopping bags, you generally want something with four doors. The Stratus has two. It's designed for a single person, or a couple that values style and performance and is not so concerned with practicality.

This is one of those sporty cars that you have to lower yourself into, at great risk to your self-respect if not your lumbar region. If the AARP has you on its mailing list, we suspect you're not going to like this car.

Stratus R/TOnce you've got the door shut, you're basically sitting down in a hole -- a hole with little headroom, we might add. This is a low car. Between the low sitting position and the high rear deck, visibility is so poor that you could be tailgated by the Queen Mary without realizing it.

Your overall comfort inside the Stratus Coupe depends on your perspective. If you're looking for a personal, cozy little "den," with nice leather seats and a good stereo, in a dark, closed in space, you may find the Stratus provides such a comforting cocoon. If you have a touch of claustrophobia, you may find the Stratus Coupe reminiscent of the Mercury space module.

Ergonomics

Stratus R/TFirst, the good points. The gauges are nice big, round dials, and there are four of them -- not too many, not too few. The heater controls, likewise, are models of simplicity, with three round knobs to make the air do what you want it to do. We particularly liked the vents, which reminded us of old Alfa Romeo vents. (There are lots of old Alfa vents kicking around, by the way, because it turns out it's the only part of the car that doesn't disintegrate into a pile of rust after a few years.)

On the nonergonomic side, whose idea was it to put the cup holder where it would interfere with the shift lever? And, as for the radio, let's just say that you would be wise to enroll yourself in a postgraduate-level course in electronics before trying to actually receive a signal.

While we're ranting, did you guys at Dodge ever try to open the trunk of this vehicle? You pop the trunk latch from inside the car, or via the key fob, but when you go to actually open the trunk there's nothing to grab onto except the smooth, vertical exterior of the trunk lid. That's what comes of putting styling over basic usability.

Styling

Stratus R/TTwo-door coupes traditionally are marketed to young people. Why? Because they don't have kids and can afford to be impractical. Plus, they haven't owned a two-door car yet, so they haven't yet made the vow never to buy a two-door car again. Because the buyers tend to be young, the styling tends to reflect the latest fashion. And we guess the latest fashion in sporty cars is, well, bulbous. At least up front. They'd probably call it "muscular." Whatever. It's clearly a sporty-looking car, with a tip toward garishness. Our guess is it will appeal more to young fellas than anyone else.

Reliability

While hardly an outstanding performer in terms of reliability, we'd expect the Stratus to last well into its second hundred thousand miles, and more if you get it serviced regularly.

Maintenance

Speaking of service, the 3.0-liter, V6 Mitsubishi engine in the Stratus is crammed into the engine compartment, which makes working on this car about as easy as performing deep brain surgery. Expect higher-than-normal costs for service and maintenance.

Overall comments

With a cars.com target price of around $21,000, the Stratus really offers quite a lot if you can do without rear doors and much interior space. We found ourselves checking and rechecking the price, figuring that -- given the engine, interior, and other features -- it had to cost a bit more than we thought.

There are other V6-powered midsized coupes on the market, some of which are more polished and more pleasant than the Stratus. You can get a Toyota Camry Solara or a Honda Accord coupe, both of which are more refined, but they'll each cost you an extra five grand. That's a lot. For the same amount of money, there's the Mercury Cougar, which offers the practicality of a hatchback but is even smaller inside, if memory serves. Finally, there's also the smaller VW Golf, a car we think very highly of, but it'll never be mistaken for a Camaro at the malt shop, if that's what you're looking for. The bottom line is that the Stratus provides a sense of personal luxury at a pretty low price. The trade-off, of course, is that there's room for only you and a pal; the back seat is really an appendage.

By the way, if the fact that the car is named after a cloud bothers you, you can buy the same car as a Chrysler Sebring.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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