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The LHS is Chyrsler's full-size luxury flagship with acres of passenger and cargo space. But it's no land yacht. Equipped with front-wheel drive, relatively little weight and a sporty character, the LHS is an enjoyable car to drive. It may look rich and formal on the outside, but underneath the sheet metal, is the heart of an import performance sedan.
The LHS is the direct descendant of the once-revered New Yorker. Designed to attract import-buying baby boomers, the LHS was introduced as a sporty upgrade to the New Yorker. Much to Chrysler's surprise, everyone--including the traditionally more conservative New Yorker buyer--began opting for the more lavish, more expensive LHS with its bucket seats and taut suspension. So in 1995, the long-lived New Yorker nameplate faded into oblivion.
We're not spending a lot of time lamenting the passing of the New Yorker, however, because the LHS is a much more enjoyable car to drive. Those buyers opting for the LHS were no dummies.
The LHS is the latest in a long line of full-size Chrysler luxury sedans, but this class is part of a vanishing breed. This fall, the LHS will shrink toward midsize sedan dimensions, in part because Chrysler's research shows most customers prefer smaller cars.
So while plenty of people still want a full-size luxury sedan, their choices are continuing to narrow. The 1997 LHS may represent the last opportunity to keep Chrysler on the full-size shopping list.
And we're here to tell you there are good reasons to keep this year's LHS on that full-size shopping list. Besides its sporty nature, the LHS offers a lot of value. There's only one model available and, priced at $30,850, it comes with a high level of standard equipment. The only option on our car was a premium sound system, which brought the total to $31,150.
Compared with other domestic luxury cars, the LHS is about $7,400 less expensive than a Lincoln Continental and about $9,400 less than a Cadillac Seville. It also stacks up well against the smaller imports, going out the door about $5,500 less than an Infiniti J30 and about the same as a Lexus ES300.
For the most part, the 214-horsepower, 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 provides good performance for the LHS. It tends to be a little noisy under hard starts and aggressive passes and it doesn't have the off-the-line torque of a big V8. The LHS, however, weighs considerably less than the Lincoln Continental and Cadillac Seville and about the same as the Infiniti J30 and Mercedes E-class, which helps make the most of the available power.
The four-speed automatic transmission is smooth and seamless most of the time. But stand on the gas pedal and shifts tend to get rough and abrupt--or more positive, depending on your perspective.
The traction control system that comes as standard equipment reduces wheelspin, particularly when accelerating from a standstill on slippery surfaces. If the system senses that the front wheels are spinning it will automatically apply the brakes, pulsing them rapidly until the offending tire regains its grip.
The LHS is surprisingly agile given its size. With its taut suspension, it handles like a smaller sedan. Steering is precise with good on-center feel. The power assist makes the steering feel a bit on the light side and the LHS leans in corners more than a Lexus or Mercedes, but overall it handles better than the heavier Lincoln Continental.
Chrysler engineers have created a successful compromise blending the roominess of a traditional domestic luxury car with performance characteristics now found in import luxury cars. Inside and out, it lives up to its price tag.
Next year's LHS will continue the evolution, edging closer to the smaller imports. But if a big ride is what you're looking for right now, Chrysler's flagship sedan is well worth considering.
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