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The Chrysler Cirrus proves big things really can come in smaller packages. On the outside, this stylish sedan falls into the compact class. But open the doors and you'll discover a surprisingly spacious layout that delivers nearly as much elbow-, leg- and shoulder-room as many midsize sedans. Chrysler's cab-forward design is especially appealing for those who don't want to sacrifice rear seat comfort.
Roominess is just the most obvious selling point for the Cirrus--there are many other points in this car's favor.
Chrysler's Cirrus is one of Chrysler Corporation's three so-called "cloud cars." The Dodge Stratus and Plymouth Breeze share the same basic platform and many of the underlying components, but the Cirrus is the most lavishly equipped of the three.
For 1998, Chrysler has adopted a one-size-fits-all strategy for the Cirrus, dropping the base LX model to focus exclusively on the loaded LXi. That means air conditioning, antilock brakes, leather seats and trim, a power driver's seat, remote keyless entry, aluminum wheels and a 168-horsepower V6 all come as standard equipment. But as those late-night TV spots like to blare: Wait, there's more! A tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power windows and power door locks are also standard. The only option on our test vehicle was the power sunroof.
But the Cirrus is not just one of the most stylish and well-equipped cars in its class, it's now one of the most affordable. The price tag for all this has been cut from $21,830 for a comparably equipped 1997 LXi to just $19,995 for the 1998 model. (All prices in this guide include destination charges.)
The mid-price sedan market is extremely competitive. Nearly every manufacturer has an entry and several sell huge numbers of sedans in this price range. With such a long list of competitors, it's easy for a mediocre car to get lost in a crowd. That crowd includes the three biggest selling sedans on the market, the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus. But the closest competitors from a size and price standpoint are the Ford Contour and Pontiac Grand Am.
Many of the players in this field have decided to take the safe route with styling that tends to be bland and, in some cases, downright boring. That's not the case with the Cirrus. It's got the type of panache that once would have been found only in a coupe.
And these good looks are more than just skin deep. Cirrus is a textbook example of Chrysler's cab-forward design. The airy cabin is wide, while the wheelbase has been stretched to the point where the tires nearly nuzzle the bumpers. This design also improves stability. The aggressive, steep-sloping hoodline gives the Cirrus a constant sense of motion.
The grille may be the car's most controversial feature. To some, the liberal use of chrome will suggest luxury. To others, it's a bit loud and retro. But whether you like the look, Chrysler deserves credit for its willingness to push the styling envelope and accept the fact that potential buyers are going to either love or hate products like the Cirrus. Besides, those who don't like the styling of the Chrysler Cirrus may like the more European-type styling of the Dodge Stratus or Plymouth Breeze.
Inside is where Chrysler's Cirrus is the undeniable stand-out in its class. This car has nearly as much room as most midsize four-door sedans--even though it is officially classified as a compact sedan. You'll also find tremendous cargo space inside the cavernous trunk. It is capable of carrying golf clubs for four along with a picnic lunch.
One of Chrysler's goals with the Cirrus, Stratus and Breeze is to attract baby boomers who grew up buying imported cars. For this reason, the Cirrus does not come in a six-passenger configuration. There are two leather-clad buckets up front and a bench seat in back. But rear-seat passengers are going to be impressed with the expansive space available for their legs and torsos.
Quality of fit and finish is quite good. Indeed, it was notably better on our 1998 model than it was when the Cirrus was first introduced. Chrysler has been working hard to improve the quality of its construction and it shows. Door gaps have been tightened and everything seems to be put together better than we remembered when we first drove the car a few years back.
The interior design is handsome. Several shades of earthy browns and creams in our test car made for an attractive appearance. Faux wood trim strives to give the Cirrus a more luxurious look.
Seats were comfortable and supportive in all the right places. Electric seat controls were well positioned and easy to operate-as were most of the car's switches and controls. The gauges were simple, well laid out and easy to read both by day and night. There were some nice little touches, such as the pen holder mounted inside the center console.
The audio system was an especially nice touch. It comes with a cassette player and a CD upgrade is available.
Safety features include dual front de-powered airbags and antilock brakes (ABS).
Perhaps the best news for 1998 is the decision to drop last year's base 150-horsepower 4-cylinder engine in favor of a smoother-running V6 that turns out a much more impressive 168 horsepower. The overhead-cam V6 is mated to an electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission. (There is no manual gearbox available.) Another nice touch is the electroluminescent PRNDL display in the instrument cluster.
The new engine is a fairly hard-charging package. The Cirrus is by no means the most aggressive performer in its class, however, taking about 10.3 seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph. But speed isn't everything. As we noted already, there have been marked improvements since Cirrus's introduction a few years back, especially when it comes to noise, vibration and harshness. The 2.5-liter V6 is smooth and quiet. One reason is that the engine sits on improved motor mounts. And it appears that Chrysler has taken the time to beef up the sound-deadening insulation, which helps isolate road and tire noise as well as engine noise.
Happily, Chrysler hasn't isolated road feel. And that's one of the best features of the Cirrus. You are readily in touch with what the car is doing at all times. Credit the independent front and rear suspension, front and rear anti-roll bars, and speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering.
The antilock brakes proved comfortably sure-footed on wet and dreary Detroit highways. The braking system employs front discs and rear drums.
Headlight performance sometimes suffers with small, aerodynamic headlamps. This is a phenomenon we've noticed with many manufacturers as most people like modern stylish headlights, but few take lighting performance into consideration. As if to make up for it, fog lights come as standard equipment.
Chrysler's Cirrus delivers a premium package without having to pay a premium price. Cirrus is a great-looking car that's roomy and loaded with lots of standard features. Add to that a price that was reduced for 1998 and you've got a sedan that stands out among a strong field of competitors. Its cutting edge styling allows the Cirrus to stand out further.
Chrysler has been refining the Cirrus ever since its introduction. Noise, vibration and harshness have been reduced and performance has been increased. It also appears that Chrysler is making serious efforts to address some of the Cirrus's early quality problems. We hope to see this confirmed by results from independent surveys in upcoming months.
Plain and simple, Cirrus is a car that belongs on your shopping list if you're looking for an affordable compact sedan but want all the room and features of something bigger and more expensive.