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The Dodge Intrepid is a good car for driving enthusiasts who want a big domestic sedan. It handles well and has lots of power.
The Intrepid is the sportiest of a range of full-size sedans from DaimlerChrysler. It complements the longer and more conservative Chrysler Concorde, the shorter, more European-looking Chrysler 300M and the big, luxurious Chrysler LHS. The Intrepid actually.
The Dodge Intrepid is a good example of Chrysler's cab-forward design. The sloping cowl sweeps into a steeply raked windshield, over the curvaceous roof and down a decklid reminiscent of past fastbacks. There is great nuance to the sheet metal, which rolls and undulates like a work of art. It boasts an aggressive grille borrowed from the racy Dodge Viper with sleek, wrap-around cats-eye lenses that flow into the sweeping hood line.
While the Intrepid shares its chassis and drive trains with Chrysler's Concorde, 300M and LHS, these cars do not share sheet metal design. Where the slightly longer Chrysler Concorde accentuates elegance, the Intrepid punches the sporty button.
There's a cavernous 18 cubic-foot trunk, nearly 2 cubic feet more than the last generation Intrepid. But the numbers don't tell the whole story. The trunk hinges fold cleanly out of the way, instead of crushing cargo when the trunk is stuffed. We do have one complaint about the trunk: Lift-over height is high, so you have to lift groceries and other cargo high over the rear bumper to get it into the trunk.
At the same time, the Intrepid provides a roomy interior. The wheels have been moved farther out toward the corners, reducing the amount of front and rear overhang. This adds passenger and cargo space and improves ride quality.
The quality of the interior materials is much better than it was with the previous-generation Dodge Intrepid. Colors match well, and gaps have been minimized. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the space where doors and dashboard come together. To add to the sporty look of the Intrepid, Dodge designers switched to black-on-white gauges. They may be a bit less legible, but they look neat.
The radio is now on top of the heater controls; most of us fiddle with the stereo more than the heater and this design makes it easier to operate. The buttons are small, which makes them difficult to operate with gloves on. I found myself frequently taking my eyes off the road to change stations and you have to hit a separate "set" button to set station buttons instead of just holding them down. The good news is that Dodge offers an in-dash four-disc CD changer, a brilliant design. Just shove the discs in; there's no need to go to the trunk and mess around with CD magazines.
The Intrepid comes standard with front bucket seats. They provide good back and lateral support and the detailing of the fabric is world class.
I wasn't entirely happy with the automatic climate control system that came as part of the $2,675 option package on our Intrepid; I frequently found myself overriding the automatic settings so I could stay warm on a 26-degree day. When I did that, however, it did a good job of warming the cabin.
An average-sized driver, I found the Intrepid to be very comfortable. Tall drivers may run short on headroom and may be looking through the top part of the steeply raked windshield. Front and rear visibility isn't quite as good as it is in some of the more traditionally styled vehicles in this class.
The Dodge Intrepid handles amazingly well for such a large sedan. Part of the secret lies deep in its body architecture. The chassis was designed with increased torsional rigidity, including an aluminum cross beam mounted behind the instrument panel. That extra stiffness translates into less body shake and roll, reduced noise, vibration and harshness, and improved handling. Extensive use of aluminum helps minimize weight without sacrificing stiffness.
This is an easy car to drive and covering long distances in it is a pleasant experience. Tires have been upgraded to 16 inches for base and ES models. The Intrepid comes with 16-inch steel wheels, with optional alloy wheels available for the ES. (The R/T model comes with 17-inch alloys.) The tires on our ES offered impressive grip. I was amazed at how well it handled snow and ice after a snowstorm that dumped six inches on the Washington, D.C., area.
The Intrepid ES comes with a 225-horsepower 3.2-liter V6. This all-aluminum engine was developed specifically for this family of sedans. It sounds good under hard acceleration and delivers excellent acceleration performance, whether starting from a standstill or passing at high speeds. This engine is capable of propelling the Intrepid from 0 to 60 mph in the mid-eight-second range, which is quite quick for a big sedan. (We have not had an opportunity to drive the R/T model.)
The transmission shifts effectively without hunting for the appropriate gear. It's also entertaining to pull it back a notch and use the AutoStick mode. This allows the driver to shift up by pushing the lever to the right or downshift by moving it toward the left.
Brakes are excellent, offering quick, predictable stopping power at threshold. ABS is available and we recommend it as anti-lock brakes allow the driver to maintain steering control during emergency braking situations. ABS comes packaged with traction control ($775), which enhances driver control by reducing wheel spin under hard acceleration. The traction control system made the Intrepid easier to drive briskly on icy, snow-covered roads. Intrepid's quad beams provide brilliant illumination.
With its powerful engine and stiff body structure, the Dodge Intrepid offers excellent handling and acceleration. It's smooth and quiet, until you stomp on the throttle. At the same time, there's plenty of room for passengers and cargo.
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