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Remember the big cars of the Seventies? The Dodge Intrepid offers that kind of abundant power and comfortable ride, with room for five passengers (six, if you opt for the front bench seat). Intrepid's styling is modern and handsome, yet evokes the sweeping sleekness of those days as well. Best of all, Intrepid delivers the precision handling and high fuel efficiency that 21st century consumers expect. What's not to love?
Last year, highly modified versions of the Intrepid proved competitive in NASCAR Winston Cup stock car racing. Now, Intrepids are appearing in other stock-car series as well, where they run mostly against mid-size body styles. That's a real tribute to the Intrepid's efficient aerodynamic design.
Dodge has simplified Intrepid engine and transmission choices for 2002, and added some new exterior colors. Prices of some models and options have actually been reduced slightly. Beyond that, the 2002 model remains much the same as the 2001.
Dodge Intrepid is a great example of Chrysler's cab-forward design. The sloping cowl sweeps into a steeply raked windshield, over the curvaceous roof and down to a short deck lid reminiscent of past fastbacks. There is great nuance to the sheet metal, which rolls and undulates like a work of art. Intrepid boasts an aggressive, integrated bumper/grille borrowed from the racy Dodge Viper; and sleek, wrap-around cats-eye headlight lenses that flow into the sweeping hood line.
While the Intrepid shares its chassis and drive train with Chrysler's Concorde and 300M, these cars do not share sheet metal. Where the slightly longer Concorde accentuates elegance, and the trim 300M oozes Continental sophistication, the Intrepid reflects golden days of American muscle.
There's a cavernous 18 cubic-foot trunk, nearly 2 cubic feet more than the first- generation (1993-97) 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.
Despite its slick exterior shape, the Intrepid provides a roomy interior. The wheels reach out toward the corners, reducing the amount of front and rear overhang. This adds passenger and cargo space and improves the ride.
The quality of the interior materials is generally good. Colors match well, and gaps have been minimized. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the space where the doors and dashboard come together. Reversed, black-on-white gauges add to the sporty atmosphere. They may be a bit less legible than white-on-black, 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 so the change makes sense. 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. You just shove the discs in, with 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 $1,870 M-Package on our Intrepid ES. I frequently found myself overriding the automatic settings so I could stay warm on a 26-degree day. Once I took control, though, the system did a good job of heating the cabin.
As an average-size 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. Its chassis was designed for a high level of torsional rigidity. There's even 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 and stability. Extensive use of aluminum helps minimize weight without sacrificing stiffness.
Intrepid is an easy car to drive, and covering long distances in it is a pleasant experience. The seats are especially comfortable. Sixteen-inch wheels have been standard on SE and ES models since 2001, and the 60-series Goodyear Eagle GA tires on our ES offered impressive grip. I was amazed, also, at how well they handled snow and ice after a snowstorm that dumped six inches on the Washington, D.C., area. I cruised up several hills in deep, virgin snow.
Our test vehicle was a 2001 ES, powered by a 225-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6; and equipped with the AutoStick transmission. This combination delivered excellent acceleration, whether starting from a standstill or passing at high speeds; and could propel the Intrepid from 0 to 60 mph in the mid-8-second range, which is good performance for a big sedan. 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.
Chrysler has retired this engine and transmission combination for 2002, but the 243-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 in the latest ES should provide even better performance. But you'll have to upgrade to the sporty R/T to get the AutoStick this year.
Brakes are excellent, offering quick, stable stopping power at the threshold of wheel lock. ABS is available (for $600 on SE and ES, standard on R/T)) and we recommend it as anti-lock brakes allow the driver to maintain steering control during emergency braking situations. On the M-Package ES only, ABS comes packaged with traction control (for $775, but also standard on R/T), 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-beam headlights 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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