- Fairly good ride and handling.
- Value-packed power interior options.
- Decent V6 with wide torque band.
- Very sleek and attractive styling.
- Useable back seat.
- Very heavy.
- Needs more power to match the R/T badge.
- Low-quality interior materials.
- Huge turning circle.
- Rearward visibility is somewhat restricted.
Press Coverage :
Though it lacks a turbocharger or even variable valve timing, Mitsubishi's single overhead cam 3.0-liter V6 is the best thing about the Stratus R/T Coupe. It's not astoundingly fast, as our 7.4-second 0-to-60-mph and 15.7-second (at 90 mph) quarter-mile times attest, but it has a long, flat torque band and a guttural snarl that should satisfy most people who test-drive the car. Bear in mind, however, that most similarly priced sport coupes and muscle cars (not to mention the Nissan Altima family sedan) can beat the 3,200-pound Stratus R/T to 60 mph. Of course, only a few of us lose sleep over performance specs, and this Dodge is very easy to drive in the city and always has plenty of power for passing on the freeway. The engine does tend to drone at highway speeds, but with a cruising rpm of about 3,000, it never wails unless it's driven like a sports car. Fuel economy is average for a V6-powered car and we managed 24 mpg during the test car's week-long stay. Premium fuel is recommended for maximum performance.
The five-speed manual is generally a good match for the R/T's V6 - with such a broad spread of torque, engineers were able to keep the gearing tall, such that you don't have to shift very often. Want to push the car on a twisting two-lane road? Put it in third and leave it there if you like. Obviously, another benefit of tall (or low) gearing is increased fuel economy. However, less aggressive gearing does mean slower acceleration, and our road test coordinator noted that the Dodge felt a bit bogged down in first gear during 0-to-60 runs. And when we drove the coupe in the suburbs, we noted that takeoffs from stoplights weren't quite as easy as 205 lb-ft would suggest.
The Stratus R/T Coupe obviously doesn't have its own engine (since its V6 is available for the Sebring family), but it does have an upgraded suspension - its mundane MacPherson strut front/multilink rear underpinnings get a more robust sway bar and lateral link bushings in the rear and firmer shock absorbers all-around - and H-rated 215/50 Goodyear Eagle RS-A performance tires mounted on 17-inch wheels.
As Dodge could argue, we're not dealing with sports cars here - these are touring coupes. When defined this way, the Stratus Coupe can be rather enjoyable. On the highway, it rides comfortably as the softly sprung suspension absorbs all but the largest ruts. When we took the coupe into the canyons, it felt heavy and soft, yet predictable. Cut the steering wheel, allow the body to settle, and eventually, the Stratus will track confidently through a turn. So manageable was the coupe that our road test coordinator hustled it through the slalom at an average speed of 67.6 mph. How good is this? It beats everything the Celica GT-S, and most of the cars we've ever tested, a BMW M3 among them. Part of the credit is due to the grip of 17-inch tires, though these Goodyears aren't the most adhesive performance tires on the market (and they make plenty of noise).
Numbers are of little consequence when you're out on the road, though, and alongside similarly priced competitors, the Stratus R/T leaves us wanting. As we wound along two-lane roads, its chassis transmitted a decent amount of road information through the driver seat, but it also felt floppy and unsettled much of the time; we suspect that the R/T's 3,200-pound curb weight is much to blame. What's more, the bigger antiroll bars and sport-tuned shock absorbers aren't enough to keep unwanted body movement in check on the curves. And although the steering responded quickly to driver input, a car with sporty pretensions needs a heavier, more communicative setup and a smaller turning radius.
Like the rest of the handling package, the brakes were competent but not exceptional. The pedal progression was just right, and the car stopped confidently during everyday driving. At our testing facility, the coupe's best 60-to-0-mph braking distance was 124.9 feet - average for this class - and it was accompanied by ABS system noise, steering wheel shudder and noise from the tires as they lost and regained grip.
Throughout our week with the Stratus Coupe, we observed no rattles and squeaks, leading us to believe that it had been assembled with care. Inside the cabin, we noted that neither the sunroof cover nor the steering column housing fit properly, and we also noticed excess flash on some of the plastic parts. On the exterior, we found a few more problems, including a misaligned hood and trunklid, inconsistent quarter-panel fits, poorly fitting rocker panels, paint bubbles and exposed screws on the reverse lights. While exterior build quality could definitely improve, we doubt that the cabin will disintegrate anytime soon.
The cockpit theme of the Stratus models is reinforced by round analog instruments tucked beneath an arched cowl. Different models rim the instruments with bezels of various colors. White-faced gauges lend a sporty appearance. Although the dashboard is flat and linear, there's a wrap-around feel to the cockpit. The center console is nicely designed, and includes a pair of cup holders, but the plastic looks cheap, not as nice as the sedan's. Reading lamps are provided front and rear. Coupes come with rudimentary HVAC controls that look like they came from a compact and the handbrake lever is spindly. Some models offer a new, silvery material on the center dash and door panels that would look better on a bass fishing lure. The R/T coupe has nice brushed-aluminum trim. R/T also comes with radio controls on the steering wheel.
From the driver's seat you can easily reach window and lock switches mounted on the door, much better than placing them in the center. Stratus provides excellent outward visibility for the driver, thanks to the broad and tall expanses of window glass and relatively narrow windshield pillars.
The downside of their sleek designs is that rear-seat accommodations are not as comfortable as those found in the boxier mid-size cars. Getting in and out of the rear seats of the Stratus is tight. Once back there, it's uncomfortable. There's little room for adult feet and you sit low in the seat. And there's no center armrest. Overall, the back is best for child safety seats and young people who don't notice things like comfort. The rear bench does seat three, however, and the Alcantera inserts in the rear of leather R/T models look nice.
1995-2000 Dodge Avenger ES
2,497 cc / 163 hp / 170 lb-ft / 2966-3172 lbs / 0-60 mph 8.8 sec.