The Stratus R/T coupe offers performance from Mitsubishi Eclipse and comfort from Chrysler Sebring
Normal wear and tear issues including:
- Replaced rear wheel bearings at 99,000, including new rear tires that were destroyed by failing bearings - $400.
- New clutch when purchased from the dealer at 89,000.
- Apparent leak in frameless door window seal, causing water to pool in the cabin during rainstorms (not yet repaired).
Abnormal wear and tear:
- Subjected to a freak hail storm, resulting in dimples on roof and trunk deck (not yet repaired, but claimed).
- After a dead battery for 2-3 weeks due to sitting after the wheels bearings went and the car was unsafe to drive, the speakers are suffering from some type of back interference so the stereo doesn't work, and as soon as the speakers get power, they buzz and pop. Not actually sure what the problem is (not yet repaired, but discussing with our mechanic).
The 2002 Dodge Stratus R/T coupe is first and foremost, a Dodge. Which means a suspension that floats over bumps, a huge and heavy body, and straight-line performance. That said, there are some very endearing bits to this car.
The Stratus R/T is actually built by Mitsubishi in America, and features the same 3.0 V6 engine from the Eclipse GT. In Dodge trim, the powerplant makes a clean 200-horsepower sent to the front wheels. This car has great sound insulation, which means the engine is almost silent under normal driving, but open the windows and wind it out to the 6000 RPM redline, and the V6 does make a good noise. The example I drive is equipped with Mitsubishi's 5-speed manual gearbox. Shifts are accomplished via a wonderful short-throw shifter, and are smooth and rapid, though the clutch pedal is best described as "lowering your foot into a bucket of whipped cream". The result is tasty, but the sensation is soft and disconnected.
Let's stay on this Mitsubishi thing for a bit. People I talk to regularly dislike the Stratus based on the badge on the hood: "Ew, it's a Dodge". However, I challenge you to find the word "Dodge"- or even "DaimlerChrysler Corp" written anywhere under the hood. All the stickers, and even the engine block refer to Mitsubishi. Now, I know Mitsubishi isn't exactly revered for quality like Honda or Toyota, but this isn't the Galant's drivetrain we're talking about. This is from the Eclipse... a car so popular, it was immortalized by a NOS-fueled explosion, Vin Diesel, and the Yakuza.
So, back to the review: 200-horsepower is a lot from a car in this segment and time frame, but then again, my example came absolutely full-loaded with luxury: partial leather seats, electric driver's seat, premium sound system of 4-disc in-dash CD changer with Infinity speakers (which sounds wonderful while it works, see issues above), electric sliding sunroof, Homelink, 17 in polished alloy wheels, and electrochromatic auto-dimming mirror (which I'm not sure still works...) All of this, plus comfortable rear seats and a trunk that rivals midsize sedans for space means this car is heavy. And heavy isn't good. The R/T pulls for sure, but it doesn't feel as fast (although it actually is), as say a 2000 Mazda ES V6, which is lighter and nimbler, though has 30 less horsepower.
Cornering also suffers, although body-roll (while noticeable) isn't actually awful. My example also has a very loose rear suspension set-up (for whatever reason: age? design?) which means driving in heavy rainstorms gets quite hairy. This example featured electronic ABS and also possibly (though I've never confirmed) electronic TCS. Braking is accomplished through four discs, and the brake pedal feel is firm and satisfying. This then is by no means a performance machine, despite the power. The Stratus R/T is more at home on long drives on rural highways and it handles a lot like a lazy GT car (think 80's Jaguar XJS). There's still some go, but the focus is on ride comfort and driver comfort.
Speaking of driver comfort, the partial-leather seats are fantastic. Soft, yet supportive, and the seating position is wonderful. It's low, but it isn't difficult to get in to and out of the cabin. The frameless doors are finished using very supple leather, which is a stark contrast to the rock-hard plastic on the dash. No matter, though, as you will no doubt be too busy staring at the sky through the wonderfully large sunroof. Rear leg room is ample, and comfortable for even 6'+ adults, though access is about average for a coupe this size.
The Stratus R/T is all about style. Inside and out, the car just looks good. Inside, the center console (while being a corporate Chrysler design) looks clean and functional without being cluttered. The center tunnel is finished in a dark brushed-nickel-look plastic, which is beautiful. Outside, the car is a coupe... which means it looks a hell of a lot better than the boring sedan Stratus. The windshield is actually very noticeably raked further than the sedan, and finishes in a clean sloping design over the trunk deck. Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think this is one of the better looking mainstream cars today. It's clean and pretty without drawing attention to itself (polished wheels aside).
In short, Mitsubishi and Dodge have created a surprisingly good car here. I absolutely think of this car as one of Dodge's first attempts to revive the mainstream muscle car for the modern era. It's big, it's heavy, it doesn't corner well, but it has satisfying straight-line performance, and it is pretty to look at (compare to Honda Accord or Chevrolet Monte Carlo). Surely not a car for someone looking for no-compromise performance (which you won't get in this price range anyway), there are lighter, nimbler choices in this segment. But for comfortable grand touring with the wife or girlfriend and a week-and-a-half's luggage, plus a random bag of ice hockey gear and stick, the Stratus R/T makes a grand case for itself. And for the $6,500 my example cost with 89,000 miles at a local franchised dealer, I haven't seen a better all-around offering.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know
Review Date: 29th July, 2011