LH with a European accent. by Michelle Krebs
It seems like only yesterday, but Chrysler's LH cars -- Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid and Eagle Vision -- were introduced over four years ago. Full-size front-drivers, these were the cars that put the company's fortunes back on a positive track with their breakthrough cab-forward design, a design that sent ripples through the entire industry, as well as Chrysler offerings that have come along since.
Today they're the oldest cars in the entire Chrysler lineup, a dramatic index of the sweeping changes at the company Walter P. Chrysler established back in 1923.
However, though they're now the veterans of the fleet, no one would call them dated. The strong wedge shapes still stand out in traffic, and the cab-forward design concept, which places the wheels at the corners of the car to expand interior volume, still gives the LH triplets an edge in roominess. And that translates directly as comfort and all-around utility.
The newer Chrysler LHS, an even larger car based on a stretched luxury version of the basic LH platform, amplifies this benefit, but the original triplets are still interior volume leaders in their respective market segments.
Although the three cars share the same basic chassis and hardware, the Vision is the sportiest, aimed at drivers who want the functionality of a large four-door sedan but also want the handling and style found in European imports -- without paying the price commanded by the imports.
The Vision is a member of Chrysler's newest brand lineup, Eagle, which was established after Chrysler purchased American Motors in the '80s. Eagle cars generally are sold through dealerships that also sell the Jeeps.
As the brand conceived to lure import intenders, Eagle frequently is called upon to introduce technological innovations. The latest example is Autostick, an automatic that can be shifted like a manual transmission if the driver chooses. Although it will probably spread to other Chrysler products, for 1996 it's available only in the Eagle Vision TSi.
Aside from this update, the Vision is unchanged from last year. The same goes for the Intrepid and Concorde, as all three models approach their first major redesign.
Our test car was a TSi, equipped with the new Autostick transmission.
The design of the Concorde, Intrepid and Vision has proven to have excellent staying power. Although a number of new designs have come along since this trio was introduced, most notably Ford's flashy Taurus and Mercury Sable, the Chrysler models still look contemporary and, more important, distinctive.
Like the other basic LH cars, the Vision is available in two models -- the well-equipped ESi and the even better furnished and more powerful TSi. Dodge offers base and ES Intrepids, while the Corcorde is available in LX and LXi trim levels.
The main distinction between ESi and TSi is in the engine compartment, something that's also true of standard and uplevel versions of Intrepid and Concorde. The ESi comes with a 3.3-liter overhead valve V-6 that provides adequate horsepower and better-than-adequate torque. The TSi gets a 214-hp 3.5-liter dual overhead cam 24-valve V-6, the top engine in Chrysler's passenger car powertrain inventory.
All LH cars are equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission. Autostick is limited to the Vision TSi, where it's standard equipment.
Both Visions come with standard air conditioning, an AM/FM/cassette sound system, and power windows/mirrors and locks. Much of the optional equipment on the ESi, such as anti-lock brakes, remote keyless entry and eight-way power seats, are standard on the TSi.
In addition to the higher standard equipment list, some options, including leather seats and the performance handling package (upgraded tires and firmer suspension) are available only on the TSi.
The Inside Story
While the exterior design has withstood the test of time well, the interior functionality remains a benchmark for the industry. Every time we test drive one of the LH cars we're impressed with how roomy and airy the interior is. The cars are ideal for families as well as for business people who have to carry around clients.
The Vision is available with five- or six-passenger seating in ESi editions, available with a bench front seat. The TSi comes with twin bucket seats up front. The rear seat area is large, with room enough for three tall people to comfortably stretch their legs out. Available for the rear seat is an optional integrated child seat built into the rear armrest. When not in use, the child seat can be stowed and the armrest forms a seatback for the middle passenger.
All seats are extremely comfortable. Outboard seats have seatbelts with height-adjustable upper anchors so drivers and passengers of any size can easily find a comfortable seatbelt position. The belts also can secure a child safety seat without a separate locking slip.
Large, wide-opening doors make entry and exit easy.
The trunk also is roomy, easily capable of holding several suitcases or golf bags. However, unlike some of its competitors, including the Taurus/Sable and Chevrolet Lumina, the Vision does not have a rear seatback that can fold down to expand trunk capacity for long items.
In general, the controls are well laid out and easy to operate. Power window switches and seatbelt buckles are illuminated to see better in the dark. The climate controls, located at the base of the dashboard, may require a bit of a stretch to reach. The steering wheel has buttons for the horn, rather than a depressable switch in the center of the airbag, and the buttons are smallish.
Ride & Drive
There's no question that the Autostick makes the Vision TSi more fun to drive than its LH counterparts with a regular automatic transmission. Set the shift lever in Autostick mode and you just waggle the shifter to the left for upshifts, right for downshifts.
It's easy to get used to, and there's no clutch pedal hassle. If you want to let the car shift for itself, you simply switch back to full automatic mode.
Good steering and handling have been LH strong suits from the beginning. The Vision is very agile, particularly for a sedan of its size, and it attacks tight corners with very little body roll.
Though firm, the ride is comfortable, even on bumpy road surfaces. Original LH models, particularly those with stiffer suspension packages, could be a trifle harsh on nasty pavement, but Chrysler has softened the hard edges.
Our Eagle TSi tester was also relatively quiet at most speeds. Here too Chrysler has made improvements over the years, though some noise is still noticeable over rough pavement, transmitted to the interior through the suspension.
We liked the performance of our TSi's 3.5-liter V-6, made more enjoyable by the Autostick transmission. Though the basic 3.3-liter V-6 is adequate for getting around town, it won't knock your socks off, by any stretch. The 3.5-liter V-6 lends a lot more verve and much better punch for passing on rural highways.
There is a minor penalty in fuel economy for the TSi engine. The base engine is rated at 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, while the more potent engine gets 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 miles per gallon on the highway, though these numbers are still respectable for a large car.
Unlike with most other models, the Vision's price has hovered in the same range over the past few years. For the 1995 model year, Chrysler actually dropped the base price. The base ESi starts at $19,245 running up to $23,190 for a fully loaded model; a typically equipped ESi costs about $19,795. The TSi starts at $23,835, runs upward to $26,875, with a typically equipped model costing $24,385. Intrepid prices are a trifle lower, Concorde prices a trifle higher.
Although it offers essentially the same benefits as Intrepid and Concorde, the Vision hasn't enjoyed the same sales success as the other LH cars, which means that rebates and other customer incentives are often offered. Add frequent rebates to competitive pricing, and the Vision's appeal increases. You'd be hard-pressed to beat its combination of roominess, performance and style in this price class.
Order our 200+ page magazine of reviews. Send $8.00 (S&H included) to New Car Test Drive, 2145 Crooks Rd. Suite 200, Troy, MI 48084
© 1996 New Car Test Drive, Inc.