Affordable and pleasing cab-forward design. by Helen V. Hutchings
Plymouth produced its first motorcar in 1928. The engine in that first Plymouth had 4-cylinders that generated 45 horsepower. Plymouth's newest offering, the 1996 Breeze, also has a 4-cylinder engine, but with all we now know about engineering the internal-combustion engine, the Breeze engine produces 132 horsepower.
Since its inception, the Plymouth brand has been dedicated to meeting the need for affordable, solid transportation, with some personality and spunk to make it attractive to the young couple or growing family. The Breeze is the newest offering and is priced between the Neon, which is badged by parent Chrysler Corporation with both Dodge and Plymouth brands, and sister "cloud" cars, the Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus. The Breeze is constructed on the same chassis or platform as Stratus and Cirrus--no coupes here--and is powered by the same engine as Neon--coupes and sedans offered here.
This amalgamation promises to be a happy one.
Chrysler has created a lot of talk and print about its "cab-forward" design. What this means is that the components necessary to design and construct a safe, comfortable and enjoyable vehicle are arranged to maximize the passenger cabin area. The Breeze accomplishes this with aplomb. The first impression of this car, inside and out, is its size and spaciousness--well beyond expectations especially for its class and price.
You'll notice the style and design of the Breeze. It stands out very pleasingly in a crowded parking lot and also looks stylish and competent when underway on the road. And Plymouth gave it a palette of flattering colors from which to choose. Our test vehicle was finished in Forest Green Pearl-Coat. The lines and color of the car received many favorable comments--often from complete strangers--wherever we parked it. Although a word of caution should be interjected here. Check the manufacturer's window sticker and query your dealer when shopping for a Breeze, as a perusal of a dozen or more of this model on a dealer's lot indicated a premium for certain exterior paint colors of as much as $150.
The Breeze has tried to balance lifestyle requirements and convenience options into the standard vehicle in keeping with the Plymouth "right product/right price" philosophy. The car has one body style--the sedan--and the one engine. There is a choice of transmission. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard. An electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission, which includes cruise control in the package (ask for package 22A), is available for an additional $1050. There are no optional wheels or tires, but the Michelins mounted on 14" wheels are well matched to the vehicle.
Our test vehicle was a factory prototype rather than an off-the-production-line car. Therefore, we cannot comment on fit and finish of production vehicles. But a visit to a nearby Plymouth dealership did yield an early dozen or so new Breeze's waiting to be taken home. Inspection of these indicated that the cars are being assembled and finished with care by the factory. And since the new car market has been relatively soft during the first quarter of the year, dealers seem willing to negotiate.
The Inside Story
The interior offers plenty of head and legroom for driver and passenger. In order to carry three adults in back, the front standard bucket seats would have to be adjusted, which will reduce the front seat comfort for the long-legged by a moderate amount. But head and shoulder room, front or back, is not cramped. And for that family with young children, there is comfort and space for all. Dad and Mom are each protected by airbags and an optional child safety seat is available for the rear seating.
The trunk is ample and easily accessible for normal uses from grocery or other shopping to golf bags. When extra capacity for unusual shapes is needed, the Breeze provides a rear folding seat-back pass-through that has a locking feature when added security is needed.
There are handy bins, pockets, cubby holes and cup holders to contain the bits and pieces that always seem to accumulate during normal car use. And through the Chrysler parts division, Mopar, other lifestyle accessories specially designed for Breeze can be purchased. They include a bike carrier, ski or snowboard carrier, cargo nets and covers. Mopar also has CD and cassette upgrades available for the solid state sound system that performs very satisfactorily.
Seats are comfortable and supportive enough. Although an anomaly was noted by those in the 5'8 to nearly 6' range when exchanging seats, passenger to driver. Placing one's hands at the generally accepted position for good car control--10 on the clock for the left hand and 2 for the right--brought the shoulder blades into contact with the bolster across the seat back in a way that forced the back and entire upper body into a position that resulted in noticeable fatigue after an hour or so of driving. Drivers who are either shorter or taller, or those who might be described as long-waisted, did not seem to notice this phenomena.
Plymouth intends to offer a sun-roof option to be introduced a bit later in the production schedule. The roof design will permit it to be fully opened or only partially for passenger compartment ventilation. A reminder--no matter how these sunroof options are designed--and Chrysler has put some extra effort into designing this application to minimize the intrusion, these features always impact the available headroom in a vehicle. It behooves the buyer to check seat adjustment and driving position carefully when test driving the Breeze, or any other vehicle, equipped with a sunroof option.
Ride & Drive
The Breeze is the most recent of the new products coming from Chrysler Corporation badged for what their advertising calls "the new car company--Plymouth." Though Breeze is classified as an entry-level vehicle, it has benefitted from customer feedback on its relatives, the Neon, Stratus and Cirrus.
Initial application of the engine in the Neon generated comments about the noise level at higher rpms. Breeze has addressed engine noise isolation. Engineering and tuning the transmission has made it responsive to the driver's needs. Gas mileage remains very good even though the Breeze is 600 pounds heavier than the Neon. Our test vehicle averaged 27.9 mpg over a week of combined interstate and town driving. MPG for the manual transmission is 22/31 and for 25/34 the automatic.
The Breeze is intended to be sporty but not a sports car. It is economical to purchase and operate so one should not expect Ferrari-like performance. The Breeze delivers solid performance for everyday commuting or kid-hauling. The engine power to car weight ratio does require the driver to stay alert in order to maintain constant speed on the interstate, especially when the terrain includes elevation changes. The optional speed control, available only with the automatic transmission, places controls fingertip-handy on the steering wheel and provides its speed maintaining function smoothly and reliably as indicated from our test vehicle. Power may not be instantaneous, but there is ample "oomph" to keep up with the flow of traffic and pass when needed.
Disc brakes in front and drum brakes on the rear wheels provide the stopping ability with ABS (anti-lock system) as an option for $565. The brakes on our test vehicle worked well in both wet and dry conditions similar to what most drivers would encounter. We did notice that on certain road surfaces, or over pronounced road seams, there was quite a bit of noise transmitted into the passenger compartment from the undercarriage. The engineers will, no doubt, refine suspension and road noise isolation in future iterations or generations of this vehicle.
Plymouth is particularly proud of its new "Plymouth Place" displays in shopping malls. These displays make it easy for the consumer to closely inspect the Breeze and other Plymouth models as well as personalize their choice on the interactive computer that is part of the display. That way the consumer can focus on the test drive and financial transaction when visiting the dealership.
Plymouth has packed a lot of creature features into a spacious and competent car for a very reasonable dollar. Purchasers needn't be overly hesitiant to shop or buy the Breeze even though it is a brand new car. Chrysler/Plymouth engineers were able to apply experiences from predecessors Neon, Stratus and Cirrus to the benefit of Breeze design and construction.
If economical in purchase and operation in a package that offers more useable passenger and storage space than many competitors is important; the Breeze is clearly worth taking for a test drive.
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.