More than just another pretty face.
by Paul A. Eisenstein
Base Price $17,280
As Tested $21,020
The Chrysler Cirrus proves big things really can come in smaller packages. On the outside, this stylish sedan falls into the compact class. But open the doors and you'll discover a surprisingly spacious layout that delivers nearly as much elbow-, leg- and shoulder-room as many midsize sedans. Chrysler's cab-forward design is especially appealing for those who don't want to sacrifice rear seat comfort. The Cirrus is one of the most stylish and well-equipped cars in its class, but it's one of the most affordable.
Two models are available: The $20,085 Cirrus LXi comes with a 2.5-liter V6 engine. Back after a hiatus is the mid-level $17,280 LX model powered by a 2.4-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine.
Both models come with automatic transmissions, air conditioning, eight-way power driver's seat, rear-window defrost, child-protection rear door locks, child seat anchors, height-adjustable shoulder belts, cruise control, power windows, power door locks and power mirrors. ABS is optional ($565) on the LX.
LXi comes loaded with antilock four-wheel disc brakes, leather-trimmed seating, remote keyless entry, aluminum wheels and the V6. The only option on our test vehicle was the power sunroof.
Chrysler's Cirrus shares its platform and mechanical design with the Dodge Stratus, but the Cirrus is more lavishly equipped.
The mid-price sedan market is extremely competitive. Nearly every manufacturer has an entry and several sell huge numbers of sedans in this price range. With such a long list of competitors, it's easy for a mediocre car to get lost in a crowd. That crowd includes the three biggest selling sedans on the market, the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus. But the closest competitors from a size and price standpoint are the Ford Contour and Pontiac Grand Am.
Many of the players in this field have decided to take the safe route with styling that tends to be bland and, in some cases, downright boring. That's not the case with the Cirrus. It's got the type of panache that once would have been found only in a coupe.
And these good looks are more than just skin deep. Cirrus is a textbook example of Chrysler's cab-forward design. The airy cabin is wide, while the wheelbase has been stretched to the point where the tires nearly nuzzle the bumpers. This design improves stability. The aggressive, steep-sloping hood line gives the Cirrus a constant sense of motion.
Inside is where Chrysler's Cirrus is an undeniable standout in its class. This car offers nearly as much room as most midsize sedans -- even though it is officially classified as a compact. You'll also find tremendous cargo space inside the cavernous trunk. It is capable of carrying golf clubs for four along with a picnic lunch.
One of Chrysler's goals with the Cirrus is to attract baby boomers who grew up buying imported cars. For this reason, the Cirrus does not come in a six-passenger configuration. Instead of a bench, there are two leather-clad bucket seats up front and a bench seat in back. But rear-seat passengers are going to be impressed with the expansive space available for their legs and torsos.
Quality of fit and finish is quite good. Chrysler is certainly not a leader in this area, but the company has been working hard to improve the quality of its construction and it shows. Door gaps have been tightened and everything seems to be put together better than we remembered when we first drove the car a few years back.
The interior design is handsome. Several shades of earthy browns and creams in our test car made for an attractive appearance. Faux wood trim strives to give the Cirrus a more luxurious look.
Seats are comfortable and supportive in all the right places. Electric seat controls are well positioned and easy to operate. Likewise, the switchgear on the dash is intuitive and easy. The gauges are simple, well laid out and easy to read by day and night. A nice touch is the electroluminescent PRNDL display in the instrument cluster. Another nice touch is the penholder mounted inside the center console. The audio system was an especially nice touch. It comes with a cassette player and a CD upgrade is available.
Cirrus LXi's 2.5-liter V6 is smooth and quiet. One reason is that the engine sits on improved motor mounts. It also appears that Chrysler has taken the time to beef up the sound-deadening insulation, which helps isolate road and tire noise as well as engine noise. Built by Mitsubishi Motors, the LXi's overhead-cam V6 produces 168 horsepower. Still, the Cirrus LXi is by no means the most aggressive performer in its class, taking about 10 seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph.
In spite of its quiet ride, the LXi does not isolate the driver from the road and that's one of the best features of the Cirrus. You are readily in touch with what the car is doing at all times. Credit the independent front and rear suspension, front and rear anti-roll bars, and rack-and-pinion steering.
The antilock brakes proved comfortably sure-footed on wet and dreary Detroit highways. The braking system employs front discs and rear drums.
Headlight performance sometimes suffers with small, aerodynamic headlamps. This is a phenomenon we've noticed with many manufacturers as most people like modern stylish headlights, but few take lighting performance into consideration. As if to make up for it, fog lights come as standard equipment on the LXi.
Chrysler's Cirrus delivers a premium package without having to pay a premium price. Cirrus is a great-looking car that's roomy and loaded with lots of standard features. Add to that its attractive price and you've got a sedan that stands out among a strong field of competitors. Its cutting edge styling allows the Cirrus to stand out further.
Chrysler has been refining the Cirrus ever since its introduction. Noise, vibration and harshness have been reduced and performance has been increased. It also appears that Chrysler is making serious efforts to address some of the Cirrus's early quality problems. We hope to see this confirmed by results from independent surveys in upcoming months.
Plain and simple, Cirrus is a car that belongs on your shopping list if you're looking for an affordable sedan but want all the room and features of something bigger and more expensive.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.