The front-drive equivalent of a Woodward cruiser.
by Eric Peters
When people think "pony cars" - sporty two-plus-two coupes with traditional American macho car styling - they tend to think of either the Ford Mustang or the Chevy Camaro/Pontiac Firebird. But there is a third alternative: the 2001 Dodge Stratus R/T coupe.
This car combines most of the elements that make a pony car fun with the only major drawback, from an enthusiast's point-of-view, being its front-wheel-drive layout.
It's also a great way to slide into a Mitsubishi Eclipse GT for about $1000 less than you'd otherwise pay, because the $20,805 Stratus R/T shares many components with its $21,947 Asian cousin, including the Mitsubishi-sourced 3.0-liter, 200-hp V-6.
You also get a bigger car, because the Dodge R/T rides on a longer wheelbase (103.7 inches vs. 100.8 for the Eclipse). The R/T is significantly longer, too - 190.2 inches overall vs. 175.4 for the Eclipse.
In case you didn't know, Chrysler and Mitsubishi have been partnered for some time now, and share platforms, engines and other stuff like that. This is why you'll see a lot of equipment of some Chrysler-branded products that hails from the land of the rising sun.
In addition to the underhood similarities, you may notice the Stratus R/T also shares a similar interior/dash layout with the Eclipse, including the interesting "remote" display for the audio and climate control system that is mounted in an LCD-type display on top of the dash, with the actual controls down near the console.
Still, the R/T is different enough to be its own thing.
The handling/chassis dynamics of the R/T seem better on the street in most conditions than those of the rear-drive Mustang - but not as good as the also rear-drive Camaro, which, despite its other flaws, is one of the best-handling coupes on the market today.
Imported front-drive coupes, such as the Acura Integra, Honda Prelude, Toyota Celica, etc., are quicker to react and feel more nimble than the R/T, but they are also targeted at a different type of audience. The Stratus R/T, its Mitsubishi running gear notwithstanding, has the look and feel of Woodward Avenue Friday-night cruises and NASCAR tailgate-partying - especially with the loud and proud "R/T" graphics and badges all over the place.
This is not to imply the car is rednecky, only that it's "American" or as close to that as one can get in today's homologated, multinational, free-trade-area world.
Now, the Stratus R/T is a little more expensive than its obvious competitors - the aforesaid Camaro/Firebird V-6 coupe and Mustang V-6 coupe ($17,305 and $16,995 respectively). But it's well equipped, and thanks to the excellent design that created a viable rear passenger area, much more realistic for people who need a car for more than just daily commuting or single-person styling and profiling.
No one but Roswell UFO-sized aliens (reported to be about four feet high for the tall ones) can sit comfortably in the back of either the Camaro or Mustang. The situation is even more laughable in most import "two-plus-two" coupes, such as the Honda Prelude, et al. Even the aliens would have to be folded in half - or stacked sideways, like so much cordwood - to occupy the for-show-only rear seats of those cars.
But the Stratus R/T (and the Eclipse it is derived from) have actual legroom for rear seat passengers; headroom, too! Accordingly, the car can be put into service as more than just a toy/single person's fun car. It is workable for a guy or a gal with a young family, or who just needs the extra room.
Included in the base price of the R/T are such amenities as air conditioning, seven-speaker Infiniti audio system with both CD and tape player, leather-trimmed steering wheel, 17x6.5-inch rims with performance tires, power windows and locks, cruise control, electric rear defroster and intermittent wipers. Many, indeed most of these things, are extra cost options on competitors' models - so base your comparison accordingly and not just on the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP).
2001 Dodge Stratus R/T Coupe
Base price range: $20,805
Engine: 3.0 liter V-6, 200 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 103.7 in
Length: 190.2 in
Width: 70.3 in
Height: 53.7 in
Curb Weight: 3254 lb (V-6 w/manual)
EPA (city/hwy): 20/28 mpg (manual); 19/27 mpg (auto)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags (traction control and ABS optional)
Major standard features: 200-hp V-6 engine, five-speed manual transmission, sport-tuned suspension with 17x6.5-inch wheels, leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter, air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, seven-speaker audio system with in-dash CD player
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
© 2001 The Car Connection