A big luxury sedan with sporty undertones. by Paul A. Eisenstein
The LHS is Chrysler's full-size luxury flagship with acres of passenger and cargo space. But it's no land yacht. Equipped with front-wheel drive, relatively little weight and a sporty character, the LHS is an enjoyable car to drive. It may look rich and formal on the outside, but underneath the sheet metal, is the heart of an import performance sedan.
The LHS is the direct descendant of the once-revered New Yorker. Designed to attract import-buying baby boomers, the LHS was introduced as a sporty upgrade to the New Yorker. Much to Chrysler's surprise, everyone -- including the traditionally more conservative New Yorker buyer -- began opting for the more lavish, more expensive LHS with its bucket seats and taut suspension. So in 1995, the long-lived New Yorker nameplate faded into oblivion.
We're not spending a lot of time lamenting the passing of the New Yorker, however, because the LHS is a much more enjoyable car to drive. Those buyers opting for the LHS were no dummies.
The LHS is the latest in a long line of full-size Chrysler luxury sedans, but this class is part of a vanishing breed. This fall, the LHS will shrink toward mid-size sedan dimensions, in part because Chrysler's research shows most customers prefer smaller cars.
So while plenty of people still want a full-size luxury sedan, their choices are continuing to narrow. The 1997 LHS may represent the last opportunity to keep Chrysler on the full-size shopping list.
And we're here to tell you there are good reasons to keep this year's LHS on that full-size shopping list. Besides its sporty nature, the LHS offers a lot of value. There's only one model available and, priced at $30,850, it comes with a high level of standard equipment. The only option on our car was a premium sound system, which brought the total to $31,150.
Compared with other domestic luxury cars, the LHS is about $7400 less expensive than a Lincoln Continental and about $9400 less than a Cadillac Seville. It also stacks up well against the smaller imports, going out the door about $5500 less than an Infiniti J30 and about the same as a Lexus ES300.
There's no mistaking the American heritage of the LHS, but don't confuse it with the stodgy luxury sedans of Detroit's past.
Sleek and aggressive in stance, yet clearly upscale in appearance, the LHS stole the Detroit auto show when it first appeared there a few years back. Indeed, it underscored Chrysler's mounting reputation for design leadership. Using the automaker's trademark cab-forward design, the LHS seems even roomier on the inside than it looks from the outside.
Going into its final year of production, the LHS remains handsome and contemporary. That's because Chrysler wisely banished the sharp creases and bustle backs that date some luxury models. One designer joked that the elegant, sweeping curve of the rear window and pillar make it impossible for all but the most determined dealer to paste on a vinyl roof or cut in opera windows.
Large, 16-inch aluminum wheels and a steeply raked windshield reinforce the sporty intent of the LHS. A wide stance balances its long wheelbase. The LHS uses a front-wheel-drive platform and comes with a 3.5-liter V-6 mated to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.
The Inside Story
The interior is gloved in rich, tasteful leather, complemented by attractive, contrasting, leather-grained vinyl with wood accents.
Depending on whether five- or six-passenger seating is needed, Chrysler LHS offers a choice of front seats. The bucket seats come standard, while a 50/50 split bench seat is optional for no extra cost.
Our test car was fitted with the bucket seats, which are supportive, plush and sumptuous, yet not so soft and spongy you feel like you're floating. There's plenty of lateral support for cornering, but the side bolsters aren't so tall that it's hard to get in and out. These seats are one of the reasons many buyers preferred the LHS over the New Yorker.
Other folks like the 50/50 split bench front seat because it permits seating for three in front or because they simply prefer traditional bench seating. Both types of seats feature eight different adjustments, most of which use power controls. Dual cup holders and folding armrests add to the comfort.
There's plenty of room in the LHS.The front seats are roomier than a Lexus ES300, Infiniti J30 or Mercedes E-class. They are comparable to a Lincoln Continental, though not as roomy as the more expensive Seville.
The rear seat offers enough space for some truly extravagant lounging, even with a couple six-footers up front. There's more room in the back seats of an LHS than in a Continental, Seville, ES300, J30 or E-class.
Baggage for five should fit in the cavernous trunk. The LHS matches the Continental's impressive cargo space and offers substantially more room than all the above competitors.
The instrument panel is well laid out, with gauges that are attractive and easy to read. Radio controls are within easy reach. The Infinity premium sound system with cassette and compact disc players provides dynamic tonal quality. Not used as often are the heating and air conditioning controls, which are a little more difficult to reach without leaning forward. The small buttons divert attention away from the road more than they should and they all look alike, making adjustments more difficult.
The overall interior fit and finish was significantly better than we've noticed in past years, but it still isn't quite the match of a Lexus or Mercedes-Benz.
While Chrysler has made no major, visible changes to the LHS this year we did sense the company has been quietly working to overcome one of the car's other weaknesses. In years past, we found that the LHS was not the quietest car in its class, particularly for rear-seat passengers. Some added insulation, particularly around the rear wheel wells has tamed the problem.
Ride & Drive
For the most part, the 214-horsepower, 3.5-liter, 24-valve V-6 provides good performance for the LHS. It tends to be a little noisy under hard starts and aggressive passes and it doesn't have the off-the-line torque of a big V-8. The LHS, however, weighs considerably less than the Lincoln Continental and Cadillac Seville and about the same as the Infiniti J30 and Mercedes E-class, which helps make the most of the available power.
The four-speed automatic transmission is smooth and seamless most of the time. But stand on the gas pedal and shifts tend to get rough and abrupt -- or more positive, depending on your perspective.
The traction control system that comes as standard equipment reduces wheelspin, particularly when accelerating from a standstill on slippery surfaces. If the system senses that the front wheels are spinning it will automatically apply the brakes, pulsing them rapidly until the offending tire regains its grip.
The LHS is surprisingly agile given its size. With its taut suspension, it handles like a smaller sedan. Steering is precise with good on-center feel. The power assist makes the steering feel a bit on the light side and the LHS leans in corners more than a Lexus or Mercedes, but overall it handles better than the heavier Lincoln Continental.
The Final Word
Chrysler engineers have created a successful compromise blending the roominess of a traditional domestic luxury car with performance characteristics now found in import luxury cars. Inside and out, it lives up to its price tag.
Next year's LHS will continue the evolution, edging closer to the smaller imports. But if a big ride is what you're looking for right now, Chrysler's flagship sedan is well worth considering.
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