Chrysler looked upward when it came time to redesign and renamed its midsize sedans in the 1990s. The automaker’s lineup of 4-door models that battled with the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord had grown more than a little stale by 1995, and the company sought to scale down the so-called “cab-forward” styling from the Dodge Intrepid and its full-size siblings, the new midsizers.
They began rolling these out for the 1995 model year, first with the semi-luxurious Chrysler Cirrus and the semi-sporty Dodge Stratus forms. Then, the semi-value Plymouth Breeze popped on the scene for 1996. Though each was sold by a different division and wouldn’t necessarily share showroom space at the automaker’s dealers, Chrysler gave them all sky-high names. Cirrus and stratus are cloud types, while wind is something I probably don’t need to explain. Internally, the automaker called them all “cloud cars,” though.
If only the automaker’s Eagle brand had survived long enough to offer its own version called Nimbus.
Initially, the Chrysler and the Dodge models received good — if not overwhelmingly positive — reviews. Unlike the big cab-forward Intrepid, the cloud cars came standard with a 132-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four, cribbed from the smaller Neon. A larger, more recently designed 2.4-liter inline four was optional and regarded as the better choice for its refinement. The Cirrus came standard with a 2.5-liter inline four that put out a so-so 164 hp and could only be had with a 4-speed automatic.
By comparison, the Camry offered a 3.0-liter V6 rated at 188 hp, which was shared with the actually luxurious Lexus ES 300.
Still, the cars were a pretty good value. A Cirrus LXi with standard leather seats and a decent stereo cost just shy of $20,000 in 1995. That money netted buyers a mid-level Honda Accord LX or Toyota Camry LE, both of which had 4-cylinder power, cloth seats and not too many bells or whistles. The tides had turned for Detroit, and American automakers found themselves having to offer high-value sedans in an effort to lure buyers who had defected to reliable imports.
Later, the Plymouth arrived with fewer available features, as well as a weirdly spelled Expresso trim level. By 1998, the Breeze cost $5,000 less than the cheapest Cirrus, though that money bought buyers a car with roll-up windows, an AM/FM radio and not a lot more. Even rear-seat floor mats were optional.
In 2000, Chrysler dropped the Plymouth brand and released a redesigned midsize sedan for both Chrysler and Dodge. The Stratus name stuck around for the Dodge, while the Chrysler version became the Sebring. The second-generation Dodge Stratus lacked the design cohesion of its predecessor, and its interior reeked of cost-cutting implemented by Chrysler’s then-parent Daimler. It was a budget special mostly peddled to car rental agencies and government fleets.
Today, the initial Chrysler cloud cars are a rare sight, though you can find some remarkably nice survivors on Autotrader. They’re dated enough to make a splash at RADwood or another era-specific car show, since nearly all of us have forgotten about their existence.
For just under $3,900, this white Cirrus LX comes from the final year of production and is well presented by a dealer in Oregon. And here’s a first-year Cirrus LX model with 93,000 miles for a grand less in attractive green at a dealer in Cincinnati.
This 1999 Dodge Stratus near Chicago shows just 67,000 miles, though they don’t look to have been the most gentle miles. A better buy might be this green 1999 Stratus in Ohio, which is light on frills but looks well kept.
As the cheapest car in the lineup, the Breeze seems to have the lowest survival rate. Here’s a silver 2000 Breeze that represents Plymouth’s last gasp, showing plenty of Minnesota rust just south of Minneapolis. Find a Chrysler Cirrus for sale or Find a Dodge Stratus for sale or Find a Plymouth Breeze for sale
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