I remember when the Chrysler Cirrus first came out. It debuted along with the Dodge Stratus, and the Plymouth Breeze came later. This was the midsize sedan that would save Chrysler, the one that could finally compete with the Japanese, the best midsize sedan in years. We’d always remember this car.
Of course, this didn’t actually happen. Now we’ve all forgotten all about the Cirrus, so I’m going to briefly remind you.
Throughout the last 30 years, many vehicles have been hailed as Chrysler’s “savior,” the car that would bring the oft-struggling automaker back into competition with the Japanese, and even with cross-town rivals Ford and General Motors. This in part because it’s actually happened a few times: the Chrysler minivans really were the brand’s savior in the 1980s, and the full-size Charger and 300 really did help the brand considerably in the mid-2000s.
But the “savior” term has also been applied in dozens of other situations where it didn’t really work: the K-car. The Chrysler LH cars. The Dodge Dart. And, of course, with the Cirrus and Stratus.
The premise was simple: the Japanese were beating the Americans at the midsize sedan game, which was then the most popular market segment, and Chrysler wanted back in. So they spent a lot of time developing, planning, and working, and they came out, in 1995, with the Cirrus and the Stratus. Immediately, American auto journalists hailed it as the best American midsize sedan, and the car that would take on the Japanese — as American auto journalists often do. Motor Trend even gave the Cirrus its “Car of the Year” award in 1995 — an award more often littered with automotive failures (2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser, 2002 Ford Thunderbird, 2000 Lincoln LS) than successes.
Naturally, the car buying public felt differently than the journalists. Despite its accolades, the Cirrus was not warmly received, and its interior seemed to feel excessively cheap, as did the rest of the car. This feeling has clearly proven true, as the Cirrus and Stratus are basically gone from roads now, while mid-1990s Japanese midsize sedans seem to live forever, almost without effort. In fact, I spotted the Cirrus shown above, and I was so surprised to see it that I took this photo to memorialize a car I don’t expect to see again for a long time. Then I wrote this article, so you can remember it, too. And now, it will go back to being forgotten.