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I was brought a Dodge Stratus as a rental. I'm unsure of the year, but as it has 18,000 miles on it, I am guessing it's no more than two years old, and probably closer to one.

(please excuse the poor punctuation. Many marks were converted to question marks. I elminated them for this reason. I figured it was easier to read with no punctuation rather than an obtrusive question mark.)

First Impressions:
I glance upon a dark green Intrepid. We do a walkaround as required, noticing only a few scuffs and minor scratches. I think the design of the car is nice. Its smooth and has a good shape. I get in and drive home. Its only about a mile drive, so the only thing I could really notice was that the seats were high and my hair brushed the roof. I pull up at my house and get out. I start walking towards my door and glance back at the car. Is this an Intrepid? I walk around to the back of the car to discover its actually a Stratus. The car looks much bigger than it is. It also shows how non-distinct the car is, especially when compared to its bigger brother.

I?ll give it a better evaluation tomorrow.

My drive to work is almost 30 miles, and takes me thru rural areas as well as the highway, in heavy to light traffic. It is a perfect route for a test drive. I divide the trek into three stages, as youll se below. So, off to work in the rental Stratus!

Interior and Ergonomics:
Getting back in the car this morning reminded me of the high seats. What is it with all these pseudo-SUV seats that the car manufactures are so obsessed with? I dont like them. I made some initial adjustments to the seat.

The rest of the interior is extremely plain overall; it looks like it belongs in a cheap economy car. There is a pattern that stretches across the dash that I can only guess is supposed to remind one of carbon fiber. Thats another one. Why is everyone so obsessed with the carbon fiber look? I think its ugly, personally. The radio is down low which is good, but I still have to stretch to reach its controls. The sound quality is terrible, even at low volumes. Separate controls for bass, midrange, and treble are purely for sanity, it makes you feel like you can make it sound better. You can change the sound with these controls, but the sound quality is still awful. The climate knobs feel cheap. The dash is just a flat layout that stretches the length of the car. It would be downright ugly if it werent so plain.

The gauges are the one thing that stand out, but not in a good way. Black numbering and lettering on a white background. Is this an attempt at sportiness? I think it looks awful. I tilt the wheel a bit. The gauges stay pretty visible, which is good. A large speedometer on the right with a large tachometer on the left had only the very top obscured by the steering wheel. Why do people continue to put a tachometer in an automatic? That?s something that never made any sense to me. The shifter seems vague, even for an automatic. I couldn?t quite tell if it was in reverse, drive, or neutral.

The Start:
The first couple of miles entailed the observations above, along with me adjusting the seat to attempt a more comfortable position. The best I could get was a little too reclined, any less and my hair brushed up against the roof. The stupids at Dodge must have raised the seats without raising the roof! It forced my arms to be stretched a little more than I liked, but sliding the seat closer cramped my legs due to their bending to accommodate the seat height.

Stage 1: rural area, heavy traffic:
The car shifted relative smoothly under normal driving, but became a little more noticeable in heavy traffic. Acceleration, however, was adequate. Turns were numb and vague in the sense that I couldnt match a speed to the feel around any turns. Steering was not sharp, but the car went where you expected it to go.

The actual brake pedal has a decent feel, and stops the car reasonably but abruptly. Isaac Newton would love this car; inertia smacks you in the face under even light braking. Stopping must be carefully planned and executed extremely gradually to reduce the inertia, but even then the car would frequently bump when it stopped.

The transmission shifted pretty smoothly most of the time, but could be felt slightly in stop-and-go traffic.

I also became aware that there was no comfortable place for me to rest my left elbow; the armrest was too low and the top of the door was too high.

Under acceleration, braking, and turning, the car never let me forget its weight, although it didnt feel as if I was maneuvering a huge object.

Stage 2: the freeway:
Coming on to the freeway, the car accelerates smoothly and adequately. A lane change or two shows good visibility, but I still dont have total confidence in the side view mirrors due to their size and odd shape.

After I got a bit used to an automatic without cruise control, the speed was relatively easy to modulate, but it would be easy to go too fast. On the freeway, the car constantly reminded me that there was a road beneath me, but not in a good way. The car felt vibrations and bumps, but with a cheap feel rather than a true, sporty feel. It was an odd combination of attempted sportiness and an economy-feel.

The freeway drive was uneventful, as it should be in a car like this. The road vibrations, however, would probably become annoying in an extended drive.

Stage 3: remote farmland:
My third and final stage to work takes me through some more-or-less remote, mostly straight roads.

I pulled up the exit ramp to a light. While waiting to make a left, I looked around the dash again. Its quite stark. Theres no good place for sunglasses, the only cavern big enough is at the very bottom and is awkward to get to. Theres a deep groove that is a borderline storage slot next to the emergency brake. If this is meant for storage, I cant figure out what its for. If it?s not, then why is it there in the first place?

While stopped, I also noticed some vibration in my butt. Its not what I would call a rough idle, but it is far from smooth. I tap the gas to inch forward, and the car doesnt move. I look down at the shifter (I dont have this automatic transmission gear display on the dash thing down yet) and visually, cant tell what gear its in. I slide it back, and it goes into drive. I must have tapped it without realizing it while reaching for that inconvenient storage compartment (which incidentally, is the largest). Its a good thing its not comfortable to rest my hand on the shifter, lest I be unintentionally sliding it all over the gears.

I reach around to feel where the rear seat is. The car is pretty roomy. And it should be, once inside the car feels very wide.

I finally get to make my turn and the roads open up.

Here I noticed some wind noise. It wasnt overly loud, but it was enough for me to check and make sure the windows were fully closed. Bumps were obvious, but not in a good way - just like on the highway.

The drive to work seemed to go quickly today. It may have been that traffic was light (and I mean lighter than usual, traffic on my way to work always sucks. But hey, you get used to it.) or it may have been the uneventful drive in the Stratus.

I pull up and park. As I get out, I almost hit my head on the roof of the doorway. A step out conveys that the car itself is low. It may be an illusion because of the seat height, but you do go down when exiting.

Dodge raised the seats without adjusting the rest of the car. My hair brushes the roof, I dont have a comfortable place for my left arm, and I almost hit my head getting out.

The Stratus is confused as to whether it wants to be sporty, a sedan, or an economy car. Fit and finish is straight out of an economy car. The ride appears to try and be sporty at times (at least thats my guess, it may be unintentional); sedanish at others, and succeeds at neither.

Initially, I couldnt quite figure out what market would buy this car. Upon checking its specs, I see that the car pretty much drives as it should for its price range. Its cheaper than other, nicer sedans such as the Accord, but more expensive than economy cars such as the Focus. It didnt drive as poorly as the slug of a Taurus I drove about a year ago, but its nowhere near the level of the import sedans such as the Accord or Camry.

Saving the cash on a nicer import sedan gets you a roomy car that drives adequately.
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