Chrysler's LHS offers an elegant design in a big luxury sedan that makes a statement of status and achievement. Fortunately, the distinctive design is backed up by the driving experience. The LHS is a joy to drive. It rides smoothly and handles remarkably well for a full-size front-wheel-drive sedan.
After three years, the LHS design still looks great. The big egg-crate grille, sculptured headlamps and fluted hood on the LHS demonstrate Chrysler wasn't afraid to step out of the box. Graceful, fluid lines emulate the craftsmanship of classic automobiles. It is a classic, yet contemporary design. The LHS looks sleeker than other four-door sedans in its class.
The most noticeable design element is its grille, edged in chrome and adorned with a big winged Chrysler medallion. The front fascia on the LHS was engineered to meet federal impact requirements without the need for a visible external bumper. Sculptured headlamp bezels surround compact projector beams with integrated fog lamps and turn signals. The shape they describe flows seamlessly into the fluted aluminum hood. Augmenting the headlamps are driving lights molded into the lower fascia. New windshield pillar moldings reduce wind noise and improve water management.
Viewed from the side, the aerodynamic lower sill complements the large wheels and tires and visually ties the unique front and rear fascias together. A winged Chrysler medallion adorns the deck lid. Wrap-around taillamps use a red/amber split to delineate the stop and turn functions. A pair of stainless steel oval exhaust tips indicates the added power and performance of the V6 engine.
The flowing shapes that grace the exterior are carried through inside. Interior surfaces are soft to the touch for a luxurious feel. No seams are visible where the passenger airbag resides. Elegant white-faced analog gauges, surrounded by thin chrome bezels, use electroluminescent lighting with stylish typefaces that give them a classic look. A beautiful white-faced clock that features watch-like detail is mounted in the center of the dash; jewel-like wings have been added to the clock face this year. Flanked by the Chrysler wings, it complements the design theme.
Major controls use large twist dials. Few manufacturers get radios right and the LHS features slider tone controls that are challenging to operate when driving. Fortunately, steering wheel-mounted audio controls have been added for 2001. Power window and door locks switches are bright and the power mirror switches are color-keyed. Overall, the wood trim is attractive, but the oval piece of wood surrounding the shifter seems unnecessary and diminishes the positive effect of the rest of the trim.
The leather-trimmed seats are comfortable and seat heaters add comfort when starting out in cold weather. Personalized memory controls remember the driver's seating adjustments, outside mirror positions and radio station presets. LHS offers a bit more front and rear legroom than the Chrysler 300M. A three-point seat belt was added to the rear center position this year.
Safety is further enhanced by optional supplemental front side airbags.
Overall, it's a brilliant interior, sleeker and more contemporary than the Lincoln Continental. The new sandstone interior lends a light, elegant look. Other new interior colors for 2001 include dark slate gray and light taupe.
The LHS comes with a larger trunk than the 300M and it holds plenty of luggage for long trips. Details, such as gas struts for the trunk hinges, make life seem just a bit more luxurious. An inside emergency trunk lid release was added this year for increased safety.
The LHS delivers a smooth ride quality, filtering out unwanted vibration without isolating the driver from the road. Noise and vibration, though not the best in the class, are low. The LHS is tuned a bit more in the direction of luxurious ride quality, but it feels extremely stable at high speeds. Steering is direct and precise and is among the best in the class.
Quiet when cruising, the engine serves notice with an aggressive growl when provoked. Plenty of power is on tap for accelerating away from intersections, onto freeways and passing cars. A broad torque curve means it's ready to provide instant throttle response at any speed. The automatic transmission selects the appropriate gears and does not hunt excessively. The brakes have been refined and provide good stopping power and pedal feel.
We checked out some of the competition on an undulating, wet, winding road through Georgia's Chattahoochie National Forest. Compared with the LHS, the tires on the Lincoln Continental lacked grip and the brakes felt mushy. The LHS offered much better suspension control in hard corners and through dips, and its transmission was more responsive. The Buick Park Avenue is a worthy competitor with a responsive engine and a confidence-inspiring suspension.
LHS comes with an aluminum 3.5-liter V6 that delivers 250 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of torque. Designed to deliver power across a broad torque range, it emulates the power characteristics of classic American V8s. With 24 valves and single overhead cams, it delivers an 18-percent increase in power over the cast-iron engine it replaces. It meets the governments Low Emission Vehicle, or LEV, standards for all 50 states.
LHS uses the same suspension architecture as the new 300M, but the LHS strut valves were tuned with longer ride motions than on the 300M for a more luxurious ride quality. That's not to say the LHS is sloppy; it provides excellent handling response and agility for a car of its size. It does not feel like a traditional American luxobarge.
The front suspension and powertrain are mounted on a system of four hydroformed steel tubes that are lighter, stiffer and dimensionally more accurate than the previous setup. Hydroforming involves forcing water into a tube at extremely high pressures to form the subframe, resulting in a structure that is far more rigid than welded parts. That means better handling and ride quality, with reduced noise, vibration and harshness. The rear suspension uses multiple links and a Chapman Strut at each wheel. The geometry has been revised slightly over the previous model.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard; ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control during hard braking. The LHS brake system provides good pedal feel. Electronic low-speed traction control, which is also standard, provides improved control when accelerating on slippery surfaces by limiting wheel spin. All-season Goodyear Eagle LS touring tires, size P225/55R17, are standard and provide good handling characteristics on wet or dry roads with low tread noise and good snow traction.
Chrysler's LHS represents a big improvement over its predecessor. An elegant interior, solid acceleration performance and excellent handling complement eye-catching styling. With its roomy back seats and generous legroom, it can haul four people in comfortable, luxurious surroundings. Supremely smooth and stable at highway speeds, we could spend many miles in one of these.