Dodge Intrepid offers abundant power and decent fuel efficiency. It handles rough roads very well and delivers a comfortable ride. Handing is sharp and precise. There's plenty of room for five passengers (or six with the available front bench seat). In spite of its age, the Intrepid's sleek styling looks handsome and contemporary.
The Intrepid SXT offers a strong value. The SXT is essentially a value-priced version of the top ES model that includes a high-output engine, chrome wheels, and a spoiler. It's a good package, boasting quicker acceleration performance, top-model features, and a lower price than the ES.
SE ($21,155); ES ($24,475); SXT ($24,005)
Dodge Intrepid has been competitive in NASCAR Winston Cup since it began racing in 2001. It's an indication of the Intrepid's slippery design, though the stock car modifies the production design.
The Intrepid is a great example of Chrysler's cab-forward design, which it's now moving away from. The sloping cowl sweeps into a steeply raked windshield, over the curvaceous roof and down to a short deck lid. The shape is reminiscent of fastbacks of the past. There is great nuance to the sheet metal, which rolls and undulates like a work of art. Intrepid boasts an aggressive, integrated bumper/grille borrowed from the racy Dodge Viper; and sleek, wrap-around cats-eye headlight lenses that flow into the sweeping hood line.
While the Intrepid shares its chassis and drive train with Chrysler's Concorde and 300M, these cars do not share sheet metal. Where the slightly longer Concorde accentuates elegance, and the trim 300M oozes Continental sophistication, the Intrepid reflects the golden days of American muscle.
The Dodge Intrepid is a roomy, comfortable car. The optional leather seats in the ES are especially comfortable, and the cloth seats in the new SXT model are supportive and comfortable. The standard bucket seats provide good back and lateral support, and the detailing of the fabric is world-class.
The steering wheel and shifter are big and beefy. Reversed, black-on-white gauges add to the sporty atmosphere. The quality of the interior materials is generally good. Colors match well, and gaps between body panels are minimal. There's good fitment in the space where the doors and dashboard come together, for example.
The interior is roomy for average-size drivers, though tall drivers may run short on headroom and may be looking through the top part of the steeply raked windshield. Front and rear visibility isn't quite as good as it is in some of the more traditionally styled vehicles in this class.
Big HVAC knobs make it easy to operate the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system. The radio is on top of the heater controls, a position that makes sense, since most of us fiddle with the stereo more than the heater. The buttons are small, though, which makes them difficult to operate with gloves on. I found myself frequently taking my eyes off the road to change stations, and you have to hit a separate Set button to pre-set stations instead of just holding the station button down. The good news is that Dodge now offers an in-dash, six-disc CD changer. You just shove the discs in, with no need to go to the trunk and mess around with CD magazines.
The trunk is cavernous, at 18 cubic feet, and the hinges fold cleanly out of the way instead of crushing cargo when the trunk is stuffed. The opening to the trunk is relatively small, however, partly as a result of the above-mentioned hinges, and lift-over height is high, so you have to lift groceries and other cargo high over the rear bumper to load them in.
The Dodge Intrepid handles amazingly well for such a large sedan. The suspension does a good job of handling extremely rough roads with big bumps, something we learned while driving a 2003 Intrepid SXT at Chrysler's proving grounds at Chelsea, Michigan. The Intrepid's rigid chassis translates into low levels of body shake, reduced noise, vibration and harshness, and improved handling and stability. Extensive use of aluminum helps minimize weight without sacrificing stiffness. On really bad, rough roads, the Intrepid does exhibit some cowl shake, however.
The Intrepid is an easy car to drive, and covering long distances in it is a pleasant experience. Sixteen-inch wheels are standard. The Goodyear Eagle GA tires on an ES we drove offered impressive grip. We were amazed at how well they handled snow and ice after a snowstorm that dumped six inches on the Washington, D.C., area. We easily cruised up hills covered in deep, virgin snow.
The 3.5-liter V6 delivers excellent acceleration performance, and it's good at completing passes. The transmission shifts effectively without hunting around for the appropriate gear. The SXT is the best deal here, in terms of price and power. It generates 10 more horsepower by revving higher, but the key difference is its increased torque at lower rpm. Torque is that force that propels you away from intersections when you stand on the gas and the SXT delivers 250 pounds-feet of it at just 3950 rpm, compare with the ES model's 241 pounds-feet at 4400 rpm. More power at lower rpm means more quicker.
Brakes are excellent, offering quick, stable stopping power at the threshold of wheel lock. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are available, and we recommend them, as they allow the driver to maintain steering control during emergency braking situations. When we slammed on the brakes, they brought our 2003 SXT to a smooth, undramatic stop. On the ES with the M-Package, ABS comes with traction control (for $775), which enhances driver control by reducing wheel spin under hard acceleration. The traction control system made the Intrepid easier to drive briskly on snow and ice. Intrepid's quad-beam headlights provide brilliant illumination.
With its powerful engine and stiff body structure, the Dodge Intrepid offers excellent handling and acceleration. It's smooth and quiet, until you stomp on the throttle. At the same time, there's plenty of room for passengers and cargo.
The new Intrepid SXT offers a strong value with a more powerful engine at a lower price.