With its sleek styling, the Dodge Stratus stands out in a crowded field of look-alike mid-size cars. The Stratus sedan gets a fresh look with updated styling for 2004, while the coupe was restyled just last year (model year 2003). Stratus is available at attractive prices, particularly when big cash incentives or cut-rate financing are thrown into the deal.
Built on entirely different platforms, the sedan and coupe versions of the Dodge Stratus are significantly different in character. They also use different engines, but each is available with a choice of V6 or four-cylinder. The sedan shares platforms with the Chrysler Sebring sedan and is built in Michigan, while the coupe shares its basic architectural structure with the Mitsubishi Eclipse and is built in Illinois.
The Stratus sedan is sporty and fun to drive when equipped with the V6, though it lacks the high levels of refinement found in the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Stratus sedans generally seem to have nicer interior trim than the Stratus coupes.
The Stratus coupe is fun to drive as well. It's sportier and feels tighter and more refined than the sedan, particularly on rough roads. Improvements to the coupe last year reduced noise, vibration and harshness. The Stratus is larger than some of the other coupes on the market, adding to its practicality.
Dodge Stratus Coupe SE ($19,210); Coupe R/T ($22,055); Sedan SE ($18,325); Sedan SXT ($19,390); Sedan ES ($21,835); R/T ($22,370)
Coupe or sedan, there's little chance anyone will mistake your Dodge Stratus for the herds of Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords that populate America's highways.
The sedan gets a restyled front end for 2004, a new front fascia design with a chrome-accented grille. The coupe was completely redesigned for 2003, with a sportier, more aggressive look.
Dodge Stratus coupe has been redesigned for 2003. The 2003 coupe looks sportier, less rounded than the 2002 model, and less like the Stratus sedan. Almost all of the coupe's exterior has been updated. Grille, headlamps, fog lamps and front fascia are all new. The grille is moved farther up and it's trimmed with chrome throats. The rear fascia is new and includes new tail lamps. New side sill moldings dress up the sides, and the hood and trunk lid have been redesigned. Wheels on all models have been redesigned.
The coupe now looks the sportier of the two, but both coupe and sedan offer a sportier appearance than most other mid-size cars.
The sedan's windshield describes a graceful arch that extends into an abbreviated tail. That arching profile echoes design cues from other Dodge sedans, while the stubby prow and body-colored, cross-hair grille suggests the Viper. Rounded front corners carry multi-lens headlamps set above round fog-light openings.
The Stratus sedan was given a five-star safety rating by the federal government (NHTSA) for both driver and front passenger in a frontal impact as well as for rollover resistance. The Stratus sedan has also achieved Good ratings from the insurance industry (IIHS) for in 40-mph frontal offset crash testing.
The interior of the Dodge Stratus is more like a cockpit than most mid-size cars, which gives the Stratus coupe and sedan a sportier interior ambience.
The Stratus sedan comes with new seat fabric for 2004. The standard seats are comfortable, but lack side support, not good for hard driving or long trips. SE and SXT come with manual adjustments. A power driver's seat is available that seems more supportive, with manually adjustable lumbar support and eight-way power adjustments that are straightforward and easy to operate. A leather package ($695) for ES and R/T models comes with nice-looking leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift know, and steering wheel audio controls.
The sedan's shifter and hand brake lever feel beefy, nicer than the coupe's. White-faced gauges lend a sporty appearance with color-keyed accents on 2004 models, and all sedans come with full instrumentation, including a tachometer and temperature gauges. A textured material on the dash adds to the sporty theme. The center of the dash features a small storage cubby between a pair of vents.
Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) are controlled in the sedans by three large knobs, a great design that makes adjustments quick and easy, even with gloves on. The stereo system is more tedious. Radio stations are preset by pressing a separate Set button, more awkward than simply holding down a button. The single-disc in-dash CD player that comes standard on the SXT model works well. The six-disc CD changer available as an option on the R/T ($300) is a separate unit, located down below the HVAC and stereo controls, recessed and awkward to reach. It's best to load it up when parked. Buttons for switching disks are awkward to reach, but are big and easily identified.
Stratus coupes benefited from an updated interior for 2003. The seats are covered in Spade/Saratoga cloth. The R/T offers perforated leather as an option ($1,215), a package that includes a six-way power driver's seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, compass, outside temperature display, and a HomeLink universal garage door opener.
The cockpit theme of the Stratus models is reinforced by round analog instruments tucked beneath an arched cowl. Different models rim the instruments with bezels of various colors. White-faced gauges lend a sporty appearance. Although the dashboard is flat and linear, there's a wrap-around feel to the cockpit. The center console is nicely designed, and includes a pair of cup holders, but the plastic looks cheap, not as nice as the sedan's. Reading lamps are provided front and rear. Coupes come with rudimentary HVAC controls that look like they came from a compact and the handbrake lever is spindly. Some models offer a new, silvery material on the center dash and door panels that would look better on a bass fishing lure. The R/T coupe has nice brushed-aluminum trim. R/T also comes with radio controls on the steering wheel.
From the driver's seat you can easily reach window and lock switches mounted on the door, much better than placing them in the center. Stratus provides excellent outward visibility for the driver, thanks to the broad and tall expanses of window glass and relatively narrow windshield pillars.
The downside of their sleek designs is that neither the sedan nor the coupe are extraordinarily roomy cars and rear-seat accommodations are not as comfortable as those found in the boxier mid-size cars. Getting in and out of the rear seats of the Stratus sedan is tight. Once back there, it's uncomfortable. There's little room for adult feet and you sit low in the seat. Worse, the rear seats lack support on the outside edges of the seat bottoms, making you feel like you're falling to the outside. And there's no center armrest. Overall, the back is best for child safety seats and young people who don't notice things like comfort. The rear bench does seat three, however, and the Alcantera inserts in the rear of leather R/T m
The Dodge Stratus is fun to drive. The available V6 engines deliver spirited acceleration performance. Slamming the throttle down results in quick response allowing the driver to quickly to overtake slower cars. Like most mid-size cars, the Stratus coupe and sedan are front-wheel-drive.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that comes standard on Stratus sedans feels energetic through all the gears, but to maximize the power you'll need to rev it up. It's a noisy engine compared with the latest designs from Japan. The 2.4-liter twin-cam engine generates 150 hp at 5200 rpm and 167 lb.-ft. of torque at 4000 rpm and is rated 21/30 mpg.
The 2.7-liter twin-cam V6 available for the sedans generates 200 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 167 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Yet it earns an EPA-rated 20/28 mpg city/hwy and runs on regular-grade gasoline. R/T sedans growl under acceleration, a benefit of their sport-tuned exhaust.
The electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission is quiet and efficient. Gear ratios have been calibrated to produce quick acceleration performance and responsive shifting in stop-and-go commuting. The R/T's five-speed manual gearbox is clunky, but fun to shift in a muscle car sort of way.
The SE coupe comes with a 2.4-liter single overhead-cam four-cylinder engine that generates 147 hp at 5500 rpm and 158 lb.-ft. of torque at 4500 rpm. It's rated 21/28 mpg, not quite as good as the sedan. The coupe's four-cylinder engine sounds sporty and delivers good acceleration performance.
The SE coupe handles well, is fun to drive and offers a sporty experience. It's relatively quiet on nasty, rough roads. Dodge made improvements to the coupe for 2003 to reduce noise, vibration and harshness. The coupe's suspension seems to manage bumps better than the sedan's suspension and there's less cowl shake (the tendency of the dash to vibrate on rough roads).
The R/T coupe comes with a 3.0-liter V6. That's more displacement than the sedan's V6, but the coupe engine features single overhead cams. The coupe's V6 is rated 200 hp at 5500 rpm and 205 lb.-ft. of torque at 4500 rpm. It generates brisk acceleration performance.
The R/T sedan seems most in its element on a winding road with your foot to the floor. Pedals are placed well in models with the manual gearbox, making it easy to heal and toe when braking and downshifting at the same time. The R/T sedan's chassis does not feel as rigid as other cars in this class. Handling is not as crisp, it doesn't feel as tight, and transient response is a bit ponderous. It goes where you want it, but it sometimes uses up more road in the process. Still, it's fun. It's easy to rotate the car on its suspension by lifting off throttle in the middle of a corner, making for sporty handling response.
Brakes on the Stratus work reasonably well, though there is some nose dive.
Coupe or sedan, the Dodge Stratus is sporty and fun to drive. Throaty V6 engines deliver strong acceleration performance and cockpit-like interiors give them a muscle-car sports appeal.
Stratus coupes are a bit more refined than the sedan models, but these cars do not offer the levels of refinement found in the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Also, rear-seat accommodations lack comfort and roominess.
Dodge Stratus offers attractive pricing, however, and big cash rebates and other incentives are available.