What's New for 1996
Excellent midsized sedan gets a more responsive torque converter when equipped with the 2.5-liter V6. New colors and a power sunroof are also new for 1996.
If the string of recent hits from Chrysler hasn't convinced you that a revolution has occurred within the company's ranks, then the Stratus will. Stylistically, aesthetically and technologically, this car is a triumph in the compact class.
Actually, the Stratus isn't compact inside. Classified by the EPA as a mid-sized sedan, it boasts more interior volume than Ford Contour, Mercury Mystique and Nissan Altima. Ergonomics are first rate, with dials and switches that look and feel more substantial than the price tag would indicate. Patterns and textures within are satisfying, and the seat fabric is grippy, holding passengers in place during spirited driving. Rear seat room is a marvel of packaging, though the low cushion could be raised somewhat for better support.
Externally, the Stratus is more mainstream than its corporate cousin, Chrysler Cirrus. We prefer the Stratus though, because the body color grille reduces the visual largess of the car's protruding snout. The sheetmetal is very attractive, with soft bulges and extremely-cab-forward design lending the Stratus an air of character often lacking in sedans. Changes for 1996 are minimal. amounting to revision to the color chart inside and out, as well as the addition of a power sunroof option which is due midyear.
The recipe for fun resides in the Stratus ES equipped with the 2.0-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine and a five-speed gear shifter, or a 164-horsepower V6 hooked to Chrysler's new Autostick automatic transmission. Base models can be had with a 2.0- or 2.4-liter inline four, but the smaller engine is the only one that comes with a manual transmission as well. For 1996, the V6 powertrain gets a revised torque converter for more responsive performance, but we like the manually shifted 2.0-liter motor better.
Pop the trunk and you'll find 15.7 cubic feet of storage. It's easy to load that space up with stuff too, because the lid opens up high and wide. No banged heads on protruding trunk latches here! Up front and underhood, the vital fluids are well-marked. Large block letters and yellow trim highlight the oil dipstick, coolant reservoir and windshield wiper fluid, among others.
This car is about ease of use and operation. Perhaps it isn't as soul stirring as a Ford Contour V6, or as perfectly engineered as the Honda Accord; it is a fantastic value, and we recommend that you consider the Stratus if a family sedan fits the bill.