Since the ascendancy of the Japanese holy trinity—Accord, Altima, and Camry—midsize American cars have had a pretty tough row to hoe. In terms of refinement, build quality, and reputation for reliability, the Americans simply haven't quite been capable of living up to the lofty standards established for this segment by Honda, Nissan, and Toyota.
And yes, we realize this is a less than optimal opening to a retrospective for a midsize American sedan. The reality is, many of the American models of the period found themselves with a very short lifespan, simply because they could not compete.
One exception is the Dodge Stratus.
This model enjoyed an 11-year run from 1995 to 2006, over two generations. The Chrysler Corporation hit upon a remarkably effective strategy in the mid-1990s. The company gave its styling department free rein. The result was some of the prettiest cars of the latter part of the 20th century.
Fluidly graceful, the “cab forward” architecture made these cars stand out. For these designs, a short hood was followed closely by a rather longish greenhouse, which in turn was followed by a relatively longish trunk. This layout made the passenger compartment of the car appear literally shoved forward in the design and endowed the front-wheel drive vehicle with considerable interior space as well as a roomy cargo compartment.
The first generation Dodge Stratus was built from 1995 to 2000. It was offered only as a sedan, and in but two trim levels (base and ES). The least expensive model used the 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine capable of developing 132 hp. The middle engine offering was a 2.4-liter, 150 hp in-line four. The big engine was a 168 hp, 2.5-liter V6.
As these models are a bit too advanced in age to recommend as reliable used transportation, this retrospective will focus on the second-generation Dodge Stratus sedans and coupes built between 2001 and 2006.