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1998 Dodge Intrepid ES

10/22/1997

Shahed Hussain

The Dodge Intrepid was a landmark car for Chrysler when it was introduced in 1992. It showed that the new attitude and management at Chrysler could produce cutting edge products. The Intrepid was so far removed from its predecessor, the angular, frumpy Dynasty that it was hard to believe that both cars came from the same company. The "cab-forward" philosophy pioneered by Chrysler had produced a stunning trio of "LH" cars: the Intrepid, Concorde, and Vision

Unfortunately, it appeared that Chrysler had rushed the cars to market a little prematurely. Early examples of the LH cars were plagued with quality issues that took several years to resolve. The basic products were solid, but some details such as a lack of sound insulation and paint problems marred a well-designed vehicle. Chrysler has obviously been listening to its customers and the automotive press, because the new 1998 Intrepid is a worthy replacement to its predecessor.

Facts

General

The Canadian built Intrepid is classified by the EPA as a Large Car. The 1998 Intrepid is offered in two trim levels. The base model, simply called Intrepid, and the better equipped Intrepid ES. The entry level Intrepid is quite well equipped. The Intrepid ES is more sporty and luxurious, but many buyers will not feel shortchanged with the base model.

This is the first time that Chrysler has designed a vehicle completely via CAD. In fact, the car was completely designed using CATIA before any physical mockups were made. This approach shaved months and millions of dollars off the program cost. In fact, Chrysler's CAD/CAM integration is so impressive that other major automakers have visited Chrysler facilities to learn more about their design and manufacturing processes.

Drivetrain

The Intrepid is available with two engines, both of which are modern four-valve head powerplants. The base model is equipped with the 2.7L DOHC V-6 with 200 bhp and 190 lb.-ft of torque. This engine puts power comparable with the best engines in its class, such as the 194 bhp V-6 in the Camry or the 200 bhp V-6 in the Accord.

The 3.2L SOHC V-6 produces 225 bhp and 225 lb.-ft of torque, and is standard on the Intrepid ES. This new V-6 is an extensively updated descendant of the old 3.5L engine. The 3.2L engine is almost as powerful as the 3.4L V-8 in the Taurus SHO. Remarkably, both Intrepid powerplants use 87-octane fuel. The larger SOHC V-6 redlines higher (6800 rpm) than its 2.7L DOHC sibling does (6464 rpm). What is unusual is that both engines are mounted longitudinally, a layout shared with Audi.

Both engines share a common 4-speed automatic transmission, electronically controlled, of course. Optional on the ES is Chrysler's AutoStick, which allows manual control of the automatic. The 2.7L has a shorter (higher numerically) final drive ratio (3.89:1) than the 3.2L (3.66:1). This partially compensates for the lower peak torque of the smaller engine. EPA mileage estimates are 21/30 and 19/28 city/highway for the 2.7L and 3.2L respectively.

Body and Suspension

The Intrepid follows standard passenger car practice with a steel unibody and isolated subframes for the engine/front suspension cradle and rear suspension. Damping is struts all around, with coil springs, and stabilizer bars front and rear. Naturally, the body is stiffer than the preceding Intrepid (40% stiffer in torsion, 20% stiffer in bending). One-piece doors, body mounted door seals, and a structural headliner contribute to the reduced NVH and improved fit and finish levels. Major target areas for improvement in the new Intrepid included: ride/handling, steering and brake feel, and buzzes, squeaks, and rattles. Chrysler systematically attacked these perceived weaknesses in the Intrepid in a largely successful effort.

Observations

Interior

Interior design of the Intrepid is outstanding. Anything less in this competitive class is almost unthinkable. The dashboard and door panels are made of high-quality materials. Very little hard plastic is to be seen. Interior colors are subtle and classy. All the switchgear is easily accessible and has a substantial, well-damped feel. The new Intrepid shares its predecessor's black-on-white instrument panel layout. All gauges are easily visible from the driver's seat. Radio controls and HVAC controls are clearly labeled and accessible. Air conditioning, power mirrors, door locks, and windows are standard on all models. These features are often optional on other competitive base models.

In the tradition of the first-generation Intrepid, the 1998 Intrepid has a very roomy interior that easily accommodates tall drivers and passengers. However, because of its relatively low and swoopy roofline (similar to the new Grand Prix), taller drivers may want to watch their heads when entering the car. Rear seat room is very generous and should be no cause for complaint.

All Intrepids have dual "de-powered" airbags, which deploy with less force. This reduces the chance of injury from the airbags in a frontal collision.

Exterior

The new Intrepid is a visually striking car. It obviously looks like the previous Intrepid, but has an overall more aggressive look. The larger headlights and more prominent grille accentuate this impression. The low and high beam lights are claimed to be 50%and 100% brighter, respectively. Previous reviews of the Intrepid commented on the relatively poor lighting pattern provided by the headlights. Chrysler paid close attention to the press and its customers in this area. A locking gas cap is not offered an unusual oversight in this class.

Overall length is just over 207 inches, yet the car looks significantly shorter. The low, wide stance contributes to a deceptively compact look. The sleek look is backed up by a low 0.314 drag coefficient. The standard 5-spoke 16" X 7" alloy wheels on the ES model are very attractive and add a sporty touch.

Function

The 1998 Intrepid carries on the tradition of being a driver's car. For a full-size car, it handles extremely well. On the road, it feels much smaller and more maneuverable than its size would suggest. The short, nearly invisible hood contributes to the overall excellent outward vision. The only noticeable flaw is the somewhat restricted rear view caused by the high deck and high-mounted brake light.

The 205/70R15 tires on the base car are biased towards a quiet and comfortable ride. More aggressive 225/60R16 tires equip the ES. The larger tires (optional on the base model) provide a noticeable improvement in handling with a small increase in road noise. The optional AutoStick on the ES can provide some of the advantages of a manual transmission. However, the standard automatic shifts so well that most drivers will never feel the need for the AutoStick. Ironically, the base car could really benefit from the AutoStick. The 2.7L engine suffers from a relative lack of low-end torque that the AutoStick would make less noticeable. Apparently, export models of the 2.7L Intrepid will be available with the AutoStick. We hope that Chrysler will offer it as an option in the domestic base model, where it is most needed.

Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on both models, which is unusual in this class. ABS is optional on the base model and standard on the ES. ABS equipped cars come with slightly larger front brakes.

Specifications

General

1998 Dodge Intrepid ES

Front engine/Front-wheel drive

5-passenger, 4-door sedan

Price Range: $21,000-26,000 (est.)

Price as tested: $24,000 (est.)

Measurements & Capacities

Curb Weight: 3517 lbs.

Width: 74.7 in.

Height: 55.9 in.

Overall Length: 203.7 in.

Wheelbase: 113.0 in.

Ground Clearance: 5.1 in.

Fuel Capacity: 17.0 gal.

Engine

60 deg. V-6, liquid cooled, aluminum block with cast-iron liners and aluminum heads

Valvetrain: SOHC, 24-valves, hydraulic, center-pivot roller rocker arms

Fuel Delivery: Sequential multipoint electronic fuel injection

Displacement: 197.2 cu. in./3.231 L

Bore X Stroke: 3.62 in. X 3.19 in./92.0 X 81.0 mm

Compression Ratio: 9.5:1

Power (SAE net): 225 bhp @ 6300 rpm (est.)

Torque: 225 lb.-ft. @ 3800 rpm (est.)

Max. Engine Speed: 6800 rpm

Fuel: Unleaded Regular, 87 octane (R+M)/2

Oil Capacity: 4.0 qt.

Emission Controls: 3-way catalyst (2), heated oxygen sensors (4), electronic EGR, engine modifications

Fuel Economy

Highway: 28 mpg (est.)

City: 19 mpg (est.)

Transmission

4-speed automatic, electronically modulated converter clutch

Ratios: 2.84/1.57/1.00/0.69:1

Final Drive: 3.66:1

Suspension

Front: Independent, Iso struts with integral gas-charged shock absorbers, coil springs, single transverse lower links, tension struts, stabilizer bar

Rear: Independent, Chapman struts with integral gas-charged shock absorbers, dual transverse lower links, lower trailing links, stabilizer bar

Steering

Power assisted rack-and-pinion

Steering ratio: 17.0:1

Steering Turns (Lock-to-lock): 3.11

Turning Circle: 37.6 ft.

Brakes

Front: 11.7" X 1.02" vented disc, vacuum-assist, ABS

Rear: 10.6" X 0.5" solid disc, vacuum-assist, ABS

Wheels & Tires

Wheels: 16" X 7" JJ forged aluminum

Tires: P225/60R16 All Season BSW

Interior

Head Room F/R: 38.3/37.5 in.

Leg Room F/R: 42.2/39.1 in.

Hip Room F/R: 56.1/56.6 in.

Shoulder Room F/R: 59.0/58.1 in.

Interior Volume: 55.2 cu. ft.

Restraints

Front: Driver and passenger depowered airbags, 3-point belts

Rear: Outboard 3-point belts, center lap belt

Summary

Chrysler spent $2.1 billion developing the next generation Intrepid, Concorde, and related models. The improvements can be seen as more evolutionary in nature than with the previous Intrepid. It is obvious that Chrysler listened to its customers, and systematically addressed the deficiencies in the old Intrepid to make it an automobile that makes no apologies to its tough competition.

The $20-25K segment is very competitive. The Camry, Accord, and Taurus have maintained a stranglehold in this very profitable area. The Intrepid offers a distinctive, yet attractive alternative to the mostly nondescript Japanese sedans, while maintaining an edge in size, standard equipment and handling. It remains to be seen if Chrysler can increase its share of the family sedan market, but it certainly won't be from the lack of an excellent product.