2002 Chrysler Intrepid ES
Click image to enlarge

by Grant Yoxon

It may seem a little passé now, but when the Dodge – now Chrysler – Intrepid was introduced for the 1993 model year, the full-sized front drive sedan attracted a lot of accolades for what was then radical styling.

The big new family sedan and its corporate sisters, the Chrysler Concorde and Eagle Vision made “cab-forward” styling a part of the automotive mainstream. It was revolutionary at the time – move the wheels out to the corners and extend the windshield and cowl forward, creating more interior room.

That year, the Chrysler trio were named Best New Family Car and Car of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada and earned honours in one category or another from just about every car magazine in North America. It was good news for Chrysler, as the new sedan helped power Chrysler back to profitability.

The cab-forward design continued in 1998 when the Intrepid was completely redesigned, maintaining an edge on styling that made the competition look positively banal. And the awards kept on coming, including a very significant nod from J.D. Power & Associates whose owner surveys carry a lot of clout with car buyers. The American research firm named the Intrepid’s corporate sibling, the Concorde – the same car under the skin and built in the same factory in Brampton, Ontario – “Best Premium Midsize Car in Initial Quality”.

But Kudos for initial quality don’t always translate into a reputation for long term reliability. Problems in the early years took much of the glass off the “LH” sedans, as the large platform Chrysler cars are designated.

2002 Chrysler Intrepid ES

2002 Chrysler Intrepid ES

2002 Chrysler Intrepid ES

2002 Chrysler Intrepid ES

2002 Chrysler Intrepid ES
Click image to enlarge

Post 1998 Intrepids, however, have been good cars with increasing quality and reliability, the frequency-of-repair data in Consumer Reports reveals.

And judging from the Canadian Automobile Association’s annual Frequency of Repair Survey, owners of 1999 – 2002 Chrysler Intrepids have been mostly pleased with their cars, with a couple of notable exceptions. They rate the engine and transmission “much worse than average.”

Still, Phil Edmundston’s Lemon-Aid guide includes the Intrepid on its list of “Bad Buys”, citing reported problems with automatic transmissions, brakes, air conditioning failures and body leaks.

Whether the Intrepid still deserves a reputation for poor reliability is debatable. But given the large number of more modern and reputable choices available to the family sedan buyer, why should one even take a chance on the aging Chrysler sedan?

There are several good reasons. One is that quality is improving as the CAA and Consumer Reports surveys demonstrate. And with Chrysler’s newly introduced seven-year, 115,000 km engine and transmission warranty, it’ll be a long time before you will have to be concerned about long term reliability.

Another reason is size. The Intrepid and Concorde are the biggest, roomiest four door sedans on the market.

And yet another good reason is price – DaimlerChrysler offers some really good deals on the Intrepid.

Our test car was a 2002 model Chrysler Intrepid ES with a base price of $27,210. Currently 2003 models are being offered with no interest financing or $3000 off list price. For $24,000 – and you can probably negotiate a lower price – the Intrepid is a lot of car for the money.

Second only to the Concorde in terms of interior and trunk space, the Intrepid has plenty of room for three adults in the rear – it is almost limousine like. Complementing the cabin’s spaciousness are comfort and convenience features like an eight-way power drivers seat, rear 60/40 split folding seat backs, power door locks, windows and mirrors, remote keyless entry, illuminated entry, compact disc audio system with six speakers, cruise control and, of course, air conditioning. Sixteen-inch aluminum wheels with four-wheel disc brakes are standard.

An additional $2110 will add leather seating surfaces, drivers seat manual lumbar adjuster, automatic temperature control, security alarm, leather wrapped shifter and steering wheel, illuminated vanity mirrors, upgraded speakers and overhead console with trip computer, outside temperature and compass.

The front bucket seats are wide and comfortable, while the gauges are easy-to-read black on white. Typical of this vintage Chrysler, headlight switches are on the dash, while a single steering column stalk operates the high beams, signal lights and windshield wiper functions.

Powering this big sedan is a 3.5 litre V6, a new engine introduced for the 2002 model year. With 234 horsepower and 241 lb-ft of torque, this engine has more than enough gusto to move the 1,582 kg (3,487 lb) sedan. I found this engine to be quieter and more refined than the 3.2 litre engine it replaced.

A more powerful version of the 3.5 litre V6 with 244 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque is the standard powerplant in the sporty SXT Intrepid introduced mid way through the 2002 model year to replace the Intrepid R/T. A four-speed automatic with ‘AutoStick’ manual shifting feature is the standard transmission in the SXT. The base engine in the Intrepid SE is a 200 horsepower 2.7 litre V6.

Naturally, the Intrepid ES rides comfortably over rough and ragged roads, while handling is surprisingly good for such a large sedan. The Intrepid feels smaller than it is and displays little body roll unless pushed beyond where the average driver would want to go.

Visibility is reasonably good, although the front ‘A’ pillars can get in the line of sight when turning and the high rear end makes backing into a parking spot a bit of a challenge.

Safety features include “next-generation” driver and front passenger air bags, four-wheel disc brakes, child seat tether anchorages in the rear, three-point shoulder/lap belt for center rear passengers, internal emergency trunk release and optional side air bags for front occupants.

Unfortunately, an enhanced anti-lock braking system with brake-force distribution is an $845 extra. Based on winter driving experience with other LH sedans, this is an option you should not overlook.

The Chrysler Intrepid received four out of five stars for driver and passenger in front impact testing by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and four stars for front occupants and three stars for rear occupants in side impact testing. In a 40 mile per hour (65 km/h) frontal offset crash test by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Intrepid was rated “acceptable.”

While our tester was a 2002 model, little has changed for 2003. A new 6-disc in-dash CD changer replaces the optional 4-disc changer and new moulded-in front cup holders are the most notable items.

Technical Data:

2003 Chrysler Intrepid ES
Base price (2003) $27,000
Options ‘M’ package ($2,110), side airbags ($390), ABS ($845)
Destination $950
A/C excise tax $100
Price as tested (2003) $30,160
Type full-size, 5 or 6 passenger, 4-door sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.5 litre V6
Horsepower 234 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 241 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Tires P225/60R16
Curb weight 1582 kg (3487 lb.)
Wheelbase 2870 mm (113 in)
Length 5174 mm (203.7 in)
Width 1897 mm (74.7 in)
Height 1422 mm (56 in)
Trunk space 521 litres (18.4 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City 13.1 L/100 km (22 m.p.g.)
  Hwy 8.3 L/100 km (34 m.p.g.)
Fuel regular unleaded
Warranty 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 7 years/115,000 km

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