Back in the fall of 1997, leading auto analyst Joe Phillippi put it this way: “Chrysler has a five-year edge in styling and these cars are exceptional. They’ve taken cues from their concept cars and turned them into production cars. You see one of these things going down the road and you’ll know what it is; it’s the new Chrysler.”
Phillippi was referring to the audacious styling of the then-remade 1998 Chrysler Intrepid and Concorde. Both were and still are bread-and-butter sedans aimed at mainstream family buyers. Back in the early 1990s, they helped turn Chrysler into a fantastically successful automaker.
The cars launched as 1998 models are big on the outside, roomy inside but their “cab-forward” design – the one with a five-year edge on the competition – is now starting to look just slightly dated in the face of a wide crop of new rivals – from the Toyota Camry to the Nissan Altima.
They are affordable, however. A nearly-new Intrepid can be had for slightly more than half of its original sticker price. There isn’t a sedan from the late ’90s with the trunk and cabin room of these cars, either.
Indeed, the Intrepid and Concorde are big, five- or six-passenger sedans with trunks large enough for four sets of golf clubs – maybe five. Buyers have had a choice of two new engines, both of which were all-new with the 1998 model year. And both are overhead cam designs made of aluminum: a 2.7-litre V6 (200 hp) and a 3.2-litre (225 hp.). The 3.2-litre has a bit more punch, but the 2.7-litre is, nonetheless, quite strong. Neither, though, is quite as refined as, for example, the V6 powering a Toyota Camry of similar vintage.
Compared to pre-1998 Intrepid and Concorde models, the newer cars have a much stiffer body structure. This has allowed engineers to tune the suspension for better ride comfort and handling. In general you’ll find both are smooth-riding sedans that soak up road bumps well. Steering is reasonably good and for such large cars the body roll is mostly under control.
Open the door of either car and you’ll find a huge cabin with comfortable seats and controls comprised of a manageable array of big knobs and switches. The Intrepid’s cockpit is stark compared to the dressier Concorde with it’s faux wood grain. The Intrepid gets sporty white-faced instruments, while the Concorde gets the more traditional black background. Both are easy on the eyes.
In the back, the Intrepid has a handy 60/40 folding rear seatback (it’s been standard on Intrepid ES) while the Concorde gets a centre-armrest pass-through to a gigantic trunk which is about 12 1/2 percent bigger than the 1997 Concorde/Intrepid.
Visibility is reasonably good from the inside out of these cars, despite the roof pillar locations. That’s because night-time vision was vastly improved in ’98 by large quad headlamps up front. An efficient wiper design and powerful hood-mounted washer jets clears the windshield in bad weather. And the defroster does an amazing job considering the size of the windscreen. On the downside, the cab-forward design and high beltline limit parking visibility.
For the record, the made-in-Canada Intrepid and Concorde, along with the 1999 LHS luxury sedan and the high-performance 1999 300M all share the same basic under-body structure or platform. What specifically differentiates one from the other?
Styling. The Concorde is more bold and longer by 19.3 cm. or 7.6 in. The Concorde’s cabin is more luxurious inside, too.
In terms of quality, these cars have done reasonably well. Chrysler, for instance, finished well above average in the most recent J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Study. Chrysler’s score of 137 problems per 100 vehicles was well above average (the average was 147) and Honda at 135 was better by just two points.
If you’re looking at a used model, I would recommend keeping your eyes open to signs of water leaks in the trunk and on the cabin floor. Note, too, a few recalls related to air bags and seat belts. Other than that, though, these cars as a general rule should be assessed as you would any used car.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.