By Jeremy Cato
No one, I hope, will argue that the Dodge Spirit (and it’s Plymouth twin, the Acclaim) is a pretty car, but that was never the point of this four-door family cruiser with the spacious interior and affordable price.
The front-wheel-drive Spirit represents a true, living definition of “transportation appliance.” Boxy, bland, with a pretty soft ride that’s okay on flat highways but bit bouncy on bad roads, the Spirit had a six-year run (1990-95) as a replacement for the Dodge Aries. By the middle of the ’90s, the Spirit was on the way out, itself replaced by the so-called Chrysler “cloud” cars: the Dodge Cirrus, Plymouth Stratus and Plymouth Breeze.
Is it a good used car? The final answer for that depends on the particular used car you’ve got in your sights. Every used car is a product of its owner’s use and abuse. As a general rule, though, an older Spirit is an affordable four-door that operates best with the V6 engine choice mated to the three-speed automatic transmission.
Also as a general rule, be alert to transmission issues, know that the four-cylinder versions (non-turbocharged) were underpowered and the four-speed automatic had a reputation for shifting too quickly going up and too slowly going down. If you’re looking at a Spirit R/T or any other turbocharged Spirit, be aware that aging turbos often need to be replaced due to wear and tear.
Overall, though, the Spirit has a roomy cabin with decent front seats, a usable and readable dashboard layout and a big trunk with a flat load floor. There’s adequate room in the back seat, but the cushions are too low and too short to be comfortable. Outward visibility from all seating positions, however, is pretty good.
The Spirit was initially sold with three engine choices: 2.5-litre four-cylinder (100-101 horsepower), a turbocharged 2.5-litre four (150-152 hp.), a 3.0-litre V6 (141-142 hp.). The limited edition Spirit R/T arrived in 1991 with a potent 224-hp. turbocharged four-banger, firmer suspension and beefier tires; that model was phased out in 1993.
If you’re in a hurry, the base four-banger will be a disappointment in this relatively large sedan (1,299 kilograms/(2,863 pounds). Fuel economy, however, will be better than with any other engine choice. Speaking of choices, the recommended engine is the 3.0-litre V6. It offers the best balance of power, fuel economy and reliability. Turbocharged cars all suffered from noticeable turbo lag — the delayed power boost supplied by a turbo spooling up as its driven by exhaust gases. Overall, the four-banger is a rather loud and unsophisticated powerplant.
On the road, the Spirit is not the most quiet car. Road and wind noise intrude into the cabin and the decibels really rise with the windows rolled down. Be sure to test the shocks in older cars to be sure they are damping the ride adequately for safety and comfort.
Speaking of safety, the Spirit was available with four-wheel disc brakes from 1990 onward and anti-lock braking became optional in 1991. Early on the Spirit was available with a driver’s side aribag, but no passenger airbag was ever featured. Interestingly, towards the end of its run the Spirit was no longer sold with ABS.
If I were looking for a no-nonsense second car for family chores, I would put an older Spirit on my shopping list. But before I’d write a cheque, I’d also look hard at the buyer’s alerts and recalls, and I’d be sure to put the car through a thorough once-over by a qualified auto technician.