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Chrysler Cirrus

Now in its final year of production, the Chrysler Cirrus seems to have had all its bugs worked out - one sibling, the Plymouth Breeze, recently won J.D. Power's initial quality award, and the other sibling, the Dodge Stratus, was a runner-up.

The Cirrus was developed in record time, at record low cost, and won a large number of awards when first introduced. Its merits include a fairly comfortable ride, moderately quiet interior, and most of all, lots of space at a low price. The Cirrus runs in Accord price territory, but seems much larger inside and comes with more standard features.

The main gripe about the Cirrus, at least for auto reviewers and performance buffs, is the engine, a Mitsubishi 2.5 liter V6 with sufficient but not exciting power. Mated to a five-speed it would probably be nicer, but the only transmission is an automatic - admittedly with the AutoStick "manual override" feature.

The interior design, though nothing to write home about, is pleasant and functional. Cruise control buttons are on the steering wheel, and include a cancel button. The instrument panel is moderately elegant, with serif numbers and bright trim rings around each gauge, a la 300M. Small touches of fake wood complement the interior.

Where the Plymouth focuses on price and the Dodge focuses on performance, the Chrysler focuses on ride. Thus, the Cirrus is a bit quieter and smoother than the Stratus or Breeze. This minor tuning ends the differences, but can mean the difference between buying and not buying for some customers. (Would as many people buy the Corolla if it was tuned for handling rather than ride?)

Handling is relatively good, especially when compared with equivalent General Motors products. The Cirrus may come as a relief after cars like the Altima, whose performance come at the cost of comfort, and those like the similar-priced Jetta, whose comfort and performance come at the price of space.

The quesion of whether you should actually buy a Cirrus, especially right now, is "it depends." The Cirrus is definitely priced to sell, and dealers will need to get them off the lots to make room for their replacement, the Sebring Sedan (actually a redesign of the Cirrus). Waiting for the Sebring will bring a larger engine, quieter interior, better handling, and most likely improvements in safety, comfort, and pollution control. On the other hand, the Cirrus is here now, it's a bargain, and when the Sebring does appear, the Cirrus is likely to be marked down even more. Either way, it's a good car for the price.

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