The 1998 Dodge Intrepid, shown here as an ES sedan, shared no exterior body panels with Chrysler's related Concorde.
The minivan, pickup and SUV trends were evident by the late 1990s, when Dodge's first-generation Intrepid closed out with little further change: just more power for the '96 ES and the introduction of Chrysler's AutoStick manually shiftable automatic transmission.
The redesigned '98 Intrepids were something else, however: still "cab forward" outside and roomy inside, yet sleeker -- real "dream car styling" come true. Length and width increased a bit, but wheelbase was unchanged.
And unlike before, Intrepid shared no exterior body panels with Chrysler's related Concorde. Engines were new, too. The base Intrepid got a 2.7-liter V-6 with dual overhead camshafts and more ponies than the pushrod 3.3 it replaced. The sporty ES exchanged a single-cam 3.5 for a similar but more efficient 3.2, also with more power.
Both models came with front buckets and console, but even the ES, which added standard antilock brakes, wasn't the speedy backroads runner its looks implied.
Dodge addressed that in early 2000 by adding an Intrepid R/T with wider tires on 17-inch wheels (versus 16s), an uprated suspension with thicker antiroll bars at each end, and a reinstated sohc 3.5-liter V-6 shared with Chrysler's new 300M.
Dodge now labeled this engine "Magnum 3.5," another nod to its muscle car past, but corporate planners mandated detuning that rendered it 11 ponies and eight pound-feet shy of the M. But the R/T was a bit lighter, and Car and Driver found it a bit quicker, clocking 0-60 mph at 7.8 seconds on the way to a 139-mph maximum. Handling? "These large sedans have always behaved like cars weighing and measuring one class smaller," C/D reported, "and the R/T provides even crisper turn-in and sharper responsiveness." Summing up, the editors allowed that while other Intrepids "never managed to deliver the performance that the aggressively sporting sheet metal promised… [the] R/T fixes that." And at a starting price of just $25,000, it was fine value.
But then, as with Neon, Dodge let Intrepid carry on with scarcely anything new to keep buyers interested. And some of the changes that did occur seemed retrograde; like replacing the R/T after just one year with a mundane SXT that had the same engine -- and with six more horses -- but offered neither AutoStick nor a handling-focused suspension.
It seemed a curious move for a "performance" brand, but the R/T had never been a big draw. Besides, the Intrepid still sold mainly as the large, comfortable family four-door it was; sportiness just wasn't much of a factor. With all this, sales were OK through 2002, but then slid steadily through end-of-the-line 2004.