Dodge had less success in the midsize field as the century turned, again due to a relative lack of change, plus increasingly stiff class competition. On a calendar-year basis, Avenger coupe sales languished in the low 30,000s through 1999, then plummeted to a mere 5500 units with the year-2000 changeover to redesigned '01 models.
The Stratus sedan ran in the mid to high 90,000s except for 1998, when it topped 106,000. But here, too, a good chunk of each year's production went to corporate and rental fleets to the detriment of Stratus' image and resale values on the retail market. Like Neon, these were competent, high-value cars, and Dodge struggled to keep them appealing with yearly touch-ups. But it wasn't enough, and finicky consumers found more to like at other dealerships.
The redesigned 2001 models aimed to lure them back with fresh styling, new features, and a more solid, refined driving experience within little-changed dimensions. Avenger was renamed Stratus coupe, but was still built in Illinois on a Mitsubishi platform, this one borrowed from the Japanese company's 1999-2000 Galant sedan and sporty Eclipse models.
Sedans remained purely Chrysler creations, evident in their cab-forward proportions, but production now centered solely in Michigan (some prior models had been sourced from Mexico).
Among the few shared features, other than the Stratus name, were a base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a smooth, rounded nose with Dodge's trademark "crosshair" grille motif. Models comprised price-leader SE coupes and sedans, a new two-door R/T with Mitsubishi's latest 3.0-liter V-6 (replacing Avenger ES), and a four-door ES packing Chrysler's 2.7-liter V-6.
Interestingly, both V-6s were rated at 200 bhp, perhaps to keep peace in the transpacific family. Automatic transmission was mandatory for sedans and optional for coupes in lieu of a five-speed manual. Enthusiasts were quick to note the V-6/manual combo, a first for Dodge's midsize coupe and not matched by sibling Chrysler Sebrings. Also available for the R/T was Chrysler's AutoStick feature, previously limited to ES sedans.
For all the changes, though, the new Stratuses were just more of the same: noticeably improved in many areas, yet still not quite good enough to threaten the competition's best. Sedans had standard all-disc brakes and offered curtain side airbags as a first-time option, but torso side airbags weren't available anywhere, and antilock brakes cost extra.
And though the manual R/T coupe promised the most rewarding drive, Road & Track damned it with faint initial praise, judging it merely "well equipped to take on the Toyota Solaras and Honda Accord coupes of the world." Car and Driver was more upbeat, finding the R/T "nearly as delightful to flog as its Mitsubishi [Eclipse] cousin."
In any case, the Stratus would be another Dodge allowed to coast along with minimal change until its time was up. The 2002 line acquired a value-priced SE Plus sedan, and a sporty R/T sedan bowed at midseason to add some image spice, offering a five-speed manual or AutoStick self-shifter in a tempting $21,400 package. But the hand of marketing was very heavy, and the main change for 2003 was badging price-leaders as SXT models.
The following year brought a mild facelift to help sedans look a bit more like the coupes, which dealers could hardly give away and were thus dropped after '05. Offerings then slimmed to just SXT and R/T sedans, a hint that change was in the wind.
For more on the all-American Dodge, try see:
- Dodge New Car Reviews and Prices
- Dodge Used Car Reviews and Prices