We are in the midst of a turbocharging epoch as automakers use boosted, small-displacement engines to satisfy consumer and regulatory demands for fuel economy, while still offering healthy power output. The last time turbochargers were so de rigueur was in the 1980s, when Chrysler offered boosted four-cylinder engines in almost all of their family sedans. Between the 1980s and the present decade, turbocharging fell out of fashion in family sedans in North America. However, south of the border the turbocharged Mopar family sedan lived on.
When Dodge replaced the Spirit with the Stratus, naturally-aspirated four-cylinder and V6 engines remained but the turbocharged four and sporty R/T trim were dropped. However, many Mexicans, including police officers and those living at higher altitudes, had become rather enamored with turbocharged Chryslers so the option remained in both Chrysler Stratus and Cirrus models.
The turbocharged Cloud Cars didn’t simply use the old Spirit R/T engine, instead utilizing a version of the new 2.4 four-cylinder with a Mitsubishi turbocharger. Mated only to a four-speed automatic transmission with Chrysler’s new AutoStick feature, the 2.4 turbo produced 168 hp at 5200 rpm and 216 ft-lbs of torque at a low 2200 rpm. That horsepower figure was identical to the 2.5 V6 but the V6 was down 46 lb-ft of torque. The Mexico-only powertrain proved to be peppy and popular and was later employed in the Neon SRT-4 and PT Cruiser.
For the second generation, the turbo 2.4 was tweaked and power received a healthy bump to 215 hp and 224 ft-lbs. This was still superior to the V6 on offer in the Stratus range, now a 2.7 mill with 200 hp and 192 ft-lbs, and the 2.4 also produced more power and torque than V6 engines in rivals like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. In Mexico, the Cirrus name was retained; as with the first generation, both Cirrus and Stratus wore the Chrysler nameplate.
Reviews praised the performance of the engine, although criticism was directed at the rather soft handling and occasionally slow responses of the AutoStick transmission. The seats also lacked lateral support, even in the sporty R/T model. Interestingly, the Mexican Stratus R/T was sold with the Cirrus’ gauges and woodgrain trim. This seemed to harken back to the Spirit R/T, which could be specified to a much higher level in Mexico than in North America.
An R/T sedan was still available in the Mexican second generation; in 2002, an R/T sedan was finally launched in North America but came only with the V6. North Americans, however, were treated to a 2.7 V6/manual combo. That was a nice bonus, but then Chrysler Mexico went ahead and treated their buyers with an upgraded turbo for 2004, bumping output up to 225 hp with 235 ft-lbs of torque.
The Stratus’ replacement, the 2008 Dodge Avenger, would not feature a turbocharged four. As in North America, the majority of Avengers sold in Mexico were equipped with the humdrum, naturally-aspirated 2.4. The rather sluggish 2.7 V6 also carried over, while the new performance flagship of the line (and the related Sebring, still called Cirrus in Mexico) was a 3.5 V6 with 235 hp and 232 ft-lbs of torque. But the Avenger weighed 100-300 pounds more, depending on the model, and the mid-size horsepower wars had heated up so by the 2000s that those kinds of numbers were no longer anything special. All the sporty, aggressive advertising couldn’t change the fact an Avenger R/T was slower than a Camry V6. Fortunately, a comprehensive revision of the Avenger in 2011 heralded the return of class-leading power: an optional 3.6 V6 with 283 hp and 260 ft-lbs of torque.
Since the death of the Stratus and Cirrus turbo, Chrysler’s unique Mexican market models have been limited to rebadged Hyundais, Mitsubishis and Fiats. Gone, for now, are Mexican-exclusive powertrain offerings. These turbocharged intermediates showed how serious Chrysler was about appealing to Mexican consumers’ preferences. Today, FCA doesn’t even offer a mid-sized sedan in Mexico. Times have changed.