Classic CARmentary: 1999 Chrysler Cirrus LXi

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

My father was one of those people intrigued by the Cirrus’ high-content-to-price ratio.  When he was looking to replace his 1989 Civic in early 1995 (the seats were killing his back), he mentioned to me that he was considering the Cirrus.  I had a business trip to South Florida coming up a few weeks after our conversation and arranged to rent a Cirrus so he could take a closer look outside of the confines of a dealership and I could give him my opinion as well.  The agency gave me a white Cirrus with about 10,000 miles on it, but it felt like far more.  There were numerous squeaks and rattles to go along with the droning V6 and rough-shifting four-speed automatic.  After finishing my business in Miami, I headed up to my parent’s house with the intention of telling Dad to avoid this car.  When I pulled into the driveway, there was an identical white Cirrus.  Damn.

Though not as bad as their Omni and Horizon, it was no paragon of quality.  Shortly after buying the car, he noticed that only half of the grille was chromed.  The speedometer cable then developed a very annoying whine.  There were a few other mechanical issues as well, one of which resulted in them spending a week or so with a Plymouth Breeze loaner.

My personal grudge against the Cirrus came about three months after I wrote this review.  I had to fly down to Florida because both my father and favorite Great Aunt passed away from cancer within days of each other.  I was running some errands with the car when suddenly there was a deafening screech, emergency lights came on, the temperature gauge pegged at H, and smoke or steam was streaming out from the grille.  I limped into a nearby gas station, turned everything off, and took a moment to assess the situation.  I was really in no mood to deal with a break-down, so I took a chance and restarted the car.  It started right up with no issues.  Hmmm.  I then turned on the AC, and everything again went haywire.  Clearly a seized compressor.

I drove home and told my mother what happened (and how much I hate that piece of [expletive deleted]).  She remembered something similar happening last year and Dad had it fixed under the extended warranty.  Extended warranty?  Dad was clearly no fool – if he was going to take a chance on another Chrysler, he wanted some protection.  We found the warranty in his files, and the company directed me to the shop who replaced the part, who was now obligated to replace it again.  Since Dad didn’t like dealers, it turned out to be a nearby independent mechanic.  He took a quick look at the car, rolled his eyes, then told me how busy he was and that it would be at least a week before he could make the repair.  I rented a Chevy Metro in the meantime because I had no desire to drive around South Florida in early September with no AC, and the mechanic did not provide loaners anyway.

My mother ended up keeping the car for six more years before replacing it with… guessed it….a Toyota Camry.

The following review was written on June 21, 1999.

When the radical Cirrus replaced the embarrassing, anachronistic LeBaron sedan five years ago, hot on the heals of the successful Concorde and Plymouth Neon, nearly everyone agreed that Chrysler had another hit on its hands. Its advanced cab-forward design, highlighted by a bulging proboscis and high trunk, made a dramatic styling statement as well as provided a roomy interior and capacious trunk. At a starting price under $20,000 with a multivalve V6 engine and electronic four-speed automatic, it was thousands less than a similarly equipped Camry or Accord. But you don’t see many Cirri on the road.

Part of the problem lies with that dramatic styling. Buyers in this class tend to be conservative, and there is a lot of conservative competition out there in the Cirrus’ size and price class, a problem that neither the Neon nor Concorde had to face. Another problem is the Plymouth Breeze, which shares the same showroom as well as the same body, interior and most mechanical pieces. While the V6, leather, and a few other upscale options are not available on the well-equipped-but-bargain-basement-priced Breeze, buyers of an upscale brand car like a little exclusivity (minivans and sport-utilities excepted). There was a time when Cadillacs looked like Chevys, and Cadillac’s sales plummeted.
But its biggest problem is the V6. While the Mitsubishi unit is just powerful enough to keep the Cirrus competitive, the sounds that emanate from it, especially under hard acceleration, are disturbing at best. The automatic, on the other hand, is extremely smooth with barely-perceptible up shifts (They had definitely improved the transmission over the 1995 model).

However, the design is still eye-catching. The interior is a paragon of design efficiency, and all of the controls have a high-quality feel. The optional six-disc CD changer is even mounted under the stereo, something that is difficult to find in cars of any price range. The leather seats are comfortable, and the low hood, large windshield, and expansive glass area contribute to an airy cabin as well as excellent visibility. The ride is smooth, and handling is better than expected.

If you can get past the drawbacks, you’ll end up with a stylish, well-equipped, sporty sedan for an absurdly low price.

For more information contact 1-800-4A-CHRYSLER


Type: Four-door Sedan
Engine: 168-horsepower, 2.5 liter V6
Transmission: Four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 20 city/29 highway
Tested Price: $20,870