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…..you 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
I wonder if Chrysler was looking at the Cirrus as the car that might bring younger buyers, but with families, to the brand? My mother’s sister and BIL owned the older LeBaron.
I really thought these cars looked terrific, and yes, the price for features equation looked promising. But I wonder, after reading this, how many owners quickly traded a Cirrus for a Camry?
Great backstory, it makes such an interesting contrast to the largely positive short term review. I really like the styling in these cars, it is a sign of the times that such a clean design was considered bold when new.
Were they generally problematic, or did Adam run into a cluster of poor examples? I’m trying to remember the last time I saw one on the road, which may be an answer to my question.
If we are setting a price cap at $20,870 in 1999, the Chevrolet Lumina LTZ with 3.8 liter “Buick” V6 had a base price of $20,360. Yes, it was dated and I consider it ugly, but that level of content and sheer-size is hard to pass up at under $21,000.
Honorable mention, Nissan Maxima GXE with M/T MSRP $21,499. But because of M/T it is not a direct apples to apples comparison.
Of course we are enthusiasts with the benefit of hindsight. I wouldn’t have objected to purchasing or at least test-driving a Cirrus in 1999.
Chrysler was experiencing a renaissance at that time and Chrysler’s exterior design team really had their finger on the pulse of what American car buyers wanted their cars to look like. Flashy but without garish flaws.
That grille protrusion away from the body on the Cirrus was very high-risk at the time, considering how badly Buick botched the 1992 Skylark. But Chrysler managed to pull it off with much better overall design execution.
My mom had the 1999 Dodge Stratus version of this car with the four cylinder and had little to no trouble with it apart from my dad discovering that you had to absolutely put a Mopar timing belt on it as the aftermarket belts he got at the time gave him some real frustration as they seemed to come slightly prestretched. When it got enough miles on it that it was going to need the lower control arms replaced because of worn ball joints, my dad balked at the prices being charged for the part at the time and my mom replaced the car with a 2003 Neon with a 5 speed manual which they both liked better as it got way better mileage than the Stratus.
Second generation Neon was my preferred rental car of choice back in the day.
Mostly because they all had standard tilt wheel, something that still was not considered standard equipment on cars like the Ford Focus (in rental spec).
I once kept pace with a 2004 Nissan Z in the Neon on an empty stretch of highway.
Even though the statue of limitations has probably expired, I won’t tell you how fast we were going but it is still the most fun I have ever had driving on public roads.
I don’t really get all the hate for the second gen Neon. But I never owned one either.
For those wanting to relive the late-90s Chrysler cab-forward glory, here are the best two on Autotrader:
Low mileage and Florida, for that rust-free body and sun-cracked leather (although the Dodge looks quite good). I must say that Stratus is strangely tempting.
Wow; that Cirrus is the best-looking 20+ year-old car I’ve seen in a long time. Guessing one older owner who only drove it occasionally. Someone is going to get either a great deal on a good around-town car, or a wolf in cream-puff’s clothing.
So, my only question is “Do you feel lucky?”
Cirrus came to Brazil in 1995 and it caused the same impact Lumina APV did a few years earlier, it was impossible not noticing that very low profile sedan and that big snout in the streets among so many conservative European and Japanese cars. Soon after in 1997 Chrysler replaced Cirrus for the global “Chrysler Stratus”, this way it lose the colorful interior in favor to the only dark gray option and a far less attractive Dodge’s cross grille.
Although that frontal style is originally from the ’92 Pontiac Grand Am, I believe that both Toyota and VW designers got inspiration in the Cirrus’ snout when they created the ’97 Camry and ’99 Jetta.
It’s interesting to note that Csaba Csere included this line in C&D’s 10 Best for 1997.
For some reason these “cloud” cars just left me cold. I started becoming seriously suspicious of Chysler’s quality about this time. Not for the first time, but this time they really needed it to be there to compete against the Japanese.
Ha, Adam, tell us how you REALLY feel. These cars were really nice in their first generation and I actually saw the dodge version today. They were roomy, distinctively styled, a good value, and had good dynamics. Huge stylistic break from their immediate predecessors. Then every generation thereafter got uglier, more plasticky, discontented, and dumber until the avenger/sebring became the deserved object of automotive press hatred.
Another fairly nice product done in by half baked engineering. I had a fair number of these in the fleet, people like them, got decent mileage, cost was reasonable. Then the problems started. Early ones were prone to timing belt failure, bearing in the idler would crap out. Had 3-4 of them go south. Then head gaskets started leaking oil down the back of the engine. Almost all had this failure, some done twice, all with less than 100K miles. Last item was the front brakes, the brake pads would wear notches into the mount which was part of the spindle, expensive to replace, needed an alignment and if you didn’t fix them the brakes were a noisy rattling mess. I preferred to keep a fleet of similar cars, less parts to stock, simpler to maintain training levels and you have less problems keeping the average use where you want it because you aren’t dealing with the “I don’t want to drive the Ford, I want the Impala” stuff.
We cycled these out of the fleet and moved on. Later Fusion’s and Malibu’s turned out to be really good reliable cars. Especially the Fusion hybrids, we started picking up used Fusion hybrids. Low 40 mpg vs Impala’s doing 15 mpg on E85. We were mandated to use E85 unless EPA rating was 35mpg or higher.
A friend in highschool had a well worn Plymouth Breeze. Despite that car’s a) low trim and b) not-great condition, riding in it you could tell it had some good engineering baked in. Very roomy and incredibly planted on the road. My only memory of these as new cars is my dad showing up with a bright red rental Stratus. Looked real sharp with its alloy wheels. And it was the only time my dad got a speeding ticket driving for work. Red car in a pack of speeding traffic was the natural target I guess.
While reading this, it occurred to me that I have absolutely no experience with Chrysler’s Cloud cars… never rented on, or had ridden in one.
I did like the concept — good-looking cars, with nice interiors at a decent value — when new, and if I had been in the market for a family car at the time, I could see myself looking at them. However, the memories of my sister’s ill-fated Chrysler Laser still hung in my mind… how its transmission blew up when it was only 4 years old and left her stranded on I-95. So, I was somewhat averse to Chrysler products. Good thing, I suppose.
@ james: the lumina was a dull, ugly, uninspired, phoned in dog of a car. For that price, you could get a base regal or grand prix, which were infinitely nicer inside and out.
I never owned one of the Cloud cars, but rented several. The longest ride I took in one was from here in Michigan to my in-law’s house near Pigeon Forge, TN. The Cirrus we drove had excellent road manners and got good fuel mileage.
I never owned one, but knew several people who did (along with the Dodge Stratus). Generally, they seemed to hold up well, but most folks I knew moved on before the cars were especially elderly. I think after the Daimler “merger”, cost was taken out of the car and the later versions were only a shell of the originals.