1998 Dodge Intrepid

By November 10, 1999
1998 Dodge Intrepid

With their cab-forward styling, Chrysler’s LH cars have earned the automaker a reputation for cutting-edge design. LH is an industry insider term referring to a trio of midsize sedans that made their debut in 1992. These mid-size sedans played a major role in Chrysler’s turnaround–one of the most impressive accomplishments in automotive history.

Now, five years later, Chrysler has completely redesigned its two most popular LH cars, the Chrysler Concorde and the Dodge Intrepid. (The third model in the original line-up, the Eagle Vision, is vanishing from the fold as the entire Eagle division is being eliminated.)

Of the pair of sedans updated for the 1998 model-year, the Intrepid is the sportiest model with an aggressive grille borrowed from the racy Dodge Viper. The sloping cowl sweeps into a steeply raked windshield, over a curvaceous roof and down a decklid reminiscent of past fastbacks. It looks like it’s going fast even when it’s parked.

The 1998 Dodge Intrepid has plenty to live up to, but also some things to live down. There were quality problems with the early ’92 models and the first cars lacked some refinement in terms of noise, vibration and harshness, or NVH. So a critical question, as we went to test one of the first of the ’98 models was just how much of an improvement we would see under its sporty skin.


The word sculpture comes to mind in describing the new Intrepid. The body features a bare minimum of trendy snap-on cladding. Instead, there is great nuance to the sheet metal, which rolls and undulates like a work of art.

The 1998 Dodge Intrepid shows that not only can form follow function, but function can follow form. One of the most frequently-heard complaints about the first-generation LH cars was their lack of adequate lighting. Intrepid’s new quad beams provide brilliant illumination as well as a classy styling touch. But these sleek, wrap-around cats-eye lenses flow like water into the sweeping hoodline.

Except for the high-end LHS, the original LH sedans were cookie-cutter designs distinguished only by grilles, headlight shapes and other details. One of the top priorities with the new models was to give each car its own identity. To start with, the new cars share almost no sheet metal. The Intrepid and Concorde now look quite different from one another. For this reason, Chrysler is trying to avoid the LH designation.

Both cars ride on a 113-inch wheelbase, but the Concorde has a longer body. This translates into significantly more rear leg room and a marginally larger trunk. The Concorde’s 18.7 cubic feet and the Intrepid’s 18.4 cubic feet of trunk space represent significantly increased cargo capacity over last year’s models, which provided 16.6 cubic feet.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. There are many small improvements. Just one example: On the previous models, the trunklid hinge swung into the cargo compartment, crushing anything in its way. Trunk hinges on the new models fold cleanly out of the way.

Interior Features

Chrysler designers haven’t ignored the interiors of their new sedans. The quality of interior materials has been substantially upgraded. Colors match well and gaps have been minimized. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the space where doors and dashboard come together. On the old cars, this used to be a yawning chasm; now it’s a tight fit.

The Intrepid comes standard with front bucket seats, and these have been greatly improved in the new model. They provide better back and lateral support and the detailing of the fabric is world class. An optional leather package is also available.

For those who believe big is better, it’s hard to find anything to compete with the Intrepid. The cab-forward concept efficiently packs the engine into a tight space to maximize passenger space. In this case, you’re getting nearly a full-size interior on a midsize wheelbase. This adds an extra 2.8 inches of rear legroom to the Intrepid.

The interior of the original Intrepid always lived up to the term “ergonomic,” but there have been notable improvements made this year. The radio is now on top of the heater controls to allow easier access and heater controls remain within easy reach.

To add to the sporty look of the Intrepid, Dodge designers switched to black on white gauges. Chrysler has eliminated the optional integrated child safety seat. Apparently there just weren’t enough takers.

A downside to the Intrepid’s sleek exterior styling is that visibility is slightly reduced because the front windshield is so steeply raked. It takes some time to learn precisely where the front edges of the car are as they cannot be seen from the front seats. It takes a bit of getting used to the view out of the small rear window, too.

Driving Impressions

Often, it’s what you don’t see that matters most to the driving experience. While the new Intrepid shares the basic body architecture of the original sedan, a number of critical changes improve torsional rigidity and reduce bending. One such change is a new aluminum cross-beam mounted behind the instrument panel that decreases body shake, noise, vibration and harshness; it also improves the car’s handling and reduces body roll in corners. Impressively, the 1998 Intrepid is no heavier than the previous model, a benefit of its increased use of strong, lightweight aluminum.

Lifting the hood reveals more improvements. Two all-aluminum engines are new for 1998. The Intrepid ES and Concorde LXi come with a 225-horsepower 3.2-liter V6. It provides crisp off-the-line acceleration.

Base Intrepid and Concorde LX models come with a 200-horsepower double overhead-camshaft 2.7-liter V6. This 2.7-liter engine is a marked improvement over the engine used in last year’s model. It’s quieter and more powerful than the old 3.3-liter overhead-valve cast-iron V6, which produced 161 horsepower. Under hard acceleration, the old engine sounded like it was thrashing and running out of breath. The new engine is also more fuel efficient, getting about 1 mpg more on the highway.

One feature the Dodge Intrepid offers that’s not available on the Chrysler Concorde is the optional AutoStick transmission. It is based on the same electronically controlled 4-speed automatic, but the AutoStick controls allow the driver to manually shift gears. This feature provides entertainment and improved shifting efficiency, particularly in the mountains or on winding roads.

The suspensions are essentially the same on both the Concorde and the Intrepid. Standard Intrepid and Concorde LX models come with 15-inch steel wheels and Goodyear Conquest GA tires. Intrepid ES and Concorde LXi models have 16-inch alloy wheels with Goodyear Eagle GA tires. The bigger tires have notably more grip, particularly in hard cornering and braking maneuvers and, surprisingly, they seem quieter.


There were plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” when Chrysler first pulled the wraps off the Intrepid and this is a car that should turn heads for some time to come.

But beauty is more than skin deep on these cars. Two new engines and a stiffer body structure have resulted in a car that is quieter and smoother than the vehicle it replaces. These are now world-class sedans. Add increased space for passengers and cargo and you come up with a winning combination.

That still leaves the question that has been hanging over Chrysler: Can it deliver the type of quality today’s buyers expect? The automaker insists it has double- and triple-checked every detail. A sophisticated new computer design and engineering system was put into place to identify and resolve potential problems long before the first Intrepid and Concorde went into production. If these new processes work only half as well as Chrysler promises, then buyers of these exciting new sedans will be driving world-class cars for years to come.

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