Review: 2003 Dodge Intrepid SE

October 28, 2009

It is a car this writer has loved to hate over the years; four to be exact. This was mandated more by the length of the payment book and less by owning the envy of German and American engineering. One warm June day in 2005, the untimely death of my 1995 GMC Sierra mandated a hasty decision to buy an automobile. Gas prices had crept up to $2.50 a gallon, so fuel economy was a concern, but so was comfort and space. A few calls to a local Chevrolet dealer found the perfect car, a 2003 Dodge Intrepid with just north of 42,000 miles on the clock.

It was, as it is today; silver with a grey interior; complete with a few cuts in the headliner from an errant trip to the home center most likely the culprit. Wear marks in the back seat suggested a child seat. The aroma of stale tobacco suggested a smoker. Nevertheless, with an extended warranty and an application of "Fire D" to quell the smoky smell, this writer determined the car fit for the road.

The marks of use not withstanding, this was one of Chrysler's best styling attempts on a front wheel drive car.  Sleek, with a sloping hood, raked windshield and low beltline, with smooth lines and fastback rear, it still gathers compliments four years after purchasing it. The interior, though austere by even 2003 standards, is roomy and family friendly. There is plenty of room for groceries in the trunk, but the opening is frustratingly small. This is the base model, complete with a bench seat in front and a gear selector on the steering column. This is probably the only Intrepid with this feature slash quirk; a throwback to the days of the Brady Bunch when all but the most sporty had this equipment.

However, a seat in the cockpit confirms that this is not Carol Brady's grocery getter. Rather it is another well-known vehicular icon of the 1970's, the Millennium Falcon. With the aforementioned windshield, the view can be likened to tunnel vision front and rear. The view of the traffic signal is obscured from all but the shortest driver unless well behind the stop line. Visibility is fair up front, but the rear is poor from distortion from the back glass and the narrowness of same. The O.E. spoiler not only spoils the Intrepid's symmetry, but further obscures rear vision and makes parking maneuvers on the perilous side.

Instrumentation for this car is for the most part clear and easy to manipulate. The cruise control is on the steering wheel and very functional. The power mirror switch is difficult to use and fragile and the power window and lock controls are poorly labeled and lit. With small children, they are easily bumped. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls are very clear and well lit. The instrument cluster is also clear and functional, if not impressive. The CD/AM/FM radio is reminiscent of that in my 1989 Chrysler New Yorker with small, non-intuitive buttons and knobs. Once learned, the system does a decent job of delivering travelling music. Most may still opt for an aftermarket system which is thankfully easy to accomplish in this car.

The ride is quiet, even on rough roads and powers plenty with the 2.7 liter V-6. From an economy standpoint, 30 miles per gallon is easy to accomplish with highway driving. City driving is about two thirds of that. A 3.5 liter will be lower in the gas mileage department.

From a repair standpoint, the Intrepid is legendary for all the wrong reasons. Engine failures are frighteningly common and happened to this writer in December of 2005 at 47,770 miles. The evaporator for the air-conditioner failed five months later and several other expensive repairs have taken place since then. However, the dreaded 2.7 liter is economical and reliable if maintenance is performed regularly.

From a driver's standpoint, the Intrepid is a solid and functional yet fashionable means of conveyance. Families will find a vehicle that has usable room this side of a minivan, but more economically. What is lacking is functionality of the cargo space and entertainment options for rambunctious children. Another black eye is reliability for this car and some of the instrumentation. This vehicle also depreciates fast, with recent developments at Chrysler not helping maters much. If you can get past these point, the Intrepid is a decent buy and a great alternative to a Taurus or Impala.

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