Dodge Lancer: European style with Japanese extras

The Dodge Lancer and its Chrysler kin, the Le Baron GTS, are a step beyond the familiar K-car, which jerked the Chrysler Corporation back from the brink. The sport-designed Lancer is the most technologically advanced car in its '85 product lineup, according to the manufacturer.

Aerodynamic in shape, it has a steeply canted windshield and back window, sloping nose, and integrated bumpers. The exterior door handles also are recessed, adding to the flow of the design.

For sportiness, performance, and room inside the car, both cars are highly competitive with what's on the road for the same price. The only model is a 5-door hatchback.

Legroom is sufficient in both front and rear, although rear headroom is sparse for the 6-footer.

The base car features full instrumentation with round dials, while the sporty ES version takes the electronics route. I prefer the dials. As in many Japanese-built cars, there are fuel-tank and deck-lid release controls. The standard seats are comfortable, with buckets an option.

The super-high dash -- much too high for my taste -- seems too bulky for the size of the car. But that's a subjective preference; many motorists may like it. A short driver could have problems, though.

Gas-pressure shocks and coil springs assure a good ride, even on a rutty road. Anti-sway bars are used both front and rear. Three different suspensions are offered.

Base power is the throttle-body-fuel-injected, 2.2-liter, 4-cylinder engine with 5-speed manual transmission. For more zip on the road, a turbocharged version is an option. Combined with a taut suspension, the turbo option delivers tire-spinning performance.

While handling does indeed rate a high grade, I can't say the same thing about ``the Voice,'' which beeps out commands such as ``fasten your seat belt,'' ``don't forget to take the ignition key,'' or ``turn off the headlamps.'' When ``the Voice'' is on stage, the radio is knocked into silence. Ugh!

Base-priced at under $9,000 and built on a 103.1-inch wheelbase, the sleek new Dodge Lancer -- or H-body car, as Chrysler terms it -- is aimed directly at the younger, more affluent buyers who want a whole lot of flair during their stint behind the wheel.

It's Chrysler's response to the demand for a European touch, but with some Japanese goodies thrown in as well.

Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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