From IROC to Gran Turismo: The First Gen Dodge Stratus & Avenger Were Actually Pretty Cool
If you recall the glory days of Saturday Night Live, you might remember a skit in which Will Ferrell’s dysfunctional dad character proudly screams “I drive a Dodge Stratus!” during an argument with his family. The joke being of course that his Dodge Stratus was as boring and anonymous as his district manager job.
But today the first generation Stratus is nearly forgotten, and looking back on it—both it and another Dodge product from the same era, the Avenger, were both cooler than we give them credit for.
Both debuted in the mid 1990s, the Stratus to compete in the ultra-competitive midsize sedan segment and the Avenger aimed at a coupe market which included cars like the Mazda MX-6 and the Chevy Monte Carlo.
The Stratus was built on the Chrysler JA platform (along with nearly identical Chrysler Cirrus and Plymouth Breeze) while the Avenger was built by Diamond Star Motors—the larger operation shared by Chrysler and Mitsubishi.
The Mitsubishi DNA could be found elsewhere in these cars as well. The Avenger used a version of the Mitsubishi Galant platform and both the Stratus and Avenger used the Mitsubishi 6G7 engine as their optional V6 power plant.
While neither the Stratus or the Avenger were marketed as performance cars, they were both well received at the time. The Stratus was a modern design and captured the "cab forward" design of Chrysler's larger sedans in a smaller package, while the Avenger was rather muscular for its time.
And while neither these were positioned as enthusiast vehicles or serious performance cars, both actually have some racing pedigree to fall back upon.
The Stratus saw action in touring car racing in both North America and Europe, and when done up with the low stance, big wheels and bright colors it looks every bit as cool as a BMW or Honda.
The Avenger meanwhile served as a base for an International Race of Champions (IROC) race car, with identically-prepped versions being driven by the stars of the day.
Beneath its bodywork sat a small block engine and a rear-drive layout hinting at a '90s Mopar muscle car revival that never was.
Video Game Stars?
And last but not least, both the Stratus and Avenger were drivable in Gran Turismo 2 on the original Sony Playstation. While not quite Skyline GT-R or Lancer Evolution level, it's just one more interesting bit of history.
The End Wasn't Pretty
Both models lived on for a while, though they eventually lost their edge, becoming the sort of cheaply-made, straight to the rental lot cars that defined Chrysler for much of the 2000s and 2010s.
Although reasonably popular in the '90s, with both now over 25 years old, there aren't many of either first gen model left on the road today. And when it comes to project vehicles, it's not surprising most enthusiasts will choose other '90s cars that enjoy way more aftermarket support.
Ultimately the Stratus and Avenger will never be seen the same as the Viper, or even Chrysler's more mainstream enthusiast cars like the Dodge Neon R/T or the Stealth R/T, but they are a pair of under the radar '90s machines that may not get the street cred they deserve.