LEE IACOCCA has produced a car that runs as fast as his mouth.
It is the Chrysler LeBaron GTS, an excellent highway machine that holds its own against most members of its class -- compact luxury sportsmobiles costing from $15,000 to $20,000.
This is a fine car. Oh, it has some flaws, as most cars do. But the good that is LeBaron easily surpasses the bad, especially on that stretch of I-95 between the Maryland line and Philadelphia, where obedience of speed laws is about as real as a midsummer night's dream.
Outstanding complaint(s): The voice-alert system. A most worrisome thing. First the little bell sounds off -- ding, ding, ding -- and then a disembodied voice tells you: "A door is ajar," or "Your parking brake is on," or "Your washer fluid is low." Just what you need after a day of being barked at by editors or others of the boss variety. Luckily, Chrysler put a little switch under the instrument panel so that you can turn the darned thing off.
I have an even better idea, Lee. Save some production money and scrap the voice-alert system altogether. I mean, does everything at Chrysler have to talk?
Oh, no, no, no! What designing thaumaturge thought of spray-painting the center portion of the LeBaron's interior front door panels? These panels touch the sides of the dashboard when the doors are closed. Okay in cold weather. Lousy when it's hot and humid. The painted panels stick to the sides of the dashboard, leaving a bit of a mess in those places and leaving ugly, peeled patches on the doors themselves.
Outstanding praise: LeBaron is Lee's rocket! The crazies on the highway aren't the people sitting behind the wheels of the heavy trucks. Unh-unh. They're the nuts in the high-powered joy rides who insist on crowding your bumpe at speeds exceeding 55 mph -- no matter what lane you're in. But in this car you have automatic transmission, front- wheel drive and a spiffy, turbocharged, 2.2-liter, electronically fuel-injected engine that put distance between you and the goofies until you can find a safe piece of highway -- wherever that is.
The LeBaron is very stable, very quiet, very smooth at high speeds. No vibrations are good vibrations in this league. Chrysler also has done a great job of matching braking power to acceleration; and the company has given the car a ride that is comfortable without being cushy and squishy.
Head-turning-quotient: A simply beautiful car. The folks who spray- painted those interior door panels apparently had nothing to do with LeBaron's exterior design. With this model, Chrysler has bested its competitors by producing a hatchback that has the elegance of a classic notchback sedan. Well done.
Sound system: Excellent reproduction from tape, excellent broadcast quality. Chryser factory. Watch out, Delco, Alpine et al. Lee's getting big deas in this department.
Mileage: About 25 miles per gallon, combined city-highway, lightly loaded with air conditioner running full-time. Unleaded fuel required. High-test unleaded preferred.
Price-as-tested: $16,035, manufacturer's suggested retail. Premium luxury level -- nearly every option you can think of, including leather-covered power seats.