1978 Chrysler LeBaron
Chrysler made one of its smartest moves ever in producing the LeBaron/Diplomat
series of mid-size luxury cars from the Volare/Aspen compact body. The
LeBaron and its twin come in three styles on the 112.7-inch wheelbase of
the four-door Volare/Aspen.
Consumer Guide's Auto Test 1978
The LeBaron two-door coupe is a handsome design
that combines a distinctive roofline with Monte Carlo-style rear fender
sculpturing and a Grand Prix-type deck lid. The four-door is twon inches
longer and two inches taller than the coupe. The station wagon is probably
the most luxurious wagon in its size class.
The extra length and higher roof of the four-door
model provides comfortable seating for adult passengers. Front legroom
in both models is a generous 42.5 inches. Rear legroom is the sedan with
the front seats all the way back is 36.6 inches-2.5 inches more than the
coupe. For this reason, LeBaron is a difficult car to classify. It is based
on a compact car, but offers the interior room of an intermediate. The
Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a mid-size car.
The coupe has sort of a "personal luxury" character,
and thus competes to some degree with Monte Carlo, Grand Prix and the rest.
Chrysler takes the easy way out, declining to classify the car at all. Instead,
the company prefers to let Lebaron compete in a price range that includes everything
from topline compacts to lowline full-size cars. To add to the confusion, LeBaron
has acquired a reputation as a small luxury car that qualifies it as a low-price
alternative to Cadillac's Seville and Lincoln-Mercury's Versailles.
The confusion seems to be working in Chrysler's favor.
Introduced in mid-1977, LeBaron has outsold the full-size Chrysler and has come
close to matching the sales rate of Chrysler's popular personal luxury Cordoba.
CONSUMER GUIDE Magazine's test staff believes LeBaron is one of the best cars Chrysler
makes and one of the best values in the industry. It is competitive with General
Motor's new downsized intermediates, and sells at a resonable price.
Almost everything that American buyers perceive as
representing luxury and quality is either standard equiptment or part of
the car's long option list.
The 1977 model was offered only with Chrysler's 318 Cubic-inch Lean Burn
engine. LeBaron for 1978 can also be equipped with a more economical 225
cubic-inch Six or a more powerful 360 Lean Burn V8. CONSUMER GUIDE Magazine's
test car, a Medallion four-door sedan, had the 318. That engine provided
surprising performance, and its economy rating from the EPA gave the LeBaron
with the 318 engine an average rating of 18 miles per gallon. The six is rated
at 19 mpg by the agency, and the 360 got a rating of 17 mpg.
LeBaron is said to have been engineered for maximum
comfort and quietness, using a torsion bar suspension. We would expect that
to have a negative effect on handling, but the car handles well. The steering
in our test was a bit too light for our tastes, but the LeBaron was still
easily maneuverable and agile in corners. The Chrysler cannot match the handling
feel of the new downsized intermediates from General Motors; however, it
negotiates the curves better than almost everything else in its class and much
better than the Ford LTD II, Mercury Cougar, Plymouth Fury and Dodge Monaco.
Braking performance was also good. The rear wheels did
tend to lock up and slide a bit, but control was adequate and stopping distances
averaged a very respectable 145 feet from 60 miles an hour. Fade after three
consecutive 60-mph stops was barely noticeable.
Engineering changes for '78 are few, but one important
improvement is the addition of Chrysler's lock-up torque converter to most models
with automatic transmissions. Normally, an automatic transmission torque
converter transmits power from engine to transmission through a hydraulic
fluid coupling, but the torque converter has an internal clutch that locks
up solidly in high gear and prevents losses in efficiency. The result is one
or more miles per gallon at highway speeds. There is also a lighter and more
efficient air conditioning compressor for six-cylinder models, plus some weight
cuts in the LeBaron body. Both could add up to appreciable fuel savings over
the car's lifetime.
Another of LeBaron's attractions is its sumtuous interior,
especially in the Medallion series. The seats are as soft as pillows and available
in a variety of materials and colors. The instrument panel is functional,
but the glove box is ridiculously small.
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