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1978 Chrysler LeBaron
Consumer Guide's Auto Test 1978

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.
    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.

Three Engines

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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