Aspen to give Chrysler a luxury SUV entry

April 21, 2006|By JASON STEIN / Wheelbase Communications

Despite ever-inflating gas prices, there's still a hot market for full-size sport-utility vehicles that deliver plenty of power along with a full load of luxury amenities. Joining these colossus-class offerings later this year will be the Aspen, the first sport-ute to wear a Chrysler badge.

Until now, parent DaimlerChrysler has let its Jeep and Dodge divisions do the talking when it comes to building and marketing off-road-capable machinery, even luxury sport-ute models. Adding Chrysler to the mix would seem to make sense given the amazing success of the 300 sedan and especially since the product planning types were able to build off an existing vehicle.

The base for the Aspen, a label last used on a series of frumpy 1970s-era mid-size Dodge passenger cars, is the Dodge Durango, already a popular choice with buyers looking for decent cargo and passenger space as well as freight-train-pulling power. Even with Chrysler's trademark egg-crate grille gracing the nose, a distinctively ribbed hood, form-fitting taillamps, chrome trim and fancier wheels, there's no mistaking the Aspen's Dodge-based origins.


The major difference between the Durango and the Aspen is in the details. The new Chrysler arrives with, or offers at extra cost, a complete range of fancier interior content such as leather- or leather/suede-covered seats for all three rows, unique gauges and wood-grain accents for the steering wheel, console, dashboard and door-mounted switch panels.

As for seating, a traditional second-row bench is standard, while bucket seats separated by a floor console are on the option sheet.

The Aspen's major advantage over many of its competitors is its cargo space. With the third-row seat folded, there's more room than many similarly sized sport-utes, including the Lincoln Navigator, Chevrolet Tahoe or Nissan Armada.

Base Aspens use a 235-horsepower 4.7-liter V-8 while a 335-horse 5.7-liter "Hemi" V-8 is optional. The latter comes with fuel-saving cylinder deactivation, whereby four of the eight cylinders imperceptibly shut down at steady cruising speeds, while the Aspen is braking, or when it's idling at a stop light. With the system, Chrysler estimates that the 5.7 will achieve nearly the same fuel economy as the 4.7 (around 14/19, city/highway mpg), but only if you resist the urge to put the spurs to the bigger powerplant.

Selecting the 5.7 also provides a beefed-up towing capacity of up to 8,750 pounds, 1,400 more than Aspens equipped with the 4.7.

Both engines operate through five-speed automatic transmissions.

Although a rear-wheel-drive Aspen can be ordered, most will likely come with four-wheel drive using one of two transfer cases. The 4.7 comes with a single-speed coupling that lacks a low-range ratio. For more serious off-road applications, you can order a two-speed transfer case (standard with Hemi-powered Aspens) with a locking center differential that makes crawling up and/or over boulder-strewn trails more sure-footed.

Even with its luxury leanings, the Aspen can be fitted with an assortment of upscale touches, including a power liftgate and sunroof, navigation system, heated front and mid-row bucket seats, overhead console, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, 20-inch chrome wheels and remote engine start.

On the safety side of the ledger, look for stability control, a backup warning system, tire-pressure monitoring and side-curtain airbags.

Although final prices won't be established until closer to the Aspen's arrival, you can expect to pay somewhere in the $35,000-$45,000 range, depending on the amount of equipment selected.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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