The very first Chrysler sports utility vehicle honors several venerable automotive traditions. It's also a pretty nice upscale SUV in the bargain.
The Chrysler Aspen revives an old name – the 1976 Dodge Aspen. Automakers do this a lot because naming new vehicles is tough. That's why there are so many alphanumeric models. That's why there's still a Chevrolet Malibu, a Ford Taurus and a Toyota Camry.
The new Aspen also benefits from swapping basic vehicle platforms with major appearance changes. Thus upscale Aspen springs from the loins of the plebeian Dodge Durango SUV.
All of this recalls that model year of yore when the first SUV graced the showrooms of the then Chrysler-Plymouth division.
Dodge had a successful Ramcharger that marketers thought would look nice on the C-P side of things. So for the press preview, the first day's Ramcharger overnight became the new Plymouth Trailduster.
That was accomplished by swapping nameplates and a grille. It's a little more complicated for the Chrysler Aspen. Sure, it's on the same chassis as the Durango. There's new body sheet metal and a whole new Chrysler face in front. Durango's aggressive look sometimes frightens small dogs.
|Chrysler Aspen Limited
•Engines: 4.7L V-8; 5.7L V-8
•Dimensions: 119.2" wheelbase; 200.8" length
•Base price: $30,745; As tested $39,115
•Fuel economy: 15/20 mpg
The interior gets a big makeover as well. There's plenty of room to work in --three rows of seats. The second row tumbles into the floor and the center seat can become a cupholder haven. Interior LED lights produce a modish white light.
There's acres of fake wood including, the four-spoke steering wheel which also houses cruise control. Standard equipment includes a 115-volt power outlet and soft-touch instrument panel. Options include leather first row seats, adjustable pedals and automatic dimming mirrors.
A 5.7L V-8 is optional, a 4.7 L V-8 is standard. That 5.7L gets the Aspen to 60 mph in a spritely 8.3 seconds. It can tow more than four tons.
None of this comes cheap -- fuel economy is 15 city and 20 highway. The big engine gets slightly better mpg figures than the smaller. The 5.7L does this by shutting off four cylinders under light cruising. Both benefit from the 27-gallon fuel tank.
What's surprising is how handy the Aspen handles. For a large vehicle it holds its composure well in traffic. On straight highways, the ride is smooth even over bumps. That translates into moderate body roll around turns with a bit of wallow.
Aspen corners better than you might expect, but not as good as an SUV where the emphasis is on sport.
This new Aspen just might burnish the name from the forgettable first Aspen, that mediocre Dodge sedan.
If it does, watch out. The old Aspen's Plymouth counterpart was called Volare.