All in the Family: We Drive Chrysler's Newly Refreshed Offerings
The first decade of the new century has not been kind to the Chrysler Corporation. Left bloodied and beaten first by a laughable “merger” with Daimler, then forced into bankruptcy by an abrupt and ill-played takeover by Cerberus Capital, a Federal bailout was only offered because of an eleventh hour lifeline from Italy’s Fiat. Fast forward two years and for the first time Auburn Hills is starting to show signs of life.
Chrysler called the nation’s automotive journalists up to the San Francisco Bay Area for what can be best described as a Valley Forge moment. In a remarkable flurry of new metal, Chrysler introduced no less than eight either all new or severely reengineered models. The effort is nothing short of astonishing; an overtime, last second Hail Mary if there ever was one. As the very fit looking Dodge president Ralph Gilles told us at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, “Our reputation dies today.”
But does it? Are the new Dodge and Chrysler cars good enough to lift both brands up from also-ran status, justify the bailout and most crucially sell some product? Did they reinvent and transform their ailing product line enough to warrant such a late in the game bivouac against all the forces conspiring to pull them asunder? We think so.
Certain products are absolute winners. Namely the surprisingly reworked Charger, the bold new Durango and the aggressively refreshed Grand Caravan/Town & Country. These are the cars that are going to carry Dodge and Chrysler’s flags forward, not just in terms of sales but also via the positive halo effect they’ll generate. These vehicles are for real, and frankly undismissible. Then of course there’s the Challenger, a vehicle already loved by many that basically gets nothing but more power – the right thing to do with the last of the pure muscle cars.
As for the rest of the new soldiers, they’re mostly pretty good. Of course, the products they’re replacing were so bad (the Sebring, Avenger and Journey, specifically) that almost anything would be an improvement. But are they good enough to back up Mr. Gilles’s claim? Read on and see.
2011 DODGE CHARGER
Just a Tranny Away
Let me say this now and get it over with: If Dodge gives the new Charger a proper transmission, it will be spoken about in the same lofty platitudes as the BMW E39 M5. This car is that close to being a performance legend. By proper I mean either a manual (like, say, the one in the Challenger, since it will bolt right in) or a dual clutch. All the 2011 Charger needs is the ability to quickly shift gears. As it sits, the car’s biggest shortcoming is the major component Dodge didn’t bother to swap out: the slow-reacting five-speed slushbox from the last car. But fear not, as an eight-speed unit is on the way, probably for the 2012 model year. Talk about an improvement…
So let’s talk about what Dodge did change. Namely, everything, save the transmission. While Charger still sorta rides around on the Mercedes W210 platform, you would never in a million years guess that by looking. The look is an evolution of the previous Charger, with some bits from Dodge’s past thrown in. The most controversial element to my eyes are the door scallops, inspired by the 1968-1970 Charger. A good idea in theory (why not?), the huge indents just don’t work in execution.
They’re too… forced. Each scallop’s top line resolves itself rather well along the rear fender, especially on the driver’s side where it bisects the fuel door. But they just don’t work. Regardless, Dodge kept going on and on about the Coke bottle shape of the new car, even whipping out a Coke bottle for comparison’s sake. I suppose if you squint hard enough you can see the similarities. After all, they both are red. But hey, I dig the mini-flying buttresses that form the C pillars, as well as the new diffuser and geometric exhaust tips.
I only have one other gripe about the Charger’s new metal. This is the first car in recent memory that looks much better with a wing. It’s almost as if the complicated taillights (which are not only derived from Chargers of yore but contain 164 LEDs that resemble a “race track”) overwhelm the simpler rear surfaces without the hat. As for the front of the new Charger, Dodge started with what was good about the last car and somehow made it more aggressive. The twin scallops on the hood look good, as does the new corporate crossfire grille.
While I’d give the exterior a B-, the interior is a solid A. Talk about a turnaround. If you spent time with the last Charger, you know this following statement is true: hell of a fine RWD sedan for the money, but to keep those costs down the interior is dreck. No more. Inspired, says Dodge, by the 1971 Charger, the now driver-centric center stack (meaning it’s slightly angled to the left) is phenomenal. It’s possibly the most improved aspect of the car, if not of any new Chrysler product.
The greasy, hard and cheap plastic that filled the old Charger’s cabin has been banished in place of excellent soft-touch stuff. The metal surrounding the vents and navigation screen is actually metal (aluminum). The gauges look better, the leather feels better — even the steering wheel is a big step in the right direction. The only standout carryover is the shift lever, but we’ve already talked about the transmission. Of special note is the new quick-thinking, Garman-based 8.4-inch navigation screen, a vast improvement over the nasty old unit with its Civil War color scheme (gray on blue) and s…l…o…w… operation. Should Dodge have gone with a Google-based navigation solution? Of course, as Google is dominant, but the Garmin system will be such a pleasant surprise for existing Charger owners that it doesn’t matter. Those same returning customers will also be stunned at how much quieter the new car is.
Now we’ll talk driving, specifically the R/T. I’m bowled over. From the throaty rasp on startup to the smooth, solid feel of the Charger as you cruise down the highway, Dodge has brought to life what’s best about muscle cars. And let’s face it, when Dodge dusted off the Charger nameplate in 2006, the car has been little but a four-door muscle car. Yeah, well, welcome to 2011, where things have sure changed.
The steering is much quicker and much more accurate. Credit a host of changes, including a 70% more rigid steering rack and increased front and rear tracks, as well as a degree or so of negative camber. The front suspension cradle is all new, as are the monotube shocks at all four corners, which are tuned differently depending on the car, with the rates of compression and rebound getting more aggressive as you climb from SE to R/T to Super Track Pak. The way they set up the shocks for R/T duty is fabulous.
Even with the ESC fully engaged, you can provoke the tail to kick out when you’re roaring out of a turn. That highlights not just how brawny the updated 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 is — now rated at 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque — but helps illustrate the inherent goodness of front-engine/rear-wheel drive layouts. Even the SE car with “just” 292 horses and 260 pound-feet of torque is capable of making an enthusiastic driver smile. That’s quite a change from the last generation Charger.
But the big news for those of us who like spirited driving is the Super Track Pak. So you know, the STP Charger has an even stiffer steering rack, high performance brake lines, stiffer front and rear sway bars, and the ability to turn the ESC all the way off. Finishing off the list of upgrades is a lovely set of 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar summer tires.
After a bit of lead/follow, Dodge turned us loose on the NASCAR configuration of Infinion. At first we were driving the new Challenger SRT8 392, a fine, fast car but really one that’s more at home on a drag strip than a road course. Then, having no expectations of track day glory, I climbed into the Super Track Pak Charger and set off. By the end of Turn 2 (making it one left- and one right-hander) I suspected I was behind the wheel of something pretty special. After five laps of Sears Point I was convinced of it.
Starting at just $25,995 (including destination) for the SE model, the Charger still represents great value for the money. However this time around the vehicle is largely free from compromise. If you opt up for the R/T model, especially with the Super Track Pak, you will have a truly excellent performance car on your hands. One that’s a decent transmission away from entering the pantheon of automotive greats.-BY Jonny Lieberman
|2011 Dodge Charger|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, AWD/RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|Engines||3.6L/292-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6, 5.7L/370-hp/395-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8|
|Curb weight||3950-4450 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||199.9 x 75.0 x 58.4 in|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||N/A|
|On sale in U.S.||December 2010|
2011 DODGE DURANGO
The Song Does Not Remain The Same
In this crossover-crazy world, makers of old-school SUVs are feeling the pinch to get with the 21st century and class ’em up. Ditch the truck frames, polish up the interior, and make it ride nicer. Give it a shave and a haircut, and perhaps even some “man-scaping.”
Even a bad boy can clean up occasionally, and Dodge has taken this middle-ground approach with the new 2011 Dodge Durango. Yes, the ladder frame is gone in favor of a unibody borrowed from the Jeep Grand Cherokee that’s been stretched out a bit. Sure, the suspension is now fully independent, and the four-wheel drive is actually all wheel-drive, but there’s still plenty of traditional SUV DNA under the new makeup.
For example, in this strange new world where the Ford Explorer has morphed into a front wheel-drive-based crossover with a turbo-four for a premium engine, the Durango remains unabashedly rear drive and still comes with optional V-8 power. The big, 360 horse 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 puts 390 lb-ft through a five-speed automatic transmission (an eight-speed auto is coming), then either straight to the rear wheels or to a dual-range transfer case offering full-time all-wheel-drive with a low-range gear for serious pulling power. Chrysler’s new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, meanwhile, delivers 290 horsepower and 260 lb-ft to the same automatic transmission and either the rear wheels only or full-time all-wheel drive (sans low-range).
Spend a few moments with your right foot buried in the Pentastar’s throttle and you begin to question why they even offer a V-8 variant. This V-6 is not only more engine than most seven-passenger SUV buyers will ever need, but will obviously be the volume motor. Towing is one reason why you might opt for the V-8, as the bigger engine can tow 7,400 pounds. Though Dodge was quick to point out that the V-6 is capable of lugging 6,200 pounds around — not bad at all.
By now, you may be wondering what makes the Durango different than its fraternal twin, the Jeep Grand Cherokee. So far, the drivetrain capabilities are the same and they even share the same 8.1 inches of ground clearance. But while the Durango does get load-leveling rear shocks, it doesn’t get the Jeep’s fancy air suspension. What it does get are shocks and springs up to 10-percent stiffer than the Jeep’s for better on-road handling, not to mention a performance-oriented R/T model. In addition to being 10 inches longer than the Jeep and riding on a 5-inch-longer wheelbase, the Durango also features a number of electronic tricks to help its handling. They include electro-hydraulic power steering on V-6 models, an electronic limited-slip differential on the rear axle, trailer sway control, adaptive cruise control, and electronic roll mitigation for flatter handling.
The stretched wheelbase pays huge dividends for third row passengers. A pair of six-foot, 200-pounders could easily spend a couple of hours in the way-back without much discomfort. In fact, the second row seats offer only an inch or two more legroom.
Most impressive though, especially when compared to the last generation Durango, is the new SUV’s ride and handling. The added length (when compared to the Grand Cherokee) improves the straight-line feel — there’s very little wobble and almost nothing to give away the fact that you’re in such a large, heavy vehicle. Additionally, there’s very little brake dive, even when you panic stop. And the brakes feel solid. Turn the wheel, and not only are you treated to a properly weighted tiller, but the Durango is almost happy about going around corners. You know what? Let’s drop the word “almost.” This Durango is one impressive truck.
While the mechanical work is all well and good, if there’s any place the old Durango needed polishing, it was inside the cabin. You know it, we know it, and Dodge knows it. That’s why it’s been completely redesigned with higher-quality materials, tighter panel gaps, and fewer seams. Dodge even goes so far as to claim that the Durango doesn’t have a base model, suggesting that the entry-level Express trim is equal to or better than other brands’ mid-range trims. To make the point, Dodge loaded the Durango with optional Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, hands-free calling, rear-seat entertainment and TV, and even mobile Internet. On top of that, it seats seven yet can hold up to 84.5 cubic-feet of cargo with all the seats down. That’s big enough to carry both a 6-foot couch and a coffee table inside the vehicle, Dodge claims.
Sticking with the interior, the Durango is quiet. Blame the vastly improved aerodynamics as well as the largely NVH-free yet loaded with high-strength steel frame. There’s very little wind noise and a medium amount of roar from the 20-inch wheels and their accompanying rubber. The way Dodge tells it, the new Durango is a healthy compromise between less capable crossovers and luxury SUVs. Durango combines luxury vehicle quality and ride with SUV capability and crossover fuel economy, all at a price you can afford. Specifically, that price will start at $30,045 for the V-6 only Express, and climbs to $34,045 for the mid-level Crew. A CrewLux package is available for an extra $5000 with more options, or you can go all-out on a top-shelf Citadel for $42,645. Adding all-wheel drive to any model requires a $2000 upcharge. Pricing for the sporty R/T hasn’t been announced.
While the Fords and Chevys of the world have gone full metro with their car-like crossovers and their limited off-road and towing capabilities, Dodge reckons there’s still a market for blue-collar types looking to clean up a bit without going all high fashion. Are there enough buyers left who wear cowboy boots with a three-piece suit? We’ll see. -BY Scott Evans and Jonny Lieberman
|2011 Dodge Durango|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, AWD/RWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engines||3.6L/290-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6; 5.7L/360-hp/390-lb-ft pushrod 16-valve V-8|
|Curb weight||4750-5400 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||199.8 x 85.5 x 70.9 in|
|0-60 mph||7.5-8.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||13-16 / 20-23 mpg (est)|
|CO2 emissions||1.05-1.26 lb/mile (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||January 2011|
2011 CHRYSLER 200
A Step in the Right Direction
We don’t get the point of the Chrysler 200. Chrysler claims that the car is supposed to compete with the Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu. Which means it’s also competing against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata, something the gone for good Sebring simply could not accomplish. The new 200, while better looking, just isn’t good enough to play with the big boys.
Case in point: after just a couple of miles in the 200 Limited, it became obvious just how limited the car is. Priced at over $28,000, this top spec model did not have dual zone climate control, a powered passenger seat or any sort of grab handle. The latter became a real issue when my co-driver began playing around with the 200’s new V-6. Despite Chrysler’s best efforts, some of the badness from the Sebring carried over, like the toy-feeling HVAC controls and the incredibly cheap sun visors. And the seats are still pizza box thin, despite the fancy new leather.
While there are clearly some issues Chrysler couldn’t address fully with this car, the 200 does get LED light pipes (like the ones on the Cadillac CTS) standard on every model from the base 200 LX to the highest trim, the S. A completely new grille, new headlights, and different taillights (LEDs on all but the LX) help distinguish the 200 from the Sebring.
Unfortunately, the Sebring’s four-speed automatic stayed. The $19,995 200 LX gets the four-speed mated to a revised version of Chrysler’s 173-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Other trims get a six-speed automatic, whether you take your time with the four-cylinder or try the 283-horsepower Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 available on the Touring and Limited, and standard on the S.
The Pentastar V-6 — along with its exterior styling — is the 200’s main selling point. So yes, if you want an incredibly quick front-wheel drive sedan, Chyrsler has the car for you for cheap (the V-6 starts at under $25,000). Caveat emptor: That much power (did we mention the 260 pound-feet of torque) leads to some pretty severe torque steer. We’re not talking Saab-like levels, but rather similar to the Nissan Maxima. Still, most 200 customers will appreciate the power where they need it — getting the jump on freeway onramp situations.
Chrysler left few details of the Sebring-to-200 transition untouched. The automaker is so proud of its NVH improvements, it says the 200 boasts “unsurpassed speech intelligibility performance.” Despite the torque steer issues in the V-6 powered model we drove, Chrysler says almost every system in the suspension was redesigned or retuned. This isn’t a sport sedan, but improvements like a retuned suspension, retuned steering gear and steering pump, and increased diameters for the front and rear stabilizer bars don’t hurt the 200’s cause.
As for safety, Chrysler had a good start with the Sebring. Both the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring were rated Top Safety Picks for 2010 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, provided the cars had ESC (now standard equipment). For 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Sebring four- and five-star ratings across the board. All 200s have multi-stage front driver and passenger air bags, side curtain air bags, and front seat-mounted air bags. The only safety feature not standard among all 200s is the tire pressure monitoring system; the LX model gets by with a tire pressure monitoring warning lamp.
Even so, Chrysler 200 LX owners aren’t likely to complain: The interior is two generations of improvement packed into one. More soft-touch materials have been incorporated, and Chrysler swears the seats have increased cushioning, although we weren’t really feeling it. The newfound comfort, Chrysler says, is perfect for a leisurely Sunday drive.
If you overlook the outgoing Sebring’s less-than-sterling reputation for reliability, then the 200 could be seen as a something of a value in the midsize sedan segment. Pay the extra two grand for the Touring model over the LX and you’ll get automatic headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels instead of steel wheels with wheel covers, automatic temperature control, Homelink universal garage door opener, LED lamps front and rear, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a power 8-way driver’s seat. The 200 S comes with 18-inch wheels and leather seats with Alcantara inserts. Sales of the 200 begin in December.
When the Dodge boys introduced the new Durango, they kept explaining that they were able to make such a compelling product because they had “good bones” to work with, namely the Mercedes-Benz M-Class platform Chrysler snatched from Daimler. The main problem with the 200 then, are its bad bones, namely the JS platform, an adaptation of Mitsubishi‘s GS “Project Global” platform that underpins stuff like the Lancer and Jeep Compass. All that said, as a stopgap product, the new 200 is a step in the right direction, but only that. -BY Zach Gale and Jonny Lieberman
|2011 Chrysler 200|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|Engines||2.4L/173-hp/166-lb-ft DOHC I-4; 3.6L/283-hp/266-lb-ft DOHC V-6|
|Transmissions||4-speed auto; 6-speed auto|
|Curb weight||3400-3550 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||191.7 x 72.5 x 58.4 in|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||18-21/28-30 mpg (est)|
|CO2 emissions||0.80-0.90 lb/mile (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||December 2010|
2011 CHRYSLER TOWN & COUNTRY
Going Upscale, Where it Belongs
The new 2011 Chrysler Town & Country is coming to market just in time. With Toyota getting its Sienna swagger on, Honda continuing the Odyssey’s odyssey, and Nissan about to embark on another Quest, the crew in Auburn Hills had better make sure every town in the country knows how much it’s improved the Town & Country.
The improvements start out front with “the new face of Chrysler,” featuring a shiny new five-bar grille and winged badge that’s spidering its way through the brand’s lineup. There’s also a new hood and foglight setup adorning the T&C’s mug. Changes at the hindquarters include a new liftgate with curved back glass, a body-colored spoiler, and refreshed lighting. If you like chrome, you’re gonna love the abundant strips of gleaming trim encompassing this minivan.
While still a minivan, the Town & Country is a good-looking one. Chrysler stressed that its new design language is “architectural” in nature, and while we don’t quite buy (or get) that, the refreshed metal is a welcome change from the plain, two-boxness of what came before.
Underneath the Town & Country’s new hood, there’s addition by subtraction. Gone and not likely to be missed are the outgoing model’s antiquated 3.3-liter V-6, the 3.8-liter V-6, and the 4.0-liter V-6s. In their place is-you guessed it-Chrysler’s new Pentastar V-6 rated at 283 horsepower (86 more horses than the 3.8-liter) and 260 lb-ft of torque, matched to a six-speed automatic. Fuel economy, a big factor for minivan buyers, is expected to roughly match the outgoing model’s top 17 city/25 highway mpg number. Helping the powertrain maximize mpgs are updates including a fuel economizer mode and lower-rolling resistance tires said to provide better overall grip.
Chrysler says it went to work on the Town & Country’s suspension in order to deliver an “agile, confident and exhilarating” experience. We’re having a hard time wrapping our head around seeing the words “exhilarating” and “minivan” in the same sentence, but we applaud the effort to upgrade the T&C’s ride. Improvements abound, including a quicker-ratio steering gear setup, retuned shocks front and rear, and upgrades to the minivan’s solid twist beam rear axle. Engineers were also tasked with improving the vehicle’s stability during emergency maneuvers.
Driving wise, the new Pentastar V-6 is more than adequate to lug the 2.5 ton minivan around. Coupled with the suspension upgrades, we were able to keep up with a BMW motorcycle on top of Mt. Tamapalis for a couple of corners. Hey, it felt heroic to do so in a minivan.
If you do happen to get yourself into one of those emergency jams in the Town & Country, there are three kitchen sinks full of safety options, most of which come standard. You want airbags? They’re blowing up all over the cabin, including a driver side knee blocker and side curtain airbags for all three rows. When things get unstable, there’s the usual suite of nannies, including stability control, traction control, and a brake assist feature. Chrysler has ginned up some fancy new names for its available rear park assist system (ParkSense) and rear backup camera (ParkView), and has added blind spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection features, good stuff to have for a boxy minivan.
So it has more power, it’s safer, and it’s exhilarating (!) to drive. But more than anything, a minivan’s main mission is about moving human cargo in a comfortable, feature-rich, and well-executed cabin. It’s here where Chrysler really stepped up.
The interior is lovely, including a totally redesigned center console that should help erase memories of the unattractive, hard silver plastic one found in the old Town & Country. First and foremost are the squishy, soft touch plastics that now make up the majority of the dashboard. It’s difficult to over emphasize what a huge step in the right direction these new materials are. The seats are made of finer leather, and even the buttons seen nicer. Even if they aren’t, the entire interior looks so much better that you’d never notice any carry over parts. Also of note: the T&C (finally) features push button start, meaning you can leave the keys in your purse. Speaking of which, there’s an enormous bin to store said purse in.
Seating options have been upgraded, including the much-lauded Stow ‘n Go, which now comes with a one-touch fold-down feature and more comfortable seats. A new Quad seating option is now available, which further ups the lux factor. You want entertainment? Internet? TV? You got it, through Chrysler’s available dual DVD entertainment system, UConnect Web, and Sirius Backseat TV. UConnect also helps manage hands-free phone, navigation, and other media.
The 2011 Chrysler Town & Country comes in three flavors: Touring ($30,995), Touring L ($32,995), and Limited ($39,495). With the minivan wars flaring back up, the T&C is a double-barreled blast across the bow of its Japanese competition. We’ll see if the changes are enough (they had better be, as the base price is some five grand more than the outgoing model) to get the people-moving masses en masse into Chrysler showrooms. -BY Mike Floyd and Jonny Lieberman
2010 Dodge Grand Caravan
Breaking the Minivan Glass Ceiling
When we did our last minivan comparison test — Family (Hauler) Feud — much outrage came our way because we didn’t wait to compare the new Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna to the new Dodge Grand Caravan. Instead, the 2010 Dodge took home third place. Well guess what? Y’all were right.
With the exception of the new Charger, the Grand Caravan is the most improved product on Dodge’s portfolio. It looks better, the engine is more powerful and yet mpgs are up, and the interior is totally improved. Even the still-best-in-class Stow’N’Go seats are larger. Long story short, Dodge improved every single area we dinged in the comparo. Er, except for the lousy navigation unit. But hey — the junky shifter is no more, instead replaced by an almost retro and quite stylish lever.
Most noticeably of all, Dodge might have just finally cracked the minivan glass ceiling. The one that prevents enthusiasts from cozying up to family schleppers. Case in point: the engineer responsible for revitalizing the Journey told us, “Even though I have two young children, I’m not ready for a minivan.” Presumably, he hasn’t driven the new Grand Caravan. We have to give props where they are due. And can you believe it’s already time for another minivan comparo? -BY Jonny Lieberman
|2011 Chrysler Town & Country|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, FWD, 7-pass, 4-door minivan|
|Engine(s)||3.6L/283-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC V-6|
|Curb weight||4650 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||202.8 x 78.7 x 67.9 in|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||17/25 mpg (MT est)|
|CO2 emissions||0.98 lb/mile (est)|
2011 DODGE AVENGER
Avenging it’s Father
How’s this for apropos? In a weird twist of ironic nomenclature, the 2011 Dodge Avenger is in fact avenging its father. Let’s face facts: the last Avenger was terrible. Built as an afterthought along with the Sebring, the Avenger was the Ford Tempo of 2008. But as Ralph Gilles said at the launch of the new Avenger, “Our past dies today.”
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. The refreshed Avenger looks much the same as the current 2010 edition, but get out the magnifying glass and you’ll notice the differences. Dodge’s split crosshair grille remains front and center on the slightly modified nose, and its lower fascia flares at the sides for a slightly more aggressive posture.
Express, Mainstreet, Heat, and Lux trim levels get 17-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin, Continental, or Goodyear rubber, but 18-inchers are available with the right box checked. The top level R/T differentiates itself with a body-colored grille, 18-inch “Spider Monkey” wheels (no, we’re not joking), fog lights, chrome exhaust tips, and darkened headlight surrounds.
The worst attribute (besides the seats) of the previous Avenger was the handling. Pick a direction and the little sedan would nearly flop over on its side before harshly rebounding back the other way right around the time you found the apex. Not good.
Dodge engineers got the memo and completely overhauled the D-platform’s suspension to provide a comfortable, athletic, and fun ride. For better road holding, track widths are up 1 inch to 62.8 inches; ride height is cut (by 0.47 inches in front, 0.24 inches rear); and standard tires widened (225 mm vs. 215 mm). R/T versions get unique spring, damper, and torsion bar settings. Twenty-six of the suspension’s 30 bushings have been replaced with improved variants in order to improve handling, reduce roll, and enhance steering communication.
By way of stark contrast, the new Avenger actually seems to eat up corners. The suspension has been thoroughly reworked and Dodge’s effort shows in the way the Avenger now handles. Across cracked and pot-holed pavement the new car just soaks it up, something the older car was pitiful at. The steering, brakes and interior are all also radically improved. We’re genuinely shocked — considering just how terrible the last Avenger was — at how much we enjoyed driving the new one.
Express, Mainstreet, and Lux Avengers arrive standard with Chrysler’s 2.4-liter World Gas Engine four-cylinder creating 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. It’s the same engine as last year, but now mates to a 62TE six-speed automatic (the previous four-speed auto remains on the base Express trim). Heat and R/T models get the all-new, way potent 283-horsepower, 260 lb-ft 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 as standard fare, while Express, Mainstreet, and Lux owners can specify it optionally. The bigger mill is matched to the 62TE as well.
Interestingly, a Fiat-derived six-speed dual dry clutch transmission (DDCT) comes later in 2011 and can be specified with any Avenger powered by the World Gas Engine. It is the first shared powertrain application from the newly formed conglomerate and is expected to boost the sedan’s fuel economy and sportiness.
Gone is the drab, rock-hard gray interior of yesteryear. In its place resides an environment wrapped in higher-grade materials and available leather. Brighter, more colorful gauges and the updated three-spoke multi-function steering wheel are eye-catching details. Vents, center console, dash, and door panels are modernly styled.
There are 45 improved sound-dampening treatments, among them an acoustic windshield and three-point engine mount for the 2.4-liter engine. Buy a base Express and you’ll get standard keyless entry, premium cloth seats, tilt/telescoping steering wheels, air conditioning, and a four-speaker audio setup. Up the ante to higher trims, and amenities like power seats, Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC), auto climate control, and a six-speaker stereo (or Media Center 430 radio/CD/DVD/HDD/USB) are included.
The refreshed Avenger arrives at dealers this winter with an as yet undisclosed price tag. Feature-hungry buyers will have to wait until next spring for the R/T. So is it a class leader? Only a good old-fashioned comparison test will answer that question.
We’d bet though that if you stuck a driver into a debadged version and let them go drive around for an hour, they’d never guess Avenger. Nicely done Dodge, and way to live up to a name. – BY Nate Martinez and Jonny Lieberman
|2011 Dodge Avenger|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|Engines||2.4L/173-hp/166-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.6L/283-hp/266-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Transmissions||4-speed auto; 6-speed auto|
|Curb weight||3400-3600 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||192.6 x 72.8 x 58.4 in|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||18-21/28-30 mpg (est)|
|CO2 emissions||0.80-0.90 lb/mile (est)|
2011 DODGE CHALLENGER SE
Will A New Engine And Suspension Setup Save The Best-Selling Challenger?
The last time we compared a Challenger SE to the competition, it came in last. It had a lack of features, a surplus in weight, and a performance worthy only of a disappointed headshake. It’s a different story with the SRT model, rich with character and bravado, yet the V-6 SE model outsells it by a healthy margin — Dodge anticipates the 2011 model to account for 50% of Challenger volume.
It would make sense, then, to unload a salvo of updates during the Challenger’s mid-cycle refresh, and that’s exactly what Dodge has done. The 2011 volume-selling model gains a new engine, redesigned suspension, reworked interior, and new standard features.
The biggest transformation happens in the engine bay. Gone is the underperforming 250-horse 3.5-liter V-6 from the last year, and in its place is technology you’d rightfully expect from a modern car. Now routing power through the five-speed automatic is Chrysler’s new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with its double overhead cams, polymer-coated piston skirts, and forged connecting rods. In this application, the package uses hydraulic powertrain mounts, and it boasts cold-air induction and true dual exhaust from the integrated headers to the exhaust tips.
The improvements? First, more power. Total output now reaches a class-competitive 305 horsepower at 6350 rpm and 268 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm, with more than 90 percent of the latter available from 1800 to 6400 rpm. Secondly, the engine is 45 pounds lighter, which changes the front/rear weight distribution to 52/48% (the last generation was 53.5/46.5%). Unfortunately, this is the only mention of weight loss; Dodge says the SE weighs 3834 pounds, which incidentally is the exact same weight as the last Challenger SE we tested.
Carrying that heft are the next improved components-the suspension. Much of the front and rear geometry has changed, and Dodge has added new monotube shocks, bushings, stabilizer bars, springs, and isolated suspension cradles all around. Out back, the multi-link has new roll-steer geometry, which gives control of camber and toe. The engineers went aggressive with the front and rear camber, setting it to -1.0 degrees in the front and -1.75 degrees in the rear. Standard rolling stock are 18-inch wheels shod with 235/55 Michelin MXM4 all-season rubber.
Acceleration is brisk, insomuch as the SE no longer feels like it’s stuck in a tractor beam when you clobber the throttle. Instrumented testing is coming, but the seat of our pants indicates 0-60 mph time is down considerably. The low 6-second range feels like an accurate guess. The Challenger still feels like a large car, and Dodge didn’t figure out a way to bake in any nimbleness even though the suspension has been tweaked. But fret not, as good, old fashioned cruising — be it on the freeway or a gently winding back road – is still the V-6 Challenger’s raison d’etre. And it carries out this prescribed duty admirably well.
Exterior changes are slight, consisting of a restyled fascia with a larger inlet and a black front “duck bill” spoiler. Inside, owners will find hand-stitched leather on the new thick-rimmed steering wheel and the shift knob. They’ll be more comfortable, too, thanks to redesigned seat structures. Passengers will have easier access to the rear seats, courtesy of the addition of tilt with memory and a release handle on the driver’s seat and tilt-and-slide with memory on the passenger seat. The whole crew will benefit from additional standard equipment: a power driver’s seat with lumbar, keyless entry and start, automatic climate control, and seat-mounted side pelvic-thorax air bags.
Looking for more features? Check the Rallye package. It adds Uconnect voice control, Bluetooth streaming audio, iPod integration, auxiliary input, Sirius satellite radio, automatic dimming rear-view mirror, Nappa leather seats, heated front seats, six-speaker Boston Acoustics audio with 276-watt amplifier, automatic headlamps, and fog lamps.
The Rallye package also makes available the Super Sport Group, a performance-oriented package that adds 20-inch wheels with low-profile tires, performance-tuned suspension, and upgraded brakes. Stick with the standard brakes and you’ll still get stronger braking feel through a revised brake pedal ratio and brake booster.
Steering feel is improved, too. The belt-driven power steering system and its parasitic losses are gone. In its place is an electro-hydraulic setup capable of applying variable steering effort depending on driving conditions. By looking at the steering angle, vehicle and engine speed, and chassis control systems, the system adjusts steering feel to match driving circumstances. When stopped or at low speeds, power assistance is increased for a lighter feel. At freeway speeds, the pump reduces assistance.
Dodge has added a bevy of updates to the best-selling version of its rekindled musclecar. But will the changes be enough to redeem the Challenger from its last-place finish? We’re eager to find out. -BY Carlos Lago and Jonny Lieberman
|2011 Dodge Challenger SE|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, RWD, 5-pass, 2-door, coupe|
|Engine(s)||3.6L/305-hp/268-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Curb weight||3850 (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||197.7 x 75.7 x 57.1 in|
|0-60 mph||6.3 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||18/26 mpg (est)|
|CO2 emissions||0.93 lb/mile (est)|
2011 DODGE CHALLENGER SRT8 392
Mustang Hunter: SRT8 392 is Armed and Ready
In a July 2010 comparison test in which we pitted the new 5.0-liter 412-horsepower 2011 Ford Mustang GT against the more senior (and more powerful) 426-horse 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS and 425-horse 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8, the final results were quite unexpected. The least powerful car won and the most powerful came in last — a finishing order that inverted the power rankings. In comparison tests, that’s rarely the case. After all, who doesn’t like more power? But our reasoning was justified. We deemed the Ford, “The no-excuses pony;” the Dodge, “A profligate performer” but “not the quickest or best handling;” and the Chevy, “a hammer” that’s “not as much fun to drive as it should be.” The Dodge folks, surely thrilled that their car beat the Camaro and avoided the dreaded last place, still had to deal with losing to the Mustang. And let’s face it: second place equals first loser. As you’ll soon find out, Dodge is not cool with being first loser.
With an all-new Challenger another couple years out, the next-best strategy for Dodge was to significantly revise the current car. So for 2011 that’s exactly the approach Chrysler’s sporty brand is taking. And the strategy for the ’11 SRT8 is simple: bigger power. Whereas the ’10 SRT8 smoked tires with a 6.1-liter 425-horse 420-pound-feet Hemi, the new ’11 smokes — and now obliterates — rubber with a 6.4-liter Hemi that ups the ante with 470 horses and 470 pound feet. No longer is the 426-horse Camaro SS the biggest bicep at muscle beach.
Dodge aficionados will recognize that the new SRT8’s engine displacement measures 6424cc, or 392 cubic inches on the dot. Coincidence? Hardly. Some 54 years ago, for the 1957 model year, several Chrysler and Imperial cars received the original 392 as a replacement for the 354 Hemi that had launched in ’51. The 392, in production for only a couple years, quickly amassed an enthusiastic following, notably from drag racers who tweaked the Hemi’s camshafts and bolted on six or eight carburetors to bump power. One such drag racer was Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, who used a 392 to break the 200-mph barrier in his Swamp Rat racecar.
Today’s non-Swamp Rat 392 is mated to either a standard five-speed automatic or an optional Tremec TR-6060 six-speed manual with a ZF-Sachs twin-disc clutch. Viper nuts will notice that that Tremec is the same tranny that debuted in the 2008 Viper SRT10, so no need to worry about its durability. For those muscle-car fanatics who want to go green, the 392/automatic combo boasts “Fuel Saver” technology, which deactivates four cylinders when all eight are not needed. Highway fuel economy with the automatic should fall around 23 mpg. Chassis enhancements include new monotube Bilstein dampers, recalibrated suspension geometry, revised negative camber settings, and a quicker steering ratio (14.4:1 versus 16.1:1)
Inside, the new SRT8 receives myriad enhancements, the most welcome of which is a smaller, three-spoke steering wheel that replaces the previous car’s bulkier, four-spoke helm. Moreover, gauge graphics are new, power lumbar-adjustment front seats are standard, and an SRT-exclusive Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC) displays trip and multimedia info as well as instant access to 0-60 accel, 60-0 braking, lateral g, and quarter-mile times. On the outside, the SRT8 hasn’t changed much, but there are some alterations worth noting: a bigger front splitter and integrated front fender spats aid high-speed aero and balance, and help bump top speed to more than 180 mph (manual) or 173 (automatic).
If you’re a sucker for special editions or limited runs (really, who isn’t?), then you’ll want to get your checkbook ready for the SRT8 392 “Inaugural Edition,” of which 1492 will be available in the U.S. (1000 in Canada). Available in blue with white strips or white with blue stripes, the IE sports a body-color grille surround, special fender badges and dash plaque, exclusive polished wheels with black-painted pockets, and white leather seats with blue stitching.
So how does the new SRT8 392 perform? Luckily, senior editor Jonny Lieberman recently got some valuable seat time and had the following to report:
Dodge turned us loose in the new Challenger SRT8 392 on the NASCAR configuration of Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway — how fitting. After all, with well over two tons of car for the new 6.4-liter Hemi to push around, the SRT8 392 resembles the kinds of showroom-stock specials NASCAR used to be about in its heyday.
News that will shock no one: this car is fast. Dodge is claiming that the 470 horsepower, 470 pound-feet of torque 392-incher can lay down a quarter-mile time of 12.4 seconds at 110.0 mph (the last 2010 we tested did 13.3 at 106.1). After half a lap behind the wheel, we see no reason to quarrel with those numbers. In fact, we bet 0-60 mph times will fall somewhere around 4.6 seconds (4.8 for the old car). Whatever the numbers turn out to be, the newest big-dog Challenger feels like a rocket sled. And we’d like to tip our hats to Dodge for keeping her naturally aspirated, proving once again that there’s no replacement for displacement — even when facing the reality of 35-mpg CAFE standards.
The big, sticky Goodyear F1 Supercar tires (245/45R20 front, 255/45R20 rear) provide copious amounts of grip, while the SRT8’s retuned suspension does what it can with all that weight. The reality is that while we drove the Challenger 392 on the track, it’s just too big to be a track car. There’s too much weight (about 4200 pounds), the steering seems too slow (despite the quicker ratio), and the 14.2-inch front/13.8-inch rear Brembo brakes grow tired of hauling in all those pounds. But who takes a Challenger on a road course? It’s the drag strip that matters, and we think SRT8 owners will be very happy with their purchases. Especially when faced with a stoplight.
Be sure to check back for our first test of the SRT8 392, in which we’ll verify if the newfound 45 horses and 50 pound-feet can indeed deliver a quarter-mile time of 12.4 seconds at 110.0 mph. -BY Ron Kiino and Jonny Lieberman
|2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 2-door coupe|
|Engine||6.4L/470-hp/470-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8|
|Transmissions||5-speed automatic, 6-speed manual|
|Curb weight||4200 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||197.7 x 75.7 x 57.1 in|
|0-60 mph||4.6 sec (est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||14-15/22-23 mpg (est)|
|CO2 emissions||1.09-1.16 lb/mile (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||December 2010|
2011 DODGE JOURNEY
It ain’t easy being the Dodge Journey. It’s the fourth-best-selling Dodge-branded vehicle so far this year, and since its debut back in 2008, it has toiled away in the shadow of its more illustrious stablemates, including Challenger and Charger, and this, um, people-carrier, has endured more than its share of criticism. Is there anything to be salvaged? Let’s see how this 2011 Journey plays out.
Dodge, convinced that actual trim names and not alphabet soup are necessary to convey the company’s new outlook, has designated the following monikers for the Journey: Express, Mainstreet, Crew, R/T, and Lux. Each comes with different equipment and options packages, including the choice of five or seven seats and all-wheel drive (V-6 only).
The new Dodge playbook dictates that the brand’s split-crosshair front grille with honeycomb pattern must be applied for maximum effect. The front fascia has been slightly retouched and the foglight bezels have been enlarged, but Journey’s overall look is still mostly intact. The new rear fascia is a bit smoother, and a sportier-looking bumper cover with honeycomb inserts is on the way as an option if you want a Journey with a slightly more aggressive appearance.
Dodge didn’t disturb the Journey’s base 2.4-liter inline-four with 173 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque specific to the Express trim, but did attach the mill to a new three-point mount system to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness. To keep the price down, the four-speed automatic transmission carries over.
It’d be strange if the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 didn’t come along for the ride, so it does. The Journey’s old 3.5-liter V-6 is replaced with the 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque of the Pentastar model, and 90 percent of that torque is available from 1600 to 6400 rpm. The six-speed auto is tapped for service and helps return 17 city/25 highway and 16 city/24 highway mpg with front- and all-wheel drive, respectively.
There was a time when we could say without hesitation, irony or (much) hyperbole that the Dodge Journey was one of the worst cars on the road. The steering was not only numb, but clumsy. The suspension, with its harsh yet sloppy ride, was laughable. And the interior was the punch line to the sick joke that Daimler perpetrated on Chrysler. Well guess what?
The sins of Journeys past are largely relegated to a bygone era. First of all, the steering is a world or two better. Ralph Gilles stressed to us that a Dodge characteristic (starting now and going forward) is a sporting feel. While still a hydraulic system — most of the new Dodge products use electric power steering — turning left and right are no longer an exercise in frustration. All the stuff you want is there, from proper weight to linearity to a solid on center feel. Bravo.
The suspension has been gone over with a fine tooth comb, and according to engineers we talked to, no bushing was left unfussed with. The Journey no longer flops and flails all over the place. We found the ride to be firm, perhaps too firm for the Journey’s intended demographic but sometimes that’s the price you pay for sportiness. The new Journey could use a retweak or two in terms of going down the road in a straight line above 65 mph – a characteristic shared with its platform mate, the Avenger. There’s a side-to-side wobble that while not horrible, feels cheap. Below 65 mph, things feel fine.
One thing that no longer feels cheap is the Journey’s interior. Soft touch materials abound. Not only that, but gray has been stricken from Dodge’s color palate. We drove a black and tan example with Dodge’s excellent new 8.4-inch touch screen navigation/infotainment system. Long story short — we never thought we would ever be typing this — the Journey’s insides are the class of the segment.
The driver will immediately hone in on the new steering wheel design and seats. The new center stack design is cleaner and less cluttered than its predecessor, while the new gauge cluster incorporates a full-color Electronic Vehicle Information Center LCD display. Further available technologies include the Uconnect Touch media center, navigation, ParkView backup camera, and the Parksense parking assist system. And of course, Dodge has laid out the usual spread of safety amenities so the entire family can travel with peace of mind.
All these improvements are going to cost prospective buyers some extra cash. with the base Journey now sitting at $22,995 and the V-6-powered Journey Mainstreet starting at $24,995.
Is the new Journey perfect? No, it’s not. But generations better than what came before? Oh, absolutely. Throw in the 283 horsepower Pentastar V-6 and you’ve got yourself a compelling 7-seat crossover, especially if you never try and wedge yourself into seats six and seven. -BY Benson Kong and Jonny Lieberman
|2011 Dodge Journey|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5/7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engines||2.4L/173-hp/166-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4, 3.6L/283-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Transmissions||4-speed automatic, 6-speed automatic|
|Curb weight||3800-4200 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||192.4 x 72.2 x 66.6 in|
|0-60 mph||7.5-10.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||16-19/24-25 mpg (est)|
|CO2 emissions||0.91-1.03 lb/mile (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||December 2010|