Chrysler, Road Test Reviews

2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited – Road Test

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Chrysler’s first SUV is pretty late arriving to the party. Just about every manufacturer out there has had a luxury Sports Utility Vehicle in the marketplace for a number of years; in fact there are some that are on their second and third-generation versions at this point. With America’s thirst for bigger and more luxurious SUV’s, Chrysler can’t be blamed for trying to get a piece of the action, and the Aspen certainly fits the bill perfectly.

As George Murphy, Senior Vice President of Chrysler’s Global Marketing puts it this way: “The all-new 2007 Chrysler Aspen offers customers guilt-free indulgence. Loaded with premium features, a fuel-saving Multi-displacement System, abundant standard safety features and best-in-class horsepower, torque and interior room – the Chrysler Aspen offers more for less.”

If you’re looking for a bare-bones work-horse SUV (let’s face it, nobody wants one of those), then you’ll have to look elsewhere. If you want a luxury or near-luxury truck, room for 7 or 8 passengers and a towing capacity of 8,750 lbs, then look no further.

If you think the Chrysler Aspen looks rather familiar just have a look at your local Dodge dealer – it’s basically a Dodge Durango tarted up with many features not available on the Durango. That’s a good thing, because I think the Durango (and by extension the Aspen) is a great looking truck. It’s man-sized and manly-looking, without pretending to be something it isn’t – European. You can’t get the Aspen with a V-6, so don’t even ask. What you do get is a HEMI V-8, good for 335 horsepower and the added bonus of the Multi-Displacement System (4 of the 8 cylinders are de-activated when maximum power is not required) to save fuel.

First Impressions
The Aspen is a big truck. Right from the get-go my wife complained it was too big. Grabbing the big beefy door handles I opened the door to see the living room-sized interior swathed in leather. I step on the conveniently placed running boards. For the most part, I’ve found running boards to be a hindrance instead of a help on vehicles, but in the case of the Aspen they are pretty much mandatory for ingress and egress. The door, while light and easy to open – is very large, so care has to be taken when the moron that parked beside you doesn’t leave you much room to get in and out. A couple of times I clipped my left ear with the top of the door while trying not to hit the car beside me. In the U.S. this shouldn’t be a problem, but in Canada the parking spots are getting smaller every year while the vehicles are getting bigger.

The leather seats are firm and wide with a chair-like seating position behind the wheel. The fat steering wheel is just the right size – I had expected a school bus-sized wheel. The top portion of the wheel is made of faux wood (Chrysler call it Madrona Burl) to match the other trim around the vehicle’s interior. I’m not into fake wood, but at least it wasn’t repulsive, however, that being said I think a grey-coloured Ash would have been a better choice to match the interior colour and styling. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope, but there are power-adjustable pedals so it’s easy to get into a comfortable driving position. The driver gets an 8-way power-adjustable seat while the passenger gets a 4-way adjustable seat – both with two-stage seat heaters. There’s a manual lumbar adjustment on the side that works reasonably well (the one in Chrysler’s own Pacifica is actually better). The huge dividing console between the front occupants irked my wife because it is hinged for the driver to access and doesn’t flip backward so that the front passenger can get into it as well.

The cruise control buttons on the steering wheel are perfectly placed and easy to operate, but they aren’t illuminated – so using it at night is a complete shot in the dark. Thankfully it’s so logically laid out that one can use it safely without taking your eyes off the road. The audio controls are on the reverse side of the steering wheel like so many of the newer Chrysler vehicles, and once you’ve used them a couple of times they make so much sense compared to the traditional buttons on the face side of the steering wheel.

The gauges in the Aspen are very large and clearly legible with a large speedometer dominating the gauge cluster. During the daylight hours the faces of the dials are silver, but at night they change to a very pleasant soft-green glow – very classy looking.

At first glance, the dash appeared to have two stereo units because the automatic climate controls look so much like an audio unit. Surprise surprise – an automatic climate control with dials in addition to buttons! The dual-zone climate control is easy to adjust and operate – wow! One thing that caught me off guard was when my wife was adjusting the “temperature” dial. The rear wiper came on. As it turns out, that round dial that looks perfect for the temperature adjustment – being that it was located in the climate control area – was in fact the rear wiper control. I can’t imagine who would ever think this to be a logical place for a wiper control! On the subject of climate control, I found that when the fan speed was at setting two or higher, it sounds as though there’s a helicopter in the cockpit with you. I can’t remember ever hearing a fan motor this loud in any vehicle – never mind a luxury one. My wife joked that the climate control too had a Hemi, and that the excessive noise was almost appropriate. Unfortunately, it was very annoying and opening the moonroof for ventilation on the freeway wasn’t an option because that was even louder.

The SatNav is very complicated if you don’t take the time to plot your course in advance. It’s not as intuitive or functional as a touch-screen set up, and it is also lacking the back-up camera we’ve been spoiled with on vehicles of late. There is a rear park assist system, but it doesn’t include a camera for some obscure reason. In all honesty I’d save the money and give the SatNav a pass. The audio system was a little confusing at first, but once I understood the setup it was easy to operate. The audio system is incorporated with the Satellite navigation system and features an Alpine in-dash 6-disc AM/FM//MP3/CD player that comes with 8 speakers, a subwoofer and 368-watt amplifier. The sound quality is very good, with plenty of bass and crystal-clear sound.

Over the years Chrysler has been bashed about having cheap-looking interiors and has been accused of using even cheaper plastics in those interiors, however, over the past couple of years they’ve made considerable advances in this regard and the Aspen is an excellent example of this. The materials used are pleasant to the touch, and unlike other manufacturers, the colours are coordinated to match and complement each other rather than provide stark contrasts. The reason I mention this is because it really does stand out when you jump from one vehicle/manufacturer to the next as much as I do.

The Aspen is loaded with just about every imaginable safety feature available, from side-impact curtain airbags to a tire pressure monitoring system and ESP (Electronic Stability Control) that includes Brake Assist, Traction Control, Roll Mitigation and Trailer Sway Control.

Out on the roads the Aspen behaves more like a luxury car than an SUV. The steering is nicely weighted, but is quite light on occasions. If you’re used to driving cars like Crown Vic’s or Cadillac’s then you’ll be right at home behind the wheel of the Aspen. Although the steering it is rack and pinion, it doesn’t feel as sharp as I expect from this type of system, and it felt completely disconnected at times. The suspension is tuned for soaking up large potholes and bumps – definitely luxurious, not sporty. On the freeway, the suspension is very supple and forgiving for everyday driving, and it’s a perfect long-distance touring vehicle. Going into bends is a little disconcerting with a very wallowy, tippy feeling and a sense that you really should slow down – even though you’re not going that fast. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a truck from the 1970’s, but this feels too nostalgic for me! Road noise is very well subdued, with a minute rumble from the HEMI V-8 when the windows are open, but silence otherwise. With the moonroof open on the highway at speeds above 50 mph, it was too noisy so it’s best enjoyed around town.

With a curb weight of 5,119 lbs, the Aspen is no svelte athlete, but it never felt heavy or laboured under normal driving conditions. The Aspen was a little less than enthusiastic about climbing one of the steep hills in our area, but adequate for the steep incline. Getting off to a running-start helped, however gearing down on the steeper hills didn’t improve the situation any while it was a considerable help on hills with less of a grade. My hill test is a good indication of how responsive a transmission is and the noise trade-off. There’s was no excess noise levels in the Aspen – in fact quite the opposite – it was very muted.

With larger than average doors that open almost at a 90-degree angle, the rear is very easy to get in and out, even for the third-row seats. Like the front seats, the rears seats are fairly firm but still very comfortable. They fold forward and lie perfectly flat, and they tip easily and quickly out of the way to access the third row of seats. The rear seats are very generous thanks to their individual configuration. Luxury rolls over into the second row where passengers are treated to two-stage seat heaters, their own climate control and a huge armrest console for plenty of storage and cup holders. One disappointment in the second row is the fact that the seats do not slide forward and aft for additional legroom. With the front seats all the way back, knee and legroom for second-row occupants gets an average grade. Foot, hip and headroom are very good, just as you’d expect from a vehicle of this size. Getting into the third row is a piece of cake, in fact one the best systems I’ve encountered – pull the lever and the back folds flat, then tip it forward against the back of the front seat – that leaves you with a very large open floor area to step in to the rear-most compartment. Getting out is just as easy and there’s no need even to have someone help you move the seats as the lever is clearly marked and simple to operate, while the seat folds and tips automatically. Once in the back, there’s an impressive amount of space with even knee room being adequate. Head and hip room are also very good (actually, better than expected), with only foot space being a bit of a squeeze. The roofline raises a little to improve headroom making it more than adequate.

Interior cargo space is huge, 102.4 cu/ft. with all rear seats folded completely flat. With 4-passenger comfort there’s still 68.4 cu/ft available for cargo. Utilizing all three rows brings the capacity down to a reasonable (by SUV standards) 20.1 cu/ft of cargo room. The wheel wells don’t infringe on the cargo area, so it’s a perfectly square cargo area – I measured 48 1/2” x 48” x 33” with the second-row seats up and third row folded flat. With all the seats folded for maximum cargo room it increased to 82” x 48” x 28”. The height varies between 28 and 33” , depending on what part of the vehicle you end up using, with the rear DVD system eating into the available height by approximately 4” . As is the norm with three rows of seating, the maximum seating creates the minimum of cargo space. In the case of the Aspen, the recline angle of the third-row backrest compromises the available cargo room. At the floor level you get an area of 19” x 48” x 32” but at the top of the seat it shrinks to only 13”. The front passenger seat doesn’t fold forward to allow longer items to be transported as the power-operated seat hinders it from folding forward.

As with the majority of CUV/SUV’s on the road, the rear hatch window doesn’t open separately from the rear door, but the door is power operated using either a button located by the moonroof or by using the key fob (but the fob doesn’t close the door). Under the cargo floor there’s a small storage area that is useful for smaller items like the tow wiring and gloves that don’t fit into the deplorably small glove box.

The 2007 Chrysler Aspen only comes as a Limited model. The base model is a 4×2 starting at $31,555 (Not available in Canada). For more information visit: http://www.Chrysler.com or http://www.Chrysler.ca

The Conclusion
If you want a luxury or near-luxury truck, room for 7 or 8 passengers and a towing capacity of 8,750 lbs, then this is the SUV for you. There’s a hybrid version coming in the near future that combines this HEMI engine with electric motors – an interesting combo I must say – but it should improve the fuel economy. The Aspen is targeted at people that need a mini van or SUV, but just can’t bear the thought of owning one. I’ve always been staunchly opposed to three rows of seating in any vehicle other than a minivan, but the Aspen does a great imitation of a van – more along the size of a full-size van, not a minivan. Being relegated to the third row in the Aspen is not the worst possible thing that can happen to an adult, it’s actually much better than average back there. Unfortunately it’s just like all other SUV’s when it comes to cargo capacity when all three rows are being utilized – it’s almost useless, but it’s still better than many other SUV’s on the market right now.

Warranty:
Bumper To Bumper and powertrain warranty for 3 years/36,000-miles. In Canada it’s 3 years/60,000 kms Bumper To Bumper, plus a 5-year/100,000 kms powertrain. Roadside assistance is also included for 3 years 60,000 miles [100,000 kms]. Towing Capacity is rated at 8,750 lbs.

Pricing for the 2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited
As tested: $41,805 [$54,710 Cdn]
Base price: $33,685 [$49,995 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: $745 [$1,200 Cdn]

Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The Aspen 4×4 is rated at 14.3 mpg City [16.5 L/100 kms], 21 mpg Highway [11.2 L/100 kms]
I averaged 14 mpg [16.7 L/100km] mostly highway driving on one tank, and 17 mpg [13.9 L/100km] on a second tank 100% highway driving @ 80 mph.

+ PLUSES: 
Excellent build quality,
Very luxurious – and BIG
Extremely quiet at all speeds if you don’t put the fan speed up.

– MINUSES:
Big-boat feel when driving and parking
Steering is disconnected
Noisy climate control fan

Would I Spend My Money On It? 
No – I’d get a Chrysler Pacifica.

Back Seat Driver Test: 10 out of 10
“You definitely need the running boards” “Wow! Getting into the third row is easy – and it’s pretty good when you get back here too” “This is nice”

Immediate Competition:
Audi Q7, Acura MDX, Chevy Tahoe, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer/Expedition, Hyundai Veracruz, Jeep Grand Cherokee/Commander, Land Rover/Range Rover, Lexus GX 470, Mazda CX-9, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Toyota Sequoia, VW Touareg, Volvo XC90

By The Numbers:
Powertrain:             5.7L HEMI V-8 with MDS; 5-speed Tow/Haul automatic transmission with overdrive; 4×4/All-Wheel Drive
Horsepower:          335 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque:                   370 @ 4,200 rpm
0-60 mph:               6.85 seconds

Interior
10 – Quality
7 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
9 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (SatNav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)

Ergonomics
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
10 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls

Exterior
10 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

Performance
10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
6 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
8 – Bang for the $$
7 – Fuel Economy

Total 137 / 150


Copyright © 2007 by Iain Shankland
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

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Also Published at: PaddockTalk