Why? Why in the world would Chrysler release another gas-guzzling SUV into the domestic market? OK, sure, they probably pulled the trigger on the Aspen before gas crested three bucks a gallon and immolated SUV sales. But why bother? The official website proclaims the Aspen offers “Decadence without shame.” This from a vehicle that gets [an entirely theoretical] 14 mpg in the urban cycle? Whose shame are they referring to? Surely someone should be embarrassed.
I was, driving the thing. I mean, this could be the only vehicle capable of making the Durango’s ungainly, truncated snout seem svelte and perfectly proportioned. Honestly, the Aspen’s short, flat, striated schnoz rivals Cyrano de Bergerac’s proboscis for impure, adulterated hideousness. The protruding front bumper, a throwback to the bad old days when safety equipment was literally tacked on, adds aesthetic insult to non-injury. As for the rest of the design, again, it’s a Durango. How great is that?
Inside, oy. We’ve been sounding the alarm over the proliferation of DCX’ generic cabins for a while now, wondering why so many of their distinctive-looking vehicles are virtually indistinguishable from the pilot’s position. The addition of some light colored wood, model airplane quality silver plastic and a cute little analogue clock to Chrysler’s identikit interior does nothing to lift this “luxury” ute into the luxury category. The column shifter, mouse fur headliner and poorly attached, revolting carpet do much to lower it into econobox territory. For a $30k – $40k product, the lack of tactile satisfaction and overall attention to detail is stunning.
Fold the second row seat forward and the nasty looking sharp-edged seat mechanism– complete with tire jack– stands ready to rip your shins to pieces. Press the cargo bay’s side panel and the entire flimsy plastic piece bows seriously inwards. The rear cargo hatch flies open, and then glides the final leg of its journey. Speaking of leg room, while we can dismiss the third row’s Geneva Convention defying limb constriction as par for the course, how can you justify a second row that requires a 5’10” driver to slide forward? Towing capacity?
Hey, it’s true: the Aspen provides best in class towing: 8950 pounds. That’s provided you buy the Hemi (an extra grand), a 3.92 rear end and stick with a 4X2 transmission– which would still make the Aspen a poor choice for anyone trying to pull a tree off a road so his ex-girlfriend and her new squeeze can get through. Anyway, our tester came with said 5.7-liter hemispherically combustion chambered V8, which should have provided an excuse– however shameful– to buy this rig. I mean, if you’re going to burn fossil fuel like someone who hangs around video gas pumps just for fun, your SUV might as well go like stink.
That it doesn’t. Our tester’s Hemi may have been greener than Kermit the Frog, but I bet the cloth covered amphibian is quicker off the line. Car and Driver clocked the Aspen’s zero to sixty sprint at an impressive 7.2 seconds. We couldn’t get near that figure. More importantly, the Aspen's 335-horse, 370 foot-pounding Hemi only responds to a whip hand; there’s none of that anywhere, anytime thrust that makes the similarly engined 300C such a pleasure to drive. I suppose you need a jet engine to fully motivate a 5400 pound truck, but again, low mileage should equal massive thrust.
By tying down the SUV’s independent front, live axle rear suspension tighter than a gnat’s sphincter, Chrysler engineers managed to get a gi-normous body-on-frame truck with 20” wheels to stay level through the twisties. The downside to this technological feat: the ride quality is best described as “muffled discomfort” and the lack of body lean tempts you to drive this monster faster than you should. Good thing the seats offer no lateral support, the rack and pinion steering provides no useful feedback, the A-pillars cut off any practical view through a bend and the Aspen’s anchors are powerful and easily modulated. The stoppers are more than capable of saving your bacon the first (and presumably only) time you overcook it.
So what, dear friends, is the point of the Aspen? Don’t tell me (Steve Siler) that Chrysler dealers were clamoring for a vehicle more macho than a Pacifica, ‘cause the Aspen is about as macho as William Shatner’s truss. Nor will I accept the argument that this, this, “thing” is Chrysler’s Escalade. Even people with bad taste have better taste than that, and it ain’t nowhere near big enough for the Brothas. No, the only reason I can see for the Aspen’s existence is that someone in marketing said it would be cheap to build a Durango derivative for Chrysler. That’ll teach the suits not to do too much blow the next time they're minging at a Colorado ski resort.