The Truth About Cars » Chrysler The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Chrysler Chrysler 200 Earns EPA Rating Of 18 MPG City, 29 MPG Highway Wed, 26 Mar 2014 12:47:49 +0000 2015-chrysler-200-10

While Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has yet to announce fuel economy for the new 2015 Chrysler 200, the Environment Protection Agency inadvertently leaked figures for one configuration, the V6 AWD model.

Autoblog reports the figures — found on the U.S. Department of Energy’s — were obtained through the Pentastar V6/nine-speed automatic/all-wheel drive combination found in the 200C and 200S, which returned 18 mpg in town, 29 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. The figure also matches the outgoing 200, though it was front-drive only and possessed a weaker Pentastar V6 than the current 295 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque the 3.6-liter engine delivers.

As for where the 200 stands in the AWD midsize sedan fuel economy game, it’s ahead of the Subaru Legacy’s 18/25/20 rating from its 256 horsepower, 247 lb-ft torque boxer, yet behind the Ford Fusion’s 22/31/25 rating in spite of the 2-liter EcoBoost’s 240 hp/270 lb-ft torque four-pot.

FCA says the front-drive version of the new 200 may deliver an estimated 35 mpg highway rating through its 2.4-liter Tigershark four cylinder, though the EPA has yet to validate the figure.

]]> 92
Capsule Review: 2015 Chrysler 200 Wed, 19 Mar 2014 05:06:11 +0000 photo (9)

Calling the 2015 Chrysler 200 an “improvement” would be damning it with faint praise. Rather than condemn it as one of the worst cars to grace our roads, I think it’s safe to say that the outgoing version was rather dated and uncompetitive, even if the 200, and its former Dodge Avenger platform-mate, had a small but vocal following among a subset of TTAC readers.

When the wraps came off the all-new 200 at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, it didn’t look as if Chrysler had gotten their act together. Under the bright lights of Cobo Hall, the 200S that was displayed looked like the gawky,uninspired pastiche that resulted from a Chevrolet Impala had mating with a Dart. The faux-mag wheels and edgy blue color felt like Chrysler was trying a little too hard, and both myself and Juan Barnett were left unimpressed.. If Chrysler botched this, it would be the third consecutive launch gone awry, and strike three for the much touted, Alfa Romeo derived CUSW platform that is set to underpin much of their car and crossover lineup in the future.

Luckily, they didn’t botch it. Far from it. The Dart may have been hampered by its powertrain, and the Cherokee may have been handicapped on-road by its off-road aspirations. The 200 appears to have avoided the kind of fatal compromises present on those cars.

That model you see at the top of the page, dubbed the Limited, is expected to be the volume trim, and I think it looks rather elegant with its muted silver paint and smaller wheels. I still find the added visual drama of the 200S and 200C (which are supposed to be Chrysler’s version of BMW’s Sport and Luxury Line trims, respectively) to be a bit much – mostly the  contrived faux-performance of the 200S. When it comes to family sedans, I like the natural look – give me an Accord EX 6MT over the Sport any day.

photo (10)

Ironically, the 200S and 200C (above, in silver and black) were what was available on the drive event, and the extra helping of sportiness outside didn’t matter much once inside the car. These versions had the best of what Chrysler has to offer, namely the Pentastar V6 engine and the UConnect 8.4 system, which is undoubtedly the best infotainment system on the market. The big UConnect system seems to have best mastered the balance between touch screen capability while still offering large, easy to manipulate tactile controls that can be operated without having to take your eyes off the road. Just aft of the UConnect center stack is a new, Volvo-style floating console, with a Ram-derived rotating shift knob and trick sliding shelf that hides the USB and auxiliary jacks.

2015 Chrysler 200S

Best of all, the examples on hand exhibited none of the sloppy details or questionable interior pieces that were present on the Cherokee. Everything appeared to be well put together, with high quality materials and exemplary fit and finish. A future review of a rental unit will be the true test of how the 200 holds up, but if Chrysler can maintain this level of quality once production ramps up, it could have a shot at the best interior in the segment.

photo 2

This impression was only furthered by the competitive vehicles that Chrysler had on hand – an Accord EX V6 sedan, a 4-cylinder Camry SE, an all-wheel drive Fusion 2.0 EcoBoost SEL and a 2.5L Altima. The last CUSW car I drove got schooled by each of its rivals on the competitive portion of the drive. Not so with the 200.

Back to back with the Camry, Accord and Fusion (there was no time left to drive the Altima), the 200 held its own in most areas. Keen drivers will still prefer the Accord, with its robust VTEC V6, sharp handling and powerful brakes. The 200′s Pentastar motor is similarly sweet, with a melodic growl and torque for days, but the steering suffers from an on-center dead zone and less feedback than the Accord, while exhibiting the soft brake pedal and poor modulation common to the Dart and Cherokee. Chrysler endlessly mentioned the 200′s Alfa-derived platform, but if this is what Alfa is producing these days, no wonder the brand is in the dumps. Against the Camry SE and Fusion, it fared better, though the weak brakes took some of the shine off the car’s otherwise solid dynamics. Any bugs in the 9-speed automatic  that were present on the Cherokee launch appear to be ironed out, and it felt far more advanced than any of the 6-speed units offered on the competitive cars.

Where the 200 truly edges out the Accord – and the rest of the present competition – is the fact that the interior is just a much nicer place to be – if you’re sitting up front. The 200′s modern, easy-to-operate infotainment system and high quality interior is a stark contrast to the Accord’s cabin, which frankly feels cheap and a bit nasty in the way that the 2012 Civic did. Acres of dull plastic and faux wood permeate the cabin, while Honda’s infotainment interface feels stone age next to the slick UConnect system. The story is the same with the Camry SE, which sports similar materials and a slightly toned down driving experience, but nothing nearly as bad as what most enthusiast writers would lead you to believe.

Where the Japanese sedans have the 200 squarely beat is in back seat comfort. Like the “game changer” Fusion, the 200 features a very contemporary roofline that slopes to create a pseudo-coupe profile, cutting rear seat headroom in the process. Combine that with a high rear seat cushion and you have a recipe for compromised headroom in the back, something that won’t sit well with traditional mid-size buyers. On the other hand, Ford moved nearly 300,000 Fusions last year, just behind the Altima, Accord and Camry.

photo 3

Rather than going after the Japanese sedans, with their staid styling (but more generous passenger compartments) and antiquated infotainment systems, Chrysler appears to be matching the Fusion shot for shot. Instead of the maligned MyFord Touch, UConnect is being offered up. In place of the Ecoboost engines, two naturally aspirated engines, a 2.4L Tigershark making 184 horsepower (shared with the Dart, and one we regrettably didn’t sample in the 200) and the 295 horsepower Pentastar V6. All-wheel drive is also an option, and the Fusion’s tech is now trumped by the 200′s – how about perpendicular park assist, along with the usual lane departure warning system, blind spot monitoring and active cruise control?

Remarkably, the 200 is not just a better Fusion, but a sedan that is fully competitive with class leaders. It’s not a perfect mid-size sedan, and it requires you to accept certain trade-offs in the name of style and advanced technology. But Detroit finally has a credible mid-size sedan that is competitive with the best of what the segment has to offer.

]]> 138
Marchionne Closes Chapter On Canadian Minivan Plant Mon, 17 Mar 2014 13:01:27 +0000 Chrysler Windsor Assembly

While celebrating the successful turnaround for Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Sterling Heights, Mich. plant, CEO Sergio Marchionne proclaimed the issue of upgrades made to the Windsor, Ont. plant with help from Canadian federal and provincial governments one no longer worth discussing.

Automotive News reports FCA pulled out of discussions with Canada over a $2 billion upgrade incentive package that would secure the long-term future of the plant after politicians referred to the request as “ransom” and “corporate welfare,” according to Marchionne:

Chrysler is not in the business of accepting handouts. And if provincial and federal authorities in Canada think that’s the way to attract foreign investment, I think they are in for a big shock.

It doesn’t matter. It’s gone. That chapter is closed. Fiat-Chrysler has moved on. The agenda, from my standpoint, is complete.

Regarding Sterling Heights, where the Chrysler 200 will go into production this week, the plant’s upgrade as “an apt symbol of how far Chrysler has come because of the courage and resilience of [its] people,” Marchionne explained. The plant was due to close in 2010, only to return to life through a $1 billion investment made in light of the success behind the restyled and renamed compact, and the capacity needed to fulfill demand.

]]> 46
Marichonne Still Seeking Location For New Minivans Fri, 14 Feb 2014 11:00:33 +0000 2013 Chrysler Town and Country

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV boss Sergio Marichonne, in talks with federal and provincial governments in Canada for loans to help prepare their factories in Windsor and Brampton, Ontario for new vehicle production, may come to a decision about moving forward with plans for where new minivans will be built by the end of March 2014.

Bloomberg reports that parent company Fiat is “not even close” to resolving those talks, with Marichonne hinting that he may take his business elsewhere, such as the United States or Mexico, if Canada won’t have them any longer:

“We’ve got to decide whether you want this or not. And if you do, I’ll be more than willing to stay. Global footprints are global footprints. I’m not using this as a threat, but there are some parts of the world that are desperately looking for capacity utilization, where infrastructure exists, is in place and is operational.”

The incentives sought for the new minivan production have been reported by Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail to be around $637 million, which would help Marichonne’s vision of an FCA capable of challenging larger automakers such as General Motors and Volkswagen.

Meanwhile, Canada is bolstering its Automotive Innovation Fund over the next two years by an additional $456 million (USD, or $500 million Canadian) over the $288 million (USD) already invested in six projects since 2008. The money is meant to attract all automakers in Canada beyond Chrysler, such as Ford, whose next-generation Edge will be built in Oakville, Ontario following a $640 million revamp by the automaker, and a $65 million investment by the Canadian government.

Though most of the Fiat-Chrysler merger has been worked out, Marichonne is doing all he can to remove distractions around the decision as to where new minivans will be constructed:

“We’re trying to remove all politics and noise around this issue. It’s a very simple investment call. We’re ready to go. We’re at the table. The car is ready. We’re ready to build minivans. Somewhere.”

]]> 63
A Long Last Dance With The Chrysler 200 Tue, 04 Feb 2014 15:04:34 +0000 200-5

I was shivering, I think, because I was low on blood. Ten days of internal bleeding, of cauterization, of six vials a day donated to the unworthy cause of redundant testing, of the dark brown surge through the catheter, of the bright red bloom in the water of the toilet bowl. Your blood keeps you warm. You don’t realize it, but it does. Low on blood, low on heat, shivering in my shearling and cashmere Gimo’s coat, backing my walker towards the open door of my rental.

There was an ugly whirr from the starter. A prehistoric noise, one that reminded me of the M-body Gran Fury my boss owned when I worked at a two-screen theater in 1989. The kind of scrape-and-moan that has long since been banished from modern cars. And it didn’t catch. A new car, in the Year Of Our Lord 2014, that doesn’t start. But when it did catch, on the second crank, the temperature display showed a nice round zero. Zero degrees. I can forgive that. I can forgive being a bit hesitant to start after days on the rental lot, at a temperature not so far above that at which Ketel One freezes.

“You and me, little guy,” I said, patting the soft-touch dash, “we have some work to do, so let’s get going.” And we did.

I didn’t want to return to driving. Not for a long time. I had it in mind that I would wait until spring, perhaps. At the very least, I’d wait until the bones stopped grinding in a way that I could hear and feel in my teeth, until I was healed up enough to survive an unlucky second crash, should one arrive. But the rest of the world wasn’t inclined to work at my schedule. I had doctors who insisted that I drive thirty miles to see them, an employer whose actions regarding my crash and the resulting downtime oscillated between simply bizarre and definitely threatening, and a lonely friend suffering in a hospital on the other side of the city. It was time to drive.


What can I tell you about my Chrysler 200? Well, it was a configuration that I can’t make on the Chrysler site, even when I select model year 2013. Four cylinder. Four-speed auto, but much better-behaved than the one in the Avenger SE I tested last year. No automatic headlights. Cloth seats. Oddly bling-tastic wheels. It was clearly some sort of leftover-parts special tossed to the rental fleet. You couldn’t buy a retail 200 this poorly equipped in 2013, and the 2014 transition models appear to either be V6es or loaded fours. Easier to list what the car has than what it doesn’t have: windows, locks, cruise, CD player, A/C. At a dealer, if you found it new, after the incentives, maybe seventeen grand. At an Enterprise Used Car lot for $13,999, more or less. They say the price is no-haggle. I’d haggle, I think.


For two weeks the 200 and I trundled down unplowed roads, through low-visibility snowfall, into crowded parking garages dripping with dirty snow that melted into brown stalagmites to catch a walker or stall a wheelchair. The Eagle LS tires weren’t comfortable at the sub-sub-freezing temperatures and the nose would occasionally slide without warning on the freeway. Not a problem; my son was safe at home and the passenger seat stayed empty. If the Chrysler never gripped with authority, it was also harmless in the way it let go of the road, just continuing along in the same direction until some trustworthy surface appeared beneath its paws.

I have yet to get out of the driver’s seat without significant pain, but I’ll call that an effect of the three cracked lumbar vertebrae. The Avenger’s seat, when I put hundreds of miles on it in a day, was fine, and the seat in the 200 is nominally better, featuring some adjustable support. The interior fabric showed no appreciable wear after 24,000 uncaring miles in random hands. The dashboard, too, looked brand-new. When they did the interior refresh on these cars, they didn’t skimp. Five years from now, these ex-rental cars will impress people with how they’re lasting.

The “World Engine” four-cylinder, on the other hand, is simply depressing. I’m tempted to write a children’s book about it, calling it “The Little Engine That Doesn’t Want To”:

Chug, chug!
Is that a tractor?
Is that a tow truck?
Is that a Tempo?
It’s the World Engine!
Listen to it mooooooaaaaannnn on the hills!
Feel it vibrate at the stoplight!
Chug, chug, World Engine!
You’re so sad and lonely!
Waiting for the red light
We hear you chug, chug!

In the winter, the 2.4 is supremely reluctant to do anything and it shakes the 200 lightly at rest while idling in a most unsteady fashion. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, it sucks in precisely the same way that the Pentastar does not. Earlier this year, I had the chance to drive a V6-powered 200 across Ohio, and it was a genuine pleasure in most respects. But the World Engine? Chug, chug!


Last week, I added an occasional passenger to my trips. She requires a wheelchair, for the same reason I’m leaning on a cane, and we keep her in the back seat for safety’s sake. Nontrivial bravery, to get in a car with someone knowing that you’ve done it before and ended the day taking an eighteen thousand dollar helicopter ride to an emergency CT scan. “What’s it like back there?” I asked.

“Not great… but not terrible, either. The armrest is good.” So, a 5’8″ woman can sit behind a 6’2″ man in this thing. The rap on this generation of Chrysler midsizers has always been that the back seat room is below-par. That’s true if you’re coming from a Camry or Accord, but when you compare it to, say, any of the other sub-twenty-thousand-dollar sedans, the 200 makes a solid case for itself. And there’s room in the trunk for a wheelchair.

Every once in a while, you come up against the fact that this is fundamentally a generation older than the competition. Somehow, today, I locked the keys in the 200 while it was running. However, the trunk was open because I was about to load a wheelchair into said trunk. No problem, right? Just pull the handle in the trunk and drop the rear seat. Except for the fact that the Chrysler doesn’t have those handles, because they weren’t yet popular when the Sebring was released. The solution: use my cane to bash the center pass-through open. Climb into trunk, banging all fractured bones in the course of doing so. Reach through center pass-through, grab fabric loop that releases fold-down seat, unlock rear door, climb back out of trunk, take all remaining Tylenol in the bottle, take a nap, make note not to tell TTAC readers about stupid adventure.

What’s it like at full pace, on a racetrack, at the limit of the tires? I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t exceeded seventy-three miles per hour in the 200. It’s been a lot of poking around in bad weather at low speeds. A lot of drab commutes with the surprisingly excellent heater battling the polar-vortex cold. A fair amount of chug-chug idling in phamarcy drive-thrus.

Under these conditions, the Chrysler has shown virtue. The controls are simple and easy to use. The stereo is weak but clear. Road noise is about what you’d expect from a Camry. As previously noted, the interior materials are definitely up to par, even if they are applied to an interior that is narrower and less exciting than what you’d find in the competition. If the 200 fails to excite, it also fails to annoy or disappoint at the price.

No, it can’t hold its own against a modern Camcord or Sonatoptima. But it isn’t priced against them. It’s priced against Corollas and Civics and Fortes. Hell, I’m pretty sure you can get a run-out 2014 V6 model for twenty grand. That’s not a bad idea, really. It’s more car than the compacts offer and if you are price-conscious it is worth considering.

A week from Thursday I’ll turn this car in and go buy something for myself. That will mark four rental weeks together. Viewed in the context of many of my short-term relationships, it’s been better than most. Frill-free but faithful and fit for purpose, the 200 has been reliable enough, capable enough. Good enough. It’s tempting in this business sometimes to forget that ninety percent of buyers simply want good enough. The new 200 will have more of what people want and none of that awkward turtletop Sebring legacy hanging over its head. But if you want good enough, right now, this will do.

]]> 110
One-Time Tax Gain Nets Chrysler $1.6 Billion In Q4 2013 Thu, 30 Jan 2014 11:00:04 +0000 FCA - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

The American half of the newly dubbed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported a net income of $1.6 billion in Q4 2013, the majority of which came from a one-time tax gain of $962 million.

Automotive News reports that revenue in the fourth quarter for Chrysler advanced 24 percent to $21.4 billion, while total revenue for the outgoing year totaled $72.1 billion, up 10 percent from 2012′s $65.8 billion. Meanwhile, the total adjusted net income in 2013 for the brand came out to $1.8 billion, $2.8 billion unadjusted.

Within the next four to six weeks, Chrysler’s 37,200 unionized hourly employees will receive profit-sharing checks to the tune of $2,500, with an extra $1,000 split into two awards for quality and performance to be distributed in June and December, respectively. Some individual plants will also add to the pot based on their own quality and efficiency goals.

Regarding market share, Chrysler’s home market gained two-tenths of a percentage point to 11.6 percent in 2013 on the backs of 1.8 million units sold in the United States, an increase of 9 percent driven by the brand’s redesigned truck and SUV lines. Globally, 2.6 million vehicles in 2013 were delivered, including those made for parent company Fiat.

As far as cash on-hand and debt are concerned, Chrysler reported a nest egg of $13.3 billion with $12.3 billion in gross industrial debt; in 2012, the brand held $11.6 billion in cash and $12.6 billion in debt. The bottom line marks the first time Chrysler held more cash than debt since the Italo-American marriage was consummated before the U.S. federal government back in 2009.

]]> 4
The Cold Hard Light Of Reality: Three Months With The Town & Country S Fri, 29 Nov 2013 16:03:31 +0000 back

Buying a new car is exciting and if you are like me, you spend weeks comparing the possible candidates. You start out by looking at photos and reading road tests. You gather sales brochures, pour over the spec sheets and examine the option packages. You compare prices, build fleets of similarly optioned virtual vehicles at the manufacturers’ websites and eventually head to the dealership. You kick the tires, poke, prod and handle the merchandise. You find things you don’t like and things you do. You take a test drive, go home to think and come back to drive again. Eventually you buy.

Signing the papers on a new car is pure euphoria. It’s an orgasm of consumerism. Your signature spills out the end of the pen and onto the paper in the ultimate release after weeks of delicate maneuvering and pent-up anticipation. It is the point where years of scrimping and saving intersect with the idea that the future is a real place and that you are committed to going there. When the act is completed, you are exhausted but happy. You’ve made your choice, are locked into the relationship and have no choice but to be happy with what you’ve done. You have invested too much to admit to making a mistake.

Three months into the relationship that surge of emotion is long gone and you are living with the results. The cold, hard light of reality shines upon the choice you have made and the real assessment begins. I am there now. It has been almost three months and 1500 miles since I spent my own hard-earned money on a 2013 Chrysler Town & Country S. Summer is long gone and autumn is turning to winter, how fares the vehicle?


Pretty damn well, actually. With so few miles on the clock, the engine is just beginning to break-in but so far there have been no problems. The mill is smooth, quiet and makes oodles of power. Those ponies drive the car through a slick shifting transmission that has already learned my wife’s driving habits and connect to the road through a well-sorted chassis. As someone who dislikes revving an engine to make a car go, I’m glad that the 3.6 Pentastar piles on the torque early and the van accelerates smoothly all across the rev range. The suspension, which feels plush and compliant on the rough Buffalo roads, keeps the car solidly planted in the curves and allows spirited drivers to silence cranky babies in the back seat through the miracle of lateral G-force induced blackouts. That’s only slightly facetious by the way, this puppy likes the corners.

Mechanically the T&C is a winner but I am also amazed that an amount of thought that went into its interior. I noticed the well thought out controls and good looking instrument cluster on our initial test drives, but it wasn’t until after I purchased the vehicle that I got the opportunity to see what it looked like at night. When the sun goes down and the lights come up, the already beautiful instrument cluster turns into a 1950’s Wurlitzer Juke-Box and the neon theme runs the length of the passenger compartment in the form of dim blue interior lighting that illuminates the cabin from behind the overhead console. There is even a blue LED band that runs around the drink holder in the console between the front seats. To someone more cultured than yours truly that might seem like a trite little add-on, but to me lighting effects are to the new millennium what tail fins are to the 1950s.


Had I purchased one of the lesser models, my inner cheapskate would not have allowed me to check the box that includes all the electronic gizmos that the S package comes with, but they truly add that extra layer of luxury to an already well composed machine. When my family took a day trip to Toronto a week or two ago the in-dash blue ray DVD player and twin overhead flat screens went into instant operation and kept the kids’ attention the entire ride. The navigation, something I have forgone on every vehicle with the exception of the JDM Mazda MPV we owned in Okinawa, usually runs quietly in the background while I drive, but was used extensively during our trip into the maelstrom that is the Toronto area freeway system. With the single exception of the device steering us into the collector lanes for the last part of our trip rather than directing us into the express lanes, the Navi functioned flawlessly.

The best news is that all this technology is easy to use. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but sometime in the last few years the tech aficionado that once occupied my skin turned into a crotchety old man. The days of me sitting down and reading an owner’s manual are long gone. If I can’t learn how something works in less than 5 minutes of trial and error, I’m unhappy. Chrysler’s technology package is simple enough that I was able to learn how it worked on the fly. I will admit that I had to research how to hook the cell phone into the blue tooth system, but even that was accomplished in just a couple of minutes.

Of course there have been a couple of issues, too. The back up sensors my wife wanted installed as a dealer added option are less than satisfactory. The initial install was fraught with problems and the van went to the dealer four times to have the problems resolved. The end result is a system that is far too sensitive for my taste, sounding the alarm at even minor changes in the pavement behind the van as we back up, and with a chirpy warning alarm that is shrill and cheap-sounding in a van that exudes solidity, quiet and comfort. The good news is that the dealer did their best to make things right by giving us free loaner vehicles every time the van visited their shop and by adding a full rust proofing treatment at no cost to me.

Three months and 1500 miles is not a lot of time with a new vehicle, but it is long enough that the rose colored glasses have come off. The euphoria is gone and the hard, cold light of the day after is here. Day to day life with the T&C is smooth and easy and if I was not totally in love when I rolled the dice and took her home, I have learned over the ensuing weeks of our relationship that there is more to her than meets the eye. Pretty to look at, warm, soft and thoughtful when I am in her embrace and with an amazing combination of practicality and unexpected strength she is, I think, a jewel. If she is durable as well, then our love will be one for the ages.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]> 91
Review: 2014 Chrysler Town & Country Touring Tue, 10 Sep 2013 14:15:35 +0000 IMG_3947 (Medium)

Two years ago, your humble author had some very nice things to say about the revised, Pentastar-powered Dodge Grand Caravan. Since then, I’ve put a couple thousand more miles on Caravans, including a fairly harrowing trip to Nashville in a low-spec variant, and, to quote Sean Connery, “I haven’t changed my opinion.”.

I never deliberately rent a minivan. Until this past Friday, when I needed one to cover about 580 miles in a single night so I could play an impromptu gig with a hastily assembled group of people who didn’t quite know each other. So I paid Enterprise their rapacious $94/day rate for an on-purpose Friday-to-Saturday minivan rental, and the green “e” came through with a brand-spanking-new, 46-miles-on-the-odometer Chrysler T&C Touring. So. We know the Caravan is brilliant. Is the Chrysler worth the extra money?

IMG_3945 (Medium)

When my brother and I failed to kill each other during and after an ad-hoc rooftop party gig in Charlotte, NC, we decided to try playing in a few more inconvenient venues. First up on the list was a coffee shop in London, KY owned by a friend of ours who mastered and recorded a couple of platinum records before leaving the music business to sleep on top of a massive pile of cash, or something like that. To make things more interesting, I added two members of my current band, The Original Dirigibles, and a jazz drummer from Cincinnati. Then we revised the set to cut the modal stuff a bit and significantly up the John Mayer content. (Yes, we’re playing “Wildfire” even though the album just came out.)

Those you who care about the gig itself (hi, Nena!) can read about it in mind-numbing, PRS-specific detail here, but the important part is that we had to drive 283 miles each way, starting at 2pm, taking the stage at 7pm, and leaving for home around J.J. Cale’s favorite time*. Our packing list was exhaustive but I’ll reproduce it in part here, just to give you an idea of the weight and space required:

  • Me
  • Patrick the bass player
  • Pemm the rhythm guitarist
  • Vodka McBigbra the photographer and official complainer regarding in-van volume
  • A cooler full of, um, spring water
  • My Roland TD-4KX electronic drum kit
  • A Behringer bass wedge
  • My Roland VGA-5 traveling guitar amp
  • A Taylor T-5 acoustic/electric
  • Patrick’s spalted-maple Carvin SB5000
  • A Baby Taylor acoustic
  • A Samson PA
  • Two PRS guitars in their traveling (non-paisley) cases
  • A dozen-plus cables
  • Fakebooks, recording equipment, three Shure mikes, three mike stands
  • Extra clothes for everybody
  • Music stands
  • I’m not even sure that was all of it. But it all fit and the four leather captain’s chairs were fairly open for seating comfort. This being a T&C Touring with a net price after current rebates of $29,700 or so, it had some stuff the Value Package and base Caravans don’t have: power doors, overhead console with DVD player and extra plug-in places, power doors, power rear vents, a uConnect head unit that had no navigation but seemed to have everything else including a storage hard drive, bigger alloy wheels, serious window tinting, deep, sparkly paint, a leather steering wheel, and a few things I’m probably forgetting.

    IMG_3948 (Medium)

    Every time I drive a $20,000 Caravan, I think that this is all I need. And then I drive the $30,000 Town and Country and realize that I also want this stuff. Start with the seats. They are a genuine improvement and all four of us had no back pain or discomfort during what ended up being, due to traffic, about nine and a half hours in the van over the course of a single day. The stereo is very good for a minivan and handles “The Love Below” and “Speakerboxx” as well as it does “Pursuance: The Music Of John Coltrane”. The upgraded instrument panel and center stack look like they’re worth some extra money, and the LCD screen between the dials on the IP has several additional features. There’s a separate temperature number for the rear air conditioning so certain females could be banned to the rear seats and enjoy the kind of tropical heat that chicks are known to dig year-round while I stayed frosty up front. Pemm enjoyed his window seat so much he Instagrammed it:


    For the record, his wife is smoking and she makes a ton of money. It’s true what they say about holding a guitar, even the guitar is a Baby Taylor and not a PRS Private Stock. It’s also true that practice in the van on the way down, even with a super-tricky iPad holder, is no substitute for learning the songs the week before. Nevertheless, the T&C was quiet enough that we could work on a few vocal things that had eluded us in “rehearsal”, mostly because “rehearsal” is shorthand for “emptying bottles of Ketel One over the course of two hours and arguing about adding ‘Slow Dancing In A Burning Room’ to the set.” Is it quieter than the Caravan? I think so but I’m not willing to go on record there. There was a lot of biomass and plenty of sharp edges in the thing to absorb sound.

    As a band, we all appreciated the looks of the Chrysler, particularly the paint quality. The visual difference between this and the Caravan is plainly apparent — but it also costs more. It should be apparent. After many years of the least convincing badge engineering known to man, the company’s finally cracked the code for creating separate and distinct variants of a vehicle. The downside is that the Chrysler and Dodge no longer share a ZIP code, pricing-wise. And it must be said that, hovering right in this same MSRP range, is the Caravan R/T “Man Van”. Do I want the sophistication of the T&C or the aggression of the R/T? How did I get to be old enough that I’m seriously considering the answer to that question?

    Regardless of which variant you pick, you get the same powertrain. This was long overdue. It’s also the practice followed by Honda, Nissan, and Toyota (with the recent discontinuation of the no longer available four-cylinder sad-van LE 2.7.) The Pentastar continues to shine brightly (ooh! I’m ready to write for Autoblog with stuff like that!) in this application no matter what trim level you choose. It’s fast, it’s quiet, and it’s economical enough. We recorded 22.8 miles per gallon running a steady 85mph down to Kentucky and, after pressing the “Econ” leafy button on the way back, 24.8mpg with seemingly no difference in highway performance. The owners forums report that “Econ” significantly degrades in-town performance, however.

    Bass player Patrick swore that the Chrysler had less room in it than his two-generations-back Sienna. This sounded ridiculous to me and when he proved unable to operate the rear Stow N’ Go seat I resolved to ignore everything he said from then on. That resulted in us accidentally playing “Impressions” three measures apart for a harrowing minute or two, during which I’m pretty sure two members of the audience injured themselves trying to get out the back door. For the record, Edmunds scores it 133 cubic feet to 123 in favor of the Chrysler.

    IMG_3949 (Medium)

    I’ve devoted a lot of time to the idea that the Chrysler minivan makes sense at the $20,000 and $25,000 level. I think it’s safe to say that it makes sense at the $30,000 level as well. For the extra money, you get a verifiable and usable improvement in day-to-day functionality and comfort. It’s not 50% better than the Value Package Caravan but the IWC Big Pilot isn’t 100% better than the IWC Spitfire either. If you have the money, it’s worth the extra cash.

    The ultimate question is: does the same platform make sense at $40K, at the loaded-Limited level? Is the “one with everything” a reasonable proposition? It’s hard to say, but this T&C Touring does the business and, as with its cheaper siblings, continues to be recommended without reservation.

    * After midnight, duh.

]]> 92
Final Decision: There Can Be Only One Mon, 19 Aug 2013 17:09:59 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

I have learned over the years that is a lot more fun to shop for a car than it is to actually purchase one. In my mind’s eye every vehicle is perfect and every feature, every positive point comes to the fore. Every problem is easily fixed or is otherwise so minor it doesn’t even bear thinking about. Money is never a problem either and I can seriously think about leather, satellite radio and a giant, gas sucking V8 without wondering how I am going to pay for it all. Yes, locked up inside my head, everything is always perfect and so I like to take the time to savor the moment before committing myself. Ultimately, however, the rubber must meet the road.


There was never any real question about what I was going to buy, was there? Although I toyed with some of the foreign competition, I knew what I wanted from the moment I determined we needed to replace our ailing Freestar and we did, in fact, choose exactly that: a Chrysler Town & Country. Of course, I know that some of you are scratching your heads right now, the competition is good and even the T&C’s close cousin, the Dodge Grand Caravan, is a hell of a deal right now, so why step up?

To be honest it was the Dodge Grand Caravan that brought us into the show room. We rented one on a trip home to Seattle last Thanksgiving and found it to be utterly competent in everything it does. The problem is that we wanted a few additional features not offered on the $19,990 American Value Package, things like a powered lift gate and doors, a back-up camera and other interior comfort options, and so, once we really got to looking at what we could buy in a Dodge, I figured we might as well step up to the Town & Country Touring. Then of course, one thing led to another and I ended up taking the next step to a T&C “S” model.


So, what the hell is a “Town & Country S?” Well, Chrysler’s website says that the S Line is a “fusion of edgy design and American grit that defines the Chrysler brand. These are vehicles for the uncompromising and the sophisticated, those who crave aftermarket excitement as much as elegance.” That’s me in a nutshell right there. I am such an edgy, gritty guy that I wanted my wife’s minivan to have extras like a built-in navigation and a good looking set of wheels. The S was the only van on the lot that had those two things together and so I picked that one. As a bonus, the package also added some nice stylistic touches and included some extra technology. With a list price of just $32,050, and with incentives I didn’t pay anywhere near that, it seemed like a good deal so we bought it.

The S line is an option and appearance package offered on the Chrysler 200, 300 and the Town & Country. It comes in just four colors, Brilliant Black, Cherry Red, Billet Silver and Stone White and other than that, as far as Chrysler is concerned, S means “black.” In the T&C, the package adds black trimmed alloy wheels, black chrome grill, blacked out badges and blacked out headlight surrounds. Inside, the seats are black leather with grey stitching and black cloth inserts. A black console sits between the seats, and the dash has piano black trim insterts. The most elegant touch of all, I think, is a black headliner.


The package also includes a fair amount of technology including a Blu-Ray disc player with 9 inch folding screens for both the second and third rows, navigation, satellite radio, UConnect with Bluetooth integration for our cell phones, and a sound system that includes a 40 Gig hard drive and on and on and on. I was born in the 60s and my first car came with an 8 track tape player, which was a big deal at the time, so the amount of technology loaded into the T&C amazes me. Had it not been included in the package, I would not likely have purchased a lot of the tech separately. The sat nav/UConnect is almost $900 on its own and the Blu-Ray would have added another $1000 and would have required us to step up to the T&C “L” which starts at $32,840 so you can see that the S model adds a great deal of real value in addition to the extra style.

inside 2

Under the hood all of Chrysler’s vans offer the 3.6 VVT 24 valve engine backed with a smooth shifting 6 speed transmission and the combination is a good one. Out on the road the van is quite spry off the line and will squeal the tires if I really stomp on the gas. Chrysler says the T&C S comes with a “sport suspension” and I must confess that I don’t really understand all that entails at this point but I do know that there is no way a van this size should handle as well as this one does. The 65 series tires hold the road well and the 17 inch rims allow enough side wall to keep the ride smooth. Grip is great and the T&C hangs in the corners with the best of them. It’s a lot of fun to charge into a cloverleaf interchange just a little hot and slide that big sucker through the curve. Seriously, it does better in a corner than my 300M Special did.


Fit and finish is great. Inside, the grey stitching sets off the black leather on the seats but the embroidered “S” is a detail I may have forgone if I had the choice. The dashboard is a good combination of black and chrome and it looks positively jewel like from behind the wheel. The touch screen is big and easy to read, but changing the radio requires touching the screen which leaves fingerprints. Although a plastic touch screen is state of the art, a glass facing ala the i-phone would have looked and felt better under my fingers. The black headliner makes the van feel darker inside and I thought I would dislike it but the effect is not at all, as I had feared, cave-like. In fact, I think the darker interior helps brighten the view out the front and helps to better focus my attention on the road ahead.


The attention to detail on the van’s interior is matched on the outside. I wasn’t sure how I would like the black chrome effect on the front of the van, but I think now it looks good. Chrysler was smart, however, the leave the chrome strip down the side of the van and although I barely noticed it at first it has become one of my favorite touches. Another detail that Chrysler’s design team got right was where they hid the body gap for rear sliders’ rollers, tucking them smartly beneath the back windows where they blend in well and are easily forgotten about. I opted for the grey and, as you can see in the photos, the T&C wears it well. The photos fail, however, to catch the metallic paint to its best advantage and in-person the effect is amazing as the sun’s rays strike fire from a million different facets.

Right now I am in that special place a man goes to whenever he brings home a new vehicle. It sits now in our garage and the aroma of fresh paint, new leather and curing rubber permeates the whole house. Although it is primarily my wife’s vehicle, I look forward to sliding behind the wheel and even spent most of Saturday afternoon sitting in the driveway loading Japanese MP3s into the audio system’s hard drive just so she would be “more comfortable.” This is the fifth new car I have purchased in thirty years as a licensed driver and, barring incidents and accidents, I know it will be with us for a long, long time. No one can know what the future holds, but right now, firmly in the honeymoon period of new car ownership, I am completely satisfied with our purchase. It is everything I imagined it would be.

rear 2

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]> 120
Review: 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8 (Video) Mon, 29 Apr 2013 13:00:28 +0000

There’s a “problem” with the modern performance variant: they are too easy to review. You see, dropping a high-horsepower V8 into anything makes it good. Take the last generation Chrysler 300 SRT8. It’s interior was made from plastics rejected by Lego and Rubbermaid and you’d be hard pressed to tell it apart from the $9.99 rent-a-car special. The big difference with the SRT versions was that Chrysler stuffed a 425HP 6.1L V8 under the hood and a set of pipes that made the 300 sound like sex. The uncomfortable seats, crappy dash plastics and 1990s stereo were distant memories. If Chrysler had managed to fit the same V8 into the Sebring, it would have been the best convertible ever. This time is different. Before the 2013 300 SRT8 arrived, I decided I would not be seduced by Chrysler’s larger, meaner, sexier, more powerful 6.4L engine and review it like any other car. Can that be done?

Click here to view the embedded video.


Our refrigerator white tester is impossible to confuse with anything else on the road. While there are still some Bentleyesque features, the 300 is solidly Chrysler metal from the long hood to the slim greenhouse. The 300′s tall and blunt nose is entirely functional and the bold sheetmetal is truly function over form. You see, the 6.4L pushrod V8 is very tall and very long, jamming it under a modern sloping hood to a aerodynamic nose simply wouldn’t have worked. That height dictates the beginning of the greenhouse around the front doors and that line continues rearward.

Out back, things have been brought up market with new tail lamps that don’t have the same bargain basement theme as the first generation 300. Despite the improvements there’s something unfinished about the 300′s looks to my eye. Perhaps the original 300 was so bold my expectations for a redesign were unachievable.

For SRT8 duty Chrysler swaps the stock wheels for wide 20-inch aluminum shod with 245/45R20 all-season rubber and the front grille turns black. Nestled inside the larger wheels are larger rotors with four-piston Brembo brakes (14.2-inch up front and 13.8 in the rear.) The rest of the SRT8 changes are subtle enough that they may go unnoticed unless parked next to a lesser 300. The same finlets that sprouted in 2011 are present on the SRT8 and there’s no ridiculous wing or funky chin spoiler to destroy the 300′s luxury lines.

Those luxury lines are important in another way, they help justify the SRT8 Core’s  $44,250 base price. The Core model is a new twist in Chrysler’s SRT8 plot offering a bit more than just a “decontented” ride. In order to get the $4,000 lower starting price the Core ditches the leather seats, HID headlamps and adaptive suspension. Core models can be distinguished by the 6.4L badge on the front fenders, more aggressive wheels and the blacked out halogen headlamps from the 300S.


Nevermore has an automotive interior gone from plastastic to fantastic so rapidly as the 300 and it’s all down to stitched cow. The SRT8 Core model and base SRT8 models make do with a slightly rubbery injection molded dashboard, a $2,500 option on the non-Core SRT8 takes you to a place hitherto the exclusive domain of six-figure luxury cars: the full-leather dashboard.  Trust me, the cash is worth it. Without the upgrade, the Camcord quality interior plastics stick out like a sore thumb, with it your passengers will be fawning over your french seams. While the 300 interior feels less expensive than an M5 or E63, it’s a better place to spend your time than a CTS-V.

SRT8 shoppers need to be prepared for a sea of black or some fairly striking red as they are the only two interior colors offered in the 300 SRT8 and carbon fibre is the only trim available. I’m not usually a fan of black-on-black interiors, but Chrysler thankfully breaks things up a bit with Alcantara faux-suede sections in the seats. SRT8 Core shoppers have less choice being offered only in a black-cloth configuration.

All models get reworked front seats that offer more lateral bolstering but still suffer from Chrysler’s latest seat-oddity: seat cushions you sit on rather than in. While not as pronounced as the seats in the Chrysler 200 Convertible we had, I had the constant feeling I was sitting on a large gumdrop. Despite this, the seats proved reasonably comfortable on my long commute despite the lack of thigh support this design causes. Just keep in mind that Alcantara can be a maintenance bear, so avoid spills and trousers made of rough fabric. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Just Google “Alcantara pilling” to educate yourself.

Thanks to the super-sized proportions, the 300 offers the same amount of rear legroom as the Cadillac XTS. To put that in perspective, that’s several inches more than a BMW M5, Jaguar XFR, Cadillac CTS-V or Mercedes E63, all of which could be considered valid SRT8 competition. The 300 is more closely aligned in terms of size to the next-tier up in vehicles, the short wheelbase 7-Series, Cadillac XTS, short wheelbase XJ, etc.


Chrysler’s 8.4-inch uConnect infotainment system is standard although the Core model cuts the nav software to keep the price of entry low. uConnect is proof that being late to the party has advantages. Chrysler had more time to work out bugs, or maybe they just had better engineers working on the system, whatever the reason uConnect runs circles around MyFord Touch and Cadillac’s CUE in terms of response time and reliability. To date I have not had a Ford, Lincoln or Cadillac test car that didn’t have a total melt-down that required me to pull a fuse to reboot.

The system combines radio, multimedia, climate control, navigation, Bluetooth and other functions into a single screen. While some functions have duplicated hardware buttons, others can only be controlled via the touchscreen. This is both good and bad. It eliminates the button array plaguing Buick and Acura models, but some functions take longer and require more “eyes off the road” time than a hardware button. Stabbing the right button with gloves on is also a challenge.

The latest software adds full voice control of your USB/iDevice and worked very well without the library size limitations Toyota products suffer from. MyFord Touch offers a wider variety of “commandable” items and more natural command syntax, but  uConnect has a more natural voice and faster processing. Sadly the Garmin navigation isn’t well integrated into the system looking as if you’d just cut a hole in the screen and put a portable Garmin behind it. The look isn’t surprising since that’s exactly what Chrysler did, except they did it in software, not with a razor blade. While it makes uConnect’s navigation option inexpensive and easy to update, the graphics and menu structure don’t jive with the rest of the system and nav voice commands are very different from other cars on the market. Chevy’s new MyLink’s interface is just as snappy as uConnect but offers more polished navigation commands and a more seamless interface.

SRT8 models get additional apps tailored to the vehicle (shown above). The SRT apps include a race timer, G-Force displays as well as several screens of additional gauges like oil temperature, incoming air temperature, battery voltage, etc. There is also a custom screen that shows exactly how much power and torque the ginormous engine is cranking out at any moment. If you want the latest in uConnect with 911 asist and 3rd party smartphone apps, you’ll need to wait until Chrysler refreshes the 300 with the same system the new Grand Cherokee and RAMs use. If you want to know more about uConnect, check out the video at the beginning of the review.


OK, this is the section you’ve been waiting for. Chrysler didn’t just tweak the old 6.1L SRT engine from the first generation SRT8 vehicles, and they didn’t just grab the Challenger Drag Pack/Mopar Crate engine either. You heard that right, this is not the “392 Hemi” in the Mopar catalog. Instead, Chrysler went back to the drawing board, cast a new block and built the new 6.4/392 around the design framework of the revised 2009 5.7L Hemi. This means you get variable cam timing to improve power and emissions, and Chrysler’s Multi Displacement System to improve efficiency. The redesigned engine still uses two valves and two spark plugs per cylinder and a heavily modified semi-hemispherical design. With as much engineering time as they undoubtedly spent, I’m somewhat surprised Chrysler didn’t cook up a dual-overhead cam SRT engine. No matter, there’s something primal about owning a car with an enormous push-rod V8.

Chrysler didn’t stop at enlarging the displacement, power is way up as well. The new monster is good for 470 horsepower and a stump-pulling 470 lb-ft of torque. While that may not sound like a huge improvement over the old 425HP 6.1L engine, the new 6.4 produces 90 lb-ft (or one whole Prius) more torque at 2,900 RPM. But that’s not all. Thanks to the trick cam timing, the new engine out powers the old by at least 60lb-ft from idle all the way to 5,600 RPM. The old SRT8 was a stout machine, but back-to-back, it feels like it runs out of breath easily. The improved thrust takes the 300 from 0-60 in a quick 4.5 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 12.87 seconds at a blistering 113 MPH. Those numbers aren’t that far removed from the BMW M5, E63 AMG, or Jaguar XFR-S.

If you were hoping 2013 would bring the new ZF/Chrysler 8-speed transmission to the SRT8, so was I. Sadly, the only cog-swapper offered on the 300 SRT8 is the old Mercedes 5-Speed that the 300 has been using since 2004. I wouldn’t say the Merc tranny is bad, but it’s not exactly a team player either. The shifts are somewhat sluggish, particularly when downshifting, and the ratios are far enough apart that highway passing can be dramatic or anticlimactic depending on how far down the transmission is willing to shift. Driven in a vacuum the WA580 is an acceptable play mate, but drive that Grand Cherokee SRT8 parked next to the 300 on the lot and your eyes will be opened.

If you believe that there is no replacement for displacement, the 300 SRT8 will be your poster boy. Sure, the latest German twin-turbo V8s put down more power, but the American bruiser has something they can’t deliver: a raucous V8 sound track. Proving the point I had the opportunity at a regional media event to drive several Mercedes, BMW and Chrysler models back-to-back on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The M6 blew down the main straight at a blistering pace with a tame, almost muted exhaust note. You can thank the turbos in the exhaust for that. Meanwhile hearing the 300 SRT8, Challenger SRT8 and Grand Cherokee SRT8 blast down the straight at the same time nearly made me pee my pants.

So it sounds good and clears 60 in 4.5. What’s not to love? The tire selection. All 300 SRT8s come standard with 245 width all-season rubber all the way around. Chrysler does offer a summer tire package, but it’s not what you want either. According to the 300 forum fan boys, you can stuff some seriously wide 295 or 305 width rubber in the rear without rubbing and there are a few companies out there making wider replica wheels so you can retain the stock look. Going this route will do a few things for you. The most obvious if the improved grip in the corners which is already good, but a lightly modified 300 proved it has the ability to be excellent and second you’ll get better 0-60 numbers. In our testing the 300 spent so much time spinning the “narrow” all-season rubber, I suspect a 4.3 second sprint to 60 is possible. Of course, that rumored 8-speed auto may provide a similar performance bump, the new cog swapper dropped the Grand Cherokee SRT8′s 0-60 time by a full second.

When the going gets twisty Chrysler’s adaptive suspension (not available in the core model) and regular old hydraulic assist power steering conspire to create a modern Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide. In standard mode the suspension is moderately firm and compliant, soaking up roadway irregularities like a taut German cruiser. In Sport mode the system stiffens the dampers and attempts to counteract tip/dive and sideways motions. In Track Sport the dampers are set to their stiffest mode and the 5-speed auto gets downshift happy. On regular road surfaces the suspension never felt punishing, even on broken pavement, which translates to a slightly soft ride on the track, a worthy trade-off in my book, since few new cars are headed for the track anyway.  The decision to leave electric power steering off the table for the moment makes the enormous and moderately numb Chrysler have perhaps the best steering feel in this coat-closet-sized segment.

As before, the 300 SRT8 represents an incredible value compared to the other high-performance RWD sedans on the market. The difference is, this time around I don’t have any caveats attached to that. Our well-equipped tester rang in at $56,235 with every option except the black roof, up-level paint and tinted chrome bits. That’s about $12,000 less than a comparable CTS-V, and a whopping $40,000 less than a comparable M5 or E63. Of course the SRT8 isn’t going to have the exclusivity or snob value of the Germans and it’s less powerful for sure, but the fact that we can even have this discussion is saying something. While the 6.4L engine is undeniably intoxicating, the 300 SRT8 finally gets better under the harsh light of reality. Chrysler’s new-found ability to craft a desirable interior and competitive infotainment system mean you won’t have to “live with” much other than the 5-speed automatic. Give Chrysler a year or two and even that caveat may be lifted.

Hit it

  • Sexy optional leather dash is a must.
  • Endless torque.
  • Bragging rights: My engine is bigger than yours.

Quit it

  • Ye olde 5-speed should have been swapped for the sweet 8-speed this year. For shame.
  • Rubbery dashboard in the Core model.
  • AWD would make the SRT8 sell easier in the north.

 Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.08 Seconds

0-40: 2.8 Seconds

0-50: 3.66 Seconds

0-60: 4.5 Seconds

0-70: 5.73 Seconds

0-80: 7.0 Seconds

0-90: 8.83 Seconds

0-100: 10.54 Seconds

0-110: 12.5 Secodns

1/4 Mile:  12.87 Seconds @ 113 MPH

Average fuel economy: 17.8 over 566 miles

2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Stitched Dashboard, Premium Leather Group, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Stitched Dashboard, Premium Leather Group, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Stitched Dashboard, Premium Leather Group, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Stitched Dashboard, Premium Leather Group, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Shift Paddles, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Shift Paddles, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, 20-inch Wheels, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Tail Lamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Rear Profile, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Dashboard, uConnect 8.4 and HVAC Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, SRT Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Tachometer, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, HVAC knobs, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Center Console Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Center Console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Door Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Back Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Front Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Back Seats Folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Back Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Engine, 470HP 6.4L 392 HEMI, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Engine, 6.4L HEMI, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8 Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 79
Slow Dart Sales Cause Elimination of Shift at Dundee Engine Plant, There’s No Replacement For Displacement Fri, 25 Jan 2013 18:09:49 +0000 Sergio and 1.4L Turbo MultiAir in better times at Dundee. Chrysler Photo

The latest sign that the product planners and marketers at Fiat and Chrysler have muffed the launch of the Dodge Dart is the announcement that their Dundee, Michigan engine plant that builds the Dart’s turbocharged 1.4 liter Multiair FIRE engine has fired or reassigned 58 employees and is eliminating a second shift. The shift reduction follows remarks at the 2013 NAIAS media preview by Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne blaming poor Dart sales on the powertrain offerings. “The powertrain solutions we made available to that car, in today’s world, in hindsight, were not the ideal solution,” Mr. Marchionne said. Consumers have been disappointed in sluggish performance of the Dart.  TTAC reviewer Michael Karesh said that 1.4 L turbo motor was “soft south of 3,000 rpm”.

In the critical C segment, where many manufacturers sell 200,000 (or in the case of the Honda Civic >300,000) cars a year in North America, the Dart sold only about 25,000 units since it was introduced in July.

The Dundee plant, originally a joint venture between Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Daimler, is Chrysler’s only American factory that makes four cylinder engines. After the changes, the plant will still employ 750 people. In the personnel moves, fourteen probationary employees were let go (the UAW is appealing their termination) and another 44 were reassigned to other jobs. Chrysler spokesperson Jodi Tinson put a positive face on the plant announcement, since the same factory will soon start building more of the 2.4 liter TigerShark engine that Chrysler hopes will be a better fit for consumers, but her comments more or less acknowledge that product planners made a mistake with the Darts that first hit the showrooms. “We have a new powertrain for the Dart coming online, and so we are rebalancing the mix for the Dart.”

According to Marchionne, another drivetrain improvement for the Dart, a nine-speed automatic transmission supplied by ZF, won’t be ready until 2014.

The Dart is the first new Chrysler product that wasn’t already in the pipeline when Marchionne and his minions were gifted the company by the U.S. government’s task force on restructuring GM and Chrysler. If I’m not mistaken, the production of a MPG small car was part of the government’s conditions on Fiat’s control of the Auburn Hills automaker. The piecemeal way in which the Dart’s powertrain choices are being expanded gives the impression that the car was rushed to market, using whatever they had on the shelf, in this case the 1.4L turbo, originally intended for a smaller car, the Fiat 500.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

]]> 102
Review: 2012 Chrysler 200 S Convertible Sat, 08 Sep 2012 13:00:27 +0000

So you want your next car to be a cheap drop top that seats four? If you live in America, your options are strangely limited. By my count, only five convertibles are available on our shores that seat four and cost under $30,000. If you cross the “convertible hatchbacks” (Cooper and 500c) off the list you’re left with three options. The Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, Ford Mustang and the former king of the convertible sales chart: the Chrysler Sebring 200. Does this re-skinned front driver have what it takes to win back the “best-selling convertible in America” crown?

Click here to view the embedded video.


Convertible sales have been on a downward spiral since 1950. At the rate we’re going, only 1.1 percent of new cars sold in America in 2012 will be drop-tops. What’s to blame? Well, the old Sebring certainly didn’t help.

Since a euthanization just wasn’t in the cards, Chrysler opted for a re-skin. Much like a freakish face transplant from your favorite B-grade movie, the Sebring was nip/tucked everywhere except the doors and the roof. I can almost see the mask being peeled off by Sean Connery. Trouble is, as Mythbusters demonstrated, a new face can’t hide what’s underneath. The awkward hood strakes are gone, replaced by smooth sheetmetal and a new nose sporting Chrysler’s wavy corporate grille. Unfortunately nothing could be done to make the enormous trunk lid disappear, so the 200 still has more booty than a Sir Mix-A-Lot music video. Frankenstein touched off the transformation with new wheels, LED running lamps and bling-tastic 17 and 18 inch wheels. The result is a design that is strangely more cohesive than the original, more of a statement of how wrong the original vehicle was than anything else.

As with the Sebring, shoppers can choose between a traditional canvas top or a trendy three-piece folding hard top for an extra $1,995. Top operation is restricted to speeds under 1MPH and takes 27 seconds to complete with the cloth top and 30 with the hard top, essentially precluding stop light top drops.


Inside our 200 S, the Sebring origins are obvious despite the redesign. How so? It’s all in the shapes. The parts are at least as snazzy as anyone’s, but because Chrysler couldn’t afford to change the car’s hard points, the Sebring’s silhouette is unmistakeable in the strange door handle position and the incredibly tall dashboard. Shapes aside, nobody can fault the materials and workmanship. Gone are the made-like-Rubbermaid plastics, gone are the faux-tortoise-shell accents. Thankfully the “fin” that dominated the dashboard like a veruca has been sliced off. Replacing the strangely shaped (and strangely appointed) rubbery steering wheel is Chrysler’s new corporate tiller from the 300. The same soft leather, chunky rim and audio controls hidden on the back of the wheel are also along for the ride.

Seat comfort is something of a mixed bag. The rear seats are unusual for a convertible: they are sized for normal adults and shaped the way you’d expect a seat to be shaped. Why does that sound amazing? Most “four seat” convertibles have rear seat backs that are either strangely upright or angled forward to get them to fit in the vehicle. Meanwhile the 200 has rear thrones suitable for a 2 hour wine tasting excursion. Sadly the front seats aren’t as comfortable suffering from a firm and “over stuffed” bottom cushion that made me feel like I was perched on a large gumdrop. Or a tuffet. This is a seating position only Ms Muffet would appreciate.

Carrying four people with relative ease is something of a marvel, but asking any convertible to carry four people’s luggage is just a pipe dream. At 13.3 cubes, the 200′s bootilicious rump can easily swallow four roller bags and some hand luggage. Drop the top and the space shrinks to 6.6 cubes, good for a garment bag, one roller bag and a purse. A small purse. Don’t think buying the soft top will improve things, Chrysler designed the roof sections in such a way that the hard and soft tops share some common design elements and occupy the same space in the trunk.


The one interior item not touched in the Sebring-to-200 transformation was the infotainment system. We get the same six-speaker base unit in the 200 Touring with the same CD player and Sirius Radio. If you want to pair your Bluetooth phone, that will set you back $360. The limited model comes with a 6.5-inch head unit that adds standard Bluetooth, USB and iDevice love and a 40GB hard drive based music library. A $475 Boston Acoustics speaker package is available on the 200 Limited and standard on the 200 S. Chrysler’s last-generation nav system is also available for an extra $695 in the upper trims of the 200, but honestly you’d be better off going aftermarket.


Perhaps the biggest change during the 200′s metamorphosis is under the hood. The weaksauce 2.7L and aging 3.5L V6s have been replaced with Chrysler’s new 283HP 3.6L V6 mated to their in-house built 6-speed auto. As a mid-year change, the unloved 2.4L four cylinder also gets some 6-speed love. The extra two cogs on the four-banger mean it is finally the economy choice delivering 20/31 MPG vs 19/29 for the V6. Before you discount the V6 in favor of economy, our real-world figures put them on equal footing and with over 4,000lbs to motivate there is a serious penalty for not checking that $1,795 option box.


The Sebring was horrible on the road. The chassis felt like a wet noodle, the cowl shake was so bad you could have churned butter and the whole car was so unresponsive that steering and throttle input were more suggestions than commands. Despite shedding none of the nearly 4,100lb curb weight, the 200 does offer some rather unexpected improvement. While there is no hiding the fact that the 200 is a heavy front-driver, the 200 proved enough fun on the winding Northern California back roads that I found myself wishing for upgraded brakes. Seriously. Who would have thought?

The 200′s suspension tweaks have finally put the kibosh on wheel hop. When equipped with the V6, front-wheel-peel is easy to achieve and fairly amusing. Drive the 200 back to back with a Mustang however and you’ll forget all about the comfier back seats. You’ll also be painfully aware how overweight the 200 has become. There is no question that however improved the 200′s handling is, it will always play second fiddle to Ford’s topless pony.

How it stacks up

If the Sebring and 200 existed in a vacuum, we would laud the 200 for being a substantial change and the best convertible ever. The problem of course is that shoppers have options and pricing is the ever-present bugbear. In my mind, anything can be forgiven for the right price. Is the Nissan Versa cheap and “plasticky”? Damn right. But it’s the cheapest car in America, so who cares? The Chrysler 200? It has a $26,995 problem. Yes it is cheaper than the Mustang, Camaro, Eclipse, and EOS. But is it cheap enough? Let’s do the math.

First off, nobody should be subjected to the four-cylinder 200, so $27,600 becomes the real base price. The Mustang convertible starts at $27,200, toss in the automatic transmission and you’re at $28,395. For the extra $795, the Ford delivers vastly improved handling, more power, less weight and improved fuel economy. Win: Ford

The Camaro convertible is $32,745 (base with the automatic) and delivers at least $3,500 of standard equipment when compared to the 200 making the true cost of 326HP and a better RWD chassis $1,645. Win: Chevy

The 200 gets some relief when pitted against the ancient and expensive Eclipse Spyder with its old 4-speed automatic and haphazard interior. Mitsubishi wants $27,999 for admission to the four-cylinder, four-speed party and a ticket to the 265HP V6 show will run you an eye-popping $32,828. Win: Chrysler

The 200 delivers a bigger trunk than many mid-size sedans, more rear legroom than Mustang, better visibility than Camaro and better “everythings” than an Eclipse. The 200 is certainly not the best convertible in the segment, but at least Chrysler’s changes mean you don’t have to pretend you’re just renting a summer car anymore. Don’t believe me? Rent one yourself and see. TTAC’s last word? If you want a front-driver, save $1,000 and buy the MINI Cooper convertible.

Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad, if you liked us on FaceBook you’d know what we have on the front burner. Get on, get social and tell us what you want to see. Subscribe to our YouTube channel while you’re at it.

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.7 Seconds

0-60: 7.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile:  15.3 Seconds @ 94 MPH

Average fuel economy: 21 over 645 miles

]]> 86
Review: 2012 Chrysler 300 Luxury Series Mon, 13 Aug 2012 20:35:39 +0000 Chrysler 300 Luxury Series - photo courtesy of

The K-car saved Chrysler the company. The K-car almost destroyed Chrysler the brand. Lee Iaccoca and his team spun nearly endless and very profitable iterations of the K platform and components including the company’s market segment creating minivans. Starting with the LeBaron in 1983, followed by the stretched wheelbase E Class, the company also began using the K-car underpinnings for it’s premium brand, Chrysler. Eventually almost every vehicle in the Chrysler showroom was based on the K-car. In the 1950s and 1960s, before Chrysler’s almost terminal decline in the late 1970s, Chrysler was indeed the company’s premium brand.

Plymouth fought it out with Ford and Chevy, the other members of the “low priced three”, and Dodge took care of more middle class offerings. Those were Chrysler’s volume brands. Chryslers, on the other hand were bigger and more luxurious. They may have shared some engineering and components with the company’s more plebeian brands, but they had distinctive sheet metal and features and were marketed as luxury cars. Though the Chrysler K variants were not unattractive cars, and though they sold reasonably well there was no hiding their K-car heritage. For nearly a generation “Chrysler” meant a K-car with velour upholstery on the inside and fake wood on the outside.

Forget all those faux Chryslers with front wheel drive and K-car genes. The Chrysler 300 Luxury Series is a genuine Chrysler (though some of its DNA is imported from Stuttgart, courtesy of the ill-fated Daimler-Chrysler hookup). It’s a big, comfortable rear wheel drive car packed with almost every amenity one could ask for in a modern automobile. It has more than adequate power, the handling will never get you into trouble, it has some trick tech features that improve the driving experience, and in general it is far truer to the Chrysler brand than most of the cars sold under that label for the better part of the last three decades.


That's Canada across the river, where the 300 is really imported from. Of course, Canadian operations have been an important part of the Detroit automakers' business model for a century, but assembled in Ontario with a Mexican engine and a German transmission was too much of a snark softball to not take a swing at it.

Let’s start with the driving dynamics. This 300 was equipped with Chrysler’s most modern drivetrain, consisting of the 292 horsepower Pentastar V6 engine connected to Chrysler’s new 8-speed automatic transmission that ZF is supplying (the “imported from Detroit” 300 was assembled in Canada using an engine built in Mexico and a German transmission). The combination works very well together, with more than enough power and the right gear available for just about any real world driving situation.

The Chrysler 300 Luxury Series takes that later appellation seriously. This is a car that has been tuned and soundproofed to be very quiet and very smooth. It’s exceptionally quiet. Yes, the V6 will provide a satisfying howl when you get over 5,000 RPM, but otherwise the car is almost whisper quiet inside. At speed the HVAC system is noisier than what you’re hearing from outside the car. I can’t say that the Jaguar XJ Portfolio that I tested was appreciably quieter. The ride is very smooth though I think I would have preferred 19″ wheels to the supplied twenties. The chassis is already tuned for comfort, not for handling, and I think 19s would have made the ride smoother yet without making the cornering worse. That doesn’t mean it’s a ponderous hulk that’s hard to steer.

The suspension is well-controlled, if not Euro sports sedan firm. Though the car understeers unless you’re really trying to get the back end moving, turn in is quick, steering is precise, and the car will go where you steer it if you need more lock. There’s not a huge amount of steering feedback, this is not a Lotus Elan, nor even a Mazda3, the current standard for good steering feel, but it’s also a far cry from the palm the wheel overpowered steering by remote control of Chrysler’s big sedans of yore. With fully independent suspension, the chassis is hard to upset and I found myself seeking out bad pavement to see how well the harshness was muted. There’s a section of concrete near the Northland shopping center that wasn’t leveled properly when it was poured. At the left edge of one of the lanes is about a quarter mile of oscillations that are so bad that in some cars you might think that something’s mechanically broken. The 300 did an admirable job coping with those oscillations. Even irregularly washboarded asphalt didn’t upset the 300′s equanimity much. Brakes are very good. The few times that I wanted or had to slow down quickly were done without fuss. They are easily modulated though sometimes the brakes felt a little grabby just before coming to a complete stop. The Rolls-Royce chauffeurs’ school method of reducing pedal pressure “six inches before you stop” came in handy.

In general, though, the car was very smooth and well composed. It’s a very easy car to live with.

Electronics worked fine. The 8.4 inch touchscreen with Chrysler’s UConnect worked very well, and I didn’t have to RTFM beyond checking how to pair my phone. Remote audio controls are mounted on the back of the steering wheel, near the paddle shifters and work fairly intuitively. The system easily accessed the music on my Android phone and phone integration worked fine with one exception when it wanted to redirect the audio on a phone call back to the phone resulting in no phone audio on that call at all. It’s possible that the one glitch was caused by the phone, not the car. Speaking of electronic glitches, one time when I turned the car on, the HVAC system started blowing hot air and setting it to AC or ACC didn’t seem to do anything. Shutting off the car and restarting made the problem go away. The smart key worked nicely. They’re convenient but I’ll be happy when the fobs are more miniaturized.

The audio system, a premium Alpine branded unit, sounded great, though I was surprised that it didn’t play louder than it did. There are enough regular knobs and switches for regularly used functions to not be inconvenienced by the touchscreen. There is a power sunscreen for the back window that is only accessible via the touchscreen, as are the controls for the heated seats and steering wheel, but if someone tosses you the keys, you won’t have to keep accessing the infotainment system just to drive the car. I suppose that if Fiat-Chrysler could save money on the base Fiat 500 by deleting keyed locks on the little car’s passenger door and hatchback, figuring folks wouldn’t notice because of the “free” power locks, most Chrysler 300 buyers also won’t notice that the power sunscreen doesn’t have a dedicated switch. The heated and cooled cupholders in the console, by the way, do have dedicated switches, one for each cupholder.

The other day Steve Lang asked “what is a ‘loaded’ car these days?“. By any reasonable measure, this 300 was loaded, stickering out at $44,855. It had the Safety Tec package ($2,420), the Luxury Group ($3,250), the 300 Luxury Series group ($3,500), a dual pane panoramic sunroof ($1,495) and UConnect ($795). Leather with detail stitching is appliqued to hard surfaces all over the interior, covering the entire dashboard and most of the other points that you’d touch. A lot of what isn’t leather is covered in real wood, including a nifty slatted roll-top cover for the heated and cooled cupholders. I work with leather in my day job and I’d say that the equivalent of at least one cow gave it’s skin for this car.

The seats have perforated leather seating surfaces and are heated, front and back, with the front seats also getting ventilation. One nice touch is that in addition to 8 way power seats, the pedal cluster can also be power adjusted. Since I have long arms and short legs, that’s a nice feature. The vinyl used on the seat backs and sides is of good quality. There is some hard plastic used on the door panels, and though it’s obviously hard plastic, it’s a decent color and grain match to the leather.

Everything worked, there were no rattles. Other than the mentioned glitches, the only glaring quality control issue on a car with 2,940 miles reading on the odometer was a piece of wood trim above the glove box whose double sided tape was failing so the trim was hanging a bit loosely. Glaring because the rest of the interior fit and finish was very good.

I’m a bit of a multi-speed skeptic. When I bought my first nice bicycle, it had an 8-speed rear hub. Over the years Shimano and Campagnolo have gone to nine, then ten, and now eleven cogs on the back wheel, even though most cyclists do most of their riding in just a handful of gear ratios. My first car had a two-speed Powerglide and I wondered if you really need more than six speeds in a transmission. I was a skeptic, now I’m a believer.

I had concerns that the ZF box would, as a Car and Driver reviewer said about the late, unlamented Chrysler 604 gearbox, hunt like a Jack Russel terrier. That wasn’t the case. It is the smoothest shifting transmission I’ve ever experienced. In sedate driving you almost have to watch the tach to tell that it’s made an upshift. Like with many modern cars I’m not thrilled with how the throttle is mapped for slow response just off of idle, nor do I like transmissions programmed for fuel mileage so they try to start in as high a gear as possible, but other than that initial hesitation I find with a lot today’s slushbox cars, the drivetrain is silky smooth. I may lose car guy cred here, but by the end of the week that I had with the 300, I stopped feeling the need to play with the lovely magnesium paddle shifters (placed right in the airstream from the HVAC vents so you know from touch that they’re real metal), and pretty much let the ZF shift for itself. I’d wager that the folks at ZF know more about shifting than I do. Other than forcing downshifts, the paddles didn’t get used much. Shifting up and down manually through eight gears seemed out of character with the car.

Speaking of shifting, the shift lever on the console works electronically and does not use the conventional PRNDL sequence. PRNDL was made a standard before I got my driver’s license so it took a little effort getting used to it, but it becomes second nature, though I have questions about how to rock the car between forward and reverse without damaging the transmission in the event of snow. As modern as the transmission is, there was one behavior that reminded me of a vintage three speed automatic with a properly working kickdown control. With only three speeds, there was a lot of spacing between the ratios, so when you wanted to go, you put your foot into it and the transmission would downshift into what today we’d consider a much lower gear, just as the carburetor secondaries were starting to dump more fuel into the engine. Assuming you were driving a big American land yacht with a V8, your head would snap back as you accelerated. Big fun on the highway. With the ZF and the Pentastar, putting your foot deep into it at highway speeds will downshift the gearbox by two or more ratios and the car just goes.

The fun may be retro but there is a modern benefit to all those gear rations: improved fuel economy. This car is EPA rated at 19/31 which sounds just about right from my experience. Over a bit more than 300 miles, I  got an indicated average of 23.6 MPG in mostly urban and suburban driving. That figure is even more impressive that it sounds because it included about 20 minutes of idling at 0 MPG while my elderly mom kept cool in the car as I waited, in vain, for a fax from an embroidery customer to arrive at an Office Depot. From the instantaneous readings on the freeway, my guess is that if you keep it at the speed limit, you should get close to that 31 mpg on the highway. Actually, you can use the paddle shifters to hypermile if you want to, putting it into a higher gear when the computer thinks a lower gear is more appropriate. It’s impressive to watch the revs drop to about 1,100 without the engine bogging down and lugging, particularly because 260 lb-ft of torque doesn’t sound like a huge amount of grunt, but most of that torque is available over a wide RPM band. In any case, the ECU and transmission controls won’t let you really lug the engine – with so many ratios to choose from, there’s going to be a lower gear available if you need it.

Aesthetically it’s a handsome car. This 300 came in “Luxury Brown Pearl” on the outside and “dark frost beige” and “light frost beige” on the inside. Derek wasn’t joking when he said that they make press fleet cars in brown. The chase car from the fleet management company that dropped off the Chrysler was a similarly colored E Class Benz. The photographs don’t really do the paint justice as there is a considerable amount of pearl flake in the finish.

The Luxury Series option package includes “platinum” chrome trim on the outside, and it looks rather tasteful, a subtle departure from shiny chrome. That goes together with most of the “bright” work inside that also has a matte finish. One exception is the shiny chrome ring that separates the light and dark beige leathers on the hand stitched steering wheel cover. Chrysler might want to consider going to a brushed finish because in bright sun that ring gets very hot to the touch. Concerning that touch, it revealed another small flaw. The ring is seated in a groove, but as your hand moves around the wheel you can feel high and low spots on the chrome ring. It’s not seating perfectly uniformly around the wheel. It’s not enough to be visually obvious, maybe a millimeter or two at most, but you can feel it. Other than that minor issue, the steering wheel looks and feels great. The two-tone leather is an attractive take on the traditional sewn leather steering wheel cover.

The exterior styling is an evolution of the original 2005 RWD 300, which was based on Osamu Shikado’s 1998 Chronos concept, itself based, according to Shikado, on the Exner/Ghia Chrysler concepts of the 1950s. Visibility is good, at least forward and to the sides. Out the back you see the rear window and nothing else, it’s as though the back decklid doesn’t exist, which is surprising when you consider the high belt line and high rear deck.

Blind spots could be worse but when you factor in the tunnel vision out the back window, you’ll come to appreciate the blind spot warning markers lighting up in the side mirrors. When you park, be careful of those mirrors because they must not be cheap. In addition to the blind spot warning light, a LED courtesy light shines through the surface of the mirror onto the door and pavement when the car unlocks, and built into the outside shell of the mirrors are additional LED turn indicators.

Even if you can’t see it from the driver’s seat, the trunk really is back there. It seems large, though I never really put it to serious use. Two sets of gold clubs for sure, maybe enough room for the whole foursome. The rear seat back folds down in a 60/40 split if you need to carry something long. If you buy a 300, I’d consider the Safety Tec package. That gives you, among other features, a backup camera and a park assist system that fortunately is also sensitive to cross traffic when backing up. I’m not a huge fan of backup cameras but this one works well and the side viewing radar (or IR, however it works)) mitigates visibility issues out the back window.

All four doors open widely, for easy access. Actually, some might think the front doors open too widely, since you’d have to have a simian wingspan to be able to reach a fully opened door to pull it closed. I had plenty of room, front or back seat, but then I’m only 5’6″. Ergonomics is good. All controls can be easily reached from the driver’s normal position. The seats were comfortable though I would have preferred more bolstering. Drivers with large and wide feet might not like the location of the gas pedal, which is cheek by jowl with the transmission tunnel.

All the toys and nannies worked well. The blind spot warning was less obtrusive than others I’ve experienced, though if someone listens to the Forward Collision Warning system every time, they’re going to get rear ended after unnecessarily applying the brakes. I think stability control only kicked in once, when aggressively cornering, and even with it off you have to work a bit to drift. The tires could be grippier, they’ll chirp a bit when you drive enthusiastically, but again that’s not exactly what this car is for.

With all the option boxes checked, there is no shortage of automatic this and automatic that. One automatic feature that I didn’t like is the automatic bright headlights. I’m old school, it’s called a dimmer switch for a reason, that being there is a normal position and then the dimmed position. At night if there’s nobody else on the road, I like to use the maximum candlepower available to me. If you have the headlights set to auto, you lose control of the bright lights and they only turn on when the car decides that ambient light is low enough to warrant brighter headlamps. If you want to drive with your brights on steadily, you’re going to have to put the adaptive bi-xenon HID units in manual mode.

In conclusion, the Chrysler 300 Luxury Series seems to be a very well fettled car. There’s a harmony and balance that makes it a very pleasurable car to drive. It isn’t a canyon carver, but then that’s not what it was designed to do. It was designed to waft you in quiet comfort, with all the automotive amenities at your fingertips. I’m at a point in my life where there nothing wrong with a little comfort. Cruising down Eight Mile on a beautiful summer night, the Tigers on the radio, Justin Verlander striking out the side against the Yankees, panoramic moonroof letting in the fresh air, I found myself thinking, “I could be very happy with this as a daily driver.”

I also found myself thinking, “Who is going to spend $45K on a Chrysler 300?”. Forty five thousand dollars will buy you a number of fine automobiles. At that price you can start considering a Cadillac CTS or a BMW 3 Series among other brands that might have more cachet and luxury cred than Chrysler these days. The Infiniti G37 comes to mind, as do some Audis. Forty five grand gives you a lot of choices. Still, comparably equipped, the Caddy, BMW or those other cars are likely to be a few thousand dollars more than the 300 Luxury Series. Once you’re over $40K that difference might seem worth it – at least before you drive the 300. Drive the 300 equipped as I tested it and you just might decide that it’s luxurious enough.

Disclaimer and credits: Chrysler provided the car for seven days, insurance and a tank of gas. Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth. The Chrysler Special was photographed at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, MI. The Chronos concept was photographed at the Concours of America at St. John’s. It was on display in conjunction with retired Chrysler styling chief Tom Gale’s induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading– RJS

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_0013 IMG_0011 Chrysler 300 Luxury Series - photo courtesy of IMG_0010 IMG_0009a IMG_0009 IMG_0008 IMG_0007 IMG_0006a IMG_0006 IMG_0085 IMG_0014 IMG_0015 IMG_0016 IMG_0017 IMG_0017a IMG_0018 IMG_0019 IMG_0020 IMG_0021 IMG_0022 IMG_0023 IMG_0032 IMG_0081 IMG_0079 IMG_0078 IMG_0077 IMG_0076 IMG_0075 IMG_0074 IMG_0073 IMG_0070 IMG_0069 IMG_0068 IMG_0067 IMG_0066 IMG_0065 IMG_0064 IMG_0063 IMG_0062 IMG_0061 woodtapefail chryslerspecial chronos


]]> 143
Review: Chrysler 300C SRT8 Sun, 04 Mar 2012 17:09:00 +0000

Back in the day, “American cars” were vast pieces of rolling sculpture powered by low-revving V8s driving the rear wheels through three-speed slushboxes. With a column shifter and bench front seat, they were designed to float effortlessly along in a straight line. The “imports” were the opposite of all of the above. Today these distinctions have all but disappeared. Four-wheeled wretched excess—in styling, in horsepower, in features, in sheer mass—has become much more typical of Munich and Stuttgart than Detroit. Neither GM nor Ford even offers a large rear-wheel-drive sedan to Americans. If you want the most traditionally American car available—that isn’t a truck—your only options come from an Italian-controlled plant in Canada. The 2011 Dodge Charger (in 370-horsepower R/T form) and I didn’t hit it off. Perhaps the Dodge, with its “four-door muscle car” exterior and 4/3-scale instrument panel, was just too American for me. So I requested the Chrysler variant to test the 470-horsepower SRT mill. Is the 2012 Chrysler 300C SRT8 too American, appropriately American, or not American enough?

Exterior styling: appropriately American

In recent decades, domestic manufacturers haven’t had much luck getting the general public to notice their new cars. But periodically they put one out that EVERYONE notices. With bold, even brash styling, the 2005 Chrysler 300C was one of these cars. The 2011 redesign is more elegant and less gangsta. Would it have made as great an impact as the 2005 back in ‘04? Probably not. But with the 2005 to blaze a trail, and a strong resemblance between the two, the second-gen car can afford to be more subtle. The “baby Bentley” grille (stealing from the Brits being a longstanding American tradition) has been toned down, perhaps overly much. But a little rake to the beltline, which lends the car a more dynamic appearance, and a brilliantly executed rear end make up for this. Have the refinements robbed the 300C of its distinctly American character? Well, American styling isn’t necessarily over-the-top. Detroit didn’t only give the world the ’57 300C and ’59 Eldo. It also gave us the ’61 Continental and ’63 Riv.

Interior styling: not American enough

The 2005 Chrysler 300C’s interior was too traditionally American, with rectangular elements finished in silver and trimmed in faux chrome. With the 2011 redesign the interior was entirely redone. Materials have been upgraded, yet aside from the synthetic suede on the seats and door panels seem much more appropriate at $33,000 than at $53,000—always a danger when a single model spans a very wide price range. Most of the surfaces are the soft-touch sort, but many don’t LOOK soft. The design of the new interior is overly generic, and fails to continue the bold flavor of the exterior. As in many current Chryslers, the surface detailing is overly plain and seems incomplete. In SRT8 trim, which includes an anthracite headliner, only the instruments’ powder blue lighting (an interesting choice) saves the cabin from having all the cheer of a coal bin. Not a bad interior, just a cold and boring one.

The toned-down exterior pays visibility dividends. With a less radically upright windshield and enlarged windows, it’s much easier to see out. But you’re still clearly not sitting in any old car—the view over the hood still suggests size and muscle. As in the Charger, those under 6-2 will want to raise the front seat. Unlike in the Charger, the instrument panel doesn’t seem ridiculously large even with the seat raised. The front seats are large and comfortable, but aren’t as aggressively bolstered as those in the first-generation SRT8. This last change could be good or bad, depending on how large you are. But all is not optimal for the XXL driver: you won’t find the sort of wide open space that used to typify American iron thanks to the height and breadth of the un-American center console.

The rear seat isn’t as wide as the broad-shouldered exterior suggests, but the cushion is comfortably high and rear legroom, at just over 40 inches, is ample. The center console can swallow a fairly large camera. Truck volume, at 16.3 cubic feet, is merely acceptable for a car of this size, but the rear seat can be folded to expand it. This last feature is ironic: in a reversal of tradition, it’s now as rare in upscale Japanese sedans as it used to be in American ones.

Features and functionality: ergonomics knows no borders

The interior’s aesthetic restraint contributes to easy-to-use controls, which pair large knobs with a fat-finger-friendly touchscreen. A SafetyTec Package includes adaptive cruise, forward collision warning, a blind spot warning system, and cross-path detection. These systems work well enough—if you properly configure them. When the sensitivity of the forward collision warning is set to “far,” it detects an impending collision at any curve in the road where a sign is posted. I also disabled the audible warning for the blind spot system. Prior to these two tweaks the frequency of warning beeps was maddening. Unfortunately, no settings are offered for the seatbelt warning system, which has no grace period. (Buckle up immediately or be scolded.) The SRT8 includes an acceleration timer and G-meter. One suggestion with the latter: round very small numbers to zero. As is, the meter often displays 0.02 or so when heading straight down the road. A final oddity: the “Sport” button that adjusts the transmission and adaptive dampers is on the page for the seat heaters.

Engine: gloriously American

Look, Ma, no cover! For 2012, the SRT “HEMI” V8 engine gets a bump from 6.1 to 6.4 liters and the 5.7’s multi-displacement system. The former change enables a 45 horsepower bump, to 470 at 6,000 rpm. Torque is up 50 pound-feet, to 470 at 4,300 rpm. The 6.4 is vocal when prodded, but not too loud, and its noises are music to any enthusiast’s ears. Despite a fairly high state of tune and pushrod valve actuation, there’s no lumpy idle or mechanical thrashing at high rpm. The regular 300C mill is hardly torque-deficient, with 394 pound-feet at 4,200 rpm. Still, the SRT8’s additional twist is readily evident. In fact, the Goodyear Eagle RS-A 2s on the tested car were not remotely capable of handling all of it. Mash the go pedal at any speed up to 35 and the rear end not only breaks loose but kicks out to the right. On dry pavement. Grippier summer tires are a $150 option. (These were originally installed on the tested car, but were removed for the winter.)

Transmission: too American even if it’s German

Though Detroit’s longstanding ratio deficiency appears to be nearing its end, this end hasn’t come soon enough for the 2012 300C SRT8. The five-speed automatic supplied by former “partner” Daimler is not only short on ratios but slow to react and often bumpy when it finally does so. Hopefully the ZF 8-speed automatic paired with the V6 migrates up the line soon.

Fuel economy: too American

The original SRT8 engine incurred a $2,000 gas guzzler tax. (Unless you got the Dodge Magnum wagon, which was classified as a truck.) One reason: the 6.1 lacked the 5.7’s cylinder deactivation system, whereby the engine runs on only four cylinders while cruising. I suggested that they add it.

With the 6.4, they have. Results are…mixed. The EPA ratings are up from 13 city / 19 highway to 14 / 23. The gas guzzler tax is halved. In suburban driving with a light to moderate foot the trip computer reported between 14 and 16 miles-per-gallon. A heavy foot easily sends the numbers into the single digits.

So, what’s not to like about this improvement (aside from its modest size)? Combine the SRT8’s more vocal character with cylinder deactivation and you get a mildly unpleasant rumble in “eco.” Active noise cancellation would help.

Handling: too American?

The 300C SRT8, with the benefit of a slightly firmer suspension and adaptive dampers, handles better than the Charger R/T. But it’s still not a budget alternative to the $67,000+ Cadillac CTS-V. The Chrysler feels much larger—partly because it is larger (198.6 x 75.0 vs. 191.6 x 72.5 inches, 4,365 vs. 4,255 pounds). But beyond this the Chrysler’s steering doesn’t feel as sharp, as nuanced, or as direct and its body motions aren’t as tightly or as precisely controlled. Pitch the big car into a curve and there’s a touch of slop before the chassis takes a set (even in “Sport”). Once there, the car handles stably and predictably. In a much more fair comparison, the SRT8 rides and handles with considerably more composure than the Hyundai Genesis R-Spec, the only other largish sedan with 400+ horsepower at a similar price.

While the suspension can get jittery over the small stuff, it absorbs larger bumps well and remains far from harsh. Noise levels are fairly low, with the overall ambiance just short of that of a truly premium car. The 300C SRT8 doesn’t make you want to take the long way home, but it doesn’t make every mile of your commute feel like a punishment, either. You’ll feel like a badass while driving this car, without suffering one.

Pricing: appropriately American

The tested $53,435 car had the SafetyTec Package and the 900-watt audio system, each of which bumps the price by $1,995, but not the $1,495 panoramic sunroof (which would have helped lighten up the dark interior). A Cadillac CTS-V equipped like an unoptioned 300C SRT8 is over $18,000 more—hence the unfairness of my comparisons to it. And the Hyundai Genesis R-Spec? It has standard equipment comparable to that of the tested car, plus a sunroof. Add 19-inch tires to the Hyundai, and it lists for $48,750, with no gas guzzler tax. So about $6,200 less than the Chrysler before adjusting for remaining feature differences and about $4,100 less afterwards (based on TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool). Compared to any other 400-plus-horsepower sedan, though, the Chrysler costs far less. An Infiniti M56 is about $15,000 more. Something European? If you have to ask…

Overall: honestly American

A sign of the times: the most American sedan you can buy is assembled in a Canadian plant with a Mexican engine and a German transmission by an Italian-controlled company. So what makes it American? The configuration, the look, the feel. A large, powerful, boldly (yet also tastefully) styled semi-premium car at a relatively low price? You can’t get much more American. The Hyundai Genesis R-Spec has similar specs and a similar price, but it has no identity, neither a heritage nor anything that makes it special. Granted, the 300C SRT8 looks more special than it feels. In normal driving, its drivetrain and chassis provide few clues to the car’s performance potential. But is this a weakness? For me personally, yes. But today’s upscale sedans sacrifice driver involvement in favor of driver isolation. They’re all becoming more American because this is what many people worldwide, not just most Americans, want. At least the Chrysler comes by this character honestly.

Chrysler provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 300C SRT8 front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 front quarter 2, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 rear quarter high, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 rear quarter 2, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 rear quarter 3, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 instrument panel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 view forward, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 rear seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 materials, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 trunk, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 engine side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 sport button, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 timer, photo courtesy Michael Karesh 300C SRT8 G-meter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 114
Review: 2011 Chrysler 200 Touring Take Two Tue, 06 Sep 2011 20:08:46 +0000

I have always rooted for the underdog, except when (for no apparent reason) the guy decides to start punching himself in the face. And so it was with Chrysler’s final Sebring. When the Cirrus burst forth along with the LH sedans almost 20 years ago, they were extremely competitive in style and price. While reliability hasn’t been Chrysler’s forte, you could always justify buying a Cirrus on the basis of America-first-ism, or style, or something. By the time the end drew near for the old Chrysler the Sebring was just a bruised mess from years of self-abuse.

The “New Chrysler” decided to send the Sebring out to pasture, but budgets being what they were, a euthanization just wasn’t in the cards. Instead, much like a freakish face transplant from your favorite B-grade movie, Chrysler spent a few hundred million to nip/tuck the Sebring into the Chrysler 200. I can almost see the mask being peeled off by Sean Connery. Trouble is, as Mythbusters demonstrated , a new face can’t always hide what’s underneath. Michael Karesh’s review back in April piqued my interest in some twisted way and with Chrysler willing to part with the more mass-market 200 “Touring” for a week, a Take Two Review was born.

Outside the 200, the old Sebring’s profile is the only real problem at hand. The tall roofline with somewhat ungainly C-pillar just doesn’t seem to jive with the new curvy schnoz. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder however, and my informal lunch-group-opinion-poll revealed that some liked the 200′s looks, some disliked them, but surprisingly few people loved or hated the form. This lack of polarizing opinion is a shame; some of Chrysler’s best products elicited strangely deep passion because of their daring design. I can’t imagine anyone having the same reaction to a 200. However, I can’t imagine anyone getting hot and heavy over a Camry or Accord either.

Inside our Touring tester (MK got his hands on a Limited), the budget theme is obvious despite the better trappings. How so? It’s all down to the shapes involved. The parts are all at least as snazzy as anyones (possibly excepting Hyundai’s latest high-quality wares), but the shapes constrained by the original Sebring’s silhouette are hard to avoid, like the door handle position, the high dash, etc. If on the other-hand you like the shape of things, nobody can fault the materials and workmanship anymore. Gone is the made-like-Rubbermaid dashboard, gone are the faux-tortoise-shell accents, and thankfully the “fin” that dominated the dashboard has been sliced from exorcised from the design studio. Replacing the strangely shaped, strangely appointed rubbery steering wheel is Chrysler’s new corporate tiller from the 300 and Grand Cherokee. The same soft leather, chunky rim and audio controls hidden on the back of the wheel are also along for the ride. So that’s the interior sorted, while not class leading it is certainly middle-of-the-pack.

What’s the 200 like to drive? Consider this probably the least important aspect of this review. Before you start the flaming in the comment section, hear me out. When was the last time you heard of a mid-size mass-market sedan (read: FWD) being the pinnacle of driving perfection? I’ll tell you: the 12th of Never, that’s when. Out on the road the 200 yet again delivers a middle-of-the-pack experience, which I have to say is exactly what I want from my mid-size people schleper. The former Sebring felt like a wet noodle on the highway, steering the Sebring felt like you were merely suggesting a change in direction rather than commanding it. The 200 on the other hand feels more direct (but till very isolated from the road thanks to the electric power steering) and while unengaging, is entirely acceptable for the segment. The ride is fairly smooth and does a decent job of soaking up the potholes now frequent on California highways and Chrysler did an admirable job of quelling road noise with new sound deadening materials in the 200’s cabin.

When the going gets twisty the 200 starts behaving more like a Toyota Camry than a Mazda 6, but then again that’s about par for this course. Out tester wore some fairly hard rubber in a 225/55R17, this no doubt contributes to the questionable corner holding ability of the 200 when pushed. Some softer rubber would make a marked change in the 200’s character on mountain highways. In that respect, I might even say getting the base LX with the steel rims so you can bling your 200 out Eminem-style aftermarket. Fortunately the suspension tweaks wrought to make the 200 have put the kibosh on wheel hop, so when equipped with the V6, front-wheel-peel extremely easy to achieve and fairly amusing as well.

Speaking of that V6, this is the one area where the 200 goes from average to class leading ( if you check the option box). Call it a desire to attract those with a need for speed (or perhaps more likely that Chrysler couldn’t afford to spend the money de-tuning an engine for 200 duty), the new 3.6L “Pentastar” V6 puts out the same 260 lb-ft of twist as it does in the Grand Cherokee and 300 with only a slight reduction in HP (283 vs 290) probably owing only to exhaust changes. The new V6 is smooth and quiet and a damn sight faster than the rough 2.4L four-banger. The six-pot easily served up a TTAC verified 5.5 second run to 60 time after time. If this wasn’t enough of a reason to make the $1,795 leap (available on Touring and Limited, standard on S), the fuel economy toll will surprise you. The EPA claims the V6 achieves 1 city MPG and 2 highway MPGs lower than the 2.4L four-cylinder with the 6-speed auto. If that were the truth, the extra 110HP you net from the upgrade would already be worth it, however our real-world fuel economy tests indicated the 3.6L V6 matched the 2.4L in our informal city and highway driving runs. Even when you factor in the optimistic trip computer and do the fill-drive-fill method of calculation and my handy OBDII trip computer, we still ended up with a very respectable 31.4 MPG highway average (27.2 overall for the week). (Our real-world numbers with the 200 compare relatively favorably to the Kia Optima’s 22/34 from Kia’s 274HP turbo four.)

While the new V6 is an all-new high for Chrysler, the new 6-speed FWD “auto-stick” transaxle is far from a perfect dance partner. Chrysler says their in-house developed sextuplet cog-swapper: “allows clutchless manual or automatic gear selection for an exciting driving experience”. Problem is: it doesn’t. I don’t really need row-your-own feature in a mass market car, but if a manufacturer feels like including it, I’d like it to actually do my bidding. For some reason, Chrysler chose not to allow downshifts that would cause the tach to rev past some 4,000RPM, and you can’t select 1st gear until you’re practically stopped. At least the 6 speeds seem well suited to the V6 when accelerating at full throttle, at other throttle positions however the transmission is economy oriented with fast and furious up-shifts whether you want it to or not.

Shoppers will find four 200 trim-lines waiting for them at local dealers: LX, Touring, Limited and S. The base LX model gets you four wheels for $19,245 and seems to be on the lineup to give rental agencies something to buy and Chrysler a low price point to advertise. A step up to the Touring gets you the new 6-speed auto (instead of the 4-speed the LX is saddled with), a headliner that’s worth looking at, map lights, auto climate control, auto headlamps, the chunky leather wrapped steering wheel, XM Radio, 6 speakers (instead of the base 4), power driver’s seat, center armrest, and alloy wheels for a somewhat reasonable $2,295 premium over the LX. Stepping up to the Limited adds: fog lamps, remote start, heated seats, Bluetooth, leather trimmed seats and 18-inch wheels for an eye-popping $2405 over the Touring model. Premium 200 shoppers will no doubt select the “200 S” for a $2,295 premium over the Limited to get their hands on bright exhaust tips, black grille, bigger alternator, 6.5” touch-screen radio with Boston Acoustics speakers, a larger alternator, black headliner, faux-suede seat inserts and some snazzy polished/painted wheels.

The astute shoppers will notice Bluetooth is conspicuously absent from Touring and LX models, in an era where even the cheapest car in America (the new Nissan Versa) comes standard with Bluetooth, this should be a standard feature in the 200. I’d gladly give up the snazzier headliner for a Bluetooth speaker phone since most states outlaw hand-held phone calls. You also need to step up the trim ladder (Touring or higher) to get the V6 or the sunroof. Want Nav? You have to climb up to the Limited or S in order to get Chrysler’s integrated touch-screen navigation system by Garmin. Our tester was the Touring model with the V6 upgrade, the touch screen radio and the cold weather group and the 18”wheels bringing final price up to a moderate $23,065. Glancing at the options lists, unless you have a real passion for cowhide, I’d stop at the Touring trim and get an aftermarket Nav/Radio. This is the other area where the 200 shines: price. As long as Chrysler keeps the stickers low, shoppers might give them another chance.

At the end of the day Chrysler has managed to do a bit more than put lipstick on the pig, they changed enough of what made the old Sebring terrible making the 200 a decent competitor for the Altima or Malibu, in other words, strongly middle-of-the-pack. Yet, is this enough? Tell us ino the comment section below. Strong initial sales backed by a heavy advertising campaign may indicate people are willing to give the mid-size Detroit scamp a second chance, but what about that competition? This is a crowded segment, and by my estimation there are 13 competitors to the 200 sedan in the form of the Accord, Altima, Camry, Fusion, Sonata, Malibu, Passat, Optima, Galant, Legacy, Mazda 6, Regal, and even the 200’s alter ego the Avenger. Supposedly Chrysler’s warranty claims are down, and their long powertrain warranty is certainly enticing, but I can’t help thinking if I was shopping I would end up at the Hyundai dealer in the end. Chrysler has created a solid contender in this segment, but for me, the high-output V6 just isn’t enough of a draw to keep me from going Korean. How about you?

Chrysler provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.

Specifications as tested
0-30: 2.26 Seconds
0-60: 5.5 Seconds
¼ Mile: 14 Seconds @ 102MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 27.2
Miles Driven: 825


IMG_3917 IMG_3922 IMG_3924 IMG_3925 IMG_3926 IMG_3927 IMG_3928 The Sebring gets a new nose IMG_3933 Rear view IMG_3937 IMG_3938 IMG_3939 IMG_3940 IMG_3941 IMG_3942 IMG_3943 IMG_3944 IMG_3945 IMG_3946 IMG_3947 IMG_3949 IMG_3950 IMG_3954 IMG_3956 IMG_3958 IMG_3959 IMG_3960 IMG_3961 IMG_3962 IMG_3964 IMG_3966 IMG_3968 IMG_3972 IMG_3973 IMG_3976 IMG_3978 IMG_39292-thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 61
Review: 2011 Dodge Charger R/T Take Two Thu, 07 Jul 2011 10:36:45 +0000

I have had a love affair with Chrysler that defies logic for years. Back in 1988 my parents had one of the [then] new Chrysler minivans. (Yes, I know a love affair that starts with a minivan has to be unhealthy.) When it came time for me to buy my first car, I had my eye on a very lightly used  1997 Eagle Vision TSi, then came a brand new 2000 Chrysler LHS, the very pinnacle of the Iacocca years in many ways.Large, FWD, competitive. Then Mercedes came on the scene promising to “synergize” the product development and lineup. The plan sounded good and had a promising start with the Chrysler Pacifica and the Chrysler 300 HEMI C convertible concept which looked so hot I wanted to have ovaries implanted so I could carry its children. Ultimately however the production 300 turned out to be one of the bigger disappointments due to its plastactular interior. Since then, Chrysler had been trying to see how many vehicles can be built from the Chrysler 300. Chrysler soon created the EU-only Chrysler 300 wagon, Dodge Magnum, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger to join the 300 sedan. Problem was; there was only enough cash around for a few nice interiors or half a dozen chintzy boxes. Guess which Chrysler chose?

When the Dodge Charger became available in the press fleet, Michael Karesh and I decided to try one out, read his take here. Prior to its arrival I told myself I needed to keep my expectations suitably low, the last rental Dodge Magnum I drove made me want to put my eyes out. Every car buff has heard about the dreadful interiors coming out of Auburn Hills for the past few years, so I won’t dwell on them. Suffice it to say when the Dodge arrived I told myself as I was signing the paperwork “as long as the interior doesn’t look like a Rubbermaid tub I’ll be happy.” Not only were my expectations exceeded, but they were exceeded by a margin I didn’t think Chrysler was capable of anymore.  One slip behind the wheel and I was greeted by squishy plastics, suitably retro gauges, a leather wrapped steering wheel and a ginormous nav screen.

The only negative I found upon first inspection of the new interior was the large metallic/plastic/what-the-heck-is-that?? trim that dominates the driver’s side of the dash. I appreciate the ­­­­­ retro vibe, but the fit and finish just didn’t seem up to the rest of the interior, which is a pity as other than that the interior is finally, and firmly, class competitive. With every step forward must come a bean counter, and that guy was allowed to ditch the Mercedes style keyfob for something that likely comes with a $2,500 Tata Nano. For shame. At least if you opt for keyless go, nobody ever has to see it except you and the lining in your pocket.

Back on the outside, the familiar brash form of the previous Charger is still there but a tad softer. The Charger still screams “American performance”. The grill is suitably brash and the “Toxic Orange” paint our press loaner arrived in would be perfect in a modern day remake of the Dukes of Hazard. The result is a polarizing one; passengers either loved or hated the look, and that’s important for Dodge’s future: many of their best products in the past have elicited similar reactions from shoppers and I hope that never changes.

One push of the start button and the Charger R/T’s main selling point roars to life: the 5.7L HEMI. This V8 beast cranks out 370 ponies and 395 ft-lbs of twist in a segment where a 268 HP Toyota Avalon is considered near the top of the pack. This feature alone sets the tone for the Charger experience like no other. Balancing out those extra ponies is about 700 extra pounds vs the Avalon. Despite the weight difference, our 4,319lb bright orange tester ran to 60 in 5.4 seconds, considerably faster than the 6.2 seconds we managed in the Toyota Avalon we tested last year. Since Chrysler has not fitted the Charger with a fun-sapping brake/accelerator interlock, burnouts are both easy and deliciously fun.

Balancing out the Delta-rocket style thrust the 5.7V Hemi produces are lackluster seats, hard and narrow rubber on the stock wheels and some unexciting fuel economy. The front seats offer no lateral support what-so-ever as the 2011 R/T’s “Road & Track” package no longer includes the SRT seats like the 2010 package did. The stock tires and wheels which are both narrow and lack grip add insult to the slip-and-slide. Luckily the aftermarket has many a solution for the rubber/wheel issue but the seat upgrade will set you back some serious cash, and keep in mind that modern seats have occupant sensors for the airbag system. It’s a shame there is seemingly no factory solution for this problem. Perhaps less of an issue for buyers is the 5.7L HEMI’s fuel economy. Rated at 16/25, our real world economy varied a great deal more than the Avalon. On a flat highway we averaged 27MPG for a 40 mile journey at 65MPH, but my daily commute up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains pushed our 750-mile average down to 18.9MPG, a commute on which the Avalon had scored a 22MPG average.

As you can imagine with such a larger car, headroom is excellent both front and rear. A lunch time trip with five healthy Americans proved as easy and as comfortable as you can find this side of a Mercedes S-Class. In a car this big, you’d expect a big booty, but the smallish trunk lid foreshadows the decidedly mid-size trunk which at 15.4 cu-ft is 7 percent smaller than a Ford Fusion’s cargo spot and only 15 percent bigger than that of the compact Ford Focus. In general, the full-size car label no longer guarantees large luggage capacity. So on paper, the Charger’s smallish trunk is fairly competitive with the likes of the Toyota Avalon (14.4) and Hyundai Genesis (15.9). Compared to the other ‘mericans, the Buick Lucerne boasts 17 cu-ft, and the Ford Taurus’s ginormous booty will schlep 25 percent more warehouse store bagels in a 20.1 cu-ft trunk. On the flip side, the rear seats fold down to reveal a large pass-thru and the wide and fairly flat rear seats make three baby seats across a tight but entirely doable adventure.

For the last decade or so, Chrysler had been well behind the pack when it came to electronic gadgets and decent navigation systems. Fortunately as we have seen in the new Journey, the tide has finally changed. Even the base Charger SE receives Chrysler’s new uConnect 4.3 system which grafts a 4.3-inch touch-screen LCD to the basic radio features.

The base system allows easier browsing of iPods and USB devices than competitor’s systems without a full featured LCD like Lucerne and Avalon. Anyone stepping up from the SE model (which will be most buyers) will be treated to the uConnect 8.4 system (with an 8.4-inch touch-screen LCD) with or without navigation. Chrysler decided to eschew button proliferation making functions like heated seat and steering wheel controls available only within the uConnect interface. The result is a clean dash that is easy to navigate.

Speaking of that 8.4-inch screen, it’s another completely unexpected feature of the new Charger. At 8.4-inches, the screen is large by any measure and includes nice touches like an oleophobic coating so your fingerprints aren’t visible and a strong backlight making the system very readable even in bright sunlight. The system’s graphics are far more visually pleasing to my eye than the new Ford My Touch system, and unlike MyTouch, the system was incredibly responsive and it never crashed. Menus are laid out fairly logically and the available nav system is as easy to use as any hand-held Garmin. This is entirely because uConnect uses an integrated Garmin system for navigation. Unfortunately, neither Chrysler nor Garmin seems to have made voice commands available for entering a destination, leaving you to risk distraction while manually entering the address on-screen. Also missing in uConnect is voice command of your USB music device or iPod ala Ford Sync and My Touch. Ford’s My Touch may be slow and crash frequently, but its functionality has become the bar by which other systems are measured. In this light, uConnect falls short. To be fair, BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, and Mercedes’ COMMAND (which cost significantly more) also fall short of the MyTouch system in terms of access to your tunes. My local dealer hasn’t been told what map updates will be like, hopefully they will be easy and cheap like the rest of the Garmin lineup. Checkout our YouTube overview to see uConnect in action:

Speaking of that iPod integration, the system refused to recognize playlists on my iPhone 4, albums on my iPod classic, and it occasionally refused to connect to my 1st generation USB iPod. I am told that Chrysler is working on the software bug but I haven’t heard of any final fixes as of June 2011.

Let’s talk value. With a starting MSRP of $30,395 for the Charger R/T (minus the inevitable cash on the hood), the Charger is the cheapest V8 sedan in America. With the Mustang GT starting only a grand less, depending on the deal you work, the Charger could just be the cheapest new car in America with a V8, period. The green in the crowd will of course deride the gas guzzling nature of high cylinder counts, but I think the cheap V8 theme is something Chrysler should hang onto.

How does the competition stack up? Well, if this was 1971 instead of 2011, there would be more competition in the full-size RWD non-luxury sedan segment. With the demise of Pontiac and the Holden derived G8, the Hyundai Genesis is the only non-Chrysler RWD product in this price range and I’m not sure Charger shoppers are cross-shopping that wannabe-Lexus. Our R/T tester rang in at $38,110 essentially fully loaded with radar cruise control, heated steering wheel, navigation and backup camera. This is about $5,000 off the Genesis’ $43,000 single flavor pricing. Admittedly, the Genesis delivers the promise of greater reliability and a more luxurious interior, but I’d still call the Charger a name-defying good deal.

On the FWD front, we have the V8 Lucerne Super for $42,220. I need say nothing more about the Buick other than: yes, it is your father’s FWD V8 Buick. From the land of the rising sun we have the Toyota Avalon with an interior that is more inviting and an exterior style that is far from polarizing. If you want the car that checks all your boxes but elicits little passion, the Avalon is the perfect $38,645 driveway accessory.

Perhaps the most appropriate competition for the Charger, and the biggest impediment to its success can be found in the Ford Taurus and the Charger’s own cousin, the Chrysler 300C. The 300C is to my eye the better looking vehicle inside and out and in my informal cost comparison is essentially the same price at $38,170 (so much for Chrysler clawing their way up-market). Compared to the Taurus SHO however (starting price of $38,155 and $43,900 when equipped comparably to the AWD version of our Charger R/T tester at $39,328), the Charger lacks the full-size cargo capacity, bevy of electronic doo-dads like massaging seats, voice command of most features and the more luxurious interior of the Ford. Ford’s EcoBoost V6 may also be the superior engine with its broad power band capable of matching our observed 5.5 second run to 60 in the Charger, but it lacks that sultry V8 burble. At the end of the day, while I would probably pay the extra five-grand to step into the SHO, I have to admit a large, soft, RWD sedan is all kinds of fun, and for that reason alone the Charger might finally make sense.

2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2513 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2511 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2509 IMG_2508 IMG_2506 IMG_2505 IMG_2504 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2501 IMG_2500 IMG_2499 IMG_2498 IMG_2497 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2472 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2470 doge_charger_thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

]]> 84
Review: 2011 Chrysler 200 Mon, 04 Apr 2011 21:02:41 +0000
I wasn’t planning to review the Chrysler 200. Renaming a lightly revised car to escape a well-deserved bad reputation always strikes me as a lame tactic. And the Sebring, on which the 200 is based, was so far off in so many ways that I didn’t see the point. We don’t just review cars to trash them around here. But then I drove the revised minivan, and was very pleasantly surprised. Perhaps Chrysler had similarly transformed the Sebring when creating the 200? With a Buick Regal for the week, and a need for some reference points, the time had come to find out.

Working with limited funds and even more limited time, Chrysler couldn’t change the sheetmetal. So the 200’s proportions are every bit as frumpy as the Sebring’s were. Given this constraint, the improvements wrought with new wheels, light assemblies, fascias, and upscale trim are admirable. Just not sufficient (though the rear three-quarters view isn’t bad). Dark colors like the metallic black on the tested car do at least de-emphasize the odd C-pillar. Granted, the Camry, Accord, and Fusion are hardly beauties, but their proportions (which my eye tends to focus on) are less ungainly. The Regal is much more handsome (as is the Chevrolet Malibu).

Chrysler was able to more substantially revise the Sebring’s interior, and the 200’s is more attractive than those in the Camry, Accord, and Fusion. The sedan’s cleanly-styled instrument panel, many padded surfaces, and classy piano black trim with chrome highlights suggest that it should be considered a premium car. But upon closer inspection the upscale appearance seems skin deep and concentrated in the instrument panel. The door panels are extensively padded but their armrests, which give a bit when employed to pull the door closed, feel as well as appear tacked on.

The minor controls are very similar to those in the Sebring and don’t look or feel like those in a premium car. There are good reasons why the Regal costs about $4,000 more (though the Suzuki Kizashi comes close to the Regal while being priced about $1,000 above the 200). The materials in major direct competitors tend to be cheaper, and look it, but they are assembled at least as well. The Hyundai Sonata might pose the largest challenge by combining style with above-average materials and workmanship.

The Chrysler 200’s minimally bolstered seats, though certainly more comfortable than the Sebring’s hard slabs, recall domestic iron from years past. Though the buckets are soft, you still sit on them rather than in them. The thick A-pillars, tall instrument panel, and overly distant windshield conspire with these seats to thwart any meaningful connection with the car. The side windows are more expansive, but this largely serves to highlight that the view forward is not. In back there’s a healthy amount of legroom, but as in the Sebring (and many competitors) the cushion isn’t high enough off the floor to provide thigh support.

With 283 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 260 foot-pounds at 4,400 RPM, the all-new 3.6-liter DOHC V6 out-specs all others in the segment. Hitched to Chrysler’s homegrown six-speed automatic (neither the smoothest nor the smartest) it moves the car quickly and sounds good in the process while earning EPA ratings of 19 / 29. But the chassis isn’t a match for the V6’s power. There’s some torque steer under hard acceleration, but the real problem is posed by curves. In casual driving the 200 feels okay, but even a moderately aggressive turn of the steering wheel uncovers a fair amount of lean, early onset understeer, and insufficient damping. The harder you push the 200 the sloppier both the suspension and the steering feel. Some cars ask to be driven aggressively. Others are up to the challenge, though they don’t ask for it. The 200 isn’t up to the challenge. Some Toyotas suffer from a similar powertrain-chassis mismatch, but this doesn’t make it right. The Regal has the opposite problem: well-tuned chassis, merely adequate engine. On a curvy road this is the better problem to have.

In his Chrysler Town & Country review, Jack Baruth noted that he was easily able to keep up with a 200 driven by another journalist. No doubt the other journalist lacked Jack’s mad driving skillz, but it also happens that the minivan steers and handles much better than the sedan. My earlier suspicion that Chrysler cribbed from VW’s work for the Routan? Consider it intensified.

The 200 does ride better than it handles, and better than the Sebring. For people who drive like grandmas (perhaps because they are grandmas) its chassis limitations won’t be much of an issue. The car doesn’t seem as slick and eerily silent at low speeds as a Toyota, but it’s smoother and quieter than an Accord or Fusion. Here as well the Sonata poses a tough challenge. Some competitors handle better, others ride better, but the Sonata Limited’s balance between the two might be the best among the segment’s major players. Unfortunately, none are outstanding driver’s cars.

One thing the Chrysler 200 definitely has going for it: a low price. With the V6, leather, sunroof (not on the tested car), nav, and premium audio it lists for $28,505. A comparably equipped Toyota Camry XLE lists for $3,700 more, and adjusting for remaining feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool narrows the gap by only about $300. A loaded Ford Fusion Sport is about $2,500 more even after a $1,600 adjustment in its favor for a power passenger seat, SYNC, a rearview monitor, and various other safety features not available on the Chrysler. Even a Sonata Limited 2.0T with nav is about $1,600 more.

Its strong new V6 notwithstanding, the Chrysler 200 isn’t remotely a driver’s car. Unlike the revised minivans, the revised sedan doesn’t contain any pleasant surprises. The bits you see, most notably the much-improved interior styling, are as good as it gets. The 200’s refinement, solidity, and chassis tuning mark it as, at best, an average member of the mainstream midsize sedan class rather than the next one up. To their credit, Sergio’s bunch aren’t deluding themselves about how much they were able to achieve. An all-new Fiat-based midsize sedan is only a couple of years away. In the meantime, they’ve priced the 200 substantially lower than its major competitors, making it a good value for those who don’t mind its exterior styling and who aren’t aiming to carve any corners.

Brad Marshall of Suburban Chrysler in Novi, MI, provided the car. Brad can be reached at 248-427-7721.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

200 front Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 200 cargo 200 rear seat 200 IP 200 rear quarter 200 forward visibility 200 engine 200 rear quarter 2 200 side 200 center stack 200 front quarter 200 front seats 2 ]]> 101
Review: 2011 Chrysler Town & Country Wed, 24 Nov 2010 19:11:46 +0000

Behold: the thirty-seven-thousand-dollar minivan. Just to put that in perspective, I’m going to list some of the other whips you could roll (yo) for that kind of money: Infiniti G37. Audi A4. BMW 328i. Those are “entry-luxury” automobiles, and they cost “entry-luxury” money. You could buy two basic Japanese sedans for this kind of scratch.

We’re all rich on the Internet, and we all pay cash for everything, and we all turn up our nose at minor sums like thirty-seven thousand dollars, right? In the real world, however, it’s real money. Figure seven-fifty a month in the typical five-year finance deal. It’s hard to believe that the typical family has the ability to make a payment like that in this economy.

Chrysler states that the Town & Country will now “live” in the $30K-and-up price range. No more budget minivans. If you want one of those, go see your Dodge dealer. The product, they say, justifies the price. Let’s figure out if they’re correct.

Many of the press testers on hand for the Town & Country’s Napa Valley launch event were gloss black, and it’s easy to see why. If there is really such a thing as a “premium minivan”, a black-and-chrome Chrysler is probably it. The exterior has been revised with a heavy dose of automotive jewelry, from the intricate headlights to the matte-finish silver-wing logo adorning the rear liftgate. There’s more visual distance between the T&C and its Caravan sibling than ever before, and both models benefit as a result. If anything, the upscale treatment is too successful; parents might be concerned about what the van will look like with a few kid-related dings and scratches.

Inside, there’s that must-have accessory for the new decade: the one-piece dashboard cap. It wasn’t until I rode back to the airport in a 2009-model T&C that I realized just how much better the new interior is. It’s driver-focused, it’s personal, it’s surprisingly intimate in dark colors, and it’s far more upscale than, say, the Playskool-button Sienna will ever be. The previous van’s “Stow-n-Go” seating came in for a fair amount of (justified) criticism, so we now have “Super Stow-n-Go”, which is much closer to being a full-sized seat. A “private-jet” captain’s chair arrangement is also available, and unless you absolutely require the occasional availability of a flat load floor, I strongly suggest you select it.

The new instruments, HVAC, and selection of sound systems are all vastly better than before… and yes, they have an upscale appearance. As before, the “uConnect” system runs a distant second to Ford’s SYNC, not to mention the myFordTouch, but if your current frame of reference is the navigation system in a Sienna or Odyssey you are likely to think you’ve accidentally boarded the battlestar Galactica. The air vents are controlled by chrome rollers with rubber inlays, the buttons all operate with a definitive ‘click’, and the metal-look interior items are real metal.

A brief conversation with the interior-design team provided some insight into the hyper-improvement wrought for 2011. They know that Chrysler’s had some crap materials inside their cars. They didn’t like it any more than you did. They were working with Daimler’s accountants and being forced to cut every possible penny out of the cars. Cerberus freed them from that yoke and now we are seeing the frankly impressive results. It’s an awfully facile explanation, but I’m willing to believe.

Fate blessed me with an exceptional “media partner” for this event, a fellow named Jeff Yip who was apparently born without fear and who was as interested as I was in this minivan’s dynamic capabilities. The spec sheet offered promise: the trio of disappointing V-6 engines from last year has been banished and now the impressive Pentastar twists through a six-speed automatic. It’s possible to manipulate the side-to-side manual-shift function with the fingers of one’s right hand while keeping the palm on the wheel — very WRC, if you ask me. Several years ago, Grassroots Motorsports showed that a Honda Odyssey could keep up with an E-Type Jag around an autocross course. What could the upscale minivan do?

Even though I handicapped myself a bit by pulling off, standing on the side of the road, waiting until some angry-faced journosaur squealed by in a V-6 Chrysler 200, counting to sixty, and then getting in the van to give chase, we quickly tired of running down our fellow writers on their “fast road drives”. Luckily we found a nutcase in an old 528e, complete with a bungee-corded animal cage in the trunk, and this guy was on it. He drove a nearly perfect racing line in every turn and frequently exited the corner with some slip angle in the rear, running into the triple digits on the straights.

The big Chrysler could have murdered him in a straight line — this is a more than acceptably fast van — so we hung back and instead worked the corners. How pleasant to find that the brakes were mostly up to snuff, the transmission shifted smoothly under manual control, and that the steering was downright decent. I remember a color mag crowing many years ago about the fact that the C4 Corvette could more than double the recommended corner speeds on back roads… well, nowadays you can do it in a seven-passenger breadbox. There’s no pitching or rolling to cause nausea, just a buttoned-down suspension with better rebound control than many Audis have. Very few drivers — and I mean very few — really want to go faster on a curvy road than the T&C can take them. I’m considering taking one to the infamous “Tail of the Dragon” and forcing sportbikers to give me the wave past.

Of course, ninety-nine percent of Chrysler’s customers won’t care how fast this minivan can chew up a back road, and many of them won’t even be particularly interested in one-piece dashboards or sound-system “theater imaging”. Price, reliability, resale value, and capability are the true benchmarks in this segment, and although the T&C excels in the fourth category, the first three are up for debate. I’ll leave the heavy statistical lifting to Mr. Karesh, but my offhand analysis is that the T&C has, shall we say, premium pricing compared to the market-leading Odyssey and Sienna. The Chrysler people freely admit that there isn’t much margin in these revised vans for incentives. They’re hoping that the market will pay more money for a better van. I don’t know if they’re right, but to misquote famous van driver E. Hemingway, it’s certainly pretty to think so.

]]> 67
Review: 2010 Chrysler 300C SRT-8 Take Final Tue, 07 Sep 2010 17:40:42 +0000

The look on my passenger’s face says it all. I’ve just late-braked a fully-prepped BMW M3 on Hoosier race tires and we are about to straight-line the infamous “Climbing Esses” at VIR. At well over one hundred and twenty miles per hour. Listen to the photo. Put your ear up to it. You can hear my passenger, a student of mine who wanted to see “the fast way around”, gritting her teeth. You can hear the 6.1-liter HEMI catapulting us down the track at full throttle, a Sprint Cup racer stuffed beneath a Deep Sea Blue bonnet. And, if you listen very carefully, I think you can hear Sara Watkins, who is to me what Mike Rowe is to “The Booth Babe”, singing “Lord Won’t You Help Me.”

The boss man emeritus, one R. Farago, reviewed the 300C SRT-8 more than five years ago. Has the car changed? Not much. So why review it again? It’s simple. The fact that Robert’s article has a whopping three comments means you probably didn’t see it. And, of course, as the self-appointed bad guy in TTAC’s pro-wrestling pantheon, it seemed appropriate that I would use the big Chrysler to ruin the day of some club racers. Here’s how it went.

This was an unusual weekend for me in that I had an all-female student crew. The lady pictured above would be worth a story on her own. A retired servicewoman in her late forties, bought a Mini Cooper (non-S) a few years back and went on a few “Tail of the Dragon” drives. That didn’t satisfy her. Now she’s on-track, absolutely kicking ass in her little Cooper and regularly forcing young men in Vettes to give her the point-by. If she had an M3, she’d be the fastest Intermediate driver in nearly any club.

My other student was a former SCCA National Tour winner, a respected autocrosser who agreed to work with me on a couple of articles about the opportunities for women interested in motorsports. I expected her to take to VIR like a duck to water and was not disappointed. I also rather hoped she’d have some room for me in her suite at the VIR Lodge, and I was bitterly disappointed. I used all my traditional never-fail seduction stories on her — “My Fearless, Yet Stylish, Brushes With Death”, “I’m Lonely For My Distant Son And Just Don’t Want To Be Alone”, and “Give Me Your Opinion Of This Sportcoat Fabric” — but I still ended up sleeping in the car, as seen here:

No wonder, then, that when the second day of the event rolled around I was ready to wreak my vengeance on everybody unlucky enough to be in front of the Chrysler’s big black grille. In my test of the Challenger R/T I disabused TTAC’s readers of that stupid old Internet myth that “a Miata would totally dominate a fat-ass American musclecar on the track”. Compared to that R/T, the 300C SRT-8 has fifty more horsepower and much better brakes. Chrysler’s “Brembo package” is much better than Ford’s, and it holds up much better under the rigors of racetrack use. It’s still not “enough” brake — I personally think the Corvette ZR-1 has about “enough” brake — but it means you can run hard for ten laps at a time if you’re willing to manage pad temperature a bit.

We were scheduled to run the VIR Grand East course, which adds the twisty, elevation-change-filled “Patriot Course” to the “Full” course. I figured it meant that I’d spend the entire Patriot section holding-off smaller cars before blasting away from them down the “Roller Coaster” to the front straight. That wasn’t quite right. Hammering down the truncated back straight, I approached a group of Spec Miata racers practicing for the upcoming NASA event. This being the “instructor” group, no point-by was required, so I asked for none. Instead, I used the big HEMI to torque my way to the door of the last car and then stood on the ABS going into the corner. Hello, pass one. Reaching over to stab the ESP off, I used wheelspin on exit to catapult up to the next Miata. We went side-by-side over the next elevation change and then I waited him out on the brake. Oh no! A twisty section. Now I can’t shake the Miata behind and I can’t catch the one ahead. Oh, wait. I could shortcut that inside a bit. ESP back on and I put two wheels on the dirt, letting the traction control manage me past. Two more colorful Mazdas heading the group, taking the outside line to the Roller Coaster. ESP off. Full throttle. Buh. Freakin’. Bye. Never saw those cars again, although I think the organizers of the trackday heard from them in the “Complaints” section of the feedback form.

That’s the SRT-8′s “g-meter” for that session. It doesn’t go past .99, so rest assured that I was absolutely hammering this thing through the Patriot section. How does a car this big get grip like this from 20″ tires? Simple. The chassis is simply that good and that predictable. No, it can’t live with a BMW or Porsche for outright grip, but you are free to sit right at the limit of the tires and trust the Chrysler’s basic nose-first stability to save the day. The suspension can straight-line every curb and the steering gives some decent enough feedback. I hate to say it, but to some degree this car is more fun to drive fast than the Cadillac CTS-V is. I certainly prefer the HEMI’s character to that of the LS-whatever. More importantly, there’s clearly some room in the chassis for more power, which I would expect to see in the 2011 version.

I ended up driving this car over 2600 miles during my week with it, and I just about fell in love with the 300′s big-hearted spirit during that time. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some genuine complaints to be made. This car costs $49,195 and it has the interior of a $23,000 Hertz Charger. The stereo is monstrous but the iPod integration can’t touch SYNC. It’s not as roomy as it should be, particularly in back. You could buy a new E-class for this money, although the E-class you could buy wouldn’t touch this Chrysler on the road. You could also buy a Hyundai Genesis 4.6, if you want to make some kind of point. I’m not sure the Genesis really does much better in the interior-feel department, and it’s gutless compared to the Chrysler. Still, we are talking fifty grand here. Approach with fiscal caution.

There’s a looooong two-lane drive out of VIR for us headed towards Ohio. It’s maybe 100 miles of twisty roads and blind hills. And wouldn’t you know it, somebody pulled out in front of me right at the beginning…

…so I had to follow them all the way. Oh, who am I kidding? I was past that Bonnie before the end of the next turn. On the back roads, this 300C is even more of a monster than it is on the racetrack. In a world without speed limits or sensible driving standards, I could have averaged eighty-one miles per hour over the next sixty miles of that road. Since we don’t live in that world, I chose to listen to Miss Watkins on the excellent Kicker sound system.

This is now an old car, and it’s partially based on an even older one. If you’re a patient person, wait for the 2011 “LY” model. If you distrust the idea of a big V-8 and an old five-speed automatic, you can pay about the same real-world money for that nice new STi. If you just want the most kickass new sedan fifty grand can buy, call up Chrysler and ask if you can buy this one.

]]> 53
Review: Last Call: Chrysler Pacifica Mon, 22 Jun 2009 17:22:32 +0000

In the autumn of 2003, DaimlerChrysler introduced their first co-developed product: a “segment buster” called the Chrysler Pacifica. According to the official spin, the Pacifica married a minivan's utility with an SUV's machismo. In reality, the Pacifica was a six-seat station wagon on stilts, closest in concept to Audi's slow-selling Allroad Quattro. While the Allroad pulled a Hasselhoff (more popular in Germany than its intended market), the Pacifica was born under a bad sign, raised with great expectations and expired stateside without fanfare or corporate hand-wringing. RIP Pacifica or good riddance to bad rubbish?]]>

In the autumn of 2003, DaimlerChrysler introduced their first co-developed product: a “segment buster” called the Chrysler Pacifica. According to the official spin, the Pacifica married a minivan’s utility with an SUV’s machismo. In reality, the Pacifica was a six-seat station wagon on stilts, closest in concept to Audi’s slow-selling Allroad Quattro. While the Allroad pulled a Hasselhoff (more popular in Germany than its intended market), the Pacifica was born under a bad sign, raised with great expectations and expired stateside without fanfare or corporate hand-wringing. RIP Pacifica or good riddance to bad rubbish?

In many ways, the Pacifica was neither fish nor foul, starting with the proportions. It was taller than a car but lower than most SUVs. It had an exceptionally wide body and stretched nearly as long as Chrysler’s Town and Country minivan. But is still looked like what it was: a big-assed station wagon.

Chrysler designers used clever styling tricks to hide its heft. For example, the body sported multiple crease marks, near the window line, and again near the rocker panel. Like vertical stripes on clothing, the lines make the overall design seem longer and leaner. From the rear end, the Pacifica’s quarter panels taper dramatically inward from the rear wheels, thereby creating a thinner look. And the use of black molding on the roof give the vehicle the appearance of a sleek profile. The result was extremely color sensitive; dressed in white, you expected to see Captain Ahab pinned to the roof.

In keeping with Motown traditions, the first Pacificas hit dealer showrooms fully-loaded: all wheel-drive, load-leveling suspension, leather upholstery, heated first and second-row seats, sunroof, power liftgate, navigation (beautifully situated directly in front of the driver), dual zone climate control, DVD entertainment system and Sirius satellite radio. While the car’s upscale pretensions were obvious from the git-go, potential customers couldn’t see the price point. Initial Pacificas cost north of $35K. Even worse, the CUV’s build quality didn’t match the model’s “near luxury” aspirations. In-dash rattles, plastic panels that fell off, unpainted gas caps—the Pacifica (along with the new Crossfire Sports Car) was ground zero for dreams of Mercedes quality combined with Chrysler style.

Speaking of which, the Pacifica’s interior packaging sucked. The first two rows were spacious enough for four occupants, but the third row was suitable only for small, nimble, unloved children. When deployed, row three also left very little room for cargo, although it did fold flat when not in use. The Chrysler Pacifica posed the same question that the CUV genre still asks today: what IS the point? While modern CUVs answer with SUV-lite styling, the Pacifica looked like what it was: an expensive, big-assed station wagon.

Early Pacificas featured a mediocre engine (250hp 3.5-liter V6) and gear-challenged (four speed) transmission in a price bracket known for potent and refined powertrains. Thanks to the DaimlerChrysler’s vehicle’s heft and the ancient autobox, the Pacifica was both slow AND thirsty. The EPA rated its fuel economy at a less than desirable 15/20 mpg.

For the 2005 model year, Chrysler rectified the pricing problem (claiming it was their plan all along). The LX trim came equipped as a five-seater. In fact, the vehicle was thoroughly de-contented, including some very questionable seat materials, which undermined any chance of upmarket cachet. And did nothing much for sales.

DaimlerChrysler had a real dog on their hands. Not only did the vehicle fail to sell well, the company lost money on every one. The Pacifica sat on a modified minivan platform, but it didn’t share any interior furnishings with any other Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep product. The window switches, power seat controls (a nod to Daimler), audio and video entertainment options, seats, center console and the instrument panel weren’t interchangeable with any other vehicle.

Adding insult to injury, the Pacifica quickly developed a reputation for horrendous reliability. Straight out of the box, early models suffered from engine problems, transmission woes and the aforementioned quality control issues. Reflecting the analysis paralysis and cultural warfare bedeviling Auburn Hills, Chrysler failed to handle the Pacifica’s defects with speed or decisiveness. While some of early problems were eventually ironed-out, electrical gremlins plagued the Pacifica throughout its entire production cycle.

In sum, the Pacifica was one of the worst new car introductions in Chrysler’s history, with little or no advanced notice, hardly any pre-production publicity, and very little dealer training.

Since the Pacifica’s introduction, the CUV genre has exploded. Buyers looking for crossovers can choose from a wide range of vehicles that look like SUVs, burn gas like SUVs, won’t go off-road or tow like SUVs, and can’t carry more than five adults in comfort. But none of them—not one—looks like a bloated station wagon. There are brand new 2008 Pacificas sitting on ChryslerFiat dealers’ lots. Which tells you just about everything you need to know about the late, not-great Chrysler Pacifica.

]]> 71
Review: Yank Tank Comparo: Cadillac DTS vs. Lincoln Town Car vs. Chrysler 300C. 2nd Place: Chrysler 300C Wed, 27 May 2009 16:24:11 +0000

Three's a crowd: an odd grouping where someone or something is always going to stick out. Think Holy Ghost. The third wheel. The Sesame Street “which one of these is not the same as the others” object. In our Yank Tank match-up, the Lincoln Town Car fell by the wayside, pilloried for its utter lack of anythingness. Which is also, strangely enough, it's strength. We'll get to the Cadillac DTS tomorrow. But as some of our Best and Brightest have already pointed out, the Chrysler 300C is the one that doesn't fit. ]]>

Three’s a crowd: an odd grouping where someone or something is always going to stick out. Think Holy Ghost. The third wheel. The Sesame Street “which one of these is not the same as the others” object. In our Yank Tank match-up, the Lincoln Town Car fell by the wayside, pilloried for its utter lack of anythingness. Which is also, strangely enough, it’s strength. We’ll get to the Cadillac DTS tomorrow. But as some of our Best and Brightest have already pointed out, the Chrysler 300C is the one that doesn’t fit.

In the four years since its introduction, the 300C has not lost is capacity to impress. The design marks the utter destruction of Chrysler’s cab forward style. And why not? The “Baby Bentley”-meets-gangster-chic look puts all the right bulges in all the right places. Admittedly, the 300C’s rear end is a hair awkward. But the 300C’s dual exhaust pipes ensure that it’s still attractive, in an Ugly Betty kind of way. And seen from any 3/4 angle, the American barge still stirs something primal inside. And why not? Big, bling and brash. Who loves ya baby?

Canadian designer Ralph Gilles’ moment in the sun remains a shining beacon of American sedanery. From its wannabe British grill to the bad ass 20″ rims, this Chrysler exudes the same sort of feel on European roads as a Harley. Everything on the outside of the 300C works, from the chrome mirrors to the low greenhouse and the winged Chrysler badge. But aye, there’s the rub. For this German-American hybrid beauty is but skin deep.

As anyone who’s ever driven a post-Daimler Chrysler is painfully aware, the once and future automaker’s cabins have been the laughing stock of the big, 1.5 ever since they were purchased by the Germans. Somehow, in a world where continual progress is lauded and advancement is seen as the only way to compete, Chrysler managed to do the unthinkable and turn the interior quality clock backwards. I hate to beat a dead horse, but honestly, bludgeoning Mr. Ed in the back seat of a 300 would probably improve the scenery. The rear seats look and feel Police Cruiser chic—although the gun slit windows afford the perps/passengers primo privacy.

While none of our troika can hold an electronic candle to the toys provided by their German and Japanese competition, the Yank tank gadget crown must be awarded at some point. And here we are: the 300C bests the DTS and the Town Car by a wide margin—if you’re willing to pay the price of depreciation. Sorry, admission. Options include AWD, LIDAR cruise control, nav system, remote start, Sirius Backseat TV, AutoConnect Web and auto-dimming headlamps. After viewing the feature list, I’m half surprised Billy Mays isn’t a Chrysler spokesperson. [ED: You got that right.]

If there’s one thing that pre-Fiat Chrysler will be remembered for, it’s the rebirth of the Hemi. Okay, so it’s not a “true” hemi. Doesn’t matter. The 5.7L lump of iron under the 300C’s hood cranks out the best numbers in our Yank tank trio: 360hp and 390 lb·ft of torque. A Mercedes five-speed automatic mates the brawny V8 to the rear wheels. It’s the weakest link: the cog swapper can handle the 300C’s power and is fairly smooth, but the reliability stats give pause. Would a bullet-proof ZF six-speed really have been that much more expensive?

Driving the 300C evokes mixed emotions. It performs like a previous generation Mercedes E-Class on steroids—which it isn’t, really. The chassis is plenty stiff. The suspension’s pliant yet capable. Overall, the big ass barge is delightfully “chuckable.” Crank the wheel and the car responds with uncanny aplomb. Get a little too feisty and the electro-nanny responds with German efficiency (and American leniency). While not quite boaty nor hard, the 300C’s ride quality walks the sober fine line a luxury sedan should.

Slowly but surely, Chrysler has managed to bring one vehicle into the 21st century. Aesthetically. Mechanically. Only they forgot to do something—anything—with the interior. When you combine the dreadful interior with the sobering reality that the 300C looks exactly like the 190hp stripper rental version, a floaty drifty pig of an automobile with no reason to live, you start to ask the inevitable question: am I driving a gussied-up rental? Or is Dollar Rent-A-Car offering a bargain basement luxury car?

The masses have spoken with their wallets. All the performance and gadgets just can’t trump the damage done to the Chrysler brand in general, and the 300′s rep in specific. If the fleet models had never existed . . . If Chrysler had figured-out a way to build an interior to rival well, anyone . . . Instead here we have the Terry Malloy of Yank tanks.

Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.

]]> 55
Yankee Econo-Car Comparo: 3rd Place: Chrysler Sebring Wed, 04 Mar 2009 18:20:54 +0000

Last October, I wrote a series of articles comparing economical family sedans from the Land of the Rising Sun. Numerous readers challenged me to perform a similar comparison of similar cars from American manufacturers. Define "American." [ED: just step back from the can of worms and walk away.] This time 'round, I've tested the Ford Fusion S, Chevrolet Malibu LS, and Chrysler Sebring LX with automatic transmissions and common, entry level features. While I anguished to find positive or negative attributes that would distinguish one Japanese car from another, evaluating the relative virtue of the American's was a slam dunk piece of cake. In distant third place: the Chrysler Sebring LX. ]]>

Last October, I wrote a series of articles comparing economical family sedans from the Land of the Rising Sun. Numerous readers challenged me to perform a similar comparison of similar cars from American manufacturers. Define “American.” [ED: just step back from the can of worms and walk away.] This time ’round, I’ve tested the Ford Fusion S, Chevrolet Malibu LS, and Chrysler Sebring LX, with automatic transmissions and common, entry level features. While I anguished to find positive or negative attributes that would distinguish one Japanese car from another, evaluating the relative virtue of the American’s was a slam dunk piece of cake. In distant third place: the Chrysler Sebring LX.

Introduced in 2007, the styling of the current iteration of the Chrysler Sebring is an Art Deco mess. The appeal of the bold ribbed hood is so specific that it would require a car of far greater stature to pull it off.  Since the Sebring is of such lowly accomplishment, the over-styling only serves to accentuate how pathetic this car truly is. To be blunt and concise, it’s ugly. Moving on . . .

When I landed my butt on the seat, the flabby, unsupportive sponge of a seat collapsed to the floor pan under my 200 lb. Although the foot wells offered copious legroom when I moved the seat back, I felt crowded between the transmission tunnel and door.

I’m sure that the interior of the Sebring seemed spectacular on paper. The designers incorporated pleasing airfoil-inspired shapes that have terrific flow. The layout is elegantly restrained and utilizes metallic paneling, wooden trim and a beautiful crystalline clock. Just don’t expect to find any real aluminum, chrome, wood or crystal.

In fact, the look is entirely spoiled by grotesquely cheap components, ill-fitting plastics and poor construction. On the negative side, the left side of the glove box sagged, leaving a 3/16″ gap. On the positive side, the right side fit snugly. Gaps at the base of the A-pillars were similarly wide and uneven. Everywhere, the panels looked like unmatched jigsaw puzzle pieces forced together by a kindergartner. Flip the Sebring’s sun visor up and the entire headliner bounces like it is one sharp pothole jolt away from crashing down around your ears.

A Chrysler salesman saw fit to accompany me on my test drive. Since the Sebring is such a delicate thing, we began our route in the traditional positions. As I bounced uncomfortably along in the passenger seat, the man-whose-life-elevates-mine explained that the Sebring is very comparable to the Acura TSX. (Yes, very.) In fact, the Sebring exceeds the TSX in some respects.

I was so stunned by the brazenness of the lie that I was utterly speechless. I sat in doe-eyed silence as he continued to find machines worthy of comparison to the Chrysler Sebring. How about the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry? How ’bout them Cowboys?

The ill-informed Chrysler salesman was just telling me that the Continuously Variable Transmission in the Sebring made it so that I would never feel the gear shift—right as the rough running four-speed automatic clunked its way from first to second. Chrysler claims 173 hp and 166 lb·ft from the 2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine, but real world performance is not nearly so generous. Even at just 3310 lb, this Porky Pig wants nothing to do with accelerating up a freeway onramp or passing on a two-lane highway.

One would think that as harshly as the LX takes bumps that perhaps it was sport tuned. Eh, noooo. The Sebring is the worst of all cars tested in this class—American and Japanese—for both ride quality and excessive body roll. The Sebring rewards neither driver nor passenger with its primitive and crashy driving dynamics.

Is there anything that Chrysler did better than Ford or Chevy? Yes, sort of. It does match Chevy for the best highway gas mileage. And it does brag the largest interior volume (at the expense of the smallest trunk).

So Chrysler builds ’em cheap. There’s a place in this world for inexpensive cars, right?

Would that it were so. The sticker price of this little Inferno Red Crystal Pearlcoat Sebring LX was $21,480, a scant $145 less than the Chevrolet Malibu LS and $845 more than the Ford Fusion. Throw in the suicide rebates and “employee pricing” Chrysler is slapping on the ribbed hood, and the Sebring price drops to $18,947, still about $2,000 above a comparably equipped Fusion (with its rebates).

At the end of our tour, the Chrysler salesman asked me what I thought. Without equivocation I told him. [Note to self: never play poker with a Chrysler salesman.] But if it makes him feel any better, I hope he finds solace in the fact that the Sebring does cost $10K less than an Acura TSX.

]]> 65
Review: 1967 Chrysler Imperial Sat, 28 Feb 2009 14:08:42 +0000

Not long ago, apropos of I don’t remember what, I posted on this site about a 1960 Imperial and its owner, Jim Byers. Byers had been an impressario of jazz for the Kennedy Center. I met him in the mid-90s while photographing his car. Byers saw my post on TTAC and emailed me. He'd replaced the ’60 with a ’67. Coincidentally, I had fled Boston's snows for several weeks. We arranged to meet down by the Potomac so that I could test drive the ’67.]]>

Not long ago, apropos of I don’t remember what, I posted on this site about a 1960 Imperial and its owner, Jim Byers. Byers had been an impressario of jazz for the Kennedy Center. I met him in the mid-90s while photographing his car. Byers saw my post on TTAC and emailed me. He’d replaced the ’60 with a ’67. Coincidentally, I had fled Boston’s snows for several weeks. We arranged to meet down by the Potomac so that I could test drive the ’67.

Of the top-of-the-line luxury cars of the ’50s and ’60s, Caddy had serious bling. Lincoln Continental had a dignified grace, and served as presidential limos to JFK and LBJ. The Imperial was too baroque for Washington, DC, but its elaborate elegance would have made it the perfect chariot for the Italian renaissance. Had Venice had roads instead of canals . . .

The 1960 Imperial’s luxuries are ample, starting with soft leather seats that hug you like a long lost friend. There’s a mirror inside the glove box for your lady, which folds down when she’s not using it, and a cigarette lighter on the right-hand door console for her smoking pleasure. Should you drive a bit too enthusiastically, she can grab the little security handle carved into the far right extremity of the dash.

For the rear passengers, a button slides either front bucket seat forward, ensuring graceful egress. All passengers are surrounded by a genuine walnut trim. The Imperial’s luxury aura takes a hit from the downmarket, colorless gray gauges and radio, reminiscent of those found on my parents’ 1970 Valiant, a near-stripper.

Like many classic cars, the Imperial comes with a history. In the 1940s, a small airplane embedded itself in the Empire State Building. The ’67′s first owner: Harvey B. Moyer, proprietor of the demolition company that had extricated plane from spire. Byers, owner number three, has added some of his own color to the Imperial’s history. For several years, he ran the Straight Eights, a DC area vintage car club for gays and lesbians.

To drive the Imperial is to feel elevated. President Obama must have felt something like this the first time he was chauffeured in that fortress of a Cadillac. President Obama, as you may know, drove a 340 hp Chrysler 300C until he was outed during the campaign, after castigating the D-3 for building “bigger, faster cars.” Poor Barack then felt obliged to purchase a Ford Escape hybrid, just like Hillary, and John Edwards, and Christopher Dodd (who had owned a Mustang). Hewing to political correctness can take the fun out of driving, but I digress.

Anyway, I set off at a leisurely pace from the Jefferson Memorial, along Potomac Park East. I pushed the Imperial ever so slightly as I rounded the corner that hooks back towards the Jefferson, just enough so she leaned like a yacht in a strong wind. The road was empty, so I floored her.

The Imperial weighs close to 5,000 lb. Despite my attempt to muster the Chrysler’s alleged 480 lb·ft of torque (at 2,800 rpm), she seemed in no hurry to reach 50 mph. I jerked the wheel to check the front end. After the helm returned to the straight ahead position, the big lady performed a little wiggle-woggle.

We cruised the Mall towards Air and Space, turning left onto fourth street, so that we could roll by I. M. Pei’s East Wing, my favorite Washington building, and on down Constitution Ave. I don’t need no stinkin’ SUV to sit high in this thing. I WAS high, looking out over all the people crowding the American History and Technology side of the Mall, hoping to see some Power, or maybe just a museum.

I was expecting them to notice ME, and this grand chariot. But no one seemed to notice, and then some stupid SUV actually cut in front of me. The whole family suddenly noticed that they’d just cut off President Holzman (that’s me, the first Jew to lead the Free World). They waveand smiled.

Besides the Imperial’s wonderfully floaty, boaty feel, and the effortlessly numb steering, this land yacht’s four disc brakes feel as competent as those on any contemporary appliance. The silky V8, with 72,000 original miles, feels like it could easily do another 72,000, and who knows, maybe another 72,000 after that, although I can’t help wondering if this beast felt far more puissant during the Nixon and Ford administrations than it does now.

My strongest impression of the Imperial came after I got back into my ’99 Accord LX with the 2.4-liter engine and the five speed stick. The Honda felt the way my brother-in-law’s Audi TT had felt just days earlier when I had driven it for the first time. Major torque and steering fit to carve up Skyline Drive––even with the snows on! That effect stayed with me for the rest of the day, through another 25 miles or so. It wasn’t until the next morning that my sense of  Accord returned to normal.

]]> 25
2008 Pontiac G6 GT Hardtop Covertible vs. 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible Mon, 17 Mar 2008 15:00:02 +0000 x08pn_g6007.jpgSpring: the season of love, flowers and convertibles. As warmer weather approaches, car dealers put away the 4x4 SUV’s and pull the drop-tops from the back of the lots in the hopes of snagging passersby wanting a vehicle to celebrate the (global?) warming weather. Pontiac tempts buyers with the G6 GT Hardtop Convertible while Chrysler lures in the public with the newly-introduced Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible. As the only American-branded hardtop convertibles, which one truly deserves your hard-earned income? Or should both be tossed into the bonfire of the vanities?

x08pn_g6007.jpgSpring: the season of love, flowers and convertibles. As warmer weather approaches, car dealers put away the 4×4 SUV’s and pull the drop-tops from the back of the lots in the hopes of snagging passersby wanting a vehicle to celebrate the (global?) warming weather. Pontiac tempts buyers with the G6 GT Hardtop Convertible while Chrysler lures in the public with the newly-introduced Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible. As the only American-branded four-passenger hardtop convertibles, which one truly deserves your hard-earned income? Or should both be tossed into the bonfire of the vanities?

The Pontiac instantly seduces you with a restrained and handsome profile– terminating in a rear end stolen from the Toyota Solara. In midnight black, the gargantuan panel gaps disappear to present a nicely- integrated whole, set off by similarly restrained 18 inch wheels. The G6 looks like a svelte coupe with the top up, and a boulevard cruiser with it down. Dalmatians of the world rejoice! GM left the Cruella De Vil grill intakes from the G6 GXP off the convertible.

ch008_032se.jpgWhile the Pontiac might pass as a little black dress, the Chrysler looks like a prom gown from the 1980’s, complete with poofed sleeves. Design cues from around the world are presented in a discombobulated package, attempting to look refined. The American hood strakes and chrome grill start the mess, European crease lines and rub strips make up the middle, and last decade’s Japanese tail lamps wrap up the rear.

The Sebring looks best when topless. Yet no one would ever call the Sebring handsome. The omnipresent rental-car beige (Chrysler offers three shades) and black paint subdue the “we will try anything and everything” style to almost inoffensive levels. Almost.

The excitement the Pontiac presents outside only makes your jaw drop harder when gazing upon the acres and acres of cheap black plastic slathered throughout the interior. The G6’s interior is like that popular girl in high school who shows up at the reunion ten years later, a complete throwback to the past with a lot more jiggly bits and a reminder that some things from previous decades should be consigned to the scrap heap of history.

0501_4452006_pontiac_g6_coupe_and_convertibleinterior_view_steering_wheel.jpgNot only do the plastics disappoint, Pontiac also completely screwed up the ergonomics. Want to change tracks on the CD player? You reach for the skip button only to accidentally increase the volume, and then cut your finger on the sharp-edged chrome trim around the knob. Tiny buttons abound, from the stereo to the cruise control to the convertible top switch. All are cheap and insubstantial feeling. The only relief from the oppressive blackness of the instrument panel: the chrome rings tossed around the cabin in sufficient quantity to leave you with suspicions of Ringling Brothers Circus sponsorship.

Chrysler barely edges out the Pontiac in the better-looking cheap plastics contest. Avoiding Pontiac’s “black hole of despair” theme, Chrysler offers a pleasant palette for a light airy feel. Yes, but– the polymers are harder to the touch than Barack Obama’s rhetoric; shiny in some places, dull in others. The Sebring’s tortoiseshell veneers are a laudable attempt to do something different, but the execution makes it look as if sunglasses melted on the dashboard.

ch008_067se.jpgAt least Chrysler spent more than ten minutes working out the ergonomic details. The LCD stereo display is aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically sound, especially when accessing the MyGig system. The upmarket-looking climate control dials click reassuringly; another bright spot on a barely passing grade. The seats on the Chrysler are as springy as Grandma’s couch, a completely opposite feel to the Pontiac’s grippy and more comfortable Recaro-esque buckets.

Both manufacturers claim to provide luxury for four, but first class on a Greyhound bus is still first class on a Greyhound bus. Both cars claim top operation only takes 30 seconds. Pontiac guessed right, Chrysler got it wrong by a lot.

x07ar_pn003.jpgThe Pontiac’s top lurches into the trunk (and takes up ALL the space) with a bit of hesitation while providing a “will this work in three years?” origami display of engineering. The Chrysler takes nearly 45 seconds of whining. When the trunk lid pops to swallow the top, the entire car shakes like a pole dancer, wobbles a bit and then clunks alarmingly when sealing shut. I wouldn’t keep the Sebring past the standard warranty period based solely on the scary top operation.

At least you still get some accessible storage when the Chrysler goes topless (enough for two golf bags).  You might be able to store a pizza in the Pontiac’s 2.2 cubic feet, but you have to raise the top to get to it.

ch008_009se.jpgOnce the finicky tops are lowered, you’re all set to blast down Highway 190 into the sunset-drenched Sierra Nevadas and let your cares blow away in the wind… or not.

The Pontiac G6 GT Convertible wouldn’t know the word “blast” if it was shot in the face by a Howitzer. With either the standard 3.5-liter VVT pushrod V6 (217bhp), or the 3.9-liter 222bhp V6 (again with ancient pushrods), forward progress requires that you squeeze the throttle about three inches until you meet some resistance. At which point the engine pops a Valium, gives you a dirty look and groans up the rpm band.

The older-than-Bob-Lutz engine designs might actually have shown some pep were they not coupled to an incredibly lousy four-speed automatic transmission. The tranny either bogs the engine down or kicks down into noise-making gear. Neither situation is conducive to either sporty or relaxing driving. You are always trying to out guess the slushbox.

x08pn_g6008.jpgSlip the lever into “manual” mode and it gets even worse. The experience proves irritating to the point where you want to rip the gear lever out of its cheap plastic housing and proceed to beat the rest of the car with it (which I wouldn’t advise, considering the poor build quality). GM offers a good six-speed automatic on other G6’s, so why not here?

After the G6, the drive train in the Chrysler Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible seems like a breath of fresh air. The Sebring’s 3.5-liter SOHC V6 (with a G6-bettering 235bhp) is equipped with a six-speed automatic as standard. The engine and transmission work together smoothly to launch the Sebring quickly and semi-serenely. The tranny always keeps the power band on the boil while never letting it get raucous. It’s perfect for a cruiser convertible.

ch008_035se.jpgThe downside: a non-existent exhaust note. In place of a V6 growl, you get to hear a bit of cooling fan roar and the fuel pump. As interesting as I find it to listen to an electric motor whir its little heart out, it’s not nearly as blissful as the mechanical symphony found on most drop-tops.

After putting in your earplugs to silence both the G6’s heavy metal and the Sebring’s electronic disco, you find both cars want to sit on the side of the dance floor and pretend they know the proper steps. The Sebring offends the least with a stable and smooth-riding platform that provides rental-car-friendly safe handling. Understeer only becomes annoying should you want to go faster than the legal speed limit. The standard stabilizer bars front and rear keep the body roll to less-than-yacht-like conditions and the standard suspension dampers keep the vertical bouncy motions to a minimum.

Drive it like you retired in it, and the Sebring manages to create a sedate and somewhat relaxing experience; it demands nothing from the driver who has all the time in the world. Top down or up, body quiver is never an issue, although small wiggles find their way through the rack-and-pinion steering. One weird gripe: at cruising speed, the wind buffets the sun visors, creating a boring gray flutter in your line of vision. Epileptics should not purchase this vehicle.

x08pn_g6010.jpgAt the first turn of the G6’s wheel, you might as well stop turning. Typical of all G6’s, understeer reigns with a tyrannical vengeance. Vague steering and precious little feedback degrade the experience to the point where the G6 GT becomes almost dangerous to drive in any conditions other than a straight line. The harder you press the car (provided you could stand the transmission), the less fun it provides. When the 18-inch tires finally start to grip, the chassis slides slightly in its bushings, creating a strange plywood-on-springs sensation.

Keeping the G6 on the straight and level reveals the Pontiac engineers were listening to Chubby Checker belt out “The Twist.” A 1986 SAAB 900 convertible has less cowl shake. On the rough Oklahoma interstates, the Pontiac shook so badly I started to get motion sickness– and I fly for a living! I could only listen to the top secured in the trunk crack in protest. I give the standard glass rear window about two-and-a-half years before it needs replacing.

ch008_040se.jpgDriving both cars back-to-back reveals one clear “winner:” the Chrysler Sebring Limited. It may have awkward aesthetics, but its decent drivetrain and nicer interior make the Pontiac G6 GT look like the classic dumb blond: all looks with absolutely no substance to back it up. If offered a Sebring drop top as a rental car, I wouldn’t turn it down. 

I know: that’s not exactly what you’d call high praise. Compared to the competition– ANY competition– both cars are losers. If it was my hard-earned $30Kish, I’d spend it on a Mustang GT Convertible, VW EOS, SAAB 9-3, Mazda MX-5 or ANYTHING else. Hell, I might even spend it on nothing. And the fact that the G6 and Sebring’s manufacturers have put these underdeveloped cars on the market brings glory to neither.

G6 Ratings

Sebring Ratings  

]]> 69
Review: 2007 Chrysler Sebring Wed, 20 Dec 2006 11:28:12 +0000 front2.jpgTTAC recently placed Chrysler on suicide watch for the easily correctable fact that vast empty spaces and dealers' lots are stuffed with Chrysler/Dodge cars, trucks. minivans and SUV's that no one wants to buy. The new Sebring is a far deadlier proposition: a car headed straight for rental car Hell. For a few bills less than our semi-loaded (half cocked?) Sebring tester, you can buy a base Chrysler 300, which, according to Mr. Mehta, has “reinvigorated American car design.” The new Sebring is less invigorating than Vicodin. In fact, I reckon the model only exists because car rental customers are still willin' to take what they get.

front2.jpgTTAC recently placed Chrysler on suicide watch for the easily correctable fact that vast empty spaces and dealers’ lots are stuffed with Chrysler/Dodge cars, trucks, minivans and SUV’s that no one wants to buy. The new Sebring is a far deadlier proposition: a car headed straight for rental car Hell. For a few bills less than our semi-loaded (half cocked?) Sebring tester, you can buy a base Chrysler 300, which, according to Mr. Mehta, has “reinvigorated American car design.” The new Sebring is less invigorating than Vicodin. In fact, I reckon the model only exists because car rental customers are still willin’ to take what they get.

Viewed head on, the Sebring’s got a lot of Aspen and a bit of Crossfire and none of the underworld zazz that made the gangsta 300 such a hit. The Sebring’s nose isn’t particularly hideous, but the side view sure is. In profile, the Sebring is flat-out Frankensteinian. I can’t believe this abomination got out of Ralph Gilles’s lab alive. (Where’s a pitchfork when you need one?) From the doors back, the Sebring appears to be suffering from dwarfism. The strakes, while not plastic, are as ungainly as anything crapifying a Pontiac. And the Sebring’s top line was created via machete; it’s an ugly, deforming slash.

ch007_013se.jpgThe Sebring is based upon the fetching Airflite concept car, a machine that betrayed its right-wheel driveness via a long hood and fenders. Just as DCX trashed the drop-dead gorgeous Crossfire concept car by mandating it be built on a truncated cast-off SLK chassis, the graceful proportions of the Airflite have been murdered by its Mitsubishi underpinnings. Here’s the knife in the back: the Mercedes C-Class is due for a refresh. If Dr. Z had based the Sebring on the old C, it would not have become a nightmarish eyesore. But he didn’t so it is.

A friend of mine goes numb with boredom whenever I discuss cars. She simply doesn’t care (and therefore drives a Saturn). After four seconds seated in the Sebring’s passenger seat she pronounced: “This feels like a rental car.” I’ll skip the obvious (don’t touch anything save the heated/cooled cupholder) and get to the glaringly obvious. The steering wheel features wings made out of the same plastic as your kid’s toy sword, angled so that reflected sunlight blinds any driver condemned to seat time in this clueless car. The ugly, even harder plastic sheet glued to the back of the seats makes sitting in the puny rear that much more miserable. This from an automaker owned by Mercedes? For shame.

profile.jpgThe top-shelf $25k Sebring Limited is fitted with a SOHC 24V V6 producing 235hp and 232 ft.-lbs. of twist. That’s enough grunt to motivate the Sebring from zero to 60mph in… wait for it… 7.7 seconds. While not slow per se, the stat’s not competitive. A similarly priced 260hp Nissan Altima does the deed in 6.6 seconds. The 244hp Honda Accord takes 7 seconds flat. As for the Sebring’s engine note noise, well, if Angus and Malcolm Young and Bon Scott hadn’t written a song called “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” they would’ve jumped out of this car suitably inspired.

Aside from the Sebring’s grabby stoppers, middling acceleration is the car’s dynamic strong point. The handling puts the abyss in abysmal. There’s so much torque steer that it’s a constant battle just to keep the car pointed in a straight line. Even a minor stab at the go-pedal triggers the tiller’s disapproval. Turns are just plain awful. Moving left and right is a multi-step affair. First, turn the wheel. Second, wait for the vehicle to fully lurch over onto one of the front springs. Finally, sit in terror as the weight is unloaded and the car leans all the way back in the other direction, maybe (or maybe not) aiming where you pointed it.

Improbably enough, the ride is even worse. With the Sebring’s short wheelbase and lousy suspension, bumps aren’t just felt, but profoundly understood. A choppy stretch of pavement can induce sensory hallucination; I swear a tiny man with a jackhammer was attacking my kidneys. And the pizza box thick (and flat) seats lend no support whatsoever. I will testify under oath that the engineers responsible have never driven a car in their lives.

ch007_002se.jpgI don’t get it. DCX must be trying to kill Chrysler. They’ve faced-up to the fact that the monster profits once found in lardo SUVs have dried up and decided to move on. Sunny Von Bulow knows what happens next.

Do I sound insane? Paranoid? Delusional? I cannot think of another remotely credible reason why any carmaker, knowing full well that the Camry and Accord are out there, would bring such a tired dog to market. Seriously, how profitable can rental cars be?

[Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and a tank of gas.]

]]> 179