Dodge Aspen • Chrysler Aspen test drive • Hybrid review
A close relative of the final Durango, the Chrysler Aspen brought the Dodge’s styling several notches upscale, but did not go far enough.
The interior was looked more luxurious than those of Chrysler cars at the time, while the exterior was more refined than the Durango. Hemi power and high towing capacity (8,950 lb) led the company to aim it at wealthy boat and trailer owners.
At launch, the price began at $31,490, with 4x4
at $34,265, including destination. The higher-end package started at $36,905. Both were substantially above the similar Durango. The interior had LED lighting, with options including a navigation system, heated first- and second-row seats, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. The Aspen had stability and roll control, rear parking sensors, tire pressure monitors, and side-curtain air bags for all three rows.
Sales were low, thanks partly to rocketing fuel prices followed by an industry crash; and partly by critical yawns (or worse) from the interior, which looked good in photos but used too much hard plastic and had little seat comfort. The last Aspen was built in December 2008 at the Newark Assembly plant, which was then demolished to make room for the University of Delaware.
The 2007 Chrysler Aspen was the industry’s first full-size SUV with standard Trailer Sway Control to improve trailer stability. More fuel-efficient and maneuverable than many full-sized SUVs, it had more interior passenger space and cargo room than most, along with unmatched towing and hauling capability. It trailed in comfort, despite a fairly attractive interior.
There were two V-8 engines, the 4.7 and a 5.7-liter Hemi® that gave it best-in-class power and torque; buyers could get rear wheel drive or all wheel drive. A hybrid was added in model-year 2009, increasing city mileaeg by an impressive 40%.
The Chrysler Aspen’s chromed grille was supposedly inspired by the 1998 Chrysler Chronos concept car.
The headlamp assembly had a projector low-beam lamp in a circular lamp bezel and an inboard high-beam lamp contained in a smaller square bezel. The hood was inspired by the Chrysler Crossfire.
With the Sebring and Pacifica, one could see clear attempts at brand clarity. Inside, they could hardly be more different, with interiors that appeared to have been designed by three different companies.
The Aspen’s huge gauges with large shiny chromed rings made an impression. The restrained color scheme included two-tone seats (using darker suede inserts) but was a fairly uniform beige otherwise. Light woodgrain-style covers hid the center storage bin and cupholders; the center stack bezel used this same material, as do strips on the doors and dash and the top half of the steering wheel.
The main surprise-and-delight feature, in Chrysler terms, was the easy flip-and-fold middle-row seat design, which let people easily climb into the third row. There was decent though not surplus room in all three rows. The Aspen felt surprisingly open for a large vehicle, with good visibility. Care was taken to provide an unobstructed 180 degree view from the driver.
Chrysler marketing head Dave Rooney said that about 25% of Chrysler owners leave the brand to get an SUV, and only about 25% of those people get a Dodge or Jeep, so the decision to launch a “real” SUV in addition to the Pacifica was at attempt to capture their own owners. He said, “We don’t need to sell a hundred thousand of these” because much of the investment had already been made in the Durango. The Aspen was clearly different in styling and appearance from the Durango, and of course had three rows of seats.
Stylist Trevor Creed wrote, “A warm and inviting, yet purposeful interior environment features soft touch surfaces finished with fine materials, as well as precise gauges and controls – details that exemplify the Chrysler brand’s image of beauty and elegance.”
The gauges included fuel, oil, volt/battery, odometer and speedometer readings. The center stack had Chrysler’s then-signature analog clock.
There were optional steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and an overhead console for the optional sun roof, power liftgate, and universal garage door opener. An optional trip computer allowed programming of audio and security settings, as well as trip computer, a compass, and outside temperature.
The Chrysler Aspen’s center console had a large covered storage bin and integrated cup holders, with a 115-volt AC power inverter.
There were two interior color schemes, two-tone Slate Gray or Dark Khaki with Light Greystone. Light wood-grain trim was on the center stack, steering wheel and door armrests. The nicely styled leather, cloth, or leather-and-suede seats were unfortunately extremely stiff and poorly cushioned; and the cloth YES Essentials® seats were rather rough.
Chrysler Aspen was available with a second-row 40/20/40 split bench seat or second-row heated bucket seats, each providing 11° reclining seat backs. Second-row bucket seats included a center console with dual cup holders, covered storage area and adjustable air outlets.
The optional eight-speaker Alpine audio system had good sound for the day.
Rear doors opened 84° to provide passengers with easy entry and exit. Cargo capacity was best-in-class cargo capacity, at 68.4 cu. ft. of cargo room with the third-row seats folded.
The Hemi was good for 335 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque (without the hybrid); the base 4.8 was good for 235 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Both were hooked up to the Chrysler 545RFE five-speed truck automatic. A “Tow/Haul” mode made crisper shifts and reduced gear searching by holding the lower gear longer, choosing a lower gear when going downhill to use engine braking.
The hydroformed ladder frame was quite torsionally stiff; the independent front suspension was coupled with rack-and-pinion steering. Chrysler boasted a 39.9 foot turning circle.
The unique rear suspension had coil springs and a solid rear axle with a Watt linkage system, centering the axle and reducing rear-end skate over rough surfaces. The rear suspension supported a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 6,700 lbs.
There were two New Venture Gear electronic-shift transfer cases, a standard single speed one for the 4.7 and a two-speed with the Hemi. Both had a 48/52 torque split between front and rear axles in AWD.
The 2009 Chrysler Aspen added an optional hybrid-electric powerplant, developed along with GM and BMW; and the new Hemi with variable cam timing, at 365 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. Other changes included a new teal color, satellite video added to the rear-seat video, and a 30-gigabyte hard drive stereo option.
The Hemi-powered Aspen and Durango hybrids increased power (to 385 hp) and gas mileage (by 40% in the city), partly by letting the Hemi stay on four cylinders more often. Towing was rated at 6,000 pounds.
The “two-mode hybrid” had both high speed and low speed modes, using two motors in the same case as a planetary automatic transmission with four forward gears. At low speed and with light loads, the Aspen could operate on pure electricity. Normally, the motors simply provided electric assistance to the Hemi V8 or acted as generators (on braking or deceleration). Shifts between the two modes did not require changes in engine speeds.
The 300-volt battery pack did not change passenger space, and a rectifier under the hood converted AC power to DC for 12-volt accessories.
For engine details, see our 4.7 V8 and Hemi V8 pages. 545RFE transmission.
Transfer case specifications (end of page).
Cargo volume was 19.0 cubic feet with all seats up, 67.25 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, and 102.4 cubic feet with both rear rows folded. There was 48.2” of clearance between the wheel-houses.
Power rack and pinion steering had a ratio of 19:1, or 13:1 at full lock with 3.4 turns from left to right. Front brakes were 13.2 x 1.1, rears were 13.8 x 0.87.
The alternator was 160 amps (without the hybrid); Aspens used a Group 65 battery with 750 CCA.
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