photos and most text by Ray Alexander
In a conversation at the Motor Village, Ralph Gilles told Allpar’s Ray Alexander that the new 2010 Dodge Chargers have improved tires. Made by General, they cost nearly twice as much as the Goodyears on the 2010s. A test drive is your first, last, and only chance to convince non-Mopar people, if they walk they will spend money to get their ride to perform on par with Mopar. (Ray noticed that the Rolls Royce was fitted with Goodyear tires, quite a shock; he would have expected Dunlop or Pirelli). On most if not all vehicles, Ralph mentioned upgraded bushings. Ralph helped to get someone to explain the upgrade. On the lower control arm bushings, using the new polymer is producing something akin to a variable rate spring. The lower control arm is also where older Chargers are beginning to experience problems — there and in the sway bar bushings.
The engineer reeled off all the vehicles getting the upgraded bushings and didn't mention the SRT. When Ray asked about the SRT, he smiled and said, “Well, the SRT has a totally tuned suspension.”
There were no SRTs to view, and except when Ray asked about SRT, they were not mentioned. Ray expects an SRT8 splash in the future. The 392 engine was mentioned only as a platform for MDS, and 470 HP was only mentioned one time.
Ralph remembered Ray from the Long Beach Grand Prix; he had gathered his media people to do a story on Ray’s million mile van, but so far nothing has been done about it.
The Fiat presentation was the most heavily attended of the three Chrysler announcements, and went along the lines of why America is ready for and needs the Fiat 500. Fiat USA CEO Laura Soave came on-stage riding in a classic 500. The presentation was done excellently but slanted woman-to-woman or woman-to-family. The video and graphics were aimed at pre-family partners, “we are not sheep we are very individual, just like everyone else.”
She was well versed on the features and functions, and spoke without teleprompters.
Ralph Gilles made a fairly technical presentation with surface details about things that made the vehicles ride and handle better. He talked about the quality of the interiors, the snappy new colors, the soft touch materials, and changes to the console. I noticed that the speedo and tach positions have been reversed.
With Sergio Marchionne, a lot of the meat was contained in video. The feature list on the 200 is outstanding. The one touch feature for stow and go was prominent in his presentation. The front fascia of the 200 is very attractive. The lights were not on but it has a shape that reminds me of Audi. More people the Chrysler show than Dodge, but the after-presentation action was much weaker. (In fairness, Dodge had more new cars to launch.)
The showcase dealer has a four story tower inches off I-110. Brand names were shown in high power color, with color intense lighting.
I quickly explored floors 1, 2, and 4. The 4th floor is mostly open air, with a tower displaying two vehicles to the traffic on the Freeway. The inbound lanes to downtown are the closest and the lanes toward San Pedro are away from the tower. It is difficult to show how close the tower is so let me say I hope the support is protected from out-of-control freeway traffic.
There was a 2011 Charger parked near the center door on the ground floor, a new color. I asked the lady who was diligently dusting the car about the name of the color, she didn’t know. So who better to ask than Ralph Giles. He replied, “I wanted to name it ‘come get me copper’ but the lawyers would not allow that, so I settled for ‘toxic orange’.” What a great name for blowing by a hidden highway patrol slightly above the speed limits. I have a “ticket me red” Corvette but the ticket count is five (my wife got two) for the Charger SRT8 and zero for the ’Vette.
On the fourth floor there was a hidden cake that is made in the likeness of a full sized Fiat.
By nine this event was in full swing with many people sitting in the Fiats on floors two and four. The car will get two people from point A to point B, but Americans seem addicted to excess baggage. I rode the subway one day during the event and marveled at the quantity of baggage some people need to survive the day.
When we took our first trip in the Charger, my wife started bringing things to go. After I rejected about four items she said, “I am not sure that I can take a trip in this car.” Fiat drivers will be required to pare down even more.
Ralph has a passion for the vehicles. The Charger was the last on stage. He said, “the Charger is so agressive that it makes vehicles parked on either side wet their pants.” These vehicles are definitely upgraded.
The color of the new interiors has been improved. "We banished what we used to call in the office 'rat-fur gray.' Y'know, you ever seen that gray color? We'll no longer make that color, it just won't exist,” said Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles. Interiors will have more color, "more chroma."
On the Dodge Avenger: The new powertrain "brings the fun back. ... Now it has the menacing look… and the power to back it up" with the 283 horsepower Pentastar engine. It gets 19 / 29 mpg with low-7-second acceleration. They redesigned the suspension, lowered the track, changed the brake linings, new springs, new sway bars… now, it is "absolutely a joy to drive."
The Grand Caravan: "We had to make it belong in the Dodge family." Dodge sold over 13 million Caravans, "but how can you make a minivan exciting, a little less of a tool and a little more of something you aspire to own." ... They revamped the suspension, added power, and the "interior is kind of a driver's office now. ... The gauges look like something more out of a Porsche than a minivan." For Stow 'n' Go, they raised back of the seat, made it more comfortable, and added one touch feature.
"I want vehicles to have souls, and we gave the Journey a soul," said Ralph Gilles, making it more fun to drive, improving the gauges, and rebuilding the interior. They spent over 2 1/2 years developing the technology for the oversized screen, which provides weather, real time traffic, etc. "People said it drove like a minivan, so we went after the suspension and stiffened it, it's night and day."
The Challenger SE was dramatically improved, partly by cutting out the smaller wheels and upgrading the suspension. Going from 6.1 to 6.4 in the SRT8 was done largely to make the MDS system possible. They gained a lot of torque along the way. "Still from 19 highway to 22 highway, pretty good for this kind of performance…"
One of the biggest complaints about the old Challenger was the steering wheel, which has been replaced. They benefitted from the 2011 Charger; they took the new suspension settings e.g. negative suspension camber, stiffer rear suspension, and new tires from Charger. Now it can achieve 0.93 lateral acceleration, and "it feels 500 pounds lighter as you drive it."
The Durango Sport was not originally planned, but was the result of a discussion with some of the younger Chrysler staffers, with the monochromatic look and lowered suspension. Gilles said he did not believe in base models, and now "every Durango looks good. We're differentiating with features, electronics, luxury items... We're making sure that everyone who buys a Durango, starting at around $30,000, has this experience."
The Durango Citadel has features some would never believe would be in a Dodge, and is aimed at buyers who would normally buy far more expensive cars; a special leasing program is being set up for them.
"I've been driving an early prototype of the Charger and there's been an unbelieveable response... we're really proud of this vehicle...we've included much more sex per pound." Visibility has been improved by 15%; in the back end, there are 164 LEDs. The dual exhaust is now standard, and you can get 20 inch wheels on any model. The interior was benchmarked against Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, which is why there are cloth-wrapped pillars and aluminum bezels even on entry models.
The Charger has 64 LEDs for taillights, Ralph says that from a distance the lights will identify it as a Charger, being the Charger’s night-time signature.
The Hemi is still there, but most effort went into the 292 horsepower Pentastar V6, which goes up to 27 mpg but still does 0-60 in less than eight seconds; the handling was completely revised; there's no brake dive, and the steering is no longer numb. Super Track Pack provides the same suspension that the SRT gets, on the R/T. The starting price is $25,995 including destination.
Olivier Francois started his speech by saying that Chrysler was on the crossroads between failure and greatness. "It's time to recontent a brand that has been decontented."
He also pointed out that good design involved not just styling the appearance, but also working with needs and cognition.
He started out by pointing out that nobody knew they needed a minivan until Chrysler launched theirs, 27 years ago. Now, he said, America needs -- this one. At that, a film of the new 2011 Chrysler Town & Country rolled, showing the elegant appointments of the extensively restyled minivan, the first to wear the new Chrysler wings.
Francois said they had improved the suspension, steering, and tires, improving both ride and handling, as well as the performance, with the new Pentastar V6 and the "highly efficient" six speed transmission. It delivers 25 mpg highway mileage, with a best in class 283 horsepower, in all models. It has new wheels, new fascias, new rear and, and new grille.
Inside, "that's where we get the best part of the story," with an upgraded dashboard, center stack, and gauges. "It totally changes the look and feel of the interior." Stow 'n' Go still has a power folding third row, and now the second row seats fold in with a single finger only. The leather was upgraded across the cabin, the steering wheel is heated.
"There is something even more important than performance, great, design, or comfort...safety." He noted that SafetyTech is standard on every Chrysler Town & Country, including blind spot monitoring, regardless of trim level. (This is not true of Dodge Grand Caravan.)
"We are not about to surrender the segment we have held since we invented it."
The D segment (midsized cars) is a prime example of how hard it is to regain a segment one has lost, Francois said. "We took our eyes off the ball. ... It had to be good, and it had to be now... the brief was simple: do everything." They needed beautiful design, with quality and purpose, ... within twelve months. He told engineers to look at "every thread, every weld, every stitch, every cut, every seam, every rivet, every collection, every seal, every valve, every spring, every chip, every line, every angle, every detail, I want this car to be stronger, tighter, faster, smoother, smarter, purer, bolder, sharper, louder, meaner, classier, sexier, I want it to be the Chrysler."
(At that, a white Chrysler 200 rolled out, almost silently; it sat in contrast with the black minivan.)
"A completely new front end...new wheel design, completely new rear end... what are we not giving you? The cheap plastic..." There are new fabrics, new instrument cluster, new dashboard, new steering wheel. "We fixed the ride, handling, performance, and NVH. We took care of the guts." It now has 283 horsepower with 29 mpg (highway).
The six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission will be available next year, and is the first Fiat powertrain component to be integrated into a Chrysler.
The speedometer and tachometer positions were reversed on the Charger; now, all cars have the speedometer on the right, and the tachometer on the left.
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