most coverage by Jim Choate, Contributing Editor • final edition
A big change from the quiet and subdued 2010 Chicago Auto Show, the Chrysler Group display was busier, brighter, and well staffed with people excited about the products and the future.
Jeep returned with its “test ride” course and giant 60-foot hill, featuring Wrangler Unlimiteds and Grand Cherokees. It might be nice if they created a slightly smaller hill for the not-quite-as-capable-but-still-worthy-of-consideration Compass and Patriot to play, too.
Looking much improved in pictures, but very good in real life, is the refreshed Compass. The awkward front end design is gone, replaced by a “Grand Cherokee Jr” face that immediately brings the Compass upscale. Add in the improved interior design from back in 2009 (which seemed to get overlooked quite a bit) and the new availability of Freedom Drive II, and you now have a credible offering for folks that might have wanted a Grand Cherokee but couldn’t swing the payments.
The Patriot gets a slight refresh as well which should hold it over until its replacement arrives in a couple of years. The Liberty was represented by a “Jet” model - perhaps a sign that more folks are interested in the Liberty as a “street Jeep” rather than an off-road Jeep. Short of the Jet package, the Liberty carries on unchanged.
The new Grand Cherokee was shown with a “70th Anniversary” package - signified by badging on the doors and seats - and the Wrangler was shown in two ways; a white Unlimited and the Call Of Duty: Black Ops edition 2-door. The COD:BO model was being used by folks from Mopar to show off various Jeep accessories by having them installed live on the show floor.
Ram’s big news was indeed big - 800, 30,000, and 22,700. Those numbers reflect the new capabilities of the upgraded Cummins 6.7L High Output diesel engine when backed by an updated and upgraded automatic transmission.
800 foot pounds of torque is now delivered. Chevy and Ford had been playing a leapfrog game with their ratings, and Ram stepped in and raised the bar. That torque allows the Ram HD models to achieve a 30,000lb GVWR, and to tow up to 22700lbs. You’ll be able to tell these big boys from the HO badge on the tailgate, the finned aluminum cover on the rear differential, and the sudden lack of tree stumps in your local area.
The other news from Ram is the debut of the Tradesman model. Geared towards traditional work truck buyers, the Tradesman offers a solid basic work truck with a standard 5.7L Hemi V8 for a price ($22780) similar or less than V6-equipped models from other automakers. Chicago is a big “work truck” market, and it’s safe to say that there were more folks swarming around the Tradesman than any other pickup truck I can recall in recent history.
There’s another side to the Tradesman that some folks may not consider - it’s got 2 doors and a powerful V8 engine, which is just enough for some folks to satisfy their quarter-mile cravings. I like it because it goes right back to the days of when pickup trucks were basic and tough, with vinyl or cloth seats, rubber floor covering without carpet, and crank windows. The only thing that would complete the trip back in time would be the removal of the rear step bumper.
The Ram launch started with a video that had no words untl the end, when Sam Elliott growled, “It’s guts. It’s glory. It’s Ram.” Then another video, showing abstract workmen, and the new Ram 1500 Tradesman drives onto the stage.
Fred Diaz, CEO of Ram, is introduced. “The year of the Ram Truck Brand,” Diaz says, a somewhat awkward phrase.
The Ram 1500 Tradesman was set up for commercial use, a “hardworking truck for hardworking people.” Diaz stressed its dependability, starting with the 5.7 Hemi engine with 390 horsepower and 407 lb-ft of torque with 20 mpg on the highway. It is more capable and highly capable than the competition’s V6, and comes with a class IV hitch, 17 inch wheels, and more, with up to 10,400 lb of towing, best in class of entry level full size pickups. It has 1660 pounds of payload, will be available in the second quarter with short or long beds.
Jim Choate noted that the attention given to the Tradesman was unprecedented for a low-end truck, in his experience. The starting price is $22,780 including destination — for a full sized V8 pickup.
Sam Elliott will continue to be the voice of Ram. “We’re committed to making Ram the most capable and durable line of trucks.” Diaz noted the importance of the link coil suspension, unique in the industry, and the five year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
The Ram Outdoorsman was designed by in-house fisherman, hunters, campers, and boaters, for fishermen, hunters, campers, and boaters; demand has been far higher than projected. Diaz pointed out the Laramie Longhorn — “consumer response and initial sales are already off the charts.” In 2010, Ram brand sales were up 9% over 2009, with pickups going up by 13%. Ram gained more than five points of market share, he said.
Heavy duty truck owners can’t get enough capability, Diaz said; “It’s like adrenaline.” They keep wanting more.
Then the launch of the Cummins: 22,700 lb of towing capacity, as predicted by Detroit News (quoted by Allpar this morning), with 800 lb-ft of torque. It will be standard on all Ram 2500 and 3500 models with automatics. Maximum gross combined weight rating is now 30,000 pounds, best in class.
Peak horsepower remains unchanged: 350 hp at 3,000 rpm. However, new calibration delivers more than 40 hp more at typical cruising speeds. The 800 lb-ft engines also have a new crankshaft damper to reduce noise and vibration; trucks so equipped will get a “high output Cummins” badge on the tailgate.
The extra power is handled by a new, higher-rated torque converter which is better integrated for higher towing capability; the computer has also been recalibrated, with Ram claiming better engine-transmission integration. In addition, a new dual-rear wheel axle with 4.10 gear ratio, new rear-axle pinion, new helical gears, upgraded bearings, and finned aluminum differential cover are used with the maximum towing package; a new engine-mounted oil-to-coolant transmission cooler and upgraded power steering oil coolers will also be used.
Ram has the largest brakes in its class. The most powerful exhaust brake in its class is standard.
The system does not use urea. Ram is the only heavy duty pickup that does not require a diesel exhaust fluid.
The high tow ratings meet all 2013 model-year SAE standards.
The tag line for Dodge is “Never Neutral.” The display is filled with static and animated quotes of “what Dodge believes” - some of them like “We hope stick shifts never die” seem a bit odd when you consider than the only cars Dodge offers with a stick shift in North America are the Challenger and the Caliber models.
For 2011, Dodge revealed a new “R/T” lineup of models. Ralph Gilles stated in his introduction that they pretty much trashed the “R/T” name, reducing it to not much more than another trim level. It’s still pretty much just another trim level still, but they’ve tried to put some effort into making it mean something more. While power levels might not be different from standard in all R/T models, the suspension tuning and options try to make up for it.
There are 5 R/T models: Charger, Challenger, Journey, Durango, and Grand Caravan. Charger and Challenger we all know and love, and the Journey has had an R/T model already but now gets an improved interior and the Pentastar V6 to go along with it. After a few “Caravan R/T” concepts, there is now a Grand Caravan R/T available for sale. Internally called “the Man Van”, it features an all-black interior with red trim on the seats, an upgraded sound system, suspension tweaks and specific wheels and tires. It’s pretty obvious that the minivan segment has shrunk; fashion sense and “what other people see me as” has pushed buyers away from minivans into crossovers and SUVs. Chrysler has found that while men appreciate the minivan for what it can do, women dislike it because of what it “represents” — so now they are courting the guys with a “mas macho” looking minivan.
And returning after a hiatus is the Durango R/T - but instead of the old 5.9L V8 from days gone by, it’s the updated 5.7L HEMI wrapped up in a pretty good looking body with seating for 7 and the ability to tow quite a bit. What was offered up as a bit of a throwaway, but what might be the best kept secret, was the Durango Heat. The Heat model is the R/T without the projector headlamps, the Hemi, and without the 3rd row of seating. What that gives you is a lighter Durango with a huge cargo area and decent power with better fuel economy. Or, in other words, a perfect alternative for Dodge dealers to offer up to buyers that absolutely positively will NOT buy a minivan. Well played, folks.
Ralph Gilles pointed to a USA Today “wrap” ad that arrived in his hotel room in the morning, part of the “never neutral” campaign. “Sure it costs a lot of money, but that’s okay.” As for what they are planning to do when the brand goes to 100? “Go back to our roots a bit.”
Gilles introduced the new Green With Envy color on the Challenger SRT8.
“We’ve abused R/T over the years, we’ve slapped it on everything...” but now Dodge is planning to make it mean something. R/T, though, is on Durango, Charger, Challenger, Journey, even the minivans. Grand Caravan R/T (internally called the “man van”) is in the middle of the price class, but it “has everything so you can do anything.” Only half of minivan customers have kids.
The basic idea is that as people have to move from performance cars to other types of vehicles, for whatever reason, they don’t have to give up as much in driving experience.
With the Grand Caravan, the entire interior is black and the exterior has no chrome. The sound system was upgraded. It's okay if normal minivan customers are “scared away” — it’s an experiment, trying to get a new market. It already has the most powerful engine in the class, but the suspension is greatly retuned. The system is around 20% stiffer and might be increased another 40%. “It can actually outhandle some of our sedans” and “put a big grin” onto Gilles’s face.
The new Journey R/T has the same treatment, it gets 26 mpg, has a body color grille, new wheels, very businesslike interior, tweaked the suspension a little bit.
With the Durango R/T, engineers told Ralph they wouldn’t drive the regular Durango because it was too “serious.” They came up with the idea of an ultimate-performance seven passenger SUV, to quote one of the engineers. The chassis was lowered 20 mm, the Hemi is included, towing capacity is best in class. Handling is not far from a sports sedan, one engineer claimed. It’s all monochrome, it has black headlamp cans, standard HID headlamps (though it's below Crew and Lux price classes), 20 inch wheels with dedicated three-season tires for “phenomenal” lateral acceleration (all seasons are available).
It can tow 7,400 lb, and thanks to its aerodynamics, it stays in four cylinder mode fairly often when power isn’t needed. Perforated suede is used to keep the normal leather in place, with custom embroidered stitching throughout. “Pretty amazing value. We hope we put the sport back into sport utility.”
The Durango Heat is for those who want a six-cylinder instead of the Hemi, it has an extra five horsepower, it’s two row only to keep it light, and comes with all the R/T items except the HID headlamps, and starts at $30,500 plus destination.
The 2011 Dodge Charger “has an amazing amount of performance,” so beating it was hard. “It’s the quiestest car we ever made.” The interior was designed to be “the enthusiast’s office” with “some of the best materials we’ve ever put into a vehicle” with custom three spoke wheel and special seats to keep you from sliding around. There’s an optional high-contrast red interior.
The sound system has their first 19 speaker, 900 watt, custom tuned system — “I thought our Alpine system was pretty good” but this is “incredible, there’s no distortion, it’s probably the best sound system I’ve ever heard in a car without amplifying systems.”
The UConnect screen now connects to the Performance Pages, a more convenient location, “and we’re going to have a lot of fun with this.”
There are many technologies, taking all the Charger R/T features, adding paddle shifts, radar cruise control, and more -- the only option is the sunroof. It’s “the most technologically advanced Dodge ever.”
The appearance was designed to be more aggressive than regular Charger, it shows what they’re planning to do with Ram, has projector fog lamps. The body kit accentuates the natural Coke-bottle styling.
The hood is functional (as predicted by Allpar) — instead of a scoop (which is more about looking good than performance according to Gilles) relieves negative pressure under the hood which actually helps cornering at speed. It makes 5 hp less than a 392 but gives up nothing in actual performance; the new engine is all about torque, which is moved “way, way down” in the torque curve. At the lower rpm range, there’s an 80-90 lb-ft torque improvement.
They used an active manifold, new for SRT8, cam phasing similar to Viper but the entire cam moves, cylinder deactivation for an incredible increase in gas mileage, and active exhaust. (It’s also a “3.2 four cylinder” and can cruise in four cylinder mode long into extra-legal speeds). City mileage went up over 15% and highway over 25%, and it can be exceeded, without giving up anything in overall performance.
Chrysler is up next, and with only 3 models in the lineup now (200, 300, and Town & Country) the space was only about twice as large as Fiat’s. The 200 was well represented with Touring and S models of both the sedan and convertible on display, as well as the “Moparized 200” shown in Detroit.
The interior of the 200 is much improved over the now-discontinued Sebring in execution, design, and materials. The 200 convertible still suffers a bit in the rear seating area with cheap-looking plastic all around, but the front passenger area is a pleasant place to be.
The 300 was represented by a base model - although it’s really hard to call it “base” - the new 300 also benefits from a much-improved interior design and better materials, and the old 2.7L 190HP V6 and 4-speed automatic have been banished and replaced with the hot new Pentastar V6 and 5-speed automatic. A 300C AWD model was also present, with a bit more chrome and style.
Another 300C was on display showing the optional “Bentley-style” grille available from Mopar, along with 22 inch wheels that showed a lot of empty space around the rather small-looking brake rotors. The new Town & Country is quite good looking, and no one I heard was lamenting the loss of Swivel’N’Go seats. The new ‘premium’ Stow’N’Go seats are much more comfortable than the standard ones as well.
When approaching the display area, Fiat is the first brand you’ll encounter. Featuring several new Fiat 500 models, along with a 1970 Fiat 500 for reference, it’s an open and bright area that will attract attention.
The 500 itself is an attraction all its own - much has been written about its small size (6 inches shorter than a MINI Cooper, two feet longer than a smart fortwo), but in person it doesn’t seem all that small overall. I was able to get into the 500 much easier than my own personal car (a 1998 Dodge Stratus, built back when you had to drop down to get seated in a car) and found the front passenger area to be decently roomy.
The interior is of a simple design - a nice change of pace from some of the distracting interior designs of late - and visibility was good. I stepped out and my cohort, Jim Hrody (who stands about 6’7” tall,) got in. While there was little headroom to speak of for Mr. Hrody, he also found the front passenger area well-sized. (For a bit of fun, we also took a picture of Mr. Hrody standing next to the 1970 Fiat 500 - now THAT is a small car.) One of our contributors took a spin in a new Fiat 500 and compared it to his first-generation Neon - you can read that article here at Allpar.
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