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by Jim Choate
Chrysler Group’s display at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show takes up the largest single contiguous amount of floor space of any automaker, including two separate test tracks — the familiar Camp Jeep and the City Drive track.
While almost every current model is represented on the show floor, there is a particular focus within each brand on Mopar accessories with several "Moparized" vehicles on display.
Chrysler’s centerpiece is the new Chrysler 200, with the 200C on the center display and 3 more models on the floor - another 200C, a 200S, and a Moparized 200S.
The new 200 is an attractive vehicle overall, with styling elements that flow and work together. That carries over into the interior, which was very comfortable in the front seats. The instruments were easy to read and the controls were easy to access. Placement of the HVAC controls may seem odd at first, but they fall to hand quickly.
The class-exclusive 9-speed is controlled by a easy-to-operate knob located on the center console — similar not only the 8-speed knob controller in the Ram pickups, but the knob controllers found in Jaguars and Land Rovers. More details on the new Chrysler 200 can be found on Allpar’s Chrysler 200 pages.
The new Chrysler 200’s rear seat does not pass the “Hrody test,” — Jim Hrody is six foot seven inches tall and well beyond the “80%” most automakers plan for. Once in, I’m good, but getting in and out of the rear seat is a bit tough. The A-pillar is right there, worse than my Dodge Stratus. Otherwise, it’s a very nice car.
The Chrysler 300 was represented by the 300S, Varvatos Luxury Edition, and the Varvatos Limited Edition - the Varvatos models effective replace last year’s Luxury and Limited models. While the 300 may appear a bit “old in the tooth” to some, it’s still an attractive vehicle and the new trims should attract a new more folks to the fold while we wait for the next 300. Interested folks can take a ride in the 300 on the City Track.
The Town & Country minivan was also in full force; on display were the 30th Anniversary Edition, the Touring L, and the S. The T&C remains a great people mover and family vehicle with comfortable seating, lots of room, and loads of convenience features.
Dodge is celebrating its 100th Anniversary with commemorative editions of the Challenger and Charger in a beautiful dark red color with special badging. Also shown is a Challenger Shaker Edition with the Mopar Shaker hood scoop, special seat embroidery, and more. A “Moparized” Challenger with Shaker scoop, hood pins, and more is on display, as is the Mopar ’14 Challenger.
The new Journey Crossroad — featuring unique fascias, body and interior trim, and blacked-out exterior bits — made its debut. The new trim gives the Journey a bit more of a rugged look - but the standard powertain is still the old 2.4L WGE mated to the old 4*TE 4-speed automatic, with the 3.6L Pentastar/62TE 6-speed automatic available.
Durango is the centerpiece vehicle on the turntable; it seems that consumers are finally finding the Durango to be a worthy vehicle — even Sergio Marchionne admitted to be surprised at the uptick in Durango sales.
Charger and Dart are represented with a couple models each, while the outgoing Avenger was nowhere to be seen. I was expecting (or perhaps hoping) for a bit more focus on the Dart with the new standard 2.4L powertrain so they could perhaps re-introduce it. There is at least a Dart GT on the City Track that folks can ride in (as well as a Charger and Durango.)
Dodge is also sponsoring the “last tour” of Motley Crue, so count on hearing the edited loop of “Kickstart My Heart” many times over while there.
Ram was touting their back-to-back Truck Of The Year wins, as well as the new 28MPG highway EcoDiesel Ram 1500. Half the display was to show off the consumer trucks, with the other half dedicated to the Ram Commercial trucks, including several examples of the ProMaster van.
Of note was a ProMaster 2500 Window Van with a Mobility Works Executive Shuttle Package. This package adds two sets of floor channels that accommodate a total of eight individual leather-trimmed removable seats, along with rear cabin area lighting and rear air conditioning.
While a nice package to cater to the shuttle market, it was missing one glaring item - grab handles at the side door opening to assist in getting in and out. Hopefully that was just an oversight, as the lack of a handle make it difficult to climb into the van (despite it being lower to the ground than Sprinters or Econolines).
Also shown is a Winnebago Travato RV based on a ProMaster 3500 chassis. The Travato is a well-equipped Class-B 20’ RV that was priced, in this example, at around $85,000.
The Ram C/V Tradesman minivan was being touted as the only minivan in its class with available rear air conditioning — which initially seems odd, but it’s focused at small businesses like floral delivery. (The signs are all the way at the end of this article.)
Fiat showed its 500 and 500L models, along with Moparized versions of each. Oddly, they displayed a 500 GQ Edition - I’m not quite sure how “GQ” the midwest is, but it’s there for those that want it.
Jeep tends to be the star of the show in Chicago, with the large Camp Jeep test track dominating the space. All the current models are on hand, with multiple trims of the Wrangler, Cherokee, and Grand Cherokee available; Patriot was limited to a single Altitude model, while Compass was limited to a single High Altitude model. Moparized Wrangler and Cherokee models are present, as well as a customized March Of Dimes Wrangler than is being given away.
Running out on the Camp Jeep track are Wrangler Unlimiteds, Grand Cherokees, and Cherokee Trailhawks.
I was able to spend some non-moving seat time in the Cherokee (a base model) and took a ride in one of the Trailhawks. Some folks may think that “it’s Dart-based, therefore all the things wrong with the Dart must apply to the Cherokee” — and they’d be very wrong.
While both the Dart and the CUSW-based new Chrysler 200 suffer from a tight rear sear area, the Cherokee does not. Ingress and egress to the rear seats was easy, and I found the interior, even in the base model, very comfortable. Sight lines are good all around; it doesn’t suffer from the same low-long A-pillar that the new 200 has.
On our Camp Jeep Trailhawk ride, I was seated in the rear behind my 6’7" friend and had no complaints about the space — the rear seat was moved as far back as possible. My friend would have had a little more headroom if not for the sunroof, but he had no complaints.
The Trailhawk had a little wheel slippage heading up the 35-degree 18-foot tall hill, but otherwise made it right up. Our driver (Tiffany, a long time “Jeep girl”) then took us down the hill — using only the Hill Assist feature. I watched as she engaged the Hill Assist and took her feet off the pedals, and the Cherokee slowly made the descent down the hill. (This, by the way, is where your driver will take your picture that you can have sent to you after your ride. Plan accordingly.)
Once off the hill, we encounter a “side hill” where the passenger side wheels go onto a hill at a 30-degree angle while the driver side wheels remain on the dirt. When coming off that side hill, we were told that the front passenger wheel would then be in the air - not surprising given the limited-articulation suspension of the Cherokee, and the Grand Cherokee does it as well — and Tiffany actually stopped at a point that allowed the Cherokee to “teeter totter” from front right to rear-left wheels once before moving forward and bringing all 4 wheels back to the dirt.
Next is a rocky riverbed type of terrain, and you’ll appreciate the thick skid plates on the Trailhawk, because it hit the rocks several times. From there it’s on to a new hill obstacle that does a bit of articulation flexing, and then back to the start.
I noticed in my Cherokee ride that the amount of head toss was greatly less than what I recall experiencing before in previous rides (Wrangler, Grand Cherokee, and Commander.) While I don’t think that this is the vehicle you want to tackle the Rubicon with, it’s certainly capable thanks to all of its gizmos.
For a short time, both a Trail-Rated Patriot and a Trail-Rated Compass were out on the track. It turns out that both needed an adjustment to the new articulation hill obstacle to make it through — we watched and it wasn’t a major change, but within the next 30 minutes they had reversed the change and had moved the MKs off the track. That shouldn’t be construed as a sign of weakness, but rather a sign that “Trail-Rated” is indeed not the same across vehicles.
Separated from the “home display” and on the completely other side of the convention space, were the SRT and Maserati displays.
SRT featured a Stryker Green Viper on a turntable. I felt that they were missing out on a great opportunity to let folks get in one for themselves - Chevy had three Corvettes with open doors by comparison.
Also featured was the #91 Viper from the recent 24 Hours of Daytona race in all its dirt-covered and banged-up glory, the Grand Cherokee SRT, and the new “Satin Vapor” trims available on the Charger SRT Super Bee, the Challenger SRT, and the 300 SRT. Worth noting that despite the dropping of the cylinder number from the naming scheme, the gauge faces in the 300 SRT still read “SRT-8.”
Maserati showed the new Ghibli, as well as the latest Quattroprote and Gran Turismo. Coming off the Super Bowl ad buzz, there always seemed to be a crowd at the Maserati booth. The Ghibli is a beautiful car, and it will be a shame that a good number of automotive pundits will complain about how the Ghibli is using Chrysler switchgear (like the headlight switch, the door window switches, and such). While in the Ghibli, the switchgear didn’t make the car seem “cheap” to me, but rather familiar, in a good way. Starting at $66,000, I believe Maserati has a hit with the Ghibli, and I’m hoping that leads to good things for the next Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger.
Unlike pre-2009 shows with flashy concept cars, this year’s show for Chrysler Group is more about “while the future is looking good, the present ain’t all that bad either.”
The 2014 Chicago Auto Show opened to the public on February 8, with hundreds of vehicles on display, more than 1 million square feet of show floor space, three indoor test tracks, and six outdoor test drives. The show runs until February 17, from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. each day (except on February 17, when it closes at 8 pm).
First staged in 1901, the Chicago Auto Show is the largest (in area) auto show in North America, and has been held more times than any other auto exposition on the continent.
Special programs include:
General admission is $12 for adults (ages 13-61), $6 for children (ages 7-12) and $6 for senior citizens (ages 62 and up). Any child 6 years or younger may enter the show free of charge when accompanied by a paying adult. Weekday discount tickets are available at area new-car dealers, participating Fifth Third bank locations, and Shell gas stations.
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