by David Zatz
(Model year) 2015 ushered in unheard-of power, with a new 707 horsepower engine that easily outclassed any reasonable competition, and could race all day without failing or throttling back; but there were also some cars expected but not seen. Mainly, the model year was a hit, with the Hellcat Challenger and Charger increasing large-car sales (partly by increasing showroom traffic and Dodge’s “cool factor”), the Jeep Renegade taking off, and most other cars and trucks keeping up their pace.
The down sides were the failure of the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart to gain traction, losses in minivan sales (partly due to a factory closing), no sign of the expected replacements for the Jeep Compass and Dodge Journey, and the quiet loss of the Ram Cargo Van.
Thanks to Dan Minick, oh2o, and Mopar392.
The eye-catching news for large Dodge cars was the supercharged 6.2 “Hellcat” Hemi pushing out 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque through an eight-speed automatic (the Challenger also had Viper’s manual six-speed). The Hellcat was able to keep going at the track on hot days, while the hot Chevys ran out of steam quickly, with the engine computers dialing back on their power; Hellcat cars were engineered with better cooling and didn’t fall victim to power cuts.
All the large cars (Dodge Charger and Challenger, Chrysler 300) got a seven-inch color trip computer, new steering wheel buttons to help configure it, UConnect 2, eight-speed automatics on all engines (except Charger Pursuit), and new headlights. The eight-speed increased gas mileage and acceleration, on the V8s; it had already been standard with the V6 (except on the Challenger). The effect was much more pronounced on the V6, versus the old Mercedes five-speed, but the Hemis still did better with the newer automatic.
Dodge Challenger moved to its new LA platform, with a new 6.4 liter Dodge “Scat Pack” package. Two Dodge Challenger SRTs provided a choice of the same 6.4 and the supercharged 6.2. See our 2015 Challenger page.
2015 Dodge Charger got much the same changes as the Challenger, gaining a 6.4 Scat Pack as well as a 6.4 and 6.2 SRT. Top Chargers had Performance Pages, previously limited to the SRT, showing performance statistics and allowing some tuning changes. The Charger’s front gave up its “snout” for a Dart/Durango look; the interior was reworked; but the basic platform/architecture remained the same.
Chrysler 300 had similar changes with modest alterations to the exterior, and a dashboard redone to look more like the 200, with the rest of the interior updated somewhat. The Chrysler 300 SRT8 never showed up except in some offshore markets.
The 300 sold fairly well in a flagging U.S. market for full-sized sedans, and cutting out the lowest trim level hurt sales somewhat but made leases more profitable.
The “all new” (not really: engines, transmission, and basic platform and architecture were all used before) 2015 Chrysler 200 was essentially a lengthened, heavily modified Dodge Dart or, if you prefer, a sedan version of the Jeep Cherokee. It handled better than the older 200, was more economical, had more tech features, and was quieter inside, but cost more and carried the same engines (though with a nine-speed automatic); some complained that entry to the back seat was awkward and rear head room was lower. See our 2015 Chrysler 200C review.
The 200’s old stable-mate, the Dodge Avenger, was dropped.
The Dodge Dart had minor upgrades for 2015, including a $775 package for the base SE package to add air conditioning and power equipment. Three new colors were added, “Laser Blue,” “Vitamin C,” and “Passion Red.” At launch, the Dart SE started at $17,490; the top end Limited ran to $23,990. There was also a high-mileage Aero and the higher-performance GT.
The 2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia was announced in 2015 in top-end Quadrifoglio form, boasting 510 horsepower in Europe and 505 horsepower in the United States. The setup was developed by FCA corporate, including Italian and American engineers, and will be adopted by Dodge; it is the basis for many future Alfa Romeos if the money holds out.
The car is set up to have a twin turbo V6 engine as its top powerplant, ruling out any thought of Hemis. Chrysler has been working on a twin turbo Pentastar V6 (the Giulia uses a Ferrari derived powerplant, while Maserati uses a Pentastar derived engine), as well as a 2-liter turbocharged four cylinder, which are likely to make it into Dodges.
Dodge Journey/Fiat Freemont soldiered on, with their replacements somewhere in the future.
Sales flagged somewhat for both Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans, partly due to a three month factory shutdown starting around January, in which the plant was thoroughly worked over to prepare for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. Together, they still hit sales of around 191,000 (39% market share). Separately, they came in behind both Honda (127,736) and Toyota (137,497), though easily beaing Kia (36,755).
The Dodge Viper gained five horsepower and became a Dodge again, rather than an SRT; the aero packages Allpar predicted to improve downforce and perhaps slightly more power arrived as the Viper ACR. In union negotiations, it turned out that the Conner Avenue would be closed in 2017; Sergio Marchionne said in January 2016 that there might be a new Viper someday, but it would not share the same chassis.
The Jeep Renegade was imported to the US from Italy and is also made in Brazil for Latin America; a Chinese version is to be produced as well, for local markets. We found it to be a fun package but not especially well sorted out, at least in the early models.
Jeep Wranglers continued to be 4x4 only; mail carriers could opt for a right-hand-drive Sport Unlimited at $36,190. That's around $5,000 more than the usual Sport Unlimited.
Wrangler buyers got a standard eight-speaker audio system with a new sound bar, and an optional Premium Alpine Audio Package that included nine Alpine speakers, a new subwoofer (now under the cargo floor), and a 552-watt amplifier. A standard tool kit included T-30, T-35, T-40 and T-50 torx heads, a ratchet, and a storage pouch, to help buyers take off the doors, roof, and front bumper end caps (on Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock Edition).
The Jeep Compass Altitude Package and Jeep Patriot Compass Package was now available on FWD and AWD models; it had a “blacked out” theme. A new “High Altitude” package was available for AWD automatics (not Trail Rated), with leather, a power sunroof, power six-way driver seat, and 17-inch bright aluminum painted wheels. Eco Green Clear Coat replaced Rugged Brown, and a dome light replaced the gadgety removable flashlight.
The little Jeeps, made in the same plant as the Dodge Dart, started at $17,490 for the Patriot Sport FWD and ended at $28,990 for the Compass Limited AWD. Generally, AWD added $2,000 to the price, and Patriot was $1,500 to $2,300 cheaper than equivalent-level Compass, though it had more space and looked “more like a Jeep.”
The Jeep Cherokee continued with fuel economy improvements, thanks only partly to the engine stop-start system (ESS) on the V6. That setup included a hefty battery and special starter.
(Our Cherokee review)
The 2.4 liter engine was certified as a Partial Zero Emission Engine (PZEV) in the 14 states that had adopted California clean air rules; engineers had to revise the fuel tank, fuel filler neck, air cleaner, engine downpipe, vapor purge canister, and fuel cap.
A backup camera and automatic headlamps were standard on Latitude and Trailhawk. Other new 2015 Jeep Cherokee features were:
Ram finally added the ProMaster City small van to the lineup; the big ProMaster continued with the diesel finally entering production. The Ram Cargo Van, priced at $22,000, was unchanged until it was quietly, very quietly, dropped, and for good reason: the ProMaster City (review) started to outsell it, by a good margin, and at a higher price. The compact van was originally to just be an import, but ended up with the Chrysler 2.4 engine and ZF nine-speed, for 29 mpg highway, better space, better handling, and a surprising fun factor.
Many buyers eschewed any thought of a ProMaster and were excited instead of the launch of the Ram Rebel, a mild reworking of the basic Ram 1500 with a new appearance, higher standard ride height, and other changes — including standard skid plates. The Rebel was not meant to compete with top-end off-road vehicles (such as the Ram Power Wagon), but provided a more capable out of the box solution than a normal Ram; it was reportedly based on aftermarket items frequently purchased or requested by owners and dealers. [see related interviews]
Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups gained 15 lb-ft with the Cummins engine thanks to greater fuel flow and turbo calibrations, with one Hemi increasing its payload by 100 lb based on new SAE-standard testing. Ram 1500 changes include a new welcome screen for SLT (with Luxury Group) and Laramie, and a new paint, Black Forest Green.
As expected, Jeep set an all-time US sales record.
Annual US sales were up 7% over 2015, an impressive showing and the sixth consecutive year of sales growth for FCA, which had been spiraling downwards when owned by Daimler.
Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram rose in US sales. Fiat fell by 8%, due at least partly to weakness in small cars in general; Dodge fell by 10% due mainly to the loss of the Avenger (51,705 in 2014, 1,268 in 2015) and lost Caravan sales (down from 134,152 to 97,141). Only 676 Vipers rolled off the lot, down from 760 in 2014, despite lower pricing.
Cars with rough matches: US sales
FCA started to rely more on fleet sales, possibly due to increased Ram popularity. For the year as a whole, both GM and FCA saw a 22% fleet mix.
FCA Canada hit the highest sales since Maxwell Motors of Canada was founded, with 293,061 cars and trucks moving out of showrooms — just 3,057 more than in 2014, but enough for both a record and a place as the top selling car company in Canada.
Jeep had more than a 13% gain, with total sales of 79,680, beating its prior annual sales record as far back as November; the Jeep Cherokee was the sales leader each month of the year, and took over a third of total Jeep sales.
Ram set an annual record with 96,744 sales, up by 3% from 2014 (Ram pickups were the country’s second best selling vehicle; they rose by 4%).
The company’s minivans were responsible for 2/3 of all Canadian minivan sales, the bulk going to Dodge.
Sales went up by 11% (including Fiat, Alfa Romeo, and Mitsubishi), the best annual sales since 2009. Dodge sales rose by 25%, Fiat by 30%, and Ram by 46%, with Wrangler setting its best annual sales. Total Mexican sales, including Mitsubishi and a greater Fiat presence, were around 1/3 of Canadian sales.
European Jeep sales shot up from 41,415 (in 2014) to 88,211 (in 2015) across Europe, making it FCA’s second most popular brand in the continent..
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