by Jim Choate • based on test drives
It's a darn shame that the Sebring has been buried by the mass media and the collective automotive blogosphere as a whole, because it's a very comfortable and nice to drive car. This model was equipped with the 2.4L GEMA engine and the 4-speed automatic. The additional sound deadening material makes a big difference - there is little road noise in the cabin at traveling speeds (40-55MPH). Shifts were smooth, downshifts happened at the push of the pedal, but I could tell that the torque is a little father up in the powerband. For most drivers, though, it wouldn't be an issue.
The ride isn't rough or too wallowy at all - I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. Seems to me that the biggest hurdle - aside from the media comments - are the looks. The styling is something that not everyone will like, and that goes for the interior as well as the exterior.
For 2010, it appears that Sebring and Avenger will get standard ABS. Fleets can still get the 2.7L Flex Fuel engine.
The Sebring and the 300 both featured the integrated nav stereos. I'm a bit of a tech geek and can usually figure out a system's operation pretty quickly. Not so here. I never did find the method to adjust sound tone and balance/fade. Nothing I'm sure some time with the manual wouldn't cure, of course - but it was a bit frustrating 'on the fly.' The Patriot, Journey, and Challenger had the 'standard' radios with AM/FM/CD/Sirius - one quibble is "why no HD Radio?" - but that's more of a personal issue.
This is the long-wheelbase 300, and the test model was in a very dark black with black leather interior. Executive, indeed. Not sure if it was the rear-view mirror or just me, but when looking into the mirror that rear glass was a loooooong way back there. It's a nice enough car, but I came away with indifference. It was very nice looking, but wasn't what I'd call 'fun to drive'. Perhaps I was expecting more. Looking towards the future, if the 200C gets built on the shorter L wheelbase, the next 300 should move exclusively to the longer wheelbase.
Ever since my last drive in a Journey SE, I wanted to experience it again to see if indeed the base model was acceptable to me. I can deal with the manual adjusted seat (the Sebring and 300 had power seats) and it also adjusted for height, which I liked a lot. Visibility out the front was good, except for the thick A-pillars. (That's not a dig on the Journey, per se - every vehicle I tested suffered from the same issue, and I believe they are thicker to meet rollover and roof crush specs.)
As in the last Journey I drove, my right knee found the bottom left corner of the center stack. It wasn't a comfort issue - I was aware it was there, but it wasn't bothersome at all. I was able to adjust the seat and the telescoping steering wheel to minimize this, so that was good. I parked and crawled in and around the rear seats and cargo area, and this could work as a family hauler for me without question. Ease of entry and exit was good, the seats were comfortable, and the cargo area seemed pretty usable.
After experiencing the 2.4L/4-speed auto powertrain in the Sebring, I was a bit let down in the Journey. Perhaps it was the age of the vehicles, the more abundant sound deadening in the Sebring, or the fact the Journey weighs a bit more...but where the powertrain in the Sebring was smooth, in the Journey it was a bit louder and coarser. Downshifts didn't happen as quickly, and the engine felt like it was working much harder. Overall I like the Journey, but I think I'd want to try driving a newer model to see if the powertrain feel was improved at all.
I'm not sure of the trim level on this tested - pretty sure it wasn't a Limited, but there were no base wheels and no 4x4 badging. On the outside, the Patriot doesn't appear that much smaller than the Journey. On the inside, you can tell it's a bit more snug, but it wasn't cramped at all. Like the Journey, my right knee found the bottom corner of the center stack and readjusting things minimized that issue.
For 2010 - and this may be across the line or fleet only, it wasn't made clear - the 2.4L is standard in Patriot and Compass. The 2.4L/CVT2 powertrain felt very good - I'm not sure why some folks find issue with it, or feel that it's underpowered. Unless you are paying specific attention and listening for it/watching the tach, the CVT2 operation isn't all that noticeable. That is, until I did a quick acceleration test and was greeted with a good amount of torque steer - something I'd never felt in the Patriot, Compass, or Caliber before.
As with the Journey I did a crawl-around, and decided that the Patriot could also serve as my family hauler. Less cargo space than the Journey, of course. The exposed seat rails, when viewed from the rear seat, were quite noticeable. Since it's a Jeep, it didn't concern me all that much - but it was something that I would expect to be covered on a Limited model (and I'm not sure if they are or not.) I did find myself thinking how it would be if the Patriot's 2.4/CVT2 powertrain was available in the Journey.
I had driven a Challenger SRT8 model last year, but really wanted to experience the V6 model. Luckily they had one available. This one was done in Deepwater Blue and was outfitted with plenty of Mopar add-on accessories (Katzkin white leather seats with blue trim and Challenger embroidery, aluminum door sill panels, matte black stripe on the sides, and black spoiler.) I had forgotten how narrow the view is out the front window (it's even narrower than the 300 - at least it appears to be), and when I raised the seat height I found myself starting at the sun visors. A bit lower, and I was on my way.
The first thing I noticed on start up was a bit of growl from the exhaust - very nice. The SE is very nice to drive overall - I had heard from some folks that the suspension on the SE was a bit 'loose' but I didn't feel that at all. During all my test drives, I turn onto a local 45MPH stretch of road and accelerate quickly - the Challenger SE actually chirped the tires while making the turn, before I even began heavy acceleration. That was a bit of a surprise. This was an enjoyable ride, and I could easily see myself with an SE as a daily driver. The downside is that the rear seat is a bit cramped - a bit of concern when my 14-year-old is a bit taller and bigger than I am. But hey, in two years he gets his license and then he can drive himself around, right?
One change that is happening is more customer involvement - there will be opportunities for existing fleet customers to participate in testing of new options/models - ENVI was pointed as one particular area for this. The Dodge Circuit is set to be the first ENVI production vehicle. Town & Country was mentioned as well - at the same time they spoke of increasing the payload on the next minivans to 2000lbs - up from 1500lbs today. I took this to mean that by upping payload to 2000, they could accommodate a 500lb battery pack and still be able to tout a 1500lb payload - but I could be wrong. Had the timing been a little different/better, there was a chance that the T&C EV would have been available for us to drive - that would have been interesting. They spoke a little about the 200C, but no information on possible production.
Chrysler is committed to Sprinter through at least 2011. Fiat does have a similar offering, but since Sprinter is now established and is doing well overall, they may opt to continue that arrangement with Mercedes. Sprinter's diesel gets Bluetec starting in 2010.
It was also stated that "Durango will return on the Mercedes GL platform." The Mercedes GL and Grand Cherokee were “co-engineered.”
Someone asked about diesels and why they are not offered in the States. The respond was that they are not seeing enough demand, but with diesel now cheaper than gas in more areas, they may begin to see that change. They also noted that Fiat offers small passenger car diesels and that could also influence what they offer in the future.
One of the conditions for Fiat getting another 5% of Chrysler is to put a car on the market that is rated at 40MPG - it's thought that this will be the first "Chrysler Fiat" model that will appear - putting a "top hat" of the Dodge Hornet onto the Fiat 500 was mentioned.
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