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2007 Chrysler Fleet Car Ride and Drive Event

by Jim Choate

I attended the Chicagoland 2008 DaimlerChrysler Fleet Ride & Drive event today [June 20, 2007]. DCX took up three conference rooms at the Holiday Inn Select in Naperville, IL and the event was filled. They ran through a presentation about all the vehicles available for fleet sales and hit fleet-centric highlights for each one. More interesting to me was that some options that aren't available in certain retail-spec models are available on fleet models.

The fleet guys were seeing success with the Avenger and Sebring in the corporate fleets. I noted that on the Avenger SE Fleet model, one can get the 2.7L V6 in either FFV or gas-only versions instead of the standard 2.4L World Engine - in retail-spec you have to move up to the SXT model to get the 2.7L V6 option.

Charger, 300, and Magnum were touted as holding their residual value better than the Ford Five Hundred or Chevy Impala - in the case of 2006 models with 60K miles, the Charger had almost $5000 more value over the Chevy Impala, and the 300 had almost $1800 more than the Charger. As in retail-spec, the Charger SE gets the 2.7 V6 as standard, with the 3.5L V6 as an option. The Magnum, however, doesn't get that option - to get the 3.5L V6, you have to move up to the SXT.

The fleet guys are very excited about the new minivans, and were really disappointed when they couldn't get one to bring to the event. They also mentioned here that, in an attempt to bolster residual values, they've cut back on the sales to rental car fleets - if I can read my notes correctly, I believe that since February 2007, they have not sold one minivan to a rental car fleet. They shows a video of the new Grand Caravan in action, and it's pretty darned impressive. One thing I noticed in the spec sheet is that the 3.3L V6/4-speed auto is standard in the SE with no option to upgrade. Moving to the SXT gets you the 3.8L V6 with the six-speed automatic, with an optional upgrade to the new 4.0L V6.

For 2008, the base model of the PT Cruiser gets the "LX" designation. Otherwise it soldiers on unchanged for the most part.

Like the PT Cruiser, the 2008 Sebring Sedan base model gets the "LX" designation. Unlike the Avenger, the Sebring Sedan has the 2.4L World Engine/4-speed auto as the standard powertrain on ALL trim levels. Touring models can upgrade to the 2.7L V6/4-speed, and Limited models can upgrade to the 3.5L V6/6-speed (which I believe was the case with the 2007 models as well.)

The 300 doesn't get the LX designation - the base 300 remains just that. 5-speed automatic remains available only with the 5.7L V8 on the 300C and with the 3.5L V6 on AWD models only.

Pacifica base becomes Pacifica LX, and the 4.0L/6-speed is available (apparently) on all trims - LX, Touring, and Limited.

The new Town & Country follows the Dodge Grand Caravan specs above. Base model is the LX, not to be confused with the SWB model from 2007.

On the new 2008 Dakota, the new 4.7L V8 will be available in SXT trim - at least for the fleet customers. Base powertrain is the 3.7L V6/6-speed manual. Four-speed automatics are options with either 3.7L V6 or 4.7L V8. The 4.7L V8 comes standard with the 5-speed automatic.

The 2008 Ram 1500 has a plethora of options too numerous to mention. Powertrains range from the 3.7L V6 with 6-speed manual or 4-speed auto, to the new 4.7L V8 with 6-speed manual or 5-speed auto, to the 5.7L V8 MDS with 5-speed auto, to the MegaCab 1500 with the non-MDS 5.7L V8 with the 5-speed auto.

The 2008 Ram 2500/3500 trucks can be had with the 5.7L non-MDS V8 and a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic (except the 3500 Quad SWB or 3500 MegaCab), the Cummins 5.9L I6 with 6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic (fleets only), or the Cummins 6.7L I6 with 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.

The Sprinter is very popular in the commercial fleet market - we were told that the 2007 model year run allotment is already sold out.

The Chrysler Aspen is apparently popular with higher-up managers and VPs in corporate fleets. Aspen gets the new 4.7L V8 or the 5.7L MDS V8, both backed by 5-speed automatics.

The Dodge Durango also gets the new 4.7L V8 as standard in 4x4 models, and in limited quantities it can be paired with the full-time NV244G2 4WD system. Base Durango 4x2 engine is the 3.7L V6 with 4-speed auto. The 5.7L MDS V8 is standard on the full-time 4WD models.

The Dodge Nitro - again, if I'm reading my notes right - offers the Load'N'Go floor on the SXT model for fleets - retail buyers need to step up to the SLT model to get it. The 4.0L V6 remains exclusive to the R/T model.

The Jeep Patriot is other model the fleet guys are really excited about. The 2.4L World Engine with 5-speed manual remains the standard powertrain, with the 2.0L World engine/CVT2 combo as an option (at retail, you get a $200 credit for going down to the 2.0L engine, but are forced to pay $1050 for the CVT2.) We were told there were a few fleets using Explorers and Trailblazers that were looking to downsize and looking closely at the Patriot.

The Compass is available with the same powertrains as the Patriot, minus the availability of FreedomDrive II. The Compass was largely ignored by most of the people in attendance here and was offered as the "substitute" when the Caliber and Patriot were out on test drives.

The big news for the Grand Cherokee was the new 3.0L CRD model, and they had one on hand. The CRD is only available in the Limited and Overland packages with the 5-speed automatic. Interesting is that they list the 4.7 and 5.7 V8s as being available with a "multispeed automatic."

The Commander continues unchanged, but also gets that "multispeed automatic" with the V8s.

They talked up the new Liberty a bit - mostly to say it was bigger and has more room behind the rear seats. They never mentioned the SkySlider roof at all, not was there one available to test drive.

Jeep Wrangler was big news as far as sales - but not so much for the fleet buyers.

As it was a DaimlerChrysler event, there was a Mercedes fleet rep on hand to talk about Mercedes car and SUV offerings for fleets. Mercedes is very high on the new C-Class, and for fleet buyers, the entry-level C-Class will come in around $30K - they are looking to make a dent in the "VP/SVP" company car market with this one. Virtually all the Mercedes cars and SUVs are available to fleet buyers - ranging from $30K to $500K - including the AMG models. (We all thought it amusing when the rep - with a straight face - pronounced the word "coupe" as "coo-pay" - he did slip once, which leads me to believe that "coo-pay" is the official Mercedes pronunciation.) There was an E-Class, CLS550, and an R320 CDI on hand for test drives - once you signed a waiver.

If there was one thing that resulted from the "merger" - it appeared to be Mercedes' new desire to get deeper involved in fleet sales. Overall, comments on the Cerberus buyout were positive - they are happy to still be working with Daimler on key projects, but also happy to be able to 'do their own thing.'

Mini-reviews of the players

Jeep Patriot

This was a Limited model with the FD1 4x4 system on it. It wasn't until the halfway point of my test drive that I remembered that this was the CVT2 I was driving - I had never driven a CVT-equipped vehicle until this time. That said a lot to me, as I didn't experience the "oddness" that some folks have with CVT operation. I pushed the pedal and it went - no hesitation, no problems. Interior was very nice - the center armrest seemed to come up a bit short for my taste, but overall I had no complaints about the interior. Well, one. My right leg would find itself resting against the center console. While a repositioning of the seat may cure that in the long run, it didn't cause any real problems overall. I really liked the Patriot.

Dodge Avenger

This was an SXT model, fairly well loaded, in black, with the spoiler. It looked good. It had the heated/cooled cupholder - I can see where a guy who works out of his fleet car might find it handy. The seats had the Yes Essentials fabric on them and felt hard initially - I felt like I was sitting on them rather than in them. By the end of the drive, it wasn't an issue and they felt fine. Controls were all reachable. Acceleration was good, even with the "old" 41TES and the 2.7L V6. My only complaint was when I headed back - this was around 11am and the sun came into the large front windows and struck the chrome trim around the shifter - and then was directed right into my right eye. This would be a recurring theme on the rest of the test drives - each one with the trim around the shifter would put the glare right into my eyes. That was the only issue I had at the end of the drive. Compared to my current 1998 Stratus, the Avenger has more "vertical" room, but it seemed like less "horizontal" room. And there's a lot of distance from the outside to the seat and vice versa - almost like I had to take an extra large step to get in and out. Pant legs and skirts will get grimy on the lower part of the car in the Avenger.

Dodge Nitro

The color was sharp - a very vibrant blue. All black interior - which made it very hot inside. I put it into reverse to back it up and...nothing. I'm used to a vehicle with an automatic starting to creep forward or backward when in gear and my foot is off the brake. Not the Nitro. I had to give it gas. Which leads to issue #2 - there's a bit of pushing until the truck moves, and then at that point it moves. Right now. I think I scared the people standing nearby - there was just not a smooth way to slowly back the truck up. [Editor's note: this may have been a problem with the particular vehicle driven as we did not experience that.] Got it moving foward - no smooth way to get going forward either - and proceeded to brake. Problem #3 - there was about 1.5-2 inches of pedal travel (it seemed) before the brakes began to apply. So, with my training out of the way, I moved on with the test drive. There's no big expanse of dash top between driver and glass like in the cars - which pretty much means no glare on the glass from the dash - that was nice. Center console was huge in width, as was the armrest. No good place to put my left elbow - sill was too high, armrest was too low. Make no mistake - the Nitro isn't some cute-ute SUV with car-like ride - this thing is and rides like a truck. On the plus side, the fact that the windows aren't very tall means they don't take long to roll up or down.

Dodge Charger SRT-8

I actually wanted to drive the 2.7L Charger they had, but it was out. The SRT-8 had comfortable seats, and a good dash and console layout. I was able to back it up and move out with little fanfare - I was trying to behave myself, after all. I moved towards the street and immediately hit the silly cruise control level that sits right above the turn signal stalk; I'd gladly give up the radio and info controls on the steering wheel for cruise control buttons. The area we were in is suburban, heavy commercial and retail, and heavy traffic. While were were told not to get on the nearby tollway, I was aware of the frontage road with little traffic. Left the light just fine, and then gravity took hold of my right foot. Quicker than I could say "sorry officer," I was doing 90 with no fuss and no drama. And just as quickly, I was back down to 45. Now that I got those demons out of my system, I could focus on the rest of the car. Other than the "glare on the trim" issue as before, I had no complaints - this was just a very nice car.

Dodge Caliber

I'm not sure if it was because this example was beat on more than others, but the Caliber did not impress me. In fact, it didn't compare to the Patriot at all in my mind. The textured dash reflected in the glass and was annoying, the lid for the SRS seemed to be a different shade than the rest of the dash, and that annoying "CVT-ness" was fully present and accounted for here. The 2.0L made more noise than I recall the 2.4L making in the Patriot. The power was fine overall, but I just did not get the same feeling overall with the Caliber that I did with the Patriot. It seemed a lot cheaper (and likely was - Caliber SXT versus Patriot Limited 4x4) - but it did show me just how much two vehicles that were very similar under the skin could have a very different experience overall.

Both the Patriot and Avenger are on my 'future vehicle' list - I was impressed with both. My initial impression of the Avenger at the Chicago Auto Show wasn't all that good - there were fit and finish issues - and it's nice to see those have been addressed. The Patriot flat-out impressed me, and after looking at the pricing, it's got to be one of the best bargains in the business today.

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