PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Despite today's big-SUV malaise, Chrysler marketers are optimistic they have a business case for the Aspen, their first SUV. It's the fraternal twin of the slow-selling Dodge Durango.
Chrysler says that 25 percent of the customers who leave the Chrysler brand do so because it has no SUV. Of those, 75 percent go to brands other than Dodge and Jeep.
The basics: The Aspen, which hits dealerships in mid-October, comes in two trim levels, the E package and upmarket J package. Each package is offered in four-wheel drive or rear-drive only.
Two engines are available: a 4.7-liter, 235-hp V-8 and 5.7-liter 335-hp V-8 Hemi with Chrysler's Multi-displacement System (MDS) that allows the engine to alternate between four- and eight-cylinder operation for fuel economy. There is only one transmission, a five-speed automatic.
Design: The Aspen's most distinctive design feature is its bold chrome egg crate grille, derived from the 300. The hood has Chrysler's distinctive strakes, grooves taken from the original Crossfire concept. The Aspen interior is loaded with wood-grain accents.
Notable features: Chrysler is offering a trailer-sway control system for towing. Chrysler claims it's the first such system in its class. The system works by monitoring the trailer's sway and modulating the engine and applying the brakes selectively to keep it from swaying out of control. The Aspen, which was introduced at a press event here this month, is available with eight seats.
What Chrysler says: The "300 of SUVs comes loaded with performance, premium amenities, and fuel-saving MDS technology."
Compromises and shortcomings: Even equipped with Chrysler's Multi-displacement System the Aspen will still burn plenty of fuel: The Hemi engine with 4wd achieves 19 mpg on the highway, 14 in the city.
The market: Chrysler believes the Aspen possesses the same kind of bling as the Cadillac Escalade, but it costs about $10,000 less. With prices ranging between $31,490 for a rear-drive E version and $39,225 for a loaded J, the Aspen is more likely to compete with the GMC Yukon and Ford Expedition.
The skinny: The Chrysler Aspen is a full-length dress arriving in a market that is flocking to miniskirts. But if customers buy into Chrysler's proposition that the Aspen offers more luxury for less money, it could be a surprise success, even if it's a modest one. c
You may e-mail Bradford Wernle at [email protected]