Chrysler group rolls out big changes

Ram.



Ram

Ram.

Chrysler 200.



Chrysler 200

Chrysler 200.

Caliber.



Caliber

Caliber.

Wrangler Unlimited.



Wrangler Unlimited

Wrangler Unlimited.

QUICKREAD

Chrysler

chrysler.com

Hot news for 2011: Everything is hot, actually, since there’s so much work going on in the new-product department of this Fiat-controlled company. • New Chrysler 200 replaces the Sebring, but uses the same bones. • New “Pentastar” V6 with about 280 horsepower. • 300 returns with an eight-speed transmission.

Carryover: None

Gone: Sebring

Starting line

•  In just a few year, Chrysler has gone from being owned by a German company, to private ownership, to being owned by an Italian company that happens to be one of the largest automakers in world. But now what? Having gone through bankruptcy and bailout in 2009, the biggest issue seems to be getting new product on the market for people to actually test drive and buy. And the best news, here, is that parent Fiat actually wants to build cars. Our insiders at Chrysler say there’s a ton of work going on behind the scenes, but that no one is going to know — or tell — exactly what until later in the year. We do know that there’s a new-ish 200 is based on the previous front-wheel-drive Sebring sedan platform, but with much smoother front and rear styling and LED lamps. The sides appear unaltered from the Sebring, although there are new mirrors. New Chrysler owner Fiat obviously felt that there was enough worth in the Sebring platform to use it as a jumping off point for the 200, as opposed to beginning with something brand new or even Fiat based. Underneath, there have been a number of structural enhancements and suspension changes to improve ride quality and also cut down on noise (acoustic laminated front and side glass is also part of the package now). Inside, there’s the usual makeover ingredients such as a new instrument panel and upgraded seat design with new fabric and leather. On the surface, it appears to be a good tuneup over the Sebring. There’s no question that the 200 looks better, though, and the new optional engine should make it a much more lively ride for the whole family. While the base powerplant is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, buyers can select a new Pentastar 3.6-liter V6. Final power and economy numbers have not been officially released, but 175 horses for the four-cylinder and 280 for the V6 would be a close guess based on their use in other Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep models. The four-cylinder is coupled to the price-leader model’s four-speed automatic transmission, or you can specify a six-speed automatic. The latter is your only choice when it comes to the 3.6. This is about all for details for now, but Chrysler promises more information on fuel economy and pricing closer to the launch of the 200 late in 2010. We also know that the PT Cruiser is off the radar this year, although we’ve heard that Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne likes the idea of a successor. Stay tuned on that one. Other than launching a Fiat dealer network to sell the 500 minicar alongside Chrysler stores, there’s no other concrete news on product as of this writing. The 300 will be back in some form (with a new eight-speed transmission) as will the Town&Country minivan with a new 280-plus horsepower “Pentastar” V6. This engine will see rapid deployment to other Chrysler divisions, including Jeep (it’s already in the Grand Cherokee) as well as the Ram truck line, which has parted company with the Dodge brand for the 2011 model year.

Base prices (incl. destination)

200: Mid-size sedan; $22,000 (est.)

300: Full-size sedan; $TBA

Town & Country: Minivan; $26,500 (est.)

Dodge

dodge.com

Hot news for 2011: New Durango sport utility vehicle shares its DNA with the Jeep Grand Cherokee as opposed to a Dodge truck. • Speaking of which, there are no Dodge trucks this year as they move to the “Ram” division. • Charger restyle makes it look a bit more like a “real” Charger . . . with four doors. • New names for Caliber models. • No news on Journey, Avenger and Grand Caravan, so we’re not sure who’s going to make the 2011 party, when or what they’ll be wearing.

Carry-over: None

The waiting game: Avenger; Grand Caravan; Journey

Gone: Viper . . . for now.

Starting line

•  Now that the ownership revolving door at Chrysler seems to be back on its hinges, there’s the small matter of new product, or the lack thereof. However, it definitely appears that new parent Fiat — one of the largest automakers in the world — is all about making vehicles. Although little is known about 2011 Chrysler product line, the Dodge Boys appear to be getting their horses to ride a little sooner. And that includes the Durango sport utility vehicle that has returned to life despite being cashiered after the 2009 model year. This time, though, the big “D” has been designed off the new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s unitized (frameless) platform. That should be just fine with most buyers since the new Jeep is receiving high marks for its stout architecture that’s capable of taking plenty of off-road abuse without twisting itself into a pretzel. Also highly regarded is the 290-horsepower V6 (Chrysler’s newest powerplant effort) as well as the optional 360-horsepower 5.7-liter “Hemi” V8. The latter features a variable-displacement system that attempts to reduce fuel consumption by shutting down half of the engine’s eight cylinders under light load conditions. On the other hand, the Hemi-equipped Durango can tow heavy loads up to 7,400 pounds (6,200 pounds for the V6) and can also carry up to seven passengers when using all three rows of seats. And since the same designers who penned the GC’s interior also created the Durango’s interior, it should be a slam-dunk that comfort and roominess will also be first rate. Dodge spent more time on the outside of the Charger than the inside to make it appear, well, a little more Charger-like. At the business end, the chrome-ringed crosshair grille has been reshaped and extended so that the car now looks more NASCAR-ish, which ain’t a bad thing. In addition, the featureless hood from the previous model has been axed in favor of a sculpted aluminum bonnet and the scalloped body side panels evoke memories of the late-‘60s Chargers. Out back, the full-length tail lamp bar pays specific homage to the 1970 model. There’s nothing particularly old school about the revised instrument panel that can be ordered with Chrysler’s latest touch-screen technology, called Uconnect Touch. This feature allows both driver and passenger to access the communications, infotainment and navigation systems, along with making adjustments to the Charger’s climate control settings. Like the Durango, the Charger gets the new 3.6-liter V6, as will the Dodge Challenger, although details are pretty thin on Chrysler’s only two-door musclecar, now that the Viper has been discontinued. We have heard, however, that the Viper might return for the 2012 model year with a little help from one of Fiat’s brands . . . Ferrari. How does 700 horsepower sound? Changes. For the 2011 model year, both the Nitro sport utility vehicle and the Caliber trade in their alphanumeric subnames for real names. Nitro is sold in Detonator, Shock and Heat trim levels (all on 20-inch wheels), while Caliber comes in Express, Heat, Mainstreet, Rush and Uptown. Are the two vehicles really any different than their 2010 counterparts, though? No, not really.

Base prices (incl. destination)

Avenger: Mid-sized sedan; $TBA

Caliber: Small wagon; $17,600 (2010)

Challenger: Two-door coupe; $23,000 (est.)

Charger: Four-door sedan; $25,000 (est.)

Durango: Full-size sport utility vehicle;  $31,000 (est.)

Grand Caravan: Minivan; $TBA

Journey: Mid-sized wagon; $TBA

Nitro: Mid-size SUV; $22,350 (2010)

Jeep

jeep.com

Hot news for 2011: Brand new Grand Cherokee is tougher than its predecessor and full of new tech. • GC’s new 290-horsepower base V6 replaces 10-year-old 3.7 V6 as well as the 4.7-liter V8. • Wrangler and Liberty just aren’t that lucky, yet • Tidied up interior for Patriot and more cushy stuff for Wrangler.

Carryover: Liberty

Gone: Commander

Waiting for the word: Compass

Starting line

•  With Italy’s Fiat in the driver’s seat, so to speak, the 2011 model year seems to be one that’s all about Jeep getting back to basics with the Grand Cherokee reclaiming its place at the top of the food chain now that the Commander has been put out to off-road pasture. And no word on the Compass — the least Jeepy of the Jeeps — for the 2011 model year seems to support that notion. The 2011 Grand Cherokee represents a quantum leap for Chrysler’s tireless off-road brand. Overall length has been extended by nearly two inches, while three inches have been added to the width. Most significantly, the distance between the front and rear wheels grows by 5.3 inches, creating much-needed rear-seat knee and leg space. Along with a stiffer platform, many of the various suspension components are shared with the Mercedes-Benz ML-class sport ute (Chrysler was not long ago part of Mercedes-Benz juggernaut). For 2011, Jeep has replaced the Grand Cherokee’s base 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 with a 290-horsepower 3.6-liter unit. Torque is up by 11 percent despite the smaller displacement. The 5.7-liter “Hemi” V8 remains optional with 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Both powerplants come with five-speed automatic transmissions. All three GC models — Laredo, Limited and Overland — are available in either rear- or four-wheel-drive. For the latter, you’ll have your choice of Quadra-Trac I with its single-speed transfer case, or the more off-road-capable Quadra Trac II and Quadra Drive II systems. Each features a two-speed transfer case with high and low gearset. Quadra Drive II includes an electronic limited-slip differential that will react to low-traction conditions quick enough to entirely prevent wheel spin. The Quadra Trac II or Quadra Drive II includes Jeep’s new Selec-Terrain control with four separate traction settings: Sand/Mud; Snow; and Rock for off-road terrain plus a Sport setting for dry pavement. Available is Jeep’s Quadra-Lift air-ride suspension that can be manually adjusted over a 4.5-inch range to provide a maximum 11.1 inches of ground clearance. The only other Jeep that might have to something to say about that would be the Wrangler, which would really gain performance and fuel economy by taking on the Grand Cherokee’s new V6. We’ll venture a guess that both it and the Liberty will get it some time in calendar 2011. But if fuel economy is a make-or-break issue, give the four-cylinder Patriot a try. For the 2011 model year, it receives an interior freshening while the Wrangler adds optional heated front seats (gasp!), climate control (in a Wrangler?), heated power outside mirrors (oh, c’mon . . .), added noise-reducing insulation (!) and a steering wheel that contains audio, cruise control and hands-free phone switchgear (sigh). There’s also more softie appeal with the Wrangler’s redesigned instrument panel, lockable console bin and upgraded materials used on the door panels and center console armrest. As well, the optional solid roof with its removable panels now features a larger rear window.

Base prices (incl. destination)

Compass: Compact wagon; $TBA

Grand Cherokee: Mid-size SUV; $31,500

Liberty: Mid-size SUV; $24,000

Patriot: Compact wagon; $16,000 (2010)

Wrangler: Compact/mid-size SUV; $21,900



It’s addition by subtraction for Dodge in 2011.

What used to be known as Dodge Ram trucks are now simply Ram division trucks. The Ram name stands alone and Dodge will be branded with cars.

“Typically when you think of Dodge, you think of trucks,” said Mike Nixon, the sales manager at Grand Junction Chrysler Dodge Jeep. “With this move, Dodge is trying to differentiate and say, ‘Hey, Dodge sells cars, too.”

America’s Dodge brand got a new, Italian owner — Fiat — this year. And while things get sorted out by the new owner regarding future product plans, Dodge has scheduled the introduction of new crew cab models of the Ram heavy-duty pickup truck.

Engine choices for the 2500/3500 Rams include a 350-horsepower 6.7-liter, Cummins Turbo Diesel six cylinder that meets air emission standards in all 50 states and delivers 650 foot-pound of torque.

The trucks’ suspension also is retuned for a better ride and better load handling.

In other news, the gross combined weight rating for the light-duty Dodge Ram 1500 is boosted to 15,500 pounds this year when the truck is fitted with 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 and 3.92 rear axle ratio on the 140.5-inch wheelbase model.

The Dodge Caliber gets a new interior for 2010, and suspension is improved for better ride and handling in the Dakota pickup.

In addition, the Grand Caravan minivan, Nitro SUV and Journey crossover SUV add front-seat anti-whiplash head restraints for 2010.

The Durango is all new for 2011, sharing a platform with the Grand Cherokee as opposed to a Ram truck.

“Our entire lineup has either an interior refreshment or a complete redesign, so we see a lot of attractive things coming out of the Chrysler group,” Nixon said.

Among Jeep vehicles, Nixon is optimistic about sales of the Grand Cherokee.

“This thing is incredible. It’s loaded with technology, safety and quality.”

The rugged sport utility vehicle, which the company hopes will lead Chrysler’s aging model lineup out of its sales slump, arrived at dealers in June. It’s powered by a standard 290 horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 or an optional 360 horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 that can run on only four cylinders for better efficiency. It has a far more luxurious interior than its predecessor, and it’s more refined on the highway. In an effort to keep Jeep’s off-road customer base happy, it has an air suspension system that can raise the undercarriage to clear rocks, stumps and other obstacles on the trails. Starts at $30,215.

As for Wrangler, the traditional Jeep from the World War II days gets a new, more comfortable interior and removable hard top. The new interior has more storage areas, a new instrument panel and a lockable console. The vehicle also will have larger rear windows for better visibility. The company says engineers were able to significantly reduce interior noise, long a problem in the rugged vehicle. Production started in August, and the new Wrangler is due in showrooms soon.

Meanwhile, Fiat-owned Chrysler is keeping its retro-styled, five-passenger PT Cruiser for a while longer.

The news this past summer reversed a January decision to stop production of the smallest car wearing a Chrysler badge. But note that the reversal does not affect the PT Cruiser Convertible, which was dropped in the 2008 model year.

Elsewhere for 2010, the exterior is freshened slightly on both the Sebring coupe and convertible, while the Chrysler 300C adds standard key-free ignition and rear park assist system.

And all models of the Town & Country minivan add anti-whiplash front head restraints.

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