2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited 4×4Posted on April 20th, 2007
By Jim Woodman
It’s hard to believe, but before Chrysler introduced the Aspen, they didn’t have a SUV touting the “Chrysler” brand. Sure one could argue the Durango was its entry under the Dodge brand and some of the Jeeps are SUVs but, regardless of brand, Chrysler didn’t have anything to compete head on with the likes of the Lincoln Navigator or Cadillac Escalade.
So here’s the Aspen, a decidedly large luxury SUV – though not quite as massive as the big full-size SUVs and certainly “garageable” – that wedges its way, ever so slightly, just under the super-size SUV category. Chrysler’s thinking – and many may disagree with this point – is that we needed another SUV segment within these already ultra narrow customer segments.
Is there really that much of a difference in size between the Aspen and its established full-size competitors? Not really.
Consider the Ford Expedition boasts 221.3 inches of garage-defying length; Lincoln’s Navigator comes in at 208.4 inches; Cadillac’s Escalade is at 202.5 inches and the Aspen is essentially the same as the Escalade at 202.1 inches. And, if you really need to know, the Chevy Tahoe drops in at 202 inches even. Anybody feeling a little crowded yet?
Ironically enough, my youngest son – who’s almost three going on six – kept referring to our test drive Aspen as our “Lincoln.” Take no offense Ford, but Chrysler’s aim at the Lincoln Navigator market has already hit a bull’s-eye with our two-year-old.
Now don’t get me wrong. I really liked the Aspen. In fact, of well over 20 SUVs, crossovers, trucks and wagons I’ve reviewed this year, my 8-year-old son claimed the Aspen was his favorite. And I completely understand why Chrysler felt compelled to throw an offering into this already crowded mix. They certainly didn’t want to be the only American automaker without a big luxury SUV in their lineup.
But while people love these big SUVs – especially those with large families and plenty of sports equipment to haul around – you can see the trend is slowly moving away from these behemoths. Today’s consumer can choose between an array of crossovers and minivans that aren’t so gas thirsty, yet do just as good a job at hauling large families and their sports gear.
The main reason to drive one of these super-sized SUVs is the large footprint and associated towing capacity. We’re talking BIG capacity here – the Aspen can tow 8,950 pounds. For perspective, our ALV “towing” criteria limit is 3,500 pounds which will tow just about any decent-sized boat or trailer. So at nearly 9,000 pounds of towing capacity, you feel like you can pull your house off its foundation.
Speaking of towing trailers, Chrysler claims its new “Trailer Sway Control” system will sense trailer sway and engage the electronic stability control to apply tiny amounts of brake pressure selectively to individual wheels and reduce engine torque to counter trailer-induced yaw.
The key to reviving interest in these gas guzzling full-size SUVs is hybrid technology and Chrysler’s 2008 Aspen – which I have not yet seen – will be offering an optional hybrid-electric powerplant, developed by GM and BMW. The system, which also incorporates the standard hemi multiple-displacement system (more on that later), boosts gas mileage by about 25% — and a full 40% in the city.
Back to the Aspen
Let me get back to the point of this article – the Chrysler Aspen. As you now know, the Aspen, which was based off the Dodge Durango, is a very large SUV that comfortably seats eight adults across three rows of seating.
Styling is classic Chrysler, with its traditional chromed grille inspired by the 1998 Chrysler Chronos concept car. There’s a slight resemblance to its slightly smaller cousin, the Dodge Durango. The smooth lines and curves give it a little more stylish look than more traditional and boxy-looking SUVs. The rear roof curves down into an attractively styled tailgate with the Chrysler nameplate.
My test vehicle was outfitted with a 5.7-liter hemi V-8 engine with the fuel-saving Multi-displacement System. Simply stated, MDS shuts down four of the eight cylinders when operating under less load, which saves gas. The Aspen offers two V8 engine choices: a 4.7 liter version and the hemi. If you were to opt for The Aspen’s smaller 4.7 liter V8 – which doesn’t offer MDS – you’ll drop from 335 horsepower to 235 horsepower and have exactly the same gas mileage. So if you can spring for the extra $1190 for the hemi, it’s a no-brainer to go with the bigger engine and similar gas mileage.
One of the things I loved about this hemi engine is the throaty roar when dropping the accelerator – especially at freeway speeds. When the other four cylinders kick in, you definitely know it and the sound is music to a man’s ears. Knowing you’ve got that extra kick under the hood – anytime you need it – is a powerful feeling.
Road noise was kept to a minimum at highway speeds and handling was a little springy though not quite as bad as a true truck chassis. The Aspen accelerates well but sucks up gas quickly (EPAs are 14/19 city/highway) and you’ll spend plenty of time filling up the 27 gallon fuel tank if you’re heavy-footed.
I didn’t get to test the off-road capabilities but a simple switch on the dash engages four-wheel drive.
There’s certainly an upscale luxury feel to the Aspen – this is one of the reasons one of my sons liked it so much. Metal accents and wood-like trim are elegant touches and an analog clock, similar to those found in Infiniti vehicles, round out a more stylish look and feel than a base Chevy Tahoe or Ford Expedition.
My vehicle had the optional GPS Navigation and 6-CD/MP3 changer that’s coupled with eight Alpine speakers and a 368-watt amplifier. A Sirius satellite radio and a host of other key luxury options and upgrades were part of an optional $4,065 “Customer Preferred Package.” The navigation system is separate from the preferred package and sets you back $1,295.
A rear seat DVD entertainment system also runs another $1,295 and has to be loaded from the rear unit. I initially thought it had to be loaded into the dash and couldn’t figure out why the DVD player wasn’t working. That said, it was an easy fix when my 6-year-old shouted out “dad, you need to put it in back here.” I should have known. When it comes to technology, leave it to the kids and they’ll figure it out every time.
Second-row legroom is adequate though Aspen trails some of its competitors (Nissan Armada, GMC Yukon, Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia) by one to four inches. Installing car seats into the second row was very easy as LATCH hooks are conveniently placed. There are no child seat hooks in the third row. Getting in and out of the second row was no problem but, because of our installed car seats on the right and left sides, we had to swing the tailgate open to access the third row by loading kids through the 40 portion of the 60/40 third row split.
Without the car seats, the flop-and-flip second-row seats ensure easy access to the third row. The third row is definitely roomy enough for average adults and either the 60 or 40 section of the split row can be folded up or down in just seconds.
With the third row folded, Aspen boasts 68.4 cu. ft. of cargo space which is near the top of its class. Fold and flip both rows of seating – which is very easy to do – and you score 102.4 cu. ft. of cargo space which is plenty to load a bunch of bikes, surfboards or shorter kayaks.
The power liftgate is another nice feature, requiring two presses of the remote or a single press of an interior button. One thing lacking is the fact there’s no close button nearby – just up in front and on the key fob. I’ve been spoiled by other automatic liftgates that have a button in the back.
There are at least two cup holders for each row of seats and plenty of room for Big Gulps up front in the center console. While the front console has a large storage compartment, it can be a little trickier to access for the front passenger because it’s hinged on the passenger’s side. The passenger has to literally reach over a large cover to grab anything inside.
The Aspen also has a standard 115 volt power outlet, tucked right behind the center console and easily accessible from the second row. Should a rear passenger need to plug in a laptop or charge a cell phone off conventional household electrical current, this is a very nice feature.
Additional cool features include a one-touch lane-change function on the turn signals that produces three quick blinks of the turn signal light; and a “tip start,” which requires only a twist and release of the key to start the engine. There’s also an option in the driver’s personalization settings that turns on the headlights whenever the windshield wipers are on, a useful feature for drivers living in states where that’s required by law.
Safety features include roof-mounted, full-coverage (all three rows of seats) side-curtain airbags, along with dual, multi-stage frontal airbags. Surprisingly, there are no seat-mounted side airbags that protect the upper body in side crashes, a feature increasingly common on cars and SUVs. An electronic stability program helps avoid losing control on slick roads and electronic brake-force distribution optimizes front-to-rear brake application in emergencies. A tire pressure monitoring system signals when tires are low on air and rear park assist alerts the driver to obstacles when backing up.
As I mentioned earlier, my oldest son loved the Aspen, my youngest thought it was a Lincoln Navigator and my middle son taught me where the DVD should be inserted. As for me, I’m a real fan of these full-size SUVs. And the Chrysler, while not quite a Cadillac Escalade for luxury, certainly competes very well with all the other full-size offerings at a very reasonable price.
When you consider my Aspen Limited was pretty much loaded with all the bells and whistles, and still only – I say “only” with a little hesitation as I remember all too well when twenty thousand dollars was a lot of money for a car – runs $43,230, you realize you’re getting a lot of car for the money.
If you’re in the market for a full-size SUV, don’t forget about Chrysler. The Aspen is a formidable competitor and won’t kill your budget as base pricing starts at $31,490.
Base price: $33,685
Price as tested: $43,230
Horsepower: 335 @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 375 lbs.-ft. @ 4200 rpm
0 to 60: N/A
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 14/19 m.p.g. city/highway
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