2011 Dodge and Chrysler Roll-OutPosted on November 15th, 2010
Reinvigorated brands introduce all-new Charger, Durango and Chrysler 200
By Nina Russin
Almost twelve months to the day after its merger with Fiat, Chrysler emerges as a leaner, meaner and more profitable machine. For 2011, Dodge rolls out an all-new Charger mid-sized sedan and Durango sport-utility vehicle, while the 2011 Chrysler 200 replaces the outgoing Sebring.
In addition, the Dodge Journey, Grand Caravan and Challenger get mid-cycle facelifts, as does the Chrysler Town & Country minivan. At a recent northern California media event, execs stressed the far-reaching effects of the new corporate environment, which impacts everything from the way designers and engineers develop new product to the brand umbrellas.
Differentiation by design
Dodge continues the sportier, more masculine brand with an emphasis on performance. Styling is more aggressive to match, with a redesigned crosshair grille.
Now that Ram is a separate truck brand, the ram’s head is absent from passenger cars. Larger more expressive headlamps, LED taillamps and more distinct front and rear fascia are key elements in Dodge’s new design language.
Interiors, across the board, are more refined, with soft-touch instrument panels and center consoles. There is a greater emphasis on fit and finish, as well as more dramatic interior color schemes.
Chrysler retains a more feminine stance, targeting upscale buyers. For example, the Dodge Grand Caravan appeals to the sub-$30,000 market, while Chrysler Town & Country melds minivan functionality and luxury.
As with Dodge, the Chrysler team developed a new emblem, which sits within a liquid and bright chrome grille. New LED headlamps are larger and more expressive, with inboard turn signals. Standard wheels are larger and brighter.
Inside, premium models get Napa leather and suede heated seats, heated steering wheels, Bluetooth connectivity and navigation.
A few good engines
Both brands have paired down their engine offerings, making extensive use of the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. The six-cylinder block is the base engine for both the Charger and Durango, combining similar horsepower to older V-8 blocks with considerably better fuel economy.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is the base block for the 2011 Chrysler 200. Performance-focused buyers can still opt for the hemi 5.7-liter V-8 on the Dodge Charger, Challenger and Durango. A fuel-saver mode automatically cuts off gas to four cylinders when engine demands are low.
Fewer committees; more one-on-one
As part of the new corporate environment, designers and engineers are more likely to make key decisions during informal, one-on-one meetings with their bosses than through committees. As somebody who believes that too many cooks spoil the pot, I see this direction as a very positive sign.
Also promising is the fact that engineers are now required to work in tandem with designers, and vice/versa. In other words, form follows function.
2011 Dodge Charger: first impressions
The second-generation Charger enters showrooms the end of this year, offering mid-sized sedan buyers a combination of style and practicality. Designers drew inspiration from classic Mopars of the late 1960s and early 70s. Charger is the most enduring nameplate in the Dodge showroom: the original model rolled out in 1966.
The 2011 model’s deep grille, rear LED bar and “angry” headlamps hearken back to the 1968-to 1970 models immortalized in the film, Bullitt, and the television series, “Dukes of Hazzard.” At the same time, designers achieved a .29 coefficient of drag by reducing wheel well size, giving the overall body a coke bottle shape, and adding low rolling-resistance tires.
The rear-wheel drive sedan rolls out with three grades, starting with the base SE at $25,140. The performance-oriented R/T is available with all-wheel drive for better four-season performance. The SE comes with the 292-horsepower V-6, while the R/T features the 5.7-liter hemi V-8.
Track packs available on the R/T let buyers upgrade to a performance rear axle, performance engine and transmission calibration, and 20-inch tires.
I drove the SE Rallye Plus priced at $34, 585. The hour-long route took us north of San Francisco including city streets, a short stretch of highway and some narrow canyon roads through Marin County.
The canyon roads might not have been the best venue for a sedan with a wide track. None-the-less, I was able to get some idea of how the new model stacks ups against the one that preceded it.
The difference in fit and finish is obvious from the moment one enters the car. Upholstery is attractive and stylish. The optional 8.4-inch Uconnect navigation screen is easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions, with large, clear graphics. Redundant audio and Bluetooth controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction.
The Pentastar engine produces ample power and torque for accelerating off the line and merging into high-speed traffic. Because the engine is naturally aspirated, it doesn’t reach its 260 foot-pounds of peak torque until 4800 rpm. This can cause a dead spot on steep grades.
The five-speed automatic transmission transitions smoothly between the gears, though it has to downshift hard on hills. It does not hunt however: something that was the bane of former six-cylinder blocks with automatic transmissions.
Feedback from the hydro-electric power steering is good though not exceptional. There’s some play in the system at speed. The four-wheel independent suspension is pleasantly compliant during normal driving.
The corkscrew turns on the canyon road were a challenge for the coil spring-over-shock setup in front. Monotube shocks kept the chassis too flat in the corners: I found myself fighting the wheel around some of the hairpin turns.
Visibility to the front may be limited for some drivers. As a design element, the large instrument panel is gorgeous. But shorter drivers should expect to be raising the seat up higher than normal.
Visibility to the sides is quite good. An optional blind spot detection system warns the driver when adjacent vehicles pass near the Charger’s rear corners. An optional rearview camera with cross-traffic alert makes it easier and safer to park the car.
Interior quiet is excellent, enabling passengers to converse easily or enjoy the optional satellite radio.
Dodge designers excel at interior packaging. This is evident throughout the 2011 Charger, with a large, versatile center console and bin, abundant 12-volt power points, USB and auxiliary ports. A locking glovebox provides secure storage in the passenger compartment.
Outboard second-row passengers have plenty of head, leg and hip room. The Charger’s high floor tunnel compromises legroom in the center position.
Low rolling-resistance tires enhance fuel economy, but produce a somewhat harsher ride. Standard safety systems include front, side and side curtain airbags, four-channel antilock disc brakes and electronic stability control.
2011 Dodge Journey gets mid-cycle refresh
I always felt that the original Dodge Journey was a great idea which met with lukewarm response from the public. While the Journey’s combination of minivan and crossover vehicles features was brilliant, performance was less inspired.
The 283-horsepower Pentastar V-6 engine gives the 2011 Journey better power, while a retuned suspension delivers improved ride and handling. Available all-wheel drive makes the Dodge Journey a four-season car.
Designers also spruced up the interior with more expressive colors and better fit and finish. A new one-piece soft-touch instrument panel reduces squeaks and rattles. The available Uconnect system integrates navigation, satellite radio and Bluetooth interface.
I drove the Lux all-wheel drive model, priced at $35,215. The V-6 engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission for better gas mileage. Nineteen-inch wheels and tires provide a large, stable footprint.
The retuned four-wheel independent suspension consists of a MacPherson setup in front and multi-link in the rear. Together with the new engine and transmission, it makes the Journey feel like a much more substantial vehicle.
Steering feedback is better as well, handling two-lane winding roads with aplomb.
Three rows of seating makes the mid-sized Journey suitable for larger families. The test car comes with two integrated child booster seats and in-floor storage bins.
Keyless entry and go saves the driver from fumbling for the keys, adding an additional measure of safety at night. Rear park assist and a rear backup camera on the test car make it easier and safer to back out of a parking space. The camera also helps parents see small children behind the vehicle, who might be below the normal sight-line.
Refreshed Grand Caravan is more powerful and fuel efficient
Designers call the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan a “man van.” If the nomenclature draws husbands with growing families into the showroom, that’s a good thing. Minivans remain one of the most kid-friendly vehicles on the market.
The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan gets updated exterior and interior styling. Outside, the new model features the new Dodge crosshair grille, a new front fascia and headlamps for a more aggressive look. Inside, designers reconfigured the stow-and-go seating feature to hold larger, more comfortable second-row seats.
Designers also updated the instrument panel and gauge cluster, and added a new gated shifter. A heated tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel makes the minivan more comfortable to drive in the winter.
I drove the Mainstreet mid-level grade briefly on the roads around Infineon Raceway outside of Napa, California. Power comes from the V-6 Pentastar engine rated at 283-horsepower with 260 foot-pounds of torque, and a six-speed automatic transmission. Base price is $25,995
Second and third-row stow-and-go seats transform the back of the Grand Caravan into a large, versatile cargo space, ideal for bicycles and camping equipment. A media center option adds the Uconnect system with Bluetooth interface and satellite radio. A rearview camera with rear park assist makes it easier to parallel park and back out of vertical parking slots.
The refreshed Grand Caravan is not only more powerful, it is also more commanding. The retuned suspension reduces roll in the corners, while a quicker steering gear produces better response.
Buyers who formerly shunned minivans for being boring, unstylish cars owe it to themselves to give the 2011 Grand Caravan a serious look.
All new Dodge Durango tows up to 7400 pounds
Dodge brings back its full-sized sport-utility vehicle for 2011, built on the same platform as the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Buyers can choose between the base Pentastar V-6 engine and a hemi V-8. The V-6 tows up to 6200 pounds; the hemi 1200 pounds more.
Designers used classic Mopars as inspiration. The Durango has a similar “superhero crosshair grille” to the 2011 Charger.
Self-stowing crossbars improve performance in the wind tunnel. Lowering the chassis gives the new platform a more planted appearance and better high-speed performance. Engineers met their aerodynamic target: .35 coefficient of drag.
Minimized front and rear overhangs improve handling in the corners. Long rear doors give the side view better proportions and improve access and egress to the third row.
Transitioning from a body-on-frame to unibody construction gives the new Durango better road manners. Over half the metal in the car is high-strength steel, for improved torsional rigidity.
Engineers improved interior quiet with a double-layer dashboard, triple-sealed doors and wheel well insulation.
A four-wheel independent suspension provides a compliant ride. The coil spring over shock setup gives wheels more travel for better traction on uneven off-road trails.
I drove the mid-level crew grade priced from $35,195. A media center on the test car adds the Uconnect infotainment system. Other options include a rear seat entertainment system with DVD, power sunroof and tow package, bringing the price as tested to $39,130.
Power for the test car comes from the Pentastar V-6 engine rated at 290 horsepower and five-speed automatic transmission. While the transmission works well with the engine, fuel economy is not as good as a six-speed box. The Durango averages 16/22 miles-per-gallon city/highway.
The Durango, is not surprisingly, a fairly heavy car. Curb weight on the test car is 5176 pounds. While the V-6 engine provides adequate power for accelerating into high-speed traffic, acceleration off the line suffers from the three-row SUV’s mass. The engine has a rather harsh tip-off, followed by a dead spot.
Steering feedback is good, though there is a bit of play at lower speeds. The Durango’s turning radius is 37.1 feet, rivaling vehicles with much smaller wheelbases.
Durango’s heavy curb weight also affects braking performance. Drivers should not expect to stop on a dime in a panic situation. Under normal conditions, the four-wheel discs have firm, linear performance.
2011 Chrysler 200 offers value-conscious buyers style and performance
The 2011 Chrysler 200 replaces the outgoing Sebring with all-new styling and powertrain. Designers styled the 200 and 2011 Town & Country minivan together, drawing inspiration from the 200C concept car.
Sculptured surfaces with hard edges make the 200 exterior stand apart in a crowd. Large projector headlamps and LED taillamps give the sedan presence after dark.
All sheet metal forward from the A pillar is new, including a new hood, front fascia and fenders. Engineers lowered the car’s ride height, enhancing its appearance and high-speed performance.
A polished face wheel dresses up the profile view, while a new decklid, taillamps and rear fascia distinguish the rear.
Inside, the 200 sports a new soft-touch instrument panel. Designers emphasized fit and finish as well as premium materials on both cloth and leather trim models.
Engineers retuned the sedan and gave it a wider rear track. The 2011 Chrysler 200 has a reconfigured steering system, with redesigned bushings and more substantial stabilizer bars.
A new acoustic windshield and better insulation throughout the chassis reduces noise intrusion to the interior.
There are two available engines: a four cylinder producing 31 mile-per-gallon highway fuel economy and the Pentastar V-6.
The entry LX model comes with the four-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic transmission; price is $19,995 including delivery. Standard features include halogen projector headlamps, 17-inch wheels, intermittent wipers, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3 compatibility.
A Touring model starts at $21,995 with the four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. A six-cylinder model costs $23,790.
The Touring grade adds comfort and convenience features such as a power driver’s seat, satellite radio, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob with redundant audio controls, a homelink universal garage door opener, and a six-speaker audio system.
The premium Limited model starts at $24,495, with 18-inch wheels and fog lamps, a leather interior, heated front seats and Bluetooth connectivity with streaming audio. Remote start allows the driver to start the engine and heat up the interior prior to entering the sedan.
The Pentastar V-6 engine is optional, as is navigation.
An S grade with a standard V-6 engine arrives later in the model year.
All models come with a full complement of standard safety features including antilock brakes, front, side and side curtain airbags, keyless entry, electronic stability and traction control.
Test drive in Napa, California
I drove the Touring model with the optional Pentastar V-6 engine, priced at $24,920. The one-hour route began on wide, rural roads in Napa, included a brief segment on the freeway and ended with some winding canyon roads in Marin County.
The new 200 is an attractive car that feels much more solid than the outgoing model. The Pentastar V-6 is well matched to the chassis, with good acceleration off the line and in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range. The front-wheel sedan doesn’t seem nose heavy, and doesn’t exhibit any overt tendencies to push in the corners.
Eighteen-inch wheels give the chassis an ample footprint for high-speed driving. Engineers significantly improved torsional rigidity for good steering feedback.
Visibility around the car is good. I had no problems monitoring traffic to the left when merging onto the highway.
Braking is firm and linear. Engineers did a good job of minimizing noise intrusion to the interior, enabling passengers in both rows of seating to converse easily.
Fuel economy is quite good: 19/29 mpg city/highway.
Chrysler builds the 200 in its Sterling Heights, Michigan assembly plant.
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