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  • 2013 Chrysler 200 Limited Convertible

    Hardtop adds practicality to open-air fun

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Chrysler 200 Convertible

    I believe that everyone should own at least one convertible during his or her lifetime. Nothing, with the exception of a motorcycle, offers a comparable visceral experience. The problem for those living in extreme climates is insulation.

    The retractable hardtop option on the Chrysler 200 solves the problem, and adds an extra layer of sound deadening to boot. The 200 is Chrysler’s replacement for the Sebring midsized platform. The convertible is available with a choice of two engines: a 173-horsepower inline four-cylinder block or 283-horsepower V-6.

    The test car is the upscale Limited: one of three available trim options. Power comes from the 3.6-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. For 2013, engineers updated the 200’s suspension, making stabilizer bars beefier for better handling in the corners.

    Base price for the Limited is $32,320, excluding the $995 destination charge. The test car comes with a Uconnect package that also adds navigation and the retractable hardtop, bringing the final MSRP to $36,105. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Chrysler Town & Country Limited

    Minivan’s inventor continues to define the segment

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Chrysler Town & Country

    Minivans aren’t chick magnets, according to my buddy, Ted. He reiterated this several times at the coffee shop today. I suppose he wanted to make sure that I understood his aversion to the Chrysler Town & Country I was driving wasn’t temporary.

    Ted’s a single guy, so any car that isn’t a chick magnet is, in his opinion, not worth owning. I mention this because there are a lot of Teds in the world who’ve given minivans a bum rap.

    A minivan’s true beauty lies beneath the skin: its ace-in-the-hole is versatility. My friend, Kathy Graham used a Dodge Caravan to haul her Harley Davidson around. She put her motorcycle inside the van. Can a SUV or crossover do that? I don’t think so.

    Minivans may be the most invisible models on the showroom floor, but the same doesn’t hold true for the open road. Since introducing the first Dodge Caravan in 1983, Chrysler has sold over 13 million minivans, and not just to soccer moms.

    In a sense, minivans are the ultimate active lifestyle vehicles because their owners can haul huge amounts of gear around by day, and camp out in the cargo area at night. They’re also a much more practical transportation solution for challenged athletes than full-sized vans, because they accommodate wheelchair ramps, adaptive controls and gear, while maintaining a relatively small footprint.

    The Town & Country is Chrysler’s luxury minivan model. The Limited grade comes standard with keyless entry and start, leather trim, heated steering wheel, front and second-row seats, surround-sound audio system, satellite radio, dual-screen DVD, navigation and a media center with a 404 gigabyte hard drive.

    Pricing starts at $38,995 excluding the $835 delivery charge. The test car has several convenience options, including a power sunroof, power folding third-row seats, height-adjustable and load leveling suspension, removable second-row bucket seats and Mopar’s Uconnect infotainment system. MSRP is $42,595. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Chrysler 300

    Full-sized sedan offers contemporary styling, enhanced connectivity

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Chrysler 300

    A few years back, it appeared that the full-sized sedan was going the way of the land line. At the height of the sport-utility boom, a number of automakers abandoned their full-sized passenger car models in favor of crossovers and full-sized trucks.

    The economic down-tic and rising fuel prices have made car buyers rethink their love affairs with two-box architecture. A full-sized sedan can carry up to five passengers and quite a bit of cargo, while providing significantly better fuel economy than a sport-utility vehicle. For families who don’t need to stash bicycles and other large cargo inside the vehicle, it can be a winning combination.

    The new 300 which rolled out this past spring is Chrysler’s flagship. The 300 designation hearkens back to classic sedans from the 1950s, as does the newest model’s strong, angular profile.

    But the 2011 Chrysler 300 is by no means retro. From its eye-catching new grille and LED daytime running lamps to the available Garmin navigation, Sirius real-time traffic updates and Uconnect audio systems, the full-sized sedan is a 21st century automobile. Best of all, the sub- $30,000 MSRP makes this technology affordable to families watching their budgets. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Fiat 500 Sport

    Stylish subcompact with 38 mpg fuel economy

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Fiat 500

    The Fiat 500 Sport parked in my driveway brings forth memories of Topo Gigio: the mouse puppet from Ed Sullivan’s popular variety show in the 1960s. It isn’t just the Fiat’s whiskers and logo face, or the fact that both Topo and the original Cincquecento date back to the same era.

    Just as the puppet created by Maria Perego of Milan charmed television viewers, the new Fiat 500 hatchback is irresistibly cute. Styling combines retro and contemporary elements in surprisingly harmonious fashion. It is also quintessentially Italian, setting the car apart from other entries in the A segment.

    Most appealing in the new Cinquecento’s affordability: the base model starts under $16,000. The test car is the midgrade Sport, which has larger wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. MSRP is $17,500, not including the $500 destination charge.

    Power comes from a single overhead cam four-cylinder engine rated at 101 horsepower, with 98 foot-pounds of torque. Because of its high compression ratio, the manufacturer recommends running 91 octane fuel, although regular is acceptable.

    A five-speed manual gearbox, standard on the Sport, enables drivers to make better use of the engine’s available power than the optional six-speed automatic. It also yields better fuel economy: about three miles per gallon on average according to EPA estimates. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Chrysler 200 Limited

    Chrysler completely revamps and renames the Sebring

    by Jim Woodman

    2011 Chrysler 200

    One of Chrysler’s more well-known models was the Sebring, not because of its popularity at the auto dealership but its near ubiquitous coverage of rental car fleets. If you’ve rented plenty of cars in the last few years, you’ve probably driven a Sebring and, most likely, were not rushing to the nearest Chrysler dealer to snag one for yourself.

    And had it not been for those rental car companies picking up the Sebrings at huge discounts, the model might have been an even larger failure for Chrysler. With Accord, Fusion, Camry, Altima, Optima and Sonata leading the charge in this mid-size sedan segment, Chrysler knew it had to re-engineer its entry to compete within this popular segment. So beyond just a complete facelift and remodel, Chrysler had no choice but to also rename the image-challenged Sebring. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Dodge and Chrysler Roll-Out

    Reinvigorated brands introduce all-new Charger, Durango and Chrysler 200

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Dodge Charger

    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. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Chrysler Announces Merger with Fiat

    Automaker will file for Chapter 11 to hasten return to profitability

    Chrysler Chairman and CEO, Bob Narelli

    Chrysler Chairman and CEO, Bob Narelli

    Chrysler announced today that it is going ahead with a global strategic alliance with Fiat SpA. The Big Three automaker also confirmed that it is filing for Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code, to hasten its return to profitability.

    “My number one priority has been to preserve Chrysler and the thousands of people who depend on its success,” said chairman and CEO, Bob Nardelli. “While I am excited by the creation of the global alliance, I am personally disappointed that today Chrysler has filed for Chapter 11. This was not my first choice.”

    Nardelli also announced his plans to leave Chrysler following the emergence of the new company from Chapter 11, and the completion of the alliance with Fiat. He will return to Cerberus Capital Management LP as an advisor.

    What does this mean to current owners of Chrysler vehicles? According to Nardelli, it will be business as usual through the restructuring.

    “We want to personally assure everyone that the new company will produce and support quality vehicles under the Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler brands as well as parts under the Mopar brand,” said Nardelli. “Chrysler employees will become employees of the new company. Chrysler dealerships remain open for business serving our customers. All vehicle warranties will be honored without interruption, and consumers can continue to purchase our vehicles with complete confidence.” Read the rest of this entry »

  • Chrysler Partners With US-Based Battery Supplier

    Automaker rolls out its first production electric cars in 2010

    Chrysler Electric Vehicles

    Chrysler Electric Vehicles

    Today Chrysler announced a partnership with A123Systems, a Michigan-based supplier for advanced battery products. The supplier’s nanophosphate lithium-ion battery cells will power extended range and pure electric cars. Chrysler plans to roll out its first production electric cars in 2010.

    “The most significant challenge to electric vehicles is battery technology,” said Frank Klegon, executive vice president for Chrysler product development. Chrysler execs hope the advanced battery systems will give them a competitive edge in the emerging electric vehicle market.

    Chrysler displayed five electric-drive vehicles at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit: the Dodge Circuit EV, Jeep Wrangler, EV, Patriot EV, Town & Country EV, and Chrysler 200C EV concept.

    The so-called ENVI vehicles are part of an ongoing effort to reduce toxic emissions and America’s dependence on foreign oil. The name is the first four letters of environment.

    A123System’s scalable battery module has the flexibility to work in a variety of applications. High-volume component sharing reduces manufacturing costs and helps Chrysler bring its products to market faster.

    “Chrysler has successfully worked with A123Systems… for more than three years to improve the technology for automotive applications,” said Lou Rhodes, vice president of advanced vehicle engineering and president of ENVI. “We have confidence that by partnering with A123 Systems our near-term and long-term electrification goals will be met.”

  • 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser: Sunset Boulevard Edition

    Pint-sized crossover with a hot rod attitude

    By Nina Russin

    2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser, Sunset Boulevard Edition

    2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser, Sunset Boulevard Edition

    Ten years ago, Chrysler rolled out the production version of the PT Cruiser show car: a compact crossover styled after classic American hot rods. The pint-sized Cruiser is the embodiment of what Chrysler does best: combining edgy styling with a versatile interior that takes minivan packaging into a whole new segment.

    Other manufacturers have tried to mimic the PT Cruiser formula with similar products such as the Chevy HHR. But none of its competitors do the job quite as well as the original.

    With a base price starting at $15,015, the PT Cruiser is an affordable, fun car that can hold everything from long boards to bicycles. Passengers sit higher up than in a conventional car: theater style seating gives everyone a good view of the road. The forward-raked roof makes for exceptional headroom in the back.

    Built to customize

    One of the coolest things about the PT Cruiser is that it’s built to customize. Since the first models rolled out, Chrysler has produced eleven factory custom editions. Businesses can use panel truck models to wrap graphics, while car buffs cruise in style with flames or woodie side panels.

    An available turbocharged four-cylinder engine adds thirty horsepower over the base block. Buyers who want better fuel economy can opt for a five-speed manual transmission on the naturally-aspirated car: average fuel economy is 23 miles per gallon. The automatic model (tested) averages twenty-one miles per gallon for city and highway driving.

    Sunset Boulevard edition pays homage to Southern California car culture.

    Personally, I would have called it the Riverside Drive edition, since Riverside Drive in Burbank is home to Bob’s Big Boy: one of the greatest cruise night destinations in the country. For readers who have never been to one, cruise nights are where people who love cars go to find other people of the same mindset.

    On Friday nights, the line to get into the parking lot stretches out for blocks. To protect the spot against future development, its fans had Bob’s registered as a historic landmark.

    Getting back to the Cruiser, the Sunset Boulevard Edition is mainly a paint job: “sunset” red pearl coat, with some extra chrome accents, bigger wheels, and a couple of custom badges. The power sunroof, tinted glass and special wheels add $845 to the car’s base price. The special paint is another $150.

    With the exception of the upscale Limited grade, antilock brakes are an option. I would recommend them, especially for drivers living in four-season climates. Traction control comes with the antilock brake option. Neither side curtain airbags nor electronic stability control are available on the Cruiser.

    Music aficionados can upgrade the standard audio system to a Boston six-speaker acoustics system that adds Sirius satellite radio. A second sound upgrade replaces the single disc CD player with a six-disc unit. The standard audio system is MP3 compatible.

    Cruising through Phoenix

    Despite its styling, the PT Cruiser is no hot rod. But it is a pleasant car to drive. The standard four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission provide plenty of power for urban commuting. The automatic transmission shifts smoothly with a minimum of shift shock, though a five-speed unit would probably improve fuel economy.

    The base LX does not come with power mirrors, which can be an inconvenience if multiple drivers are sharing the car. Small levers inside the car manually adjust the side mirrors. Manually adjustable seats are easy to position.

    Lower back support is adequate, but not exceptional. Upscale Touring and Limited grades come with adjustable lower lumbar controls.

    The high seating position is one of my favorite features about the PT Cruiser. Though the car itself sits much lower than most light duty trucks, the driver is able to see around the high-profile vehicles more easily.

    Visibility around the car is pretty good. The high seating position enhances forward visibility and makes cornering on highway ramps much easier. Side mirrors do a pretty good job of compensating for blind spots to the sides and rear of the car.

    Room for four adults and a variety of cargo

    Despite its small footprint, the PT Cruiser has a remarkably spacious and configurable interior. Though Chrysler calls the Cruiser a five-passenger car, the middle seating position in the second row lacks legroom, due to interference from the center console and floor tunnel.

    But four adults will be quite comfortable, even on long road trips. Both rows have access to plenty of cupholders and map pockets in the door. In front, a twelve-volt power point on the base of the center stack recharges electronic devices.

    A tilt steering wheel adapts to drivers of different sizes, as does a sliding center armrest. A two-piece bin under the center console holds compact discs in one section and small electronic devices up top.

    The optional moonroof brings ambient light into the rear of the car, which would otherwise be rather dark. Front row passengers get dual overhead reading lamps. There is also a small light in the cargo area to the right of the liftgate.

    Second-row seats fold flat by using a levers on the seatbacks. A pull strap on the seat cushions releases the seats so they can tumble forward, and be removed. Tumbling the seats forward creates an uninterrupted load floor large enough for a road bike with the front wheel removed.

    A rear shelf panel installs in horizontal guides in the cargo bay to create an extra horizontal shelf, a table for tailgate parties, or a vertical divider. Upscale models come with a fold flat front passenger seat that further extends the load floor, and can also serve as a work surface.

    Lifetime powertrain warranty

    As with all Chrysler products, the PT Cruiser comes with a lifetime powertrain warranty that protects owners against repair costs due to manufacturing defects. The warranty includes three years of 24-hour towing assistance.

    Chrysler builds the PT Cruiser at its Toluca, Mexico assembly plant.

    Likes: A small affordable car with room for four passengers and a configurable interior. The high roofline maximizes headroom for rear passengers and vertical load-in space. A low liftover height makes it easier for small people to load up the back.

    Dislikes: Base model does not come with standard power windows, air conditioning or antilock brakes. Electronic stability program and side curtain airbags are not available.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Chrysler
    Model: PT Cruiser LX: Sunset Boulevard Edition 
    Year: 2008
    Base price: $15,015
    As tested: $18,475
    Horsepower: 150 Hp @ 5100 rpm
    Torque: 165 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Optional
    Side curtain airbags: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Towing: No
    Off-road: No
    Comments: Base price does not include a $640 delivery charge.

  • 2008 Chrysler Town & Country Ltd.

    Swivel and go
    By Nina Russin

    2008 Chrysler Town & Country

    2008 Chrysler Town & Country

    Call me a geek, but I love minivans. On the practical side, minivans hold lots of people and lots of gear: as much or more than most sport-utility vehicles. My friend, Kathy Graham, rolls her Harley into the back of her Dodge Caravan and drives it to races. The Caravan has second and third-row seats that stow in the floor, producing a large tall cargo area. Needless to say, putting a couple of bicycles in back is a non-issue.

    Minivans get better fuel economy than most sport-utility vehicles because they’re more aerodynamic. They’re not as good for off-road driving or towing, but they can easily navigate the occasional dirt or gravel road.

    Minivans also tend to float under the radar. Did I mention that I’m a geek with a lead foot?

    Chrysler invented the minivan: the first models rolled out in 1983. While other manufacturers have introduced formidable competitors to the segment, Chrysler and Dodge are the brands people buy most. The first driver’s side sliding door, sliding overhead bins, integrated child booster seats, and Stow ‘N Go seats that fold into the floor are a few of the reasons why.

    The fifth-generation Dodge and Chrysler minivans begin shipping to dealers this month, with nationwide availability in September. A more powerful V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, Swivel “N Go seating and a second-row table that stows in the floor should wet the appetites of buyers looking for a living room on wheels.

    Chrysler invited a group of journalists and their families to experience the new minivans in San Diego. Attendees ranged from toddlers to senior citizens. The drive route was equally diverse: a mixture of freeways and twisty canyon roads through mountains to the east, gridlock traffic and sparsely populated rural byways.

    I drove the Chrysler Town & Country Limited with my husband Rob serving as navigator. The Limited is the plushest grade among the new Chrysler offerings. Our car featured the new four-liter V6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission, seventeen-inch wheels and tires. Options included the Swivel N Go second-row seats, DVD entertainment system, Sirius back seat TV and a power-folding third row seat that collapses into the floor.

    Hot rod kitchen

    The Swivel N Go seats turn the back of the minivan into a family kitchen. The second-row seats swivel 180-degrees and lock into the rear-facing position. It’s a simple operation. A strap to the outside of the seat cushion releases the seat so that it can pivot to the rear. The seats meet the same federal safety regulations in both forward and rear-facing positions.

    Our minivan had leather trim, but available YES essentials fabric might appeal more to people with active lifestyles. The stain and odor-resistant fabric is perfect for those of us who shed several gallons of sweat on an average morning.

    A table that stows under the floor mounts in between the second and third-row seats. It works like a beach umbrella. A pole locks into pins on the floor of the minivan, and the tabletop mounts on top of it, swiveling and locking into a second pin-mount. Chrysler’s kitchen on wheels also features two DVD players with separate inputs over the second-row seats, and a third screen in back that plays three channels of Sirius satellite radio. To think: when I was a kid, I counted license plates.

    Unlike the Stow N Go system, the Swivel N Go seats don’t collapse into the floor. Still, there’s plenty of cargo space with the third-row seats tumbled into the floor, and the second-row seats folded flat or pivoted backwards. A roof rack is standard on the Limited grade.

    The third-row power seat that collapses into the floor also flips back for the Sunday tailgate party. The upgrade tens-speaker surround sound system is standard on the Limited model, with Sirius satellite radio. The power rear liftgate makes the back seat easy to access for passengers, and saves the person loading cargo the effort of digging for keys with armfuls of gear. A button on the D-pillar closes the liftgate.

    There are large cup or bottle holders outboard of the third row seats, with storage trays large enough to hold small electronic devices. There is a twelve-volt power point and a 115-volt inverter in the C pillar, in case someone wants to plug in a computer.

    Front and rear climate controls ensure that all passengers ride comfortably. Though the temperatures in San Diego aren’t as hot as they are in Phoenix, the areas close to the desert got up to about 100 degrees. It was easy to cool down the car and maintain a comfortable temperature.

    The power front seats are easy to adjust. Drivers have eight power adjustments and power adjustable pedals on the Limited grade, with a standard tilt steering column. The mirrors are easy to adjust for good visibility around the car. A rear back-up warning system includes a rear-view camera, eliminating blind spots to either side and below the rear window.

    Cup and bottle holders are abundant, in the center console and in all four doors. The gearshift is on the instrument panel to the right of the gauges, clearing up floor space for additional storage. A large, two-piece glovebox keeps valuables out of sight.

    An overhead storage bin holds sunglasses and flips down to serve as a conversation (kid-watching) mirror. An overhead console adds additional storage, and slides back to the second row.

    Power to spare

    The new four-liter engine has plenty of power for accelerating into traffic or climbing steep grades. The power was so good that I almost forgot I was driving a minivan. The six-speed automatic transmission is seamless: there is very little shift shock. Because of its weight, the car has a tendency to push or understeer, especially when descending a grade and cornering. I found myself fighting the wheel when I was going through some of the canyon grades. To be fair, I was driving pretty aggressively: faster than most people with a van full of kids would.

    Fuel economy is 16/23 miles-per-gallon city/highway using the stricter 2008 standards. Buyers who want to spend less at the pump should opt for the smaller 3.3-liter engine, which averages about a mile-per-gallon more. The 3.3-liter engine is also flex-fuel compatible: it can run on up to eighty-five percent ethanol.

    Standard disc brakes stop the car quickly and evenly. The independent front suspension and twist-beam rear axle provide a comfortable ride for all passengers. Stabilizer bars keep the car flatter in the corners. Steering is soft, but not excessively so. The car goes where the driver puts it. I never had that disconnected feeling that comes from power steering with too much assist.

    A towing-prep package raises the towing capacity to 3600 pounds, meeting our ALV standards. Vehicles equipped with the towing prep package have self-leveling shock absorbers, making it easier to climb and descend steep grades.

    The under-floor storage means sacrificing ground clearance on all of the models. Clearance is six inches: a good off-road vehicle has at least eight. That makes the minivans less than ideal for boulder or root-strewn trails. Graded dirt roads or moderate amounts of snow shouldn’t be a problem.

    Lifetime powertrain warranty

    The minivans come with a new lifetime powertrain warranty: an industry first. The new warranty applies to all Chrysler and Dodge vehicle sold after June 26, with the exception of SRT cars, the Dodge Sprinter, rental or diesel cars. The warranty protects the owner against any powertrain failures caused by the factory. Coverage is limited to the first registered owner or lessee.

    Pricing for the Town & Country Limited begins at $35,670. Cost for the test car was $39,510, including a $730 destination charge. Town & Country minivans are rolling off the assembly line at Chrysler’s St. Louis, Missouri plant.

    Quick facts:

    Base price: $35,670
    Price as tested: $39,510
    Horsepower: 251 Hp
    Torque: 259 lbs.-ft.
    0 to 60: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: No 
    Towing: Yes
    Off-road: No
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Fuel economy: 16/223 m.p.g. city/highway