2007 Chrysler Aspen
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
One of the consumer myths out there is large sport-utility vehicles aren't selling anymore and, as a result, these SUVs will just dry up and disappear.
Actually, auto industry marketers expect nearly 2 million consumers still will be in the full-size SUV market annually for the foreseeable future.
Granted, some buyers of big SUVs might be feeling a bit uneasy about others' reactions to their vehicles these days. Big SUVs are, after all, the poster children of the environmental movement.
But buyers continue to find big SUVs satisfy their needs for family travel, vacations and towing, predominantly. They also like the safety these SUVs provide occupants.
It is in this kind of atmosphere that the Chrysler brand introduced its first full-size SUV in 2007. The Chrysler Aspen joined the lineup of a brand better known for its glitzy Chrysler 300 large sedan seen in many hip-hop videos.
Attractive starting price
It's also the only one that can boast a HEMI, Chrysler's high-powered V8. In the Aspen, a 5.7-liter HEMI generates more horsepower and torque than the Tahoe and Sequoia have—335 horsepower and 370 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm.
This helps make for impressive trailer towing capacity of 8,950 pounds.
The Aspen's fuel economy is about on par for this class. The best rating from the federal government—15 miles a gallon in city driving and 20 mpg on the highway—is for a two-wheel-drive Aspen.
Cargo room can be configured in any number of ways to accommodate sporting gear, suitcases, golf clubs or landscaping materials.
And the ride, especially on long highway runs, is typically smooth and comfortable.
All this is certainly true of the Aspen, which has pleasing looks, inside and out.
But if you're expecting some kind of blingy styling here, a la the Chrysler 300, you'll be disappointed. Indeed, the test Aspen looked so mainstream, no one on the road gave it a second glance, even though the Aspen was still making its way to showrooms at the time.
Odds and ends
Everyone sits up high in the Aspen, and views of the traffic are terrific.
I was impressed that the front seats are nicely cushioned and look good.
But I wished for a better pivot point when the front seats recline. It was painfully high, so I couldn't nap, roadside, if I wanted to in these seats.
Be sure to get properly positioned behind the steering wheel. When I got the driver seat in the Aspen pushed forward for me to use the pedals correctly, I was too close to the airbag fitted into the steering wheel. So, I had to use the optional power-adjustable pedals or add more seatback recline to get my upper body farther from the airbag.
Second-row seats in the Aspen don't slide forward and aft like they do in some other SUVs to allow legroom to be arranged among second- and third-row passengers.
And I hated that the third-row seat cushions in this SUV because they are noticeably short.
Rear-most passengers also must contend with a hump in the floor under the third-row seats that keeps them from putting their feet close to the seat.
The interior of the Aspen was quite quiet, save for wind noise around the windshield and the outside mirrors.
In fact, the Aspen does a great job of keeping rough stuff away from passengers. Chrysler officials used the underlying platform of the Dodge Durango as the foundation for the Aspen. Chrysler and Dodge are both brands of the Chrysler Group of automaker DaimlerChrysler.
The HEMI had strong V8 sounds during acceleration and moved the more than 5,000-pound Aspen easily but without being overly aggressive, which I appreciated.
This HEMI includes Chrysler's fuel-saving multi-displacement technology that automatically puts the engine in four-cylinder mode when appropriate, such as when the vehicle is coasting, to save gas. But it didn't seem to help much in my test drive, where about 65 percent of the time, I was on highways and country roads and only got 14.3 mpg.
I was a bit surprised to see the Aspen has its shifter for the 5-speed automatic transmission mounted on the steering column. This is sort of old fashioned these days, when the Tahoe, Yukon and many other SUVs have moved the shifter down to the center console between the front seats.
Besides, even with the column shifter, Chrysler doesn't offer a three-person bench in the Aspen. All front seats are composed of two separate seats, and the Aspen varies its seating capacity from eight to seven depending on the second row—either standard three-person bench or optional two separate seats.
The test Aspen kept its momentum going up hills on mountain roads without a hiccup, and the power rack-and-pinion steering felt direct without being touchy.
Better yet, the Aspen didn't feel as tippy as some other large SUVs. It took curves on mountain roads with composure, in fact.
So, you might wonder why Chrysler added the Aspen to its line.
The answer is simple. Company officials kept seeing market studies that showed, year after year, that a quarter of Chrysler owners were interested in sport-utility vehicles.
And, a majority of these SUV-minded owners were leaving Chrysler to get an SUV from a competitor.
Obviously, company officials are hoping the Aspen will keep these Chrysler owners in the fold.