Chrysler dealers have been shut out of the big SUV business until this year, with the advent of the 2007 Chrysler Aspen. Sales may be waning for large luxury SUVs, but it's still a rich and profitable market for automakers.
Despite being named after a highly forgettable Dodge sedan of the 1970s, Aspen is a nicely turned-out craft that delivers high-end features and accommodations at a competitive price.
Aspen is derived from Dodge Durango, which recently was upgraded in size and substance, with the Chrysler version touting sleeker styling and a luxury-car interior.
Priced at just above $30,000 for the two-wheel drive version, Aspen seems like a solid bargain for this level of sophistication. Even fully equipped, including a 335-horsepower Hemi V-8, the test Aspen didn't hit $36,000. Compare that with the competition.
Not quite as large as Suburban or Expedition, but still of significant size, Aspen goes up against such SUVs as GMC Yukon, Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia. Aspen comes with all the expected luxury trim, plus reasonably priced options that can really load it up.
The look is conservative, unlike most of the recent Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep products that push the stylistic envelope. Aspen is a more serious kind of family vehicle that imparts traditional style and substance.
In other words, I don't think the bling crowd will be latching onto it the way they have with Cadillac Escalades and Lincoln Navigators.
PERFORMANCE: The 335-horsepower Hemi V-8 4 performs as advertised, hauling the nearly 5,000-pound 4 SUV with solid muscle. Acceleration is brisk, but gasoline mileage is fairly dismal. The standard 235-horsepower V-84 probably would be adequate, but the Hemi is just $995 extra 4 and actually has better gas mileage,4 according to the EPA. The Hemi shuts off four cylinders electronically when cruising or under light load, 4 boosting mileage to some degree.
DRIVABILITY: Aspen is built for comfort, so the ride is soft and cushy. But handling suffers as a result, with a numb feeling and significant body sway around town, and a floating sensation on the highway. Passengers may feel coddled, but the driver will feel likes he's piloting a cruise liner. Aspen comes standard with the desired safety features, including full-length side-curtain air bags, electronic stability program and four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock. A four-wheel-drive version8 also is available.
STYLING: Aspen comes only as a Limited version, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and it's all gussied up with a bold chrome grille and trim, and good-looking alloy wheels. The styling doesn't depart much from standard SUV fare, though, so Aspen tends to fade into the crowd. I would expect more from the styling department that gave us the Dodge Ram pickup, Chrysler 300 and PT Cruiser.
INTERIOR: Rich and traditional, with comfortable seating for eight accented with faux wood trim, Aspen feels more like a luxury sedan than an SUV. The combined video controls for the audio system, climate control and navigation are cluttered and confusing, a common malady8 with these kinds of systems. The gauge cluster is bright and attractive, and the optional Alpine stereo speakers sounded terrific.
BOTTOM LINE: A nice, well-equipped luxury ride that undercuts the competition in pricing.
Vehicle type: Eight-passenger, four-door SUV, rear-wheel drive. Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 335 horsepower at 5,400 rpm, 375 pound-feet torque at 4,200 rpm. Transmission: Five-speed automatic. Wheelbase: 116 inches. Overall length: 202 inches. Curb weight: 4,866 pounds. Towing capacity: 8,950 pounds. EPA rating: 15 city, 20 highway.
HIGHS: Moderate price, lush interior, Hemi power. LOWS: Mushy ride, modest styling, busy dashboard.
Pricing Base price: $30,745. Price as tested: $35,755.
OPTIONS -5.7-liter Hemi V-8, $995. -Leather seats, $675. -Rear park assist and power liftgate, $655. -Trailer tow group, $450. -Alpine eight-speaker system8, $398. -Hands-free commun81ication, $360. -Sirius satellite radio, $195.4 -Remote starting, $185. -Paint upgrade, $150. -Shipping, $745.