Rob Douthit, Fri, 21 Nov 2008 08:00:00 PDT
Chrysler, aiming to keep pace with one of its rivals, is showing that it can be big and green, too.The Chrysler Aspen Hybrid is an SUV that seats eight but uses a two-mode Hemi gas-electric hybrid system to keep its fuel consumption in check.Chrysler is following a move by General Motors to combine large vehicles with hybrid technology.
GM has introduced its Chevrolet Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade hybrids, touting them as being part of a lineup of hybrids that fit the way you live.The first thing you notice about the Aspen Hybrid is how silently its engine starts up.When you turn the key, you almost always have that "Oh shucks, my battery is dead," thought flashing through your mind, at least until you get used to it.
Other than that, and how quietly it runs overall, there really isn't much difference between the Aspen Hybrid and the gas-only version.Except, of course, for fuel economy.The best gas mileage performance in versions of the regular Aspen comes from the 4.7-liter V-8 flex fuel model (meaning it runs on regular gasoline or on E85, which is 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gas). That vehicle has EPA ratings of 14 miles per gallon city, 19 highway.
The Aspen Hybrid, on the other hand, gets a smart 19 mpg and 20 mpg.You might say that isn't all that impressive, but remember, we're talking about a big, heavy, eight-passenger vehicle that's carrying a fair amount of bling.For instance, our tester had the entertainment package that features satellite TV and radio.The leather seats were exceptionally comfortable, and the third-row seating, while not offering a huge amount of room, was certainly serviceable.
On the road, the Aspen is strong off the line, powerful into the midrange and it remains quiet at highway speeds.The five-speed automatic's column shifter doesn't give manual access to anything above second gear, which means there is unnecessary gear hunting if you are heading up hill, and you'll be on the brakes frequently going downhill. Ride quality is smooth and handling is pretty good for a 5,000-pound SUV.
Steering is less than precise and the brake pedal feels a bit spongy, with long stopping distances.All of the important safety equipment is standard on the Aspen, including antilock disc brakes, three-row side curtain airbags and a stability control system with rollover avoidance logic and a trailer sway-control feature. Front-seat side airbags (which protect the torso) are not available. Power-adjustable pedals are a stand-alone option, and rear parking sensors are only available as part of the 28J Package. In NHTSA frontal-impact crash tests, the Aspen gained five stars, the highest, for driver and front-passenger protection.
When Chrysler first rolled out the Aspen for the 2007 model year, observers noted that it was pretty much just a Dodge Durango with a few upgrades that would allow it to wear the Chrysler badge.That might be true, but so what? It's still a very nice ride.It compares quite favorably with the Tahoe and even the Escalade.
Chrysler has taken a few knocks in the past, too, for the quality of its interiors.The Aspen's interior doesn't deserve that criticism.Ergonomically, everything is right where it should be and doesn't take long at all to figure out.
Designwise, it might not be quite as beautiful on the inside as some of the European vehicles, but it's no slouch, either.The Aspen's wood paneling is handsome, and those leather seats that we said were comfortable are also good-looking.If you want to go big, but you also want to go green, go see the Aspen Hybrid.The price on the test-drive model, a fully loaded four-wheel drive, was $48,275.