New heights

2007, Chrysler, Aspen

QUICK QUIZ: Chrysler has many makes and models of vehicles in its lineup, but in which popular class does family-friendly Chrysler not represent?

Answer: Chrysler, the inventor of the minivan, hasn't had a sport utility vehicle in its stable. I'll pause while you pick yourself up off the floor. Yes, the stalwart Chrysler has been slow to get on the SUV bandwagon. But the good news for SUV lovers is that they don't have to wait any longer because this fall, the good folks at Chrysler are answering the call by introducing the 2007 Chrysler Aspen.

With gas prices promising to continue rising, some would question the logic of introducing a big bruiser to the heavily competitive SUV market. But Chrysler is coming out swinging by throwing some tricks into the Aspen to make it economically appealing for all consumers.

During a recent preview at the El Dorado Polo Grounds in Indio, California, just south of Palm Springs, the Chrysler design, engineering and marketing team introduced the new Aspen as a one-of-a-kind SUV that is loaded with performance, amenities and fuel-saving technology.

"We understand that in the past, 25 percent of Chrysler's customers were forced to leave the brand in order to buy an SUV," said Michael Berube, Senior Manager of Chrysler Brand Marketing. "We have come up with a solution that offers a balance for these customers who want the versatility of an SUV, but don't want to sacrifice styling and value that they've come to appreciate with Chrysler products."

At first glance, Chrysler's entry into the SUV class is an eye-catcher, with big and bold design elements that are finished off with just a touch of bling-bling. Chrome accents such as mirrors, door handles and a large chrome grille give the Aspen a look that is unmistakably Chrysler.

But the Aspen's "Wow" factor continues under the hood with a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8, featuring a whopping 335 horsepower for great giddy-up and go. However, fuel economy isn't necessarily sacrificed for this fun since the engine also features a fuel-saving multi-displacement system that seamlessly alternates between four cylinders for less power and V-8 when more power is preferred.

The resulting fuel mileage is fair for a full-size SUV, with both the two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive 4.7 liter V-8 Aspen models getting 14 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 19 on the highway.

With seating for up to eight adults, including a third row that easily handles a six-footer, the Aspen also has more cargo room than most of its full-size SUV competitors, such as the Ford Expedition, Chevy Tahoe and Toyota Sequoia.

And the Aspen makes it easy to get in and out of the rear rows by extending the opening radius of the rear doors to 84 degrees, which is a welcome change for those in the way back seat.

It also is powerful enough to tow up to 8,950 pounds and features best-in-class trailer sway control that monitors the vehicle's movement relative to the driver's intended path and senses as a trailer begins to sway, then applies selective brake pressure and engine control until the sway threat is under control.

The Aspen also offers a full range of active and passive safety systems that move it to the head of the class in safety features. In other words, the Aspen is one smart SUV.

Some of the other, more visible techno gadgets that are available in the Aspen include a power lift gate, rear seat DVD entertainment system, full-screen navigation SIRIUS satellite radio, tire pressure monitoring system, remote starting capability and a rear backup system that Chrysler calls ParkSense.

Another first in long list of firsts for the Aspen is a special cloth seat fabric that is stain and order resistant, allowing all spills to be wiped off easily and completely.

Driving the Aspen over the mountain roads is a pure joy, with none of the heavy, SUV roll that one would expect from a full-size hauler. In fact, after a short time behind the wheel of the Aspen, one tends to forget that you're driving a big vehicle at all.

With prices starting below $32,000 for the 4x2 Aspen Limited (including destination charge), a fully loaded aspen tops out at $39,225.

What's the morale of this Chrysler story? Good things come to those who wait.

By Keith Turner

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Images of the 2007, Chrysler Aspen

2007 Chrysler Aspen SUV
2007 Chrysler Aspen SUV
2007 Chrysler Aspen SUV
2007 Chrysler Aspen SUV
2007 Chrysler Aspen SUV
2007 Chrysler Aspen SUV
2007 Chrysler Aspen SUV
2007 Chrysler Aspen SUV