12:01 am, Jan. 10--
2007 CHRYSLER ASPEN
What looks to be a rebadged Dodge Durango turns out to be just about that. The Chrysler grille and front clip, plus unique side panels do the trick. This is a Chrysler design with enough differences from the Durango to make you take a second look. Engine offerings are 4.7- and 5.7-liter V8s teamed with a five-speed automatic transmission. Side airbags are standard for all three rows of seats. Two-wheel and four-wheel drive is available. Chrysler plans to compete with Caddy Escalade and Lincoln Navigator in the high-luxury SUV market, but at a much lower price. Introduction is set for fall 2006.
2007 DODGE CALIBER
An entirely new name and new vehicle for the Dodge line, this Caliber with a $13,985 sticker price, fits the lowest slot in Dodge's vehicle lineup for 2007. The popular crossover design offers flexibility of loading in a small overall package. Four-cylinder engines include a 2.0-liter with a CVT transmission, and a 1.8-liter with a manual five-speed. Options list heated seats, 17-in. wheels, leather and various seating conversions. An all-wheel-drive iteration is set for later introduction. Side airbag curtains are standard.
A REALLY BIG SHEW!
Chrysler Group press conferences at the Detroit auto show are legendary for their showmanship, like yesterday's Wrangler leaving the building through a plate-glass window and scaling a man-made hill, or assorted TV starlets flirting with executives. Well, today's Caliber intro was no different. In the midst of Chrysler exec Joe Eberhardt's presentation, David Spade climbed on stage and did a pretty funny job of lampooning the intro. As Eberhardt was telling the assemblage how much better the Caliber was and how much more it has to offer than the Neon, which it replaces, Spade commented that most everything looks pretty good compared to a Neon. And when Eberhardt announced it would offer a low price, Spade commented on how that was the equivalent of saying it came with paint and four tires. By the way, Caliber's base price is $13,895. Even Spade couldn't top that remark. So instead he ordered Chrysler's head PR honcho, Jason Vines, whom he kept calling "Larry" into the trunk, then drove off.
To top that act, Chrysler created an indoor snowstorm—actually small pieces of windblown paper—to herald the arrival of the Chrysler Aspen. Can you say rebadged and luxed-out Durango? As Chrysler brand's first real SUV, as opposed to the Pacifica (which is viewed as its own creature and a crossover to boot), the Aspen revives yet another name from the company's past. Just how many people remember the previous Aspen nameplate will be interesting to see, and more interesting to see if it affects this vehicle's success. The old Aspen sedan was hardly a high point in Chrysler's product history. But other than having a slicker, more elegant interior and some exterior touches—like its nose—to seem more Chrysler and less Dodge, the new Aspen is really nothing more than good ol' badge engineering.