Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
2007 Chrysler Aspen. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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In what it terms a “company record”, DaimlerChrysler is planning to release ten new models this year. In a recent media event north of Toronto, Ontario, the intent was evident as the company raised the curtains on the all-new Chrysler Aspen, the next-generation Chrysler Sebring, and the freshened Chrysler Pacifica. I didn’t get a chance to drive them, but I did get to see them up close.

The new nameplate among the three, the Aspen is Chrysler’s version of the Dodge Durango. Bringing out a full-size SUV in these days of skyrocketing gas prices might seem counterproductive, but the company says that 77 per cent of Chrysler owners who end up buying an SUV go to a competitor; the Durango is too truck-like, and Jeep is too rough-and-ready. So Chrysler is aiming to out-luxury the luxury brands.

They’ve certainly done their homework:

Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
2007 Chrysler Aspen. Click image to enlarge

the Aspen’s luscious interior is filled with numerous standard and available features, including soft-touch plastics, light woodgrain, leather and suede seating, and full-screen navigation unit. Our model sported 20-inch wheels, the ribbed hood that will become a Chrysler Group trademark, and chrome – lots of it. The Aspen might be just a little too “blinged out” for some buyers, especially when it’s time to clean it all up, but then, Cadillac’s Escalade has proven that maybe you can have too much of a good thing and still appeal to customers.

Power comes from the company’s proven 5.7-litre Hemi V8 with multi-displacement system (MDS), which shuts off four cylinders under light loads for better fuel economy, rated for 335 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a five-speed automatic; there’s a column shift, so there’s no manual mode. The Aspen will come standard with electronic stability control, parking assist, and tire pressure monitoring system; available features include a power liftgate, remote start, rear-seat DVD system and SIRIUS satellite radio.

The Aspen comes with three rows of seats, and since it’s based on the Durango, you’ll be able to take all your friends and your boat to the cottage: a “Tow/Haul” feature holds the lower gear longer to reduce gear hunting when towing, and selects a lower gear on downhill slopes to utilize the engine’s braking capability.

I asked if the company expects any negative reactions to the new vehicle’s name, but a representative said that most people surveyed associated it with skiing and the outdoors, and not the late and unlamented Dodge Aspen models of the 1970s. Pricing has not been announced, but the presentation did include a chart showing it priced under the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator and Toyota Sequoia.

Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
2007 Chrysler Sebring. Click image to enlarge

The all-new Sebring is a welcome addition to the family; I always liked the old one, but it was getting rather tired, and I often thought Chrysler was simply going to drop it. Instead, it’s been reinvented for another round.

The new model is chunkier than the old, with a pronounced nose, long roof and short rear overhang, along with the new signature “sculpted” hood. The interior is much more elegant than the outgoing model, with tortoiseshell trim and chrome accents in the Limited model shown at the event. In Canada, there will be three engine choices: a 2.4-litre four-cylinder “World” engine from the company’s new engine affiliation, a new 2.7-litre flexible-fuel V6 or 3.5-litre V6 with a new six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. Unfortunately, we won’t get the 2.0-litre turbodiesel that will be offered in the European market, although Canadian Sebrings keep the rear fog lamps mandatory there.

Other features include 60/40 fold-flat rear seats, a fold-flat front passenger seat, heated cloth seats with available leather, ‘Yes Essentials’ easy-clean fabric, a heated and cooled cupholder, side and curtain airbags, and an available rear-seat DVD system. Again, pricing was not announced, but a chart showed it coming in under the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.

I asked about a convertible version, but company reps were mum on whether the 2006 Sebring ragtop will carry over as a 2007 version; they simply said, coyly, that an announcement will be made soon. Given the popularity of drop-tops, I’ll be surprised if Chrysler doesn’t offer one off this platform.

Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
Preview: Chrysler unveils three new 2007 models first drives chrysler
2007 Chrysler Pacifica. Click image to enlarge

The third offering, the Pacifica, features freshened styling, more features and, surprisingly, a lower price: the base model is $2,610 under the corresponding 2006 version, although the company says the added features represent an average value of $1,600.

On the outside, the Pacifica receives a new hood with the signature ridges, a revised grille and fascias and new headlamps; on the inside, there are woodgrain accents, an analogue clock and ‘Yes Essentials’ easy-care fabric. New-for-2007 features are standard side airbags, electronic stability control program, tire pressure monitoring system and, most welcome of all, a rear backup camera. Rear visibility was a major drawback to these vans, and the camera – which shows up in the instrument cluster – is a welcome addition.

There are two engines: a base 3.8-litre V6, and a new 4.0-litre aluminum V6 mated to a new six-speed transmission; an engineer at the event confirmed it’s a “bored and stroked” version of last year’s 3.5-litre.

All three models are expected to be in Canadian dealerships in the fall of 2006.


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