2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited
2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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Toronto, Ontario – Take one Hemi-powered Dodge Durango: line it with leather, add new body panels, a new dash, 20-inch wheels, load it up with features and sprinkle liberally with bling. Shake well and waddaya got?

A premium seven-seater SUV that’ll run with the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator, and possibly snatch a few sales from the German and Japanese marques as well.

This is certainly what Chrysler is hoping for with the all-new 2007 Aspen Limited AWD.

Chrysler is coming pretty late to the luxury SUV party, and it’s being greeted at the door by Al Gore, David Suzuki and a growing number of scowling greenies. Probably not the best time to be foisting a thirsty ute on the market, but as far these things go, it’s a pretty good one.

With a base price of $49,995, the well-equipped Aspen looks like a steal when compared to the $73,199 Navigator and $75,830 Escalade. The BMW X5 4.8i starts at $73,500.

2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited
2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited. Click image to enlarge

Of course, this segment of the market is driven as much by cachet as anything, and the Aspen can’t hang with the big dogs in this department. But with a 335-hp 5.7-litre V8 Hemi under its hood, it can certainly nip at their heels.

Visually, Chrysler has done a fine job in transforming the Durango from working-class to upper-class. The profile is familiar, but every body panel is different, lending the Aspen a more refined, albeit conservative look. The honkin’ big Chrysler grill is the real giveaway, along with the Crossfire-inspired ridges on the hood – a design cue that has also shown up on the Chrysler Sebring. Lots of chrome accents, big Chrysler lettering on the door, and, oh yes, those chrome dubs (20-inch wheels to you and me) complete the look.

Inside, the news is even better. Just stepping out of a Range Rover Supercharged and into the Aspen Limited, my upper-crust sensibilities were barely ruffled.

2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited
2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited
2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited
2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited. Click image to enlarge

Chrysler wisely gave the Aspen a new dash, and while the materials and workmanship may be not up to the best from Europe, the design is classy and modern, and the choice of hues very nice.

The centre console rises up, bisecting the dash (not unlike the Range Rover) and the textured putty-coloured plastic is accented with satin-finished faux metal and light Madrona Burl wood. Okay, so it’s plastic, but at least you know no “madrona” trees were felled for your sake. The cows, on the other hand, were not so lucky. Both front and second row seats are leather clad with suede-like inserts.

The large and legible retro-look gauges, like those in the Crossfire, glow a soft blue at night, as does the LED interior lighting when opening the doors. A small analogue clock – a de rigeur affectation in upscale interiors these days – perches atop the dash.

The overall interior ambience is very pleasing, although look closely and the stitching on the steering wheel isn’t as fine, the leather isn’t as soft, and the plastic a little more plasticky than in more pricey vehicles.

The feature count is high in the Aspen. Included in the base price is dual-zone climate control, power sunroof, power lift gate, adjustable pedals, memory system, eight-speaker Alpine surround sound with sub-woofer, park assist, one-touch turn signals, steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls and heated front and second row seats with rear seat climate control.

2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited
2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited. Click image to enlarge

My tester had the optional $2,895 navigation, $530 trailer tow group and $1,190 rear seat video system.

Safety-wise, the ute features side-curtain airbags, tire-pressure monitoring, and Electronic Stability Program with integrated brake assist, traction control and Electronic Roll Mitigation. The Aspen earned a five-star US Government front impact crash test rating.

This Chrysler’s dimensions may be a draw for some shoppers, as it is one size down from the huge Lincoln and Cadillac – closer to the BMW X5 actually. This doesn’t seem to hurt interior space, as the airy cabin feels spacious and the two flip-up third-row seats are actually habitable for adults. Chrysler claims a best-in-class cargo capacity of 1,937 litres with the third row folded.

The Aspen is a traditional body-on-frame SUV with a solid rear axle and coil springs. Despite these underpinnings, it manages to hide its truckiness pretty well. The ride is quiet and compliant, but the price is paid in floatiness over undulating roads and generally soft responses to the helm. Compared with the best of the uni-body SUV’s, it feels somewhat weighty and ponderous.

2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited
2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited. Click image to enlarge

But if you need an SUV that stresses utility over sport, the Aspen looks ready to deliver. With the Trailer Tow Group, it can tow up to 3969 kg (8750 lb.) The five-speed automatic “tow/haul” transmission features a reducing gear, and programmed into the electronic stability control is Trailer Sway Control (TSC), which is designed to counteract the pendulum effect.

The full-time all-wheel-drive runs a 48/52 torque split between front and rear axles, and features a two-speed transfer case with high and low four-wheel-drive range.

The Aspen Limited’s trump card is the 335-hp Hemi V8, producing 370 lb.-ft. of torque at 4200 r.p.m. It hauls around this 2,322 kg SUV with effortless urge.

DaimlerChrysler’s marketing types have done a magnificent job in creating a mystical aura around this 5.7-litre push-rod V8, which technically isn’t even a real hemi. No matter. At this point, Chrysler could slap a Hemi badge on a wheelbarrow and the masses would bow in reverence. Hemispherical combustion chambers or not, the big bent-eight is smooth, linear and makes all the correct Detroit sounds.

2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited
2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited. Click image to enlarge

DC is also making a lot of noise about the Hemi’s Multi-Displacement System – an electro-mechanical system that turns the V8 into a 2.85-litre four-cylinder under low-load conditions by seamlessly deactivating half the pots. I made a conscious effort during my time with the Aspen to drive with a light foot on the throttle just to see what I could eke out of this full-sized SUV. “Eke” is probably not the right word for 15.6 L/100 km.

Then again, no one ever bought a V8-powered luxo-ute to save gas.
There’s no doubt the Aspen Limited is a worthy and well-priced entrant into the premium SUV arena. Its biggest challenge will be drawing buyers away from the more established brands.

A blinged out ‘Spen probably won’t be bumping and grinding with the ‘Sclades and Hummers in a hip-hop video any time soon, but for those who place value and utility above perceived cachet, the Chrysler Aspen Limited is worth a long look.

Pricing: 2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited


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