2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited 4WD review: Limited wisdom?

2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited

2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited

Conventional wisdom says the 2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited is too much too late. Higher gas prices, they say, is driving people away from the larger SUV market and the Chrysler Aspen is flying into the teeth of that particular gale.

Conventional wisdom doesn’t consider, however, that the Chrysler Aspen utilizes marginal production capacity by providing further diversification and utilization of previously incurred costs. In other words, DaimlerChrysler’s already building the Dodge Durango. Why not take the same basic package, clothe it in the new Chrysler idiom—shiny “300” grille, hood strakes and so on—and gussy up the interior, and recalibrate its chassis for a more upscale market and sell it in a different market segment?

Which makes the Chrysler Aspen the Frosted Flakes to Dodge’s ordinary corn flakes: coat with sugar, add Tony the Tiger, and it’s grrrrreat!

Is it good for you? The SUV shopper on the other hand worries less about whether the 2007 Chrysler Aspen is good for DaimlerChrysler than whether the 2007 Chrysler Aspen the Aspen fit one’s lifestyle and incidentally, one’s garage.

The latter first: Anyone with a garage large enough for a Lincoln Navigator or Cadillac Escalade will be able to house a Chrysler Aspen easily. At 202 inches long, it’s two inches shorter than a Cadillac Escalade and the Navigator tops it by eight inches. The Lincoln and Cadillac are three inches wider than the Chrysler, and while the Escalade matches the Aspen at 74.3 inches tall, the Navigator towers over both by three inches. Navigator drivers: that’s six foot two and a smidge. Watch out in underground garages.

The Chrysler still feels big, living life at eleven tenths as much as its rivals. Everything feels big about the Aspen and the Aspen looks big from the outside. Eighteen inch wheels are standard (with 20-inch chrome dubs optional for those who must) and reside under broad shoulders. Inside, the big comfy chairs aren’t deeply bolstered but then neither is the big comfy chair in your living room. One is likely to experience no more lateral force than the other, California residents notwithstanding. The center console has a roomy bin, thanks in part to the column-mounted shifter, and the dash is subtly contoured.

Green faces The Chrysler Aspen shares its deco gauge face design with its automotive equivalents, calibrated with fine markings and bathed with a vintage green illumination. The de rigueur analog clock is too, and softly scalloped into the dash top. It’s perhaps a bit small for easy reading by the, um, more mature clientele the Aspen is likely to attract.

But while the i.p. has that soft green glow, the dome and map light are a crisp ice blue. Hey, Chrysler, don’t mix the metaphors. If the Aspen’s interior is inspired by Chryslers of the Thirties, maintain the theme. It’s an odd contrast.

Of course, the optional DVD-based GPS nav system in our test 2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited 4WD goes its own way with its buttons and controls. Better in some ways, it’s not fully intuitive so darn, gotta pull out the instruction manual.

We have a gripe with the 2007 Chrysler Aspen’s navigation system that we have with many others: Once entered, a destination “off the verified roads” will be recognized and marked, but the nav system abandons the driver at those final critical turns to a visual tether on the screen, a line from where you are to where you want to go. Better, it would seem, to go ahead and provide turn-by-turn guidance to the destination and risk changes to the unverified roads.Another useful feature is the 115v AC power socket, though the placement—low on the dash to the left of the steering wheel—is inconvenient. Did the lawyers get there before the interior designers or something?

The third-row seating phenomenon is a factor of the decline of the minivan. Accustomed to the passenger toting ability of the soccer mom’s vehicle of choice but not willing to actually drive one, buyers have been buying three-row SUVs. The problem, however, is that with all seats raised, there’s relatively little cargo room. Chrysler claims 19 cubic feet behind the Aspen’s third row seat. That’s equivalent to the trunk of a large sedan, but the long-wheelbase Chrysler Town & Country minivan has 32 cubic feet behind the third row, almost half again as much. And though the third row seats in the Chrysler Aspen are relatively easy to access, the Town & Country’s seats are not only bigger but easier to get into. If it’s room you need, bite the bullet and buy the minivan. If you really need something more rugged or with more towing capability, we’ll give you permission to buy the Chrysler Aspen.

Got a Hemi? Maybe. The Aspen is available with a choice of V-8s, the standard 4.7-liter sohc 16-valve eight or the optional 5.7-liter Hemi. The former is rated at 235 hp while the Hemi makes 335 horsepower and 370 lb-ft of torque. The 4.7 has flex-fuel capacity. It’s capable of running on ethanol, gasoline or any mixture of the two. The Hemi, on the other hand, alternates between normal eight-cylinder operation and a fuel-saving four cylinder mode. It’s wholly transparent in operation. If no one told you, you’d never know.

Rear wheel drive is standard; the optional 4×4 system has a two-speed transfer case and an all-wheel drive mode and four-wheel drive with high and low ratios. It’s more than most—OK, all—Chrysler Aspen drivers will need. We can’t imagine anyone taking the Aspen seriously off-road. Not that it wouldn’t go there. It’s just out of character.

Indeed, its ride is soft as a harem pillow—not that we’d know—and just as decadent. Perhaps a little too much so. Our notes say the Chrysler Aspen is “soft to the point of floaty,” and that cornering will require automobile drivers to recalibrate their expectations. The latter is normal for SUVs, but that we noticed it suggests that it’s more than usual.

Chrysler engineers have managed to provide a small turning radius, most evident when negotiating the shoals of parking lots. The Chrysler Aspen is surprisingly easy to park, considering its size.

Mass conversion Our test Aspen was powered by the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 and it’s a treat just to stand behind the vehicle and listen to the hollow ringing rumble of vagrant exhaust pulses echoing their way from the engine. There’s that eleven-tenths thing again. From inside its mostly inaudible, at least until it’s showtime. Then it roars and converts mass—5180 pounds worth—into acceleration and at the same time converts gasoline into water and carbon dioxide at a prodigious rate. The EPA says the 2007 Chrysler Aspen Limited 4WD should return 14/19 mpg city/highway. We experienced 13.6 and 12.5 mpg on two consecutive tanks of mixed driving.

We’ll confess to an enthusiastic right foot but, hey, we pay for gas. Refilling the Aspen’s 27 gallon tank with 89 octane fuel is not something we enjoy, not when it’s our credit card in the slot, so we practiced throttle moderation. We wonder what it would have been without the four-cylinder operation mode. Anyway, the demeanor of the Chrysler Aspen doesn’t encourage enthusiastic driving, although the ability to merge into moving traffic from short acceleration lanes was much appreciated.

Our test Aspen’s acceleration was abetted by the optional 3.92:1 axle ratio (3.55:1 is standard). The 3.92 also bumps the max trailer rating to 8750 pounds,1500 pounds more than the standard ratio, It also means more fuel consumption, however, towing or not.