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Moving Forward

A new sedan and a new sense of confidence puts the Chrysler Group on a positive path.

In addition to Chrysler’s many new-for-’05 headline vehicles unveiled some months ago — Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum, Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan, Dodge Dakota “mid-size” pickup and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, Chrysler Crossfire Roadster and PT Cruiser Convertible — there are some additional new products not widely seen before summer. These include a dieselpowered Jeep Liberty, new Dodge Ram Power Wagon heavy-duty pickups and hot SRT versions of the Ram Quad Cab and Crossfire Coupe and Roadster.

 Chrysler’s hot-selling 300 marks the return of the rear-drive American sedan.
The strikingly styled 300 and Magnum we know fairly well by now. And, given how well they drive, handle and perform, we’re not surprised to see the public embracing them as the country’s long-lost large rear-drive Americanicon family cars. We know they offer a trio of engines: base 190-hp 2.7L DOHC V-6, midrange 250-hp SOHC 3.5L “High Output” V-6 and hairy-chested 340-hp 5.7L HEMI V-8, the latter driving the 300C’s and Magnum RT’s rear wheels through a 5-speed automatic with AutoStick manual shift control. And we like Magnum’s rear liftgate, which provides an unusually large (11.3 sq.ft.) “extreme access” cargo opening because its liftgate is cleverly hinged midway between the C- and D- pillars. We know that Chrysler craftily beat GM to market with the industry’s first modern cylinder deactivation — they call it MDS for Multi- Displacement System — which seamlessly disables four of the HEMI’s eight cylinders to reduce fuel consumption by as much as 20 percent when V-8 power isn’t needed.

We know those healthy HEMI horses are harnessed by Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and 4-wheel ABS with all-speed traction control, and that all-wheel drive is available on mid- and up-level models. We’re not sure why there’s no milder, cheaper V-8 between the 3.5L V-6 and the HEMI. Chrysler says it’s not needed because the V-6 is powerful enough. We suspect it also might have something to do with not upsetting the corporation’s carefully balanced CAFE cart, since too many buyers might go for it if offered.

The ’05 minivans, Chrysler Town and Country, Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan, while not much different in appearance from ’04s, boast some 15 new features and safety enhancements. Paramount among them is the revolutionary Stow ’n Go seating and storage system, which allows both second and third row seats to be folded into the floor quickly and easily with one hand. The folding seats use NASA-developed Super High Density (SHD) foam cushion material (also used in high-end mattresses, home and office furniture, aerospace and medical applications), and the covered wells they fold into add 12 cu. ft. of storage, complete with convenient cargo nets. Two additional minivan firsts: a flexible overhead-rail storage system with movable/removable bins and 60/40 split reclining third-row tailgate seating.

The Crossfire sports car family now has three fun-to-drive flavors in coupe and roadster wrappings: basic black Crossfire, full-featured Limited and butt-kickin’ SRT-6, the first highperformance SRT entries for the Chrysler brand. These brandish race-tuned suspensions and brakes, integrated front chin spoiler, large fixed rear spoiler, race-inspired seats and serious motivation from hand-built 330-hp 3.2L supercharged V-6s courtesy of AMG, Mercedes-Benz’ high-horsepower shop. Chrysler says they can sprint from rest to 60 mph in about five sec., brake from 60 in 115 ft. and do zero to 100 to 0 (a standard SRT test) in less than 16 sec.

The PT Cruiser Convertible boasts three levels of DOHC 2.4L four: 150-hp standard, 180-hp turbo and 220-hp high-output turbo in the GT, which also features a 5-speed Getrag manual gearbox, sport suspension, 4-wheel discs, traction control, 17-in. cast aluminum wheels and more. Surprisingly in the PT’s price class, the convertible top is power operated.

Billed as the “largest, most powerful and most capable mid-size pickup” on the market, with the only available V-8 power and best-inclass torque, horsepower and towing, Dodge’s Dakota moves up nearly to where “full-size” used to be. Following a now-familiar pattern, there are three levels of power: base 210-hp 3.7L SOHC V-6, optional 230-hp 4.7L SOHC V-8 and available “250-plus”-hp 4.7L high-output V-8, but no HEMI … yet. Longer and wider than competitive trucks, 3.7-in. longer and 2.7-in. wider than the ’04 Dakota, the ’05 also boasts “best-in-class overall interior space and comfort” with available 6-passenger seating.

Most of that added length is ahead of the front axle to provide more crush space, and the fully boxed hydroformed frame features the same patented energy-absorbing octagonal front tips that debuted on the ’04 Durango. A new advanced air bag system includes front passenger occupant sensing and supplemental side curtain bags covering both seating rows in Club Cab and Quad Cab models. Under the ’05 Dakota’s bigger, slicker, new body, the front suspension uses coil-over shocks, the steering is rack and pinion, and sound deadening is much improved for, yes, “the lowest noise, vibration and harshness” in class.

Watch out Hummer! The 2005 Dodge Power Wagon returns to the line-up after a 25-year hiatus.
Jeep’s all-new Grand Cherokee, perhaps surprisingly, shares little with the new-for ’04 Dodge Durango except essentially the same (you guessed it) three power choices and a few common drivetrain components. Those engines (dubbed “Power Tech” vs. Dodge’s “Magnum”) are the 210-hp 3.7L SOHC V-6, the 230-hp 4.7L SOHC V-8 and the 5.7L MDS HEMI V-8, though the latter is rated 325 hp vs. 335 in Durango, preserving the Dodge’s “most powerful” brand attribute. At 186.6 in. on a 109.5-in. wheelbase, the Grand Cherokee is more than 14 in. shorter than Durango and has a 7.3-degree higher approach angle for serious off-road driving, though (surprisingly) slightly less ground clearance, ramp break-over and departure angles.

Three new full-time 4WD systems enhance Grand Cherokee’s off-road capability and onroad refinement. Quadra-Trac I is transparent, with no switches or levers, and uses Brake Traction Control System (BTCS) for optimum braking, especially on steep downhills. Quadra- Trac II adds an active 2-speed transfer case, while Quadra-Drive II combines that 2-speed transfer case with Electronic Limited-Slip Differentials (ELSD) fore and aft for “best-in- class tractive performance.” ELSD instantly detects tire slip and smoothly redistributes torque to the tires with the most traction, sometimes even proactively sensing impending slip and preventing it, and the ’05 Grand Cherokee is the industry’s first entry with ELSD at both axles.

Jeep’s compact Liberty Sport and Limited models will be offered with a new 160-hp 2.8L DOHC turbo-diesel engine option for the first time in North America. This 4-cylinder common -rail diesel (CRD) offers a sturdy 295 lb. ft. of torque through a 5-speed automatic transmission for best-in-class towing and a potential driving range of about 480 miles.

Our summer visit to Chrysler’s Chelsea, Mich., Proving Grounds coincided with that facility’s 50th anniversary, and the assembled media were primed for a traditional new-building ground-breaking led by shovel-wielding execs in hard hats. Instead, a hulking new Dodge Ram Power Wagon heavy-duty pickup burst through what turned out to be a faux mound of dirt, followed by a bright red example of the new-for-’05 Ram SRT-10 Quad Cab. The former boasts the most powerful engines in its class: standard 345-hp 5.7L HEMI V-8 and available Cummins 600 turbo diesel six rated at 325 hp and a massive 600 lb.ft. of torque for best-in-class towing and hauling capabilities. The latter is the new ’05 Quad Cab version of the 500-hp Viper V-10-powered baddest high-performance pickup on the planet, with room for five.

It’s worth mentioning that DCX’s long-awaited Chrysler Group turnaround seems finally on its way. The Chrysler brand, thanks largely to its hot-selling 300 sedans, is on a sustained role with sales up 18 percent through the first five months of 2004 and a stunning 109 percent for the decade from 1993 to 2003, while Dodge and Jeep are being positioned to follow. As increasingly competitive new U.S. products continue to roll out, it will be interesting to watch.

Chrysler Bright Ideas

  • Stow ’n Go Seating and Storage System. Allows both second and third row seats in Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan minivans to be folded into the floor quickly and easily with one hand while adding 12 cu.ft. of covered storage when the seats are up.

  • Super High Density (SHD) foam seating material. the Stow ’n Go folding seats use NASA-developed foam cushion material, also used in high-end mattresses, home and office furniture, aerospace and medical applications, to enable compact stowage with excellent comfort.
  • Multi-Displacement System (MDS). Chrysler craftily beat GM to market with the industry’s first modern cylinder deactivation system, which seamlessly disables four of the HEMI V8’s cylinders to reduce fuel consumption by as much as 20 percent when V8 power isn’t needed.
  • Octagonal front frame tips. ’05 Dodge Dakota mid-size pickups feature fully boxed hydroformed frame with the same patented and award-winning octagonal front tips that debuted on the ’04 Durango to help absorb frontal impact energy.
  • “Extreme Access” Liftgate. Dodge Magnum wagon’s rear cargo opening is unusually large (11.3 sq.ft.) thanks to innovative hinging of its liftgate midway between the C- and D- pillars.
  • Quadra-Drive II. Available ’05 Grand Cherokee 4WD system combines 2-speed transfer case with front and rear Electronic Limited-Slip Differentials (ELSD), which instantly detect tire slip and redistribute torque to tires with the most traction and sometimes proactively sense impending slip and prevent it; ELSD at both axles is an industry first.

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Fri. June 14th, 2024

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