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First Drive: 2013 Dodge Dart

Shifting the balance of power in the compact class.

by on Apr.30, 2012

Coming at you - Dodge redefines the American compact car with the help of its partner, Fiat.

With its unexpectedly strong first-quarter earnings it’s no wonder Chrysler officials have been crowing about the turnaround of a company that was bankrupt just three short years ago.  Those profits have largely been driven by a surge in demand for models ranging from the midsize 200 sedan to the big Jeep Grand Cherokee.  But there’s a gaping hole in the Chrysler corporate line-up that the maker must fill if it hopes to keep that momentum going.

To plug that gap the Dodge division is getting an all-new compact sedan for which the maker curiously decided to revive an old nameplate, the launch of the 2013 Dodge Dart brings back a once-formidable badge last used in 1976.

That means there are perhaps two generations of American motorists who have, at most, vague memories of that nameplate.  As for older Baby Boomers, well, the original Dart was popular enough in its heyday but, like so many American models of the 1970s, it had serious issues by the time Dodge dropped it from the line-up.  So, gaining traction for an all-new Dart will clearly be a challenge, especially with Dodge aiming at two distinctive audiences: young buyers starting up a family and older empty nesters.

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But spending a couple days with several late pre-production models convinced that Dodge has nailed the needs of compact customers – enough to pose serious challenges to the segment’s traditional Japanese leaders. That’s especially true when you consider that Dodge will offer five different versions of the new Dart, with six powertrain combinations – including one bumping up to “41-plus” mpg – 14 color and trim packages, three different wheels and 100s of customizable options.


Chrysler Re-launching SRT Performance Brand

Redefining the muscle car for $4 gas.

by on Jul.15, 2011

Ralph Gilles with the Dodge Challenger SRT-8.

While fuel prices may be hovering near record levels, there’s plenty of demand for performance – or so Chrysler is betting as it readies the ambitious re-launch of its SRT brand.

The make is rolling out four new SRT models that have been equipped with a new 6.4-liter hemi-engine that delivers not only better performance but also markedly improved fuel economy compared to the old Chrysler 6.1-liter Hemi.

The engine in each of the cars has been equipped with cylinder de-activation technology that Chrysler claims can boost mileage by as much as 25%, while upgraded vehicle dynamics, performance-oriented brakes and race-inspired seats – as well as a new high-end sound system – should appeal to traditional muscle can fans.

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The 6.4-liter Hemi V8 produces 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque and can propel the SRT versions of the Dodge Challenger , Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 to top speeds of 175 mph. The SRT version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee with its 20-inch, highly stylized wheels – designed to show off the new Brembo brakes – tops out at “only” 165 miles per hour after the vehicle’s ground clearance was reduced by an inch to make the SRT SUV more aerodynamic.


First Look: Chrysler 300C SRT8 and 300 Executive Series

More power, more style.

by on Apr.21, 2011

The Chrysler 300 Executive Series and Chrysler 300 SRT8 make their New York Auto Show World Debut.

Chrysler likes to say that its products are “imported from Detroit,” and the company is backing up that statement by producing new versions of the redesigned 300C flagship sedan that hark back to the city’s muscle car days.

The 300C SRT8 follows the formula of other SRT* models in the Chrysler and Dodge portfolio—add a honkin’ engine and some evil-looking styling cues.

The big motor under the hood in this case is a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 that makes 465 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. All that power is directed to the rear wheels via a 5-speed automatic transmission, which gains paddle-mounted shifters.

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Chrysler is attempting to alleviate fuel-economy concerns by giving the SRT8 a cylinder-deactivation system. An adaptive-damping suspension with “Auto” and “Sport” modes exists to give the car sporty handling characteristics. The Brembo brakes consist of 14.2-inch (front) and 13.8-inch (rear) rotors with four-piston calipers.


First Look Chrysler 200 S and 200 S Convertible

Debut scheduled for NY Auto Show.

by on Apr.19, 2011

A first look at the Chrysler 200 S sedan and convertible.

We’re not sure where Eminem is, but Chrysler is giving us a sneak peek at the two new versions of the compact 200 that will making their debut at the New York Auto Show later this week.

The sedan, which got a huge send-up with the rapper’s lengthy 2011 Super Bowl commercial, is competing in a tough segment of the market, so Chrysler is hoping to increase its appeal by adding a drop-top as well as an all-new sport edition.

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The Chrysler 200 S ushers in an all-new sporty designation that we’ll also see later this year on the bigger Chrysler 300 sedan.

The S-trimmed 200 gets some subtle but distinctive design tweaks, starting with an S-specific winged Chrysler badge, as well as a distinctive headlamp with black background and body-colored door handles and mirrors.  The car also sits on specially designed 18-inch wheels and tires.


First Drive: Chrysler 200 Convertible

More than a rental car.

by on Jan.28, 2011

Chrysler restyles open-air motoring with the new 200 Convertible.

Convertibles are back in style at Chrysler Group.  The maker that helped spur the revival of open-top motoring, back in the ‘80s, has updated its Sebring into a much more stylish and desirable offering that means it won’t just land with a thud in the daily rental fleets but actually appeal to retail customers.

The new Chrysler 200 Convertible has been given  a complete makeover for 2011 as part of the company’s far reaching effort to rebuild its product line and the effort has paid off handsomely, bringing  new life into what had been a neglected part of the company’s product line.

The welcome exterior changes first seen on the Chrysler 200 Coupe have been carried over – and include a new, well-integrated fascia as well as a new hood that gives the vehicle a remarkably improved appearance.  The changes to the front continue with the new, more elegant rear fascia as well as the new, redesigned Chrysler badges, which seem to fit nicely into the car.


First Look: Chrysler 200 Convertible

Image leak forces maker to reveal model early.

by on Jan.18, 2011

Chrysler's new 200 convertible will reach showrooms by spring.

The lackluster Chrysler Sebring Convertible is about to get a wee bit more stylish replacement.  The maker has officially released the first pictures of an all-new Chrysler 200 Convertible, which will go into production later this year.

Versions of both the 200 sedan and ragtop will make their debut, meanwhile, under the Lancia badge, in March, at the annual Geneva Motor Show.

Significantly redesigned, the 200 sedan was launched last year.  (Click Here for’s review.) But the maker was holding back on word of the convertible until an upcoming auto show preview.  At least that’s what it had planned until photos were unofficially leaked out to some Web outlets.

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That forced Chrysler to put out an official press release – and to trigger an angry outburst by photographer Webb Bland, who declared it “infuriating,” on his Facebook page, that “five weeks of careful planning and logistics (were) destroyed in an instant…by one lone, misguided idiot.”


Chrysler Sets Sticker on Next-Generation 300 Sedan

Flagship aimed at reviving struggling Detroit maker.

by on Jan.06, 2011

Pricing for the 2012 Chrysler 300 will start at $28,000 and nudge up to $42,000.

Chrysler will launch its new 300 sedan, early this year, for a starting price of just under $28,000, the automaker today announced.  A fully-loaded 300C will push into the mid-$40,000 range.

One of the most important launches for the Detroit-based maker this year – and arguably the foundation of a planned comeback for the Chrysler brand – the 300 is aimed at re-establishing the maker as more than just an also-ran in the luxury car market.

The outgoing 300 was an instant success after its launch, seven years ago, critically hailed for its retro-tinged styling.  The new model maintains many of the bolder styling cues but introduces a more refined feel to the design – especially when it comes to the interior.

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Chrysler has redesigned the interior of most of its key products for 2011, addressing one of the biggest and most consistent criticisms leveled against the maker.  (For a closer look at the 2012 Chrysler 300 sedan’s design, Click Here.)

The base version of the 2012 Chrysler 300 will carry a $27,995 sticker, while a top-line 300C with a Hemi V8 and all-wheel-drive will list for $41,195.  Add destination and option prices and the new model could push several thousand dollars higher.


First Drive: 2011 Dodge Durango

Return of the “man van.”

by on Jan.03, 2011

A first look at the 2011 Dodge Durango.

Conventional wisdom would have it that Chrysler is in a holding pattern this year, awaiting some of the big new product launches promised as part of its new affiliation with Italy’s Fiat.  But, yet again, conventional wisdom would be wrong.

True, some of the most important launches are yet to come, but the troubled U.S. maker is turning out a significant assortment of all-new and updated models for 2011, including eight under the Chrysler and Dodge brand names.  That includes an all-new version of the Dodge Durango, which the maker is billing as “the return of the man van.”

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There was reason to be skeptical, of course, as we headed to California for a first ride in the 2011 Dodge Durango.  Chrysler has a history of wrapping the same basic product under a variety of different wrappers, and one could only wonder whether the ’11 Dodge SUV would be little more than a warmed-over version of the new, 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee remake.

To our surprise – and satisfaction – what we discovered when we got a first close-up look at the 2011 Dodge Durango was a crossover/ute with a decidedly distinct appearance, both inside and out, and on-road manners that are notably different from those of the Grand Cherokee.


Chrysler Lifts Covers On 300 Sedan Exterior

Future retro.

by on Dec.21, 2010

The 2012 Chrysler 300 will reach showrooms earlier in the first quarter of the new year.

Was it worth the wait?  Chrysler is finally giving us a full glimpse of the next-generation 300 sedan – after offering up only a tempting tease earlier in the month.

The images here reveal a retro-futuristic design that picks up where the outgoing sedan left off.  Launched in 2004, the Chrysler 300 flagship offered a dramatic rear-drive design that helped carry Chrysler through some of its darkest moments – including last year’s bankruptcy.

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The new car will have to prove that beauty is more than skin deep, however, and that means delivering more technology, improved quality and, in particular, a more refined and crafted interior.

The front end of the new 300 features an every-so-slightly more raked grille, one that uses a new seven-blade design featured in what Chrysler describes as “liquid chrome.”  Meanwhile, “key slot” headlamps form a C-shape and are surrounded by LED daylight running lamps.


Chrysler Keeping Convertible In The Line-Up

200 Ragtop part of full-line revamping for struggling brand.

by on Nov.17, 2010

Picture me topless, now that Chrysler confirms a ragtop version of the 2011 Chrysler 200 is coming.

Chrysler has confirmed plans for a revamped convertible, which will appear next spring under the Chrysler 200 nameplate.

The decision to offer a ragtop version of the new 200 line shows the maker thought there was too much pent-up demand to wait for a new generation of mid-sized cars that are to be based on a platform supplied by Fiat, the U.S. maker’s Italian partner.

The Fiat-based versions of the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200 will be available by early 2012, however – a full  year earlier than anticipated in the original transformation plan the company rolled out more than a year ago, CEO Sergio Marchionne confirmed recently.

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Despite moving up the date for the Chrysler brand’s midsize replacement, Chrysler plans to go ahead with the launch of the Chrysler 200 next spring, officials said this week.

“It will also be the only convertible on the market (in its segment) with four seats,” said Chrysler spokesman Rick Deneau.