Chicago Auto Show 2011 Round-up: Chrysler

With all of the hype behind Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad, the pressure is on for the company to deliver on their promise that they know luxury. The company’s showing at the Chicago Auto Show suggests that a turnaround may be on the cards, but also that the company has a ways to go.

At the center of the company’s ad campaign was the new 200, the replacement model for the miserable Sebring. In this week’s podcast, we talked briefly about the interiors of the two cars, and when I said that “it’s definitely better than the Sebring, but that’s like saying that it’s better than a plate of vomit,” the comparison was apt. The Sebring’s cabin was a miserable place to spend time, and so it’s great to see that there have been some marked improvements over the old model.

However, there’s still work to be done. While the interior was stylish, there were some hard moldings in places there shouldn’t have been, such as a corner of the dash at knee height (ouch!). Similarly, the glossy hard plastic surround for the nav screen on the top-of-the-line S model looked nice, but gave way easily to touch and screeched like rusty bedsprings when I applied any pressure. The new model looks far nicer, though, and is apparently a far better drive than the previous model, too. However, its interior still falls short of the Kia Optima and even the Suzuki Kizashi, among others.

Elsewhere on the Chrysler stand, we got a chance to see the new Dodge lineup, starting with the new Durango. It seems as if there has been a marked improvement in the overall quality of the car, as the last Durango was poorly-built and poorly-equipped. It was also a handful to drive, somehow feeling too light and floaty, and too heavy and crashy over bumps at the same time. The new Durango, however, features a revised interior, an all-new body style, and a new platform thanks to the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Having driven the Cherokee, it seems safe to assume that the Durango’s ride and handling will be greatly improved. In addition, the new interior is a huge step up from the old car, with much nicer materials.

Also on the Dodge stand, the new Charger SRT-8 was unveiled, and it’s immediately apparent that the car has been designed to address the previous model’s shortcomings. A more aggressive grille, a more raked front section, redesigned taillights and a redesigned interior are the hallmarks of the new model and they combine to make the new SRT-8 look a good deal more aggressive. The new interior also finally matches what you would expect for the car’s price tag, a problem with the last iteration of the SRT-8.

Across the way from the massive Charger and Durango, Chrysler’s tiniest car was getting lots of attention. The Fiat section of Chrysler’s display was constantly mobbed with people curious about the new 500, and looking to take a picture with the genuine article: a 1970 500 that Fiat brought in especially for the show. The 500 has been a long-time weird car crush of mine, and it was great to see the car in the flesh on US soil. While the Abarth or Abarth Esseesse would be more my speed, I was told that we’d have to wait until 2012 for those models to make it to US shores. In the meantime, though, the 500 will use Fiat’s 1.4 liter Multiair four-cylinder with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed auto.

Finally, Jeep had little in the way of announcements at the show, but brought their newly-facelifted Compass along with them. The Compass, which now has front styling pinched from the Grand Cherokee, is largely unchanged otherwise. The new face looks significantly better than the ungainly old version, but the model’s life will likely be short, as it’s slated to be killed off in 2012 in favor of a new Fiat-based small SUV.

In short, Chrysler is making progress back towards viability, but there’s still a long way to go. After all, cheap-feeling, hard plastic moldings are generally not considered luxury goods. It seems that they’re headed in the right direction, though.

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  1. vwminispeedster Avatar

    The front end of the new Charger does not do it's back end justice. That gapping mouth is not attractive.
    The Durango (I saw one in SF last Friday) looks like a giant loaf of Wonder Bread, trying to bust out of its plastic bag. Too soft and squishy for my liking.

  2. Black Steelies Avatar

    Never neutral, ya either love it or hate it. I guess I can side with Eminem just this once.

  3. Tomsk Avatar

    As neat as the Charger seems to me, I can't help being disappointed with the lack of a manual trans, even as an option on the SRT8. I mean, the Challenger SRT8 rides on the same platform and has the same engine and you can order it with a 6-speed, but hoons with families in need of a three-pedal sedan are out of luck (unless they score an E39 M5 or first-gen CTS-V instead).
    This is especially galling when you watch this rather ironic ad for the Charger:
    [youtube QWy6A6bLSW0 youtube]

    1. JayP Avatar

      Right about the manual transmission. If so equipped, it would be up on my 'want' list with the CTSV.

    2. Maymar Avatar

      I think someone forgot to tell Chrysler's ad people that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was cancelled a few years back, so that product placement is over.

    3. ptschett Avatar

      The difficulty with a manual Charger is, how many additional customers will they get for the expense. IIRC there used to be something different between the sedans and the Challenger that kept the sedans automatic-only (though I don't remember if it was instrument panel design, floor pan, etc.) Assuming that's resolved in the new car, there's still the question of what other expenses will be encountered, like crash-testing that body/engine/transmission combination.

      1. Lotte Avatar

        I think it's a different engine, too. The auto Challenger R/Ts have the "Multi-Displacement System" cylinder deactivation system. I don't know if it is a completely different block (probably not) but IIRC it was significantly different then the Non-MDS 5.7 used in the manual version.

  4. Joe Btfsplk Avatar
    Joe Btfsplk

    The charger kinda resembles a pissed-off carp from the front.

  5. apfeif3 Avatar

    I forget how to put pictures in comments, but the New Charger's front end look suspiciously similar to the Evo X's Nose.

  6. facelvega Avatar

    Good Chrysler products: some people say the Challenger. Definitely the Wrangler. Maybe the Charger and Grand Cherokee are at least in the game in their respective segments. Anything else? Bring over the Fiats fast! Their cars may also be terrible, but at least they look good.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      The Grand Caravan's still a pretty solid choice too. It's competitive enough (even if that's largely price driven) to retain over 60% of the Canadian market (I don't know for the US, admittedly). The Ram 1500's great as a personal use truck – it's got the best interior of the Big 3's full-sized trucks. And I like the Liberty, as a charming anachronism.
      Really, the only glaring problem areas were the small and mid-sized cars, and they've worked miracles to make them about as competitive as possible as a holdover until the new cars get here.

      1. facelvega Avatar

        I have a soft spot for the Caravan, but it would be a stretch to say that it's on a level with the Odyssey or Sienna. Same for the Ram. Right now Chrysler is at a loss because it no longer has an equivalent to Opel or Ford Europe from which to draw ready-made smaller cars. The only problem with Chrysler being bought by Fiat is that most of Fiat's offerings are significantly inferior to their Opel and Ford counterparts in European comparison tests too, so the merger is like hard-wiring Chrysler for perpetual third place.

        1. Maymar Avatar

          With the Caravan, it's sort of hard to say. Ultimately, it, the Odyssey, and Sienna are all about equal at being big and safe, the predominate metrics for minivans. They're also about the same for equipment availability, but given that the Caravan starts off a fair bit cheaper, it's got a major competitive advantage. The new interior is at least up to their levels, the Pentastar's a decent modern engine, and I believe they've firmed up the suspension to make it nicer to drive. Basically, if it's not as good, it's certainly not $5000 worse.
          I won't say the Ram is the best truck, but it's got enough advantages to be one of the better toy haulers.
          I'll be interested to see what Fiat and Chrysler can do together. I know Chrysler's got enough history of doing surprisingly great things with fairly little. I know Fiat's supposed to be handling most of the small car engineering, but hopefully some of Chrysler's people will end up on an exchange program – those guys are plucky.
          I'll admit though, I'm a tad biased in my optimism, as I'm occasionally a product ambassador (or booth bro, if you prefer).

  7. citroen67 Avatar

    It's nice to finally see someone saying positive things about Chrysler in their writing! It's a refreshing change from the obligatory Chrysler hatred. Well done!