In my last blog post, I offered some "big picture" suggestions for Chrysler to improve its product lineup. In this post, I’m going to break it down by model for some specific upgrades I’d like to see, that I also believe a big portion of the buying public and enthusiasts would like to see as well.
Dodge: This has become the excitement and bang-for-the-buck division. While it has a few standouts in its lineup, the concept could use some further honing. The first order of business in my book would be to put the entire lineup on a diet. From the Caliber to the Charger, Magnum, as well as the SUVs, are all heavier than they need to be. The LX’s "LY" successors could stand to lose between 300 and 500 pounds.
Not only would this improve dynamics and the "fun-to-drive" factor, it would also likely give fuel economy a big boost as well. Engine wise, dump the wheezy, underpowered 2.7 six for the big cars. Development work on the Phoenix family of V-6 engines is reportedly well underway, and it couldn’t come a moment too soon. For the Magnum & Charger, a 3.0 V-6 should be the base engine, with a 3.5 or 3.8 DOHC engine as the upgrade. I’m thinking hp and torque in the 240/220 range for the 3.0, and 300/280 for the bigger six.
For the real leadfoots, a 5.7 Hemi with 375 horse and 400 lb./ft. would offer plenty of firepower. The 3.0L turbodiesel V-6 option in Europe would probably be popular here, if it could be made to meet Tier 2 Bin 5 standards. Although it’s a niche model, and not an especially hot seller, as an enthusiast, I hope the SRT models stick around. But business is business. If they get the axe, hopefully some of the go-fast hardware will trickle down to lesser models. Six-speed autos across the board, with possibly a 6-speed stick on a few trim levels. Maybe a hybrid model equipped with a frugally-tuned version of the 3.0 V-6 that offers Hemi-like power and acceleration, with 4-banger-like economy.
Likewise, the Caliber is a little porkier than its peers, and could stand about a 200-300 lb. weight reduction. The 1.8 "World" engine seems a little overwhelmed by the Caliber’s 3,000-lb.-plus weight. I say drop it (at least for the power-hungry U.S. market) make the 2.0 the base engine, make incremental engineering improvements for improved efficiency, and added to the weight reduction, would probably offer the same economy as the old 1.8, with better performance. Replace 2.4 N.A. engine with a new light-pressure turbo 1.8 or 2.0 4-banger (see below.) A turbodiesel of some sort (Whether it’s the 2.0 TDI VW motor offered in Europe, or another equivalent) would probably be popular in this efficiency-minded segment. A hybrid model would likely be popular as well.
For the Avenger, and it’s tall-wagon crossover sibling, the newly-unveiled Journey, offer the same two V-6 options as mentioned for the LY cars. For the base engine, I’d actually drop the normally-aspirated 2.4 4-cyl for a turbocharged 1.8 or 2.0L with around 200 horsepower. Tuned for smoothness and economy, this wouldn’t be an SRT-league fireball, but an economical option that provides good power on demand, and great economy when cruising. Benchmark Audi/VWs critically-acclaimed 2.0T motor for the concept. A de-bored V-6 turbodiesel (2.5-2.8 liters) from the bigger cars would be a logical fit in this class. A hybrid incorporating the turbo four could offer power rivaling the top V-6s, with diesel-like economy.
Chrysler: Same powertrain options and weight reduction for the 300 as listed above for the Charger/Magnum. I’d also offer the wagon "touring" version of the 300 sold in Europe. It may not be a volume seller, but would probably find an eager audience among some that don’t want the bulk of an SUV. Especially important in a more upscale brand, dramatically improve the materials and styling in the interior.
For the Sebring, clean up and harmonize the exterior styling over the current model, and upgrade the styling and materials in the interior. As far as powertrains, make the 3.0 six the "base" engine, offer the larger six as an upgrade, and the hybrid turbo four as an "alternate" option. The V-6 turbodiesel could be a stand-alone option available on all trim levels.
For the PT Cruiser, I sincerely hope Chrysler doesn’t replace it with its version of the Journey. What made the PT so appealing in the first place was its tidy, urban-friendly size. Its replacement should be based on the Caliber, but with distinctive and elegant Chrysler styling. Make the aforemetioned light-turbo four the base engine, with an optional hybrid and turbodiesel. I don’t have a problem with a Chrysler version of the Journey, just DON’T make it the PT replacement.
Jeep: While many have hailed Jeep as Chrysler’s salvation, it too could stand a little housekeeping and tweaking. Everyone’s still scratching their heads on the choice of the pushrod 3.8 minivan engine for the Wrangler. Give us the biggest version of the new Phoenix V-6 you got as the base engine. At least the 4.7 if not the Hemi V-8 as an upgrade, and a turbodiesel six (the Benz 3.0 would do nicely).
I’m not a huge fan of the Patriot or the Compass, but the Patriot makes more sense than the oddball Compass. Drop it. To placate the Jeep faithful, add true low-range to the Patriot (not just an extra-loose CVT ratio). Now that the Wrangler’s grown up in size and status, a smaller, back-to-basics 4×4 along the lines of the late Suzuki Sidekick could be a worthwhile addition to the lineup. And PLEASE, no traction-control, CVT smoke-and-mirrors. It needs a good ol’ fashioned 2-speed transfer case, like God intended for Jeeps.
The Commander needs to figure out what the heck its role is in the lineup. Slightly larger than the Grand Cherokee, but not quite enough to make a difference. Either go big or go home. Build the next Commander on a body-on-frame chassis, or pull the plug on it. I say bring back the "Grand Wagoneer" name on a Ram-based BOF SUV that could legitimately go toe-to-toe with the Tahoe and Expedition. The Grand Cherokee remains a strong seller. Continue to make incremental improvements in economy, refinement and off-road capability. Think American Range Rover, at about half the price. Offer the new upcoming half-ton turbodiesel as an option in the Wagoneer, and keep the 3.0 diesel as an option in the Cherokee.
So…those are my recommendations to fine-tune the lineup at the "new" Chrysler. I’m sure there are as many opinions out there about how to do it as there are enthusiasts, blogs and analysts, but for what it’s worth, these are what this enthusiast would like to see.