2009 Chrysler Aspen Limited Hybrid 4x4: Hemi Power and Hybrid Fuel Economy
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Chrysler has been an American automotive giant since Walter P. Chrysler founded the company in 1925 (the Chrysler 70 was put on display in 1924). After 83 years, its current foray into the SUV world is the Chrysler Aspen (some call it Chrysler’s first SUV, but the Pacifica predates it and some even consider the PT Cruiser a small SUV). While Aspen is a twin to its sister, the Dodge Durango, Aspen still represents a series of firsts for the Winged Warrior nameplate – the Aspen I tested was an SUV hybrid, and it is a hybrid powered by a Hemi.
The Hemi V-8 engine made its Chrysler debut in 1951 as a 180-hp, 331ci power plant and since then, the Hemi gained a rep for being among the brawniest of automotive muscle sources. While many believe Chrysler invented the Hemi, they didn’t … they just made it “their own” in the automotive world. The French had a hemi-head engine in a Peugeot Grand Prix racer in 1912, and during World War II, Pratt and Whitney radial aircraft engines used hemi heads. In around 1917 there was a hemi engine that powered some aircraft for British fighters; this version was a V-12 with a dual overhead cam for each head. Some historians point to the first hemi engines as being built by Chelsea Mfg. Co. in Chelsea, Michigan, in 1903. The Chelsea Welch had a two-cylinder engine with overhead valves and hemispherical combustion chambers and put out 20hp. Chelsea continued to build hemis until 1909 when the company was acquired by General Motors.
Chrysler actually produced their first engines with hemispherically shaped combustion chambers in 1939 for V-16 aircraft, but the engine that really put the Hemi on the map was the 426 Hemi introduced in a Plymouth Belvedere in 1964 and installed in NASCAR stock cars that year.
Getting back to the Aspen, historically, Dodge used the name Aspen for a compact car in their lineup from 1976 to 1980; however nothing in this Chrysler version resembles the original.
The 2009 Aspen Hybrid is an SUV that weighs in at 5637 lbs. -- the hybrid system adds about 500 lbs. to the base vehicle. Powered by a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine featuring best-in-class 376 horsepower and whopping 401 lb.-ft. of torque, the set-up is based on Chrysler’s fuel-saving multi-displacement system that seamlessly alternates between four- and eight-cylinder modes depending on power demand. This two-mode system integrates Hemi power, the power-demand unit and a patented 87-hp hybrid-electric motor with a 300-volt battery pack, that can operate the vehicle on electric power only – with a light throttle up to 25mph; on engine power only or as a combination of the two. At stoplights, the engine ceases, the motor takes over and the engine re-starts when the accelerator is engaged.
Estimated EPA mileage is 19/20, up from 13/18 without the system and while 19 and 20 is not in the expected compact-hybrid range, it does well in comparison to non-hybrid sports-utes, particularly those 4x4s that weigh in at three tons and have an 8700-lb. towing capacity. My full week of testing the Aspen included highway treks, stop-and-go driving in cities and townships and some off-road diversions. The examination yielded an 18.8mpg average. Not a speed demon on the track, this body-on-frame sports-ute exhibited steady acceleration and I was able to bring it from zero to 60mph in 7.5 seconds while its best quarter-mile time was 15.9 seconds.
The big Hemi can be heard inside the vehicle, but the ride is smooth, though yaw and some top-wobble can be experienced during quick maneuvers. However, the driving experience is a confident one as government crash tests rated Aspen with a perfect five stars in frontal crashes for driver and passenger, and a four out of five in rollover tests.
Essentially a Dodge Durango with upgraded interior and wood trim, the Aspen combines styling and sophistication with its green-consciousness. Looking proud on the outside, Aspen displays a chromed grille, angled hood, smooth lines and seamless fit and finish.
My test ride’s Steel Blue Metallic exterior paint was matched to a Light Graystone Interior. The cabin is roomy and with three-row seating for eight (2/3/3) head room measures 40.8 inches up front, 39.3 in row two and 39.2 in row three; leg room is 41.4, 37.4 and 34.5, while shoulder room comes in at 59.6, 59.6 and 58.9.
Standard interior amenities include wood-accented door panels and instrument-panel center stack, dual-zone air conditioning, 8-speaker Alpine sound system with subwoofer, SIRIUS Satellite radio, power driver seat and heated front seats.
Standard safety features include: electronic stability program, anti-lock brakes and next-generation front air bags; ParkSense rear park assist system, ParkView rear back-up camera, power rear liftgate, tire pressure monitoring system and side-curtain airbags with roll-sensing technology.
The price as tested on the Aspen Limited Hybrid 4x4 was $47,105, including an $850 sunroof, $225 exterior paint upgrade and $460 trailer tow package. That’s quite a lot of luxury SUV for the money … and it’s a hybrid with a Hemi as well.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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