2009 Chrysler Aspen
Using a two-mode hybrid system developed by GM, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and the BMW Group, the 2009 Chrysler Aspen is cashing in on all of the hybrid hype garnered over the last few years. By taking the Aspen design, one that is familiar to those who have already invested in the Chrysler name, and adding a hybrid motor to its HEMI V-8, this SUV is better - and more current - than ever. A 25 percent improvement in overall fuel economy seems to magnify other strong points like its three rows of seats and a 6,000-pound towing capability. It may still drive like a heavy SUV, but if there's no escaping your need for a big vehicle, this may be the one for you.
What's to Like
Its hybrid system is the best in the market for managing power output through various driving conditions as well. Upscale interior and exterior design set it apart from its sibling, the Dodge Durango Hybrid.
What's Not to Like
The drive quality is still very SUV-like, no matter how good the gas mileage gets. We would have preferred that the rear seats fold down more easily than they do.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
The Aspen's ride feels very much like the SUV it is. Cornering can be unwieldy, and the weight of the car – increased by the hybrid batteries – results in slight body roll. However, the Aspen’s suspension smoothes out bumps better than its competition. The two-mode hybrid can power the Aspen to 25 mph without needing to use the gas engine. Having as much mass as it does means the engine is eager to fire up, and unless you feather the peddle from a stop, you’re going to feel and hear it helping the electric motor much sooner than 25 mph. The absence of the fuel engine kicking in at first makes the vehicle so quiet that they’ve added a “Ready” light below the speedometer so you don’t keep turning the key.
Engine and Drivetrain
The numbers are only estimated - when a vehicle has both a gas engine and electric motors, it is difficult to put the power output into horsepower and torque terms. Regardless, a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine and electric motor that deliver roughly 345 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque sounds pretty good to us. The Aspen has standard four-wheel drive.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
The Aspen can tow up to 6,000 pounds; compare that to the V-6-powered Highlander’s 3,500-pound max. The uconnect system has replaced the previous MyGIG infotainment system and is simple to use. The hybrid energy usage display on the center screen highlights the engine and electric motor components to show you which system is powering the SUV at any given time. It also shows you realtime fuel economy stats or a backup camera if you're reversing.
Key Technology Evaluation
Two-mode hybrids are named as such because they use two electrically variable modes in order to best power the vehicle during different types of driving. The first mode, used at slower speeds and lighter loads, can drive the car with electric power, engine power or a combination of the two. The second mode makes more use of the HEMI V-8 as it’s utilized during higher speeds or when towing heavy loads. Regenerative braking employs the electric motors to slow the Aspen instead of traditional friction brakes, restoring battery power in the process. While many hybrids possess this technology, few accomplish such smooth transitions between coasting and braking as the Aspen.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
The Aspen’s V-8 also shuts off when the car is at a stop, thus reducing fuel usage. This and the regenerative braking technology mean this SUV returns 19 mpg city and 20 highway, though you can manage more if you are light on the throttle, especially around town.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
With a high command position, huge dash and thick pillars, one may imagine driving an M1 Abrams tank instead of an SUV. The interior fit and finish brings an upscale feel to the Aspen and a teal-lit instrument panel displays realtime energy usage so you know whether the V-8 or the electric motors are working. Leather comes standard and wood trim lines the cabin.
Unchanged from its non-hybrid counterpart, the Aspen is more polished than the aggressively designed Dodge Durango. A high roofline, 18-inch wheels and imposing front end make this an unlikely looking hybrid.
Market Segment and Pricing
At $45,570 the Aspen sees a more reasonable starting price than those of its direct rivals. The $50,490 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
and $50,945 GMC Yukon Hybrid
are both similarly outfitted. The Aspen's mate, the Dodge Durango Hybrid
starts at $45,340. A more compact SUV can be had in the $34,200 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
, which has three rows of seats, a V-6 and nearly identical gas mileage.
What We Think
Considering that there are smaller, less powerful hybrid SUVs on the market for fewer bills, the Chrysler Aspen Hybrid appeals to a fairly niche market of buyers looking for V-8 power and room for eight that won't leave you broke at the pump. With luxurious interior appointments and a sophisticated body design, they've done a great job of wooing said niche.