‘They Still Have a Long Way to Go’ Director Says
DETROIT — Chrysler Group is making strides to improve handling and performance of its vehicles, but the gains vary from model to model, according to tests by Consumer Reports magazine.
The magazine said today that its recent tests of eight 2011 Chrysler Group models found advances in performance, interior fit and finish and handling. But it said the level of refinement in some vehicles still lags behind rivals.
The magazine still only recommends one Chrysler Group model: the Ram truck, which has not been changed substantially for 2011.
The Durango SUV, equipped with a V-6 or V-8 engine, received “very good’ road test scores — comparable to the redesigned 2011 Ford Explorer. But it still scores below the Toyota Highlander and the Chevrolet Traverse among mid-size SUVs and crossovers.
The Charger Rallye also received a “very good” road test score and now ranks close to the Ford Taurus and Buick LaCrosse among large sedans reviewed by the magazine.
The freshened Town & Country minivan, a virtual twin of the Dodge Grand Caravan, earned a rating of “very good.” Its road test score also improved considerably.
In a statement released today, Doug Betts, Chrysler’s senior vice president of quality, said Chrysler has launched 16 “significantly improved or redesigned products” in the last year and a half. “This amount of work in a compressed time frame is unprecedented in Chrysler’s history, and probably in the industry,” he said.
“Consumer Reports, and many other auto reviewers, are noting the difference.”
Long Way to Go
David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center, said in a statement: “It’s clear that Chrysler is on the right path, but they still have a long way to go,”
He added: “We see major improvements for models that have had a significant redesign. When Chrysler invests the time and money in a true redesign, the result has been a much more competitive model.”
The magazine said its automotive testers were not impressed by the redesigned Chrysler 200 or the Dodge Avenger, Jeep Compass and Patriot and Dodge Journey.
“Despite some improvements, they’re still mediocre vehicles overall, scoring at or near the bottom of their respective categories,” the magazine said in a statement.
Most Chrysler models have posted below-average reliability scores, according to Consumer Reports’ annual surveys of owners.
The automaker has also consistently logged the lowest average road-test score in the magazine’s annual report cards.
In general, the magazine’s April issue gave Chrysler’s lineup high marks for interior room and features, controls and acceleration, and low marks for reliability, fuel economy, ride, braking, fit and finish and agility.
Chrysler’s 16 new or revamped models represent the first major product overhaul since the automaker was placed under the control of Fiat S.p.A. upon emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. For 2011, the Dodge Charger and Durango were redesigned, and the 200, Avenger, Journey, and Town & Country were extensively updated. The Jeep Patriot and Compass received minor updates.
Consumer Reports said it will also be testing the updated Chrysler 300C, Dodge Challenger, and Fiat 500.
None of the models recently tested are recommended by the magazine. The Durango, Charger, and Town & Country are too new for Consumer Reports to have adequate reliability data to recommend.
Prices for the tested vehicles ranged from $47,375 for the Dodge Durango with a V-8 engine to $22,290 for the Avenger.
Highlights from Consumer Reports’ Tests:
- “The Charger now handles responsively and has a steady, comfortable ride. Visibility also improved, but is still not great. The ride is steady and compliant. The Dodge Charger Rallye Plus ($30,945 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 292-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine that is refined and performs well, getting 21 mpg overall in CR’s own fuel economy tests. The five-speed automatic transmission mostly shifts smoothly but it can be slow to downshift when acceleration is wanted. Braking is Very Good. The spacious cabin is well-finished.”
- “The redesigned, unibody Durango is much more refined and sophisticated than the body-on-frame model it replaced. Based on the revamped Jeep Grand Cherokee, it rides well and has a well-finished cabin and usable third-row seat. Overall the ride is steady and supple. The Dodge Durango V6, ($43,785 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 290-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine that works hard to provide modest acceleration and gets 17 mpg overall. The Durango V8, ($47,375 as tested), is powered by a 360-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that gets 14 mpg overall. Acceleration times for the heavy Durango V8 are on par with six-cylinder competitors. The five-speed automatic transmission can be unresponsive at times. Wet braking distances are long, but overall braking is Good. Cargo and towing capacity is generous, making it a good alternative to a large SUV like a Chevrolet Tahoe.”
- “The updated Town & Country is much improved but still falls short of the best minivans. The compliant ride is more settled and does a good job of damping bumps. The improved interior is quiet, well-equipped and versatile. The Town & Country Touring-L ($37,505 MSRP as tested,) is powered by a 283-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine that is smooth and powerful and gets 17 mpg overall. Fuel economy is the lowest of currently tested minivans. The six-speed automatic transmission doesn’t shift smoothly. Braking is Very Good. Interior quality has improved and is well-finished. Cargo volume is generous; most versions have seats that fold flat into the floor. Many electronic safety aids, like blind spot monitoring, are standard on the Town & Country.”
- “Despite a new engine and interior, the Journey is still a mediocre vehicle. The midsized three-row SUV rides well and is quiet, but its lack of agility makes it feel larger than it is. It provides a smooth ride overall, but it’s not entirely settled. The Dodge Journey Lux AWD ($36,795 MSRP as tested,) is powered by a 283-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine that delivers good performance but got only 16 mpg overall. The six-speed automatic transmission doesn’t shift smoothly. Braking is Very Good. The interior had some very nice materials but the execution is haphazard. Cargo space is generous but the third row seat is tiny.”
- “Despite their different styling, the 200 and the Avenger are essentially the same mid-sized sedan. The 200 is a mild reworking of the mediocre Sebring. Both models received an exterior face-lift, new interiors, revised suspensions, and a new available V6. But none of that was enough to make those aging designs competitive. Fuel economy was unimpressive, the seats are uncomfortable, and handling and braking are so-so. Both cars provide a compliant ride and good isolation, but frequent body motions make them feel unsettled. The Chrysler 200 Limited ($27,825 MSRP as tested,) and the Dodge Avenger Mainstreet ($22,290 MSRP as tested,) have a standard 173-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that is noisy and unrefined and gets 21 mpg overall in CR’s own fuel economy tests. The optional smooth 283-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine is much more powerful and returns the same 21 mpg overall. The six-speed automatic transmission can be slow to shift. Stopping distances are long. The 200 has a small trunk for its class; the Avenger’s is larger. Trunk space can be expanded in both cars by folding the 60/40-rear seatbacks.”
- “The Compass and the Patriot — small car-based SUVs that are uniquely styled but share the same platform — provide a compliant ride and mostly simple controls. Neither is particularly agile; the Compass has lower limits in our emergency handling tests. The Jeep Compass Latitude 4×4 ($24,985 MSRP as tested,) and the Jeep Patriot Latitude 4×4 ($24,400 MSRP as tested,) are both powered by a 172-hp, 2.4-liter four cylinder engine that is noisy and sluggish. The continuously variable transmission shifts smoothly but causes more engine noise as it holds engine speed high during acceleration. Stopping distances are long. The interiors are improved, and most panels fit well but the ambiance is basic and the driving position is narrow. It’s easy to fold down the 60/40 rear seatbacks, which creates a good-sized cargo bay.”
June 21, 2011