Category Archives: Dodge

2006 Dodge Charger SXT (561)

Overview:
This week I’m really excited about yet another Chrysler product that breaks the mold of the boring array of cars on the market today. Really, this 2006 Dodge Charger SXT is special because I expected it to cost a lot more.

Friend and writing associate Merkel Weiss (design engineer, teacher and car nut) agree on a lot of things, but the marriage of Daimler and Chrysler is not one of them. I believe it’s great for the products and he doesn’t. In his heart of hearts I think he does, but he is hiding it well.

You can feel the solid influence of Mercedes Benz people in this “All American” product. I don’t want to say it was a bucket of bolts in the old days, but relative to what you get in today’s Chrysler’s the improvement is so great as to warrant mention. Tell you what, you test-drive this Charger SXT and if you don’t agree write me and I’ll voice your opinion next time around.

Public Service driving observation: Road Rage – don’t waste your time or energy on getting mad or even with idiots on the highway who think they are god’s gift to Nascar on our highways. They are small and insignificant and they tick me off just as much as they do you. But don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing that you are remotely aware of their presence. Move over when they tailgate you. Let them cut in to gain 20 feet of space in front of you. If they pass you – that’s ok. Disarm them by being the bigger person.

Handling & Performance:

This is a relatively big car but it handles much like a Mercedes on tight turns. Even cynical Merkel likes it handling characteristics. I took it over the San Gabriel Mountains on a wonderfully “less traveled” road from LA to the Desert. It’s hard to find but worth the trek because very few know about it – so it is a great test area for me. It revealed the cornering capability is excellent – especially for a big car.

Styling:

If you read my column much you know that I can’t say enough good things about the designers at Daimler – Chrysler. They simply are the best in today’s world. They have been brave and bold in going way outside the box in giving us something different. Prowler, PT Cruiser, 300 M, Crossfire and this Charger. You gotta love them for giving you a real choice. And when you look around Chrysler is having a big impact on the rest of the competition who are copying them from design to marketing (employee discount example).

As to the resemblance to the older classic Chargers I just don’t see much influence. But that’s ok because it is a great looking car.

Fit and Finish:

Excellent and for the money this is a great buy. And for you Chrysler fans you will instantly see the dramatic difference. You’ll say, as I did, when have you seen such a well-put together Chrysler product – ever? You’ll feel the solid bolted down feeling built like a brick s.h. 

Cost:

This is perhaps the best for the buck this year.

Conveniences:  

Generous. 

Consumer Recommendation:  

You’ve gotta drive this car. 

The Competition:

2006 Dodge Charger SXT $22,320, 2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo $22,280, 2006 Chevrolet Impala $21,330, 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix $23,060, 2005 Pontiac Bonneville $27,965, 2005 Ford Five Hundred $22,165 (2006 price not avail).

Good News:

Actually good fuel economy for a big car, most power of the competition.

Bad News:

None.

Standard Equipment:

3.5 liter high output 250 hp V6 engine, 5-speed auto trans with manual (AutoStick) mode, 17” steel wheels, power rack and pinion steering, dual air bags, traction control, ESP (Electronic Stability Control Program), 4-wheel ABS disc brake system, cloth low back bucket seats, front seats lumbar adjustment, air conditioning, tilt / telescopic steering column, keyless illuminated entry, speed sensitive power locks, theft deterrent system, power windows and locks, sound system with CD player, window integrated antennae, power mirrors.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 27 Highway MPG

Pricing:   

MSRP $22,320.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2005 – An Automotive Love Affair

 

2005 Dodge Ram 2500 Power Wagon 4-wheel drive Pick up (549)

Overview:
This week I needed another pickup truck for the ranch, so I’m reviewing the results of the week with the 2005 Dodge Power Wagon with a Hemi Magnum V8. Not juice (V8) but it has plenty of that anyway. It’s a regular cab model and built for work.

My friend Lev is a high desert cowboy and hard work and hard working trucks impress guys like him. And yes they still exist outside of Hollywood movies like Lonesome Dove and Open Range.

Well Lev, I liked it a lot too because it was a great help. Off to Home Depot and Lowe’s for a load of brick and redi-mix cement. As the forklift lowered a pallet of used brick the bed went down like an elevator. Ground floor! Time to leave so I could return for a ton of cement. Boy, it sure did steer easy cruising down the highway. Lev was also impressed with the built in Winch with a half-inch metal cable and a “sky hook” that would pull a house. The remote control allows you to operate the winch from inside as well as outside the vehicle. It sure empowers you knowing that in addition to the 4-wheel drive you could pull yourself out of any other trouble off road. I could have used one on the Hummer H1 that I tested and managed to get stuck in the mud. It was an old Chevy Blazer with a “Winch” to the rescue that day to pull a $100,000 Hum Vee out of the mud. How embarrassing that was.

Anyway, this Power Wagon was also a big help picking up downed fencing around the ranch, but I made a slight modification to this beauty by mistake. Loading boards was going great right up till the load went high enough to reach the rear window. You got it! I’m sure you can picture that last board sliding smoothly as I watched it shatter the rear window into a million pieces. My fault, not the trucks. But it did lead me to wonder if there weren’t a way to provide for such operator stupidity.

Handling & Performance:   

Actually pretty wonderful. Men can take hard work a lot easier and even enjoy it when they have a powerful helpmate like this truck.  

Styling:  

No one does it better than Dodge. They just have that look of capable, strong, powerful and better looking than it should be. That massive grill makes the statement complete.  

Fit and Finish:  

Very good and once again better than a truck needs to be. For a real ranch application they could also lose the rug. It doesn’t take long to destroy it with normal work use.  

Cost:

A lot but it’s a lot of truck too.

Conveniences:  

I really liked the winch, but I would have liked to have 110 Power outlets in this Power Wagon. 

Consumer Recommendation:  

GM, Chrysler and Ford have a long history of making the toughest trucks. You might want to take a look at Toyota and Nissan as well.

The Competition:  

Dodge Power Wagon $25-40,000, Ford F250 $23-37,000, Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD $24-41,000.   

Good News:

Power and strength to haul a real load.

Bad News:  

Gas guzzler (35 gal. Std. Equip fuel tank says it all), under rail bed liner looks good but is not as functional as one that covers the rear rail paint.

Standard Equipment:

5.7 liter Hemi Magnum V8 Engine, 5-speed automatic trans, leather trimmed 40/20/40 bench seat, power drivers seat, airbags with passenger On/Off switch, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, manual shift on the fly 4-wheel drive transfer case, power steering, stabilizer bar, 35 gallon fuel tank, intermittent wipers, trailer tow wiring 4 pin connector, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, overhead console with trip computer, stereo with CD player, cab back storage bin, heated front seats. Optional Equipment: leather wrapped steering wheel, center seat cushion storage, dual zone air controls, deluxe power driver seat, Tru Lok front and rear differentials, aluminum wheels, front electric winch, GVW 8510 lbs rated, clearance lights, tow hooks, fog lights, skid plate shield on transfer case and fuel tank, auto dim rearview mirror, security alarm and theft deterrent system, side air bags, in-dash 6-disc CD changer with 4 additional speakers, rear window defroster, GPS navigation system and under rail bed liner.

Gas Stats:

 City and  Highway MPG

Pricing:   

MSRP $29,750, with options $43,260

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2005 – An Automotive Love Affair

2005 Dodge Ram 1500 4X4 Laramie Quad Cab. (541)

Overview:
Ok folks, I gotta tell you this series on pickup trucks has been a lot of fun and this 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 4X4 Laramie was a great workhorse around the old rancho.

The good news about doing a series is that you get to see all of the competition in a short period of time. But things can begin to run together as you try to differentiate between each. I know you’re going to have to test drive the models you lean toward, so be sure to take good notes, because there will be little that separates them.

The Dodge 1500 test vehicle I drove was equipped with a Navigational system and in my opinion it is so small as to make it unusable. I was frustrated by it because I refused to spend the time to set it before I hit the road. Perhaps this is one of those little things that would separate me from buying that option. I would suggest the manufacturers consider using a Nav system that can be set by the passenger while the car is in motion. As to the size, a younger pair of eyes may be able to tolerate the small screen.

Handling & Performance:
Heavier suspension on this 1500, versus the Dakota, makes the ride a little rougher without a load. But it is faster, sits higher but also sucks up more gas by 20% with a V8 versus the V6. I like the power but I don’t like filling up so often.

Styling: 

No question all Dodge models are related. As siblings they are stair stepped big, bigger, biggest.

Fit and Finish:

You won’t find a great deal of difference in how well they fit together, and as mentioned before, trucks aren’t expected to be so well appointed anyway.

Cost:

Dodge tends to be at the upper end of the cost curve of the competition.

Consumer Recommendation:

There isn’t all that many to test-drive in this price range and class. It is in the middle of size and ability. You should consider your need for 4-wheel drive. If there isn’t an obvious need for the Nav system you’ll save money here. With gas prices escalating, you may be able to sacrifice tire-burning power for better gas performance.

The Competition:

Dodge Ram 1500 $20-50,000, GMC Sierra 1500 $18-42,000, Chevrolet Silverado 1500 $18-39,000, Ford F150 $20-36,000, Toyota Tundra $16-33,000, Nissan Titan $23-36,000.

Good News:

Powerful options for the performance needy buyer.

Bad News:

Pricey, and with the Magnum fuel economy is even worse.

Standard Equipment:

4.7 liter 235 hp V8 engine, 5-speed auto trans, dual front airbags, 4-wheel disc brakes, manual shift on the fly transfer case, power st4eering, maintenance free battery, tow wiring harness with 4-pin connector, 35 gallon fuel tank, air conditioning, tilt column, cruise control, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, overhead console with trip computer, stereo with CD player 40/20/40 bench seat, rear folding seat with under seat storage.

Options: Laramie package – power front seats, visor lighted vanity mirrors, dome light and under hood light. All season tires, leather, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, power pedals, fog lights, stereo with in dash 6-disc CD player with 7 speakers, tow upgrade with 750 amp battery, class IV hitch with 7 pin wiring harness, heated front seats, full time shift on the fly transfer case, anti-spin differential, 5.7 liter Hemi Magnum V8 engine, fold away power trailer tow mirrors, GPS navigation upgrade with stereo.

Gas Stats:

13 City and 17 Highway MPG

Pricing: 

MSRP $30,390/ with options $39,625.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2005 – An Automotive Love Affair

2005 Dodge Dakota Club Cab Laramie (540)

Overview:
Only a few more to the end of this series on pickup trucks. This is the 2005 Dodge Dakota Club Cab Laramie. I tried to schedule a Mazda truck but they don’t have one in the press fleet. But beside that this series has or will cover nearly every pickup truck sold.

The Laramie is the baby of the Dodge line and seems tiny by comparison with the big Rams. It’s an ok size and rides better than the heavier duty versions. You notice it mostly on the freeways where the heavier suspensions give a more marked “Thump-thump-thump” in rhythm with the cement surfaces. Don’t ya just love blacktop by comparison?!

Seating is ok in front but the jump seats in the back is only good in a pinch or for golf clubs and small people.

Handling & Performance:

The standard 3.7 liter engine is a 210 hp V6 and it seems a little underpowered. The available 4.7 liter magnum V8 is a better idea and will only set you back another $785.

Styling: 

Clean lines and a Ram tough front end and grill.

Fit and Finish:

Very good.

Cost:

At the higher end of the competition. Some folks simply see Dodge as a tougher truck. As I mentioned I haven’t tested the Mazda but the decision on which to buy would literally be a toss up for me. I love ‘em all.

Conveniences:

I don’t know about you but I get accustomed to all the gadgets and find it hard to do without many of them. But when it comes to paying for those unnecessary items I find basics is just fine. I do think the sensors on the rear bumper are great. Those I think I’d opt to pay for, especially on a truck or large SUV.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you don’t need a big truck this is a great size. Easier to maneuver around town and park which is a considerable issue especially if mom will also be driving it. The Ram 1500 and 2500 are much more difficult to park. I also would look seriously at those with 4-door options – Tacoma, Frontier, Canyon and Colorado.

The Competition:

Dodge Dakota $20-29,000, GMC Canyon $15-28,000, Chevrolet Colorado $15-29,000, Ford Ranger $14-26,000, Mazda Truck $15-26,000, Toyota Tacoma $13-25,000, Nissan Frontier $16-27,000.

Good News:

Good size, comfortable ride.

Bad News:

Fuel economy is poor, annoying seat belt bell.

Standard Equipment:

3.7 liter V6 engine, 5-speed auto trans, 2-wheel rear drive, dual air bags with passenger on/off switch, 6-way power driver seat, front disc and rear drum ABS power brakes, 600 amp maintenance free battery with run down protection, power steering and heavy duty suspension, air conditioning, power windows and locks, leather wrapped wheel with audio controls and tilt column, cruise control, stereo with in dash 6-disc CP/MP3 player, 40/20/40 split bench seat, dual folding rear seats, remote keyless entry, theft deterrent system with security alarm, overhead console, 12 volt outlet, tinted gleass, power mirrors, auto headlights and fog lights. Options on test vehicle: leather heated front  bucket seats, trailer tow group including HD engine and trans cooling, fold away mirrors, battery upgrade to 750 amp, side air bags, anti-spin differential, 4.7 liter magnum V8 engine, sliding rear window, and under rail box bedliner.

Gas Stats:

15 City and 20 Highway MPG

Pricing: 

MSRP $24,339 / with options $29,574.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2005 – An Automotive Love Affair

2005 Dodge RAM 2500 SLT Diesel Regular Cab. (538)

Overview:
We’re closing in on the end of a series on pickup trucks. This is the 2005 Dodge RAM 2500 SLT Cummins Turbo Diesel. I suspect the only thing not to like about this truck is the lousy diesel fuel prices. Remember when diesel fuel was cheaper than any other fuel. Well if there was a reason for it being cheaper back then circumstances must have changed. Do you think it’s because there isn’t enough consumption to keep the price down? Noooo, that couldn’t be the reason because there were even fewer diesel cars back when. Sure would be nice to hear from the oil companies on the reason why diesel is so outrageously high.

Ok, so I gotta complain about the Regular Cab thing. I continue to wonder why anyone would want one. Extended cab or Crew Cab, Double Cab and all the other designations are the cats meow in providing both truck and passenger transportation. The only issue with the four door is the loss of cargo area or with the option for regular cargo bed the length makes it a bit more difficult to maneuver. But you’ll get used to it, just as you adjust to a Dual rear wheel configuration in time. That is after you crush the rear fenders a few times. The extra size will seem worth while after you struggle to get a set of golf clubs in behind the seat, for example.

Handling & Performance:

The first thing I noticed when I got in and took off was the super sensitive steering. I mean this is nothing like you’ve ever experienced before. Scary. The diesel is super quiet and faster than a diesel is expected to be even for a 5.9 liter engine. 

Styling: 

Tough, rugged and manly. These guys know what other guys like in appearance. Only one request as noted with other truck reviews – design in more fun goodies for the working man.

Fit and Finish:

As per usual, today’s trucks are more luxurious than cars were even 20 years ago.

Cost:

As I mentioned before, all trucks are over priced. But there is an exception here because of the Cummins Turbo Diesel. They don’t get broken in for a couple of hundred thousand miles. You can hand it down to your kids, or someone in the crew and it will be serviceable for a long time. My Ram 3500 with a Cummins Diesel has 250,000 miles and it is still running strong.

Conveniences:

Once again I have to say a truck should have neat utility things like 110 outlets for running equipment in remote areas, great tie down apparatus and cargo lighting to name just a few.

Consumer Recommendation:

You may want to seriously consider a diesel. You won’t believe it’s a diesel. Try pulling up to a drive up window at a fast food place in an older diesel and they will ask you to turn the engine off so they can hear your order. Not with this one. It is nearly as quiet as a gas engine.

The Competition:

Dodge Ram 2500 $25-39,000, GMC Sierra 2500 $24-40,000, Chevrolet Silverdo 2500 HD $24-41,000, Ford F250 Super Duty $23-37,000.

Good News:

Quality truck, Cummins diesel power, great torque and a rather comfortable ride.

Bad News:

Poor fuel economy, over sensitive steering, not enough cargo area inside the cab and only seats up to three.

Standard Equipment:

5.9 liter Cummins Turbo Diesel with 610 foot lbs of torque, 4-speed auto trans and anti-spin differential axle, 2-wheel rear drive, dual air bags with passenger on/off switch, power driver seat, front center seat cushion storage, trailer tow class IV hitch receiver with 7 pin wiring, 4-wheel ABS power disc brakes, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering column, power windows and locks with remote keyless entry, overhead console with trip computer, stereo with CD player and GPS navigation system, storage area tray behind seats, heated power mirrors, cargo lamp and bed liner.

Gas Stats:

City and Highway MPG – Not available.

Pricing: 

MSRP $36,805.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2005 – An Automotive Love Affair

2005 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT (518)

Overview:
This week I tested the 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT. It used to be we referred to these vehicles as “Mini Vans”, but they are anything but “Mini”.

If you’ve read any of my columns about this class vehicle (Special Purpose) you know I think they are the best thing since the horseless carriage was invented at the end of the 19th century.

And by the way, (Special Purpose) as a class is a misnomer. If anything it is a “General Purpose” vehicle, or a “Family Vehicle” or a “Company Van”. Yes it is more for hauling people, but it is also adaptable to hauling clean freight. If you have to haul dirt you’d buy a pickup truck – so much for the classification system.

The reason I like these so much is that they are so useful. And I don’t consider the family a special purpose classification use. The family does “Everything” and for the suburban family there is so much to do in numbers and this is a vehicle that seats 7 adults. Consider carpooling kids to school, soccer, little league and all the other multi kid activities. Camping and other group trips, and boy’s night out to the ballgame, and the girl’s night out to Chippendales. We all know it’s the guy or gal with the van who volunteers to drive, which is both good and bad news.

Handling & Performance:

Easy to drive. Easy to enter and exit. Easy to load with passengers and cargo. Easy. And when you get it all loaded, the 3.8 liter 215 horsepower V6 engine motors with Ease too. Because vans are built low to the ground they handle better than their cousin, the SUV which is built high off the ground for all the off roading they will never be asked to do. And before you tell me you can’t take a van off road like you can the SUV, I’ll remind you that less than 5% of all SUV’s will ever get their paws dirty off the black top.

Styling: 

Timeless. There isn’t much that has changed or varied from the original design other than being less boxy or put another way, more streamlined. It will likely stay that way until the emergence of fuel cell or other propulsion vehicles that will allow a significant change in design.

Fit and Finish:

Very good and comparable to most other competitors. But perhaps this old dog sees a giant leap in quality from generations past of Chrysler products. I’ve been asked and some have commented that Daimler / Chrysler is a very positive move and the Mercedes-Benz quality is beginning to show up in all models of this German / American brand. The evolution has been very noticeable. 

Cost:

Outstanding for what you get in a van like this.

Conveniences:

It only gets better from year to year with the technological revolution. Before the year is out high tech things, will be obsolete and thus everything is “Throw away”. And it’s not because it still doesn’t function or it has worn out, but rather it has been replaced by newer and better. The benefit to car buyers is the wide array of conveniences available for not a lot of money. Perhaps the most notable convenience on the van is the power sliding side doors, which is a must, in my opinion.

Consumer Recommendation:

Perhaps the most impressive competitor is the Kia Sedona. I would start out testing this and that before the others.

The Competition:

Dodge Caravan $18-26,000, Toyota Sienna $23-37,000, Oldsmobile Silhouette $28-37,000, Nissan Quest $24-32,000, Mercury Monterey $29-35,000, Mazda MPV $23-28,000, Kia Sedona $20-22,000, Chrysler Town & Country $21-35,000, Ford Freestar $22-33,000.

Good News:

Conveniences standard includes power sliding doors, Easy, fabulous function, smooth ride and it is the product of a new and better company – Daimler / Chrysler.

Bad News:

There really is none.

Standard Equipment:

3.8 liter V6 215 hp engine with front wheel drive, 4-speed auto trans, front air bags, 4-wheel anti lock disc brakes, traction control, child seat anchor system, power sliding doors, stowable rear seating, climate control front and rear, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry with engine immobilizer, tilt column with leather wrapped steering wheel with radio and cruise controls, stereo with cassette and CD changer, six speakers, eight way power drivers seat, front and rear 12V outlets, roof rack, fog lights and heated power fold away mirrors.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 25 Highway MPG

Pricing: 

MSRP $26,315.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2004 – An Automotive Love Affair

2004 Dodge Intrepid SXT (449)

Overview:
This week I tested the 2004 Dodge Intrepid SXT five seater, four-door sedan – and it’s only June. This is the first 2004 model I have driven and there is no reason to buy the 2004 when it is identical to the 2003.

This car is comfortable and even though it is in the Large Car class it doesn’t feel like large cars of the 1960’s and 1970’s. In any case it is truly very adequate for four six plus foot golfers with four big golf bags. The trunk is large and for you golfers you’ll know exactly how big when you figure we filled it to the brim with 4 large bags. Of course we did worry when the prizes were passed out that we might not have enough room to carry them home.

Not to worry, we didn’t win the trophy, but you probably guessed that even if you’ve never seen my swing.

Handling & Performance:   

The course was one and a half hours away and I was impressed at how comfortable the drive was, especially when you’re tired from a full day in the sun and sand (traps that is). For long drives how the car steers can make the difference in being exhausted or ready for another nine holes. Over steering was not a problem with this Intrepid. The touch of the wheel is easy with just enough feel of the road. The V6 is super fast off the line and on the highway in passing situations.

Thanks Chrysler for the 4-wheel independent suspension, but I think it is a mistake them to make ABS brakes an option.

Styling:

Sleek and sporty if you like that “Rake” look. For over a decade now Chrysler cars have emphasized the steep sloping hood that gives you great road visibility and the look of motion even parked. It’s like there is no hood out there.

Fit and Finish:                       

Historically Chrysler cars have been tinny and never with enough insulation to shut out road noise as well as it could. It gives that feeling of being less well made and I wish they would fix that cheap feeling…

Conveniences:

… On the other hand the price is right and you get a host of standard equipment.

Cost:

Chrysler continues to be well priced. Smart marketing in my view.


Consumer Recommendation:

The competition is fierce. You could literally draw straws and not go too far wrong. My choice in order of preference all around begins with the Camry, LeSabre, Accord, Intrepid, Impala, Taurus, Bonneville and Concorde.

The Competition: (in order of avg. price)

Ford Taurus $20,24,000, Honda Accord $16-28,000, Toyota Camry $19-25,000, Chevrolet Impala $21-24,000, Dodge Intrepid $21-25,000, Buick LeSabre $26-31,000, Chrysler Concorde $23-29,000, Pontiac Bonneville $27-34,000.

Good News:

Good balance of power and mileage, smooth ride that is comfortable for 4 large men.

 Bad News:

 More tinny than it needs to be for the money.

Standard Equipment:

3.5 liter 244 hp V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans, dual air bags, 4-wheel disc brakes, child anchors and door lock protection, remote entry, power steering, 100,000 mile tune-up interval, climate control, console, power windows and speed sensitive door locks, 8-way driver power seat, 60/40 rear split folding, leather wrapped tilt wheel and shift knob, Radio with CD changer, cruise control, power trunk release, fog lights, Halogen lights, power mirrors.  

Gas Stats:

19 City and 27 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $24,705.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2003 – An Automotive Love Affair

 

2003 Dodge Grand Caravan ES (447)

Overview:
This week I tested the Dodge Grand Caravan ES minivan. Can you believe these things have only been on the market since 1984? Well, as minivans, that is. I remember back in the early 1960’s going to the mountains or the beach in a van, but there were no windows and you usually would sit on rug-covered floors. In the late sixties they made window vans and I bought one in 1970 to tote the family and the Ossa Stiletto dirt bike for those wild and crazy days at Saddleback Park. Later I would find more enjoyment of street riding on my Harley’s with other aging urban cowboys. But when helmets came in, I went out in anger for our continual loss of freedoms. On this memorial day I am encouraged by the resilience of freedom loving American’s who have gotten the helmet laws repealed in all but a dozen or so stubborn states. When California joins in the reversal I’ll buy another Harley.

And speaking of the Spirit of Americans, we all owe a big thanks to Lee Iococca who made it possible for Chrysler to emerge from what seemed to be certain death of a car company to a real “Contender” today. This Dodge Caravan is a very capable and competitive family mini van. Listen up kids, this is a great option to those major gas guzzling SUV’s you and too many others have fallen in love with.

Handling & Performance:   

There is no question vans have come a long way since the early days. This test vehicle was equipped with the 215 horsepower V6 so I didn’t experience power problems reported with the 4 cylinder powered models. The ride was smooth and comfortable and of course the vans have lots of room to move around.

Styling:

Vans used to be very boxy and anything but stylish. Today’s minivans are as aerodynamic and wind resistant as most sedans. They are all nice looking in my opinion.

Fit and Finish:                       

Thanks to the Japanese, America has become better in many ways. They forced us to get mobilized to fight back in both wars. The first started in 1941 and the next was an economic war that began in 1961 when we started importing their cars. That pushed us to be better carmakers. Japan set the bar higher on standards of quality and we had to follow suit. It reminds me of Ralph’s quote, “There they go, and I must hasten after them, for I am their leader”. America certainly led the way in the beginning, but once Japan got going they leaped out in front with us hastening after them. Today I find equality between the two country’s automotive products. We’ve arrived America, thanks to Japan.

Conveniences:

With the MSRP noted below this van is loaded for bear or a bunch of kids. I don’t know which are more dangerous. These mini vans are Great Catholic Carriers or Mormon Mobiles. My kids were raised Catholic like most Italian families, but son Mike thought Mormons were cool so it was off to Brazil for a mission. It’s said you can tell kids, but you can’t tell them much. Mikes on number 3. Daughter Jen called it quits at two. No judgments. You gotta love ‘em.

Cost:

Not bad in today’s world, especially for the great utility provided to large families. The entertainment center includes a complementary DVD player as a promotion.

Consumer Recommendation:

In spite of the fact that I love the long history of American cars I have to tell you I would surely ask you to test-drive the Kia Sedona. I suspect you’ll have the same reservations I do, in that they are the new kids on the block. You have to ask how well they will hold up? In 1961 when I bought a Datsun station wagon I had more reason to ask that question than you do in 2003. Technology has changed dramatically as has the sophistication of foreign countries doing business here in the US. That’s why I recommend you consider the Kia from Korea.

The Competition:

Dodge Caravan $20-35,000, Chevrolet Venture $21-34,000, Chrysler Voyager $21-24,000, Ford Windstar $21-35,000, Honda Odyssey $24-30,000, Kia Sedona $20-22,000, Mazda MPV $22-26,000, Oldsmobile Silhouette $28-36,000, Pontiac Montana $24-34,000, Toyota Sienna $23-37,000.

Good News:

Made in USA (not Usa Japan), conveniences to suit big families, great option to the SUV with close to double the mpg, it’s versatile and attractive, roomy with a comfortable and stable ride. 

 Bad News:

Spongy brakes requiring more pressure to stop, rear seat is awkward to move (Honda Odyssey rear seat tucks away much better, for example).

Standard Equipment:

3.8 liter 215 horsepower V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans, leather bucket seats front 8-way driver power and manual second row with rear bench seat, manual driver lumber adjustment, dual front air bags, power sliding doors and lift gate, traction control, 4-wheel anti lock disc brakes, child anchor system, rear wiper and defroster, air conditioning front and rear with heater, power windows and rear quarter vents, power door locks, cruise control, tilt column, overhead console with trip computer, center floor removable console, lighter vanity mirrors, 12V DC power outlets front and rear and auxiliary 12 V outlet, radio with Cassette and CD players, keyless entry, roof rack, auto headlights and fog lights, power mirrors, 16 inch Aluminum chrome wheels, DVD player with wireless headphones.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 25 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $34,585.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2003 – An Automotive Love Affair

2003 Dodge Ram 3500 4X4 Quad Cab SLT Turbo Diesel (434)

Overview:
I thought the Hummer was big. I forget how big a dualee Ram 3500 is. 6-speed on the floor to transfer the power of a very capable 6 cylinder Cummins Turbo Diesel. I noticed the fenders were a different red from the body of the truck. It made perfect sense when I made the first turn into the driveway and past a building too close. Any closer and they would have been repainting the fender again.

Brother John has the same model with a Cummins Diesel that is about 2-years old. He regularly hauls more than a ton of hay for his animals. He just loves his Dodge Ram. It’s a “Man’s” truck and necessary on a working horse and cattle ranch.

Handling & Performance:

Other than the huge size that takes some getting used to, it is responsive and awesome to drive. The only thing that just fries my bacon is the bumpity-bump-bump-bump ride you get on cement surface roads. With a load, of course, the ride is smooth. And with 460 ft. lbs. of torque you can pull a house. It red lines at 3,000 rpm, and with 6 speeds you’ll find yourself starting out in second, shifting to 4th and then to 6th to cut the number of shifts, unless you have a load.

Styling:

Dodge Ram has been a truck leader in style for a long time now. This is one tough looking truck.

Fit and Finish:

Great, even though it’s a truck made for serious business.

Conveniences:

Availability is endless and the price tag will reflect that fact.

Cost:

Price-eeeee. Well I guess if you have a need to haul heavy stuff like 2-tons of hay, horse trailer, etc., then this is the hot ticket. And really the base price of $31,970 isn’t bad if you don’t need the Preferred Package and Turbo Diesel.


Consumer Recommendation:

On the ranch this is a great truck but if you don’t have such a need and Home Depot supplies is all you’ll haul, the base model is just fine.

The Competition: (in order of average price)

Ford F-350 Super Duty $22-37,000, GMC Sierra 3500 $28-36,000, Dodge Ram 3500 $25-40,000, Chevrolet Silverado 3500 $27-40,000.

Good News:

35-gallon fuel tank, Heavy-duty capability, diesel with turbo is fast and smooth.

Bad News:

35-gallon fuel tank necessary, so it is expensive to buy and operate.

Standard Equipment:

5.7 liter V8 engine is standard (see below for upgrade diesel), 6-speed Heavy Duty manual trans, dual air bags, 4-wheel abs brakes, manual shift-on-the-fly transfer case for 4-wheel drive, power steering, trailer tow 4-pin wiring connector, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, power windows & locks, cruise control, trip computer, radio with CD, rear folding seat, cargo lamp, preferred package with tow hooks, leather 8-way power driver and passenger seats, power adjustable pedals, electronic transfer case upgrade, fog lights, upgraded radio with cassette, 7-speakers and steering wheel audio controls, leather wrapped wheel, wood grain instrument panel, temp control air, keyless entry, security alarm and theft deterrent, upgraded trailer tow, added side air bags, heated front seats, engine upgrade to inline 6-cylinder HO Cummins Turbo Diesel, 750 amp maintenance free battery and box bed liner.

Gas Stats:

 Not available- my guess is 6-12mpg.

Pricing:

MSRP $44,555.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair

2003 Dodge Stratus R/T (423)

Overview:
This week I drove the 2003 Dodge Stratus. Stereotypes do a disservice to nearly everything you can think of. And most of our prejudices come from our youth, when we knew everything. Surely I knew all there was to know about cars in my youth. I could name every car on sight from three blocks away and so could all my friends. It was a game to us then.

But Chrysler was not a very popular car to many in my peer group in the 1950’s and 1960’s when Fonz was our hero as much as Joe Friday on Dragnet – Badge 714. We couldn’t miss Alfred Hitchcock Presents or Rod Serlings Twighlight Zone even if it were a school night. Great times for “American Graffiti” but not such a great time for Chrysler cars. Only nerds would be caught driving a Dodge, Plymouth both of which probably belonged to their parents who drove a Chrysler or Buick Roadmaster – tanks of the day.

But times change as do people, fads and fancies. As for cars, the romance is not as pronounced and the styles are not as fresh and exciting as they used to be when cars were emerging as the transportation of choice in America. There were lots of attempts at developing new gadgets for almost anything and cars were no exception. But other than the computer aided designs of the 21st century cars haven’t really changed all that much from the mid 20th century.

Handling & Performance:

Surely cars DO handle much better than in the “Good Old Days”. Suspensions weren’t as sophisticated so cars leaned a lot in turns, transmissions are not clunky any longer so the transition between gears is smoother. Engines are fuel injected and employ electronic ignition so they run much smoother and more efficient. And they are more powerful even with fewer cubic inches.

Styling: 

Today’s cars are designed in wind tunnels and friction coefficients are important to fuel economy and thus we get sleek looking cars. Stratus is a great example of futuristic styling. Few would argue these new generation cars are better than ever. But better is a relative thing and there are some notable exceptions like the new BMW built Mini Cooper – a remake from the past. It is anything but sleek. But then it is interesting and promises to be a winner – sleek or not.

Fit and Finish:

Better than Chrysler has ever been and I believe as good as anything on the marker in this price range.

Cost:

Chrysler has led the way with price competitiveness for the past two decades and remains one of the best cost-to-benefit car companies in the world.

The Competition: (alphabetically)

 Chevrolet Malibu $18-20,000, Chrysler Sebring $18-30,000, Dodge Stratus $19-22,000, Honda Accord $18-26,000, Hyundai Sonata $15-18,000, Infiniti G35 $27-32,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $18-28,000, Mitsubishi Galant $18-24,000, Nissan Altima $17-23,000, Saturn L-Series Sedan $18-21,000, Subaru Legacy $19-25,000, Toyota Camry Solara $19-31,000, Toyota Camry  $19-25,000.

Good News: 

Nice styling, good gas stats for a powerful V6 and well priced.

Bad News:

ABS brakes not included and should be standard, difficult for tall people.

Standard Equipment:

3.0 liter V6 200 horsepower engine, 5-speed manual transmission, 4-wheel disc brakes, power steering with leather wrapped tilt wheel, sport suspension, battery run down protection system, air conditioning, power windows and locks, radio with 4-disc CD, steering wheel mounted controls, security/immobilizer system, keyless entry, 12V aux outlet, courtesy lights in side and trunk, cruise control, leather wrapped shift knob, halogen lights, power mirrors, tinted glass, fog lights and spoiler.

Gas Stats:

21 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $21,725.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair