Sabtu, 07 Juni 2008



2008 Pontiac G6 GT Hardtop Covertible vs. 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible

By Mike Solowiow

Spring: the season of love, flowers and convertibles. As warmer weather approaches, car dealers put away the 4×4 SUV’s and pull the drop-tops from the back of the lots in the hopes of snagging passersby wanting a vehicle to celebrate the (global?) warming weather. Pontiac tempts buyers with the G6 GT Hardtop Convertible while Chrysler lures in the public with the newly-introduced Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible. As the only American-branded four-passenger hardtop convertibles, which one truly deserves your hard-earned income? Or should both be tossed into the bonfire of the vanities?

The Pontiac instantly seduces you with a restrained and handsome profile– terminating in a rear end stolen from the Toyota Solara. In midnight black, the gargantuan panel gaps disappear to present a nicely- integrated whole, set off by similarly restrained 18 inch wheels. The G6 looks like a svelte coupe with the top up, and a boulevard cruiser with it down. Dalmatians of the world rejoice! GM left the Cruella De Vil grill intakes from the G6 GXP off the convertible.

While the Pontiac might pass as a little black dress, the Chrysler looks like a prom gown from the 1980’s, complete with poofed sleeves. Design cues from around the world are presented in a discombobulated package, attempting to look refined. The American hood strakes and chrome grill start the mess, European crease lines and rub strips make up the middle, and last decade’s Japanese tail lamps wrap up the rear.

The Sebring looks best when topless. Yet no one would ever call the Sebring handsome. The omnipresent rental-car beige (Chrysler offers three shades) and black paint subdue the “we will try anything and everything” style to almost inoffensive levels. Almost.

The excitement the Pontiac presents outside only makes your jaw drop harder when gazing upon the acres and acres of cheap black plastic slathered throughout the interior. The G6’s interior is like that popular girl in high school who shows up at the reunion ten years later, a complete throwback to the past with a lot more jiggly bits and a reminder that some things from previous decades should be consigned to the scrap heap of history.

Not only do the plastics disappoint, Pontiac also completely screwed up the ergonomics. Want to change tracks on the CD player? You reach for the skip button only to accidentally increase the volume, and then cut your finger on the sharp-edged chrome trim around the knob. Tiny buttons abound, from the stereo to the cruise control to the convertible top switch. All are cheap and insubstantial feeling. The only relief from the oppressive blackness of the instrument panel: the chrome rings tossed around the cabin in sufficient quantity to leave you with suspicions of Ringling Brothers Circus sponsorship.

Chrysler barely edges out the Pontiac in the better-looking cheap plastics contest. Avoiding Pontiac’s “black hole of despair” theme, Chrysler offers a pleasant palette for a light airy feel. Yes, but– the polymers are harder to the touch than Barack Obama’s rhetoric; shiny in some places, dull in others. The Sebring’s tortoiseshell veneers are a laudable attempt to do something different, but the execution makes it look as if sunglasses melted on the dashboard.

At least Chrysler spent more than ten minutes working out the ergonomic details. The LCD stereo display is aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically sound, especially when accessing the MyGig system. The upmarket-looking climate control dials click reassuringly; another bright spot on a barely passing grade. The seats on the Chrysler are as springy as Grandma’s couch, a completely opposite feel to the Pontiac’s grippy and more comfortable Recaro-esque buckets.

Both manufacturers claim to provide luxury for four, but first class on a Greyhound bus is still first class on a Greyhound bus. Both cars claim top operation only takes 30 seconds. Pontiac guessed right, Chrysler got it wrong by a lot.

The Pontiac’s top lurches into the trunk (and takes up ALL the space) with a bit of hesitation while providing a “will this work in three years?” origami display of engineering. The Chrysler takes nearly 45 seconds of whining. When the trunk lid pops to swallow the top, the entire car shakes like a pole dancer, wobbles a bit and then clunks alarmingly when sealing shut. I wouldn’t keep the Sebring past the standard warranty period based solely on the scary top operation.

At least you still get some accessible storage when the Chrysler goes topless (enough for two golf bags). You might be able to store a pizza in the Pontiac’s 2.2 cubic feet, but you have to raise the top to get to it.

Once the finicky tops are lowered, you’re all set to blast down Highway 190 into the sunset-drenched Sierra Nevadas and let your cares blow away in the wind… or not.

The Pontiac G6 GT Convertible wouldn’t know the word “blast” if it was shot in the face by a Howitzer. With either the standard 3.5-liter VVT pushrod V6 (217bhp), or the 3.9-liter 222bhp V6 (again with ancient pushrods), forward progress requires that you squeeze the throttle about three inches until you meet some resistance. At which point the engine pops a Valium, gives you a dirty look and groans up the rpm band.

The older-than-Bob-Lutz engine designs might actually have shown some pep were they not coupled to an incredibly lousy four-speed automatic transmission. The tranny either bogs the engine down or kicks down into noise-making gear. Neither situation is conducive to either sporty or relaxing driving. You are always trying to out guess the slushbox.

Slip the lever into “manual” mode and it gets even worse. The experience proves irritating to the point where you want to rip the gear lever out of its cheap plastic housing and proceed to beat the rest of the car with it (which I wouldn’t advise, considering the poor build quality). GM offers a good six-speed automatic on other G6’s, so why not here?

After the G6, the drive train in the Chrysler Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible seems like a breath of fresh air. The Sebring’s 3.5-liter SOHC V6 (with a G6-bettering 235bhp) is equipped with a six-speed automatic as standard. The engine and transmission work together smoothly to launch the Sebring quickly and semi-serenely. The tranny always keeps the power band on the boil while never letting it get raucous. It’s perfect for a cruiser convertible.

The downside: a non-existent exhaust note. In place of a V6 growl, you get to hear a bit of cooling fan roar and the fuel pump. As interesting as I find it to listen to an electric motor whir its little heart out, it’s not nearly as blissful as the mechanical symphony found on most drop-tops.

After putting in your earplugs to silence both the G6’s heavy metal and the Sebring’s electronic disco, you find both cars want to sit on the side of the dance floor and pretend they know the proper steps. The Sebring offends the least with a stable and smooth-riding platform that provides rental-car-friendly safe handling. Understeer only becomes annoying should you want to go faster than the legal speed limit. The standard stabilizer bars front and rear keep the body roll to less-than-yacht-like conditions and the standard suspension dampers keep the vertical bouncy motions to a minimum.

Drive it like you retired in it, and the Sebring manages to create a sedate and somewhat relaxing experience; it demands nothing from the driver who has all the time in the world. Top down or up, body quiver is never an issue, although small wiggles find their way through the rack-and-pinion steering. One weird gripe: at cruising speed, the wind buffets the sun visors, creating a boring gray flutter in your line of vision. Epileptics should not purchase this vehicle.

At the first turn of the G6’s wheel, you might as well stop turning. Typical of all G6’s, understeer reigns with a tyrannical vengeance. Vague steering and precious little feedback degrade the experience to the point where the G6 GT becomes almost dangerous to drive in any conditions other than a straight line. The harder you press the car (provided you could stand the transmission), the less fun it provides. When the 18-inch tires finally start to grip, the chassis slides slightly in its bushings, creating a strange plywood-on-springs sensation.

Keeping the G6 on the straight and level reveals the Pontiac engineers were listening to Chubby Checker belt out “The Twist.” A 1986 SAAB 900 convertible has less cowl shake. On the rough Oklahoma interstates, the Pontiac shook so badly I started to get motion sickness– and I fly for a living! I could only listen to the top secured in the trunk crack in protest. I give the standard glass rear window about two-and-a-half years before it needs replacing.

Driving both cars back-to-back reveals one clear “winner:” the Chrysler Sebring Limited. It may have awkward aesthetics, but its decent drivetrain and nicer interior make the Pontiac G6 GT look like the classic dumb blond: all looks with absolutely no substance to back it up. If offered a Sebring drop top as a rental car, I wouldn’t turn it down.

I know: that’s not exactly what you’d call high praise. Compared to the competition– ANY competition– both cars are losers. If it was my hard-earned $30Kish, I’d spend it on a Mustang GT Convertible, VW EOS, SAAB 9-3, Mazda MX-5 or ANYTHING else. Hell, I might even spend it on nothing. And the fact that the G6 and Sebring’s manufacturers have put these underdeveloped cars on the market brings glory to neither.


New 2009 Chrysler 300

By Sajeev Mehta

Buzzwords like “breakthrough”, “paradigm” and “integration” are management Viagra. They give ignorant execs and clueless PR folk the power to appear talented. But no word sets the flack-talker’s soul afire like “synergy.” And no other word was deployed more often to justify the merger of Daimler-Benz with Chrysler. But what happens when you synergize top-dollar Mercedes underpinnings with Chrysler engineering and sell it for the price of a Camry? I’ll give you 300 guesses.

Judging by its looks, the Chrysler 300 is still a winner. The chopped roof, crisp overhangs, Audi TT-esque fender flares and jeweler’s grade front fascia are still the stuff of urban legend. The SUV-like stance (generated by a sky-high beltline) and K-car influenced rear deck further distinguish the big Chrysler from the Boyz in the bland. Personally, I find this flying brick (with a drag coefficient to match) a far cry from Bentley sedans and vintage 300’s. Put another way, who stole a Checker Marathon and ran it through a wind tunnel?

Too bad that chunky profile only looks solid. Rest your butt on the front end, lean back and give your best “mean mug” for the camera and the front clip flexes and twists in disapproval. Ditto the back bumper: rest a box before loading the trunk and the 300’s posterior sags like the rack of a middle-aged supermodel.

The Chrysler 300’s interior continues the cheap and not-so-cheerful theme. Aside from tight panel gaps and soft polymers above the dashboard equator, the cabin is awash in the kind of flash cast plastics “enjoyed” by owners of Hyundai’s Excel. The 300’s cabin serves-up a farrago of bargain basement materials: from hard, nasty armrests to a vinyl-wrapped steering wheel. The 300’s thrones were designed by the folks at Slip n’ Slide, complete with leather inserts that are virtually indistinguishable from their vinyl surroundings. The optional Boston Acoustics’ boombox is as clear as it is loud– provided you remain in front.

Hop in the back and the sound quality flies out the window, right after the delightful gong resonance made by closing the rear portals. The 300’s backseat is best reserved for short trips with short people; everyone else leaves the 300’s lean rear cushions tired and stressed after a lengthy interstate odyssey. The trunk’s shallow, oddly-shaped cargo hole and the overly aggressive assist-struts on a zero-leverage deck lid do nothing to help the family car basics. There’s but one shining [three pointed] star in the 300’s cabin: a cruise control stalk with all the precise, perfectly weighted feel of a Mercedes’ part– donated to an otherwise lost cause.

Throw the 300 into some switchbacks and you can tell where the car’s manufacturer spent their money. The 300’s independent (front) and five-link (rear) suspension is a distant cousin to the old E-class. Tweaked by the Dark Lords of DCX and bolted onto to a stiff chassis, the greasy bits provide plenty of poise for one so portly (3800 pounds). Boot the package in a corner and 250lb-ft of torque sends the 300’s rear tires dancing in delight– moments before the ESP flashes a warning that this isn’t an E63 AMG and you aren’t Michael Schumacher (or Jay Shoemaker).

Even with the handling Nanny in attendance, the 300 is a wonderful mix of raucous handling and reassuring ride. The 300’s Chris-Craftian tiller has way too much rim for spirited maneuvers, but the power-assisted rack and pinion steering provides reasonable feel for a passenger sedan aimed squarely at the over-40 set. With 55-series tires on hand (ironically enough), the Chrysler’s ride is 401K-compliant, splitting the distance between BMW’s teeth chattering firmness and the roll and pitch of a Toyota Camry.

Even without the hemispherical hot tamale under the bonnet, the 300's no slouch. The sedan’s 3.5-liter high-output SOHC V6 may not stand a chance against the latest hi-po six-pots, but 250hp hooked-up to a reasonably responsive five-speed autobox ensures that the 300 gets out of its own way without unnecessary delay, thirst (19/27) or embarrassment. (Which is more than you can say for the base by name base by nature 2.7-liter V6.)

Taken as a whole, the 300 is proto-synergy. When first mooted, the Daimler Chrysler combo was touted as a ”merger of equals,” blending German engineering with American style. Instead of blowing away the competition with anal retentive engineering and unassailable build quality, the Chrysler 300 is a half-baked half-breed: a car with excellent bones, a flash exterior, a dreadful interior and dubious build quality.

Props to the 300 for reinvigorating American car design, finding tremendous popularity and more than paying its way. But it’s time for DCX to update this bad boy or build something that fulfills the merger’s original premise. Otherwise, the 300 is destined to become a textbook case of a synergistic failure to turn hype into reality.


Chrysler Aspen - Road Test

By Robert Farago

Why? Why in the world would Chrysler release another gas-guzzling SUV into the domestic market? OK, sure, they probably pulled the trigger on the Aspen before gas crested three bucks a gallon and immolated SUV sales. But why bother? The official website proclaims the Aspen offers “Decadence without shame.” This from a vehicle that gets [an entirely theoretical] 14 mpg in the urban cycle? Whose shame are they referring to? Surely someone should be embarrassed.

I was, driving the thing. I mean, this could be the only vehicle capable of making the Durango’s ungainly, truncated snout seem svelte and perfectly proportioned. Honestly, the Aspen’s short, flat, striated schnoz rivals Cyrano de Bergerac’s proboscis for impure, adulterated hideousness. The protruding front bumper, a throwback to the bad old days when safety equipment was literally tacked on, adds aesthetic insult to non-injury. As for the rest of the design, again, it’s a Durango. How great is that?

Inside, oy. We’ve been sounding the alarm over the proliferation of DCX’ generic cabins for a while now, wondering why so many of their distinctive-looking vehicles are virtually indistinguishable from the pilot’s position. The addition of some light colored wood, model airplane quality silver plastic and a cute little analogue clock to Chrysler’s identikit interior does nothing to lift this “luxury” ute into the luxury category. The column shifter, mouse fur headliner and poorly attached, revolting carpet do much to lower it into econobox territory. For a $30k - $40k product, the lack of tactile satisfaction and overall attention to detail is stunning.

Fold the second row seat forward and the nasty looking sharp-edged seat mechanism– complete with tire jack– stands ready to rip your shins to pieces. Press the cargo bay’s side panel and the entire flimsy plastic piece bows seriously inwards. The rear cargo hatch flies open, and then glides the final leg of its journey. Speaking of leg room, while we can dismiss the third row’s Geneva Convention defying limb constriction as par for the course, how can you justify a second row that requires a 5’10” driver to slide forward? Towing capacity?

Hey, it’s true: the Aspen provides best in class towing: 8950 pounds. That’s provided you buy the Hemi (an extra grand), a 3.92 rear end and stick with a 4X2 transmission– which would still make the Aspen a poor choice for anyone trying to pull a tree off a road so his ex-girlfriend and her new squeeze can get through. Anyway, our tester came with said 5.7-liter hemispherically combustion chambered V8, which should have provided an excuse– however shameful– to buy this rig. I mean, if you’re going to burn fossil fuel like someone who hangs around video gas pumps just for fun, your SUV might as well go like stink.

That it doesn’t. Our tester’s Hemi may have been greener than Kermit the Frog, but I bet the cloth covered amphibian is quicker off the line. Car and Driver clocked the Aspen’s zero to sixty sprint at an impressive 7.2 seconds. We couldn’t get near that figure. More importantly, the Aspen's 335-horse, 370 foot-pounding Hemi only responds to a whip hand; there’s none of that anywhere, anytime thrust that makes the similarly engined 300C such a pleasure to drive. I suppose you need a jet engine to fully motivate a 5400 pound truck, but again, low mileage should equal massive thrust.

By tying down the SUV’s independent front, live axle rear suspension tighter than a gnat’s sphincter, Chrysler engineers managed to get a gi-normous body-on-frame truck with 20” wheels to stay level through the twisties. The downside to this technological feat: the ride quality is best described as “muffled discomfort” and the lack of body lean tempts you to drive this monster faster than you should. Good thing the seats offer no lateral support, the rack and pinion steering provides no useful feedback, the A-pillars cut off any practical view through a bend and the Aspen’s anchors are powerful and easily modulated. The stoppers are more than capable of saving your bacon the first (and presumably only) time you overcook it.

So what, dear friends, is the point of the Aspen? Don’t tell me (Steve Siler) that Chrysler dealers were clamoring for a vehicle more macho than a Pacifica, ‘cause the Aspen is about as macho as William Shatner’s truss. Nor will I accept the argument that this, this, “thing” is Chrysler’s Escalade. Even people with bad taste have better taste than that, and it ain’t nowhere near big enough for the Brothas. No, the only reason I can see for the Aspen’s existence is that someone in marketing said it would be cheap to build a Durango derivative for Chrysler. That’ll teach the suits not to do too much blow the next time they're minging at a Colorado ski resort.


When Chrysler unveiled its PT Cruiser in 2001, it was hailed as a fun, versatile retro-mobile. While sales have remained relatively robust, virtually every automaker in the Cruiserweight class has introduced a new or reworked small wagon: the Toyota Matrix/ Pontiac Vibe twins, Mazda 3 and Chevrolet HHR (a.k.a. 'Me-Too Cruiser') among them. Even the Cruiser's parent company has introduced the genre-bending five-door Caliber. Despite the pig pile on PT, Daimler Chrysler has just given the Cruiser its first-ever refresh for 2006. Is this a case of a mortician doing a little touch-up work before closing the casket, or does the PT have longer legs than the fashion police led consumers to believe?

Few would argue that the PT's retrosexual curves haven't held up well– even if fellow Cruisers have long outgrown the whole light-flashing fraternity thing. But up front, DaimlerChrysler's makeover artists have reworked the lower valance to questionable effect. Whereas the original PT's lower reaches looked like an extension of the shield-shaped grille, the new design is at once more conventional and less harmonious; chrome garnishes, scalloped headlamps and new-look fogs creating change for the sake thereof. In our case, the PT's now legendary two-box profile rides on 'chrome clad' nine-spokers (16' alloys with a mirror-finish cap screwed on) and shiny side moldings. Out back, the song remains the same, with new clear-element taillights and a larger chrome (natch) exhaust. The overall effect remains that of a gangster mobile playfully packing cap guns. In the case of our "go for baroque" Electric Blue Limited, chrome ones. (We'll leave the bling-laden '2CK Quick Order Package' unchecked on the order sheet and pocket the $3,200, thanks)

Inside, DCX has given the PT larger, chrome-ringed gauges, round air vents, an 'Oh Shit' towel-bar of a grab-handle and a revamped center stack capped with an analog clock. Our tester's seats were a bit narrower than we recall, though wrapped in upscale cowhide and 'preferred suede' (the best euphemism for "fake leather" we've ever heard). Evidently looking to abandon its cheap n' cheerful reputation, our PT arrived ladled with a bushel's worth of options: power chairs with bun warmers, satellite radio, trip computer, the lot. Some of the Cruiser's middling interior plastics have been retextured, but it's largely the same well-assembled, functional and characterful interior as before. Even if the PT hasn't gotten a Cribs-style makeover, its den is still a fun, funky place to chill, with peerless room, excellent sightlines and a charming, tongue-in-cheek aesthetic unavailable elsewhere at this price point (barring the MINI franchise).

Under its U-shaped clamshell, our PT proffered a 2.4-liter force-fed four-cylinder, yoked to a 4-speed automatic. The PT's 180-horse light-pressure turbo imbues the retromobile with sufficient mid-range power to bob along all day at 80 mph, secreting a little extra in reserve for passing poke. When given Das Boot, the PT's old-skool four-speed slushbox often comes harder and later than a XXX A-lister. As no manual override or DIY option is available with the Limited's powerplant, drivers are encouraged to learn the tranny's tipping point to ensure smooth, swift progress.

We averaged about 22 mpg, an acceptable if uninspiring result given a hooligan's right foot. Either way, there's little wrong here that an up-to-date gearbox couldn't fix. Well, perhaps we'd take a reworked exhaust. As it is, Cruisin' soundtracks are best left to the discs in the six-puck stereo, because the engine's tune isn't nearly as playful as the vehicle it motivates.

Grab the (too thin) pseudo-banjo-spoke wheel, pitch the PT hard into a bend, and the front-driver's Goodyear Eagles wash out with Woolite-like predictability. Given its humble (and elderly) underpinnings — MacPherson strut (front), twist-beam/Watts link (rear) — the Limited acquits itself very well. But like a too-staid 'steady,' our touring-suspended PT proved a companion merely tolerant of questionable behavior. A more aggressive tread pattern than our tester's milquetoast footwear would go a long way towards improving the PT's fun-to-drive quotient, as might a slightly lowered ride height (the Cruiser's stance is a bit 'high-boy' for our tastes). Admittedly, its brakes haul 'er down with repeatable predictability, though we're at a loss as to why anti-lock supervision remains an option box unchecked on a $23k example.

The PT's dynamic pitfall is its epic turning circle. While hardly an issue when lazing along the interstate, it's a remarkably tough sell in tight parking lots. We suspect it's a packaging hurdle brought about by its pointed retro prow. However, given the its small footprint, it bears repeating: turning the PT round about its axis is a little… round about. Let's face it: the Cruiser has always romanced buyers with the curves of its fenders, not those upon which it travels. Yes, the Little Chrysler That Could remains flawed, but improbably enough, well… the kid stays in the picture.


The Pacifica is the original crossover, launched by Chrysler before sky high gas prices turbocharged the entire genre. The Pacifica combines the utility of a minivan (without the stigma of actually having to drive one), the raised seating position of an SUV (without getting dirty looks from drivers with "Proud To Be Vegan" bumper stickers) and the handling of a sedan (without the fuel efficiency). While it may not have everything it needs to roust suburban schleppers from their SUV's, the station wagon stilts is still the original and best shot over the SUV's bow.

In keeping with its multi-tasking mission, the Pacifica doesn't look like anything else on the market. With its dramatic belt line diving from back to front, the forward-leaning Pacifica's sheet metal has all the style of a Sinatra fedora. The details are equally compelling. Unlike its minivan competitors, the crossover's 17" wheels fit the wheel wells. The door handles aren't refugees from a bottomless parts bin. The bright work is deployed sparingly and with taste. In short, the Pacifica is the first pentastar product in a long time that doesn't look like it was designed by committee.

Pacifica ads promise a luxurious sedan-like interior. In a stark break with industry tradition, it delivers. The Pacifica's cabin is simple and stylish; it's made from materials that wouldn't seem out of place in a mid-level Mercedes. In case you're not entirely convinced that a Chrysler can have class, the company's added a bit of technological whiz bang. In the flat world of navigation systems, the Pacifica's oversized display screen– sitting bang in the middle of the speedometer– is an ergonomic triumph. It's too bad Chrysler's sat nav software is easily disoriented and provides erroneous directions.

Our test Pacifica came equipped with four separate bucket seats (the base model has a minivan-esque rear bench). The fronts are more supportive than a third grade teacher, complete with fold down arm rests, power every which way (but loose) and memory. The rears are arranged theater-style. They slide fore and aft, recline and provide passengers easy access to separate controls for the air conditioning and optional DVD system (perfect for today's non-conversational kids). The seats in the way, WAY back are suitable only for children, dogs and in-laws. Although all the rear seats fold down, there's no way you can create a completely flat loading surface without an acetylene torch.

While the rear passengers enjoy terrific vistas all 'round, drivers will find that the Pacifica's rear window bears an uncanny resemblance to a mail slot. When you look in the rear view mirror the entire window fills the frame. The window wiper looks the size of a pencil. Visibility wouldn't be worse if the door was made out of solid steel.

Chrysler teamed up with Infinity to create one of the world's best and most complicated audio systems. It's a farrago of oddly shaped buttons, rockers, sliders and a big plastic knob. Underneath the CD-equipped head unit there's… another CD player. The overall design is so ergonomically compromised that Chrysler just plain gave up and added two multi-function ICE-control buttons to the back of the steering wheel. Luckily, the helm-based switches offer a simple and effective alternative to the head unit's RTFM Hell.

You might think that 250 horses would be enough to motivate a two-ton vehicle. And it is. Kind of. The Pacifica ambles to 60 in a little under ten seconds. Shifting manually with the AutoStick gives you something to do to while away the time, but the system does little to increase the beast's acceleration. Once the Pacifica's 3.5 liter V6 gets rolling, the picture brightens considerably. The big crossover cruises effortlessly at 90mph. When you call down to the engine room at slower speeds, the powerplant answers authoritatively. Unfortunately, sloth does not equal frugality. Chrysler and our chronically over-optimistic pals at the EPA claim the Pacifica gets 17/23 mpg. Our test Pacifica turned in just 16.2.

At least it burned its fuel with grace. With struts up front and a five-link self-leveling suspension in the rear, the Pacifica errs on the fun-to-drive side. It turns in sharply, changes directions well and generally slings itself through the corners with more polish than you'd expect from a vehicle this generously sized. The Pacifica may be nothing more than a rolling chicane to an MX5, but Chrysler's crossover is hardly an automotive penalty box.

Buying a Pacifica is one of those rare instances where you really can have it all (assuming you have a spare $30k): the comfort of a luxury sedan, the practicality of a minivan and the psychological security of an SUV. All the Pacifica needs to mount a comeback, to capitalize on the current SUV exodus, is better mileage. The moment DCX installs a more fuel efficient engine is the moment the Pacifica will get the attention it deserves.


By Robert Farago

You can no more assess a PT Cruiser Convertible based on its acceleration, ride and handling than you can rate a Harley Davidson Softail on its ability to keep pace with a Honda Blackbird. As a "cruiser", the PT Convertible can only be judged by one metric: its feel good factor (FGF). Do owners run out of milk at odd intervals? Do they name their cars? Do they lower the lid in winter? Yes, cubed. The PT drop top has all the car-isma cruisers crave– and then some.

First and foremost, it's a four-seater. The rag-top cognoscenti know that a convertible's FGF increases arithmetically with each additional passenger. If the rear seats are spacious, the pleasure generated is almost inconceivable. Try. Imagine stashing a couple of best buds in your Chrysler top-down two-door and heading for the beach; sucking on an ice cold Coke and blissing on Ban de Soleil as your crew sing along with the latest Black Eyed Peas hookfest. If that's not a peak automotive experience (and an example of unpaid product placement), I don't know what is.

The Convertible's dramatic styling gives it tremendous cruise-compliant curb appeal. The PT's sheet metal proclaims its idealized intentions without embarrassment or affectation. It's a shame the hood doesn't stow flat; the baby-carriage back end violates the PT's vanitude. Luckily, the St. Louis arch bisecting the cabin draws the eye away from the rear, helping to maintain focus on the PT Cruiser Convertible's flowing lines.

That said, I've never been a big fan of the PT's retro-minded aesthetics. I've seen too many perfectly restored antique automobiles to surrender myself to a pastiche that combines an elegant Chrome Age grill with a 40's panel van. Flipping the PT's lid only highlights the bizarre dichotomy between the art deco prow and the prison wall rear end. I reckon this is one of the only convertibles made that looks better with the top up. Still, to paraphrase Rupert Pupkin, it's better to be a Cruiser for a night than an Impala for a lifetime.

The PT Cruiser Convertible's upgraded interior doesn't quite live up to the exterior spizzarkle. While the level of fit and finish is unassailable– a remarkable achievement given the price point– the all-important center stack has more than a whiff of rental car to it. The radio sets the tone; it's a cheap-looking unit with a digital display harkening back to the entirely wrong era (the '70's). The wet-look plastic surrounding the instrument cluster and sheltering the passenger airbag is a feeble attempt to echo the painted metal dashboards of 50's land yachts. The gauges themselves are typographically bland and slightly too small. Wherever you look, it's quality over flair.

At the risk of contradicting myself, the PT Cruiser Convertible offers dynamic compensation for its plodding interior. The five-speed manual gearbox, for example, is a peach. The shift knob is perfectly positioned, and the transmission swaps cogs with well-oiled precision. The helm has just enough road feel to remind owners that cruising consists of equal parts posing, scoping and driving. The GT's disc brakes lack initial bite and require some committed pushing, but they reward the effort with power and grace.

Which is just as well. The GT's 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbo brings new meaning to the word "overkill". As soon as you crest 4000rpms in first or second gear, the front wheels start slip sliding away. Combine this with body flex and a bit of wheel hop and, well, let's just say it's best to let those 230 horses graze. Pistonheads are advised to buy the less powerful variant and chill.

No problem. A PT Cruiser Convertible in amble mode is Hakuna Matata in-car-nate. In fact, Chrysler should sell a line of Hawaiian shirts to match the Cruiser's color chart (Linen Gold, Cool Vanilla, etc.). Drivers who believe you can't put a price on open-top nirvana– but have to do so anyway– would wear them with pride. And why not? If you're looking for a spacious, well-built, sensibly-priced drop top that makes you drive by store windows to look AT them, rather than THROUGH them, the PT Cruiser Convertible is the ideal fresh air whip, bar none.


Chrysler 300C SRT8 vs BMW M5

By Robert Farago

I love horsepower. I love the feel of it lingering underfoot, ready to explode into neck-snapping, stomach-churning, tire-shredding violence. I love the sound of it: the blend of Fortissississimo bellowing and heavy metal madness. I love the power of it, the ability to make "ordinary" machines look as if God grabbed their rear bumpers and yanked them backwards. Sure, my passion for accelerative overload is infantile, dangerous and about as politically correct as a 1920's minstrel show. But at least it isn't impractical or expensive. Well, not anymore.

You can now buy a four-door 425hp Chrysler 300C SRT-8 for a nickel under $40k. That's a lot of numbers. And no matter how you look at it– size, performance or style– the 300C SRT-8 is a lot of car. So let's take this road test thing nice and slow… Only we here at TTAC don't do anything "nice". And "slow" is not a word in the SRT-8's vocabulary (I have a hard time understanding it myself). So what the Hell. Let's strap in, mash the go pedal and see where it takes us.

Straight to the brake pedal. We've traveled so far so fast we need to slow down RIGHT NOW, and hope that Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology (SRT) knows as much about brakes as they do about big-bore powerplants. Fo shizzle. When caning a 425hp car weighing 4160lbs., there's no time to ponder the finer points of rotor size, "swept area", ABS, etc. It's strictly press and pray.

Did I mention that the 300C SRT-8 doesn't like to let go of its revs? Lift off the gas and there's no danger of engine braking; starving the 6.1-liter Hemi of dead dinoflagellates has about as much immediate effect as switching off the afterburners on an F15. Not to put too fine a point on it, the 300C SRT-8 is a blat - coast - blat kinda car. Oh, and the five-speed gearbox (a Mercedes E-Class hand-me-down) is as fond of kickdown as the Toyota Prius is of low revs. The big Chrysler can resist anything except acceleration.

Right. Where were we? Oh yes, in dire need of stoppage. And stop we shall. If a car is only as good as its brakes, Chrysler's flagship muscle car is a match for the very best. Both the SRT-8 and BMW's M5 require only 110 feet of pavement to slow themselves from sixty to zero. While the SRT-8's left pedal doesn't offer much in the way of initial feel, the massive anchors are powerful enough to yank you out of the trouble that the steroidal engine can oh-so-easily put you in. Now, let's try a little cornering…

Before tackling the twisties, switch off the ESP traction control. I don't usually recommend thrashing a Nanny-less sedan with 420ft.-lbs. of torque, 20" wheels and three-season tires (Vivaldi would not be pleased with that concept). But the SRT's chassis is so well sorted, the power resevoir so deep, instant and controllable, that you can drive this monster like you stole it without an electronic safety net– and not die. Simply steer with your right foot.

Muscle car aficionados know the drill. When you enter a sharp turn, throw the wheel hard over and floor it. As the rear tires spin and the back end drifts sideways, apply the appropriate amount of opposite lock with the steering wheel. Then ease off the gas, let the back end ease into line and keep on going. If it's good enough for The General Lee, it's good enough for the SRT.

Of course, Chrysler had to sacrifice a significant measure of the donor car's ride comfort. And? The supremely-engined 300C SRT-8 is aimed at G-force junkies and serious stunters. They'd consider it a badge of honor if a pothole knocked a filling loose. Alternatively, you can dismiss a rough section of road by applying max power and dryquaplaning over irregularities.

I don't mean to leave you with the impression that the Chrysler 300C SRT-8 is all about raw power. It's about raw power AND satellite radio. And a 180mph speedo, sports seats, a fearsome front spoiler, an integrated rear wing and the usual trim upgrades and performance badgery. Other than that, the 300C SRT-8 is the same gangsta-style luxobarge that's wowed press and punters alike.

Which is no bad thing. With the addition of a glorious, pumped-up Hemi and vastly improved driving dynamics, the 300C SRT-8 transforms a great car into an instant (though proletariat) classic. If you're a horsepower headcase on a budget, go on. You know you want to.


By Robert Farago

Every now and then a car comes along that turns convention on its head. Cadillac's CTS-V is a perfect example. Who would have thought that the foremost proponent of the floaty-drifty school of handling would produce a sports sedan with sharper reflexes than a BMW 5-Series? The Chrysler 300C is another case in point. The last thing you'd expect from Daimler Chrysler, a traditional Detroit automaker with German masters, is a bad-ass gangsta-mobile.

The 300C was built for a drive-by shooter. Its narrow, high-set windows look more like gun slits than casements. Its gigantic "egg crate" prow projects a distinct air of physical menace. Slab sides, sharp creases and sheer bulk complete the "urban assault vehicle" design theme. Not to put too fine a point on it, what player wouldn't want to roll up in a car with such stylish malevolence?

The C's gang-banger demeanor may shock delicate sensibilities, but its appearance shouldn't come as a surprise. Blacks have long been the engine of US culture; the extension of their influence into the automotive arena is both logical and welcome. Drawing on hot rod and street culture, Haitian-born designer Ralph Gilles has introduced vitality to a sector stultified by the inexorable rise of the SUV. Older buyers won't get it, but Gen Y will tell you straight up: the 300C is all that. Props to Gilles. Props to Chrysler for letting the man do his thing. But what's really amazing is that the 300C isn't an empty style statement like the ridiculously under-engined Prowler or the minivan-in-drag PT Cruiser. It's a complete package, with all the space, power and price it needs to win a wider audience. Let's start with the final frontier…

While tree huggers continue their holy quest to yank drivers from their gas-guzzling SUVs and shoehorn them into smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, Americans aren't buying it. Literally. The vast majority of US consumers (who are vast in and of themselves) equate interior volume with safety, luxury, class and comfort. They're not wrong and they're not afraid to buy vehicles that reflect their aspirations. The 300C's massive crib will delight the masses. Super-sized drivers have a new place to call home. Backseat passengers get 40.2" of legroom, 38" of head space and 57.7" shoulder sprawl. For the math-aversive, that's more lebensraum than a BMW 7-Series.

Better yet, the C's cavernous cabin continues the glorious Audification of US car interiors. Gilles' crew has blended chrome, mock tortoise shell and leather to create an understated yet elegant chill-out room. The dash's four central dials - complete with polished metal bezels, tapered needles and classic typography - are Breitling bling. The switchgear is tactile, functional and discreet. Taken as a whole, the 300C is a deeply funky neo-retro masterpiece.

This particular piece of automotive art weighs in at 4046lbs. That's a lot of art. Good thing the C's got a lot of power. More specifically, there's a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 lurking in the engine bay. With 340hp and 390ft.-lbs. of torque on tap, and a Mercedes E-Class autobox swapping cogs, the C is an effortless cruiser. Better yet, the HEMI's trick MDS (Multi-Displacement System) helps the fab four-door realize over 20 mpg– provided you baby the go pedal. If you don't… Chrysler claims the C blasts from zero to sixty in 6.3 seconds. That would be sufficiently rapid to keep pace with a Porsche Boxster. Wrong. My stopwatch clocked the C doing the sprint in 5.6. That's faster than a Boxster S. The company reckons the C can crack the ¼ mile in 14.1 seconds. If so, the 300C is quicker than a 350Z (14.3 secs.). Word!

Needless to say, the S and Z would crucify the C in a corner. Any corner. But hey, Chrysler's HEMI-powered beast is a luxury leviathan, not a sports car. Nor could you call it a sports sedan. Truth be told, the C is a squealing pig around bends. Although its rear multi-link suspension was lifted from its German cousin, the 4150lbs. C has none of the E's poise or flair through the twisties. Even worse, Chrysler's engineers have de-tuned the system to produce the same sloppy, bouncy, squishy ride as a Lincoln Town car. It's sick - and not in a good way. Strangely, the C's remote control ride fails to smooth-away lumps and bumps; making it the worst of both worlds.

Potential customers won't notice a thing. They'll be seduced by the big Chrysler's style, speed and space. Anyway, the 300C costs $33k. At that price, you can take the car to a tuner and get the ride tweaked to your liking. Of course, 300C buyers are far more likely to spring for low profile tires, killer dubs, TV, refrigerator-sized sub-woofers and a custom paint job. And you know what? It's the right thing to do.