- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

There’s a problem when your glass is half-full. It’s half-empty. If you’re only seeing what’s gone, then how can you see what’s left?

This half-glass-empty syndrome is the perceptual predicament for Chrysler as it goes through a surgical bankruptcy. An abundance of product can’t move if buyers don’t see value in it.

President Obama reassured the nation that Chrysler’s product warranties are backed by the U.S. government as it moves through this process. That’s a full glass. How would you like to have a Hemi with that hybrid you’re driving? Now your cup runneth over.

Only Chrysler has the bragging rights of being able to fashion a 345-horsepower Hemi V-8 with hybrid technology in an eight-passenger full-size sport utility vehicle. such is the case with the 2009 Chrysler Aspen Hybrid.

This 5,637-pound 4WD SUV returns EPA-rated fuel-economy ratings of 20 miles per gallon city and 20 mpg highway; has a maximum trailering rating of 6,000 pounds, and a cargo payload capacity of 1,410 pounds. The things buyers really focus on are comfort, performance and fuel efficiency.

Comfort and convenience are naturally integrated into the design process of crafting a Chrysler automobile. The base price of $45,270 on my test vehicle included luxurious amenities of heated leather-trim seating with embroidered logo on front seatbacks, light wood trim, bright interior accents, rear back-up camera, park sense, uconnect phone and GPS navigation system, adjustable pedals, Sirius satellite radio, and an optional power sunroof.

Chrysler’s hybrid vehicle is called a “two-mode” full hybrid system that is a shared partnership development with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and General Motors. They are all using the same hybrid technology in their two-mode hybrid systems.

The hybrid system operates based upon the commands of light and heavy loads through the automatic transmission, which is an electric continuously variable transmission. A 300-volt battery pack stores electric energy that’s captured in the hybrid system’s regenerative braking.

Under the first hybrid mode, the Aspen under light loads and low speed will operate in electric power, or engine power only or a combination of electric and engine. I watched the needle on the instrumentation gauge run along the continuum of economy or power mode. As I accelerated, the Aspen’s hybrid gauges gave me direct visual feedback on how I was economizing with gas. Surprisingly, the Aspen can rely on the electric version of the two-mode hybrid system for sustained speeds.

The second mode of the hybrid system is activated under heavy loads at highway speeds, such as when passing, towing or climbing. The Aspen’s 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 features MDS, a multi-displacement system that deactivates four cylinders not needed at highway cruising speeds.

Total power delivery between the hybrid motor output and the Hemi V-8 is 385 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque. And the powertrain system is quiet. From the moment the key turns in the ignition, Chrysler creates the impression that the hybrid SUV is as quiet as a Lexus sedan.

The rack-and-pinion steering and independent front suspension aid the smooth ride and easy-handling character of the SUV. The rear suspension is coil springs and solid rear axle.

Chrysler is going to bounce back. As the dust settles it will be a different company. The automaker is working to get out of bankruptcy quickly and in the process build a better car company. They see the glass half-full.

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