Thursday, July 26, 2007

Canada - 2008 Dodge and Chrysler minivans offer new looks

Chris Chase, CanWest News Service

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Of course, there aren't many new tricks to learn when it comes to minivans. This handy vehicle configuration has seen myriad innovations, from a variety of manufacturers, since Chrysler more or less invented the segment in 1984.

The crossover SUV may be the latest craze in carry-alls, but the fifth generation of the mother of all minivans -- the Dodge Caravan and its upscale Chrysler Town & Country twin -- arrives for 2008 with new looks, some new stuff under the hood and -- best of all, perhaps -- a lower price.

Base pricing starts at $26,495 for the Grand Caravan SE Canada Value Package (CVP) and tops out at $35,995 for the Chrysler Town & Country Touring. That makes the '08 Grand Caravan $3,810 cheaper than its 2007 equivalent, while the T&C's base price is a whopping $6,570 less than in 2007. While the Town & Country has typically sold in relatively small numbers, the attractive new price could reel in buyers who might previously have bought a well equipped Grand Caravan.

One of the most significant changes to Chrysler's minivans is that the short wheelbase configuration is gone. So, no more Caravan; all Dodge models are now Grand Caravans, and the Town & Country remains the upmarket alternative.

The reason for the dramatic price drop, according to Judy Wheeler, vice-president of marketing for DaimlerChrysler Canada, is to avoid alienating current owners of short wheelbase vans who might be looking for a similarly priced replacement vehicle.

"Buyers who chose short wheelbase vans in the past did so mostly for the lower price," said Wheeler. "We want to retain those buyers even though we're no longer offering a short wheelbase model."

For power, the entry-level Grand Caravan SE CVP gets a 3.3-litre V6 good for 175 horsepower and 205 lb.-ft. of torque, and a four-speed automatic transmission. It's not a groundbreaking powertrain: While both horsepower and torque are up five from 2007, just about every other minivan out there offers at least 240 horsepower and a five-speed automatic tranny.

Buyers with gear envy should opt for the available six-speed transmission -- a minivan first -- that will be paired with a 3.8-litre V6 (also carried over from '07, and making 197 h.p. and 230 lb.-ft.) and a new 4.0-litre V6 borrowed from the Chrysler Pacifica crossover. That largest engine should satisfy power-hungry soccer moms: Its 251 h.p. and 259 lb.-ft. of torque will put these vans very near the top of the minivan horsepower charts. Only the Toyota Sienna has more horsepower, with 266, but the 4.0-litre Chrysler motor is tops for torque.

For its $26,495 opening price, the base Grand Caravan CVP is, well, basic. All the necessities are here, though: four-wheel disc antilock brakes, Chrysler's electronic stability control with brake assist and traction control, and side curtain air bags for all three rows of seats. What you don't get are the nifty second-row Stow 'n Go seats, but there are underfloor storage bins in their place. Losing the middle seats here means going old school and taking them out. All the new Grand Caravans get third-row seats that disappear into the floor.

The Grand Caravan SE Stow 'n Go does get second-row seats that fold into the floor. In addition, this model features anti-static, odour and stain upholstery, a front-row centre console with four cup holders, cruise control and body-coloured side moulding and door handles. The list price here is $28,795.

For another $1,700, the Grand Caravan SXT adds remote start, second-row power windows and third-row power pop-out vent windows; power adjustable pedals; leather-trimmed shifter and steering wheel; steering-wheel-mounted audio controls; power heated mirrors; aluminum wheels and some exterior brightwork; trip computer and compass display in the instrument cluster, and a tachometer.

Key extras for the Town & Country Touring are a powered lift gate and sliding side doors, an eight-way power driver's seat and three-zone climate control with rear air conditioning and heating. The Touring model also gets the 3.8-litre V6 and six-speed automatic transmission as standard kit.

Move up to the T&C Limited, the priciest Chrysler minivan at $42,895, and you get the 4.0-litre V6 and six-speed auto combo; high intensity discharge headlights; auto-dimming rearview mirror; a rear parking assist system; Chrysler's MyGIG stereo that plays just about every audio format except vinyl; Sirius satellite radio; a 10-speaker sound system with a gargantuan 506-watt amplifier and subwoofer; heated front and second-row seats; premium tire pressure monitoring system, and 17-inch chrome wheels. Extras here include a power sunroof, power-folding third row seats, integrated child booster seats and a trailer-towing package.

Key among extras available in the Grand Caravan SE Stow 'n Go and higher-spec models is the company's newest seating innovation: Swivel 'n Go second-row seats, which can be turned 180 degrees to face the third row.

The 2008 Grand Caravan and Town & Country arrive in Canadian dealerships this fall.

Earlier this month, Audi announced pricing for its R8, a Porsche 911 fighter that will arrive in showrooms in September as a 2008 model. And while entry to this party is anything but cheap -- MSRP is $139,900 -- there's little doubt that Audi will sell every example of this sexy car that it builds. In fact, we're surprised well-funded VW and Audi fanatics haven't been camping out in front of Audi stores since the car was unveiled last fall, just before the Paris auto show.

The R8 should excite Audi fans for the same reasons Harry Potter fans line up around the block for the latest book: the expectation of getting more of something you love, along with all sorts of nifty new surprises.

With a 420-h.p., 4.2-litre V8, a choice of six-speed manual transmission or a sequential manual Audi calls R-tronic, we think it'll hold its own quite nicely: Audi claims 4.6 seconds to reach 100 km/h and a top speed of 301 km/h. A supposedly forthcoming, higher-performance S version, powered by a V10 making at least 500 h.p., would move the R8 into even more rarified company, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lamborghini and Ferrari in terms of performance, if not price.

In Canada, the R8 will come standard with 19-inch wheels and tires, while 18-inchers will be standard in the U.S. and overseas markets. What we don't get, at least not right away, are lightweight ceramic brakes that will be available elsewhere.

Naturally, there will be many ways to add to the R8's bottom line. A 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo will be available, as well as various interior trim options and different leather colours. Outside, the side "blades," which hide engine air intakes on either side of the car, can be had in three different finishes. Other extras include an R8 luggage set designed to fit snugly in the car's 100-litre cargo area. Better start planning that weekend getaway.

Ottawa Citizen

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