New Car Reviews

2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid and Chrysler Aspen Hybrid

How would you improve the fuel economy of a large four-wheel-drive SUV without sacrificing a V-8 engine, seating for eight, or the ability to pull 6000 pounds? If you’re Chrysler, you add some fancy electric-drive technology and create the and Chrysler Aspen Hybrids.

Outside of the familiar 5.7-liter ‘Hemi’ V-8, the majority of the powertrain – notably the electronically variable transmission – is nearly identical to what’s found in the and Hybrids. Stemming from the partnership inked in 2005 between GM and (then) DaimlerChrysler, Chrysler’s Two-Mode transmission differs only in its front and rear bolt patterns; the remainder – including most part numbers – is identical to GM’s unit.

That gadgetry, however, isn’t noticeable at first glance. Park a Durango or Aspen Hybrid next to a Durango or Aspen Limited, and you’ll be hard pressed to tell one from the other. The only cues Chrysler gives are three small ‘Hybrid’ emblems, a stark contrast from the nine logos affixed to GM’s full-size hybrid SUVs.

Chrysler has also avoided the “efficient” styling tweaks given to the part-electric Tahoe and Yukon. Hybrid Durango and Aspen models are, aside from powertrain, built identically to non-hybrid models.

That means no aluminum hood, no compact spare tire, and no aerodynamic tricks. Chrysler reps feel certain changes (particularly the spare tire) compromise the truck’s ability, and engineers feel other inefficiencies need to be tackled before addressing the DurAspen’s drag figures.

Some of those inefficiencies are addressed with the revised Hemi, notably through a revised intake system and a new exhaust-gas-recirculation (EGR) system. Although the Hemi’s output drops 11 hp to 345 hp, power produced by the twin electric motors boosts the net figure to 385 hp.

That, of course, is when the truck happens to be running on its second mode. Here, the truck primarily runs on its combustion engine, adding power from the electric motors as a ‘boost’ when needed (i.e. passing, towing, and hard acceleration), and otherwise using them to recharge the battery pack that lives under the second row of seats.

The bigger gains in fuel economy come during city driving, when the electric motors do the vast majority of the work. Provided the battery has enough charge, the Durango and Aspen Hybrids can drive in electric-only mode up to speeds of approximately 25 mph, until the Hemi kicks in. Even then, the engine often runs in four-cylinder mode, further aiding fuel economy.

Sure enough, Chrysler claims the Two-Mode system improves city fuel economy by 40 per cent, while the trucks’ combined city/highway figures jump by 25 per cent. Both trucks are rated at 19/20 mpg city/highway, and during a moderate drive over some hilly New England coastline, we saw figures as high as 22 mph.

Those numbers help the lumbering sport utilities remain relevant in today’s market, but they only improve the vehicle if fuel economy was your only complaint. Quirks present in previous models (e.g. substantial wind noise, noticeable body flex, and hard interior plastics) carry through to the hybrid models.

Some quirks, like spongy re-generative braking and light steering, were to be expected from a hybrid, but we occasionally noticed some shudder when the transmission was shifting between modes. Yes, it happens even on GM’s hybrids, but it’s certainly something that could stand additional refinement.

Still, with pricing starting at more than $5000 less than the Tahoe Hybrid, we’re betting consumers wanting a large utility may bat their eyes towards a Chrysler or Dodge dealer in the near future.

Hybrid2009 Chrysler Aspen Hybrid


Engine: 5.7-liter ‘Hemi’ V-8
Horsepower: 345 hp @ 6000 rpm; 385 hp (net w/ electric motors)
Torque: 380 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm (estimated.)
Transmission: Electrcally-Variable
Drive: All-wheel


L x W x H: 202.1 x 76.0 x 73.6 in
Legroom F/R/R: 41.4/37.4/ 34.5 in
Headroom F/R/R: 40.8/39.3/39.2 in
Cargo capacity (seats up/down): 20.1/102.4 cu ft
Curb Weight: 5609 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 19/20 mpg (est)

{{{Dodge Durango}}} Hybrid MSRP: $45,340 (incl. $800 destination)
Chrysler Aspen Hybrid MSRP: $45,570 (incl. $800 destination)

Buying Guide
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14 City / 19 Hwy

Cargo (Std/Max):

NA / 102 cu. ft.