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Chrysler Offers Mid-Cycle Feature Additions

Chrysler will begin to roll out mid-cycle updates to its vehicles instead of waiting for the next redesign. We were recently given a preview of features that will be added to the company's minivans and large sedans.

Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan

After inventing and reinventing the minivan, Chrysler added a ton of features to the new-for-2008 models. Two such items - Swivel 'n Go seating and the three-screen video setup - were found to have slight incompatibilities, but Chrysler has come up with a clever solution.

The problem arises when the second-row seats are swiveled to face rearward. In this configuration, the rear-facing passengers are now facing the back of the third-row video monitor. To solve this road trip catastrophe waiting to happen, 2009 vans will have a swiveling monitor. Problem solved, right? Not quite. Since this monitor will now be visible at times in the driver's rear-view mirror (against the law when a vehicle is in motion), a safety has been put in place so that the swiveled monitor only operates when the second-row screen is folded down and obstructing its view. This clever idea may save a family vacation or two.

Two safety systems will be added to the minivan lineup as well. Blind spot detection uses sensors in the rear and lamps in the side-view mirrors to alert drivers of flanking traffic. The lamp will illuminate when someone is there and a chime will accompany it when the driver uses the turn signal. A rear cross-path detection system is intended to help drivers when backing out of a perpendicular space and will sound a chime when anything is detected within 20 meters.

All-wheel drive has been offered on Chrysler's LX cars (300, Charger, and the soon-to-die Dodge Magnum) for most of their production lives. The system will see an upgrade for 2009 that aims to increase fuel economy by disengaging front drive when it's not necessary. Full all-wheel drive will be activated when one of the following occurs: the windshield wipers are switched on; the ambient temperature falls below a threshold; AutoStick manual shifting is engaged; the driver switches ESP off; or an ESP or traction event occurs. With this new system and its addition of less than 100 lbs to vehicle weight, fuel economy comes very close to non-AWD cars.

Chrysler 300C SRT8 Suspension

SRT is developing an improved suspension for the 300C. We got to drive a prototype around the short handling loop at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills. The suspension has auto and sport modes and uses new, three-piston dampers: the main damper controls hard compression and rebound; a smaller canister attached to the damper has two more pistons, which control soft compression and soft rebound. This allows them to tune four different compression and four different rebound curves. We drove the car briefly on the handling course and it does seem to improve body control considerably without compromising ride comfort (SRT's goal in developing the system was to improve ride comfort; the fact that it should also improve handling is a bonus). They haven't decided when this system will be implemented, but they are speeding its development, so one assumes they want to get it into the current-generation vehicle to give it some legs in its waning years. (Oh, and they have tweaked the suspension for the regular 300C and the Dodge Charger for 2009, aiming mostly for a more comfortable ride and better steering feel for the Chrysler.)

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