Tag - HEMI

Lord Byron — Yes*, it’s got a HEMI

Ray Wert, the Jalop of Jalops over at www.jalopnik.com, recently wrote a piece about the HEMI brand and the upcoming 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. For those who aren't scrutinizing the JGC's launch on the same level as us know-it-alls, let me catch you up. Essentially, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee will no longer have a 5.7L HEMI engine. Instead, it will have a 5.7L OHV MDS V8 with Variable-valve Timing... and an engine cover emblazoned with enormous, embossed "HEMI" branding.

It's okay if you're confused, but it boils down to this: Jeep will no longer feature the HEMI branding within its vehicle lineup. The same engine will be branded as a HEMI in other Chrysler Group LLC products (as Jeep Brand Marketing Head Honcho Jim Morrison put it, they'll be leaving it to "the Dodge and truck guys"), but not in a Jeep.

But why? Mr. Wert proposes that this is green-washing--an effort by Chrysler to minimize the enthusiast value of their vehicles in front of an ever-more-environmentally-focused media. It's not a poor argument. Just look around at the rest of the industry. Ford's twin-turbo, 350+ horsepower V6 monster is dubbed "EcoBoost," for crying out loud. If that's not green marketing, I don't know what is. But in the context of Chrysler, I think Wert's assessment, while not unreasonable, isn't quite on the mark.

When I attended the 2011 JGC launch event in D.C., the real theme that jumped out at me was luxury. Morrison made it a point to use that word and other terms that evoked the idea as often as grammatically feasible, even setting aside product information momentarily to emphatically remind everybody that Jeep essentially invented the premium SUV with the Wagoneer in the 1960s (before the Range Rover was even a blip on the Brits' radar) and brought about the modern incarnation of it with the original Grand Cherokee in 1992.

So how, as a brand marketing manager, could Morrison possibly reconcile that theme with the branding that put Jon Reep on our T.V. screens, screaming, "That thing got a HEMI?" at us for the better part of two years? Obviously, he didn't want to.

And when you look at Chrysler Group as a whole, the divorcing of brands makes more sense. One of the primary goals of the Fiat-Chrysler merger is to differentiate the various brands under the corporate umbrella and play to their strengths. Dodge is the sporty brand. Ram is the truck brand. Chrysler is the luxury brand. And Jeep is the 4x4 brand. Can there be some spill-over? Of course. There have been no announced plans to curtail future SRT development, and with unconfirmed shots of 2012 Grand Cherokee SRT-8 models rolling around, it's clear that the HEMI (Ahem... MDS V8 with Variable-valve Timing) itself isn't going to leave the lineup any time soon.

The homogenization of brand identities has been a disaster for domestic car manufacturers (see Pontiac, Mercury and Saturn). Chrysler was well on its way down this particular road too. Chrysler and Dodge were essentially indistinguishable, and Jeep and Dodge also had heavy overlap in product, if not necessarily in mission.

Remember, marketing isn't simply how a company presents itself to its audience; it's also how a company defines that audience. If your branding is muddled and mired, your brand strategy will follow suit.

And just who is Jeep targeting with the Grand Cherokee? Here's what they had to say about it in their press kit:

"Jeep Grand Cherokee buyers are 55 percent male and 45 percent female. They are affluent and educated with active, outdoor lifestyles and interests and have an income of $95,000. Nearly half have children. More than 60 percent have a college degree and 80 percent are professionals."

Not exactly the sort of people to be chasing a car-carrier down a dirt road in a rustbucket Challenger.

Let's face it. At the end of the day, the last thing a Chrysler Group brand manager wants to hear from his marketing team is, "**** it, let's just tell 'em we have HEMIs. Everybody likes HEMIs!" In fact, I bet Jim Morrison hates HEMIs. I'm certain that if he had his way, every one of those engine covers would be sanded down and painted matte black as part of the initial dealer prep, if not removed entirely. Every time he sets eyes on it, I bet it reminds him of every column inch spent discussing the merits of Jeep's HEMI-free brand strategy instead of their new (and very cool) Selec-Terrain system or the leather-wrapped dash available as an option on Overland models.

So is green-washing involved? Maybe a little, but I don't think that's the focus here. While Morrison did place great emphasis on the Pentastar V6's 23mpg highway rating, the story wasn't just about mileage and emissions. The story was about evolving the premium/luxury SUV segment and demonstrating Chrysler's new corporate image.

And once this HEMI din subsides, I think they have a great shot at doing just that.

Supersized Speed Read: 2010 Ram 2500 (Part 1)

  Photography by Byron Hurd.  Price as tested: $44,365 (Incl. $950 destination charge) Major equipment: Crew Cab SLT (Base Price: $38,480). 5.7L HEMI Gasoline V8, Preferred Package 25T ($1,030), Premium Cloth Seats  ($900), Media Center ($1,565), Luxury Group ($680), Technology Group ($495), Roof-Mounted Lamps ($80), Remote Start ($185). In the fleet: April 2010  B. HURD: Narrow streets. Traffic lights. Pavement. Parking lots. Trees surrounded by neatly-manicured grass and concrete curbing. This is home. So what do you do when you have a week to play with Chrysler's highly-praised new Ram 2500 in Suburban Maryland? Well, as it turns out, you do exactly what 90% of the area's truck-driving population does: go from stoplight to stoplight at full throttle in smug, satisfied comfort.    Really? Yep, really. Make no mistake; the Ram 2500 is a lot of truck--enough so that it gets looks of approval from my go-big-or-go-home neighbors. Suburban cowboys aren't strictly a Texas phenomenon. There's no shortage of lifted HD variants around Annapolis or "Cowboy Up!" vinyls on the back of chicken-farm 4x4s on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Are these trucks used? That's another debate entirely, but they are undoubtedly capable. So in as much as I'm driving a capable truck in an area that requires no such capability, I fit right in. Imagine my relief.  Now that's not to say that the Ram's utility was entirely lost on us, but an evening trip to the barn, while more comfortable in the truck, is easily within the skill set of any of the more down-to-earth (or pavement, in this case) vehicles in our collection. We don't need a truck much more so than the hundreds of thousands of buyers who pick one up each year, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy it just as much as they do.  With 383 horsepower and 400lb-ft on tap, the Ram is a stoplight surprise. And why not, right? Well, I suppose there's one reason: 383 horsepower from 5.7L in a ~5800lb doesn't exactly return Prius-like gas mileage. Given the 2500's commercial-grade classification, Chrysler isn't even required to publish EPA estimates. Suffice it to say that the gas mileage isn't fantastic.  But the rest of the driving experience really is. Surprisingly so, in fact. Interior materials have improved drastically across the entire Ram lineup. Even in our mid-spec SLT model, there was no shortage of comfort or convenience. The cloth seats were supple and supportive and had excellent adjustment. The unladen ride was fantastic, with just a hint of feedback from the rear axle over particularly nasty surface imperfections. It's pretty safe to say that this is a truck that rides like an SUV. A compliment, to be sure.  For die-hard car aficionados, the ergonomics of a truck interior are often puzzling, but it takes only a slightly open mind to appreciate the differences. On the whole, everything is bigger. Why? Because if you're using a truck to work, you need bigger. You need bigger buttons with more space between them because with your work attire on, you'll fat-finger your way into a Taylor Swift marathon when you really wanted weather and traffic. Try working the cruise control system on a typical steering wheel or column interface while wearing oversize winter or work gloves. Makes sense, right? And regardless, you'll need to get used to this front-and-back button placement on the wheel spokes if you plan on buying a current Chrysler product, as this seems to be the norm for their newer interfaces.  [caption id="attachment_3264" align="aligncenter" width="322" caption="Large wheel control buttons are unusual compared to most, but everything you need is still there."][/caption]  

To boot, the result is also far less cluttered than a lot of smaller cars' multimedia/multifunction interfaces. And, as usual, Chrysler's Multimedia Center/MyGig integration is top-notch, boasting one of the most attractive GUIs in the industry. The tech goodies don't end there, however. Our tester also came equipped with a back-up camera and parking assistant. While handy, we only found it useful in situations where surrounding obstacles were significantly shorter than the edge of the bed, as most snags were readily apparent thanks to predictably excellent outward visibility.  Mind you, it still feels huge.  The sum of these parts is a solid, comfortable truck with excellent, go-anywhere road manners that just barely fits into the daily grind. It's no wonder Chrysler's latest heavy duty entry is so widely-praised, and we won't hesitate to throw our recommendation on the pile.  Look for Part 2 of this Supersized Speed Read in the coming weeks.  Zerin Dube takes a 2010 Ram 2500 Cummins for a back country romp in the great state of Texas.

Speed Read: Challenger is Challenging

We didn't have a chance to shoot the TorRed Challenger SRT8 so we're using photos we took of a HEMI Orange one that we shot earlier in the year.  We aren't colorblind, I promise. -- Z
Carl Modesette: The thought hit me somewhere along the lazy, post-rush-hour, 12-mile drive home from picking up the 2009 Challenger SRT-8: "This may be the last fun car Dodge, as we know it, ever makes."  It's not exactly the kind of thought that cheers you up, but, as Barney Stinson so wisely admonishes on How I Met Your Mother: "When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead."  And how to be awesome instead in a 425 horsepower car?  Drop 3 gears and flatten the accelerator, of course. Given my druthers, I'd have chosen Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl over the TorRed of our tester, because as my wife says, it just looks mean. Nevertheless, I won't lie and tell you I didn't enjoy the temporary highway hero status conferred by our pun-colored sample; I just wouldn't pay the $225 premium for the arrest-me-now-please paint. I've always been a huge fan of the 6.1-liter Hemi SRT-8 powerplant, and I'm certainly no less a fan of its most current sheet-metal wrapper.  The 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque spinning through a Viper-sourced Tremec 6-speed provide hours of speed-shifting punches in the back, at least until the fuel (or points on your license) runs out.  Whether the Challenger SRT-8 is the fastest machine in a straight line or not, there's something about the glasspack exhaust note as the revs build that will never get old. Whether you like or dislike the "old" (read: retro) styling of the Challenger, there's no denying its sheer road presence.  Of all the cars I've had the opportunity to sample here at S:S:L, the TorRed Challenger has gotten the most attention from everyone, period, point blank.  Whether cruising down the boulevard, stopping to get gas, or even at the church parking lot, the Challenger was never without a cadre of admirers.  Of today's current crop of retro-muscle, the Challenger is probably the closest to its original inspiration, and even if the retro is lost on you, it's hard to miss Chrysler's big coupe on the road thanks to its exaggerated proportions. While the Challenger is a blast to drive in a straight line, it stays true to the classic muscle-car paradigm when it comes to on-road ride and handling - that is to say, it's not so good at either one.  Any assessment of handling when it comes to the Challenger will always have the "it handles surprisingly well... for a car this BIG" caveat attached.  Likewise, the best way to describe the ride quality of the car would be with this visual image: picture a fat guy riding an innertube being pulled by a speedboat on a rather choppy lake.  When the pavement gets a little irregular and the speeds start to increase, the springs and dampers just have a hard time keeping control of the Challenger's heft. There's no doubt that the engineers at SRT have prepped the SRT- 8 reasonably well for track work. It has big brakes, thick rollbars, and reasonably well-sorted damping. On the road, however, the package doesn't deliver top-notch ride quality or solid broken-road handling.

At the end of the day, the pragmatist in me takes a long look at the sticker price and can't help but be, well, Challenged.  From a "base" price of $40,220, a Gas Guzzler Tax of $1700 and a Destination Charge of $725 takes the minimum actual base price to $42,645.  Beyond that, the potential Challenger buyer must pony up an additional $695 for the why-would-you-have-it-any-other-way 6-speed manual transmission, $225 for any paint color aside from black or silver, and $1,045 for "SRT Option Group II", which basically means "bad ass stereo system".  These options took the final tally to $44,610 on our tester, and this, folks, is where we have a problem.  See, that kind of money will buy you a Ford Shelby GT500, which is the best car ever.  That kind of money will also get you pretty close to a base C6 Corvette.  Even worse, once V-8 Camaros start hitting showrooms in numbers, you'll be able to get a Camaro with the same power and torque for at least TEN GRAND less  - and you won't have to pay extra for the 6-speed manual tranny.  So, as nostalgic and enjoyable as the Challenger is, I just can't see the value - unless retro Mopar exclusivity is your primary aim.  And if it is, well, mo'par to ya.

Jack Baruth: Carl's right. The SRT-8 costs serious money, and the competition offers either more power for about the same cash (Ford) or a lighter, faster car for less (Chevrolet, assuming the Camaro sticks around in the Government Motors era). But it's worth noting that the original Challenger didn't directly compete with the Mustang and Camaro. It was a larger, more luxurious car that offered a slightly older, more prestige-conscious audience the same shove in the back as the ponycars did. Viewed in this light, the Challenger makes sense. It's just plain bigger and more expensive than the equivalent Mustang or Camaro, and it offers what the competition doesn't: a bored-out HEMI V-8 paired with slab-sided retro styling that looks more like an original Challenger than... an original Challenger does, honestly. Truth be told, I could live with the weight penalty, the dark interior, and the steep sticker price, no questions asked. There are only two reasons why I'm not already an SRT-8 owner. The first is that I have an Audi S5, which is a better-looking, smoother, more luxurious, and more competent ponycar than the Mopar or the Camaro. The second, more serious one is this: Dodge won't sell you an SRT-8 in white. You can have an R/T in white, but those of us who are fans of both "Vanishing Point" and stopping the car without drama on a road course are the proverbial you-know-what out of luck. A Challenger you can't get in white? Get real. [nggallery id=28]