by Patrick Rall
Recently, I was invited to visit Chrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds as a part of their 2011 Product Day, and while I’ve been to other events like this, this opportunity was like a dream come true for a lifelong Mopar diehard.
The format was simple – when we arrived, we were shuttled to the
interior parking tarmac of the Chelsea Proving Grounds where there was
at least one example of every product currently available in Chrysler
brand showrooms around the country. Fiat, Dodge, Chrysler, Ram, Jeep
and SRT were all represented by a huge spread of 2011 and 2012 vehicles
and we were free to take any vehicle out onto a series of two tracks to
experience them in a closed circuit environment. There was also an
off-road course to check out the trail rated capabilities of all of the
new 4WD models from Jeep and the Ram brand.
The first track was the small oval, measuring about three miles with two
and full lanes offering a variety of road surfaces. The inner most
lane is a ride quality lane with varying road surfaces ranging from
minor rumble strips to manhole covers to roadway so torn up they
simulate the real world’s worst roads. The center lane (and outer lane
when it goes to just two lanes) is a smooth lane that allows you to
stretch the legs of the vehicles with enough room to test the top speed
of most of the current Chrysler lineup.
Once we made our laps of the large oval, we turned into a small, fairly
technical road course that allowed you to experience the handling
through a variety of different types of low and higher speed turns – as
well as a long straightaway leading up to a moderate right hand turn.
Mother Nature provided some off and on rain, which also allowed us to
see how the current models handled on wet roads.
Finally, Chrysler sent us out into their off-road course with a huge
spread of off-roading situations, from climbing over a large pile of
logs to a collection of pools of nice deep mud. I spent the majority of
my time at the Proving Grounds on the paved roads but I did jump on the
chance to take the 2011 Ram 2500 Power Wagon out into the woods. I was
amazed at how well this factory stock truck handled situations where I
really thought that we would be using the winch. In the end, that winch
seems to be more of a Chevy puller than anything.
Across the brands, I had a chance to drive literally every vehicles,
from the 6 current Chrysler brands including the SRT brand with the
awesome Challenger SRT8 392, the Mopar ’11 Charger, the Challenger R/T
with the 5.7L Hemi and the impressive new base V6 and the new Rams,
including the Express, Tradesman and the gorgeous Laramie Longhorn.
I was like a kid in a candy store – no joke. Every time I would pull a
car back into the pit area and get out, looking across the sea of brand
new Chrysler products that were all mine for the driving…it was hard to
pick which vehicle to drive. Over the next few days, I will take a
closer look at some of the vehicles from the 2011 Product Day including
the Mopar 11, the Fiat 500 that could be the 40mpg Dodge product
required for Fiat to get 5% more of the company and many more!