With the return of the Aspen name to Mopar, count Chrysler among those that would prefer its customers move up to the company's own SUV instead of having to look elsewhere. This "winged" sport/utility is suitably attired in a tasteful amount of chrome, faux wood trim, and inverted boat-bottom hood, and you already know it as a Durango.
As such, you're familiar with the T-bar front end (advanced from the original Aspen), coil/Watts link rear, standard 235-horsepower, 4.7-liter flex-fuel V-8 (2WD or AWD) or optional Hemi power (2WD or two-speed 4WD--the only model you can flat tow behind your motorcoach).
At about 5000 pounds, it's a quiet, comfortable cruiser. The Aspen is a half size smaller than full-size 'utes, yet offers decent cargo space and room for two adults in the last row, but we'd recommend wearing no bigger than a size-eight shoe, as toe room is limited.
Chrysler claims best-in-class towing. While the company perceives this segment as including the Tahoe, Sequoia, Mountaineer, and Pilot, we don't see the last two on Aspen shoppers' lists. Pulling the max-rated 8950 pounds will be the best way to experience the trailer sway control programmed with the ESP (thanks to added steering-wheel and yaw sensors). However, sway control can't be switched off; for those who usually touch the trailer brakes to steady things, this might require some getting used to. The Aspen has a clean trailer-plug setup, and choosing 20-inch wheels doesn't lower the tow rating, as it does on many pickup trucks.
The only trim-level upgrade is the Limited model. Amenity-anxious buyers should opt for the "J" package, which adds 20-inch alloys with chrome covers, leather, runningboards, and the Hemi. Our tester was dolled up with DVD navigation and rear entertainment systems, 276-watt Alpine sound, sunroof, color-matched runningboards, and a few other goodies, bringing the total to $43,000 even. At that price, it's surprising that only the driver's seat is power adjustable and that climate control isn't a dual-zone system.
Chrysler added every possible family resemblance to the Durango-based sport/utility: eggcrate grille, wings fore and aft, and big round headlights. Of the two, the Aspen looks more the luxo-cruiser inside, deep butterscotch woodgrain melding with leather on the steering wheel and draping down the center stack to broad console covers and all four armrests. The two central vents don't adjust laterally but the two adjacent do, black switchplates contrast with silver trim, and the wings on the analog clock face up top do lend just a hint of Bentley.
The Aspen comes across as a quieter, more sophisticated, refined--and yes, more expensive--Durango and a viable alternative in three-row 'utes that are meant to do some work--especially if your garage limits your choices to vehicles that are less than 17 feet long.