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Click to view picture gallery“Two very good
  reasons for Chrysler
  customers to be
  joyous this Christmas.
  First, more models.
  And second, a lot
  more room for Xmas
  shopping!”


As the option of buying duty free alcoholic drinks and smoking products from Europe via the internet has been knocked on the head, the traditional pre-Christmas booze cruises to Europe are now back with a vengeance.

With impeccable timing, it just so happened that, this week, Chrysler Group had already arranged a trip to Brugge and back for motoring writers to test drive the latest Dodge Caliber and Chrysler Grand Voyager models. As tax-free Internet shopping is now an enforced non-event, we combined motoring business and shopping pleasure for a road-test booze-cruise to France and Belgium.

Brugge is a beautiful city and at Christmas it is a fantastic and festive place to visit. I thoroughly recommend it, even though it rained. As it turned out, it was an ideal location for a sales success celebration for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge — the three brands that make up the Chrysler Group.

Speaking at the media event Steve Gray, the marketing director for Chrysler Group, said: "Although 2006 has been a hard year for the UK new car market, with overall sales down by over 3 per cent, it is very likely to be a record year for sales for the Chrysler Group as a whole and for the individual Chrysler, Jeep and the new Dodge brands.

"By the end of October the Chrysler Group has already reached a combined total of 17,251 sales, and at least 20,000 units would be reached this year. The previous highest combined total was 18,834 sales."

Year-to-date, Chrysler's UK sales are up by a impressive 24.4 per cent and Jeep sales by 21.5 per cent. The Dodge brand, which was intro-duced to the UK in July 2006 with the Caliber, will see around 2,000 sales this year — the C-segment Caliber has already attracted 1,700 customers.

Gray said that some of the sales growth for all the three brands was down to the introduction of new and additional models such as the Chrysler 300C Touring and revised PT Cruiser and Jeep Commander, together with the launch of the Dodge Caliber.

More new models to be introduced next year are expected to see Chrysler Group UK sales increase by over 40 per cent in 2007.

The media event was held in the main so that members of the motoring press could reacquaint themselves with the Dodge Caliber range.
These are the current mainstream models of the Dodge brand that also includes the RAM all-American-style huge pick-ups and SRT-10 (aka the Viper) sports car.

The Caliber C segment five-door hatchback is a crossover vehicle with two-wheel drive, despite the 4x4 SUV styling. Equipment levels are high and prices relatively low; ranging from 11,495 to 15,430. Three engine options are available: 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel. The 2.0-litre petrol model is available with the option of a CVT auto transmission at no extra cost.

The Caliber certainly does stand out from the crowd in its five-door hatchback sector. Whilst it may not be the sharpest driving vehicle in its class, price for price, looking at space for space it represents a very good buy. For those wanting to be seen driving something which is
a little more 'in your face' than the mainstream look-alikes, the all-American styling will appeal. Choice versions, due to their much better performance and fuel economy, are the diesel models. The 2.0 SXT diesel, at 15,290, is really well equipped and good value for money.

In April 2007 the new Jeep Wrangler 4x4 will go on sale with a wider model line-up offering two- and four-door models with petrol and diesel engine options.

In the same month, the Jeep Compass — an urban lightweight SUV with on-demand 4x4 — will also go on sale. Both the Wrangler and Compass models will be priced at sub-20K.

June will see the introduction of the Dodge Nitro — another in-your-face, but a medium-sector 4x4 with petrol and diesel engine options. Prices will range from 20-25K.

Also in June is the introduction of the Chrysler Sebring — a top-end D segment four-door saloon which is to be followed by a cabriolet. All will have petrol and diesel engine options. Prices will range from late-teens to early-twenties! The Sebring Cabrio was unveiled yesterday at the Los Angeles Auto Show, while the saloon was first shown at the British Motor Show back in July.

July will see the arrival of the first Jeep Patriot models. With country-side looks and the feel of a traditional Jeep, this is a lightweight 4x4 with petrol and diesel engines, priced in the mid-teens.

From September 2007, another model will be added to the Dodge line-up. The newcomer will be the Avenger, described by Steve Gray as a
D segment sports saloon with Nascar looks at C segment prices — at around 15k. Again petrol and diesel engine options will both be available.

But back to the booze-cruise. Whilst the Caliber would have been per-fectly acceptable for a drive to and from Belgium, my larger-than-life driving partner insisted that a Chrysler Grand Voyager would fit the bill even better. And, of course, it would accommodate more shopping!

Voyagers, both in standard and Grand form, are high-profile, luxurious MPVs or people carriers. They have received copious amounts of tele-vision coverage as the official transport for The Apprentice candidates.

There is a choice of petrol and diesel engine options for Voyager and Grand Voyager models, and over 90 per cent of sales are for diesel models. This year, around 5,000 of these models will be sold in the UK at prices ranging from 18,750 up to 33,625.

Apart from the comprehensive and luxurious standard specification,
the biggest revolution for Voyager sales came in 2004 when Chrysler introduced their Stow-n-Go folding seat system for the second and third row of seats that can be folded into the floor. This creates a huge, flat floor load area with 4,690 litres of space. The seating com-binations are so versatile that the vehicle is a favourite of executive business and chauffer operators, as well as large executive families.

Our test model, the Grand Voyager 2.8 CRD Limited XS, costs 32,925. On the face of it, that's expensive — but it is a luxurious vehicle with leather upholstery and even a rear DVD system.

The 2.8-litre common-rail turbodiesel engine produces 150bhp and 265lb ft of torque, so it has plenty of power and gives a top speed of 112mph with 0-62mph acceleration in 12 seconds. Fuel economy is around 29mpg with CO2 at 225 g/km, Band F 195 for VED. If you're in the market for some very comfortable luxurious cruising at its best, you'd be hard pushed to find something better. If you also want good looks, a high-quality specification, loads of room, versatile seating and load carrying options and electrically-operated side doors for easy access, then Grand Voyager is definitely for you.

The only bad news we could find was that it costs a fortune to fill its cavernous 4,690 litres of load space with Christmas shopping, even at tax-free prices. The seasonal good news? Hardly a clink of glass as the cases of wine and crates of beer made their tax-free way back across the Channel to Blighty. Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men. — David Miles

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Chrysler Grand Voyager 2.8 CRD Limited XS
| 32,925
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 12 seconds
Overall test MPG: 29mpg | Power: 150bhp | Torque: 265lb ft


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