Chrysler's Eight-Speed Automatics: First Drive

Chrysler8Speed_1
As we reported at last winter’s North American International Auto Show, Chrysler will couple a new eight-speed automatic transmission with the V-6 engine in its full-size sedans, the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger. Both cars were redesigned for 2011; these changes affect the 2012 models, which go on sale this fall. The transmission will have an electronic shifter like an Audi A8, with Sport mode and steering-wheel paddle shifters optional. All-wheel drive, offered only with the V-8 for 2011, will be optional with the V-6 and eight-speed for 2012.

Rental-grade base V-6 trims and all V-8s carry last year’s five-speed auto and conventional gated shifter.

We hit the evaluation track near Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Mich., headquarters to drive two eight-speed V-6 prototypes: an all-wheel-drive 300 Limited and a rear-drive Charger Rallye. The Charger had Dodge’s new Blacktop Package, which includes 20-inch wheels and performance suspension tuning.

Saddled with some 400 pounds more curb weight than a Toyota Avalon, Chrysler’s Pentastar V-6 and five-speed auto felt leisurely in last year’s 300, especially starting out. The 2012 car feels similar off the line, but get past 1st gear, and the eight-speed’s short ratios and smooth upshifts allow the Pentastar to crank out quick, successive dashes up the tachometer.

Chrysler8Speed_5

It makes the all-wheel-drive 300 feel adequate — while the rear-drive Charger, which is 239 pounds lighter, pulls strong enough to encourage rowdy driving.The Blacktop’s R/T-spec suspension helps, too. On the evaluation track, our test Charger cornered flatter than the tipsy, push-happy 300. Equipped with the same 2.65:1 rear-axle ratio as before, Chrysler estimates that the eight-speed-equipped cars will hit 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. That’s about “a half-second” better than with the five-speed and V-6, spokesman Jiyan Cadiz said.

I couldn’t detect much difference from the Blacktop transmission’s Sport mode. Chrysler says it shifts faster and holds low gears longer, but around the track it didn’t behave distinctly. Most automatics resist midcorner shifts, which can be double-edged sword. Gear hunting can spoil any curvy road, and we’ve driven eight-speed gearboxes that do just that. But all-out refusals to downshift leave you wanting more power to claw back up to speed, especially with a smaller engine. Chrysler’s eight-speed held gears through much of the evaluation course, but a few more downshifts might have helped the Pentastar dig me out of the track’s S-curves easier.

Optional paddle shifters allow shifting on your own, but eight-speed Chargers and 300s without them have no manual-shift provision. Tom McCarthy, chief engineer for the 300, said few drivers used Chrysler’s AutoStick, so the automaker dropped the feature with the electronic shifter.

Chrysler8Speed_4
That shifter mirrors the A8’s boat-throttle design. Gears show up on a full-color gauge readout that looks much sharper than last year’s black-and-white display. Still, I prefer the gated shifter’s mechanical feel to these artificial detents. A point McCarthy sympathized with, but carmakers can shoehorn electronic shifters into spaces too miniscule for their mechanical counterparts, he said.

“This unit is about this big, handle to base,” McCarthy illustrated, his hands about 8 inches apart. “We fit it into the same spot [as the mechanical shifter]. … If you were putting it into a brand-new architecture, you could do all sorts of things with console storage.”

We expect Chrysler to eventually pair the eight-speed with its Hemi V-8. Asked why not now, McCarthy said it “comes down to product cadence and development time and limited resources.”

No doubt the extra gears would improve the V-8’s 16/25 mpg city/highway EPA rating for the rear-drive Charger and 300. The V-6 saw a healthy gain: Last year’s cars were rated at 18/27 mpg, and Chrysler reckons both will rate 19/31 mpg with the eight-speed. That edges out large front-drivers like the Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus and 3.6-liter Chevy Impala. Even entry-level luxury cars like the Lexus ES 350, Lincoln MKZ and Hyundai Genesis fall short — and the Genesis also has an eight-speed. Not bad, considering Chrysler’s sedans are heavier than all but the Taurus.

Comments 

Adam

Kudo's to Chrysler for doing this but in my opinion the Pentastar v6 is overrated. I have it in my 2010 JGC and wish I would have sprung for the v8. The v6 struggles to get the vehicle going. It's embarrassing when a little tin can like the RAV4 can leave you in the dust.

Derrick G

True enough, but the Genesis also has 41 more HP than the LX V6's (the Chevy is the only other one with more power, 10 HP).

Putting this in the V6 first was the wise choice because that's where the volume will be and where the customer base will be more concerned with mileage.

8 speed A/T!??? I only have 4! wonder what difference would it make...

costa

but the Genesis also has 41 more HP than the LX V6's (the Chevy is the only other one with more power, 10 HP).
Lets not forget that the above mention crappers also have direct injection where the mopar doesn't...... YET!!!!

Anthony Ferraz

Adam, you a moran , the 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee doesn't have the 3.6L Pentastar, it have the old 3.5L V6. The Pentastar are avaliable in the 2011 and later models.

55

RAV4 is a little tin can?
Maybe 2 generations ago..

TM_TX

Uh, actually Anthony Ferraz, the "moran" is you.

2005-2010 JGC (WK) has the 3.7L Powertech V6, not the 3.5L Chrysler V6 as you stated. You are correct though, 2011+ (WK2) has the 3.6 Pentastar . . .

George

Is that 2.65 axle ratio correct? Maybe the PR guys don't always have the correct information.
If that is true, the gearing is insanely TALL for the V6. The slowest you can go in 8th gear is 60 mph. (that would be 1300 rpm with full torque converter clutch lockup)

7th gear is taller than the 8th of the Hyundai Genesis V6. (19/29)

Hopefully you can get an 'option group' that has the 3.06 rear axle ratio. That will provide the performance one expects from a near 300hp V6, and better mileage than last year. From 18/27 to 19/28.
Who cares if it gets 20/30 if driveability is worst in class.

sheth

Adam:

There is nothing wrong with the pentastar. The jgc is HEAVY! That is the problem. These sedans weigh about 600lbs less than the jeep and performance increases accordingly. With the 5 speed they hit 60 in about 7.2 secs which is acceptable, not stellar. The taurus is about the same but the lacrosse and avalon are faster. The 8 speed should put them into the 6.5 sec range which is where they need to be. To have a car of this size get 30mpg with 290hp is impressive, not sure why people are complaining. I guess people hate chrysler that much. The mileage almost ties the new camry which has less power and 500lbs less weight and smaller cabin. What more do you want?

Adam

I meant I purchased my JGC in late 2010 but it's a 2011 with the Pentastar engine. The vehicle is a big improvement over my '08 but again if I was going to do it all over again I would get the Hemi.

Anthony Ferraz I hope you enjoy the massive dope slap you got courtesy of TM.

MD

Adam: Before you get all high and mighty, you were wrong. You don't have the new Pentastar V6 in your 2010 JGC. As TM_TX accurately corrected you and Anthony, you have the 3.7 Powertech V6. Get your facts straight bro before you start bad mouthing the Pentastar V6 and somebody who calls you out on it.

George

The gearing of the '11 & '12 Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 is terrible.
Chrysler missed an opportunity to fix it for '12, but did not do so. With the introduction of electrohydraulic power steering for '12, they could have made the gearing shorter, for better performance, at no cost to mileage.

The Pentastar is a bit light on torque, but hopefully direct injection will fix that.

With the 8 speed automatic and super tall gearing, just barely it should hit 60mph in 2nd gear. That would allow for a good number on paper...
This super tall gearing leaves a hole in real world acceleration, 60-75mph should be warp speed, but it is not. The transmission is able to play ball (depending on programming), there is a direct 6-3 downshift available.

Apples to apples, the new Camry is about 750 pounds lighter, and isn't much smaller, and still is quicker in V6 form.

sheth

Camry v6 doesn't weigh 750 less than lx cars. That is inaccurate, its more like 500 to 600lbs. Of course its fwd, much smaller and less well equipped so it should be lighter.

Derrick G

541 lbs for a V6 SE Camry vs. an SXT V6 Charger.

George

I rounded 731 pounds up to the nearest 250.
2012 Camry is lighter than previous due to more higher specific strength steel. Lets not compare to the Hemi versions [nor 'AWD'], that is not a fair comparison, because that is nearer 900 pounds.

MotorTrend tested a 2011 300, 4126 pounds. Toyota lists the new 2012 XLE at 3395 pounds.
9.5" shorter, 3.3" narrower, 0.8" lower, 2.2' smaller turning circle, 0.9 cubic foot smaller trunk, 2 gallons smaller fuel tank.
So saying "much smaller" would not be accurate.

WTF

9.5" shorter and 3.3" narrower is "much smaller" in the car world.

George

Those are external dimensions.
The interior dimensions: leg room, head room, hip room, shoulder room are right there.
Very capable EPA mid-size.

Adam

MD - You must be Anthony Ferraz's sibling as you're just as ignorant.

sheth

George, the lx cars aren't midsize and they beat camry in every key dimension. They are large cars and they have more hp than camry v6. I notice you failed to compare wheelbases. Lx cars are 10" longer. Also you should know you can't compare manu curb weights with as tested weights from motortrend. Be consistent when comparing two cars.

DC

"Rental-grade base V-6 trims..."

That's something you only read about with Chrysler and General Motors. When will they learn?????

Paul

A Camry V6 is a much better car than either of these. Then again most Americans are not very business smart so they'll purchase the 'cool' car and not the 'boring' car with the better resale value, reliability, 0-60 performance, and mpg's - just to name a few.

Parrots

Car and Driver launched a Camry SE V6 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. However, I think I would rather get a 300.

George

The LX cars have an unrealized advantage of rear wheel drive & multilink suspensions, over the front wheel drive with front/rear struts of the Camry. Most buyers don't care.
What they do care about is winter driving, and the Camry has 30% better initial traction due to its superior weight distribution.

The extra 9.5" of length is really only 6", once you take out the extra room for the Hemi engine.
The longer wheelbase contributes to the larger turning circle-3 point turn instead of U, tougher to park. Again most buyers could care less about pitch balance.

As soon as the new Camry is compared with the Sonata, more exactly weight figures can be produced.

Dave

Who would ever buy a Camry over this? Toyota and Honda's days of being the safe bet are over. GM, Ford, Chrysler and Hyundai are starting to eat them for lunch.

sheth

Not much common sense on display here.

1. Camry v6 has almost same mileage as these cars. Its slightly better in the city, but worse on hwy
2. As stated the lx cars have more interior space, rear lr and trunk space than camry. Larger cars tend to have larger turning circles.
3. These cars offer awd so they will satisfy those who need winter traction.
4. The reliability of these cars is unknown. Same applies for 2012 camry.

sheth

Per chrysler base 300 rwd is 4000lbs and per toyota camry se v6 is 3420lbs. The xle is lighter but it also has smaller wheels. The 300 has 18s standard so I compared it to se.

George

The mileage of the LX & 3.6 V6 with the 'correct' axle ratio is less than that of the Camry V6. The acceleration performance of the Camry is still better than the 'correct' axle ratio LX. (the change to electric power steering freed up about 7 peak hp)

Trunk volume of the Camry & Charger is identical, and the 300 has 0.9 cubic foot more capacity.
The Camry has 0.1" greater headroom in the front, 0.2" more in the rear (1.5" versus Charger, due to sloped rear roof line)
and the numbers are greater when the 300/Charger have a sunroof.
The Camry has 0.2" less front legroom, 1.2" rear
The Camry has 1.5" less front shoulder, 1.1" rear (1.3" Charger)
The Camry has 1.7" less front hip room, 1.6" rear.
When would these width advantages be utilized? When 3 abreast rear seating is used, but how many people want to sit over the driveshaft hump, and for what length of time?
So the only actual advantage is in legroom, and that is from a 6" greater length vehicle.

The point was to not hamstring the premium V6 offering, but leave the high mileage offering to a smaller V6 engine.
Either a shorter stroke 270hp 3.3 liter version (by 7mm), or a smaller bore 250hp 3.2 version (by 5mm).

Lets not get into the stupidity of Chrysler's 'awd' system.

Greg

It's obvious who the class leaders are as Chrysler and GM fan boys are always comparing their inferior cars to Toyota, Honda's, and Hyundai's.

Just because you make the comparison does not mean it's as good. GM and Chrysler have a long, long way to go.

WTF

And what are you compensating for when you have to boast all the time about their supposed superiority?

WTF

Typical response from someone who suffers from an inferiority complex.

WTF

Glad you recognize your problem.

don

No manual shift mode makes this a no buy for me! I live in a area with a lot of hills where down holding a gear is essential! What a mistake.

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