I recently joined a roundtable with Fred DePerez who is Head of Dodge Marketing at the North American International Auto Show. Dodge has some exciting products and we had a chance to check them out up close and we were impressed!
I was invited by Chrysler to join other bloggers in San Francisco for the opportunity to drive some of the new Dodge vehicles. As you can see from the photos above, we had a beautiful day in the city by the bay, and I had a great time with this impressive new lineup.
The Dodge Charger is the flagship vehicle for the Dodge brand, and the Charger has been completely redesigned from the ground up for the 2011 model year. The iconic feel of the vehicle remains, but you can see the new, sleeker design in the first photo above and in the other Charger photos. It offers a sport sedan that I think will have huge appeal for guys looking for performance, aggressive styling and value. The car was a joy to drive through the winding roads in the Bay area, as the new suspension lived up to the promise. For a car that starts at $25,995, buyers will get tremendous value.
The real treat of the day was the 2011 Dodge Challenger. I had the opportunity to drive one of the Inaugural Edition versions of the 2011 Challenger SRT8 392. This car is beautiful as you can see from the slideshow above, with the white paint and the blue racing stripes, and it’s the ultimate American muscle car. Frankly, I can’t remember a car I enjoyed driving more than this one. The car is a torque monster – the 392 Hemi is rated at 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. I drove the automatic version, and this car is a beast! When you hit the gas at any speed, this car does exactly what you want it to do as it respond with a muscular roar. It handles beautifully as well, and any car enthusiast will fall in love with this 2011 Challenger.
While the Challenger and Charger stole the show, I was equally impressed with the other vehicles in the Dodge lineup. Dodge brought back the Durango, and this full-size SUV should be a real hit. The 2011 Durango has all the luxuries customers are becoming accustomed to in the crossover segment, but this SUV is the real deal as it still leads its class in towing capacity. Meanwhile, the handling is much better than previous versions of the vehicle, so you don’t feel like you’re driving a big truck.
In the crossover segment, the 2011 Journey should do very well in this exploding segment. Many in our group were impressed with how this car drove, and Dodge added some nice features including optional third-row seating that folds up or down depending on your needs. It’s a nice feature for families with young children.
In all the vehicles, Dodge has placed a new emphasis on the interiors and it shows. The goal for the brand is to over-deliver and provide real value for the cost of a vehicle, and you’re finally seeing Dodge live up to that promise. I loved the interior in each of the vehicles, and I think customers will feel the same way once they test drive these cars.
After San Francisco we joined the Chrysler team as they unveiled their new vehicles at the LA Auto Show where we had the opportunity to join in on a round-table discussion with Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles. Ralph is a true car enthusiast and you can see the passion he has for the new lineup.
Check back as we’ll be publishing full reviews of each of these cars, but I would recommend that you take the time to drive them. Each of the Dodge cars combines muscular styling with an impressive driver experience, and I suspect many drivers will be pleasantly surprised as they rediscover this brand.
There are those who, when approached with the opportunity to venture forth to Daytona Beach, FL, and attend not one but two NASCAR races, would do a dance of joy…one which would, quite possibly, resemble the Boot Scootin’ Boogie. (Does anyone even still do that anymore? I apologize: my country music references are highly dated.) My reaction to this kind offer, however, was to acknowledge its inherent coolness in principle, then take a step back and allow someone else to take advantage of the opportunity. Yes, my inner child was jumping up and down at the thought of a free trip to Florida, but my inner journalist immediately reminded me of the score:
“Not only do you not know jack about NASCAR, but you have no real interest in any kind of sports. Surely someone…anyone…would be better suited to tackle this trip than you.”
My inner journalist may not get to come out and play very often, but when he’s right, he’s right. Despite the accuracy of his premise, however, the reality of the situation was that there was no one else to tackle the trip: everyone else’s schedule for the 4th of July weekend was already booked up. As such, all eyes turned to the guy who’d made the mistake of casually saying, “I guess I can do it if no one else is available.”
Whoops. Guess I’m going to Daytona.
As I have never, ever taken a trip for Bullz-Eye that hasn’t involved some sort of flight delay, it doesn’t really come as any surprise that the trip from Norfolk to Daytona finds me stuck in Charlotte for longer than I’m supposed to be. I didn’t even bother to try and find out what the problem was. I just shrugged, sat down and plugged in the laptop, and kept myself occupied until my flight finally did get around to taking off. I did have one brief panic attack when I called the hotel in Daytona to make sure that my delay wouldn’t complicate the rest of the day’s plans, only to learn that there was no reservation listed under my name, but it all worked out in the end. (Turns out everything was booked under the blanket name of “Dodge.”) Once I successfully manage to fly Charlotte to Daytona, I take a taxi to the hotel, check into my room, and gaze longingly at the beach outside my window, never realizing that the weekend will work out such that I will never get to take advantage of it. Still, it sure looked nice…
Once I arrive, I meet my “handlers” for the weekend, Philip and Chuck, who work with Dodge through their employers, New Media Strategies. They’re great guys, but they’re very much car guys…not, as Seinfeld once said, that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s simply that I’m not a car guy. Oh, right, I don’t think I mentioned that before, did I? Yeah, there’s another really good reason why I wasn’t necessarily the best person for this trip. And, yet, in a sense, I’m the perfect person, since I’m able to provide an outsider’s view of the whole experience…or, at least, that’s the angle I’m planning to take. (I say that like there’s any other angle I can take.) I let Philip and Chuck know of my deficiency of knowledge in this weekend’s events. They assure me that they’ll fill me in if I need any additional education to fully appreciate the goings-on. For this, I am grateful.
When I first received the schedule of events to give me an idea of what I’d be doing while down in Daytona Beach for the Coke Zero 400, I noticed that the very first item on the agenda was a concert by Atomic Tom. As a music buff, my first reaction was always going to be excitement, but my second reaction was concern over why the name “Atomic Tom” didn’t mean anything to me. I thought, “Geez, I know I’m a full-time TV critic these days, but am I really that far out of touch with the current music scene?” I absolutely am, of course, but in this case, I felt slightly less out of the loop to learn that Atomic Tom are currently still sitting on the precipice of major success, as their debut album for Universal / Republic won’t be out ’til later this year. When that happens, however, I’d say the odds are pretty decent that they could find themselves as big as The Killers or The Bravery…and if that should come to pass, no one would be more thrilled about it than Dodge, who have teamed up with Atomic Tom as part of a new promotion aligning people’s passion for cars with their passion for music.
When I arrived at the Dodge dealership in Daytona for Atomic Tom’s performance, it was suggested that I might want to sit down with the guys in the band for a chat, and since even with my current TV vs. music handicap, I still know wayyyyyyy more about music than I do about cars, I didn’t hesitate for a moment to break out my recorder. The only problem…? I was just off my flight and hadn’t had much of a chance to do my usual pre-interview research. As such, I tried to break the ice by casually acknowledging my lack of knowledge on the group’s back story.
Bullz-Eye: So, first, if you don’t mind, you could really save me a bit of time if you’d just go ahead and run through the complete history of the band… (Laughs)
Tobias Smith: Well, wait, who are you? (Laughs)
BE: Oh, I’m just this guy, you know?
TS: (Laughs) You’re a live blogger, is that right?
BE: Oh, God, no. I’m not that fast. (Laughs) I’m a writer and editor for a web magazine called Bullz-Eye.com.
TS: Where are you based?
BE: Norfolk, VA. Virginia Beach, that whole area.
Luke White: I’m from Virginia. A little north of you, though. Manassas.
Eric Espiritus: I’m from Fairfax, actually.
BE: Nice. Well, I was born at Norfolk General, and I never really left.
TS: Well, you’re here now! (Laughs) So what’s the site like? Do you talk a lot about music?
BE: It’s pop culture, across the board. It’s a guy’s site, really. It started mostly as an excuse to put up bikini girls and sports scores, but it’s evolved quite a bit. Don’t worry, though: there’s still a lot of bikini girls. No nudity, though.
TS: Well, that’s good, because we’re a family… (Hesitates) We’re not really a family band, are we? But we don’t have any swearing in our music, though.
Philip Galitzine: No, we haven’t gotten there yet.
LW: Maybe on the second or third record we’ll get around the putting the parental advisory sticker on there.
BE: Maybe during your rebellious period.
TS: Exactly! We’ll also put out a Christian album to come back from that.
LW: Then the folk/acoustic record.
TS: Sure, but not until long after the greatest-hits album…which, by the way, will be our second album. (Laughs)
LW: You do know he’s recording all of this, right?
TS: (Spots the recorder on the table) Oh, God, you’re already recording? Well, then, look, let me just say this right now: we are a very serious band, and we do not joke around.
(Predictably, the entire band bursts into laughter at this comment.)