Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep: We're Still Here!
After reading and participating in all the blah-blah-blah concerning Chrysler Group's purchase by Cerberus, it was good to check out what the beleaguered automaker has in store for the upcoming model year. We went to Detroit, where we had the opportunity to drive any and all of the Chrysler Group's vehicles. Granted, we have already spent a significant amount of time behind the wheel of most of the company's trucks and SUVs, but there were a few we had neglected. One was the Dakota, which has been made more interesting with an improved, flex-fuel, 4.7L 290hp and 320lb-ft V-8. We haven't always been a huge fan of the Dodge Dakota's styling in the past, but the sheetmetal on the truck was reworked in time for its debut at the Chicago Auto Show. Now, it looks more angular and assertive. The interior was tweaked, such as the center console, gauges, and materials. The Dakota looks fresher, and it has a little more towing capability--more than 7,000 pounds--but we wonder if it's time for a leaner, more compact, iconic truck.

Something like, say...a Jeep? Jeep's Mopar Underground took a new Wrangler, lopped off part of the roof, bolted on a bed, and called it the JT Concept. It's a notional, off-the-cuff idea that already has visions of grimy adventures dancing through off-roaders' heads. Will we ever see it in production? Hmmmm

The sport version of the Dakota. We drove Rams powered by biodiesel and the ethanol blend E85. What can we say other than we couldn't notice anything different about the powerplants after driving them around the test track. We took the Jeep Patriot through the choppy and muddy terrain of a forest trail. This is the brother to the Compass crossover we tried out last year. Yeah, it still has the high-revving CVT transmission and cramped quarters, but more aggressive styling and the retention of Jeep's coveted trail-rated badging, backed up by entry-level wilderness capabilities, which make this more Jeepy in our eyes.

Other news: In 2009, Dodge and Chrysler will be rolling out the Durango and Aspen powered by a version of the dual-mode hybrid technology that it shares with GM in 2009. We drove a dual-mode hybrid prototype, and it acted just like other full-hybrids we have driven; taking into account the rough spots you would expect to experience in a development vehicle. Mild hybrid trucks might hit the streets, too. Interestingly, the company raised the prospect of stacking fuel-saving technologies, such as a six-cylinder with MDS-plus dual-mode hybrid to a notable effect. Look for the Cummins to show up in light-duty trucks in 2009, the same year that the diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee will be 50-state legal. -- Words and photos by Mark Halvorsen

Happenings
September 1-2
Millington, TN
Relaxed Atmosphere's All-Star Event will be laying out at USA. For more information, contact Chris at (270) 898-8996, or check out the website www.relaxed-atmosphere.com.

September 1-3
Costa Mesa, CA
The Great Labor Day Car Cruise happens at the Orange Country Fairgrounds. Admission to the event costs $12. For more information, call (951) 928-4550.

September 8-9
Lake Charles, LA
Midnight Fantasies Show will be dreaming at the Civic Center. Preregistration costs $35, show day registration is $40. An inside spot will cost you $50. Motorcycle and bicycle registration costs $30. For details, go to www.midnightfantasiesshow.com.

September 14-15
Wisconsin Dells, WI
Dash to the Dells will start with a cruise at the Copa Cabana Resort and proceed with a show `n' shine at Tommy Bartlett Show Grounds. This show is for trucks from the 1948-72 model years and panels. Registration costs $25 per family (or $30 after August 15). Admission includes lunch and Sunday morning doughnuts and coffee, in addition to the event's attractions. For information, contact Mike Conner at (608) 274-6257 after 6 p.m., or e-mail mikeconner@charter.net.