When enthusiasts look at the future of the Chrysler brand in particular, and Mopars in general, they may be somewhat dismayed by the heavy use of the term “electrified.” It may conjure up images of expensive, poorly made Teslas on one end, and golf carts on the other; or the Toyota Prius in between, a slow car with economy-focused tires that is not known for capable handling any more than it is known for acceleration.
The reality for Mopars will be different from all these extremes.
First, let us look at the two vehicles already on sale: the 4xe-equipped Wrangler and Grand Cherokee, and the PHEV Pacifica. The first one comes with a hardy 2-liter turbo engine, and gets decent-for-Wrangler fuel economy that would be laughed at in a normal sedan—and is nearly as fast in acceleration as the 392 Hemi Wrangler.
The second is a big, heavy minivan which returns, if you never try charging the battery at home, a little better than 30 mpg overall (not highway, overall). Driving the vehicle as a standards hybrid, it feels like a regular gasoline car; but when you brake, it puts power into the battery, and when you accelerate, it adds that power to what the gasoline engine is doing. The reality is a bit more complicated, but that’s another story.
There are two types of new powertrains—“electrified” and battery-electric (BEVs). The BEVs will in some cases have stunning acceleration, but they must be charged. There is a visceral hatred of BEVs among many Mopar fans, so we’ll just skip over these and look at electrified vehicles, with one caveat: it seems unlikely Dodge wants the Hellcat to be overshadowed by a similarly priced BEV. When you’re top of the hill, achieving power ratings not even dreamed of as long as a decade ago, well beyond any Viper or Corvette, and using them in a full size sedan as well as a coupe (not to mention SUVs), the last thing you want is to be bested in the quarter mile by a thing that has no engine and is cheaper to own as a grocery-getter or commuter. That is probably why the Hellcat’s days are numbered.
The problem with gasoline engines has often been that you can either have low-end grunt or high-end power. The conundrum is shown by the old 440 Six-Pack vs 426 Hemi debate—the 440 was great for starting grunt and the 426 only clobbered it when revved high, so that on the eighth mile, the 440 could be the better choice, and on the quarter, you needed a good driver behind that Hemi to win over a well tuned 440. The 485-hp 392 does well in both cases, but feeding it premium can be costly.
Aside from the Compass-and-Tonale-based Hornet, we will see STLA Medium, STLA Large, and then STLA Small cars. They will have “electrified” powertrains, maybe with BEV options—but only half of the Mopars sold are projected to be BEVs as far out as 2030. That leaves plenty of other vehicles for BEV haters—and those who simply need something with essentially infinite range (or who have no place to routinely charge).
There will be new opportunities for Mopar fans here.
Consider the long-lost SRT4. Many really liked that kind of performance, which came from a hot turbocharged 2.4 liter engine. The Peugeot 1.6 turbo, to be built in the US, already makes up to 360 hp in hybrid form. The main issue with the hottest turbos is often turbo lag—because the bigger the turbo, the longer it takes to spool (which is why many performance cars use twin turbos or superchargers). Hybrids avoid that; they have motors to get you going, then the gasoline engine takes over once it has a chance to rev. You don’t lose precious seconds waiting for kickdown and turbo spooling. Besides, the SRT4 only ever got up 230 hp in the Neon and 285 hp in the Caliber—and, again, the 1.6 hybrid goes up to 360 hp.
Consider how well the 4xe performs—375 horsepower and a stunning 470 lb-ft of torque. It comes close to the 5.7 Hemi in horsepower, and to the 6.4 (392) in torque. Again, at low revs, where gasoline engines make their lowest power and torque, electric motors are at their best. You get the best of both worlds—stump-pulling torque and high-end horsepower.
That is what electrified cars will probably be like, at least when the Dodge label is attached. As for Chrysler, we will see. There’s been no real indication of where Chrysler plans to put itself, in terms of powertrain tuning.
Throughout all this, Direct Connection is likely to prove emissions-compliant upgrades.
Think of electrification as a combination of better gas mileage and filling in that torque gap at the bottom end of your revs. No more revving the engine hard at the red light to make it perform well when you launch—the motors do that duty. No more sacrificing high end breathing for low end torque—the engine can be tuned to do what it does best while the motors take care of the rest… and you may even be able to return to regular gas.
Maybe, just maybe, this will be like the rise of the turbos in the 1980s, only more so—those halcyon days when we started getting cars that were smaller and more efficient, but able to beat the big old muscle cars at the track—except this time, they can do so in the quarter mile as well as on the oval.
Tim Kuniskis and Ralph Gilles both said we will be happy with the next generation. Both are real performance enthusiasts. Perhaps we may have to give up having eight holes in our engine; but if the result is better overall performance at lower cost, maybe it’s well worth it—having more of everything but the V8 sound.