You've whomped up a foie gras, baked a honey ham, and braised a fresh-kill shank of venison.
But when you arrive at the annual holiday gathering, the hosts have some shocking news: "Didn't anybody tell you? The neighborhood has gone vegetarian."
That's got to be a bit like how the makers of a new fleet of big SUVs feel these days. The table for change was set long ago and it's piling up with lighter fare.
Which brings us to today's test car, the 2007 Chrysler Aspen. Daimler-Chrysler is not alone in bringing a big mauler to the market just as some Americans' penchant for such vehicles is fading. Nests are emptying, the kids who had to be carted to soccer now drive themselves, and gas prices, even for those who can afford $40,000 and upward for a vehicle, are more of a concern than they have been in a long time.
Yet Chrysler needed this car. The argument by various automakers over the past few years has been this: if our company doesn't offer a big SUV, we'll lose customers to a competitor.
Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and
And with the switch to more car-like suspension systems and the addition of air bags front to rear and electronic stability control, larger SUVs are safer than ever, even if more powerful.
The Aspen is powered by a 4.7-liter, 235 horsepower V-8 with 300 lb.-feet of torque -- good for decent towing -- or a 5.7-liter, 335-horse, 370-lb.-ft. Hemi that will cut cylinder use when you are not asking for full speed and maximum tug.
It comes in either two- or all-wheel-drive and both engines have five-speed automatic transmissions.
Like most big SUVs, these seat up to eight adults in three rows and the third row can fold flat.
What impressed me most about driving the Aspen was it felt the least imposing of all the big rigs I have recently driven. There was no sense of diagonal weight flop rear to front when passing or when pushed into corners, and body roll was minimal. The optional Hemi in our test vehicle ($1,190 extra) was remarkably quiet when cruising at regular highway speeds, and it was a roaring energizer when required.
On the outside, there's little to distinguish the Aspen from SUVs in its class -- it bulges and hulks. At least the egg crate grille sets it apart as a Chrysler, as do the sharp ridges running down the hood.
The base price of the all-wheel-drive model is $33,520 and that includes a rich mix of standard features, from comfort to safety: including electronic stability control, antilock brake system, side curtain air bags for all rows, a 40/20/40 split and folding second seat, a third-row seat, power front seats, universal garage door opener, a 115-volt auxiliary power jack, and a power liftgate.
Add leather seats, a pair of buckets with center console for the second row, the Hemi engine, a "skid plate group" for off-roading, a tow package, rear-seat entertainment system, navigation, and other electronic goodies, and the price quickly balloons to $43,000.
In a world of Expeditions and Explorers and Suburbans and Sequoias, this is a classy ride, and at a price less than a Cadillac Escalade.
So if you still feel the need to go big, pile your plate high.
Shop it against
CHEVROLET SUBURBAN It has the inside space and the power -- in 320-, 310-, and 366-horsepower versions. The price will easily top $40,000.
LINCOLN NAVIGATOR It's the flashy one in this group, though the bling will cost $45,000 and up. Another single-engine choice: 300-horsepower V-8.