The Truth About Cars » american http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 02 Aug 2014 03:20:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » american http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 4×4 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-jeep-cherokee-limited-v6-4x4-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-jeep-cherokee-limited-v6-4x4-with-video/#comments Thu, 20 Feb 2014 14:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=739825 The folks at Jeep have known for some time that high volume on-road models have to be part of the mix to keep low volume off-road models viable. From the 1946 Willys Station Wagon and the original Wagoneer, to the Grand Cherokee and the Compass, Jeep has been on a steady march towards the word […]

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2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-002

The folks at Jeep have known for some time that high volume on-road models have to be part of the mix to keep low volume off-road models viable. From the 1946 Willys Station Wagon and the original Wagoneer, to the Grand Cherokee and the Compass, Jeep has been on a steady march towards the word no Wrangler owner wants to hear: “crossover”. Their plan is to replace the off-road capable Liberty and compete with the RAV4, CR-V and 20 other small crossovers with one vehicle: the 2014 Cherokee.

With two ambitious (and contradictory) missions and unconventional looks, the Cherokee has turned into one of the most polarizing cars in recent memory. It is therefore no surprise the Cherokee has been getting mixed reviews. USA Today called it “unstoppable fun” while Consumer Reports called it “half baked” with a “choppy ride and clumsy handling.” Our own Derek Kreindler came away disappointed with its on-road performance at the launch event, though he had praise for the Cherokee’s off-road capabilities. What should we make of the glowing reviews, and the equally loud dissenting voices?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

I’ve always said styling is a personal preference and although the Cherokee is far from my cup of tea, I’m glad Chrysler decided to color outside the lines. The “bent” 7-slot grill still strikes me as peculiar, but what made me scratch my head more is the lighting. You’ll find the headlamps in the middle of the bumper cover behind a smoked plastic lens, while the daytime running lamps and turn signals live in a separate module high up on the front, Meanwhile, the fog lamps are nestled at the bottom of the bumper. Out back the Cherokee is far more mainstream with a fairly plain (and very vertical) rear hatch. Overall the looks are certainly striking and unmistakable, I’m just not sure if that’s a good thing.

The Cherokee is “kinda-sorta” based on the Dodge Dart which itself is more-or-less a stretched and widened Alfa Romeo Giulietta. While some Jeep fans call any car-based Jeep heresy, the Cherokee isn’t the first car/SUV hybrid at Jeep and it won’t be the last. The side profile, specifically the front overhang, is where the Cherokee’s dual mission starts to show. A transverse mounted engine creates a long overhang compared to a traditional RWD SUV. This isn’t a problem in the Patriot, which has much lower aspirations, but does pose a problem for “the off-road crowd.” To compensate, the Cherokee rides higher than the competition (7.8 to 8.8 inches) and uses two different bumper designs. Sport, Latitude and Limited trims get a more traditional (if you can call it that) bumper design with a fairly flat front while Trailhawk models pull the bottom of the bumper up to allow a 50% better approach angle and causing a “wedge-like” front profile. Out back similar changes to the rear bumper improve the Trailhawk’s departure angle.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-004

Interior

While the Grand Cherokee continues it’s mission as the “American Range Rover,” anyone looking for the Cherokee to be the “American Evoque” is going to be disappointed. Even so, I found the the interior to be class leading in many ways, with more soft touch plastics than you’ll find in the competition. Chrysler fitted the Grand Cherokee’s chunky steering wheel to the smaller Jeep which gives the cabin a more premium feel. Most Cherokees on dealer lots will have a leather wrapped wheel, but base models get a urethane tiller. The Cherokee retains the optional steering wheel heater from the Grand Cherokee, but ditches the paddle shifters.

The wide front seats are deeply padded, supportive and easily the best in the segment in terms of comfort. Thankfully, the engineers ditched the “dome-shaped” bottom cushion found in other Chrysler products allowing you to sit “in” the seats, not “on” the seats. Most models get a fold-flat front passenger seat improving cargo versatility, but that option is incompatible with the optional “ventilated front seats and multi-way with four-way power lumbar support” package for the front passenger.

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Although not as comfortable as the front, the second row is easily the most comfortable in the segment. Seat cushions are thickly padded, recline, and slide fore/aft to adjust the cargo area dimensions. (Or get a child seat closer.) The Cherokee offers two inches more rear legroom than CR-V, three more than RAV4 and nearly four inches more than Escape. The seat bottom cushions also ride higher off the ground so adults won’t feel like they have their knees in their chest.

Because of the need for off-road-capable departure angles and ground clearance, a compromise had to be made and I found it behind the [optional] power tailgate. The Cherokee suffers from the smallest cargo hold among its target cross-shops by a wide margin at 24.8 cubic feet. The next smallest entry (the CX-5) will hold over 40% more behind the second row (34 cubes) while the Rogue’s generous booty will swallow 40 cubic feet of whatever. Note: The Cherokee’s spec sheet lists cargo capacity at 29.7 cubic feet but that measurement is taken with the 2nd row adjusted all the way forward in its tracks which cuts rear legroom down to well below the competition.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior uConnect 8.4

Infotainment

Depending on trim level, you’ll find two different systems in the dash. Things start out with uConnect 5.0 in the Sport and Latitude. Running on a Microsoft OS (like Ford SYNC), this unit is more sluggish than the UNIX-based 8-inch system but offers many of the same features excluding navigation. While other Chrysler/Fiat models with uConnect 5.0 have the option to add TomTom navigation at a later date, that doesn’t seem to apply here. The touchscreen features full USB/iPod integration, optional XM satellite radio and a Bluetooth speakerphone in addition to acting as the climate control display and seat heater controls. Sound thumps out via 6-standard speakers, and you can pay $200 for an optional CD player if you haven’t joined the 2st century.

Optional on Latitude and standard on Limited/Trailhawk is the 8-inch QNX UNIX based “uConnect 8.4.” The system features polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. All the features you expect from a connected car are standard, from voice commands for USB/iDevice control to smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart or Slacker. You can have text messages read to you, dictate replies and search for restaurants or businesses via Yelp. In addition to the smartphone-tied features, it integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store.” Since there’s a cell modem on-board, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices. Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services from traffic updates to fuel prices. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports.

For an extra $795 you can add Garmin’s navigation software to the system and Chrysler tells us that the nav software can be added after purchase. Our tester had the $395 optional 9-speaker sound system with a subwoofer. Sound quality ranged from average with the standard 6-speaker setup to excellent with the optional speakers. Unfortunately, the up-level speaker package requires you have navigation as well, bringing the price bump to $1190 if you were only after the louder beats.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 3.2L V6 Engine-002

Drivetrain

All trims start with Chrysler’s 2.4L “Tigershark” four-cylinder engine delivering 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of twist. Optional on all but the Sport is a new 3.2L V6 good for 271 horses and 239 lb-ft. Sadly we won’t get the 2.0L Fiat diesel on our shores, but if you’re lucky enough to be able to burn oil in your country, that engine delivers 170 ponies and 258 lb-ft of twist. Power is sent to the ground via a controversial 9-speed automatic designed by ZF and built by Chrysler. The 9-speed is very similar to the one used in the Range Rover Evoque although few parts are directly interchangeable.

While most crossovers offer a single AWD system Jeep gives you three options. First up we have a traditional slip-and-grip AWD system with a multi-plate clutch pack (Active Drive) that sends power to the rear when required. Jeep combined this with a “rear axle disconnect” feature to improve fuel economy. This is the system you’ll find on most of the Sport, Latitude and Limited Cherokees on dealer lots.

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Available on Latitude and Limited is Active Drive II which adds a segment-exclusive rock crawl ratio. Because of the way transverse transaxles work, this system operates differently than a longitudinal (RWD) system in that there are actually two two-speed transfer cases. Power exits the transmission and enters a “PTU” where power is split front and rear. Up front, power flows from the PTU to a 2-speed planetary gearset and then back into the transmission’s case to the front differential. For the back wheels, power flows from the multi-plate clutch pack and rear axle disconnect clutch inside the PTU to an angle gear unit which rotates power 90-degrees and connects to the prop shaft. The prop shaft connects to another 2-speed planetary gearset and then finally to the rear axle.

Engaging 4-Low causes the PTU to engage the rear axle and engage the primary low ratio gearset.  At the same time, the low ratio gearset in the rear axle unit engages. Vehicle electronics confirm that the system has engaged both units before you can move forward. Should you need the ultimate in off-road ability, the Trailhawk throws in a locking rear differential (this is the third system, called Active Drive Lock), hill ascent/descent control and various stability control programs for off-road terrain. Before you ask “is this a real low-ratio?” 4-Low is 56:1 with the 2.4L engine and 47.8:1 with the 3.2L. That 56:1 ratio is lower than anything Jeep has sold, save the Wrangler Rubicon’s insane 73:1.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-004Modifications

Being the owner of a Jeep with a minor four-inch lift kit installed, after-market options are near and dear. Of course RAV4/CR-V/Escape shoppers aren’t your typical lift-kit demographic, so for many of you, this section isn’t germane. Because of the Cherokee’s design, ride height modifications are not going to be as easy as with solid-axle Jeeps of yore. With longitudinal engine mounting and solid axles, lifting is an easy task up to around four-inches, at which point you may need to start thinking about new driveshafts and possible U-joint replacements. With a design like the Cherokee’s, anything beyond an inch or two can result in serious suspension geometry changes that have a huge impact on handling and tire wear. While it would be possible to design kits with four new half-shafts, springs and suspension bits that would lift and correct the geometry change, I suspect the costs would be prohibitive, so don’t expect much more than a 2-3 inch spring-spacer kit for base models and 1-2 inches for the Trailhawk.

Pricing

Most shoppers will be deciding between the Sport, Latitude and Limited trims starting at $22,295, $24,495 and $27,995 respectively for FWD models. Adding AWD increases the price tag by $2,000 and on Latitude and Limited and you can get the low ratio gearbox with a 1-inch suspension bump for an additional $995. The Sport model comes well equipped compared to the competition with that 5-inch infotainment system, auto-down windows and most creature comforts you expect except for air conditioning. You’ll find A/C in the oddly named $795 “cold weather group” which also includes heated mirrors, a leather steering wheel, remote start, heated front seats and a windshield wiper de-icer. At the base level the Sport is roughly the same price as the Toyota and Honda but adding the $795 package pushes the price comparison in the Jeep’s favor by more than $1,000.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-008

Latitude adds a standard 115V outlet, leather wrapped steering wheel, auto up/down windows, fold flat front seat, ambient lighting, A/C, steering wheel audio controls and fog lamps in addition to allowing access to the more robust AWD system, V6 engine and navigation. Limited tosses in power front seats, the 7-inch LCD instrument cluster (seen above), an auto dimming mirror, heated steering wheel, soft touch plastics on the doors, automatic headlamps, one year of XM radio, turn signals on the side mirrors and the ability to option your Cherokee up to $40,890 by adding self-parking, cooled seats, HID headlamps and more options than I care to list.

Then there is the Trailhawk. As the only CUV with a 2-speed transfer case, locking differential, tow hooks, off-road oriented software programming and all-terrain rubber, this Cherokee is in a class by itself. It’s also priced in a class by itself. Starting at $29,495 and ending at $40,890, the Trailhawk has a similar MSRP spread as the Limited but it trades the optional luxury items for off-road hardware.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-014

Drive

Chrysler decided to make the Cherokee the first recipient of their new technology onslaught. If you’re willing to pay, you can option your Jeep up with a full-speed range radar cruise control, collision warning and collision prevention with automatic braking, cooled seats, lane departure warning and prevention and rear cross path collision detection. The Cherokee is also Chrysler’s first self-parking car, and like the new Mercedes S-Class, the Jeep will back itself into perpendicular spots in addition to parallel parking. The tech worked well and is as easy to use as Ford’s system, although I’m not sure I want to live in a world where folks can’t perpendicular park. (You know, in regular old parking spaces.) If you opt for the ultrasonic parking sensors, the Cherokee will also apply the brakes before you back into that shopping cart you didn’t see.

Most reviewers are so caught up in the way the 9-speed automatic shifts. The truth is, hybrids, dual clutch transmissions, robotized manuals, CVTs and automatics with new technologies are only going to become more common and it’s time we in the auto press adjusted. If you want to know more about why the 9-speed does what it does, check our our deep dive on dog clutches. All I’m going to say here is that I got used to the way the transmission shifts and it never really bothered me.

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At 4,100lbs the Cherokee is 600lbs heavier than a comparable RAV4 or CX-5. The extra weight is caused by the structural reinforcements required for off roading. Unfortunately it causes some on-road compromises. Acceleration with the 2.4L engine is adequate but sluggish compared to the lighter competition. The V6 on the other hand hits 60 MPH in 6.5 seconds which ties with the 2.0L Ecoboost Escape as the fastest in the class. Regardless of the engine you choose, the Cherokee has one of the quietest cabins in the segment thanks to extensive sound deadening. All the foam comes in handy on 2.4L models as the small engine spends more time in lower gears thanks to the Cherokee’s heft.

Once on the highway the 9-speed automatic helped the porky crossover average a respectable 23.7 MPG, just 1.3 MPG behind the much slower RAV4. The economy is all down to the rear axle disconnect feature and the 9-speed transmission. By completely disconnecting the rear axle via a clutch, parasitic losses drop to nearly zero when compared to other small crossovers. The downside to this is that when the system is in “Auto” power is sent 100% to the front axle until there is slip at which point the Cherokee must re-connect the rear axle then engage a secondary multi-plate clutch to move power. This system allows greater economy but is much slower to react and adds some weight to the mix. To compensate, the Cherokee allows you to fully lock the center coupling and engage the rear axle at any speed by engaging various drive modes. Thanks to an extremely tall 9th gear, the V6 spins at a lazy 1,500 RPM at 82 MPH allowing a reported 25 MPG on level ground.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Wheel

The heavy and substantial feel on winding roads and reminded me more of the Grand Cherokee than your average CUV. Soft springs and well-tuned dampers delivered a supple ride on a variety of surfaces and the Cherokee never felt unsettled. However, those same suspension choices allow plenty of body roll in the corners, tip when accelerating and dive when braking. As with most entries, the Cherokee uses electric power steering so there is precious little feel behind the wheel. When pushed near its limits, the Cherokee delivers reasonable grip thanks to wide tires and a 57/43 (F/R) weight balance which is essentially the same as the CX-5. If this sounds like the on-road description of a body-on-frame SUV from 10 years ago, you’re not far off base. But is that a bad thing? Not in my book. Why? It’s all about the other half of the Cherokee’s mission.

With more ground clearance, a rated water fording depth of 20 inches, 4,500lbs of towing capacity and a more robust AWD system, the Cherokee can follow the Grand Cherokee down any trail without fear. Of course both Jeeps should be careful not to follow a Wrangler, as neither is as off-road capable as they used to be, but the gist is that both are far more capable than the average crossover. Jeep’s traction and stability control systems are different than what you find in the on-road oriented competition in that the software’s objective is to move power from wheel to wheel rather than just limit wheel spin. Competitive systems reduce engine power first, then selectively brake wheels. The Jeep system in “Mud” mode is more interested with keeping the wheels all spinning the same than curbing engine power. The Cherokee also allows the center coupling to be locked at higher speeds than the competition, offering a 20-inch rated water fording depth, 7.9 to 8.8 inches of ground clearance and available skid plates. While the Cherokee will never be as much fun off-road as a 4Runner, Wrangler, or other serious off-road options, you can have a hoot and a half at the off-road park in stock Trailhawk trim.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-015

If a crossover is supposed to be a cross between a family sedan and an SUV, the Cherokee is the truest small crossover you can buy. Trouble is, most shoppers are really just looking for the modern station wagon: something with a big cargo hold and car-like manners. In this area the Cherokee comes up short. It’s big and heavy and it drives like it’s big and heavy. But it’s not without its charms, the Cherokee is the only compact crossover capable of the school run and the Rubicon trail. It’s also the quietest and most comfortable crossover going, even if it is short on trunk space. If you’re willing to pay, it’s also the one loaded with the most gadgets, goodies and luxury amenities.

Is the Cherokee half-baked like Consumer Reports said? Perhaps. The Cherokee’s off-roading mission results in limited cargo space and vague handling while the on-road mission demanded a FWD chassis with high fuel economy. But it faithfully manages to give 99% of Liberty shoppers and 80% of RAV4 shoppers a viable alternative. Is that half-baked or a successful compromise? If you’re after a soft-roader to get you from point A to point B with stellar fuel economy, great handling and a massive cargo area, there are better options than the Cherokee. If however you “need” a crossover but “want” a go-anywhere SUVlet, this is your only option.

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.15 Seconds

0-60: 6.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.75 Seconds

Average observed fuel economy: 23.7 MPG over 453 miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 67 dB

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ZF’s 9-Speed 9HP Transmission Puts Dog Clutches On The Leash http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/zfs-9-speed-9hp-transmission-puts-dog-clutches-on-the-leash/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/zfs-9-speed-9hp-transmission-puts-dog-clutches-on-the-leash/#comments Sun, 09 Feb 2014 03:34:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=727738 In a week we will post our first full review of the all-new and all-controversial 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The new Jeep isn’t just raising eyebrows for the love-it or hate-it styling. Or the resurrection of the Cherokee badge. Or the constant delays in production. Or the transverse mounted engine. Or the lack of solid axles. […]

The post ZF’s 9-Speed 9HP Transmission Puts Dog Clutches On The Leash appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

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ZF 9HP Transmission, Picture Courtesy of Land RoverIn a week we will post our first full review of the all-new and all-controversial 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The new Jeep isn’t just raising eyebrows for the love-it or hate-it styling. Or the resurrection of the Cherokee badge. Or the constant delays in production. Or the transverse mounted engine. Or the lack of solid axles. None of that laundry list seems to cause as much discussion around the automotive water cooler than ZF’s 9HP 9-speed transmission. Click past the jump for a deep dive into the tranny with more speeds than my bicycle. If you don’t want to explore transmissions in detail, don’t click. You have been warned.

When Derek drove the Cherokee at a launch event he complained about the transmission. When I drove a pre-production model for a very brief hour and a half I was more perplexed than anything. I chalked it up to pre-production programming issues and the fact that the transmission has 50% more speeds than a 6-speed, so I expected 50% more shifting. A month later I was able to sample a different Cherokee with newer software and some of my shifting complaints had been solved but something still felt “wrong.” Now three months later a full production Cherokee landed in my hands and while the shift logic (when and why the transmission would shift up or down) was finally where I thought it should be, the shifts themselves felt different from what I am used to. The reason is all down to clutches, but let’s start at the beginning.

In general terms an engine is most efficient in a somewhat narrow band of RPMs. That exact band varies from engine to engine based on what the designers intended at the time. The longer you can keep the engine in this range of RPMs, the more efficient the car will be. Secondary to this is a desire for improved off-the-line performance, this necessitates ever-lower first gear ratios. The distance between the lowest and the tallest gear in a transmission is called the ratio spread. (You get it by dividing the lowest ratio by the tallest and that gives you a number that represents the delta between first and last.) GM’s venerable 4-speed 4L80 has a spread of 3.3 while their new 6-speed 6L80 has a spread of 6. The deeper first gear and taller 6th allow the 6L80 to deliver better performance and better fuel economy. The reason ZF’s 8-speed 8HP doesn’t have the same delta in performance over the average 6-speed as the 6-speed had over the 4-speed, is easy to explain. The 8HP’s ratio spread is 7, just 1 higher than a 6 speed while the 6-speeds had a 3 point advantage over the 4-speeds. Aisin’s new 8-speed transaxle in Volvo and Lexus models goes a small step further with a 7.59 spread. These can all be seen as progressive improvements. The 9HP is different. With a 4.7:1 first gear and a 0.48:1 ninth gear the overall spread is a whopping 9.8.

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On closer inspection you’ll notice something interesting about the 9HP’s ratios. Fifth is the 1:1 ratio where the output shaft of the transmission is spinning at the same rate as the engine meaning there four overdrive ratios. In contrast both ZF and Aisin’s 8-speed transmissions have just two overdrive ratios with 6th gear being the direct-drive (1:1) ratio. As a result the 9HP’s lower gears are farther apart, especially first and second gear. When you look deeper at the numbers you’ll also notice that the 9HP is geared much taller at the top end with 7th gear being approximately equal to 8th in the Aisin or ZF 8-speed units. Many reviewers of the Cherokee noted they never experienced 9th gear during their test drive and I now know why. At 0.48:1 with the 3.2L V6 (3.251 final drive) you have to be going faster than 80 MPH to engage 9th because at 80 your engine loafs around at 1,460 RPM. (The 2.4L four-cylinder in the Cherokee Trailhawk would be going about 1,810 RPM at 80.) According to ZF this results in an impressive 12-16% improvement in fuel economy versus the same final drive ratio and their own 6-speed automatic and 11-15% when compared to their 8-speed.

OK, so the 9HP has plenty of gears, but why does it shift the way that it does? It’s all down to the clutches. While a traditional automatic uses friction clutches in the form of either band clutches or multi-plate friction clutches, the 9HP blends friction clutches and dog clutches in the same transmission case. Dog clutches are “interference” clutches more commonly found in manual transmissions and transfer cases. Friction clutches work by pressing two plates together. The friction between them allows the transfer of energy and it allows one plate to spin faster than the other or “slip.” Think of slipping the clutch in a manual car, it is the same action. Automatic transmissions use this clutch type to their advantage because changing gear doesn’t always require engine power to drop, the transmission simply disconnects one clutch as it engages another, they slip and engage and you’re in another gear. Dog clutches however are different. If you look at the illustration below you can see a dog clutch on the right. Power is transmitted by the tooth of one side pressing on the tooth of the other. This type of clutch cannot slip so it is either engaged or disengaged. This is the type of clutch used inside manual transmissions. When you move the shifter to a different gear, you are physically disengaging and engaging dog clutches. This style of clutch is used because it suffers little parasitic loss and it is simple and compact. The use of a dog clutch in an “automatic” transmission isn’t new, dual clutch robotized manuals use this style of clutch internally as well, but it is the key to understanding why the 9HP shifts the way it does.

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Because dog clutches can’t slip, their engagement must be controlled and precise. Going back to the manual transmission example, this is why modern manual transmissions have “synchros” or synchromesh. A Synchro is a mechanism that aligns the dog teeth prior to engagement. Without them you get that distinct gear grinding noise. Synchros work well in a manual transmission because when you are changing gear you are disconnecting the engine with the clutch (a friction clutch), then engaging a dog clutch for your gear selection. Because one end of the transmission is “free” the synchro synchronizes the two sides and then allows the toothed gear to engage. There is a “pause” in power when a shift occurs. If you look at an acceleration chart of a car with a good manual driver and an automatic you will see pauses in acceleration in the manual while most autos just have “reductions” in acceleration. That’s down to the pause required to engage a dog clutch vs a friction clutch that slips and engages without much reduction in power.

Let’s digress for a moment and talk about the DSG. The reason dual clutch gearboxes exist is because of the dog clutch. As I said engaging a dog clutch takes time and precision. This is part of the reason single-clutch robotic manuals like the one in the Smart ForTwo and the RAM ProMaster (and other Euro sedans) have such exaggerated shifts. Double clutch gearboxes get around this by having two gears engaged at all times. DSG style gearboxes are really two manual transmissions in the same case. 1st gear is engaged via the first transmission and 2nd is engaged but not active on the second. Changing gears simply involves swapping (via a friction clutch) from transmission A to transmission B. Once that is accomplished, the transmission A disengages and engages the dog clutches to select the next gear. Going from 2nd to 3rd involves swapping back from transmission B to the already shifted transmission A.

Let’s put it all together now. To save space and increase efficiency, the 9HP uses two multi-plate clutch elements, two friction brakes and two electronically synchronized dog clutches. (The 8HP uses two brakes and three multi-plate clutches.) The way the gearsets are arranged inside the case, shifts from 1-2, 2-3, and 3-4 involve only the traditional friction brake and clutch elements. As you would expect, aside from 1st being fairly low and somewhat distant from 2nd, these shifts feel perfectly “normal.” Under hard acceleration there is a momentary reduction in engine torque (courtesy of the computer to reduce clutch wear) and the shift occurs quickly and smoothly. The shift from 4-5 however is different. The transmission has to disengage dog clutch “A” in addition to engaging a friction clutch. This shift takes slightly longer than the 3-4 shift and the car’s computer makes a drastic reduction in torque to prevent wear of the dog teeth. Shifts 5-6 and 6-7 again happen with the only the friction elements at which point we need to disconnect the final dog clutch for gears 8 and 9 so we get the same kind of torque reduction in those shifts. The result is a transmission that has two distinct “feels” to its shifts, one that has only a slight torque reduction (1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6, 6-7, 8-9) and one that has a more “manual transmission” feel where torque is cut severely (4-5 and 7-8).

2014 Jeep Cherokee Instrument Cluster

Because of the positioning of the two dog clutches in the shift pattern, the torque reduction isn’t objectionable in upshifts. Hard acceleration from a stop didn’t involve 5th gear even in the 1/4 mile. However, once you let off the gas the transmission will shift upwards rapidly for fuel economy settling in 6th or 7th in the 60-65 MPH range and 8th in the 70-75 MPH range.

Downshifts are where the 9HP truly feels different. Because of the design, if you’re in 8th gear and want to pass, the transmission will often need to drop 4 or 5 gears to get to a suitable ratio. (Remember that 4th gear is the first ratio going back down the scale that is lower than 1:1.) To do this the transmission has to accomplish the harder task of engaging two dog clutches. To do this the transmission doesn’t use cone synchros like a manual (too bulky) it uses software. Engaging dog clutches requires a longer and yet more severe reduction in torque than the disengagement because the transmission has to align the clutch and then engage it. In most automatics when you floor the car you get an instant feeling of acceleration that improves as the transmission downshifts. Although there would be moments of power reduction (depending on the programming) during this time, the engine is always providing some force forward. The 9HP’s software on the other hand responds by cutting power initially, then diving as far down the gear-ladder as it can, engaging the dog clutches and then reinstating your throttle command. The result is a somewhat odd delay between the pedal on the floor and the car taking off like a bat out of hell. According to Volvo’s powertrain guys, this shift behavior is one of the main reasons they chose the Aisin 8-speed (shared with the Lexus RX F-Sport) over the ZF 9-speed used by Land Rover and Chrysler.

All of a sudden the “odd” shift feel made perfect sense. In the march toward ever-improving fuel economy the automotive public will continually be introduced to cars that feel different from the “good old days.” Electric power steering numbs the wheel-feel but steer-by-wire promises to artificiality resurrect it. Dual clutch robotized manuals have a particular feel that was accepted by performance enthusiasts but has been a source of complaint for Focus and Fiesta shoppers. For me, understanding why the transmission is doing what it is doing is key to my like or dislike of a car’s road manners. Once I understood what the Cherokee’s automatic was up to, I was able to focus on the rest of the car. What about you? Are you willing to “sacrifice” shift quality at the altar of fuel economy? Be sure to let me know.

Have an automotive technology question? Want to see a deep-dive on another powertrain component?

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Review: 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-buick-regal-gs-awd-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-buick-regal-gs-awd-with-video/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 14:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=698417 In my mind, Volkswagens used to be the “Euro Buick.” Positioned one note above the mass market rabble,  VW’s Passat shared parts with Audi’s A4, while the Touareg and Phaeton were luxury cars with a mass market logo on the hood. Then Volkswagen decided this was the wrong strategy for them, so they repositioned VW […]

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2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior

In my mind, Volkswagens used to be the “Euro Buick.” Positioned one note above the mass market rabble,  VW’s Passat shared parts with Audi’s A4, while the Touareg and Phaeton were luxury cars with a mass market logo on the hood. Then Volkswagen decided this was the wrong strategy for them, so they repositioned VW as the German alternative to Toyota and Chevrolet. This left a gaping hole in the market for shoppers looking to step into a European near-luxury vehicle that flew under the radar. And then Buick stepped in.Buick’s Opel-based product offensive has transformed the brand from Barcalounger wheels for the octogenarian, to a window into the soul of GM’s German brand. This transformation isn’t an easy one as Buick’s problem wasn’t just blue-haired buyers and slinky-soft springs. Buick is the penultimate middle child. Jammed between Chevrolet and Cadillac, brand B’s mission is to give Chevy buyers something to aspire to and Cadillac buyers something to graduate from.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

When you say “Regal GS” my mind immediately leaps to the fourth-generation Regal (2nd generation W-body) with the supercharged 3.8L V6. When I was car shopping in 2000 I dearly wanted a Regal GS but there were two problems: Buick’s grandmotherly image and the price tag. As a result I bought an entirely different old person car: a Chrysler LHS. But I digress. This GS is an entirely different beast. Buick’s latest middle child is none other than Opel’s largest sedan, the Insignia. Refreshed for the 2014 model year, the differences between the Insignia and the Regal are most pronounced on the exterior where a Buick waterfall grille and logo have been inserted into the same opening as the Opel and ventiports have been added to the hood. And… that’s about it.

Two things are obvious when looking at the Buick Regal: it was designed in Europe and it was designed to to be both a Buick and an Opel from the start. Rather than looking out of place (like the Chrysler 300 to Lancia Thema transition) the Regal looks “meant to be.” Although the Regal is related to the Chevy Malibu, there’s essentially no exterior resemblance. The Regal GS I spent a week in gets the tweaked front and rear bumpers from Opel’s Insigia OPC model which ditches the foglamps for extra ventilation and integrates the exhaust tips into the rear bumper cover. Circling back around to those ventiports: I still think they look silly, but thankfully the Regal has the right number (four) and they are smaller and less conspicuously placed than on other Buick models I could mention.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003

Interior

2014 brings a new interior to the Regal based around a standard 8-inch touchscreen and new center console. Although you will still find a few hard plastics in the cabin, overall materials quality has improved and is firmly competitive with the Volkswagen CC, Audi A4 and Acura TL. Most cabin touch points feel more premium than the more expensive Lexus ES but the Volvo S60/S80 still lead the segment. Non-GS shoppers can opt for a handsome two-tone interior that combines a brown steering wheel and upper dash with a light grey/tan seats and carpet which would be my preference. GS models however are stuck with a very Germanic black-on-black theme. Part of the GS package is an 8-inch LCD instrument cluster and a chunkier steering wheel with sport grips, soft leather and a flat bottom. The disco dash is not as configurable as Chrysler’s 7-inch unit but the graphics are more modern and the system allows you full access to your media device, something uConnect still lacks.

For reasons unknown Buick chose not to borrow the Recaro seats found in the Insignia OPC, opting instead for more aggressively bolstered versions of the standard seat design. This may be because Buick owners are less likely to need the 5-point harness design, but it is most likely because we Americans are fatter so fewer of us would fit in the narrow seats. My 6-foot and slightly overweight frame fit snugly and comfortably in the front seats but the ceiling in the rear of the Regal proved too low for me to sit without cocking my head to the side. The lack of rear seat headroom was disappointing because the Regal offers several inches more rear leg room than the RWD Cadillac ATS and CTS and three inches more than the Volvo S60 and S80.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link

Infotainment

Like the LaCrosse, the Regal and the Opel Insignia now uses a modified version of Cadillac’s CUE. For reasons I don’t understand however, Buick doesn’t get Opel’s interesting touchpad with “finger writing” recognition that Opel has been advertising across the pond. I’m guessing this is so that Buick doesn’t step on Cadillac’s toes. Compared to CUE there are a few other changes for Buick-duty. The expensive glass capacitive touchscreen (looks like a modern smartphone) is swapped for a resistive unit that isn’t as crisp or as glare reducing and we have physical buttons for some system features, a marked improvement over Cadillac’s touchscreen only interface. Aside from these charges, the majority of CUE remains.

Like Ford’s MyFord Touch system, IntelliLink is sluggish in general and sometimes totally unresponsive. The software also suffers from unintuitive menu layouts and old-school mapping software that doesn’t jive with the system’s high-resolution screen. Like CUE, some multi-touch gestures are supported, but the different touchscreen is less able to decipher your intent leading to some frustrating moments. On the bright side, CUE’s selling points remain. The system’s voice command system features natural language commands and instead of treating the USB ports as separate inputs, the system aggregates them into one large music library allowing you to voice command songs without specifying the device.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001

Drivetrain

Nestled sideways under the hood is the same 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine that the Cadillac ATS and CTS use. Good for 259 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of twist, this is the same engine that you find in the “regular Regal.” That’s right, no longer does “GS” stand for “more power.” This means the GS looses 11 ponies vs 2013 but the turbo Regal gains 39 vs 2013. To differentiate things, GM does alter the torque curve to deliver all 295 twists at 2,500 RPM instead of 3,000 in the non-GS model. GM hasn’t completely ruled out the 325 horse 2.8L twin-turbo V6 the Insignia OPC uses for the American market, but I’d call it a long shot.

GS shoppers can choose either a 6-speed manual transaxle or a 6 speed automatic, but if you want the optional Haldex AWD system you’re forced to select the auto.  Although the GS uses the same AWD system as the regular Regal AWD, the engineers tossed in an electronically controlled limited slip rear differential. GS trims also bump the suspension up a notch by combining GM’s HiPer Strut technology with active dampers on all four corners. The suspension offers three modes: normal, sport and GS. The feel ranges from European family sedan to firm.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001

Drive

GM’s HiPer Strut suspension is designed to bring the steering axis more in line with the tire centerline, something you typically find in rear-wheel drive cars. Aligning the axis more closely results in better tracking, less torque steer and a front tire with a more consistent camber across the suspension’s travel. Versus the outgoing model, the front tires contact patch is improved in corners when the front suspension is loaded resulting in higher grip. Coupled with an AWD system that sends 50% of the power to the rear under hard acceleration, we get the first Buick in a long time with virtually zero torque steer.

The downside to the trendy new steering knuckle design is feel. Steering is very precise but suffers from the same Novocaine-laced feedback as everything else out there with electric power steering. Despite a 58/42 F/R weight distribution, the Regal GS has impeccable manners up to 9/10ths, where it starts to lose composure. Trouble is, without steering feedback it’s hard to tell where 9/10ths is located. In contrast, the Volvo S60 T6 AWD and S80 T6 AWD offer less grip but more feel.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007

Driving a FWD Regal back to back with our AWD tester, I kept thinking “there’s just something I dislike about the FWD model”. As it turns out, there is a reason the FWD Regal felt unsettled in the rear over broken pavement, the AWD model gets an entirely different “H-Link” independent rear suspension. Coupled with the active dampers, the Regal felt well composed on a variety of road surfaces despite being tuned firmer than the rest of the American and Swedish competition. Rather than being the softest entry in the segment, the GS is among the firmer.

Put your foot to the floor and the GS will run to 60 in 6.7 seconds, exactly the same as the W-Body Regal GS I remember with fond memories. The difference is, the W-Body’s torque steer made the car feel like it was part car, part carnival ride. The 2014 model tracks straight and true with zero drama all the way to a 15.2 second 1/4 mile. Stacking this up with the competition, the Regal is notably slower than the Cadillac CTS/ATS 2.0T and Volvo’s S60 T5 AWD; and a hair slower than the 3.7L Lincoln MKZ, Lexus ES 350 and Acura TL. Despite similar power figures, the Volvo ran to 60 nearly 7/10ths faster which caused me to question my numbers. However, a loaner provided by a local dealer confirmed my findings. The reason seems rooted both in the GS’ gear ratios and the more advantageous torque curve from Volvo’s funky 5-cylinder.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010

At $37,830 starting, $40,195 with AWD and $44,975 full-loaded, the Regal undercuts the Volvo S60 T5 AWD and Acura TL by a couple thousand across the board (comparably equipped) and is more than $5,000 cheaper than the Lexus ES depending on your configuration. The Acura TL is in its final year of production and is, as you would assume, outclassed by the Regal in most ways. The recently refreshed Volvo delivers better road feel and a slightly more premium interior at the expense of more cash and less grip. The Lexus ES suffers from soft springs, an uncompetitive interior and steep price tag.

Over 611 miles I managed a reasonable 22.1 MPG in the GS which bests the real-world numbers from the V6 competition but comes short of the turbo Caddy and Swede. Why do I keep coming back to Cadillac? Because as hard as GM has tried to keep Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac from stepping on each other’s toes, the Regal GS is about the same price as the 2014 Cadillac ATS. It’s hard enough to go up against what is probably the second best vehicle GM has ever produced, but it is made doubly hard when there are so many combined Buick/Cadillac dealers. This means you’ll frequently find the Regal GS next to a sharp handling Caddy is on the same lot. Trickier still is the base Cadillac CTS which is slightly cheaper than a loaded GS, and, you guessed it: is often parked right next to the Buick.  Buick seems to have finally gotten the hang of being the middle child and in the process they have given not only Chevy owners but Volkswagen owners something to aspire to. That said, I’d be hard pressed to choose the Regal over an ATS 2.0T.

 

GM provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.67 Seconds

0-60: 6.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile:15.2 Seconds @ 93 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 22.1 MPG over 611 miles

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 68.5 dB @ 50 MPH

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-002 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-003 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-004 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-005 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-006 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-008 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-009 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-011 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-012 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-013 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-002 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-004 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-005 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Trunk 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Trunk-001

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Review: 2014 Dodge Durango Limited V8 (with Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-dodge-durango-limited-v8-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-dodge-durango-limited-v8-with-video/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 15:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=695921 Car shopping used to be so simple: you could buy a truck or a car. Then came the wagon, minivan, sport utility and the latest craze: the crossover. There’s just one problem with the crossover for me however: it’s not a crossover. With a name like that you’d assume that a modern crossover blended the […]

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2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-002

Car shopping used to be so simple: you could buy a truck or a car. Then came the wagon, minivan, sport utility and the latest craze: the crossover. There’s just one problem with the crossover for me however: it’s not a crossover. With a name like that you’d assume that a modern crossover blended the lines between a truck/SUV with a car/minivan. The reality of course is that the modern three-row crossover is just a front-driving minivan that doesn’t handle as well or haul as much stuff. In this sea of transverse minivans in SUV clothing lies just one mass-market vehicle that I can honestly call a three-row crossover: the Dodge Durango. Instead of a car that’s been turned into an AWD minivan with a longer hood, the Dodge uses drivetrains out of the RAM 1500 combined with a car-like unibody. While rumors swirled that the Durango would be canceled in favor of a 7-seat Jeep, Dodge was working a substantial makeover for 2014.

Click here to view the embedded video.

So what is the Durango? Is it an SUV? Is it a crossover? In my mind, both. If a Grand Cherokee can be a unibody SUV and not a crossover, the Durango must be an SUV. But if a crossover is a hybrid between a car and a truck, then the Durango is one as well. While the first and second generation Durangos were body-on-frame SUVs based on the Dakota pickup, this Durango is a three-row Grand Cherokee, which is a two-row Jeep version of the three-row Mercedes ML which is quasi related to the Mercedes E-Class, which is quasi related to the Chrysler 300. Lost yet?

Exterior

2014 brings few changes to the outside of the Durango. The design first released in 2011 still looks fresh to my eye but that could be because I don’t see many on the road. Up front we get a tweaked corporate grille and new lamps while out back we get “race track” inspired light pipes circling the rump. Aside from a lowered right height on certain models and new wheels, little has changed for the Durango’s slab-sided profile, which I think is one of the Dodge’s best features. No, I’m not talking about the plain-Jane acres of sheet metal, I’m talking about RWD proportions. Bucking the trend, this three-row sports a long (and tall) hood, blunt nose, short front overhang and high belt-line.

To create the Durango from the Grand Cherokee, Chrysler stretched the Jeep’s wheelbase by 5-inches to 119.8 inches and added three inches to the body. The result is four-inches longer than an Explorer but two inches shorter than the Traverse, Acadia and Enclave triplets. Thanks to the Durango’s short front overhand, the Dodge has the longest wheelbase by a long way, beating even the full-size Chevy Tahoe. Speaking of the body-on-frame competition, the Durango may have been a size too small in the past, but this generation is just 8/10ths of an inch shorter than that Tahoe.

DG014_043DU

Interior

Body-on-frame SUVs have a practicality problem when it comes to space efficiency. Because the frame sits between the body and the road, they tend to be taller than unibody crossovers despite having less interior volume. Like the rest of the crossover crowd, this allows the Durango to have a spacious interior with a comparatively low entry height. 2014 brings a raft of much-needed interior updates to the cabin including a new soft touch dashboard, Chrysler’s latest corporate steering wheel with shift paddles, revised climate controls, Chrysler’s latest uConnect 2 infotainment system and a standard 7-inch LCD instrument cluster. Like the other Chrysler products with this LCD, the screen is flanked by a traditional tachometer, fuel and temperature gauge. Oddly enough, the standard infotainment screen is a smallish (in comparison) 5-inches.

Front seat comfort proves excellent in the Durango which was something of a relief, as the last few Chrysler products I have driven had form and oddly shaped seat bottom cushions that make me feel as if I was “sitting on and not in the seat.” As with all three-row vehicles, the accommodations get less comfortable as you move toward the back. By default all Durango trims are 7-passenger vehicles with a three-across second row. For $895 Dodge will delete the middle seat and insert a pair of more comfortable captain’s chairs and a center console with cup holders and a storage compartment. The third row is a strictly two-person affair and, like most crossovers, is best left to children and your mother in law. Those who do find themselves in “the way back” will be comforted by above average headroom and soft touch plastic arm rests. With large exterior proportions you’d expect a big cargo hold like in the cavernous Traverse, alas the RWD layout that makes the Durango so unique renders the interior less practical. With more of the body used up for “hood,” we get just 17 cubes of space behind the third row. That’s three less than an Explorer, seven less than GM’s Lambda triplets and about the same as a Honda Pilot. On the bright side this is more than you will find in a Highlander or Sorento and shockingly enough, more than in the Tahoe as well.

DG014_030DU

Infotainment

uConnect 2 is the first major update to Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen system that launched in 2011 and the first version of this system the Durango has ever had. Based on a QNX UNIX operating system, the system features well polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. For the second edition of uConnect, Chrysler smoothed out the few rough edges in the first generation of this system and added a boat-load of trendy tech features you may or may not care about. In addition to improved voice commands for USB/iDevice control, uConnect 2 offers smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart Radio or Slacker Radio. You can have text messages read to you and dictate replies (if your phone supports it) and search for restaurants and businesses via Yelp. In addition to all the smartphone-tied features, uConnect 2 integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network into the unit for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store” where you will be able to buy apps for your car. Since there’s a cell modem onboard, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices as well. Keep in mind speeds are 3G, not Sprint’s WiMAX or LTE network.

Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services which include traffic, movie times, sports scores, fuel prices and weather reports. As with uConnect data services, there’s a fee associated after the first few months so keep that in mind. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports. Garmin’s navigation software is still available as a $500 add-on (standard on Summit) and it still looks like someone cut a hole in the screen and stuck a hand-held Garmin unit in the dash. The interface is easy to use but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. If the bevy of USB ports has you confused, you can rock your Cat Stevens CD by paying $190 for a single-slot disc player jammed into the center armrest.

2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine-001Drivetrain

Dodge shoppers will find two of the Grand Cherokee’s four engines under the hood. First up we have a 290HP/260lb-ft 3.6L V6 (295HP in certain trims) standard in all trims except the R/T. R/T models get a standard 360HP/390lb-ft 5.7L HEMI V8 which can be added to the other trims for $2,795. 2014 brings a beefed up cooling system and a number of minor tweaks in the name of fuel economy. Sadly Chrysler has decided to keep the V6 EcoDiesel engine and 6.4L SRT V8 Grand Cherokee only options, so if you hoped to sip diesel or burn rubber in your three row crossover, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Both engines are mated to a ZF-designed 8-speed automatic. V6 models use the low torque variety made by Chrysler while V8 models use a heavy-duty 8HP70 made in a ZF factory. If you’re up to date on Euro inbreeding, you know this is the same transmission used by BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover and Rolls Royce. To say this is a step up from the vilified Mercedes 5-speed or the Chrysler 6 speed (the 65RFE featured some of the strangest ratio spacing ever) is putting it mildly. Fuel economy jumps 9% in the V6, 10% in the V8. No small feat in a 4,835lb SUV (as tested). All Durangos start out as rear wheel drive vehicles but you can add a two-speed four-wheel-drive system for $2,400. Although Dodge bills this as AWD, it is the same transfer case that Jeep calls 4×4 in Selec-Trac II equipped Grand Cherokees. Thanks to the heavy-duty drivetrain towing rings in at 6,200lbs for the V6 and 7,400lbs for the V8. Like the Jeeps the Durango has moved to more car-like 5-lug wheels which should widen after-market selection.

2014 Dodge Durango Exterior

Drive

The engineers took the refresh opportunity to tweak the Durango toward the sportier side of the segment with stiffer springs and beefier sway bars. While far from a night-and-day transformation, the difference is noticeable and appreciated out on the roads. While never harsh, it is obvious the Durango is tuned towards the firm side of this segment. Thanks to the long wheelbase the Durango feels well composed on the highway or on broken pavement.

With a nearly 50/50 weight balance, wide 265-width tires, and a lower center of gravity than a “traditional SUV”, the Durango is easily the handling and road feeling champion. That’s not to say the Durango is some sort of sports car in disguise, but when you compare a well balanced 360 horsepower rear wheel drive elephant to a slightly lighter but much less balanced front driving elephant on skinny rubber, it’s easy to see which is more exciting. Thanks to the Mercedes roots there’s even a whiff of feedback in the steering, more than you can say for the average crossover. Despite the long wheelbase and wide tires, the Durango still cuts a fairly respectable 37-foot turning circle.

Those statement may have you scratching your head if you recall what I said about Jeep on which the Durango is based, I must admit I scratched my head as well. Although the Dodge and the Jeep share suspension design elements and a limited number of components, the tuning is quite different. The Grand Cherokee Summit rides 3.1-inchs higher and was equipped with the off-road oriented air suspension.

2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-005

When it comes to performance, the new 8-speed automatic makes a night and day difference shaving a whopping 1.4 seconds off the 0-60 time versus the last V8 Durango we tested. The reason is all in the gear ratios. While the 545RFE and 65RFE transmissions suffered from some truly odd ratios, the ZF unit’s ratios are more evenly spread and dig deeper in the low gears. The result is a 6.0 second sprint to highway speeds which finally nips on the tails of the Explorer Sport which we’re told will do the same in 5.9-6.0 (TTAC hasn’t tested one yet). This proves what extra gears can do for you because the Explorer is 200lbs lighter and has a far more advantageous torque curve thanks to the twin turbos.

You can also thank the ZF transmission for the Durango’s robust towing numbers. V6 models are now rated for 6,200lbs while the V8 can haul up to 7,400lbs when properly equipped. That’s nearly 50% more than you can tow in any of the crossover competition and just 1,000 lbs shy of the average full-size body-on-frame hauler.

The transmission is also responsible for a whopping 20% increase in fuel economy. The last V8 Durango I tested eked out a combined 14.8 MPG over a week while the 2014 managed 18.0 MPG. While 18 MPG isn’t impressive in wider terms, it is 1/2 an MPG better than GM’s Lambda crossovers or the Ford Explorer on my commute cycle. The V6 yields improved fuel economy at the expense of thrust, but you should know that although the acceleration provided by the V6 is competitive with the V6 three-row competition, the 20 MPG average falls short of the new Highlander, Pathfinder and the rest of the FWD eco-minded competition.

After a week with the Durango I was no closer to answering the biggest question car buffs have: is this Dodge a crossover or an SUV? One thing is sure however, the Durango is likely the most fun you can have with 6 of your friends for under $50,000.

 

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.4

0-60: 6.0

1/4 Mile: 14.6 Seconds @ 96 MPH

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69dB @ 50 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 18 MPG over 811 miles

 

2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-014 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-013 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-009 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-004 2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine-002 2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine-001 2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-003 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-002 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-001 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-005 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-006 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-007 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-008 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-012 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-011 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-010 DG014_058DU DG014_057DU DG014_051DU DG014_043DU DG014_030DU

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Review: 2014 Ford Focus ST (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-focus-st-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-focus-st-with-video/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 14:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=691530 Hot hatches are all the rage in Europe but represent a fairly small segment of American consumption. The formula is fairly simple, you take a compact hatchback, insert a turbocharged engine, stiffen the springs and add an anti-roll bar that can lift the inner rear wheel in corners if you really push it. The result […]

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2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior

Hot hatches are all the rage in Europe but represent a fairly small segment of American consumption. The formula is fairly simple, you take a compact hatchback, insert a turbocharged engine, stiffen the springs and add an anti-roll bar that can lift the inner rear wheel in corners if you really push it. The result is the polar opposite of a pony car.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

For 2014, the American hot hatch shopper is spoiled for choice. There are a whopping two options: the 2014 Ford Focus ST and the 2014 Volkswagen GTI. If you’re patient enough, VW plans on releasing a new GTI for the 2015 model year and the Mazda rumor mill is rife with 2015 Mazdaspeed3 assumptions. I must therefore rule the Focus ST the most attractive hot hatch in America and put the comparatively boring GTI in last place, or second. However you want to look at it. For performance duty Ford takes the already handsome Focus, lowers it by nearly half an inch and swaps in some new wheels, a front bumper, tweaked spoiler, rear valance and exhaust tips. If you haven’t noticed by now, there is no sedan variant of the Focus ST. Sorry America.

Although the parts list is short, I found the transformation impressive. I haven’t warmed to the Euro nose that the current generation Focus wears while the ST’s more conventional single grille look manages to be both more grown up and more aggressive when compared to the donor car. (Don’t worry, you can get your Focus in colors other than “Tangerine Scream”.) The ST shares hoods with the lesser Focuses (Foci?) there is an oddly large gap between the hood and front bumper that is so uniform (and is on every ST model I have seen) that it must be intentional, however distracting. The reason is that the regular model’s hood doesn’t mate directly with anything as it is styled to be the upper part of the front grille. I have a feeling that if and when the Mazdaspeed3 lands, it will take the crown as I find the Mazda3 the most attractive entry in the compact hatchback segment.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-005

Interior

Like the Volkswagen GTI, the first thing you will notice about the Focus when you hop inside will be the very European color palate. In other words, black. The soft injection moulded dashboard combines with the black headliner, black carpets and predominantly black upholstery to create a very Germanic interior. All Focus models sport a double-bump style dashboard with the infotainment positioned in a prominent position and the ST trim tops off the binnacle with standard gauges for oil temperature, oil pressure and turbo boost.  This is the same cabin that European shoppers get with one exception: the Recaro seats aren’t standard on our side of the pond. Neither is that 8-inch touchscreen.

Although the ST starts at $23,625 my realistic base price jumps to $25,845 by adding the “ST2″ package which I consider essential. This package adds the 8-inch screen, automatic climate control and the Recaro seats that you see in all the photos and reviews of the Focus ST. The base seats lack the aggressive bolstering or the exceptional comfort of the half-leather Recaro thrones. ST2 shoppers can opt for two-tone seats (as seen in our tester) in blue, yellow or black-on-black. Checking the ST3 box brings the ST up to $28,000 and adds completely leather faced seats (black only), seat heaters, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps and standard navigation software.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-004

During my week with the ST I put over 1,100 miles on the Tangerine Scream including a 650 mile road trip. The Recaro thrones proved to be supportive, comfortable and superior to the GTI’s seats for long road trips. Unfortunately the rear passengers weren’t as happy since the Focus has a fairly cramped rear seat. Adding the Recaro seats to the Focus seems to drop the rear seat room by a hair as well making the Focus a great deal tighter than the GTI despite the Focus being the longer car by six inches. Where do those inches go? Some of them are consumed by the Ford’s longer nose, but plenty can be found in the ST’s 50% larger cargo hold.

Since I mentioned the Mustang earlier, that tight rear seat is one of the main reasons you’d select a Focus ST over a V6 ‘Stang. Despite being smaller than a GTI, the ST offers two extra doors, three more inches of leg room and a 5th seat belt. In addition to the added passenger room the Focus also boasts 10 more cubic feet of widget storage in the back.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-002

Infotainment

Base ST shoppers get basic entertainment to go with their basic seating. All STs come standard with a 6-speaker audio system sporting a 4.2-inch color LCD, SYNC voice commands and a sea of buttons. The unit is housed in the same binnacle as the 8-inch system so there’s plenty of blank space to remind you that you didn’t pony up for the MyFord Touch system. The ST3 package that is my realistic base for the ST solves this by removing the button bank and inserting the screen you see above. Bundled with the resistive touchscreen is an upgraded 10-speaker Sony speaker system with a subwoofer and a center channel. Sound quality in the 6-speaker system was disappointing while the Sony system impressed. One thing to know if that the Sony system tends to have exaggerated treble and bass tuning by default but it is adjustable.

This is about the time when I usually comment on MyFord Touch being somewhat sluggish and suggest that the competition has an acceptable alternative. The alternative however is Volkswagen’s ancient infotainment lineup. All GTIs share the same 8-speaker sound system that slots between Ford’s base and up-level system in both speaker count and sound quality but everything else pales in comparison. The GTI has no SYNC-like voice command system in any model and the base GTI doesn’t even get a color LCD in the cabin. The Driver’s Edition GTI gets VW’s low-cost navigation unit which, when compared to MyFord Touch, is like taking a Palm Pilot to an iPad fight. Hopefully VW will up their game for 2015, but more than likely Ford’s only real infotainment competition will come from Mazda’s slick MazdaConnect system.

2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-002

Drivetrain

The last Focus ST was powered by Volvo, a logical choice since Volvo’s S40 and Ford’s Focus were cousins to begin with. This generation Focus is 100% Ford. Instead of the oddly-alluring 2.5L five-cylinder, we get a 252 horsepower tune of Ford’s 2.0L EcoBoost engine cranking out 270 lb-ft of torque. (There is a bit of confusion on the HP numbers, in the video I mention Ford’s initial numbers of 247 HP and 266 lb-ft which was later updated to 252/270. Apparently running 87 octane gasoline in your ST will yield 247 while 93 will get you 252.) This is the same four-cylinder turbo used in the Ford Edge and Taurus except that the boost has been cranked up and it is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. (As far as we can tell this is no longer the Volvo M66 transmission manufactured by Getrag.)

Drive

Compared to the VW, the Focus is 52 ponies more powerful and serves up 63 more lb-ft while the Mustang V6 beats the Focus by 48 horsepower and 10 lb-ft. As you would assume with numbers like that, the Mustang is faster t0 60, but thanks to the turbocharger on the Focus the difference in our testing was just 1/10th of a second and is more down to driver skill and traction than vehicle output. The VW on the other hand can’t makeup for the power deficit by being 100lbs lighter and was 3/10ths slower.

2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-006

The big difference between a Mustang and a hot hatch is of course which wheels are getting the power. Because the ST funnels all its power through the front wheels, torque steer is a genuine concern. Rather than limit engine power in 1st and 2nd like Mazda did with the old Mazdaspeed3, or use a limited slip differential like Honda uses on occasion, Ford decided to program the electric power steering to compensate. Coupled with the EPAS system is a stability control system programmed to torque vector power across the front using the car’s large front brakes. The system works passably well but not as well as the Ford’s “Revo Kunckle” which they use on their larger cars. Due mostly to the greater output, torque steer in the ST is more pronounced than in the GTI, but much less noticeable than in the old Mazda. I’ve always found mild torque steer in a fast front-driver an entertaining phenomenon so it never bothered me.

Helping the steering tendencies is a variable ratio steering rack that uses a quick 1.8 turns lock to lock vs 2.1 in the GTI, 2.8 in the standard Focus and 3.1 in the V6 ‘Stang. Thanks to the ratio the ST feels very nimble and eager to change direction. Unless you need to U-turn of course which is when you will discover that this tiny hatch has a nearly 40-foot turning radius.

2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-009

Thanks to a light 3,200 pound curb weight (100lbs heavier than the VW but 300lbs lighter than a V6 Mustang), 235-width Eagle F1 Asymmetric tires and a well tuned suspension, the Focus ST sticks to the road like glue. TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad to confirm or deny the Mustang trouncing Gs the plucky hatch can pull, but after a week making passengers sick on winging mountain roads I’m a believer. What makes the Focus more impressive is how neutral the car feels despite being a front-heavy front-driver. It’s more lively, less civilized but more rewarding to drive than the GTI. The V6 ‘Stang does give you rear-wheel- drive dynamics and more shove in a straight line, but I’d be willing to bet I’d be faster around a track in the Focus ST.

What surprised me about the Focus the most however was how livable it is. The suspension is firm but never harsh and my spine didn’t revolt on a 5 hour drive to Los Angeles. Cabin noise was high at 76 dB but that’s not far from the last Golf I measured and average for the economy car segment. Thanks to an active noise generator that opens a valve to pipe sound into the cabin from when at full throttle, normal driving happens without the incessant droning of a Fiat Abarth. While the Tangerine Scream paint job and yellow trimmed seats scream “boy racer”, the truth is the Focus is quite the grown up. With a starting price some $1,300 less than a GTI the Focus delivers a solid value proposition. Fully loaded the difference narrows to less than a grand in cash but more than $3,000 when you factor in the Ford’s greater feature content. While I’m sure that 2015 will bring a VW GTI with more refinement and an improved interior, VW has confirmed the ST will still be the horsepower champion and likely the value leader as well. Compared to that RWD Ford on the lot, the pony car is less expensive but less practical as well. For the cost difference between the Mustang and the ST, you could buy all manner of performance mods for your pony to compete with the ST, but I have a feeling I’d still buy the Focus. For 2014 Ford’s hot hatch is without a doubt the hottest hatch on sale in America, but with Volkswagen planning on sending their 290HP Golf R to the USA and Ford’s own high-power Focus RS rumored, things are just starting to warm up.

Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3

0-60: 5.95

1/4 Mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 98.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 25.7 MPG over 1210 Miles

Sound Level at 50 MPH: 76.4 dB

 

2014 Ford Focus ST Engine 2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-003 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-004 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-005 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-006 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-007 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-008 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-009 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-010 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-003 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-004 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-005 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-006 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-007 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-008

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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-fiesta-hatchback-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-fiesta-hatchback-with-video/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 14:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=683986 For many Americans, the words “Ford Fiesta” dredges up memories of a claustrophobic rattle-trap competing with “Geo Metro” for the title of Worst American Small Car. Personally, the only time I ever wanted a fiesta was during a drunken weekend in Cabo, and it had more to do with tequila than cars. But that was […]

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2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior

For many Americans, the words “Ford Fiesta” dredges up memories of a claustrophobic rattle-trap competing with “Geo Metro” for the title of Worst American Small Car. Personally, the only time I ever wanted a fiesta was during a drunken weekend in Cabo, and it had more to do with tequila than cars. But that was four years ago and 214,000 Fiestas ago. Since then the Fiesta has proved that an American car company is capable of creating a desirable compact car. Is the party over, or is the car’s first refresh a sign that the party has just begun? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

After being on the market for just four years I hadn’t expected much for 2014 which makes me all the more impressed with the Fiesta’s transformation. Ford’s new “Astonesque” grille which debuted on the new Fusion turned the plain-Jane family hauler into one of the sexiest cars Ford has ever made, and Ford indicated the look was going to trickle down the lineup. I was worried. You see, when a new nose is penned for a new cars, and the existing line-up is modified to accept the new schnozz, you end up with something like the questionable looking Lexus GX 460. Fear not , Ford didn’t just paint on a their trapezoidal grille, they poked and prodded the hood and lamps as well until things looked right, and right they do. The launch photos looked impressive but the final product was even better in person.

It’s hard to avoid Aston Martin Cygnet references so I’ll just say it now: add some hood louvres and a leather dash and Ford’s compact would be more Aston than the iQ based Cygnet. Paired with the new nose, is a tweaked rear end featuring new tail lamps. The only downside in my mind is that the minor nip/tuck to the rear fails to bring the Fiesta’s rump up to the same level as the front. Park the Fiesta nose first in your driveway, and nobody will notice. But back it in, and passers-by are likely to be impressed. As before there is a considerable difference in dimensions between the sedan and the hatchback with the sedan being a whopping 13-inches longer. Thanks to that length, the sedan looks less like a caricature than it would otherwise.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-006

Interior

Four years ago I praised the Fiesta’s interior as class leading in terms of materials choices and fit/finish. That largely remains true despite the Fiesta undercutting the Kia Rio in price. That’s not to say the Fiesta is a revolution, but compared to the hard plastics in the competition, the Fiesta looks and feels more premium. The injection molded dashboard, refreshed steering wheel and seats would not be out of place in the slightly larger compact car category. I found our tester’s black-on-black interior somewhat cold while the lighter interiors available on my local Ford lot were warmer, more attractive and showed off the optional ambient lighting better. (The upper half of dashboard is black on all models.) Helping the Fiesta’s new “premium compact” theme is ability to add real leather seats as opposed to the “leatherette” you find in all but the Kia Rio. Dominating the dashboard in our tester was Ford’s downsized MyFord Touch infotainment system, lower trim levels get a revised SYNC display nestled in a similar binnacle. As you’d expect with any car starting at $14,100, base “S” trim cars suffer severe de-contenting with manual windows, no dome lights, no ambient lighting, only one 12V outlet and no cruise control. This is an important distinction as the majority of the competition feel like upper trim levels are base models with do-dads added.

The front seats don’t offer much thigh or back support unless you opt for the sporty Fiesta ST with its Recaro thrones. Even the Titanium model lacks the range of motion, or support, you’ll find in most mid-sized sedans and power seats are not an option at any price. Even so, the Fiesta’s seats are among the more comfortable in the class. Finding an ideal driving position is easy thanks to a tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Rear seat passengers encounter the same firm padding in the sedan or hatchback, and essentially the same amount of headroom with the sedan form factor taking only a 1/10th of an inch toll and ranking near top of the class. Sadly however, the Euro origins are clear when it comes to rear legroom. The Fiesta trails here, and not by a small amount. The Sonic and Rio offer three 3-inches more while the Versa Note is a whopping 7.1-inches more spacious. Likewise, cargo hauling ability of 12.8 cubes in the sedan and 15.4 in the hatchback are on the smaller end of the spectrum.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-004

Infotainment

My major gripe about the 2011 Fiesta was a lack of infotainment love. The SYNC-only 2011-2013 models used a small red display in the center of the dashboard while Kia and Nissan were offering touchscreen navigation units. To address, Ford shrunk their 8-inch MyFord Touch system down to 6.5 inches and dropped the system in a new binnacle on the dash for SE and Titanium Fiestas. Because Ford reduced the system’s dimensions, not the resolution, the system’s graphics have a crisper and high-quality look to them when compared to the 8-inch system in the Focus. There are a few ergonomic downsides however. The screen’s high position on the dash means it’s quite far from the driver requiring a decent reach for most functions and it makes the screen look smaller than it actually is. Also, because the “buttons” have shrunk, it’s easier to stab the wrong one. Thankfully most system operations can be controlled via voice commands negating the need to touch the screen for the most part. Ford’s latest software update (3.6.2 in August 2013) seems to have finally fixed the crashing and random re-boots that plagued earlier versions of the software.

Some buyers won’t care about the 6.5-inch woes as the snazzy system is standard on the Titanium, a $995 option on the SE and not available on the base model. Those shoppers will be happy to know that the Fiesta delivers one of the better audio system values. S and SE models come with six standard speakers, two more than you usually find in a stripper sub-compact, while Titanium models swap in an 8-speaker Sony branded audio system. The base speaker package is notably more crisp and accurate than the four-speaker fare in the competition while the Sony audio system sounded almost too bright at times. Both the S and SE models share the same AM/FM/CD/USB/iDevice head unit with SYNC voice commands and smartphone streaming integration.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-002

Drivetrain

The big news under the hood for 2014 is the arrival of a 3-cylinder turbo option. Sadly one was not available for testing, so keep your eyes peeled for that review later in 2014. All trims get a standard 1.6L four-cylinder engine producing the same 120 HP and 112 lb-ft as last year, meaning that three-banger is optional, yes optional, for 2014. Aside from the novelty of paying $995 to have one cylinder removed, the 1.0L Ecoboost engine promises 32 MPG in the city, 45 on the highway and 37 combined which is a 7 MPG bump on the highway and 5 in the combined cycle. If the fuel economy wasn’t enough to pique your interest, the 1.0L engine cranks out 123 HP and 125 lb-ft across a flat torque curve, with a 15 second overboost good for 145 lb-ft. Ford mates the boosted engine exclusively to a 5-speed manual while the 1.6 can be mated to an optional 6-speed dual-clutch box.

Ford’s 6-speed PowerShift gearbox has received plenty of criticism from owners and Consumer Report. After talking with a number of Fiesta owners I have come to the conclusion the problem is mainly a lack of understanding. You see, PowerShift is Ford-speak for DSG. While Volkswagen’s robotic dual-clutch manual is smoother under certain circumstances (thanks to their use of wet clutches) VW seems to do a better job marketing and explaining their fuel-sipping tranny. Inside the Fiesta’s gearbox lies essentially two robotically shifted manual transmissions, one handling the even gears and the other taking the odd ones. The lack of a torque converter increases efficiency, and the twin-clutch system allows shifts to happen faster than in an automatic. By their very nature, dual-clutch transmissions feel more like a hybrid between a manual and an automatic. When you start from a stop, you can feel the clutch slip and engage. If you’re on a hill, the car will roll backwards when the hill-hold system times out. Occasionally you can hear a bit more gear noise and shifting noise than in a traditional slushbox and reverse has that distinctive sound. Because the Ford system uses dry clutches, starts are more pronounced than in VW’s DSG units with wet clutches (not all DSGs are wet clutch anymore).  2014 brings a major software update that noticeably improves shift quality but there is still a difference in feel. My opinion is: I’ll take PowerShift over a standard automatic any day as I prefer fuel economy and rapid shifts to “smoothness.” What say you?

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-002

Drive

Little was done to the Euro suspension for American duty, making the Fiesta the firmest ride in the segment, tying with the Mazda 2. The Honda Fit is a close second, but the Japanese compact is starting to show its age, feeling less refined and composed over rough pavement. The Versa Note feels composed but delivers more body roll, while the Rio’s suspension feels softer than I prefer while at the same time transmitting more road imperfections to the driver’s spine. Regardless of trim, the Fiesta handles incredibly well. This is due as much to the suspension as the light curb weight. Ranging from 2537lbs to 2628lbs, the Fiesta is a featherweight in America and it shows when you toss the Ford into corners, being far more willing to change direction than a Focus.

When it comes to straight line performance, the 6-speed PowerShift scooted our tester to 60 MPH in 9.08 seconds, a full second faster than the last manual-equipped Fiesta hatchback we tested. The reason for the variation is down to the gear ratios in the 5-speed manual. Ford combined low first and second gears with a tall fifth gear (taller than the Euro Fiesta) for better hill starts and improved EPA numbers but the decisions take a toll on performance and driveability. By dropping first and second, the delta between second and third grows to an odd gap that hampers acceleration after 50 MPH while the tall top gear means frequent downshifts on moderate inclines. Although I normally prefer a manual to any automatic, the Fiesta is one of my exceptions. The PowerShift box seemed to always have the right gear for the situation and made hill climbing a much less frustrating experience.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-008

The Fiesta has always been small, but the Fiestas and Festivas of my youth were mainly known for being cheap. The new Fiesta however is all about value. Ford’s new pricing strategy is a mix of an aggressive $14,100 starting price for the sedan, a $500 premium for the hatchback and an options list that pushes most Fiestas on the lot to between $17,000 and $18,000. Fully loaded, (excluding the ST) the most expensive Fiesta you can get is $21,705. My realistic starting point for the Fiesta is the SE at $15,580 which includes all the essentials the S lacks.

When you compare that to the competition, the Fiesta starts only $110 more than a Versa Note and at the top end is just $855 more than a Rio. Nissan’s Note stacks up best at the bottom of the food chain, delivering more room, better fuel economy and a similar level of equipment for less. Putting things nicely, the Mazda 2 is outclassed by the Fiesta in every way at every level, while the Kia matches the Ford closely in terms of price for content. Although the Rio is the more spacious alternative and it offers a more powerful engine and 6-speed manual, the Fiesta is more attractive and more fun to drive. Chevy’s Sonic suffers from a bargain basement interior and a price tag that doesn’t offer much of a discount vs the Ford, even when you take into account some of the features Chevy offers that aren’t available on the Fiesta.

What the Fiesta does best of all however is wear that $21,705 price tag. No matter how you slice it, the Rio, Sonic and Fit feel like an economy car at the top end of their price range. The Fiesta Titanium however feels like a decent deal for the cash. Those shopping lower in the food chain benefit from a cabin that feels like a cheap version of a more expensive cabin, unlike the Versa Note SL which feels like an expensive version of a cheap car. Plenty of you will baulk at a Fiesta that lists over 21-grand when a base Fusion is just 2000 bucks more, but those looking for mid-size sedan comforts and luxuries in a compact carrying case will do well to drive a Fiesta.

 

Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.4 Seconds

0-60:9.08 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.9 Seconds @ 81.6 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPG over 561 Miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 72.5 db

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-003 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-004 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-005 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-006 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-007 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-008 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-009 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-010 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-003 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-004 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-005 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-006 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-007 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-008 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-009 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-010 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-011 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-012 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-013

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Review: 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-cadillac-cts-2-0t-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-cadillac-cts-2-0t-with-video/#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 14:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=686066 It’s been decades since Cadillac produced the “Cadillac” of anything. However, when car buffs dismiss the only American luxury brand left, they fail to see Cadillac’s march forward. 2002 brought the first RWD Cadillac since the Fleetwoood. A year later the XLR roadster hit, followed in 2004 by Cadillac’s first 5-Series fighter, the STS. Not […]

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2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-001

It’s been decades since Cadillac produced the “Cadillac” of anything. However, when car buffs dismiss the only American luxury brand left, they fail to see Cadillac’s march forward. 2002 brought the first RWD Cadillac since the Fleetwoood. A year later the XLR roadster hit, followed in 2004 by Cadillac’s first 5-Series fighter, the STS. Not everything was rosy. The original CTS drove like a BMW but lacked charm and luxury fittings. The XLR was based on a Corvette, which made for excellent road manners, but the Northstar engine didn’t have the oomph. The STS sounded like a good idea, but the half-step CTS wasn’t much smaller and ultimately shoppers weren’t interested in a bargain option. That brings us to the new ATS and CTS. Ditching the “more car for less money” mantra, the ATS has been created to fight the C/3/IS leaving the CTS free to battle the E/5/GS head-on. Can Caddy’s sensible new strategy deliver the one-two punch fans have hoped for? I snagged a CTS 2.0T for a week to find out.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

I found the outgoing CTS a little discordant, but 2014 brings an elegant more aggressive refresh. GM’s Art and Science theme has matured from “cubism gone wrong” to shapes that flow and jibe with a larger grille and softer creases. The 5-Series continues to go for elegant and restrained, I find the XF and A6′s design a mixture of plain-Jane and snazzy headlamps while the Infiniti Q5o and Lexus GS are going for flowing elegance.

The demur side profile continues with a simple character line to draw your eye from front to rear. One thing you’ll notice during that eye-movement is the distinct RWD proportions that separate the CTS, E, 5, GS, XF and Q50 from the long-nosed Audi A6 and near-luxury FWD options. Out back the CTS’ rump is a bit less exciting but employs all the latest luxury cues from hidden exhaust tops to light piped tail lamps. I was hoping Caddy’s fins would be further resurrected,  but the “proto fins” on the XTS are absent. Pity. Obvious from every angle is an attention to build quality absent from earlier generations with perfect panel gaps and seams.

Structurally, the CTS has jumped ship to a stretched version of the Alpha platform the smaller ATS rides on. Thanks to the automotive taffy-pull, the CTS is now 2.3 inches longer than a BMW 5-series. However, because of the Alpha roots, the CTS has actually shrunk for 2014 by 3 inches in length while getting 2 inches wider and a 2 inch roof height reduction.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-006

Interior

GM has proven they are able to create a car that drives competitively and looks sexy on the outside, but interiors have always been a mixed bag. The last gen CTS felt as if it was built with a mixture of custom parts and Chevy hand-me downs. No more. Like the ATS, the Caddy shares little with the rest of GM’s mass market-rabble. It is hard to find fault in the CTS’s dashboard’s combination of injection molded soft touch plastics, leather, faux suede, real wood, carbon fiber and contrasting stitching. Cadillac continues their dedication to shiny touch buttons on the dash and no luxury sedan would be complete without a little gimmicky drama. The CTS’s motorized cupholder lid ties with the XF’s automated air vents for the feature most clearly designed to brag about. I’m not sure how long that little motor will crank away, but it can’t be any less reliable than Jaguar’s theatrical air vents.

Because of the way Cadillac chose to stretch the CTS’ donor platform, cargo and interior space aren’t the primary beneficiaries. This means that rear legroom actually shrinks for 2014 to the smallest entry in this segment by a hair. Trunk volume also drops from a competitive 13.6 cubes to 10.5 which is a 20% reduction compared to the Lexus and BMW and 30% smaller than the Mercedes. The CTS makes up for some of this with comfortable thrones all the way around and when equipped with the optional 20-way front seats the CTS ranks #2 in the segment just behind BMW’s optional 24-way sport seats in comfort. Taller drivers and passengers beware, dropping the CTS’ roof height made the profile sexier but cuts headroom to the lowest in the segment.

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

There is one glaring flaw. The decidedly dowdy base instrument cluster is shared with the ATS (pictured above) and the XTS. Our Facebook followers were so put-off by Caddy’s base dials, the fervor spawned a Vellum Venom Vignette. While the ATS is saddled with the four-dial layout, the CTS and XTS have a savior: the most attractive LCD disco dash available. (My tester was so equipped.) Perhaps it is this dichotomy that is so vexing about the base CTS models. If you don’t fork over enough cash, you’ll constantly be reminded that you couldn’t afford the Cadillac of displays.

The 12.3-inch cluster offers the driver more customization than you fill find in any other full-LCD cluster. Unlike the Jaguar and Land Rover screens that simply replicate analogue gauges, you can select from several different views depending on whether you feel like analogue dials or digital information and the amount of information overload you prefer. (Check out the gallery.) My preferred layout contained a high res navigation map, digital speedo, fuel status, range to empty, average fuel economy, audio system information with album art and track information and the speed-limit on the road I was traveling on.

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-001

Infotainment

I have been critical of Cadillac’s CUE system but 2014 brings some important software fixes resolving the random system crashes and demon possessed touch controls I experienced in the ATS and XTS. After driving the CTS for 852 miles, the CUE system proved rock solid in terms of reliability. Unfortunately, little has been done to address the sluggish response to inputs, unintuitive menus and old-school nav graphics. Despite the still flaws, I have to stick by my words when MyFord Touch landed: I’d rather have slow infotainment than none at all. BMW’s iDrive still ranks 1st for me because the interface is intuitive, attractive, responsive and elegant. BMW continues to add new features to their system and, unlike other systems, the new features in general operate as smoothly as the rest of the iDrive interface. You may be surprised to know that CUE ranks second for me.

CUE’s graphics are more pleasing to my eye than MMI, COMAND, Sensus, MyLincon Touch, Enform or AcuraLink. COMAND’s software should have been sent out to pasture long ago. The graphics are ancient and trying to load any of the smartphone apps is an exercise in frustration. Instead of reinventing their software, Lexus reinvented the input method taking their system from most intuitive to least in a single move. Senus isn’t half bad but Volvo’s screens are small and the software lacks the smartphone integration found in the competition. MyLincoln Touch is well featured but lacks CUE’s more modern look and the glass touchscreen.

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-006

The scratch resistant glass touchscreen and proximity sensors used by Cadillac are part of what give the system a clean modern look. Most systems use resistive touchscreens which are pressure sensitive and require that the surface of the screen actually move to sense your touch. This means they need to be made of a ductile plastic which is several layers thick. The consumer comparison is to think of your iPhone or Android phone vs a color Palm Pilot from years past. Cadillac uses the screen to allow intuitive finger-sliding gestures and the proximity sensor to reduce visual clutter when your finger is away from the screen. Move you hand closet to the screen and the less critical interface buttons reappear.

Cadillac continues their relationship with Bose, giving the base model an 11-speaker sound system that brings everything but navigation to the party. Our model was equipped with the up-level 13-speaker Bose sound system, navigation software and the optional single-slot CD player hiding in the glove box. Compared with BMW’s premium audio offerings, the Bose systems sing slightly flatter and lack the volume capable in the German options. However compared to Lexus’ standard and optional systems the Cadillac holds its own.

Ecotec 2.0L I-4 VVT DI Turbo (LTG)

Drivetrain

Thanks to the new GM Alpha platform, all three engines sit behind the front axle which is ideal for weight balance. Base shoppers get the 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder worth 272 ponies and 295 lb-ft of torque, besting BMW’s 2.0L by 32 HP and 35 lb-ft. On “Luxury” trim and above you can opt for GM’s ubiquitous 3.6L V6 (321HP/275 lb-ft) for $2,700, but I’d probably stick to the 2.0L turbo if I were you. Aside from being lighter, the turbo delivers more torque at lower RPMs and has a more advantageous power delivery which make it a hair faster to 60.

Shoppers looking for more shove and willing to part with $59,995 can opt for a 420 horsepower twin-turbo V6 in the CTS V-Sport that cranks out 430 lb-ft. Despite sharing thee 3.6L displacement of the middle engine, GM tells us that only 10% of the engine components are shared. Sending power to the pavement in the 2.0T and 3.6 models is essentially the same GM 6-speed automatic transmission BMW used to use in certain models of the 3-series until recently. Optional in the 3.6L and standard on the twin-turbo V6 is an Aisin 8-speed automatic that is essentially shared with the Lexus LS.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-014

Drive

Unfortunately, the first thing you’ll notice out on the road is the coarse sound from under the hood. GM’s 2.0L engine is no less refined than BMW or Mercedes’ four-bangers, but the difference is you can hear the engine in the CTS. In fact, based on the overall quietness of the cabin (a competitive 67 dB at 50 MPH), I can only conclude that Cadillac designed the engine to be heard. I don’t mind hearing the 3.6L V6, but most luxury shoppers would prefer not to be reminded they chose the rational engine every time they get on the freeway. On the bright side, because GM does not offer start/stop tech, shoppers are spared the inelegant starts and stops that characterize 528i city driving.

While I’m picking nits, the 6-speed found in the 2.0T and most 3.6 models lacks the ratio spread and shift smoothness of the ZF 8-speed automatic found in most of the competition. While I prefer GMs 6-speed to the somewhat lazy 7-speed automatic in the Mercedes E-Class, the rumored 8-speed can’t come soon enough. The 8-speed used in the V-Sport (optional on the 3.6L) solves the ratio and marketing issue, but the Aisin unit feels just as up-shift happy and down-shift reluctant as it does in the Lexus LS 460. As a result when you use the shift paddles, your actions feel more like suggestions than commands.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-013

The reason I label those flaws as mere nits is because of how the CTS accomplishes every other task on the road. Acceleration to 60 happens a 4/10ths faster than an E350, a half-second faster than the 528i,  a full second faster than a GS350, and practically years ahead of the A6 2.0T. Part of this has to do with the engine’s superior torque curve and higher horsepower numbers, but plenty has to do with curb weight. At 3,616 lbs, the CTS 2.oT is 200lbs lighter than the BMW or Lexus, 400lbs lighter than an E350. The comparable Audi A6 would be the front-wheel-drive 2.0T model with the CVT at 3,726. If you think that’s an unfair comparison, the 2.0T with Quattro is 3,900lbs and does little to correct the A6′s front-heavy weight balance.

As a result of the CTS’s near perfect 50.3/49.7 % weight balance and the light curb weight, the CTS feels more agile and responsive on winding mountain roads, especially when you compare it to the V6 competitors. The steering is as numb as anything on the market thanks to electric power steering, but you can get faint whiffs of feedback now and then and the steering weight is moderate rather than strangely firm in the 528i. Admittedly we’re splitting hairs here when it comes to steering feel, as there is precious little difference between the CTS, GS and 528i. Even the hydraulic system retained in BMW’s 550i doesn’t feel as crisp on the road. Helping out the handling is a standard moderately firm spring suspension or an optional MagneRide active suspension as our tester was equipped. The adaptive dampers feel more refined than in previous versions, despite them not changing the vehicle’s personality much from regular to sport mode. The CTS never felt out of sorts on rough or uneven terrain and despite being moderately firm, never felt punishing. This places the CTS right in line with the modern Germans. Toss in standard Brembo brakes and the CTS is far more willing to hike up its skirt and dance than the establishment competition.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-007

For 2014, Cadillac added $6,035 to the MSRP and put “value” on the back burner. At $45,100, the CTS starts $4,400 less than the 528i and $2,600 less than the GS350. Of course the Caddy’s base model has fewer features, so an apples-to-apples comparison brings the delta up to around $1,500 less than the BMW. That’s a much smaller window than there used to be, and it’s not surprising when you consider the CTS’ interior is finally equal to or better than the Germans. The pricing deltas get more interesting as you go up the ladder. The CTS 3.6 is a few grand less than a BMW 535i. In that mash-up, the BMW provides superior thrust but when the road gets winding the CTS is more enjoyable. Then we get to the CTS V-Sport. The V-Sport brings a twin-turbo V6 to a twin-turbo V8 fight. At 420 HP and 430 lb-ft the numbers are stout to be sure, but trail the 443 HP and 479 lb-ft from BMW’s 4.4L V8 and most importantly, the V8 delivers a far superior torque curve delivering all of its torque 1,500 RPM earlier. Still, the Cadillac is 325 lbs lighter, handles better, is $4,830 cheaper and by the numbers gives up little in terms of straight line performance.

The two sweet spots for the CTS are a nearly loaded 2.0T with the LCD disco dash and a moderately well equipped V-Sport. The 2.0T offers the best road manners of its direct competition at a reasonable value. The V-Sport on the other hand offers BMW shoppers an interesting alternative. At an $1,800 up-sell over a comparably equipped 535i and $4,800 less than a 550i, the V-Sport is probably the best value in the luxury segment for 2014. After a week with the middle child Cadillac, GM seems to finally be on the right path with their luxury brand. As long as the XTS is replaced with a large rear driver sedan soon I might even say that the American luxury brand is on a roll. While I can think of a few reasons to buy a BMW 5-Series over a CTS (the base CTS instrument cluster is a good reason), shoppers have no reason to dismiss the CTS as they might have done in the past. Although the CTS is still 20lbs of sound deadening and an 8-speed automatic away from being the Cadillac of mid-size sedans, it is a truly solid competitor.

 

 GM provides the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3 Seconds

0-60: 5.9 Seconds

1/mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 97.5 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 24.8 MPG over 852 Miles

Sound level at 50 MPH: 67 dB

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-001 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-002 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-003 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-004 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-005 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-006 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-007 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-008 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-009 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-010 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-011 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-012 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-013 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-014 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-015 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-001 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-002 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-003 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-004 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-005 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-006 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-007 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-008 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-009 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-010 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-011 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-012 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-001 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-002 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-003 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-004 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-005 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-006

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Review: 2014 Buick Enclave (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-buick-enclave-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-buick-enclave-with-video/#comments Wed, 13 Nov 2013 14:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=642841 I’ve dished out plenty of Buick love lately. The Verano beats Acura and Lexus at the entry-luxury game and the tiny Encore is an oddly attractive (albeit underpowered) crossover that is outselling the Mini Countryman and Range Rover Evoque by a wide margin. What can we attribute this sales success to? I posit that the […]

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2014 Buick Enclave Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I’ve dished out plenty of Buick love lately. The Verano beats Acura and Lexus at the entry-luxury game and the tiny Encore is an oddly attractive (albeit underpowered) crossover that is outselling the Mini Countryman and Range Rover Evoque by a wide margin. What can we attribute this sales success to? I posit that the original Buick Enclave is the impetus. Landing in 2007 as a 2008 model, it was the poster child of the “new Buick.” On the surface, the Enclave was the replacement for the Buick Rainier, the only GMT360 SUV I haven’t owned. (Just kidding, I’ve only owned 2 of the 11 varieties.) But that’s a simplistic view. In reality the Enclave was intended to elevate the brand enough to compete with three row luxury crossovers from Germany and Japan. This brings us to today’s question: six years and a mild face-lift later, does the Buick still have the goods?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Like Rainier, the Enclave is closely related to a GMC and Chevy version. Unlike the Rainier, the Enclave has only two doppelgängers instead of the 6-11 stablemates the Rainier contended with (depending on how you count your GMT360 and related SUVs.) The Chevy Traverse tackles the bottom of the market, the GMC Acadia handles the middle, and Buick occupies the top rung. That means the $38,740 to $52,925 Buick is targeted at the same shoppers as the Acura MDX, Infinti JX35/QX60, Lincoln MKT, the aging Volvo XC90 and if you believe GM, the Audi Q7.

Exterior

Although there is a strong family resemblance, GM managed to style the closely priced Acadia and Enclave differently enough that the Buick looks more expensive when parked next to the GMC. The Traverse, on the other hand, shares very similar styling cues and the family resemblance is more pronounced. This could be a problem for potential shoppers as the only other entry in this segment that shares heavily with a mass-market variant is the Infiniti. (The Nissan Pathfinder’s twin.)

Despite the parts sharing, the Buick cuts an elegant form that my eye hasn’t tired of. The mid-cycle refresh brings new front and rear end styling to bring the Enclave up to date with the rest of the Buick lineup. Although I like the look of the Enclave, I don’t find it as appealing as the new MDX or Q7. In terms of style, I’d call it a tie between the Buick, Infniti and Volvo. Even though Buick’s questionable “ventiports” are continuing to grow and migrate to the top of the hood, the engineers made sure you can’t see them from inside the car.

The other thing the engineers managed to hide is the sheer size of the Enclave. Buick’s curvaceous design language managed to fool a friend of mine who said he was looking at an Enclave because he thought his Escalade was too big and too hard to park. Let’s look at the numbers. The Enclave is exactly 6/10ths of an inch shorter than the big Caddy and rides on a wheelbase nearly three inches longer. The Buick is 5 inches shorter than the Cadillac making it easier to get in a short garage, but it’s just as wide at 79 inches. Don’t assume it’s easier to park wither since it cuts a turning circle one and a half feet bigger. This is the kind of Buick I remember: ginormous.

2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesInterior

I consider myself something of a dashboard connoisseur. I like my dashboards elegant, tasteful, squishy and preferably made from cow. I was therefore surprised to find the Enclave has best injection molded dashboard available. GM starts out with a single piece molded dashboard designed to look like leather with different textures pieced together. The molded product is then stitched with a sewing machine to insert thread along the injection molded faux-seams.

The result is impressive. Unfortunately the rest of the Enclave’s interior didn’t receive this level of attention. This means the old Enclave’s thin steering wheel is still shared with the defunct Buick Lucerne and the only real wood you’ll find is on that optional half-wood tiller. Odder still is the fact that no attempt is made to have the real wood look like the face wood in the car with the fake wood having a grey hue and the steering wheel veneer being nutty brown. I know I’m going to get complaints from this statement, but here I go. In a market where everyone but Acura is doing real wood, the aces of forest-substitute stick out like a sore thumb. (Note: the Canadian MDX can have real tree as an option.)

2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Enclave counters these interior mis-steps with large and comfortable front seats and the only 8-seat configuration in this class. That 8th seat is important because it allows the Enclave to compete not only with the competition we have mentioned so far, but also with large body-on-frame SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX 570, Infiniti QX56/QX80. In this context the Buick has a significant price advantage over the larger competition starting $25,000 lower than the Cadillac. Because those large competitors are aging and often draw heavily from their mass-market donor trucks, the Buick represents a decent value without looking like a cheap alternative.

As with all three-row SUVs, seats get less comfortable as you move towards the back. The middle captain’s chairs in the 7-seat Enclave are the most comfortable among the 3-row crossover segment while the optional three-seat middle bench drops  to class average. Due to the Buick’s age, you won’t find power flip/fold seats like the Acura or kid-friendly second row seats that can move forward with a child seat strapped in place. The Enclave regains its class leading comfort status in the third row with the most head room and cushiest thrones.

2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Buick Intellilink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment
Being a refresh and not a redesign, 2014 doesn’t being an infotainment revolution to the Enclave. As it turns out this is a good thing. GM created a new integrated navigation and entertainment system that could be fitted to all their older vehicles to make them competitive with the systems coming out of Ford, Chrysler and BMW. This “stop-gap system” (my words, not GM’s) is one of my favorites on the market regardless of class. Although it is sold under the same Intellilink brand name as the Cadillac CUE derived system in the new LaCrosse, this system is totally different and in my eyes, superior.

Shared with the Encore, Verano and a few other GM products, the software is responsive, intuitive, and makes use of a bank of physical buttons that make navigating the system easy. As with other systems that I lean towards, Buick’s allows you to use either a control knob, the touchscreen or an extensive voice command library to interact with the system. Although a 7-inch screen is smaller than many of the competitors, I’d rather interact with Buick’s interface on a daily basis than Audi’s MMI. For a complete dive into the touchscreen interface, check out the video at the top of the review.

2013 GM 3.6L V-6 VVT DI (LLT) for Buick Enclave

Drivetrain

GM’s ubiquitous 3.6L direct-injection V6 is the only engine on offer in the Enclave cranking out the same 288 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque as in the other Lambda crossovers. (The Traverse also uses a 281 horsepower variant on base models.) Those power numbers put the Encore in the middle of the pack with the 240 HP Volvo being the least powerful and the Lincoln MKT being the most powerful at 303 ponies from its 3.7L V6. Having the HP crown wasn’t enough for Ford, so they also make their 365 HP twin-turbo V6  available.

Sending power to the front wheels is a 6-speed transaxle that has been reprogrammed for more civilized shifts and less lag when downshifting. Like last year, you can add AWD for $2,000 more. I should point out now that although the Audi Q7 is still a front heavy crossover, it is the only rear-wheel biased crossover in this segment and as such uses ZF’s silky-smooth 8-speed automatic.

2014 Buick Enclave Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The Verano may be an Opel in American clothing, but the Enclave is traditional Buick out on the road. The enormous and high-profile tires (255/65R18), soft suspension and quiet cabin soak up the road around you allowing you to comfortably rack up the highway miles. When the road starts winding, the same tires and springs that allow for a compliant ride conspire with the nearly 5,000lb curb weight to take a toll on handling. That heavy curb weight also has an effect on performance, with the Enclave talking 7.3 seconds to hit 60, nearly a full second behind the Acura. Why? It’s all about the weight with the Acura being 700lbs lighter and even the cast-iron Volvo is 400lbs slimmer. Although I can’t say that 7.3 seconds to get to 60mph is excruciating, even the Infiniti JX35 with a tall first gear and the least torque in the group manages the task before the Buick. Only the ancient Volvo XC90 and the diesel Q7 slot in after the Enclave.

If you’re the kind of shopper that wants to hit the back country roads after dropping the kids off at preschool, the MDX is the clear winner in the segment. Surprisingly, the Enclave didn’t end up at the bottom of the segment when it comes to road manners. That’s where you’ll find the soft, CVT equipped Infiniti and the Volvo. Middle of the road manners and segment average pricing means the Enclave manages a “decidedly Toyota” middle of the pack finish. Unless you select that eight-seat option.

Now I must come back to that full-size SUV digression. If you’re looking for a three row vehicle that seats eight, you don’t have many options. If you want something that seats 8 and had some luxury pretense you have even less choice. It also means you’re going to end up with either a GM Lambda platform crossover, or a luxury body-on-frame product that dates back to the 1990s when “tarted up Tahoes” were all the rage. When pitted against this competition, the Enclave’s handling, steering feel and fuel economy go from class middling to class leading. While the Enclave isn’t as fast as the Escalade or the QX56/QX80, it beats the Lexus to freeway speeds. The Buick is also easier to park, easier on the eyes and easier on the wallet.

After six years on the market, the Buick that started the brand’s resurrection is starting to show its age. The Enclave is crossover in the truest sense of the world straddling the middle ground between the minivan like entries like the Infiniti and the large and thirsty truck-based options like the Cadillac Escalade. My final word is that if you’re looking for a 7-seat three row utility vehicle, there are plenty of better options out there, but if you’re looking for an 8-seat utility vehicle then the Enclave should be on the top of your list. In the end, that 8th seat is probably the best thing the Enclave has going for it.

Buick provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

0-30: 3.06 Seconds

0-60: 7.3 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.9 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 17.5 MPG over 559 miles

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 68 db

2014 Buick Enclave Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-001 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-002 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-003 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-004 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-005 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-006 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-008 2014 Buick Enclave Interior 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-001 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-002 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-003 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-004 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-005 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-006 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-007 2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-010 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-011 2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Buick Intellilink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-013 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-014 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-015

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Impala (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-chevrolet-impala-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-chevrolet-impala-with-video/#comments Mon, 26 Aug 2013 12:30:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=500484 I have this feeling that our most impressionable automotive years are our high school years. Maybe it’s because I was so eager to drive that I noticed anything with wheels. Maybe it’s that auto shop class where I got to wrench on a Wankel (that sounds wrong doesn’t it?). Whatever the reason, it seems many […]

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2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior-001
I have this feeling that our most impressionable automotive years are our high school years. Maybe it’s because I was so eager to drive that I noticed anything with wheels. Maybe it’s that auto shop class where I got to wrench on a Wankel (that sounds wrong doesn’t it?). Whatever the reason, it seems many of my brand and model name identities were formed in the mid 1990s. For me, “Impala” doesn’t conjure up the W-Body abomination GM has been selling for the past 13 years. Instead “my” Impala has always been the 1994-1996 Caprice Impala SS with the 5.7L Corvette LT1 engine. This is my benchmark on which every Impala must be judged.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Before we dive in, it’s important to know that for 2014 there are two Impalas. Say what? In a stroke of genius (honestly) GM decided to keep selling the old Impala as a fleet only model. This isn’t the first time GM has done this, the Chevrolet Captiva Sport is a fleet only version of the defunct Saturn VUE. By offering a one car to the public and the other to rental and government fleets, one can logically conclude the used market will contain fewer white Impalas with tan cloth interiors over time. This can only be good for resale value.

The fleet-Impala continues on the ancient W-Body first used in 1988 while the new Impala rides on the same Epsilon platform bones as the Cadillac XTS and Buick LaCrosse. If you had hoped the Impala name would be tied to the RWD Caprice like it was in 1994, you aren’t alone.
2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior, Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

 

Exterior

If you recall my review of the Cadillac XTS a year ago:

Engineers took the Epsilon II platform (shared with everything from the Opel Insignia to the Roewe 950), stretched it to 202-inches long and hey-presto, the XTS was born. Unfortunately Cadillac wasn’t allowed to change the platform hard points, so the same 111.7-inch wheelbase and 62-inch track as the rest of the Epsilon rabble remains. With the wheelbase staying the same, the cabin had to be pushed as far to the wheels as possible to maximize interior space. The result is a sedan with awkward proportions.

When I first saw photos of the Impala I was worried the same awkwardness would translate to Chevy’s flagship, but it turns out the XTS’s proportion problem is mostly caused by the Art & Science design theme. When you dress the platform in super-sized Camaro clothes, things turn out better than expected. The slot-like grille, wide headlamps and plenty of horizontal chrome make the Impala look wide while the XTS’s grille makes it look narrow.

Chevy penned a side profile with a bit more visual interest than most of the competition (I admit that isn’t saying much) thanks to the “haunches” designed into the rear doors and quarter panel. Sadly the designers opted for roof-line that starts lowering at the front doors making the car look better but reducing rear accommodations. Speaking of the rear, the 2014 backside is more exciting than before, but that’s not saying much. Things change a little if you step up to the LTZ model which gets integrated trapezoidal chrome exhaust tips. Still, nobody seems to be spending much time on their back bumpers and trunk lids these days.

Overall the Impala is attractive but I think it slots behind the Chrysler 300 in terms of style and I don’t think it will age as well as the more “generic luxury” lines of the Kia Cadenza. Parking the new Impala next to a 1996 Impala I ran into at the grocery store, I have to admit my high school memories are rose-colored as the 1996 Impala SS looks frumpy in comparison. I can’t end this section without commenting on the 2014 Chevy SS, AKA the Holden VF Commodore, AKA the Chevy Lumina (Middle East), AKA the refresh of the Pontiac G8. Yes, it’s back. While I have no doubts a rear wheel drive sedan with a 6.2L V8 will be a blast to drive, the SS looks like the fleet Impala with some makeup and loses the Impala v SS aesthetics battle.

2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

The Impala’s interior elicited more polarized reactions than I had bargained for during my week. While I’m a fan of the overall style, I can see how the flowing shapes may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The Impala’s build quality has certainly improved over the last generation and comparing the Impala to the Toyota Avalon can now be done with a straight face. Sadly in that head-to-head the Impala comes up short. The problem isn’t panel gaps or seams, it’s certain design choices coupled with plastics choices. The air vents you see in the center if the dash and the climate control bank are cast out of hard plastic and look cheap nestled between the attractive stitched upper dash and soft molded lower dash. My cynical side thinks this was deliberate so that Buick could have something to improve on. Test driving the Impala at night reveals the cabin’s party trick, chrome that glows blue/green when darkness falls. It looks a great deal less gimmicky than I assumed it would and the light strip is totally invisible by day. The light-up chrome is part of the $1,140 premium audio and sport wheel package.

Base LS models get cloth seats, LT models start with a leatherette and fabric combo, but most Impalas on the lot will have either the LT’s leather/alcantara combo (*bumping the base price to $32,695) or the LTZ’s “premium” leather seats which swap the faux-suede inserts for real cow. Regardless of the seat covering the Impala’s thrones are big and soft and 12-way power adjustibility. Unlike the seats in the Chrysler 300, you sit in the seats, not on the seats, a considerably more comfortable proposition. GM includes a 4-way adjustable lumbar support in all models and many of the Impalas I sampled had the optional 12-way seats on the passenger side as well, something you won’t find in the Azera or Cadenza.

2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior, Night View, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The fleet-only Impala has a wheelbase just one inch shorter than this new consumer model, but due to its 1980s era platform design the space isn’t used efficiently. This is most evident in the back seat where this Impala delivers nearly 6 inches more rear leg room bringing this big boy up to a hair under 40 inches. This make the Impala the largest overall in the segment with front legroom higher than the former winner the Hyundai Azera and legroom nearly tying with the Chrysler 300′s 40.1 inches. At 18.8 cubic feet the Impala’s trunk is four cubes bigger than the Avalon, two cubes bigger than the 300 or the Korean twins and just 1.2 cubes smaller than the Taurus’ cavernous booty. Like the Taurus the Impala’s rear seats fold but it is worth noting that GM’s pass-through is larger and “squarer” than the Ford and the seat backs fold nearly flat with the load floor.

If size is what you demand, the Impala wins the battle with the most overall space. If however quality is more your bag, you’ll find higher quality parts in the Avalon, Azera, Cadenza, LaCrosse and in many ways even the Chrysler 300. The Impala fights back with supremely comfortable seats, but thanks to GM’s parts sharing the same can be said of that Buick.

2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

If you’re a regular reader, you will know that I have recently praised GM’s low and mid-range touchscreen systems as some of the best in the business. The IntelliLink/ChevyLink system in the Chevy Volt and Buick Verano ranks second for me below the latest version of BMW’s iDrive. This is not that system. I an odd twist of infotainment badge engineering, the Impala (and the 2014 LaCrosse) uses a modified version of Cadillac’s CUE software. For Chevy duty GM swapped out the expensive capacitive screen (looks like a modern smartphone) for a resistive unit and added a few physical buttons to improve navigation in the system. Sadly all of CUE’s flaws are present including: random crashes, general sluggishness, unintuitive menu layouts and old-school mapping software. Like CUE some multi-touch gestures are supported but the cheaper touchscreen has troubles deciphering your intent. The system is hard to avoid as every Impala I could find had the system and the only way to escape it is to buy an absolutely base Impala LS as it is the only one without the 8-inch system.

On the bright side, some of CUE’s selling points remain. The system’s voice command system recognized more natural speech commands than the Kia/Hyundai or Toyota systems do and the media library functionality is excellent. Instead of treating the three USB ports as separate inputs, the system aggregates them into one large music library allowing you to voice command songs without specifying the device. The base 6-speaker system has an oddly hollow sound, but the up-level 11-speaker Bose branded system would be competitive in any near-luxury sedan. To get that sound system the Impala will set you back $33,835 as you can’t select the $1,140 sound and wheel package without a number of other options packages.

2014 Chevrolet Impala Engine, 3.6L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Under the hood you’ll find the same three engines as the Buick LaCrosse. Things start out with a 2.5L direct-injection four-cylinder engine good for 195 HP and 187 lb-ft of twist. This isn’t the engine you want. Not listed on the Chevy website yet due to its late introduction there is a 2.4L “eAssist” drivetrain that GM has stopped calling a hybrid. Delivering identical performance numbers to the 2.5L four-banger, the mild hybrid system delivered 29.8 MPG average during our week with the nearly identical LaCrosse. If fuel economy is your thing, stop here.

Although my soul is sad there is no Impala SS model for 2014, the 3.6L direct-injection V6 delivered better performance than in every situation except for the 2006 Impala SS which barely beat the 2014 in the 0-30 run but was still slower to 60. The reason isn’t just the V6′s 305 horsepower (2 more than the 2006′s 5.3L V8) or the respectable (for a V6) 264 lb-ft of torque(59 less), it’s the 6-speed automatic. The Ford/GM unit is closely related to the transaxle found in the Taurus but GM’s programming results in shifts that seem slightly faster and a hair firmer. The high revving six, weigh reduction vs the Cadillac XTS AWD and Chevy’s tire selection enabled our Impala tester to wheel-hop its way to 60 in a scant 5.52 seconds. This number was met with some head scratching on our Facebook page but I tested the number three times with the same result. It is worth mentioning that the Acura RLX posted similar numbers and a 5.52 second run isn’t out of the ordinary for a 305HP sedan that weighs around 3800lbs.

Need more performance? There have been persistent rumors about an Impala SS coming at some point and Cadillac has decided to drop their 410HP twin-turbo V6 into the XTS, will they offer a similar powerplant for the 2015 Chevy? It’s hard to say with the 2014 Chevy SS positioned as the performance sedan with a bow-tie.

2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior, 19-inch wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesDrive

The Impala benefits from Buick and Cadillac’s noise reduction efforts and it shows on the road with easily the quietest ride in the bunch. My snazzy new noise meter proved more complicated than I wish to admit and as a result I erased the readings, however the Impala was quieter than the active noise canceled Acura RLX, Kia Cadenza and Lexus ES350 I tested.

The Impala has a unique suspension setup that uses neither the Hi-Per Strut (HPS) suspension from the LaCrosse and XTS, nor the magnetic ride control from the Cadillac. Instead we get a traditional MacPherson strut arrangement with a redesigned strut tower for improved rigidity and rebound springs tuned to keep body-roll from turning into body-wobble. This is important because the Impala is a softly spring sedan in the classic American tradition. The combination works better than it looks on paper despite the loss of the HPS design which was created to vanquish the torque steer demons. Speaking of torque steer, there wasn’t any in the Impala during our tests. So much for that Hi-PerStrut. There’s still plenty of tip, roll and dive on winding mountain roads but the new Impala never felt sloppy or uncontrolled. Broken pavement was a problem for the Cadillac XTS with the suspension paradoxically feeling both too hard and too soft at the same time, the Impala’s traditional setup never exhibited this problem. If you jump up to the 20 inch wheels, be warned they have a negative impact on the serene nature of the Impala’s ride transmitting more road imperfections into the cabin than I thought possible.

2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When it comes to the competition, the Cadenza feels slightly unsettled at times but is nearly as competent. The Azera’s chassis and suspension tuning aren’t quite up to snuff. Toyota’s Avalon gives the Impala a run for its money with similar road feel and a slightly sportier tune to the dampers. The Chrysler 300 is a tricky comparison since it’s the only RWD sedan in the bunch, but the 300′s driving dynamics are superior to the Impala despite being slower to 60. The lack of AWD is disappointing in the Impala leaving the Buick LaCrosse to be the better handling twin thanks to its slightly more precise suspension knuckles and available AWD.

Without a doubt the 2014 Impala is the finest Impala ever made and perhaps the finest large sedan to wear the bow tie. The base 2.5L four-cylinder Impala snags a 0-60 time only a few tenths off the 1996 Impala SS with its 5.7L V8 while delivering 31 MPG on the highway. The eAssist delivers a similar experience with a surprising 35MPG highway score and 29MPG combined, a 60% increase in fuel economy vs “my” Impala. The 2014 V6 model may not sound as good as that 1996 LT1 but the numbers can’t be denied, the new Impala is the new Impala benchmark. But is it the best full-size American sedan? Not quite. A fully loaded Impala manages to be $2,000 more than a comparable Taurus Limited and about the same price as a similarly optioned Taurus SHO. I’d take the Taurus SHO. The Chrysler 300 is about the same price, but brings superior dynamics, a ZF 8-speed automatic and you can get the 5.7L V8 for not much more. Even the Avalon, which ends up being slightly more expensive than delivers comparable handling a nicer interior and a nav system that doesn’t crash randomly. The Impala’s biggest problem however is the 2014 Buick LaCrosse. In typical GM fashion, there is little daylight in pricing between the sister-ships and the Buick delivers a nicer interior, a few improved features, slightly better dynamics, optional AWD and a slightly more premium brand. Just like the Impala SS vs Roadmaster debate in 1996, you just have to get past the Buick’s looks.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Aggressive styling.
  • Ginormous back seat.
  • Cadillac for Chevy prices.

Quit it

  • Some interior plastics are underwhelming.
  • CUE based infotainment is slow and buggy.
  • The Buick LaCrosse has a better interior for almost the same price.

Chevrolet provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.33 Seconds

0-60: 5.52 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.33 Seconds @ 97.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 22.5 MPG over 549 miles

2014 Chevrolet Impala Engine 2014 Chevrolet Impala Engine, 3.6L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior-001 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior-002 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior-003 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior, 19-inch wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior-005 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior-006 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior, Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior-008 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior, Leaping Impala, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior-010 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Impala Exterior-012 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior-001 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior-002 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior-004 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior-006 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior-007 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior-008 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior-009 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior-010 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior-011 2014 Chevrolet Impala Interior-012 2014 Chevrolet Impala Trunk 2014 Chevrolet Impala Trunk-001

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New Or Used? : What Isn’t Better Than A Panther Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/new-or-used-what-isnt-better-than-a-panther-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/new-or-used-what-isnt-better-than-a-panther-edition/#comments Fri, 12 Apr 2013 12:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=484419 TJ writes: Hey Sajeev and Steve, Need your assistance for a fellow panther lover (my aunt) who is going to be looking for a new ride this fall. She currently has a Mercury Grand Marquis (her second or third) and loves the car and would replace it with another in a heartbeat if they were […]

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TJ writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

Need your assistance for a fellow panther lover (my aunt) who is going to be looking for a new ride this fall.

She currently has a Mercury Grand Marquis (her second or third) and loves the car and would replace it with another in a heartbeat if they were still for sale.  If you’re asking why she’s getting rid of it, there isn’t any particular reason.

My aunt always replaces her cars ever 3-5 years (so B&B please no exhortations to keep the car, that was my original advice and it isn’t happening) and this one is coming up on it’s expiration date.  A word about my mother’s family so you realize how committed they are to this sort of car: My mom is one of 4 sisters, and between them, they’ve owned (at least) 2 Cadillac Devilles, 2 Eldorados, the aforementioned MGMs, a Buick Lesabre or Park Ave, and a Lincoln Town Car.  You get the idea.  They like them big, floaty, with a cavernous trunk, and preferably with a leather couch or recliner in the front.

I’m gonna try to take her to the Miami auto show this fall so she can see sample all her options at once, but wanted to see if you had any guidance.  Of the new cars that will be on offer, what is the next best thing to her beloved Panther?  My aunt realizes most people have migrated to SUVs/CUVs, but she says they won’t work because she finds them too difficult to climb in and out of (she’s 65 and barely over 5′ tall).

My first two suggestions were shot down, which were a Chrysler 300 (does’t like the styling) and a Chrysler Town and Country (doesn’t want a minivan).  I still hope that maybe sitting in the 300, or seeing the versatility of the T&C may change her mind (she has two still growing grandkids).  The next best option I could think of was the Ford Flex, with the Taurus being a distant 4th.  Any other suggestions?

I’ll have her look at the LaCrosse, Genesis, Azera, Avalon, and ES350, but I’m concerned they will be too small and/or not cushy enough, and the Cadillac XTS may be too pricey and not torquey enough.  While she is a 65 year old Grandmother, after 20 years of Ford 4.6 and GM 3800 ownership, she’s also used to lazy, effortless low end grunt helping her force her way through South Florida’s insane traffic, and I know the XTS has been hit hard in reviews for its combination of a peaky engine, high curb weight, and tall gearing.  Have I missed any other worthwhile options?  Thanks for your help.

Steve Says:

Every model you mentioned from the Lacrosse to the ES350 offers more overall interior space than the ol’ Grand. Though they all fall short of the Panther when it comes to the, “Why the hell would anyone buy a new one?” factor.

As for the ride, the Hyundai models ride a bit more taut than the others. So scratch those two.

The LaCrosse would be a good blue plate special car for her given her apparent apathy for quality interior components. But I would check to see if the interior design agrees with her first.

The ES350 is wonderful, but steep. If your Aunt has a liking for large Marge levels of interior space and a floaty ride, I would strike a deal for the outgoing prior gen Avalon. It also has a cost contained interior that is thankfully two clicks above the last Grand Marquis redesign, and you may be able to cut her a good deal.

Then again, the Shoney’s capital of the world may not offer much in the ways of discounts for a Camry-esque product.

I understand your kvetching about this expenditure. My own mom has that same Floridian ailment that is replacing a perfectly good car for no other reason than the changing of the tides. Every ten years I buy her a new Camry. Why? Beats me. However the depreciation works out to only about $150 a month. For what works out to $5 a day, I can deal with it.

I would focus on helping her with the selling of her car and the negotiation process, if she desires your help, and start with having her rent a Buick LaCrosse for the day. You may be able to find an Avalon for rent as well. This is Florida after all. Give her a couple days to make the decision, and remember to be a mensch when she picks that aqua blue model with the glossy white vinyl roof.

Sajeev Says:

I’m glad to hear she doesn’t like the 300: not because it’s a horrible vehicle, but because it doesn’t personify the values present in Panther Love.  Those proper American Sedans doing their job since the 1950s. That’s history, and that’s okay.  Now she needs to learn to compromise…somewhere.

Aside from a CPO Mercedes with some sort of thumpin’ V8 under the hood, there’s nothing in play that’s torquey enough to be a contender in the motor and styling department.  Make sure she test drives all the cars mentioned above, but there are two machines for me in this situation: the Toyota Avalon and the Camry LE. Yup, the LE.

Granted, I haven’t driven a new Camry yet, and I didn’t like the previous model (because we still had Panthers back then) but this is probably the best machine for a numb, floaty, and isolating cabin.  The Avalon? Perhaps better, but maybe not enough to justify the price.

I once grudgingly admitted that my last trip through NY, NJ and PA was far more pleasant because the (last gen) Camry LE (with those tall sidewalls) did a good job obliterating every bump on the road. While it wasn’t that unique blend of isolating-while-inspiring-confidence like RWD Panther Love, it worked. Aside from the lack of torque, the Camry might be the best bet here.  And I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

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Vellum Venom Vignette: The Next Iconic American Sedan? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/vellum-venom-vignette-the-next-iconic-american-sedan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/vellum-venom-vignette-the-next-iconic-american-sedan/#comments Sat, 28 Jul 2012 16:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454427 The (mainstream) staying power of GM’s B-body is pretty much history.  Panther Love shall live for the next decade or so, not much longer.  I was in this state of mind when auto writer extraordinaire Alex Nunez posted a picture to my Facebook wall, suggesting that the Chevrolet Caprice’s proportioning is somehow a worthy successor […]

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The (mainstream) staying power of GM’s B-body is pretty much history.  Panther Love shall live for the next decade or so, not much longer.  I was in this state of mind when auto writer extraordinaire Alex Nunez posted a picture to my Facebook wall, suggesting that the Chevrolet Caprice’s proportioning is somehow a worthy successor to these Iconic American Sedans.   My response? Relative to the Chevy Impala, sure.  But proportioning is more than having rear-wheel drive and a lot of real estate.  If you proportion it wrong, you create a Fool’s errand. You create the Chevy Caprice.

While we say Panther Love, we really mean Cab Backward design for an Iconic American Sedan. Can you dig it?

Cab backward is the complete opposite of what we see today. The passenger compartment doesn’t interfere with the natural placement of the engine, axles and front/rear overhang.  While the original Chrysler LH cars were a fantastic case study in Cab Forward awesomeness, the concept’s absolutely ruined today. Not that every car should look like a Rolls Royce Phantom…

But perhaps the Iconic American Sedan should! Just look at the Town Car’s massive hood and short A-pillar, compared to the Caprice’s vast wasteland of dashboard and visibility-hampering A-pillar.  And look at how tiny the nose is compared to the green house: like a body builder who reached their caves’ growth limitations. It’s disproportionately small. Iconic American Sedan?  Not a chance.

That said, you won’t see me giving the last Town Car a free pass, its proportions are still on the wrong side of the Cab Forward spectrum.

 

 

If you were there for the beginning of Panther Love, you’ll remember this photo. The 1988 Town Car had far better visibility from a lower belt line, the space between the dashboard and front wheel is unabashedly delicious, and the fascias make it clear: this isn’t an import wannabe.  Again, Iconic American Sedan. Not the only one, it’s one of many.

Not just many, a cornucopia of Automotive Americana. Sadly, the Iconic American Sedan has been under attack for decades.  Perhaps one day an empowered design team will have the right platform, the right motivation, etc and make a proper sedan for us Yank Tank Fans. Unfortunately, I won’t hold my breath.

 

 

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New or Used: Condition, Condition, Condition! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/new-or-used-condition-condition-condition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/new-or-used-condition-condition-condition/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2012 18:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=425686   TTAC Commentator Supaman writes: Hey Sajeev and Steve, Got another head scratcher for you. A friend of mine was involved in an accident over the previous weekend which totaled her car (2006 Corolla S). She still had a year’s worth of payments left and the money she gets back from insurance leaves her with […]

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TTAC Commentator Supaman writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

Got another head scratcher for you. A friend of mine was involved in an accident over the previous weekend which totaled her car (2006 Corolla S). She still had a year’s worth of payments left and the money she gets back from insurance leaves her with a smidge of $4000.

She doesn’t have the credit rating to get a financing on a new car which leaves her with under 5 grand to get a used one. She dislikes the idea of anything “used” as reliability is her main concern but after giving her a reality check she’s decided to reluctantly go along (not that she has a choice since she NEEDS a vehicle). Question here is of the cars I’ve looked at (most in the 100k mileage range) which would be best? American? Japanese? I was in a similar situation in 2006 when my car was totaled and after 4 days of relentless searching I found a diamond in the vein of a 2002 Hyundai Elantra with less than 50k miles for $3000. I’m not sure if she’ll be so lucky but if you have any suggestions it’d be greatly appreciated.

Sajeev Answers:

In situations like these, the condition of the vehicle is far more important than the brand on the grille. That said, don’t run off and buy a “creampuff” E38 BMW just because it fits in the price range…that would be quite the mistake!

American? Maybe. Japanese? Probably. European? Not a chance!

Stick with commonplace models with a large following in the aftermarket. Busted marker light? You can easily get a Chinese knock off lense for an Camry on eBay. And more than likely, you always will! Even the oddball Mercury Montego isn’t a bad idea…though the taillights are a little on the unique side.

Stick with a mainstream family sedan with as much service history you can find. That’s always a safe bet at this price point.

Steve answers:

Retail vehicles are priced based on their year, model, and mileage. But they should always be bought based on their condition, condition, and condition.

We have already developed a car buying series at TTAC that the B&B help revise every year. Here is the four part series for your friend: 1 2 3 4 .

Let her read up on that first. As for specific vehicles, what you really should look for are consumer reviews on carsurvey and other sites where consumers offer written feedback on their vehicles. Some older cars are cheap for a reason (Older Chryslers with the 2.7 Liter V6) while others are unpopular but reliable (Regals, 2000- 2006 Tauruses with Vulcan V6′s, etc.)

One other thing. You may want to start with people the two of you know instead of the great wide world that is Autotrader and Craigslist. Prices are already high due to the upcoming tax season and at least in Atlanta, the average $4000 car will be around 10 years old and have around 120k miles. Toyotas and Hondas are a bit more pricey along with luxury cars obviously. Suzukis and Mitsubishis will often be less costly along with anything out there that is dead or dying.

Good luck!

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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New or Used: Being a Parent…to your Parent http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/new-or-used-being-a-parent-to-your-parent/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/new-or-used-being-a-parent-to-your-parent/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2011 16:14:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=423593   TTAC Commentator Jimal writes: Sajeev and Steve, I have one of those quandaries that most adults will go through sooner or later in life and I figured I would tap into you and the B&B for suggestions. My father passed away recently after a long illness and I’m helping my mother with settling his […]

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TTAC Commentator Jimal writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

I have one of those quandaries that most adults will go through sooner or later in life and I figured I would tap into you and the B&B for suggestions. My father passed away recently after a long illness and I’m helping my mother with settling his estate; cleaning up finances, etc. Among the things my father left behind were his 2005 Buick LeSabre, which my mother hates, and her cherished 1996 4-door Chevy Blazer.

They bought the Blazer new and 14 years and 170k miles later it owes my mom nothing. The problem is it is a ticking time bomb. My mother realizes this and realizes that they don’t quite make SUVs like that Blazer anymore. Our (my) plan is to sell the Blazer on the front lawn and either trade in the Buick or put it on the lawn for some down payment money for something.

My first question is what CUV built today would be the best replacement for my mother’s beloved Blazer? Because my father was a GM retiree, my mother is eligible for the GM Family First discount and the Chevy Equinox is high on my list, although depending on how much the bankruptcy screwed my mother (my dad was salaried and not protected during the C11 like the UAW members were) we may or may not want to support the General going forward. I’ve also looked at the Tiguan, the Journey and the Flex. She prefers American nameplates; the VW is my idea. I don’t know that anything Asian will fly, otherwise a CX-7 would be on the short list.

My second question is about the wisdom of leasing in this particular situation. My mother takes care of her vehicles (hello? 170k Blazer) and she’s not going to be driving long distances. To me the advantages of having a new vehicle before the old one is out of warranty outweigh the equity issues. I’m finding the lease to be a hard sell for my mother because my father had a bad experience with it on the Olds Achieva the Blazer replaced.

Steve Answers:

Older folks usually prefer to buy a familiar product. The less they care about the product, the more this usually rings true.

My mom is a prime example. She has owned a Camry for 10 years and now wants a new vehicle. My brother said ‘Let’s have her go see some Volvos.’ Well, she didn’t like any of them.

Then I said, “Well, maybe she would be happier in a Toyota Matrix. The seats a bit higher so that will help her with getting in and out of the vehicle. Plus it’s an easier car to drive.” My mom tried the Matrix and hated it too.

Finally, my mom drives the new Camry. She loves it. Why? Because everything is already familiar to her. Plus it now has a rear camera, navigation, and 10 airbags. She likes all of those things. To be frank though, she would still buy the new Camry even if it was still the exact same vehicle she drives now.

Go buy her an Equinox. Sell the other two vehicles for cash and use the family discount to get her a vehicle she can enjoy for the long haul.

Sajeev Answers:

The short answer is to stick with American or Japanese nameplates for a long term owner like your Mom. Buying a VW for this length of time is not worth it, unless you want to be one of the unwitting souls who tells the world the latest crop German vehicles have finally overcome a decade of being a below average value proposition! I wouldn’t want to be the person holding their breath for that.

German cars are for leasing only…and I don’t see your mother wanting or needing that. Buy, don’t lease. Buy American, it’s important to her. The Equinox, Traverse, Flex and Edge are great. Supposedly the new Journey is good value and a quality design, I haven’t driven it yet to know for sure. You need some quality time with Mom doing the Test Drive thing, make it a fun outing with a nice lunch too.

Like Steve said, this is a GM family and she likes GM products. Nothing wrong with that. Honestly I would put her in a Buick Enclave: the size is a bit much, but the luxury and style might be a great choice. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to something nice in circumstances like these. And how often do we get to say that around here?

Seriously, tell her she’s worth a Buick Enclave. As long as she likes sitting in it, enjoys the road test, etc. make it happen for her.

EDIT: on second thought, why not a new Caddy SRX? It’s smaller than the Enclave (which could be a good thing for her), and it’s a friggin Caddy.  Get her an SRX!

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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Curbside Classic: 1968 Rambler American http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/curbside-classic-1968-rambler-american/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/curbside-classic-1968-rambler-american/#comments Tue, 12 Oct 2010 15:16:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=368292 Our recent deep immersion in eccentric little French cars might have been a bit much for some of you, so I decided to give you something as all-American as possible: a loaf of Wonder Bread instead of a baguette. This American certainly isn’t challenging; visually, technically or otherwise. A big, cast-iron six resides under the […]

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Our recent deep immersion in eccentric little French cars might have been a bit much for some of you, so I decided to give you something as all-American as possible: a loaf of Wonder Bread instead of a baguette.

This American certainly isn’t challenging; visually, technically or otherwise. A big, cast-iron six resides under the hood, with more than six times the displacement of the Citroen Ami 8′s little twin. Instead of an umbrella handle, a column mounted shifter operates the fully automatic transmission. And its output is sent back to a solid rear axle suspended by cart springs. The Rambler American and the Ami 8 are both from the same era, but approach their task about as differently as possible, in almost every conceivable way. And today, two of the best selling small cars in both countries, the Nissan Versa and Renault Clio/Modus are essentially siblings. That’s why I find haunting the streets more interesting than an auto show.

Yes, the challenge of finding solutions to the needs basic transportation based on local conditions once resulted in very different approaches and solutions, and the Ami 8 and American are graphic examples of that. The fact that today’s compact cars are much more influenced by the little Citroen is indisputable. In fact, by 1968, the American and Detroit’s other compacts were already in terminal decline, after their brief heyday. And the American was the pioneer in the field, arriving in 1958.

That first American was a hastily refreshed version of the original 1950 Nash Rambler, a rather gutsy move AMC President George Romney, considering that it was an almost ten year-old design. Unlike the original, the ’58 American was a stripped-down, budget-priced import fighter. Its reasonable success speaks volumes to the fact that many buyers in the import/compact market were much less concerned about the latest styling fad than other qualities. The success of the VW Beetle made that obvious, but it was a lesson that Detroit forgot, or never quite got, at its peril.

The American found acceptance, despite its late-forties styling, but in 1961 it received a re-skin, not a very successful one in my opinion. Still sitting on the same 100″ Nash Rambler platform, the boxy American looked oddly proportioned. It’s about as close as an American car ever got to the Ami 8, stylistically anyway.

AMC’s new styling chief Dick Teague did a fine job of the completely new 1964 Rambler line, and the American was perhaps the most balanced of the family. (See here for ’64 Classic CC and the Kaiser Torino offshoot). In 1964, this was a handsome and contemporary car, certainly ahead of its competition stylistically. The clean new look swelled American sales to an all-time high of over 160k units.

By 1968, American sales had drooped to less then half that amount. What happened? The American got caught between two trends, each going in different directions. The Big Three compacts, especially the Chevy Nova and Ford Falcon swelled in size and sported stylish and curvaceous new bodies, becoming almost intermediate in size. Meanwhile, buyers looking for something small and different increasingly abandoned the American brands in favor of the VW and other imports, including the now rapidly ascending Toyota Corona and Datsun 510. The compact market was having its own cultural revolution, and the American was left behind. What was innovative in 1958 now looked dull, boring and old hat in 1968.

It was a crisis for AMC, which had pinned so much of its success on catering to the small end of the market. The solution was ambitious and ultimately ill-fated: to go head-to-head against the Big Three, and start emphasizing the very qualities AMC had left behind: style, performance, and youthful appeal. We all know how well that turned out. But it did result in some memorable cars, like the AMX, Javelin, and perhaps the most outrageous, the SC/Rambler.

Talk about extremes. From the dowdy little grandma’s car, AMC created one of the most over-the-top performance car of the late sixties. Developed in conjunction with Hurst, only some 1,512 SC/Ramblers were built, but its purpose was more to shake up the American’s staid image than to sell large numbers. It certainly did that.

Our featured American is quite the other end of the spectrum, a plain-Jane stripper. It does have the larger 232 CID six, instead of the standard 199 incher version, and an automatic. Maybe even power steering, but I wouldn’t bet on it. But that six was an excellent unit, which arrived in 1965 to replace the ancient old long-stroke six whose origins probably dated back to the twenties. The new AMC six went on to have a long life, ending only in 2006, in the Jeep Wrangler.

Ironically, although young folks shied away from the American when it was new, this is the daily driver of a hip young Eugenean, the kind that are now drawn to cars like this and old Falcons in particular.

The American of this vintage suffered from the image of being a grandma’s car, SC/Rambler or not. Those wanting style headed elsewhere, and the rest fell into the import camp. The fairly handsome Hornet that replaced the American in 1970 never gained much traction either. But then it largely used the the American’s suspension and underpinnings, and that was not a good thing. For whatever reason, the redesigned Rambler family from 1964 had a rep of being very mediocre handling cars, and that at a time when most US cars weren’t exactly brimming with that particular quality.

Slow and unresponsive steering, and general incompetence at anything other than a gentle ride to the grocery store hampered the rep of the Ramblers. They just didn’t have any real chassis competence, perhaps due to a lack of resources. That alone made them toxic, especially compared to the fairly limber Chrysler A-Bodies, which pretty much dominated the segment after the Nova and Falcon’s obesity crisis.

One could say that AMC went down because it never really broke out of the basic configuration of its 1950 Rambler. What might have been innovative in 1950 became a rut, and the company wasted its final resources on disasters like the Pacer and Matador Coupe, all still in the conventional mold, while the world was quickly changing. Ironically, it would be Renault that finally brought some fresh blood to AMC, but that’s a story for another day, if I can ever find an Alliance. Wish me luck.

More Curbside Classics are here

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