The Truth About Cars » cuv http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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 » cuv http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com New York 2014: Outtakes Part 1 – The Masses Are Asses http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-outtakes-part-1-the-masses-are-asses/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-outtakes-part-1-the-masses-are-asses/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:01:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=808714 photo (20)

One of the cars I was least impressed with was the Mercedes-Benz GLA. Even when giving the show floor example the benefit of the doubt for being pre-production or early build, this car just screams “poor execution”.

Like the CLA, the interior has a veneer of “premium” – until you get up close and see that the wood “veneer” is really just molded plastic with a tortoise-shell looking finish. The switches are all horribly cheap and the screen jutting out of the dash is reminiscent of a cheap Taiwan-made Android tablet.

Most glaring was the rear hatch area. The amount of seam sealer placed on the top near the hatch struts is gratuitous, even for an early build car – especially for one sitting on the floor of a major auto show. You wouldn’t expect that on a $15k Hyundai Accent, let alone a Mercedes-Benz.

But it doesn’t matter. Mercedes will sell every single one of these cars (or lease them for $0 down, $299 a month at 36 months), just on the back of their stellar brand. Nobody will care about this, the crummy interior or the lack of cargo and passenger space. They won’t even notice it – just the three-pointed star on the hood. As my late grandfather used to say “The Masses Are Asses”.

 

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Honda Vezel Becomes HR-V In USA http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/honda-vezel-becomes-hr-v-in-usa/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/honda-vezel-becomes-hr-v-in-usa/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 04:36:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788618 2015-Honda-Vezel-Main-Art3
Automotive News is reporting that Honda is reviving an old, but unused moniker for their new small crossover.

Honda fansite Temple of VTEC originally reported that Honda will ditch the “Vezel” name for North America, instead dubbing their new B-segment CUV the “HR-V”. This finding seems to be confirmed by AN, which found trademark filings for the moniker.

Like the Vezel, the original HR-V was positioned below the CR-V, though it never was exported to North America. For a Honda, its design was fairly progressive, though it was likely too small and too slow to succeed in the size-obsessed North American market in the early 2000′s.

This time, things are different. Crossovers, not SUVs, are the hot new thing, displacing sales of more traditional B, C and D segments. Honda will produce the HR-V at its new Mexican plant, which is set up to build both the Fit and the HR-V. And with the B-segment crossover space heating up, the HR-V is a well timed move for Honda.

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Capsule Review: Jeep Cherokee Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/capsule-review-jeep-cherokee-part-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/capsule-review-jeep-cherokee-part-two/#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2014 15:12:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=782265 photo (13)

The problem with a “take-no-prisoners” approach to evaluating new cars is that when you’re the only one adopting a particular stance, it can get pretty lonely – even your own readers begin to doubt you. My initial review of the Jeep Cherokee was a great example of this. Most reports are fairly positive – and indeed, there was plenty to like about the car, as my own review mentioned – but many of the car’s flaws were glossed over or simply not mentioned. On the other hand, we at TTAC gave you the unvarnished truth about the Cherokee – and Chrysler was gracious enough to let us review the Cherokee again.

On the launch program in California, there was some confusion over whether the vehicles were pre-production or production units. This time, there was none, and it showed in the overall fit and finish of the Cherokee. The unsightly stitching on the steering wheel? Gone. The wobbly console? Not quite perfect, but less wobbly than before. Like the newly released Chrysler 200, the fit and finish, particularly of the supplied interior components, is very nicely executed. Next to an Escape, CR-V or RAV4, the interior of our Cherokee Limited tester was undoubtedly a cut above the others. If nothing else, Chrysler has managed to carve out a real leader with the UConnect 8.4, offering the best infotainment system along with excellent tactile controls.

Judging from my test example, Jeep has made strides in other areas that previously came up for criticism. After a harsh winter of volatile temperatures, our local roads have been mutilated by potholes and divots, but the Cherokee handled them with aplomb. It would be a stretch to call the ride “plush”, but the little trucklet felt much more sedate than it did on the launch loop, and if FCA plans on selling these in world markets, it’s a good indication of how it will fare on the roads of Europe and developing countries. Similarly, the ZF 9-speed was far less frenetic in its operation, and felt better equipped to handle the more-than-adequate power of the 3.2L Pentastar V6. The major disappointment here was the rather dismal fuel economy.

Driving mostly in heavy stop-and-go traffic, I netted just 15 mpg, despite slow speeds and a rather gentle foot (helped by the much improved throttle calibration – another bone of contention at launch). One can chalk that up to the (literally) freezing temperatures, winter tires, all-wheel drive or my incompetence as a vehicle reviewer. I had assumed that a V6 would be a more economical alternative to a larger turbo 4-cylinder such as the Escape 2.0T, which is known for delivering sub-par fuel economy in the real world. Apparently not. The EPA rates the AWD V6 Cherokee with Active-Drive II (included on my tester) at just 19 mpg around town, so perhaps the results aren’t terribly off base. This is also one heavy CUV, weighing in at over two tons, thanks to the sophisticated AWD, the V6 engine and the hearty CUSW architecture.

Of course, some of my original complaints still remain. The brakes, which I initially compared to a damp dishrag, are still weak, and seem to engage only when the pedal is millimeters away from the floor, as if the whole system was in bad need of bleeding and some new fluid.

The other problem, which is literally impossible to change barring a total redesign, is the rather cramped rear seat area and small cargo compartment. Having driven every vehicle built of CUSW, I realize that this is something that is endemic to this particular architecture, but the Cherokee especially is the kind of “lifestyle” vehicle that should be able to carry people and property with minimal fuss. Nearly everyone who rode around in the back found it cramped, especially if they were above 5’10″. Cargo room is tight, with just 24.8 cubic feet of space in the back – by comparison, a CR-V has 37.2 cubic feet, which makes all the difference when you’re doing a Costco run.

The last major annoyance was something that was not readily apparent on the launch, though it proved to be a real bear around town. The Rear Cross Path detection system would seemingly brake the car for no reason when parallel parking or backing into a stall at just a touch above crawl speed. While I can understand the good intentions and legal rationale behind this programming, it simply turned into annoyance in the real world, where experienced drivers can perform that at more than a snail’s pace. If I were to buy one, I would do whatever I could to opt out.

Having had the chance to experience the car on my home turf, and gain a better understanding of its capabilities, I was able to warm to it more than I did in September. In a segment full of anodyne entrants, the Cherokee is something unique, both aesthetically and mechanically. Unfortunately, it’s missing a few key elements in terms of practicality that would make it a true class leader.

Nonetheless, I’m far more optimistic after having driven the Chrysler 200. It seems that CUSW improves with each iteration: the Dart’s weak point was the powertrain. The Cherokee had a number of initial quality teething issues. The 200 still needs a bit more space for rear passengers. If the pattern of continuous improvement sustains itself, then the next-Cherokee could be a serious player in the market. Not that the Cherokee isn’t competitive, but you better be willing to accept some compromises for the sake of non-conformity.

Chrysler provided the vehicle and a tank of gas for this review.

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Piston Slap: “Spare” Me from Dry Rot! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/piston-slap-spare-me-from-dry-rot/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/piston-slap-spare-me-from-dry-rot/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 12:05:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=769298

TTAC Commentator sastexan writes:

With the extreme cold throughout the US and seeing a few shredded tires on the highway this week (in fact, I had a flat myself – not sure what caused it but possibly doing donuts in the FR-S on a parking lot last week with lots of broken up ice on the edges), I got to thinking about spare tires.

Many of the Best and Brightest have “keeper” cars – myself included with our old Camry. Tires have limited lifespans due to dry rot, and I’m guessing spare tires are included in that category. The spare in the Camry is the original 14 year old tire (full size spare at least). How often do people change their spares, if ever? Has anyone with an aged spare had it blow out due to dry rot? Can you just order a new space saver spare off of tire rack?

Take care,

Steven

Sajeev answers:

Very interesting question, one that raises even more questions! Keep these in mind before we proceed:

  • Tires dry rot slower when living in an enclosed space with no exposure to sunlight (UV rays).
  • You may not see visible cracks like other rotted tires, but rest assured at some point the rubber has petrified like a rock.
  • The odds of getting stranded by a rotted temporary spare is less likely than an ordinary tire, as nobody wants to roll around on that tiny donut for an extended period.
  • Low air pressure can be the reason for a spare blow out, as they tend to leak profusely after a few years of hibernating in a trunk.
  • The items listed above will not necessarily apply to externally mounted spares in trucks/SUVs/CUVs. Treat those more like your other four wheels.

Externally mounted full size spare owners: change the tire every 5-10 years…more or less, depending on your risk tolerance and driving needs.  Or re-use one of your “old” tires as a spare when upgrading to new ones for your regular wheels. And if you are luckily to have a matching 5th wheel as a spare (or unlucky enough to have 5 steel wheels on your ride) just rotate it into the mix.

Externally mounted temporary spare owners?  Good question, as this is a future quandary of my little Ranger pick-em-up truck.  Then again, it might be similar to our next case…

Internally mounted spare owners?  Who knows the safe lifespan, but I’d wager that 10+ years is fine, since I’ve used the original spare in my Mark VIII for short distances in urban conditions. I’d change my tune if I was traveling hundreds of miles daily on rural roads…grabbing spare tires from crusher-bound Taurii and Fusions in the process.

Whenever you “internally mounted spare” folks are ready for new rubber, well yes, Tire Rack sells spares…but I’ll assume China’s finest off-brand donuts trade for less money from another vendor, as that happened when my 1983 Ford Sierra needed new tires in it’s unobtanium space saver-esque size for a measly $34 a pop.  Which is more than adequate for the job.

In the case of your Camry?  I say replace it (full size spare in the trunk) with one of the external tires when its time for new shoes. Or get a used tire from any local shop for $20-ish.  Or just make sure it’s inflated to spec and you drive SLOW (i.e. 50mph or less) for a short period of time. There’s no wrong answer here, unless you’re stranded in the middle of no where and must rely on a fresh tire to take you hundreds of miles away in a harsh climate.

As with everything in life, this Piston Slap boils down to: It depends.

So eyeball the rubber and keep it inflated to spec.  That’s a good start. Off to you, Best and Brightest.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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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 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.

IMG_1374

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.

IMG_1376

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.

IMG_1373

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

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 3.2L V6 Engine 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 3.2L V6 Engine-001 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 3.2L V6 Engine-002 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-001 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-002 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-003 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-004 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-005 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-006 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-007 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-008 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-009 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-010 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-001 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-002 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-003 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-004 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-005 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-006 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-007 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-008 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-009 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-010 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-011 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-012 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-013 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-014 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-015 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Wheel IMG_1373 IMG_1374 IMG_1376 ]]>
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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 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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First Drive Video Review: 2014 Toyota Highlander http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/first-drive-video-review-2014-toyota-highlander/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/first-drive-video-review-2014-toyota-highlander/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 20:25:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=685274

Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC had its first bite at the 2014 Highlander recently. Be sure to bookmark TheTruthAboutCars.com for the written review in the coming days and a full-on drive review based on a week in Toyota’s new crossover in a few months.

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Cain’s Segments: Detroit Utility Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/cains-segments-detroit-utility-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/cains-segments-detroit-utility-vehicles/#comments Fri, 06 Dec 2013 16:44:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=673034 1465238_667848613266498_788517772_n

With what will likely turn out to be a brief decline in utility vehicles at the Ford Motor Company, sales of SUVs and crossovers at the Chrysler Group were stronger in November 2013 than they were at Ford and Lincoln.

How’d they do it? The Dodge Durango’s 36% increase – its lowest year-over-year improvement since May – was basically cancelled out by the Dodge Journey’s 22% slide. But at Jeep, where sales had been down 2% through the first ten months of 2013, the new Cherokee’s long-awaited first full month on the market helped to power a 30% brand-wide jump.

It wasn’t all down to the Cherokee, and it’s not as though every Ford utility vehicle posted decreases. (Flex up 29%!) With 9% and 14% improvements from the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler, respectively, Jeep’s two top sellers accounted for 58% of the brand’s November sales. Indeed, compared with the same period one year earlier, sales of every Jeep model except the defunct Liberty increased in November 2013.

The Cherokee’s 10,169 sales created quite a buzz when figures were released on Tuesday, however, as many an observer forgot that Jeep had delayed the model’s showroom debut because of quality issues, thereby enabling a greater stockpile of Cherokees than there normally would be at this stage of a launch. Or perhaps it’s just that desirable: could the Cherokee fly in the face of conventional wisdom and sell in this manner on a routine basis?

It was America’s 11th-best-selling SUV/CUV in November, and in part because of its early success, SUVs and crossovers were responsible for 39% of the Chrysler Group’s volume, up from 37% a year ago.

Five different Detroit brand utility vehicles sold more often than the Cherokee in November, including the two Jeeps already mentioned. The Ford Escape, America’s second-ranked utility vehicle, attracts 40% of Ford/Lincoln SUV buyers. Escape sales rose only slightly in November but are up 13% year-to-date, easily exceeding both the market’s growth and the better-selling Honda CR-V’s rate of ascent.

In the U.S., Ford currently relies on SUVs and crossovers for 29% of its sales, a little less than at this time last year. That’s not because their sales have fallen – utility vehicle sales at FoMoCo are up 9% in 2013. Simply put, sales of Ford MoCo cars are growing at a slightly faster clip than sales of utility vehicles, and the F-Series’ rapid rise shows that Ford really knows how to shake its money maker.

The biggest seller of SUVs in America is General Motors. From 14 nameplates, GM sold 75,999 SUVs and crossovers in November; 855,018 year-to-date. The 16% growth rate (both in November and year-to-date) is virtually twice what the overall auto industry has accomplished this year. Even with the one new Buick Encore introduction excluded, GM utility vehicle sales are up 12% in 2013, as improvement has been seen from every nameplate except the Cadillacs. The SRX continues to be America’s second-best-selling premium brand utility vehicle, although the Acura MDX is surging ever closer and the SRX is some 40,000 sales back of the Lexus RX.

Depending how you define the two terms – SUV and crossover – there are around 90 different nameplates available in the utility vehicle arena going into 2014. They generate 30% of the American auto industry’s volume. And of the 4.3 million SUVs and crossovers sold already this year, 48% come from GM, Ford, and Chrysler, down a percentage point from their market share a year ago.

Auto
November
2013
November
2012
%
Change
10 mos.
2013
10 mos.
2012
%
Change
Buick Enclave
4687 4817 - 2.7% 55,715 50,651 + 10.0%
Buick Encore
2663 29,195
Cadillac Escalade (SWB)
1100 960 + 14.6% 11,122 11,244 - 1.1%
Cadillac Escalade ESV
651 693 - 6.1% 7175 7156 + 0.3%
Cadillac SRX
4823 5340 - 9.7% 50,702 51,085 - 0.7%
Chevrolet Captiva Sport
4476 3672 + 21.9% 44,966 34,228 + 31.4%
Chevrolet Equinox
18,397 16,821 + 9.4% 220,980 199,070 + 11.0%
Chevrolet Suburban
5212 4705 + 10.8% 45,440 42,160 + 7.8%
Chevrolet Tahoe
7272 5895 + 23.4% 74,856 60,302 + 24.1%
Chevrolet Traverse
6889 5697 + 20.9% 88,665 78,176 + 13.4%
Dodge Durango
5581 4091 + 36.4% 55,351 37,373 + 48.1%
Dodge Journey
5155 6569 - 21.5% 76,317 71,875 + 6.2%
Dodge Nitro
3269 - 100%
Ford Edge
8761 10,142 - 13.6% 117,031 115,535 + 1.3%
Ford Escape
20,988 20,970 + 0.1% 271,531 240,877 + 12.7%
Ford Expedition
3492 2831 + 23.3% 34,025 34,001 + 0.1%
Ford Explorer
14,268 14,940 - 4.5% 175,490 146,963 + 19.4%
Ford Flex
2125 1648 + 28.9% 23,575 26,052 - 9.5%
GMC Acadia
7566 3631 + 108% 81,870 73,101 + 12.0%
GMC Terrain
6821 8158 - 16.4% 91,527 86,270 + 6.1%
GMC Yukon
2777 2438 + 13.9% 24,705 23,876 + 3.5%
GMC Yukon XL
2665 2535 + 5.1% 28,100 20,498 + 37.1%
Jeep Cherokee
10,169 10,748
Jeep Compass
3547 2715 + 30.6% 49,459 37,104 + 33.3%
Jeep Grand Cherokee
14,798 13,619 + 8.7% 157,758 137,613 + 14.6%
Jeep Liberty
4202 - 100% 6101 71,975 - 91.5%
Jeep Patriot
5148 4174 + 23.3% 69,639 57,444 + 21.2%
Jeep Wrangler
11,753 10,337 + 13.7% 143,474 130,124 + 10.3%
Lincoln MKT
431 537 - 19.7% 5416 6441 - 15.9%
Lincoln MKX
1946 2108 - 7.7% 21,366 22,490 - 5.0%
Lincoln Navigator
762 675 + 12.9% 7671 7289 + 5.2%
Total
184,923
164,920 + 12.1% 2,079,970 1,884,242 + 10.4%
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Review: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-jeep-grand-cherokee-srt-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-jeep-grand-cherokee-srt-with-video/#comments Thu, 05 Dec 2013 13:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=666978 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-004

If you want a high performance SUV today, you’re left with relatively little choice. GM hasn’t dabbled in the market since their Trailblazer SS / Saab 9-7 Aero and Ford never even gave it a try with the old Explorer. That means your only options for ridiculously fast boxes on wheels come from BMW, Porsche, Mercedes… and Jeep. Is it possible that the “bat-shit-crazy” Chrysler that I remember and love is back?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

This isn’t the first Grand Cherokee with sporting pretensions, as 1998 Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited was arguably the first fast Grand Cherokee. Despite the RWD layout making a performance version “easy to do” (in a relative sense), we wouldn’t see another until the third generation “WK” SRT8 in 2006. With a 425 horsepower 6.1L engine, it was the most powerful Jeep ever built. Sadly, a Cerberus-era interior kept it off my wanted list. After a hiatus, another SRT landed in 2012, this time with 470 horses under the hood. Although improved, the interior still underwhelmed and the Mercedes sourced 5-speed transmission was hardly a team player.

While the basic vehicle remains unchanged, 2014 brings more changes than your typical refresh. Up front we have a new nose featuring LED daytime running lamps, headlamp washers and standard HID headlamps.  Out back we get a refreshed rump with twin exhaust tips, which are far more practical than the central tips on first Jeep SRT,e because it allows a standard hitch receiver to be mounted behind a trim panel in the bumper. It’s worth noting that Chrysler rates the Grand Cherokee SRT for 7,200lbs of towing.

Now it’s time to talk about competition. When it comes to high horsepower SUVs, you don’t have many options. Sure, we have that new Porsche Macan, but it’s smaller than the Jeep and less powerful. When you do the numbers, the only 470+ horsepower beasts on the market are the closely related Mercedes ML63 AMG, the new supercharged Range Rovers, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo/Turbo S. And… That’s it. BMW has taken a break from X5M for 2014, likely to return as a 2015 model. Audi Q7? Too wimpy. Acura MDX? Weaksauce. That means that while the Grand Cherokee plays with the Explorer, GMC Terrain, Toyota 4Runner, VW Touareg and others, the Grand Cherokee SRT appeals to two different sorts of buyers. The performance enthusiast that wants an AWD Chrysler 300 SRT, and the luxury SUV shopper on a value hunt.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-002

Interior

As with the exterior, 2014 brings more interior changes than your typical refresh. The Jeep gets Chrysler’s chunky new SRT steering wheel complete with metal shift paddles, a heated soft leather rim, a flat bottom, and more buttons than Apollo mission control. The refresh also brings an entirely new stitched leather dashboard, leather coated doors, carbon fiber trim, and improved plastics all around. Below the carbon fiber, little has changed. This means we still have hard plastics which belie the SRT’s luxury credentials.

Dominating the dash is the latest 8.4-inch uConnect infotainment system joined by a 7-inch LCD disco dash.  The LCD gauges put the Jeep well ahead of BMW and Mercedes and, interestingly, only a notch below the full 11-inch LCD used in Range Rovers. Finishing the transformation is an Audi-like shifter in the center console. Sadly the SRT doesn’t get the Alcantara headliner that the Grand Cherokee Summit gets. Combined with the easily scratched plastic shifter surround, the SRT is obviously not running with the luxury pack but it is a notch above the crossover rabble and feels  worth the $63,995 base price. More on that later.

The  front seats are modified versions of regular Jeep thrones with more bolstering and are available in your choice of “baseball glove” brown or black with Alcantara inserts. (The full-leather seats will run you $1,995 more.) Although the seats are less comfortable than those found in the Merc, Rover or Bimmer, I had no problem finding a comfortable position on multi-hour drives. Unlike less expensive versions of the Grand Cherokee, the SRT’s seats seem to be designed for you to sit “in” the seat rather than “on” the seat, something that I was pleased to note.  Rear seat passengers will have little to complain about with reclining rear seat backs, air vents and the same soft-touch leather door treatment as the front. New for 2014 are two high-current USB power ports in the center console so your kids can charge their iWidget without cigarette adapters.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-005Infotainment

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 Chrysler “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. The navigation interface is easy to use, but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. The SRT trim gets Chrysler’s home brew 9-speaker sound system with a 506-watt amplifier. The sound is acceptable for the price tag but I’d buy the 19-speaker, $1,995 Harmon Kardon Logic7 system if I were you. Quite similar in timbre to the Logic7 systems BMW uses, the system holds its own compared to the up-level audio packages in the luxury set. Because BMW’s X5M is on hiatus, the infotainment win in this segment has to go to the SRT. COMAND is well past its prime and Porsche and Land Rover’s infotainment systems are unintuitive and lag in terms of feature functionality.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4L HEMI V8 Engine-001

Drivetrain

The first Jeep to wear the SRT badge used a 6.1L V8 that was accused of having a narrow power band, a “peaky” torque curve and poor fuel economy. To address this, Chrysler released a new 6.4L V8 in 2012. Instead of revising the 6.1, the engineers went back to the drawing board and created a new engine based off the second-generation 5.7L Hemi. This means that unlike the luxury competition, you won’t find overhead cams, direct injection or 32 valves. Don’t let Top Gear or the iron block fool you, this engine is a modern design with some tricks up its sleeve. Despite the push rods, Chrysler managed to fit variable valve timing, a variable length intake manifold, cylinder deactivation, alloy pistons and 16 spark plugs. The combination is good for 470HP and 465 lb-ft of torque.

Thanks to the “Mercedes years”, Chrysler was still using a Mercedes 5-speed transmission behind the 3.6L V6 and the 6.4L V8 in 2012 and 2013. While not a bad transmission, the 5-speed’s ratios were not well mated to the 6.4L V8. In order to get SRT levels of performance, a different final drive was fitted making the engine spin over 2,400RPM at 70 MPH. The new ZF 8-speed automatic allows a lower effective first gear, a more balanced ratio spread and a taller final gear so the engine can at 1,900 RPM at 70. Directing power to all four wheels is an MP 3010 electronic proportioning transfer case. The driver can select from five drive modes that control the torque split, shift pattern and the dynamic suspension system. Auto gives the softest suspension, slowest shifts and sends 40% of the engine power to the front for balanced handling. Sport stiffens and makes the shifts crisper, while sending only 35% of the power to the front for more rear bias. Track provides the stiffest dampening and sends 70% of the power to the rear for even more of a RWD feel (2012 and 2013 models topped out at a 35/65 split). Should you like things 50/50, Sport and Tow modes provide balanced power front and rear. One thing you still won’t find however is a torque vectoring rear axle, Jeep retains the electronic limited slip unit found in other Grand Cherokee models.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-016Drive

The Grand Cherokee SRT has all the right numbers for bat-shit-crazy status, but can it deliver? In a word: Yes. Backing that answer up is a blistering 4.1 second run to 60 and an eye-popping 1.37 second 0-30 time. But can it truly compete with the Germans? Despite the new interior and 8-speed automatic (basically the same transmission Porsche, BMW and Range Rover use) the SRT isn’t as refined, inside or on the road. Driven back to back with the competition, the SRT feels more like the Range Rover or the Mercedes than the tighter BMW or Porsche. The Merc comparisons are especially interesting since the ML and the Grand Cherokee share plenty of design DNA.

Although Mercedes has fitted a more powerful twin-turbo V8 (515 HP / 516 lb0-ft or 550 HP / 560 lb-ft), the Merc feels less connected to the road than the Jeep. Part of this is due top the air ride suspension Mercedes uses and part of it is due to the narrow 265 width standard tires. While you can get 295s all the way around, it’ll cost you dearly as the ML63 is easy to option over $100,000. Factor in the dated COMAND system and the 7-speed auto that is 1 gear shy of everyone else and the ML comes in last.

Land Rover’s Ranger Rover Sport continues to march to a different drummer. Although the 5.0L V8 produces 510 HP and 461 lb-ft of twist, the Rover’s mission is more luxury than sport. The English mountain climber retains all the off road hardware of the lesser models, all season tires and a high ground clearance. Thanks to the supercharged engine’s lack of torque compared to the rest, the Range Rover is also the slowest to highway speeds. While the Range Rover would be my choice if I had the cash, the fact that it isn’t really the same kind of animal puts it in fourth place.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-008

Porsche’s Cayenne is, without question, a beast. With sharp handling, an excellent weight balance and a well-trimmed interior you’d logically expect the Touareg’s rich cousin to take top billing. However, there’s a big value problem. In order to get 4-second 0-60 performance like the rest, you have to throw down at least $146,000 for the Turbo S model and getting crazy with the option sheet can bump your out the door by more than $25,000 without trying very hard.

BMW’s X5M would take top billing if it was still made, but, for the moment at least, there is no X5M for shoppers to contemplate. The outgoing X5M model’s torque vectoring axle, insanely wide tires, low stance and underrated twin-turbo V8 are a lethal combination. The fact that the outgoing X5M was also cheaper than the ML63 and the Cayenne certainly helps the value proposition as well. That is, if you can call a six figure vehicle a “value.”

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-015

That means that the $70,135 Jeep (as tested) is my pick for 2014. And now let’s talk about why. The fact that you could literally get two for the price of a Cayenne is huge, and that’s because I’m all about value. Value isn’t being the cheapest (although the Jeep wins that award by over $30,000 in this mash-up) it’s about delivering the same or similar experience for less, and that’s something the SRT has down. But there’s also something rough and rugged about the Jeep that elicits more charm. The Jeep’s interior is more utilitarian, the throttle blips on down shift lack the fanfare and overrun “pops” you get with the competition and there’s still that Jeep logo on the hood. More skill is required to pilot the SRT around a canyon road making it more engaging than the Teutonic competition. (It isn’t just the product that’s a little crazy, Chrysler allowed folks to drive the Jeep on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, other manufacturers kept their toys out of harm’s way.)

The lack of a torque vectoring rear axle means you have to be in control of the Jeep, while more refined nannies and vectoring systems in the Porsche and BMW can make anyone feel like a pro. The Cayenne and X5M are also better balanced than the Jeep which wears 54% of its weight up front thanks to that cast iron engine, but when pressed hard the Jeep gives up little to the Germans. Even in a straight line the Jeep’s numbers stack up well. Thanks to the 8-speed auto in the Jeep, and the old 6-speed ZF unit in the 2013 X5M we tested, the Jeep’s power deficit resulted in a scant 1/100th 0-30 penalty, 1/10th 0-60 penalty and by the 1/4 mile the Jeep was still neck and neck at 1/10th and 6 MPH slower.

After a week with the Grand Cherokee SRT I was sad to see it go, even after I noted my 15.5 MPG fuel economy average. Perhaps it is because I recently bought a Saab 9-7 Aer0 with GM’s 390 horse LS2, so I seem to be the target market for a value performance SUV. Perhaps it is because I’ll nver be able to afford the SRT’s German competition but the Jeep is within reach if I sell a kidney. Or, perhaps the real reason is that a 5,150lb Jeep with a 6.4L push-rod V8 engine making 470 horsepower that ticks off a 0-30 time faster than a BMW M6 rain or shine is bat-shit-crazy. Anyone know the going rate for a kidney?

Chrysler provides the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review. Chrysler provided an SRT Grand Cherokee at a Mazda Raceway event for local press.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 1.37 Seconds

0-60: 4.1 Seconds

0-100: 11.33 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 12.7 Seconds @ 107 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 15.5 over 989 miles

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4L HEMI V8 Engine 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4L HEMI V8 Engine-001 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4L HEMI V8 Engine-002 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4L HEMI V8 Engine-003 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-001 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-002 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-003 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-004 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-005 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-006 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-007 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-008 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-009 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-010 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-011 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-012 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-013 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-014 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-015 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-016 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-017 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-001 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-002 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-003 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-004 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-005 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-006 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-007 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-008 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-009 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-010 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-011 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-012 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-013 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee LCD Instrument Cluster ]]>
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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 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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Jeep Grand Comanche Episode 2: We Jack ‘Em Up In The Yard http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/jeep-grand-comanche-episiode-2-we-jack-em-up-in-the-yard/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/jeep-grand-comanche-episiode-2-we-jack-em-up-in-the-yard/#comments Thu, 07 Nov 2013 23:24:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=644274 2000 Jeep Grand Comance Project Car

If you haven’t heard by now, there’s a new project car in TTAC’s “garage,” a 2000 Grand Cherokee Limited. I of course use the term garage simply because “gravel driveway” fails to have the same ring. Why a car guy doesn’t have a garage is a story for a different time. All I will say on the matter is that I was promised a garage with a 2-post lift and I am still waiting…  Back to the car. Before we chop the lid off the WJ Grand Cherokee to convert it into a two door, two seat Grand Comanche we needed to tackle a few projects. We need a lift kit, off-road rubber, then we need to ditch the interior and take care of some general housekeeping items.

Iron Rock Off Road 3-inch lift kit

The whole point of this project car is for the Jeep to act as a farm utility vehicle. Since this 2000 Limited model was equipped with the “Up Country” suspension package it had a factory lift of one inch to 10.3 inches of ground clearance. If that sounds better than a John Deere Gator’s 8.5 inches, remember that the farm utility vehicle has a really short wheelbase. Translating that up to the project car meant adding three inches. (Keep in mind that since our Jeep had the factory one inch lift, the three-inch lift kits increase the height by only two inches since their base number uses the stock 4×4 ground clearance. )

After a an intense Googling session, I settled on the $499 Iron Rock Off Road lift kit. My logic was simple: it was the cheapest three-inch lift kit I could find. Why not four? According to the Jeep experts I asked, a four-inch lift would have required more complicated modifications including lowering the transfer case. I fell for the suggestion to toss in a $70 shock upgrade and my out-the-door was $633.98 after shipping.

Lift Kit In Progress

The kit arrived on time and in two large and heavy boxes. Everything was well packaged but the instructions could have been a bit better. While I pride myself as an above average DIY-wrencher, I would have liked some more detailed instructions simply as a safety margin. If you’re not comfortable disassembling your suspension, you’ll be paying hundred for the installation.

Because I’m a moron with a desire to live, when one of my spring compressors gave up on me, I decided instead of compressing the spring on side (and making it look like a big banana) I would just unbolt the suspension from the body so it would be low enough to install the springs without the compressor. This meant jacking the Jeep up one side at a time (two jacks would cost money and I’m cheap), placing a large concrete paver on the gravel to support a jack stand and then raising the other side in the same way. Right about the time I was breaking suspension bolts loose with a 24-inch breaker bar and making the Jeep sway on my dollar-store jack stands I realized this was stupid. Yet I continued.

With the lift kit installed after about 6 hours total I was able to bolt on the next item.

ProCom 16 inch steel wheels

Pro Comp 16-inch steel wheels

No project Jeep would ever be complete without steel rims. Black steel rims. Since I didn’t want to go crazy big and I wanted a large aspect ratio tire, I stick with a 16-inch wheel diameter and jumped up to an 8-inch wide wheel. Cost: $377.88 delivered. Yeehaw.

Pro Comp Xtreme MT2

Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 265/75R16

When it came to the tires my choice was limited. Because I opted for just a three inch body lift, I knew I couldn’t go too crazy on the rubber. I trolled all the Jeep forums I could find and my 30 second research indicated that a 265/75R16 would be the biggest thing I could stuff in there without pushing the wheel outside the body or sawzalling the body to pieces. After 30 seconds of online comparison I found a deal on Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 tires in just the right size for a grant total of $1,007 at my door. In hind sight a 4-inch lift kit would have helped me out here and something around 6 inches would have allowed me to get more serious 33-inch tires, but I was committed at this point.

Because I have a few connections in the fleet world, I was able to snag some time in the mechanic’s bay of a local company with a service vehicle fleet. Being the cheap bastard I am, I mounted and balanced the tires myself for free. This is also why one wheel has about 7 wheel weights on it, although I seem to have balanced them fairly well as there isn’t even a faint vibration on the highway. Score one for the cheap dudes.

Although there are more aggressive tires out there, I decided that it would be handy to be able to drive the Grand Comanche to the feed store directly. The alternative would be to drive something else to the feed store, pick up hay, straw, feed, etc, then swap it into the cut-up-hoopty for delivery. Even so the on-road toll is obvious with the tires being significantly louder than all terrains.

Jeep on alignment rack

Oops

This brings our total to $2,018.86 in parts followed by a $79 four-wheel alignment which is required after you disassemble this much of any car.  Since the car was gifted to the project, I considered this good value thus far. Then I decided to cross the creek and drive through the woods. More on that later.

 

This project is obviously for entertainment value only. My entertainment value primarily, but if you find it interesting to watch then we’re on to something. This means that comments like “why don’t you sell it and buy a X instead?” are pointless. Also obvious is the fact that I’ve never done anything like this before so it is incredibly likely that I’ll be doing stupid things, getting things wrong and generally making an ass of myself. That’s just par for this course. While I may mention specific products, I’m not endorsing anything and no person or company has given this project any free stuff. (This makes me very sad.) Lastly, if you have any suggestions, know of any sources for parts, or are in the area and want to check the disaster out, let us know.

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Piston Slap: Travel Well, Work Well? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/piston-slap-travel-well-work-well/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/piston-slap-travel-well-work-well/#comments Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:54:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=623265 Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC commentator wstarvingteacher writes:

I have been lurking on this site for at least three years. Comment some but mostly subscribe without commenting. I have been spending some time thinking about what I’m going to buy for my “jack of all trades” second car. Life changes so your needs change also.

I live on five acres just north of Houston. I have had a standard cab pickup that I like a lot more than I ever thought I would. The problem is that we have a need to send my Granddaughter off to school in another state. She said she wanted to buy my truck and with some trepidation I agreed. Now I have to replace it. I think I needed to anyway. Have grown tired of stolen spare tires and tools so I need something with inside storage. I figured a king cab truck would work as would many SUVs. Thought about a minivan but it seems they all have fragile transmissions. I tend to keep cars a long time.

Just to complicate things my wife has a car with a CVT transmission and a trailer hitch voids her warranty. Because of that we need to take longer trips in mine if we need to take anything (canoe etc) along. We will be taking an increasing number of trips. Therefore, mine needs to get over 20mpg on the highway and be able to tow 2000 lbs, (bare bones minimum) locally or highway. I am getting to the age where my eyes dictate I pay others for most of the work I do on vehicles. Therefore, dependability is very important.

I owned Lincoln Town Cars in the past (5.0 models) and they did all that I asked very well. I will have about $6k to spend on this second vehicle. Having a huge trunk while getting over 20mpg and being able to tow over two tons is a strong combination. I know that the Panthers run a long time and there are lots of parts. I also know that the CV(PI or no) and MGM frequently show up for low dollars. My truck will disappear next month and I can get hay or whatever, delivered for the short term. I guess my question(s) is/are:

  • What years panthers should I avoid for known problems such as spitting plugs and plastic intake manifolds?
  • Am I just looking at the panther because it worked for me in the past? Am I missing a good working, long lasting, cheap to fix, long trip vehicle that can work?

Seems like some vehicles travel well and some work well. I can’t think of anything that does both as well as a Panther. I think it is probably the last second car I will buy. Has to last for about 5 years when we will buy another first car.Hope the B & B will see this as fit to chew on for a while!

Sajeev answers:

So you want something that’s durable, gets over 20+ MPG highway, and can tow at least 2000lbs on a somewhat-regular basis. I can hear the Panther Haters among the B&B cringing already. If they even bothered to click on this article…but I digress.

There’s a chance that a minivan (if maintained right) or similar unit-body CUV with a V6 could fit the bill for both towing and efficiency, but they are a bit risky for a long-term owner. You could bite the bullet and buy a real body-on-frame truck or SUV, but they are rather expensive/valuable here in Texas. And their fuel economy stinks, even the compacts/mid size models with the necessary V6 power for your requirements.

Which begs the question, how could you NOT get a Panther? Set the cruise control to 65 mph and you can break 25 MPG, my best is 27 MPG with the A/C off on a 2006 Townie with an aftermarket computer tune. Add a big transmission cooler + trailer brake controller and it’ll safely tow just about any load implied by your letter.

I recommend getting a 2003+ model (doable with your budget), as they come with non-explody intake manifolds, better steering/suspension, hydroformed chassis bits and most will be new enough to avoid excessive wear and years of neglect.  The big brakes came in 1998, so you are set there. I don’t believe the 2003+ models ever spit spark plugs, that was a problem with congested Ford truck engine bays, sloppy tune up work (i.e. not a problem when carefully installed) and a different cylinder head design.

Go ahead and find the Panther with the most service records you can find.  It’ll travel better than anything else, and it can work hard when needed. Man, I miss not seeing this platform in new car showrooms/rental car lots: it really did it all, even with complete and unrelenting neglect from its maker.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: The Awful Side Effect of Being Really, REALLY Good Looking http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/piston-slap-the-awful-side-effect-of-being-really-really-good-looking/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/piston-slap-the-awful-side-effect-of-being-really-really-good-looking/#comments Mon, 30 Sep 2013 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=531217

Tim writes:

Sajeev,

One of the awful side effects of being really really good looking is that you tend to have lots of kids; and four kids later I find myself driving a VW Touran. It is the sensible-shoes option for the sexually successful in Europe- cheap to buy, cheap to run. Drinking in the TTAC cool aid, on a recent trip to the USA I booked a Lincoln Town Car for the six of us from Hertz, and ended up in a Dodge Durango; after which I have found a bit of red on my neck.

Its generosity of proportion, it’s easy livin’ spec (TV for the kids, keyless entry, self-opening boot, sat nav, sirus music…) made the trip back from the airport car park miserable. What car available in Europe makes family life easier (excluding stupendously expensive premium SUVs) if you have already mated; and thus do not need to tick the ego boxes of looks, brand and image.

Thanks,

Tim

Sajeev answers:

And here I thought you sexually successful people in Europe had more restraint, less braggadocio than us crude chaps in the States!  Did Clarkson lie to us Yanks about our relative horrible-ness?

That said, how can you go wrong with a Chrysler Voyager in Europe?  Considering your stunning “prowess” and the accompanying lack of ego (Porsche Cayenne, please?) that’s simply not possible. This Autocar review is a fair assessment of our USA breadwinner, relative to the mainstream MPVs in your home continent.

Sure, the Ford Galaxy/S-Max, Seat Alhambra, VW Sharan and Vauxhall Zafira Tourer and all the rest possess sensible Euro styling sensibilities and (probably) superior diesel engines, but you don’t need that shit. You need the Yankee van with the fold into the floor seats. Because it is bad ass. It’s what embodies the American Spirit.  All the goodies available in Chrysler’s breadwinner add to your hustle game, with no red-necked side effects.

More to the point, you’d drive the Voyager as I do with TTAC’s Rio Brown 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia: hipster ironically.  Need an example to prove the point?

Here I am parked at BP’s H-town headquarters enjoying a little break before tackling the pictured roundabout.  While I’d normally give the task to my Texa-Guido Lincoln Mark VIII, the Ford Sierra was the more ironic choice. No doubt the displaced Brit that felt the need to add some “London” to Houston agrees with my choice.

ZOMG HOW IRONIC.

Tim, my friend, you could be this self-aware. You could be me and the Sierra: easily reproducing this in a Voyager somewhere near your place of residence. You gotta do it, to it…Son!

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

 

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Review: 2014 Toyota RAV4 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-toyota-rav4-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-toyota-rav4-with-video/#comments Fri, 20 Sep 2013 12:58:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=520441  

2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When the RAV4 landed, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. In a world of unified corporate identity the RAv4 goes off script with a look all to its own. While the old RAV sold on mini-truck looks, the new one is undisguised crossover. The new nose has grown on me slightly since I recorded the video above, but I still find the look a little awkward. Since I was scolded for wearing striped pants with a striped shirt the week I tested the RAV4, feel free take my style opinion with a grain of salt as you click through the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior
The big change for 2014 out back. It’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t. The spare tire that clung to the back of the 2013 model like an octogenarian clinging to the past is gone. The removal of the tire makes completes the RAV4′s exterior transformation from Toyota Trucklet to crossover. By going hatch-mainstream, practicality is greatly improved allowing easier access when parallel parked or parked on a hill. Because of the RAV’s increased dimensions and the new hatch, it is possible to fit 4×8 sheets inside if you leave the hatch cracked.

The RAV4′s cargo hold has one of the lowest lift-over heights for loading in the compact crossover segment. While this makes loading easier, it means the hatch is closer to the ground and makes opening it more awkward. I thought I was alone, but some of our Facebook friends commented that the hatch hit them in the abdomen if they didn’t take a large step backwards when opening it.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

The RAV4′s interior is a sea of shapes, not all of which jive with one another. It’s as if the engineers couldn’t decide which styling direction to take, so they gave the interior a bit of everything. On the flip side, the majority of the cabin materials are above the likes of the Kia Sportage. The stitched pleather pieces of the dash help bring the cabin up-market but the urethane steering wheel lets the cabin back down. The carbon-fiber looking plastic trim seems to scratch easily as well and it’s located in high-traffic areas like the cupholder surround and by the window switches. This dichotomy is unique to the RAV4 with rest of the competition being uniform in terms of style, quality and feel. On average the RAV4 is in the upper-middle of the pack, but this double personality leads people to see what they want to see in the interior.

Front seat comfort is merely average in the RAV4 thanks to seats that lack adjustable lumbar support or a power adjustment mechanism. Continuing Toyota’s move away from leather, the Limited model gets SofTex faux-moo instead. Out back, the big change is the lack of a third row option for 2014. Toyota tells us that the take rate was low with most 7-seat shoppers opting to step up to the Highlander. The loss of the extra seats should have given Toyota a bit of room to expand the second row but it has actually shrunk for 2014 by one inch and the rear seats have lost their ability to slide forward/backward. Cargo room slots in at a massive 38.4 cubic feet jumping to 73.4 if you fold the rear seats flat, well above the competition.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment
2013 brought Toyota’s refreshed 6.1-inch Entune system standard on all models, and starting in a few months will receive another update to their latest software debuting in the Corolla. I should note now that Toyota has not said if the system can be upgraded to the new software, so if you like what you hear in the upcoming Corolla review you may want to wait.

The current touchscreen unit includes standard Bluetooth and a backup camera in addition to the usual combination of AM/FM and a single slot CD player. The standard 6-speaker audio system is moderately well balanced for a compact crossover. The system is easy to use and offers full voice command of your USB/iDevice media library. Optional on the XLE and Limited models is Entune smartphone app integration and flash-disk based navigation. The nav system is intuitive and easy to use but the system’s screen is easily washed out in strong daylight. Although the system is intuitive and highly functional, Entune is outclassed by the larger touchscreen products in the Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Kia Sportage and the new Jeep Cherokee to name a few.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain
Toyota decided to kill off optional V6 for 2014, leaving the 2.5L four-cylinder the only powerplant. While the switch is likely to offend a few, the vast majority of RAV4 sales were four-cylinder anyway. Toyota’s logic was this: the prime competitor is the CR-V and it’s four-cylinder only. The 2.5L engine is good for 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of twist placing it in the thick of the competition. Since the 2.5L is no longer the base engine Toyota fitted it with their 6-speed automatic transaxle to improve performance and fuel economy. MPGs rise to 24 City and 31 Highway in FWD trim which is above the CR-V and GM crossovers but well below the Mazda CX-5′s impressive 26/35 score (2.0L engine and manual transmission.)

For $1,400 Toyota will toss in their full-time AWD system on any trim level. The RAV4′s AWD system follows the same formula as the rest with a multi-plate coupling acting as a quasi center differential. This system is somewhat unusual however because the driver can lock the coupling on demand via a button in the dash. Although the lock will self-disengage over 25MPH, only the Jeep crossovers offer a similar touch. Engaging the car’s “sport” mode alters the throttle mapping, transmission shift points and encourages the coupling to lock more frequently to try and limit the FWD nature of the RAV.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The loss of the V6 is a big blow to the RAV4. In our tests, the RAV4 ran from 0-60 in 8.64 seconds in AWD trim, faster than the CR-V but slightly slower than the 2.5L CX-5. If you want anything other than middling performance, you’ll need to drop by the Chevy or GMC dealer for a 301HP Terrain or Equinox.

When the going got twisty, the FWD RAV4 we borrowed from a dealer proved to be competent but not exceptional. Like most crossovers the RAV is softly sprung and exhibits plenty of body roll, tip and dive but it never felt sloppy. Toyota’s structural improvements are noticeable with the rear hatch no longer creaking on uneven driveways. Adding AWD improved the RAV4′s dynamics thanks to software that is programmed to send power to the rear wheels when driving aggressively or when in Sport mode. The system not only prevents the few hints of torque steer the FWD model exhibits, but it also makes the RAV4 more dynamic on the road. Regardless of the model, the steering lacks the precision of the Mazda or Ford, possibly due to the RAV’s higher profile tires but it does rank above the CR-V. If handling is important to you, the Mazda CX-5 is quite simply the best small crossover on the market right now.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Toyota has a history of playing to the “meat” of every segment. Rarely does Toyota build anything extreme, be it the cheapest car in its class, the most expensive, fastest, slowest, etc. That describes the RAV4 to a tee. After a week with the RAV4 I wasn’t offended but neither was I enraptured. Toyota’s trucklet is reasonably priced ranging from $23,300-$28,410 and in most trims represents a decent (but not extreme) value compared to the competition. Yes, the CX-5 is more exciting, but like the more luxurious and gadget-rich Escape, it’ll cost you more. The CR-V is quieter but it’s also a few bucks more expensive. The Cherokee is more off-road capable but Chrysler’s reliability reputation isn’t exactly stellar. The Forester is the better choice for wagon lovers and the Sportage and Escape have powerful turbo options that speak to my heart. The GMC Terrain and Chevy Equinox have been refreshed and feature 301 horsepower mills for those that like to count ponies and an infotainment system that’s more attractive than Entune.

The new RAV is, without a doubt, a better 2-row crossover than the model it replaces. It’s also a very pragmatic choice delivering a blend of good fuel economy, large cargo hold, an AWD system that’s more capable than most in the segment and, being a Toyota, it’s likely to have a good reliability record as well. The 2014 RAV4 is a solid crossover and you can’t go wrong by putting one in your driveway. If however you want my advice, and since you’re reading this I assume you do, check out the CX-5 and Escape before you sign on the dotted line.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.17 Seconds

0-60: 8.64 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.88 Seconds @ 82 MPH

Sound Level at 50 MPH: 68db

Average Fuel Economy: 25 MPG over 483 Miles

2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-012 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-007 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-002 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-010 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-004 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-009 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-005 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-001 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-011 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-005 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-006 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-012 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-004 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-009 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-003 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-008 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-011 2014 Toyota RAV4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy pf Alex L Dykes ]]>
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Piston Slap: Say “Audi 5000″ to your Tow Vehicle! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/piston-slap-say-audi-5000-to-your-tow-vehicle/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/piston-slap-say-audi-5000-to-your-tow-vehicle/#comments Mon, 16 Sep 2013 12:17:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=518609

TTAC commentator Trend-Shifter writes:

I have a 1984 Audi 5000S Avant that is used as the wife’s car and our traveling/towing vehicle. Here is my dilemma…

  1. The air conditioning works as designed in 1984 (still using R12) but it is not to the standards of a modern “Merican” car. It is only comfortable at freeway speeds and without too much sunlight in that expansive greenhouse. The wife complains loudly all summer!
  2. The engine is only 110 horsepower. So when the air is turned on it dramatically impacts drivability. If I pull any kind of grade I need to turn the air off as not to impact drivers behind me.
  3. Right now I tow my jet ski with the car. It pulls it great at any speed as long as the air condition is off. (Refer to item 2, Wifey is not happy when the air is off!)
  4. I also have an 18 ft boat that I will need to tow in 2~3 years as my Grandsons get of age.

So based on the fact that the Audi 5000 Avant will not pull the boat, I think my best plan is to replace the Audi 5000 Avant in the next two years to fix all the problems I identified rather than modify the air conditioning or the engine.

I have looked at various SUV’s for towing. I want just real RWD, not some wannabe FWD disguised as AWD. The big ole freighter SUV’s are really expensive, not good at high speeds, and suck a lot of fuel. So I started to lean towards a 2006~2009 Cadillac SRX with the Northstar V8. (engine issues resolved in 2005) I think a 2000~2010 low mileage (under 40,000 miles) Lincoln Town Car is the best choice for all my problems. (Can’t handle the Grand Marquis & Crown Vic styling)

The Lincoln Town Car is RWD, has a V8, sits lower, cuts the wind, is very reliable, and gets decent mileage compared to other RWD frame SUVs. A set of plus wheels, Michelin Pilot Sports, and a transmission cooler should complete the package.

Does this sound crazy –OR- crazy as a fox (I mean Panther). If you agree, what years are the best?

Audi 5000 pair

BTW… My other car is also an Audi 5000. It is an 1987 Audi Quattro. (I drive it 110 miles round trip everyday to work on the Deeeetroit freeways) So the RWD Lincoln can sit in the garage on those snowy days.

Sajeev answers:

I’m impressed with your Audi 5000 collection (sorry I couldn’t do a Vellum Venom remotely) but I had no clue der avant was a tow vehicle! Good to hear this rig is saying Audi 5000 to THAT job! And your wife has the patience of a Saint to put up with situations that inhospitable for 110 horsepower. But I digress…

“The Lincoln Town Car is RWD, has a V8, sits lower, cuts the wind, is very reliable, and gets decent mileage compared to other RWD frame SUVs.”

I found this quote interesting, as I should also find it appealing. So you need a tow vehicle for bulky things, but you want one with a design aesthetic as your 5000. Longer, lower and wider than an ordinary truck?  More fuel-efficient too, right? So why not?

This is a fool’s errand. You WANT a bigger and taller nose/face when towing to punch a bigger hole in the air for your trailer! A Panther can do the job adequately, but it will struggle more because the boat will make it its bitch. I’d recommend a full-sized conversion van to maximize the size of the hole punched for that 18ft boat.

Not that you NEED a conversion van to punch an adequate hole for a boat that small, but why the hell not?  SUVs and real pick-em-up trucks lack the aero of a van, are overpriced, and vans are so frickin’ great for road trips. Keep the 5000 Avant for your wife’s normal commute, buy a nicely depreciated custom van for towing.

A 1994-2003 Dodge Ram Van, 1996-present Chevy Express Van and the 1992-present Ford Econoline are the proper successors to your Audi 5000 tow vehicle.  Find one with a towing package and the options you’d like.  I’d go with a mid-90s Econoline for it’s most Bauhausian Styling to appeal to your Audi-conscious style, get it with the torquey (but thrifty!) 4.9L big six, modernize/upgrade the brakes/wheels/transmission cooler for light towing duty and lose the conversion van paint job for a stark, Germanic gun metal gray. Yummy.

A perfect machine for one’s Piston Slap pragmatism and one’s Audi 5000-worthy Vellum Venom demands.

And for you Best and Brightest peeps who thought I’d take the Panther Love bait: I never did, son!

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

 

 

 

 

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Pre-Production Review: 2014 Toyota 4Runner (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/pre-production-review-2014-toyota-4runner-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/pre-production-review-2014-toyota-4runner-with-video/#comments Fri, 13 Sep 2013 18:01:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=516081 2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I would normally start a car review with an item of trivia or history about the vehicle under review, or about the segment in general. This time I’m going to start by talking about the elephant in the room: the 2014 4Runner SR5/Trail front end. Yikes! I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when the attractive new 2014 Tundra pulled away revealing the 2014 4Runner, I was reminded of a woman I worked with in 1998. Drawn in by the promise of eternal good looks, she had her eyebrows surgically removed and lines tattooed on her face. The only problem was the tattoo artist (accidentally?) gave her a permanently surprised “eyebrows”. Oops. Perhaps the 4Runner also regrets going under the knife and that’s why the fog lamp slits make it look like it’s crying. What say the best and brightest? Click through the jump and sound off in the comment section.

2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Toyota

Exterior

Are you relieved by this picture? I was. Things change if you’re willing to pony up $41,365 for the Limited model which adds chrome to break up the frowning grille and deletes whatever is going on around the SR5/Trail foglights. While I still think the headlamps are a little odd, the 4Runner Limited’s nose is attractive overall but it makes me ask: why do you have to pay more for the good-looking nose. Never mind, I answered my own question.

Aside from the new schnozz and some clear tail lamp lenses, little has changed for the Toyota’s mid-sized go-anywhere SUV. That means the 4Runner’s body still sits on a frame. That also means the 4Runner, Nissan Xterra and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited are the only mid-sized non-luxury body on frame SUVs left in America. (And I’m not sure I’d even call the smallish Wrangler a mid-size SUV.) Since I currently own two GMT360 SUVs, I “get” the BOF argument in many ways. Aside from the SR5′s nose, which is still giving me nightmares, there is something decidedly attractive about the proportions and profile of a body on frame rock crawler. Of course I can’t go further without mentioning the 4Runner’s modern nemesis: the decidedly unibody Jeep Grand Cherokee. The big Jeep isn’t just the current darling of the press, TTAC included, it’s also one of the most attractive SUVs for sale right now.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Interior

2014 brings a gentle refresh to the interior consisting of a new steering wheel, radio head units, gauge cluster, seat fabrics and plastic color choices. The new steering wheel is essentially shared with the 2014 Tundra and features a thick rim, well places sport grips, soft leather and well placed radio buttons. While Toyota claims that the front seats are unchanged from 2013, they seemed softer and more comfortable than the 2013 model made available for comparison. This could be down to the new fabric choices, but I think some foam was changed as well.

Ergonomics in the 4Runner have always been secondary to the off-road mission, and because little substance has changed for 2014 that remains. Window switches have gained an Auto feature but are still in an awkward and high place on the door, possibly to keep then out of the water should you stall in a stream. Radio knobs and switches and the 4WD shift level all require a decent reach for the average driver. Unlike the Grand Cherokee you can still get a 7-seat version of the 4Runner in SR5 and Limited trim, Trail remains 5-seat only. The extra two seats are an interesting option because the Nissan Xterra and Grand Cherokee, the only two rugged off-roaders left, are strict 5-seaters.

Toyota re-jiggered the features lists and the Trail model now gets heated SofTex faux leather seats with an 8-way power frame for the driver and 4-way power for the front passenger. You also get an integrated 120V inverter, auto-dimming mirror and programmable homelink transmitter. This placed the Trail model firmly between the SR5 and Limited in the lineup.

2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Like the new Tundra, the 4Runner gets Toyota’s latest infotainment head units. All models come standard with the 6.1-inch touchscreen unit with iDevice/USB integration with voice commands, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth speakerphone integration and smartphone apps. Toyota has “changed their Entune” lately and made the service free, however you need to sign up for an online account to make things work. SR5/Trail  Premium and Limited models add navigation software and improved voice commands with text messaging support to the same screen. Limited models upgrade the speakers from 8 Toyota branded blasters to 15 with JBL logos. If you want the detailed look, check out the video.

Drivetrain

Anyone hoping for a resurrected V8 4Runner needs to head to the Jeep dealer, engineers I spoke with indicated the V8 will never return. Unless you need to tow with your mid-sized SUV (like I do) this isn’t much of a problem since the V8 model existed primarily to bolster the 4Runner’s towing numbers and consume more fuel. Instead, the same 270HP 4.0L V6 as last year soldiers on cranking out a respectable 278 lb-ft of torque across a broad RPM range. For off-road duty the V6 is perfect as it’s lighter than the V8 and with the right gearing you don’t need more power. About that gearing. Toyota continues to use their old 5-speed auto in the 4Runner and that’s my only beef. The 5-speed unit has a fairly tall 1st gear with an overall effective gear ratio of 12:1, notably higher than something like a Wrangler. SR5 and Trail models feature a 2-speed transfer case bumping that to 31:1, still taller than the Wrangler’s insane 73.3:1 ratio. If you opt for the Limited model the 2-speed transfer case is replaced with a Torsen center differential for full-time four wheel drive with better on-road manners.

Keeping with the 4Runner’s mud-coated mission, the rear axle is still solid, features a mechanical locker and skid plates are still standard. The Trail model still uses an open front differential, but like the Jeep Patriot uses the ABS brakes to imitate a limited slip unit. Toyota claims this keeps weight down and improves grip on certain surfaces. Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select, active traction control and crawl speed controls continue for 2014. It’s worth noting here that the Wrangler still has a solid front axle.

2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Out on the road the 4Runner’s manners are defined by the high profile (70-series) rubber and body-on-frame design. Toss the 4Runner into a corner and the high profile tires cause a “delay” in responsiveness that you don’t find in modern CUVs with their 35-series rubber. In terms of grip, the wise 265/70R17 tires on SR5 and Trail models help the 4Runner stay competitive with mainstream crossovers. The Limited model gets reduced grip but improved turn in and feel with its 245/60R20 rubber. Going lower profile but reducing width at the same time seems like an odd choice, but it helps the heavier Limited model with full-time AWD get the same 17/22/19 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) as the part-time SR5/Trail models.

Soft springs and trail tuned dampers mean the SR5 tips, dives and rolls like a traditional SUV, which makes sense as it is a traditional SUV. These road manners have caused a number of reviewers out there to call the 4Runner “conflicted,” “confused” or “compromised.” Clearly these guys don’t live in the country and have never been off-road. The 4Runner is quite possibly the last utility vehicle with a singular mission: retain off-road ability.

2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Yes, Toyota continues to add creature comforts, and I’m sure they will sell plenty of the RWD Limited model in suburbia, but at its heart the 4Runner is an off-road SUV. This is quite different from the Jeep Grand Cherokee which has been on a constant march toward the mainstream. (Albeit with an eye toward off-roading.) This is obvious when you look at Jeep’s switch to fully independent air suspension, constant size increases, a plethora of engine options and curb weight gone out of control. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Grand Cherokee, but if you want to climb rocks, it’s not the best choice. Meanwhile, Toyota has in many ways re-focused on off-roading. The 4Runner offers a myriad of off-road software aids and the retention of a mechanically locking solid rear axle and rugged frame. In this light, keeping the old drivetrain makes sense: it’s tried and true and there are plenty of aftermarket accessories designed with it in mind.

The 4Runner may be a go-anywhere SUV, but it’s not a tow-anything SUV. The V6 and 5-speed combo limit the 4Runner to 4,700lbs, down from the 7,300lbs the defunct V8 model could shift. That’s thousands of pounds less than the Grand Cherokee and even 300lbs less than the Ford Explorer crossover. However, even this can be seen as a refocusing on the 4Runner’s core mission. As I’ve noted before, nobody seems to tow with their mid-size SUV except me, and off-roaders prefer the lower weight and better balance of the V6 for true off-road duty.

With Toyota canning the slow selling FJ Cruiser at some point soon, the 4Runner will soldier on as one of the last rugged SUVs. For a model that helped ignite the SUV/CUV explosion, it’s refreshing that the 4Runner has stayed true to its roots: providing a daily driver capable off-road machine. The Wrangler Unlimited is a better rock crawler with solid axles front and rear, better approach/departure/breakover angles, better ground clearance and a lower range gearbox, but the Wrangler is too off-road dedicated for the school run. If you’re one of the few that drops the kids off and heads over to the off-road park on your way to Costco, the 4Runner is for you. If you’re the majority of SUV shoppers, there are more “conflicted” “compromised” options out there that will fit your lifestyle better. Jeep will be happy to sell you one.

 

Toyota provided the 4Runner for a few hours at the Tundra launch event. Food and flights were covered by Toyota.

 

2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior 2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior-001 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior-002 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior-003 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior-005

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Capsule Review: 2014 Jeep Cherokee http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/capsule-review-2014-jeep-cherokee/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/capsule-review-2014-jeep-cherokee/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=515249 IMG_4625

There may not be a more important car launched this year than the Jeep Cherokee. A symbol of the union between Chrysler and Fiat, designed to lead Jeep’s push into the booming global crossover market, a bold new styling direction for the brand – these elements are all inextricably bound with the vehicle itself, with the Cherokee’s success in the marketplace vindicating all three. Predicting how well a vehicle will sell is always a crapshoot. I try to refrain from forming opinions of vehicles before driving them, but I couldn’t help but root for the Cherokee a little. It had sufficiently angered the Internet Product Planning division with its out-there styling, car-based platform and bold claims of off-road superiority. Charmed by the sheer gall of its contradictory mission (a CUV that can hang with true SUVs off-pavement), I wanted it to be a good vehicle on its own and succeed in the marketplace.

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My first preview of the Cherokee came last December, at a preview session at Chrysler’s Auburn Hills headquarters. A number of journalists were herded into the design wing as part of a product preview, with the Cherokee revealed last. After the sheet was pulled off, there were plenty of polite murmurs about it how it was “different” and “unique”. At a reception later that night, it was mocked mercilessly. I didn’t warm to it at first, but slowly came around to the idea, put forth by our own Marcelo De Vasconcellos, that it had to be polarizing

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In the flesh, it is much less jarring. Like most post-Bangle designs, bigger wheels are much more flattering, while the Trailhawk edition, with its black cladding, off-road rolling stock and red painted tow hooks, is downright desirable, morphing the car from a left-field cute-ute to an undeniably masculine looking off-roader. A walk around the car (which various Chrysler reps claimed were pre-production or early build cars) revealed fairly tight panel gaps, high quality paint and little evidence of sloppy assembly or corner cutting. Initially, I was optimistic that the numerous delays related to the Cherokee had yielded a nicely finished product that was done properly, even it wasn’t done on schedule. But the interior proved to be a major letdown.

The center stack will be familiar to anyone who has driven a Chrysler product, whether it was a Dart or a Durango. This is hardly a bad thing. If MyFord Touch is my benchmark for how not to engineer a user interface for a mass market automobile, then the UConnect/Chrysler parts bin layout used here is a shining example of how to get it right. Everything is intuitive, easy to use and free of lag, hesitation or any cheap-feeling materials. But beyond the center stack, there were some interior elements that felt alarmingly flimsy.

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The armrest/lid of the cubby just aft of the shifter felt like it was about to break off when opened, and giving it a little wiggle, like you would a child’s loose tooth, shook the entire shifter surround. The gauge needles, which are supposed to be red, look like they’ve been left in the California sun for a decade, while some of the stitching on the steering wheel was so wonky that it didn’t even need close examination – it was simply staring at me every time I moved the steering wheel and felt the poor stitching, which looked a bit like sutures performed by a drunken naval corpsman. I examined other Cherokees for similar quality defects, and they were largely uniform in having the same issues..

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Any hopes that the Cherokee would redeem itself with a Grand Cherokee-like driving experience were dashed within a few miles of leaving our starting point. While Jeep should be applauded for delaying the Cherokee on multiple occasions to iron out the trucklet’s various quirks, they didn’t quite go far enough. The downsized 3.2L V6 Pentastar engine is just as good as its 3.6L big brother, but its shine is tarnished by the much-touted 9-speed transmission. The ZF ‘box is about as calm as Robin Williams at his most amphetamine-addled, constantly hunting for gears on even minor grades, holding them for far too long, downshifting abruptly and generally doing everything it can to disrupt what should be a calm, collected driving experience. The throttle calibration is similarly abrupt, with a lifeless tip-in followed by a surge of power, while the brakes offer all the resistance of a sopping sponge.

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Even more damning was when the Cherokee was driven back to back against the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape Titanium on the “competitive loop”. The CR-V, charmless as it may be in the eyes of many TTAC readers, is at least quiet, smooth and composed on the road. It may look dated and even spartan inside, but it’s full of little touches – things like a very low load floor and one-touch rear folding seats – that matter a lot to the target demographic. There’s a reason it sold nearly 300,000 examples last year. The Escape, even with the dreaded MyFord Touch and gas guzzling 2.0 Ecoboost motor, puts on a clinic for what a pseudo-premium SUV should feel like. In my opinion, it’s just as sharp and responsive as a Mazda CX-5, while the 2.0 Ecoboost is an absolute monster at eating up the road (even if it eats up fuel at a similar rate). If the CX-5 is the Miata of crossovers, then this is the two-box, jacked up Focus ST. Only the Toyota RAV4, with its drab interior and half-baked dynamics, made the Cherokee look good. Against the others, it failed to shine, with discombobulated body motions on the handling loops and a surprisingly small cargo area. All the more damming was the $37,000 MSRP for my Cherokee Limited trim level tester.

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Where the Cherokee does redeem itself is off-road. All the talk from Jeep about the Cherokee’s off-road competence is not just PR messaging. Jeep set up a treacherous off-road course with rock crawling, deep-craters, steep dirt inclines and sphincter-clenching downhill sections. For any of the competitive set, it would be the automotive equivalent of a Turkish prison. But the Trailhawk testers we used to traverse the course didn’t break a sweat. With Jeep’s ActiveDrive Lock AWD system, a rear differential locker and the nifty Selec-Speed Control (which can limit your speed to as low as 0.6 mph for crawling scenarios), the Cherokee acquitted itself admirably off-road. It makes one wonder why body-on-frame SUVs need to exist if a crossover, let alone a more rugged unibody SUV, can handle off-road driving so well. On the on-road sections, our Limited tester had ActiveDrive II AWD, which does not have the rear locker (it’s an option), but adds two low-range (2.92:1) planetary gearboxes at both front and rear differentials, as well as a Neutral mode, in addition to selectable Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud modes. Other models have either the basic ActiveDrive I (your typical CUV AWD system that keeps it mostly in FWD mode) with ActiveDrive II as an option.

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Any reservations about the new Cherokee dishonoring the vaunted XJ Cherokee of years past, as well as the Jeep brand, can be put to bed. This is the real deal as far as off-road capability. The big problem is that the vast majority of Cherokees, Trailhawk models included, will probably not see an off-road course. At most, they’ll traverse a gravel driveway or a turnout. If you want a crossover that can hang with a Wrangler Rubicon, then there is no other option. But for anybody looking for a solid CUV option for the daily grind, it’s tough to recommend the Cherokee. Discounting its amazing off-road abilities, it does not appear to be competitive with the current class leaders in terms of on-road performance, build quality and cargo capacity. The fact that its big brother, the Grand Cherokee, is so competent makes the Cherokee’s faults even more disappointing. The current Grand Cherokee is my favorite SUV at any price. All trim levels, from the lowliest Laredo to the insane SRT, shine with excellence. I wish I could say the same for its baby brother.

Chrysler provided airfare, meals and accomodations for the writer on this driving event.

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Review: 2014 Fiat 500L (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-fiat-500l-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-fiat-500l-with-video/#comments Fri, 06 Sep 2013 21:15:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=507441 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-008

I have to admit, I’m a fan of the Fiat 500. Yes, I know it’s just a Fiat Panda with bubbly sheetmetal. Yes I know it’s a little peculiar. Yes I know it’s trying to ride on MINI success. It doesn’t matter, the wee Fiat makes me grin every time I drive one. Whether it’s the slow-as-dirt standard 500, the ludicrously loud Abarth, the almost-convertible 500c or the totally impractical 500e, the Cinquecento knows how to brighten my day. I was therefore excited when Fiat announced the 500′s success would spawn a four door stable-mate for 2014.  Is the 500L 40% more smiles for 20% more cash?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

When I first saw the 500L at the Chicago Auto Show, I tried to keep an open mind about the exterior styling. The perfectly orchestrated lighting, booth babes and a free cappuccino mug certainly helped distract from the car’s lines. Once I had the super-sized 500 parked in the grocery store parking lot under the harsh California sun, my opinion was set. Something is wrong with the 500L.

2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

On the face of things, a larger 500 sounds like a great idea, I love the way the new 500 looks. The problem is: the 500L is not a stretched 500. Instead, the L is an entirely different car riding on a completely unrelated architecture co-designed by Fiat and Opel. The result is a 500 that got stung by a bee, not a 500 Xeroxed with the enlarge setting at 140%. I don’t think the 500L is hideous, it’s just awkward. Like a slightly overweight person in skinny jeans and a tube top.

If you want a 500L that looks slightly more rugged, the Trekking model gets a tweaked bumper cover featuring more black plastic. Apparently black plastic tells others you’re an outdoor sports person. The side profile is dominated by slab sides and an unusual A and B pillar location. If you can’t tell from the picture above, check out the one below. The A pillar and B pillar are up by the dashboard allowing the windshield to be pushed out towards the front of the car, improving interior room but creating a style that is far from common in America. If I might proffer an opinion: I think going for a 1950′s wrap-around-bubble windshield would have been more unique and more harmonious. Out back the 500′s raked hatchback style is out, replaced by a more practical vertical hatch. I realize that style is subjective so, so I’ll end this section by soliciting your opinion in the comment section. Ready? Set. Flame!

2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

While the funky styling on the outside turned my nose up, the Euro-funk on the inside whet my appetite in a strange sort of way. (Kind of like admitting you eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and aren’t pregnant.) Cars in America are so cookie-cutter these days with every car company pulling from the same pool of suppliers are parts that the 500L stands out. In addition to switch gear you won’t find in a Ford or Toyota, the overall style is refreshingly different. Our 500L Lounge tester had the optional pleather dash in a faux-marble pattern that is on the one hand unique and the other a little strange. From the seat design to the parking brake handle and the steering wheel to the air vents, the 500L is just a little different. If you like breaking from the herd, this interior is for you.

Front seat comfort was acceptable for a car in the 500L’s price range ($19,100-$27,895) but could have been better. Part of this is because our Lounge model was a pre-production vehicle and did not have the four-way power lumbar support that is normally standard on Lounge models and optional on Easy and Trekking. I was unable to locate a 500L with the optional lumbar support so keep that in mind. Power seats are not available at any price and the manual adjustment range of motion is more limited than I had expected, but Fiat did go the extra mile and give the same height adjustment levers to the front passenger seat. The 500L’s chunky leather wrapped steering wheel and well placed controls have a premium feel to them you don’t normally find in this price range.

2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L.Dykes

Logically the 500L exists to give 500 shoppers an alternative that can seat 5 and schlep more widgets. Indeed, the rear bench has three belts, is split 60/40, adjusted fore/aft and folded/flipped forward to increase cargo capacity from 21 cubes to 64 cubes. (The front passenger seat also folds flat.) Unfortunately our model was had the panoramic sunroof, a trendy $950 option. Why is that unfortunate? Two reasons. The sunroof drops the ceiling low enough that my head brushed the ceiling and I’m only 6-feet tall. The other problem is the perforated cloth sunshade. It sieves the light rather than blocking it. This didn’t seem like a problem at first, but on a 98 degree day having my head baking and my face freezing lead to a headache that wouldn’t have happened in anything other than a convertible. Except in a convertible I could have put the lid back on. Phoenix shoppers beware. It is now that I should point out I had a passenger who thought this was the best feature ever. I think her head has been in the sun too long.

Americans love cupholders because we love fast food as much as we love fast cars. This is one cultural difference that even European car companies that have been in America for decades continue to get wrong. (I’m lookin’ at you BMW.) If you’re considering a 500L as a family car, there’s a serious deficiency you should know about: the 500L has three cup holders. That’s two less than the car’s occupancy, one less than the American bare-minimum standard and three less than ideal. Yes, the cup holder that slides out of the rear armrest is sturdy. Yes it can handle a 42oz McCokePepsiDew from the drive-thru. But there is only one. Fiat kindly includes a bottle holder in each of the 500L’s doors but tells you to never put a drink without a screw cap in them. Holding your Big Gulp between your knees may be acceptable in Italy, but in suburban America it is grounds for mutiny. Trust me, I found out the hard way.

 2014 Fiat 500L

Infotainment

The 500L is the first Fiat to use Chrysler’s uConnect Infotainment system. (Yes, I am discounting the re-badged Fiat and Lancia models.) Because the 8-inch system found in most Chrysler vehicles wouldn’t fit the dash, a 5-inch system is used in base models while most seem to get the 6.5-inch unit. Both systems carry the uConnect name but the 5-inch system runs an embedded version of Microsoft Windows ala MyFord Touch and the 6.5-inch system runs on the same QNX operating system as other uConnect systems (and Blackberry phones.)

Despite running a different OS, the 5-inch system looks and feels very similar to the other uConnect devices and it follows Chrysler and Fiat’s new direction in infotainment: no standard CD player. Like the RAM trucks and new Jeeps, you can pay $190 for an optical drive but it will be located somewhere other than in the dash. Fiat has said the 5-inch system can also be upgraded to include GPS navigation but details remain sketchy.  If you’ve seen the 8-inch system, you’ll be right at home with the 6.5-inch version. I assumed initially that the reduced screen real estate would be an issue for my inner-nerd, but I was mistaken. The reason is that Fiat moved the permanent on-screen button bank to a row of physical buttons below the screen making the useable area almost as large as its bigger brother. If you want the infotainment deep dive, check out the video. I was unable to discern a difference between the standard 6 speaker system on the 500L Pop and the “premium” system found on the other models. I did however find the 6-speaker Beats branded system to have a strange balance with exaggerated bass and muted mid range.

2014 Fiat 500L Engine, Fiat Multi-Air, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

In many world markets, popping the hood of the 500L will reveal a 0.9L two-cylinder engine good for 79 ponies. Clearly this would have taken “Euro-funky” to a level Americans would never accept. In an interesting twist, Fiat skipped over their 1.4L 135HP turbo and gave the 500L some Abarth love the form of their 160 horsepower 1.4L MultiAir turbo. In a move that may make Abarth owners feel left out, Fiat tweaked the small four again, bumping torque from 170 ft-lbs to 184. Thanks to the MultiAir system, the turbo’s 18psi (maximum) of boost can still be enjoyed with 87 octane.

Further upsetting Abarth owners is the fact that this engine is mated to a 6-speed manual or a quick-shifting 6-speed dual clutch transmission. Unlike most of the dual-clutch units out there, Fiat’s “Euro Twin Clutch” transmission uses dry clutches rather than wet clutches as seen in VW’s original 6-speed DSG. Cost and complexity are the main reasons for the dry clutches, however shift quality is not quite up to VW’s standards as a result. Another interesting side effect of the dry clutches is driving at slow speeds, especially on sloping roads, can heat up the clutch pack enough you can smell it.

2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Based on the 500L’s proportions you might be temped to think it handles like a giant marshmallow. You’d be wrong. At 3,200lbs (with the dual-clutch) the 500L is [relatively] light and thanks to the chassis stamping, the center of gravity is low. Toss in some Italian engineering and the optional 225/45R17 tires (205/55R16s are standard on all models except Trekking) and the 500L is surprisingly agile on the road. I spent a few hours behind the wheel of the base Pop model with the 6-speed manual and the 205-width rubber and came away fairly impressed even in stripper form. The 500L with the optional rubber easily out-grips the Buick Encore and Kia Soul, but if corner carving in your almost-crossover is your style, the Countryman has higher limits and better feel.

Fiat uses a modern electric power steering system in the 500L so that means we can skip steering feel for other topics at hand. Tossing the 500L into corners produces less body roll than you might imagine and the chassis is tuned to the stiffer side of this segment. The 500L’s cabin is considerably quieter than the Soul or the Countryman but not as quiet as Buick’s crossover.

2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Headlamps, Piicture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The 6-speed manual transmission has an excellent feel, moderately long throws and a linear, but slightly spongy clutch. The shifter feel is reminiscent of the smaller 500 Abarth except the 500L gains an all important 6th gear and looes the incessant drone designed into the Abarth’s exhaust. The extra cog helps the 500L achieve a very respectable 25/33/28 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) EPA score which is three city and one highway MPG lower than the Abarth. Adding the dual clutch tranny drops the city and combined number by one MPG to 24/33/27. In a week of mixed driving and hill climbing I averaged an impressive 28.9MPG, several shy of the Buick Encore but 4MPG ahead of the Mini Countryman S.

Opinions on Fiat’s dual-clutch transmission are likely to be as mixed as the exterior design. The 6-speed unit has all the benefits and flaws of every other dual clutch robotic manual on the market. Because this is a manual transmission at heart, there is no torque converter. If you understand what’s going on inside the transmission, the behavior makes sense. If you’re passengers aren’t “car people” they will ask: “dude, what’s wrong with your car?” The reason is: the 500L drives like a someone driving a manual. Takes offs have a hint of clutch slip and then an engagement point, this is especially obvious in slow driving where the car is almost constantly slipping the clutch. The 500L gets hill hold assist, but if the incline is shallow, you’re pointing down hill, or you wait too long to press the accelerator, the 500L will roll. On the up side, the transmission’s shifts are fast and crisp and the Fiat unit is just as eager to downshift as it is to up-shift making it a decent companion on mountain roads.

2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Pricing & Competition

Ah, the bugaboo of every review. Any car can seem like a slam dunk in a vacuum (I’m thinking LS 600hL) but pricing makes the deal. With a spread from $19,100 to $27,895 (without destination), the 500L’s pricing spread isn’t out of the ordinary, but what else competes with the super-sized Fiat? I suppose you could call the $14,700-$23,400 Kia Soul competition, but are they really the same thing? It may not handle as well, be as quiet on the inside or get the same fuel economy as the 500L, but it’s about $4,000 cheaper. That’s a significant difference.

On the other side of the spectrum we have the Buick Encore and Mini Countryman Cooper S. Both the Buick and the Mini seem like better competition thanks to their turbocharged engines, mini SUV looks and more premium brand image. The Buick and Mini both have AWD options which is something to keep in mind, but the majority of their sales are FWD so the comparison is valid.  The Buick is over $3,000 more expensive and not as powerful, but it does deliver at least $3,000 worth of interior refinements in my opinion. The Mini on the other hand fails the value proposition costing $8,000-$9,000 more than the Fiat depending on the options. I’d like to say the Mini makes up for the difference, but I’d be lying. Yes the Mini does have better road manners and I like their version of BMW’s iDrive, but the difference isn’t worth the price especially when Mini continues to use some crazy cheap plastics in their cabins.

The 500L is certainly 40% more Fiat for 20% more cash, but the size increase exacts a 50% toll on the cuteness factor and a 20% reduction in fun. Once that math is done, you’re left with the Kia being cheaper, the Encore doing almost everything better and the Mini still selling on brand but delivering little else. The 500L handles well, is reasonably priced, gets good fuel economy and has the largest cargo hold of this group. Paired with a large helping of Euro-funk, I can see why someone would want to own one, I’m just not that person. If you’re torn between the 500 and 500L, get the 500 and rent a four-door when you need one. If you need four-doors all the time, the 500L is unquestionably a better buy than the Mini Countryman, and in many ways a better vehicle as well, but the Kia Soul is a better value and the Buick Encore is just a better car. I can’t believe I said that about a Buick. Someone help me find my wheelchair, I know I left it here before that whippersnapper came in the room.

Hit it or Quit it?

Hit it

  • I know I’m the only one, but I love a dual-clutch transmission.
  • The baby uConnect system hasn’t lost what makes the 8-inch unit great.
  • Larger cargo hold than Encore and Countryman.

Quit it

  • Awkward looks.
  • Distinct cup-holder shortage in the rear.
  • The Kia Soul is a better value.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.47 Seconds

0-60: 8.34 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.72 Seconds @ 85.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 28.9 MPG over 460 miles

2014 Fiat 500L Engine, Fiat Multi-Air, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Engine-001 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-001 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-003 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-004 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Headlamps, Piicture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-006 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-008 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-009 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-010 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-011 2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Picture Courtesy of Fiat 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-001 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-002 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-003 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-004 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-005 2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L.Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-008 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-009 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-010 2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes ]]>
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Dispatches Do Brasil: Small Crossovers, From A BRIC Perspective http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/dispatches-do-brasil-small-crossovers-from-a-bric-perspective/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/dispatches-do-brasil-small-crossovers-from-a-bric-perspective/#comments Thu, 15 Aug 2013 15:32:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=499542 Ford_Novo_EcoSport (1)
Derek’s recent article on the CUV “event horizon” seemed to have been misunderstood by some of the B&B. Derek’s fine analysis showed you how one type of car, the crossover, has left its usual stronghold of America and is now eclipsing other kinds of cars in other markets. His proof is the new Mercedes GLA which shows that now everybody wants in. I posit that the “event horizon” came somewhat earlier in the form of the Renault/Dacia Duster and that this phenomenon had been brewing for a while. My home country of Brazil is one place where crossovers have been steadily rising in popularity.


For those of you living in the USA, it’s easy to dismiss small crossovers. You are blessed with open spaces, cheap gas and a choice of automobiles with limits that will never come close to being tested. Your streets are, and have been, littered for decades with huge land yachts in various forms: cars, full-size pickupss, SUVs and finally CUVs. It used to be that different markets had different requirements. Not anymore. Now, with globalization the kind of car you can buy has less to do with what you want, but rather what others want, even if they’re an ocean or two away.

For Americans, the CUV can be a bit of a let down. Not as capable as the Body-on-Frame SUVs and pickups of yore, not as roomy as the completely misnamed minivans prevalent in the North of the Americas, the CUV nonetheless fits the bill and offers a tangible set of advantages for consumers in world. Stepping up from their small, simple, crudely finished compact hatches, the latest crop of  CUVs offer more powerful engines, better build quality, more room (specially for your head!) and more prestige. European, Latin American and Asian consumers can and will rationalize and their new toy as a big step up from their old Ford Ka, Renault Symbol or Fiat Siena.

In markets where the population can afford it, the most successful crossovers aren’t all that different to the ones sold in North America. As Derek mentioned in his original post, the 9 of the top 10 4x4s sold in France are all on offer in the United States. I went over to Matt Gasnier’s most excellent best selling car blog to check out how CUVs in general where doing. To my great surprise there are 3 crossovers in the French Top 10. Three!!!! In France. Can you understand the significance of this? France, the country where the only truck-like vehicle that had managed to break into the top 10 until very recently, in all the history of French car sales, was the Dacia Duster. Now there are three CUVs selling in the top 10. And growing.

I see the effects here in Brazil. Some commenters on Derek’s article mentioned they had seen their first Range Rover Evoque. Here, in poor Brazil, it has been a somewhat common sight for over a year. You just can’t go to a mall without seeing at least two parked. I see them at least every other day in traffic.

You can blame Ford for this turn of events, since their EcoSport started the whole thing. Back in the 90s, somebody in Ford Brazil had the genius of seeing that the Euro Fusion of the times wouldn’t cut it here. Based on the Fiesta, the Euro Fusion was a tall wagon thingy, with a minivan-esque design (not like the Fusion you all know in America). Ford Brazil decide to butch it up and turn it into a jipe (that is how Brazilians used to call anything 4×4-like). A sort of jipe. One that was not big, didn’t really have any aptitude to go off-road or pull anything, but looked the part. Better yet, they discovered that they could raise the price over the regular Fiesta more than 40 percent and people would still buy it. The EcoSport simply doubled Ford’s market slice and improved their profits significantly. Undeniably a home run, or in Brazilian terms: Golaço! This is the formula that nearly every manufacturer is following now. Take your basic car, turn it into a CUV, make lots of money on very little investment for the improvements (raised height, cladding etc).

Then came the Renault Duster which did basically the same thing on the original Logan. Another star, another hit. Better yet, the French had the gall to take it to Europe to do battle with more refined opponents. Armed with a spectacular low price and a ride that was in no way offending, sales took off and the horizon event was reached. Like in Brazil, everybody scrambled to get a piece of the only growing pie in the market. Suddenly newspapers in their business sections and car magazines on both sides of the Atlantic started posting pictures and news of CUVs that may or not happen. The only thing you read about is the upcoming mini-SUVs. Renault Captur! Honda something or other! The Chevy anti-EcoSport was spotted somewhere int the world! VW confirms the Taigun (smaller than Tiguan) for next year! BMW will build the X1 in its new Brazilian factory! New factories are needed to keep up with demand! Sales! Money! Margins!

What does all that mean? Death to the station wagon for one. VW’s small Parati, a perennial Brazilian favorite, is dead. Fiat’s Palio Weekend has no substitute planned. In Europe, no more Clio or 208 station wagon. The really mini minivans are going too. The Chevy/Opel Meriva has already died, the Fiat Idea will soon join it.

And damn the enthusiasts. Or not. In America they talk and talk of the mythical brown, diesel, station wagon, but none buy them. In Brazil and other places outside the USA, all they want to see is that new shiny CUV in their garage. To them it’ll be a symbol of their success. The jacked up, ill-handling (comparing to a car), low capacity (comparing to a BOF SUV) will continue its sale rise.

How long? That’s anybody’s guess. I wouldn’t bet against the surging wave though. It is just gaining strength. If my wife and her friends (not to mention many of their husbands) have their way, the rise of the mini CUV will continue until there’s a least one in every family’s garage.

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Honda Crosstour http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/vellum-venom-2012-honda-crosstour/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/vellum-venom-2012-honda-crosstour/#comments Tue, 30 Jul 2013 12:42:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=497250 title

Here are a few books I consider required reading for Transportation Design students: The Reckoning, Rude Awakening, All Corvettes are Red and Car: A Drama of the American Workplace.  These show what it takes to make a car…to make a designer’s work come to fruition.

Sadly, during my (short) time at the College for Creative Studies, we focused on creativity at all costs: pay no attention to the business behind the curtain.  So while the Honda Crosstour is a curious stylistic exercise, does this dog hunt in the real world?

 

1

First, let’s just be surprised (impressed?) this design made production.  The Crosstour’s XXL-sized grin proves something in the land of bloated CUVs, perhaps giving the impression there’s a big rig Cummins Turbo diesel behind it? This grille needs a good head shrinker, so to speak.

 

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While the grille’s 2013 redesign (scroll to the end) helps tremendously, this frame’s massive size combined with its dull gray plastic frame doesn’t impress.  To the 2012′s credit, the wraparound grille’s teeth add visual excitement not available with the 2013′s thick, wholly generic chrome rim.

The hard angles and modest chrome trim catches the eye, though a body color paint job in lieu of the gray plastic is price appropriate.

 

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One of my more favorite angles: the hood sports sweeping and fluid creases, in the proud Detroit tradition of long noses for overt style and swagger.  Unlike every other CUV, the Crosstour has some Vista Cruiser DNA. Not enough wretched excess, but the proportions and general attitude are the closest we’ve seen in a long while to yesteryear’s Olds wagon.

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Aside from the appealing wedge at the bumper’s base, this nose is way over-styled. Note the headlight’s uncomfortable transition from the pleasantly proportioned yellow reflector to that massive center signal light with oversized black plastic frame: necessary to integrate the bloated grille into the bumper’s demure-ish form. Honda designer’s did a reasonable job cramming 10lbs of shit into a 5lb bag, indeed.

Then clock the fog light: the negative area (in the paint) at the leading edge of the fog light assembly needs to disappear to reduce the bumper clutter.

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That said, the over styled negative area is trick when zooming in. Except for the fake slots in the black plastic: a smarter-textured alternative wouldn’t cost much more! Hell, make it out of  fake carbon fiber instead of this Band-Aid look.

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The bumper’s strong lower wedge is also present from here.  The lower grille’s texture is simple, logical, and remarkably well proportioned…unlike so many elements on the Crosstour.

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Shades of the Accord: the Crosstour’s headlights, fender flares and the fender/door’s swage line harken back to the last-gen Accord.  It’s all good, because the Crosstour is a station wagon at heart.  Aside from the suspension lift kit, clearly seen here by the big wheels and poseur-tall ride height.

But just wait…the lifted station wagon theme gets worse as we go further back.

6The chamfered edge of this flare is unique, and worthy of possible implementation elsewhere in automobilia.  The only problem? It tends to fight other elements presented on the Crosstour’s body.

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Like the rim of the 1999-ish Chevrolet Silverado (and countless other GM products from this era) these fake wheel holes don’t evoke extra strength, performance or curb appeal. They merely look cheap. Either you add a hole at the bottom of this space or you fill it in. No excuses.

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The Crosstour’s cowl is tidy enough, except that it’s not: the A-pillar’s bulk(?) requires a plastic filler panel for the fender to meet with the base of the windshield. A poor implementation, perhaps stemming from the Accord cowl’s inadequacies for CUV duty?

9But wait…did this just happen?  NO DLO FAIL?  The A-pillar, fender and door are so happy together?  ZOMG SON THE CROSSTOUR IS TEH BOMB!

9_1Another shot of the Accord-esque swageline.  Unlike most swagelines that start small but grow upwards, the Crosstour’s goes down as it enters the front door.  While not hideous, it’s certainly bizarre…you’ll see why in the next shot.

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Combine the odd swage line with the fake slots (nestled in a negative area in the rocker panel) and there’s a lack of correlation. The design gets undefined, busy and generally messy.  That bolt-on mudflap could keep more dirty lines from entering the equation, but the Crosstour’s undersized affairs don’t match the fender flare’s prodigious width, nor do they hide that line separating the fender and the rocker panel.

Visualize the alternative: reduce the fender flare’s width, fatten the mud flap and make the swage line “bend” at the deepest part of the negative area (i.e. the top row of slots) and bingo: a cleaner implementation.

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Speaking of, make the fake slots go away!  Banish them to the land of silver painted interior trim and faux fender vents! And, by the way, thank you for not putting fender vents on this beast. 

Unlike the Pontiac Aztek’s profile, the Crosstour isn’t wholly hideous.  There’s a bit of five-door hatch, a smidgen of AMC Eagle wagon, and the sky high beltline of a modern vehicle. Which definitely makes the Crosstour something unique, if not outstanding.

While this Evox image is too perfectly manicured, the Crosstour’s front-to-back flow works well.  There’s a smart up kick around the rear door handle, a tough shoulder line (that shadow) above the taillight, a fast D-pillar, and a strong static line at the base of the doors that elengantly merges with the rear wheel’s arch. It all flows nicely without being too bubbly or too square.

And no DLO fail to speak of. Woot!

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Not so pretty in the flesh, eh?  First, the matte black C-pillar needs to be shinier to go with the chrome trimming. Second, the door cut line crashes through the fender flare, instead of following/dancing with that arch. More to the point, integrate the door cut line into the lowest point of the fender flare’s negative area. Sure, this exposes more rocker paneling, but draping door sheetmetal over everything looks decidedly…cheap.

Lastly, the swage line (what’s left of it) slams through the door handle’s negative area instead of flowing over: not elegant.

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In case you missed it, here’s how the swage line intersects with the door handle’s negative area.  The line should be further north to avoid this mess. And while you don’t see the BIG problem yet, the body’s increasing height and bulk is becoming a problem.

 

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That’s not to say the rear isn’t without charm: the fast D-pillar, tapered greenhouse (i.e. gets slightly smaller past the rear door) and slight tumblehome looks elegant and somewhat muscular. No other CUV can pull this off…hell, even the Porsche Panamera looks flabbier from this angle.

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And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…drum roll please…the moment when the Crosstour goes from quirky and interesting to just plain offensive.

Because of the increasing height, the hatchback needs glass between the taillights and below the integral spoiler. (to improve visibility?) While that spoiler adds excitement, highlighting the acres of glass with a bubble dome hatchback like the Fox Body Mercury Capri woulda been so much sweeter.

Well, not sweet enough.  The Crosstour’s rounded bottom tries too hard to be a sporty 5-door hatchback. At this (ahem) elevation, that dog won’t hunt.  Instead of soaring upwards (at the side windows) the body’s belt line should remain static, emulating the height of the front door.  Combine that with a flatter/boxier butt (keeping the bubble dome hatchback idea) and there’d be a quirky cool version of the AMC Eagle instead.

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The glass has interesting touches, like the floating Honda emblem. The defroster/defogger lines delightfully contour around said emblem and the integral washer nozzle at the top (not pictured, my bad) are also a minimalist’s treat.  In a world of afterthought CUV emblems, oversized and haphazardly slapped on a tailgate’s limited real estate, the Crosstour did a good job right here.

 

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Too bad the wiper arm can’t hide under that spoiler!  While the Crosstour’s strong haunches (above the taillights) and tumblehome are both sporty and elegant, everything goes horribly wrong south of the license plate. No more tall buffalo butts, please!

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While the taillights start at the “end point” of the spoiler, they aren’t flush with the hatchback.  The lense’s silver insert has no logical reason for its location: moving lower, where the hatch bends at the base of the glass would help integrate the form and reduce unnecessary “lines” on the body. (i.e. start the silver where that indoor light’s hard reflection is on the hatchback.)

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What a mess! These hard lines make no sense with the upper half’s round glass and muscular haunches in the quarter panels. They are too harsh for too “long” of a form on this body.  Unrefined!

Either the northern hemisphere needs some hard bends or this area needs softening up.  Much like how the rear doors blanket over the natural location of the rocker panels, the tail lights shouldn’t be exposed in this bumper fold.  The lights should be smaller to let the painted bumper flow naturally from the bottom of the tailgate to the base of the roof: one simple, logical sweep of painted body. Too bad about that!

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Once more: too many harsh lines, accentuated by rounded and beveled tailpipes.  Combined with the softer stuff up top and the excessive height brought about from the rear doors, the Crosstour’s butt steals defeat from the hands of victory.**

**provided you believe that a quirky alternative to a CUV is a good thing!2013_redesignAnd yes, a quirky alternative to a CUV is a worthy endeavor for any designer.  And any would-be CUV buyer, at least in theory.

While the 2013 model looks a bit more interesting (especially in brown, ‘natch) the Crosstour doesn’t fit the CUV bill. When you combine CUV, hatchback and station wagon in this manner, you insult all three automotive genres in one vellum rendering. Too bad about that, because this idea has potential. And possibly merit.

Thanks for reading, have a great week.

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Vellum Venom Vignette: The Emperor Has No Clothes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/vellum-venom-vignette-the-emperor-has-no-clothes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/vellum-venom-vignette-the-emperor-has-no-clothes/#comments Tue, 16 Jul 2013 12:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495166

Like Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks playing trumpet vs. at rest, cars are bigger in every direction compared to their predecessors.  Perhaps you’ve seen a 1980s Honda Accord in front of the latest platform.  Or perhaps an old/new Chevy Silverado. But what about a copiously large Cadillac, like the one made (somewhat) famous in a Moby music video?

What happens when you put that machine, an unrivaled King of The 1970s, against a pair of modern land barges?  You already know, but go ahead and click to see anyway. 

Our good friend with the former LeMons Station Wagon, Brian Pollock, snapped this 1969-1970 Cadillac Sedan DeVille (not a Fleetwood, considering the wheelbase?) sandwiched between a late-model Ford F-150 and Acura MDX.  I assure you that neither Brian nor myself have the photochopping skills to shrink the Caddy: this actually happened.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a modern-day family sedan in the mix, too: that’d show the generational changes far better than a CUV and a truck.  But note how the Caddy’s fenders works proportionally well with its 15″ (14″?) wheels, and how the Acura and Ford do the same with 17″ rolling stock. The Caddy looks even smaller because of a lower ride height, lower belt line and massive overhangs at both axles.  The extra overhang means the Caddy’s nose and butt tapers more elegantly, giving a (dare I say it) sleeker appearance compared to the other two.

Losing overhang isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just kills the ability to shape and taper a form.  Everything must have a flat nose and a (modern-day family sedan) buffalo butt! Can you imagine if this Caddy had the bullet-like face of today’s ATS, but with the same elongated snout?  It would be a seriously wind cheating land barge, slicing the air with less frontal area than modern machines.  I suggest that it’d be a modest aerodynamic victory, even if European regulations have (probably) killed this design language forever. Or at least for a long time.

So what’s the key takeaway here?  We need more cars proportioned after tennis courts. What was big before isn’t so big these days.

Thanks for reading, have a lovely week.

]]> http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/vellum-venom-vignette-the-emperor-has-no-clothes/feed/ 29 Review: 2013 BMW X6M – Swansong Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-bmw-x6m-swansong-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-bmw-x6m-swansong-edition/#comments Fri, 05 Jul 2013 17:43:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=493559 2013 BMW X6M Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

With Mercedes cranking out AWD versions of their AMG products and Audi finally bringing their AWD “RS” products to America, it was only a matter of time before BMW have in and added some front-wheel motivation to their M5. Just kidding. BMW maintains that the M5 will forever retain RWD. This means the M5 will focus on dynamics and not acceleration. BMW’s answer to this deficiency since 2010 comes in the form of the X5M and X6M cousins.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Why are we looking at the 2013 X6M when 2014 is bringing an all-new X5? Easy, the X5M won’t roll into town until the 2015 model year we’re told and the X6 has yet to be officially refreshed putting its new body back to the 2015 model year in all likelihood. If you want a fast AWD BMW and can’t wait for the refresh, act now.

What is the X6M? I’m glad you asked because I still haven’t decided. BMW would like you to think that it is a new class of vehicle called the SAC or “Sports Activity Coupé.” For some reason I have trouble calling a 5-door crossover that weighs a feather under 5,400lbs a “coupé,” but that’s just me. On a technical level (and to answer the real question at hand) the X6 is an X5 without the third row of thrones and a “liftback” and not a hatchback profile. The steeply raked rear window and overall shape of the X6 make it look smaller on the outside than it is. The X6M is one inch shorter than the M5, four inches wider, nine inches taller, and a full 1,000lbs heavier. 2013 BMW X6M Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Identifying the X6M from the “common” X6 is fairly easy. BMW swaps the hood for a version with a “power bulge” (not functional as far as I could tell) and a new bumper with openings large enough to swallow a Geo Metro. Out back we have quad exhaust tips and aero treatments that scream “look at me!” The most important difference is almost lost in the X6M’s proportions: this SUV wears some seriously wide 315/35R20 rubber on 11-inch wide allow wheels. More on that later.

Interior

For a vehicle with a $92,900 starting price the spartan interior of the X6M surprised some of my passengers. It shouldn’t. The X6 wears the same 7-year old interior as the 2006-2013 X5 with only minor tweaks which you’ll mostly find in the back. Up front we have the same injection molded dash as the X5 and X5 but BMW swaps the wood out for brushed aluminum. Call me an old man at heart, but I think a dark stained wood package would be better suited to the X6M’s sports/luxury mission.

2013 BMW X6M Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Front seat comfort is excellent, but again it should be in something this spendy. The comfort level is thanks to BMW’s 20-way power “M sport” seats which allow the seat to contort in more ways than you would think possible. (BMW makes these same seats available on nearly their entire lineup and it’s worth the cost to upgrade.) Out back you’ll notice something is missing at first glance. The X6M is a four-seater by default. If you want the middle rear seat that was lost in the X5M to X6M transition, you’ll have to pay an extra $350 on-top of the $4,050 premium for the X6M’s sloping backside. Apparently stye doesn’t come cheap.

About that liftback; from the X6M’s profile you might assume cargo area would be limited, but at 25.6 cubic feet the luggage compartment is more than adequate for a party of 5. (Although notably lower than the X5M’s 35 cubes.) You might also mistakenly assume the X6M would have more interior room than the M5 sedan but you’d be wrong there too. The M5 somehow offers more legroom and headroom front and back than either the X5M or X6M, something to keep in mind if you’re SUV shopping simply because you’re a tall person.

2013 BMW X6M Exterior LED Headlampsm, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

iDrive has come a long way since its introduction, and although complicated at times, it’s still the ultimate in-car attraction for my inner nerd. Keep in mind that the Swansong edition X6M doesn’t get latest version of the system found in the new 3-Series. The key differences are improved integration with the heads up display and a media button on the iDrive controller reflecting the relative importance of CDs and media devices in this century. Don’t fret, the older iDrive system runs the same software as the new version meaning the X6M still has all the smartphone app integration you can handle and now fully supports voice commanding the tunes on your USB/iPod. Like the rest of the BMW portfolio, you can Tweet, Facebook, Wikipedia and SMS message while you drive (with the $250 apps option). Compared to Audi’s MMI, iDrive lacks the Google satellite view mapping but the system is more responsive, more intuitive and more polished. I’d like to compare it to Mercedes’ COMAND but that would be like comparing a Space Shuttle to the Model T. For our in-depth look at iDrive, check out the video review.

Drivetrain

By now the suspense is killing you. After all, we haven’t even mentioned the M engine under the hood so here we go: Turbo lovers rejoice! Squeezed under the bulging hood beats a 4.4L twin-turbo V8 engine cranking out 555HP and a mind numbing 500 lb-ft of torque. While this engine is quite similar to the X6 xDrive50i’s 4.4L twin turbo V8, there are some significant differences, most notably the broader torque curve. The “pedestrian” 4.4L engine delivers 450lb-ft from 1750-4500RPM while the M-mill broadens the torque plateau to 1500-5650 and the difference is marked behind the wheel. Power is routed to all four wheels via a heavy-duty ZF 6-speed automatic transmission, BMW’s full-tine AWD system and of course, a torque vectoring rear differential. I have seen complaints from the forum fan-boys whining that BMW didn’t put their dual-clutch M transmission under the hood of the X6M, I have to agree at some level.

2013 BMW X6M Engine, 4.4L twin-turbo V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So why not an AWD version of the DCT tranny? In a word: towing. Despite the insane power numbers the X6M is rated to tow a stout 6,600lbs. With more torque on hand than most diesel engines, the X6M had no trouble towing a 5,000lb load that we hitched up making the X6M the second most practical performance vehicle I’ve ever tested right behind the X5M. As if common sense wasn’t enough, the manual reminds you to not use launch control while towing a trailer.

Drive

Let’s get some numbers out of the way. The X6M clocked a 4.04 second sprint to 60 with launch control, 4.3 seconds without and 4.5 seconds without launch control and not using the M power mode. What’s the difference? Aside from crisper/faster shifts, launch control adjusts the stability control system and allows the turbos to spool up to reduce turbo lag on launch.  To put that in perspective, the last M6 we had our hands on ran to 60 in 3.75, last month’s CLS63 AMG did it in 4.1, and the high-power Jaguar XKR-S finished the task in 3.83.

2013 BMW X6M Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

What does that have to do with the X6M and why are we comparing sports cars and an SUV? Because of how close those number are. How is that possible with the X6M weighing so much more? It’s all about the grip. 0-60 testing a two-wheel drive high horsepower vehicle takes a certain amount of time and finesse. The X6M needs only a heavy right foot. Aside from the straight-line fun AWD brings, BMW’s torque vectoring rear diff makes the X6M feel incredibly confidant on winding mountain roads. The system allows nearly 100% of the power that would normally be sent to both rear wheels, to be directed to one wheel causing the X6M to rotate with near psychic precision. While TTAC doesn’t have access to a 300ft skidpad, you may be surprised to know that most publications that do record higher horizontal Gs in the X6M than in the M5 and M6. Say what? Thank those insane 315 width tires for that.

For most drivers, the X6M is going to be easier to drive hard on or off the track, up to a point. That 5,400lbs has to be kept in mind and when you have the X6M on very tight corners the curb weight becomes more noticeable. Even so the X6M and X5M are entirely capable of keeping up with the likes of a Porsche Cayman S given the right driver and the right road. Speaking of Porsche we haven’t said anything about the Cayenne yet. There are three good reasons for that. First, Porsche wouldn’t loan us one making the X6M win by default. Second, the Cayenne really competes with the X5M since it’s a traditional SUV shape. And last, the Cayenne Turbo S lists for nearly 50% more than the X6M. Ouch. Yes, the Cayenne is an incredible machine and in truth is the only real competition for BMW’s insane crossovers, but with price tags like that, we should be asking: is the BMW competition for Porsche? Probably not.

Over 816 miles we averaged a surprising 15.4 MPG in the X6M. Surprising how? Because that’s 1.4 MPG more than the EPA combined number BMW advertises, it’s also not terribly far off the 16.5 MPG we averaged in a week in the BMW M5.

2013 BMW X6M Exterior, Rear tires, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The X6M is quite simply one of the finest BMWs available for sale. I just don’t understand why you would buy one. Sure it’s fast and handles well, but so does the X5M. My problem with the X6M isn’t the X6M itself, it’s that the X5M exists which is a far more practical crossover with none of the drawbacks the X6′s squashed posterior causes. All of that is before you even consider the $4,400 premium you have to pay for a 5-seat X6M over the 5-seat X5M and the loss of head and legroom over the M5. The X6M is absolutely incredible machine, but I can’t help thinking it’s a product searching for a market.

 

 

BMW Provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 1.66

0-60: 4.04 (4.3 without launch control, 4.5 when not in M-Mode)

1/4 Mile: 12.44 Seconds at 113 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 15.4 MPG over 816 miles

 

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Review: 2013 Juke Nismo (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/review-2013-juke-nismo-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/review-2013-juke-nismo-video/#comments Fri, 14 Jun 2013 23:24:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=491130 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Let’s get one thing sorted. The picture above is not, I repeat not, the wasabi-snorting-485-horsepower-3.7-second-to-60 Juke that Nissan has been teasing. Instead, this is the Nismo treated Juke we saw at the Chicago Auto Show in February. If you’re disappointed, or if the unusual confluence of shapes that is the Juke has made you throw up a little in your mouth, don’t click past the jump. We warned you.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Calling the Juke’s styling “not everyone’s cup of tea” (as one person I met put it) or even “polarizing” hardly begins to describe what’s going on here. My week with Nissan’s smallest crossover in America was filled with awkward stares, gaping mouths and looks of revulsion. But that’s not the whole story. For every 10 people that wanted to run the Juke out-of-town like villagers wielding pitchforks, there were two or three that thought it was fantastic looking. No, cross that, they wanted to bear the Juke’s children. That’s how far they went. This makes the Juke the most polarizing car design I have seen. Yes, I’m including the unholy Aztec and Rendezvous. However you feel about the Juke’s design, you have to admit it took some brass balls to design it, produce it, and then keep selling it.

Let’s toss in another photo:

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior

Our own Sajeev Mehta performed one of his excellent “Vellum Venom” critiques of the Juke in March, so be sure you check that out. My personal reaction is mixed. I appreciate the overall dimensions of the Juke as most crossovers on the road are ridiculously over-sized, but I think that the design team got just a bit carried away. Especially with the front end. I don’t mind the round headlamps, the round proboscis doesn’t bother me at all, but those turn signal pods that rise from the hood reminded me of a frog. Frogs are tasty, but I don’t find them cute. Making them stand out even more is the fact that they can be seen inside by the driver and front passenger. That said, I appreciate polarizing designs because of the passion they inspire. If you’re one of those people who want to interbreed with a Juke, more power to you. One thing is for sure, you get an enormous heaping of style for Nismo’s $22,990 starting price.

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Because the base Juke wears a starting MSRP of $18,990, my expectations were low. If you keep your expectations at a similarly realistic level, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. For $22,990 the Nismo version adds heavily bolstered Alcantara sport seats, a leather and Alcantara wrapped steering wheel, center arm rest, red tachometer, plenty of Nismo badges and red-stitching galore. Unfortunately, the standard hard plastic dashboard and the world’s least attractive headliner remain. Seriously, this has to be the same material the trunk liner in a Versa is crafted from, how much would it have cost for something out of the Altima? On the flip side, you have to keep reminding yourself that 27-large is as expensive as any Juke gets and the Nismo tops out at $26,460 with navigation, the CVT and AWD. That’s well below the average new car transaction price in America.

The Alcantara thrones are some of the most attractive (and best bolstered) seats you can find for under $30,000, but they still ride on the same 6-way manual driver’s and 4-way passenger’s seat frames as the regular Juke. This means the range of motion is limited and lumbar support is non-existent. Still, one must have perspective and you’ll find the same situation in most cars this price. I was disappointed to find that the Juke’s steering wheel doesn’t telescope making it hard for me to find an idea driving position.

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Thanks to the  hatchback-like profile, the rear seats offer more room than you’d think by looking at the outside with enough head and legroom for a quartet of adult men. More surprising, those four guy’s bags will fit in the Juke’s surprisingly large and deep trunk. The reason for that large cargo area (with more under the load floor) is the Juke’s fairly tall profile and low ride height which allows for a deep (if strangely shaped) cargo hold. (Check out the video to see under the load floor.)

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Nismoing your Juke doesn’t improve the way your tunes sound, you get the same base AM/FM/XM/CD/iPod/USB head unit as the base Juke, with the same six unbranded speakers. For $1,150 you can add what Nissan used to call their “low-cost navigation unit” bundled with a Rockford Fosgate speaker system and 8-inch subwoofer. I was a bit skeptical about this combination, but the tuning of the RF system was surprisingly well-balanced for a factory up-sell. The big draw for me is the nav unit.

The nav system by itself seems to go for about $750 in other Nissan models and is one of the best navs on the market in my opinion. It’s not that it offers a huge feature set or slick graphics, what appeals to me is the low-cost and simple, straight-forward interface. The system has the basics covered from XM traffic and fuel prices to on-screen USB/iDevice integration and Bluetooth speakerphone integration. The one strange omission from the system is Bluetooth audio streaming which isn’t supported.

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Shifter, 6-Speed Manual, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain & Drive

Despite being the antithesis of square, the Cube and the Juke ride on the same Nissan Versa underpinnings. Thankfully the underpinnings are all they share. Instead of the wheezy 1.8L mill, Nissan cooked up an all-new 1.6L direct-injection four-cylinder for the Juke (they have since jammed it in foreign market Versas as well). The small engine is good for a [comparatively] large 197 horsepower (9 more than the regular Juke) and 184 lb-ft from 2,000 to 5,200 rpm (7 more). That’s a reasonable amount of power for something that could be seen as an upgrade from a loaded Sentra SR.

The Juke may be a funny looking creature with some cheap plastics inside, but even in base form it has road manners that impress. To create the Nismo, Nissan bumped up the tires to 224/45R18, stiffened the springs by 10%, tweaked the dampers, fiddled with the steering and bumped the final drive ratio. They then made the 6-speed manual transmission the standard cog-swapper rather than the CVT (standard in the regular Juke), added red mirror caps and called it a day.

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

A trick that is sometimes used to make the sporty version of a car more dynamic on the road is to swap out the electric power steering for a traditional hydraulic unit. When I first hit the curves in the Juke I assumed Nissan had employed this trick. Much to my surprise, Nissan didn’t do that. Instead they tweaked the EPAS (Electric Power Assist Steering) system for improved feedback and a different level of assist. The result is impressive but made me ask: why don’t all EPAS equipped Nissans feel like this? In truth, the feel is still lacking compared to the “good old days,” but the steering is notably more direct and linear with just a hint of feedback from the wide front rubber. This is as good as it gets with EPAS.

Before the Juke arrived I had spent a week in the 2013 BMW X6M (our reviews are obviously out of order). Having the Nismo and an X6M back to back may sound like a real let down, but there’s another side. Obviously the Juke doesn’t handle or accelerate like an M, but there is something of the personality that struck me. No, I’m not just talking about the X6 being similarly polarizing in the style department, I’m talking on the road personality. They are similarly “eager.”  In this way, the Juke reminded me of a small dog that thinks it’s a big dog. It even has a chihuahua’s eyes. Is that good or bad? Good seeing as the Juke costs about 1/4th the price. I managed a 7.45 second 0-60 dash in the 6-speed manual model, let’s just say the X6M didn’t get there in 1/4th the time.

It gets a bit more complicated. You see, the Juke is two kinds of animal. If you get the 6-speed manual transmission you get plenty of torque steer, slick shifts and a more engaging ride. (And for some reason torque steer makes me smile when it’s on a small-scale like this.) If you get the AWD Nismo, you’re stuck with Nissan’s CVT. I’m no CVT hater but even I have to admit the CVT dulls the Juke’s personality. On the flip side, the torque vectoring AWD system makes the CVT/AWD Nismo the faster car on the track by a reasonable margin. If you have an oddly shaped place in your heart for Nissan’s over-styled crossover, you have a difficult decision on your hands. Either way the Juke is destined to be one of the rarer vehicles on American roads and I get the impression that’s just how lovers and haters of the Juke like it.

 

Hit it or Quit it?

Hit it

  • The best handling chihuahua on the road.
  • Nissan’s torque vectoring AWD system is a hoot and a half.

Quit it

  • Saying the Juke’s looks aren’t for everyone is being polite.
  • What’s up with that headliner anyway?

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.45 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.8 Seconds @ 90.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 27.8 MPG over 589 miles

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Engine 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Engine-001 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-001 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-002 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-003 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-004 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-005 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-006 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-007 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-008 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-009 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-010 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-011 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-012 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-014 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-015 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-016 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-017 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-019 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-020 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-021 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-022 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-001 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-002 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Shifter, 6-Speed Manual, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-004 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-005 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-006 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-007 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-009 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-011 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-012 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-013 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-014 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-015 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-017 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Wheel ]]>
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Review: 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/review-2013-bmw-x1-xdrive28i-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/review-2013-bmw-x1-xdrive28i-video/#comments Tue, 11 Jun 2013 13:00:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490737 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I know a guy who used to own a BMW 318ti. Like most 318 shoppers, he paid way too much because it had a roundel on the front. At some point he realized that 25-grand (in 1997) was an awful lot to have paid for an asthmatic 138-horsepower rattletrap and sold it. Likewise, the fog lifted at BMW and they refocused on volume models. Then came the 1 series, a fantastic little car that hasn’t exactly set the sales charts on fire. The Germans are a persistent people, so for 2013 they are fishing with fresh bait. Click through the jump as we look at the cheapest BMW in America, the 2013 BMW X1.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

OK, so BMW would prefer that I called the X1 “the most affordable” BMW in America, but I suffer from political incorrectness. So what is the X1? It’s a crossover of course. While that term has become synonymous with “ginormous FWD soft-roader” the X1 is more of a “true” crossover in that it looks like a cross between a pregnant 1-Series and a mini X5. The result is a handsome BMW version of the Subaru Outback or Volvo XC70. (The X1 is a cousin of the 1-Series (E87) and 3-Series (E90).) Since wagon’s don’t sell well either, BMW stretched the X1 vertically and called it good.

Unlike the X3 and X5, the one thing BMW didn’t do was shorten the hood. As a result, you might almost call the X1 BMW’s latest hatchback. Only that wouldn’t sell as many X1s either. Get it now? Speaking of the X3, the X1 is 6.5 inches shorter and 3.5 inches narrower than its larger cousin.

I should point out a few things before we move on. First up, BMW’s rear hatchback design makes the X1 look less like a Volvo wagon, but also reduces practical load space. My only other quibble outside is that the wheels look a bit small for the X1. What’s your opinion? Sound out below.

 

2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

European car companies are accused of making the same sausage available in different lengths. That’s obvious outside as well as inside the X1 where you’ll find the same shapes and many of the same controls/screens found in other BMW products. This parts bin approach pays dividends for the X1 where you get the same shifter and iDrive controller found in six-figure BMWs. (How those six-figure shoppers feel about this is anyone’s guess.) Once you’re done playing with the high-rent knobs, your hands will discover where BMW saved money: plastics. Instead of the soft molded instrument panels used in other BMWs, the X1 gets a hard plastic unit. The black upper portion of the dash has then been coated with a thin layer of soft material to improve feel, while the rest of the dash remains hard. This is an interesting choice when even Buick and Chevrolet have ditched their hard plastic interiors for squishy bits.

Germans car engineers don’t understand America. Sure, they understand driving dynamics and styling, but the Burger King drive-thru is incomprehensible. It’s obvious they are making effort to understand ‘mericans, bless their little hearts, but I think a US field-trip is in order for the guy who designs center consoles in Bavaria. Go to the south, my friend, go to the south. When the X1 arrived, I was starving. Being a lover of convenience, I headed to Taco Bell. It was at that point I noticed I had only one cup holder. Behind my right elbow. After consulting the instruction manual, I found the other one. If you look at the picture below, you’ll see it: a funky little thing that inserts into a slot in the center console to the right of the shifter. When it’s not inserted, you have an odd hole with a springy-cover concealing its depths. When in place, you have a cup holder positioned to splash its contents on your snazzy iDrive knob. You will also have a passenger complain their knee hits it all the time. Want to jam a enormous southern-style Styrofoam drink in your X1? Good luck. BMW: you got the X5 and X6′s cupholders so right, what happened?

2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i, Cupholder, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cupholder woes aside, there is little to complain about inside the X1. Front comfort is excellent, even in the base model with an 8-way manually adjustable seat. Our X1 was equipped with the $3,000 M-Sport package which brings aluminum trim, a black headliner, steering wheel mounted shift-paddles and BMW’s excellent sport seats. The optional thrones contort in more ways than I can describe and are one of the most comfortable seat designs in any $30,000-40,000 vehicle. If you can’t find a comfortable position, go see a back surgeon. Something that isn’t standard however is leather. If you want real cow, be prepared to pony up an extra $1,450. If that surprises you, it shouldn’t. Even Lexus is ditching real moo in their latest designs.

Most cars get less comfortable as you move rearwards, and that is certainly true of the X1. Back seats are firmly padded with little bolstering and very straight backs. Thankfully, the seat bottom cushion is not as close to the floor as many small crossovers, although the lack of padding made passenger’s legs just as tired on a one-hour car trip. On the flip side the rear seats recline to soften the blow. Rear legroom and headroom are excellent thanks to the X1′s upright profile and BMW and getting in and out of the X1 is made easy by large door openings. The ever-efficient Germans made the rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 manner allowing you to insert IKEA flat packs and four passengers at the same time. Behind the seats you’ll get 25 cubic feet of cargo room if you load the X1 to the ceiling, and 56 cubes if you fold the rear seats flat. That puts the X1 behind other small crossovers like a RAV4 or CRV but decidedly ahead of a 128i coupé.

2013 BMW X1 xDive28i iDrive, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

The X1 gets the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive. The system builds upon the previous versions in small, but important ways. Keeping up with the times, BMW has swapped the CD button for a “Media” button which makes accessing your USB and iDevices easier than in the past. Unlike the 328i we recently tested, the X1 gets a single USB port. Likely because of cost cutting, BMW located the solitary USB port and Aux input at the bottom of the center stack instead of hiding it neatly away in the armrest of glovebox. If you want to know more about iDrive, click on that video at the top of the review.

Unfortunately not all the iDrive fun is standard. BMW is bundling the smartphone apps, navigation and voice command system for your music devices into a single $2,250 premium package, or a $6,150 “ultimate” package which also bundles power front seats, keyless entry, parking sensors, ambient lighting, satellite radio, auto dimming mirrors and a panoramic moonroof. Of course, adding this package increases the cost of your X1 by 20%, but “least expensive BMW” is a very relative term. Still, iDrive’s tasteful high-res graphics, fast interface and superior phone integration make this the system one of the finest on the market, and I would buy the $2,250 package before I added things like leather or HID headlamps ($900) to my ride. Since this is the bargain Bimmer, you won’t find radar cruise control, collision warning, adaptive suspension systems, heads-up displays or fancy lane-keeping assistants. For the purists in the crowd this is welcome news, but it’s still easy to option your X1 from a base price of $30,800 to around $50,000. Be mindful of that options list.
2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Engine, 2.0L Twin-Power Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Part of what went wrong with the 318 was the drivetrain. Instead targeting a high fun/dollar ratio, BMW went for “low bottom line” and used an asthmatic 138HP four-banger. Learning from that lesson, BMW fit their new 2.0L N20 turbo engine and 8-speed automatic in the sDrive28i and xDrive28i. Producing 240HP from 5,000 to 6,000RPM and 260 lb-ft of twist from 1,250 to 4,800RPM that’s more oomph than the 3.0L inline engine under the hood of the 128i.

More important than the power number is the weight. A base RWD X2 is 3,527lbs, only 240lbs heavier than the considerably less powerful 128i coupé. Even our heavier AWD X1 sports a HP to weight ratio better than the smaller and more expensive two-door 1. As a result, performance is more than adequate with a 6.5 second run to 60 (2/10ths faster than a 128i) but decidedly “un-BMW” in terms of power delivery. The torque “plateau” starts early but drops precipitously after 5,750 RPM is a stark contrast from BMW’s 3.0L that comes alive at high RPMs (and screams like a banshee). Proving that BMW loves America, we get an optional powertrain not available anywhere else. For $38,600, BMW will jam a 300HP 3.0L (N55) twin-scroll turbo six under the hood. Sadly the quick shifting 8-speed transmission is lost in the process (you get the old 6-speed) and BMW still won’t offer a manual X1 in the USA.

2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The N20 isn’t just 33% shorter than the N55, the whole drivetrain is 165lbs lighter. In addition, the 2.0L sits behind the front axle instead of above it. The effect of the weight reduction and nose-lightening is obvious on the track where the X1 is incredibly nimble. That nimble feeling is especially pronounced in the RWD X1 sDrive28i thanks to a somewhat unusual weight balance with less than 50% of the weight on the front wheels. In contrast, the AWD xDrive28i BMW lent us for a week has a near-perfect 50.6/49.4% (F/R) weight balance while the more powerful 3.0L turbo model is nose heavy at 52.1/47.9 %.

Since our X1 was an M-Sport model, our 18-inch wheels were shod with grippy 255-width rubber. To put that in perspective, 255s are rare enough in full/mid-sized crossovers and unheard of in the compact crossover segment. With the front wheels turned slightly, the X1 looks like a kid wearing his dad’s shoes but the extra rubber pays dividends when you encounter a corner. The unexpectedly high grip combined with a neutral chassis dynamics makes the X1 predictable and confident on the road. In many ways the manners of the X1 reminded me of the (much larger) X6M. Just a little. In an unusual move, BMW fits AWD X1s with hydraulic power steering while the base RWD sDrive28i uses BMW’s lifeless electric assist. The difference isn’t night and day, but the hydraulic unit does have more steering feel. Be warned however that neither power steering system provides as much assist as the competition, so your arms may get tired after a long trip on a winding road.

2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Wheel, M-Sport, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Speaking of the RWD model, BMW claims it will get 23/34/28 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) and adding AWD to the 2.0L turbo drops those numbers to a still respectable 22/33/26 MPG. Over 544 miles, I averaged 22.9MPG, largely due the way the X1 devours mountain roads. That oddly brings me to the Mini Countryman, which is really the only competition for the X1 (since the VW Tiguan doesn’t play in the upper-crust playground). This is a perfect example of the right hand stabbing the left hand. The Mini Countryman is a nice enough vehicle, but driven back to back the X1 is a hoot-and-a-half while the Mini’s FWD manners, less powerful engine, similar MPGs and skinny tires register half a hoot. Now I know why the Mini doesn’t come up as a competitive vehicle on BMW’s website.

The 318 proved, there’s more to life than a low sticker price. The X1 proves that given time BMW can make a compelling entry-level vehicle. The X1 is more than just the least expensive BMW on the lot, it may well have the highest fun/dollar ratio of any modern BMW, especially in the $33,800 X1 sDrive28i M-Sport trim (damn that’s a long name). It’s also one of the few vehicles I would actually buy if my money was on the line.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Most fun I’ve had for $30-large. OK. 45-large.
  • Get a BMW with hydraulic power steering while it lasts.

Quit it

  • Too many hard-plastics on the inside for a car that costs this much.
  • The Germans still don’t know what cupholders are for. Maybe its time for a field trip?

 

BMW Provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.42

0-60: 6.55

1/4 Mile: 15.08 Seconds @ 92.6 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 22.9 MPG over 544 Miles

 

2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Cargo Area 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Engine 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Engine, 2.0L Twin-Power Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-001 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-004 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Wheel, M-Sport, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-007 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-006 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-008 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i iDrive-003 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i iDrive-002 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i iDrive-001 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i iDrive 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-010 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-009 2013 BMW X1 xDive28i iDrive, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-001 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i, Cupholder, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-003 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-004 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-010 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-009 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-008 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-006 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-005 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-011 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-012 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-013 ]]>
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First Drive: 2014 Acura MDX (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/first-drive-2014-acura-mdx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/first-drive-2014-acura-mdx/#comments Fri, 31 May 2013 14:01:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=489100 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The RDX may have supplanted the MDX as Acura’s best-selling model, but Acura hopes to put the their mid-sized crossover back on top with the all-new 2014 MDX. To show us how they plan to do that, Acura invited us to Oregon to sample the new MDX for a day around Newberg. Even without the snazzy trip it’s easy to see that regaining the Acura sales crown shouldn’t be difficult. After all, the current MDX is Acura’s second best-selling vehicle and despite being seven years old (ancient in the auto biz) the MDX is still the best-selling 7-seat luxury SUV in America and the second best-selling mid-sized SUV/crossover period. How does one redesign success? Carefully.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

You’d be forgiven for thinking little has changed by just glancing at the MDX, and that’s the way Acura shoppers like it. That statement makes me scratch my head just a little, because the 2014 model still sports the Acura “beak,” the most controversial style decision Acura ever made. We have to keep this in perspective however: nothing about the MDX is overdone, the only reason anyone complained about the beak in the first place is that Acura is known for conservative design cues. This love for conservative, evolutionary design is why the MDX is instantly identifiable as an Acura despite riding on an all-new MDX-exclusive platform and sharing little beyond some transmission parts with the outgoing model.

Bringing the MDX’s signature shape up-to-date we have standard full-LED headlamps which (if I am not mistaken) will make the MDX the least expensive vehicle on the road with the snazzy beams. Since we only had a limited time with the car in the day I can’t say how they perform at night, but the color temperature of the lamps is a pleasing neutral color and not the harsh blue light LED lamps are known for.

2014 Acura MDX Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Although the 2014 looked wider to my eye, it’s lost 1.3 inches in overall width and 1.4 inches of track up front, 1.2 in the rear. Perhaps it’s the loss of 1.5 inches in height over last year that creates the illusion of width? One thing’s for sure however, the MDX is longer and looks longer, gaining 2 inches overall in length and an important 2.8 inches in wheelbase, helping out that tight third row seat.

Interior

The MDX is notable for being a mid-sized crossover with seven seats. This size difference is important to keep in mind because comparisons to the likes of the Infiniti QX56, Mercedes GL, and Lexus GX seem everywhere. The more appropriate cross-shops are the Infiniti JX35 (now the QX60), Buick Enclave, Volvo XC90 and maybe the Lincoln MKT. (If you watch the video, pardon the lack of MKT comparisons, it slipped my mind, as I’m sure it slips the minds of most luxury shoppers.)

2014 Acura MDX Interior, Third row seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Acura continues to stick to their formula of traditional injection molded dashboards and plenty of convincing fake wood. I would be interested to hear your opinions on this choice, so be sure to sound off in the comment section below. While I like the look and the materials are premium in feel, it can’t match the visual impact or feel of a stitched leather/pleather dash, something that the refreshed Buick Enclave does incredibly well. The MDX continues to do have a very uniform feel with perfect seams and gaps and a consistent quality level throughout, something that Buick’s CUV continues to struggle with (the lower dash and door plastics in the Enclave are still a bit cheap.)

The MDX’s front and middle thrones still sport the Acura hallmark “Lady Gaga horny shoulders,” a design cue frequently imitated but never duplicated to the same effect. Like Lexus and Infiniti, Acura still hasn’t discovered seats that more in more than the same basic 8-10 ways as any $25,000 family sedan. Despite having only half the “ways” as BMW’s sport seats, I find the MDX’s redesigned thrones to be among the most comfortable in the segment for my body shape.

2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Most of the MDX’s length increase has gone where current owners wanted it: the cargo area. That means the passenger area is smaller than last year with a drop in headroom ranging from more than an inch up front to two-tenths in the back. Legroom stays largely unchanged but Acura altered the middle seats to slide further forward/rearward allowing either more middle leg room than before or more third-row room than before (not both at the same time.) That third-row is best left to the kids or your mother-in-law, although it’s not as cramped as the Infiniti JX’s rear accommodations. Helping you get back there is a new push-button middle-seat folding mechanism that worked well but reminded me the Infiniti has middle seats that can slide forward to allow ingress while a child seat is strapped in.

The cargo area stretches by 2.75 inches from the third-row seat hinges to the tailgate and 5.88 inches from the third-row headrests to the rear glass. That’s the difference between fitting a 20-gallon cooler and 7-people in your SUV and not. There isn’t much daylight between the Infiniti or Acura and the MDX when it comes to stuffing bags behind the third row, all three beat the old XC90 by a wide margin and all hold considerably less than the Buick Enclave.

2014 Acura MDX Interior, Infotainment, Navigation LCD, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Honda’s two-screen infotainment/navigation system has filtered up from the 2013 Accord to the RLX and now to the MDX as standard equipment. The logic behind the twin screens is: the lower screen is for your media devices while the upper screen is for navigation. In practice, the lower screen allows you to select sources, skip to a different album and change tracks, but in order to browse or search playlists, songs, change treble, bass, and surround processing, you have to use the upper screen and the rotary control knob. In essence this is the same software as before with a snazzy color touchscreen remote that handles some of the functions. The result is a system that could have been more elegant but the execution seems half-baked. Put it back in the oven and let me know when it’s done.

Although out time with the MDX was limited, I was able to sample my usual audio selection from my iDevice and didn’t notice too much difference between the base 8-speaker audio system, the 501-watt 10-speaker or 529-watt 11 speaker systems. They all exhibit the same balance I have come to expect from Acura: neutral with a somewhat limited range but excellent fidelity for a $42,000-$56,000 vehicle. The Logic 7 systems in the BMW are better, but they are also spendier. If you’re one of the 10 Acura customers that latched on to DVD audio, it’s time to sell those discs on Ebay, DVD-A is dead.

2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Now is as good a time as any to talk pricing. The FWD MDX starts almost a grand lower than the 2013 AWD model at $42,290 and is only available in four flavors. $46,565 adds the “Technology package” and included rainsense wipers, lane departure warning, collision warning, a color display between the dials, 19-inch wheels (not sure how that’s a tech item) and links your climate control to your GPS position. $48,565 adds on the “Entertainment package” which is a 16.2-inch wide-screen rear entertainment system that allows either a single wide picture or will display two things side-by-side. The system brings two extra speakers, a 110V power outlet, wireless headphones and HDMI in to the party. If you want lane keep assist, full-speed-range radar cruise control, remote start, auto dimming mirrors and parking sensors, you need to pony up $54,505 for the “Advance package” which cannot be had without the rear seat entertainment system for some reason. Want AWD? add $2,000 to those prices. That places the MDX in the middle of the pack with the Enclave delivering similar bang for less buck and the Acura and Infiniti very similarly priced.

Drivetrain

For 2014 Acura has swapped the 3.7L V6 for the new 3.5L “Earth Dreams” mill with direct-injection and “Variable Cylinder Management.” (VCM allows the V6 to drop to a 3-cylinder mode on the highway.) To quell vibrations, the MDX gets unique active engine mounts which generate vibrations opposite to what the engine produces to cancel them out. (Think Bose noise cancelling headphones.) Despite the DI treatment, power is down from 300HP to 290 and torque takes a small drop from 270 to 267 lb-ft as well. To counter the power loss, Acura put the MDX on a diet and 2014 sees 275lbs shed. The weight loss and improved low-end torque mean that performance is up, even with the power down.

2014 Acura MDX

Perhaps the bigger change is not the engine, but which wheels spin. For the first time since the MDX rolled onto the scene there is a FWD model. While I think this dilutes the MDX “brand” because it has been associated with AWD system since its debut, the rational can’t be dismissed: fuel economy and sunbelt sales. According to Acura’s research, the southern states love their 2WD crossovers and while the 2WD RDX compact crossover did eat into sales of the AWD model, combined RDX sales were up some 90% when they added the FWD model. Go figure. We didn’t get our chance to drive a FWD MDX, as none had made it across from the factory in Alabama, but Acura is promising a class leading 28 MPGs on the highway and 20 in the city –  one more highway MPG than the recently announced Infiniti JX35/QX60 hybrid model (25/27 MPG). When equipped with AWD, economy drops to 18/27 MPG, still a huge bump from last year’s 16/21 score.

2014 Acura MDX Exterior, LED Headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Because the MDX has a transverse engine and a transaxle under the hood, weight balance isn’t as ideal as the Audi Q7 or BMW X5 (Acura thinks the X5 is their prime competition). Aside from the fact that Honda/Acura doesn’t have a RWD drivetrain to borrow, the benefit is improved interior packaging evident in the ginormous center console (positioned right where the X5 keeps its transmission). On the down side Acura is two-cogs shy of Audi and BMW with their revised 6-speed transaxle. Before you discount Acura, we must discuss SH-AWD.

“Super Handling All Wheel Drive” may not have been the best name for the system, but it is arguably the best AWD system you can tack onto a transverse FWD platform. The systems used by Infiniti, Lexus, Volvo, Lincoln and just about everyone out there that had an AWD system tacked onto a transaxle has no center differential. Instead the power flows from the final gearset of the transmission to the front diff and the rear diff via gears at a fixed 1:1 ratio. Between this gear arrangement and the rear diff is a clutch pack that allows the car to connect, disconnect or have a varied connection between the transmission and rear axles. When fully connected the power is split 50/50 assuming all wheels have traction.

SH-AWD also uses the same arrangement but adds a unique differential unit in the rear that does two things. First, it has a gearset to “speed up” the rear wheels so that when they are connected, they spin 1.7% faster than the fronts. Next it has a torque vectoring unit that is capable of slitting power 100:0/0:100 left to right. In a straight line, “overdriving” the rear wheels gives the MDX a more RWD feel than otherwise possible and in corners the system is capable of sending up to 70% of the power to the outside rear wheel helping the MDX’s cornering manners and masking the “plowing” tendencies normal in a front heavy car. For 2014 Acura took this a step further and uses a system to brake wheels selectively to improve neutral handling. This is beyond stability control because the system is always active rather than active only when things are going pear-shaped.

2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Thanks to SH-AWD, the Acura is almost the X5′s dynamic dance partner, unfortunately you can’t completely hide the MDX’s extra nose weight. Still, despite Acura’s insistence I can’t see than many X5 shoppers stopping by Acura’s lot. Instead the MDX shines against the Infiniti with a more refined and better performing drivetrain. The JX hybrid is likely to get better combined MPG numbers, but with only 250 ponies on tap and no “sporting” changes, it’s unlikely to be half a hoot, let alone a hoot and a half. Encore shoppers looking for a more premium brand and some handling cred won’t be appointed and Mercedes ML shoppers will find a better value than on the German lot.

How does that FWD model compare? You’ll have to wait for that review as Acura didn’t have any examples on hand. I can posit an opinion however: the driving dynamics will be disappointing. Remove SH-AWD and you have a front-heavy front driver just like base Buick Enclave models. I know that Acura is sure to sell lots of these, but please TTAC readers, check that AWD option box.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • One more MPG on the highway than the Infiniti JX35/QX60 hybrid and the same highway economy as the RX450h.
  • Oddly enough, “Super Handling” really does describe the AWD system.

Quit it

  • I’m not sure what radar cruise and parking sensors have to do with rear seat DVD players. Why are they only sold together?
  • The two-screen infotainment system seems half-baked, put it back in the oven and let me know when it’s done.
  • Fake wood was so 1980s Oldsmobile.

 

Acura flew me to Oregon, stuffed me with poached salmon and craft beer and set me loose on the streets of Oregon for this review (but not in that order necessarily).

2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-001 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-002 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-003 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-004 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-001 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, LED Headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-003 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-005 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-006 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-007 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-008 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-009 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-010 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-012 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-013 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-014 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-015 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-016 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-017 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-018 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-020 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-021 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-023 2014 Acura MDX Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Interior-001 2014 Acura MDX Interior-002 2014 Acura MDX Interior-003 2014 Acura MDX Interior, Infotainment, Navigation LCD, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes ` 2014 Acura MDX Interior-006 2014 Acura MDX Interior, Third row seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Interior-008 2014 Acura MDX Interior-009 2014 Acura MDX-016

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