The Truth About Cars » cuv The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 Chrysler’s Crossover Will Share Minivan Architecture Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:37:15 +0000 550x366x2014-Dodge-Duranto_00141.jpg.pagespeed.ic.pOnDvu-PCw

What’s obvious to us isn’t always clear to the rest of the automotive world. To anyone who frequents TTAC, the upcoming Chrysler three-row CUV was destined to be built off of the minivan platform, but some other corners of the auto world didn’t seem to get the memo. Chrysler brand boss Al Gardner took the time to clear that up.

Speaking to Motor Trend, Gardner all-but confirmed that the front-drive crossover will share the next-gen front-drive architecture that will be utilized by the next-generation vans. A close reading of FCA’s 5-year plan, as well as Chrysler’s overall product portfolio suggests that the three-row crossover is a great way to help lower their CAFE rating, especially with a plug-in hybrid variant – which the new minvan will have from the get-go. You can bet that the CUV will get this technology as well.

According to MT, the Dodge Durango was ruled out because “simply isn’t large enough for many customers in the segment and is too aggressive”. I can’t say I agree with the former, but even so, it’s a moot point. Leveraging the front-drive architecture, with its superior fuel economy, regulatory and packaging characteristics is a no-brainer for a company that badly needs to put a dent in its CAFE ratings.

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Chart Of The Day: Crossovers Are King Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:33:07 +0000 BsrTeYECEAAYuq0


This chart, courtesy of IHS Automotive, shows that for the first time in America, crossovers have edged out sedans as the most popular body style.

While the data only shows new vehicle registrations through May, 2014, don’t expect this trend to reverse any time soon. The crossover’s rise to market dominance is an inexorable fact of our automotive landscape, both in America and around the world.

Now you see why Nissan isn’t so crazy to forgo the new IDx in favor of the Juke. Sure, nobody will ever cross-shop the two cars, but one plays in a space that is constantly growing, while the other competes in a market that has a future that’s slightly worse than the U.S. Postal Service. If you were an auto executive with a few billion to spend on a new car that must turn a profit (so, no fantasy brown wagon projects), the choice would be easy.

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Buick Gets Another Crossover – What Took So Long? Tue, 01 Jul 2014 18:10:22 +0000 All-new high-end midsize SUV, the Buick Envision, will make its


Buick will launch a new mid-size crossover, dubbed “Envision” in China first, then presumably in other markets. All we can say is “hurry up”.

Given the sales strength of the Enclave and Encore, it’s amazing that Buick isn’t busting their hump to get this thing on sale tomorrow. Then again, China is Buick’s most important market, and their thirst for CUVs seems nearly impossible to satiate. No word on what platform this new CUV will ride on, but the Theta chassis that underpins the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain is a good bet.

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Slow Roll-Out For The Lincoln MKC Mon, 30 Jun 2014 15:53:20 +0000 2015-Lincoln-MKC-Main-2

Over the past week, two separate readers have emailed regarding the Lincoln MKC. “How can the most important Lincoln in years be hitting dealer lots,” asks one reader “and yet there’s zero marketing behind it?”

The most obvious answer seems to be a lack of supply. Automotive News shows just 300 units nationwide (or 12 days of supply) for the MKC. Industry sources I talked to suggest that Lincoln doesn’t want a marketing push that will get consumers excited for the car, only to have them show up at a dealer and find exactly zero units on hand to look at.

The other alternative theory being floated is that a last minute part change has led to unexpected delays – but our generally trustworthy sources have given no indication that this is the case.

Edit: From our colleagues at Autoblog comes this story. It seems that Lincoln is looking to avoid the same mistakes they made with the MKZ, where early advertising and a delayed roll-out led to less than desirable results. 

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Don’t Hold Your Breath For A Diesel Jeep Cherokee Fri, 27 Jun 2014 12:30:44 +0000 550x365x2014-Jeep-Cherokee-001-550x365.jpg.pagespeed.ic.ku6Uutu7nr

The Jeep Grand Cherokee received a diesel option earlier this year, but don’t look for the Cherokee to get one any time soon – at least not in North America.

Speaking to Automotive News, Manley said that while the Grand Cherokee diesel take rate is about 8 percent, that number would have to increase before the Cherokee could get a diesel

“Cherokee is slightly different because of its weight and size. When I think about bringing Cherokee diesel here, I would like to see Grand Cherokee diesel get much higher than 8 percent…It would have to be in mid-double digits.”

While a diesel Cherokee likely has many fans on the internet, reality is more complex. A diesel Cherokee would have to sell in sufficient numbers to meet very stringent U.S. regulations, and would have to come in at a pricepoint that is palatable to American buyers. In the Grand Cherokee, the diesel carries a $4,500 premium.

There’s also the matter of capacity. With Jeep building about 250,000 units globally at its Toledo, Ohio plant, they may not have room to mess with the current model mix by adding a diesel. The Cherokee may not be tops on the compact CUV sales charts, sales are brisk and inventories are well controlled. Jeep is likely selling every Cherokee they can produce for the U.S. market, and a diesel may not be necessary – yet.

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Ford Will Market Long-Wheelbase Edge In China Thu, 26 Jun 2014 13:34:15 +0000 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our friends at are reporting that China will get a long-wheelbase version of the 2015 Ford Edge.

According to the site, the Edge will get longer rear doors, while retaining much of the same sheetmetal. The Edge will be built in Oakville, Ontario for global markets, but due to China’s restrictive tariffs on imported cars, there will presumably be a Chinese assembly site as well.

Long-wheelbase versions of sedans are highly popular with Chinese consumers, who value rear passenger space as an attribute of luxury vehicles. Being driven by a chauffeur is also a sign of wealth among affluent Chinese consumers, and a long-wheelbase crossover neatly capitalizes on these trends.

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2015 Ford Edge Revealed [Updated With Live Shots] Tue, 24 Jun 2014 22:30:14 +0000 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ford released photos and specs for their new Edge, becoming the first Ford to have a standard Ecoboost engine.

Riding on the same CD4 platform as the Ford Fusion and MKZ, the Edge come standard with a 2.0L Ecoboost making 245 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Also on offer are a 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 and a 2.7L Ecoboost V6, with power figures not announced for either engine. FWD is available on the base four, with AWD standard on the other engines. The sole powertrain is a 6-speed automatic.

Ford’s new adaptive steering system which can vary the steering ratio is available, as well as active grille shutters, start-stop, MyFord Touch, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert and a 180 degree front camera. Ford will continue to build the Edge at its Oakville, Ontario plant with sales starting early next year.

[Thanks to for the live shots]

Volkswagen Crossover Will Be Built In Chattanooga Mon, 23 Jun 2014 04:01:12 +0000 550x366xVolkswagen-CrossBlue-Concept-550x366.jpg.pagespeed.ic.uF-8gWFYml

Reuters is reporting that the long-awaited decision on the production site of Volkswagen’s new crossover is set to be handed down any day now, and the winner is Chattanooga.

According to Reuters, a generous incentive package swayed the decision to build the new CUV in the United States, rather than Mexico

The state of Tennessee is offering tax breaks, staff training, free land and infrastructure upgrades worth about $300 million in total, giving it a clear edge over Puebla, Mexico

Dealers have been crying out for a CUV sized above the Touraeg, but priced closer to the Honda Pilot (rather than in the pseudo-luxury space occupied by the Touraeg). With CUV sales growing in globally, the lack of competitive crossovers in Volkswagen’s North American product portfolio is undoubtedly holding them back from further growth in North America. The new three-row CUV should help put them on track – but without a next-generation Tiguan that’s adapted to North American tastes, it may be too little too late.

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Junkyard Find: 2003 Pontiac Aztek Wed, 04 Jun 2014 13:00:15 +0000 09 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNow that we’re all about 21st-century Junkyard Finds this week, let’s admire another JF first: the Pontiac Aztek. A popular TV show really ended up muddying the cultural waters around the Aztek, in a process similar to what happened with the DeLorean DMC-12 in the late 1980s, so let’s try to remember back to a time when each of saw our first Aztek and thought what could The General have been thinking?
07 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI live in urban Denver, which means I’m surrounded by vast armies of backpackers, skiers, campers, rock climbers, snowboarders, and the like, and many of these folks thought that the Aztek was a vehicle perfectly suited to the stuff they wanted to do on weekends. There are at least four Azteks that live within a few blocks of my house (and a half-dozen VW Vanagon Syncros, which indicates a masochistic and/or delusional streak to go with the tolerance of ugly vehicles that your typical Denver Aztek owner demonstrates), and I see them on the street all the time. It was only a matter of time before they started showing up at self-service wrecking yards, and now that day has come.

“An aggressively styled, technologically advanced sport utility vehicle.”

“I’m all about working hard, standing out, and playing large.”

For the kind of people who eat baby carrots on road trips. I assume that GM had Avalanche ads running at the same time that showed dudes driving Avalanches over the skulls of endangered tortoises while knocking back Hog Blood Gushers™ and tossing M-1000s out the windows.

Sam and Kate like to swing to the beat.
05 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThat’s because the Aztek had rear sound-system controls, which worked pretty well at tailgate parties. Of course, once Bluetooth-enabled smartphones allowed you to control your car’s sound system from a device in your pocket, the Aztek’s setup became less useful.
01 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one has been stripped of the tent and many of the options that made the Aztek so useful to outdoorsy types. All that remains is the ugly.
04 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinStill, this was a better version of “hide the minivan” than most faux-offroader machines styled to look like military trucks. Who knows, maybe I’ll spot the notorious “bite the banana” Aztek in a junkyard one of these days.

01 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 2003 Pontiac Aztek Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 107
BOF, IRS, CKD, SUV… Automotive TLAs, What Are Your Most (and Least) Favorite Acronyms? Sun, 25 May 2014 14:00:38 +0000 BoysOverFlowersJewelryBox

TTAC’s post by J. Emerson on how so-called Millennials’ automotive tastes have been shaped by their coming of automotive age in an era when their parents embraced body on frame sport utility vehicles brought forth a lot of thoughtful comment. One comment that caught my eye, though, had little to do with the topic of the post but rather was a complaint about the use of the acronym BOF. To most of us that means “body on frame” but to manga or Korean sitcom fans it might mean Boys Over Flowers and when you’re using abbreviations you have to be sure your audience recognizes them. In an earlier life I did IT support and we would make a recursive joke about the proliferation of TLA’s, three letter acronyms. Such acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon serve a useful purpose to those in the know, but can also function as a mark of group identification, a shibboleth, if you will. Sometimes the use of jargon can function as a barrier to others, which can be contrary to how inclusive we want TTAC to be.


Click here to view the embedded video.

As a writer I have to realize that not everyone knows all the lingo of being a car enthusiast or industry watcher but at the same time I don’t want to condescend and assume that our readers don’t know about what we’re talking. Partly it’s a matter of following a style manual but it’s also an issue of respecting the readers. When discussion suspensions at a car site is it really necessary to say “independent rear suspension” the first time in a post before switching to IRS? When I’m reading about possible government targeting of tax-exempt groups for political purposes does a site have to write out “Internal Revenue Service” for me to know that in that context IRS has nothing to do with the Porsche 928′s Weissach axle?


Offhand I can think of a few automotive TLAs besides BOF and IRS. There’s the CAN bus I recently discussed, and SLA, short long arm, another suspension term. Getting back to the post that spurred this one, there’s SUV and CUV.

front suspension

Sometimes, instead of exporting fully assembled cars or setting up full overseas assembly operations with a body shop and local suppliers, a lot of automakers will ship CKD, completely knocked down, kits that are then put together in their foreign markets with local labor (though some sources say that the abbreviation stands for “cars knocked down”).


While researching this post I discovered another related TLA, those fully assembled exported cars are referred to as CBUs, completely built units.

2003 Land Rover CKD

What other automotive acronyms can you think of? Which do you think most car enthusiasts should recognize without explanation? Which do you particularly like to use? Which do you find annoying?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Coming of Age in the BOF Era Sat, 24 May 2014 13:00:56 +0000 DSCN2839 - Copy

Standing on the sidewalk in front of his house, a young boy watches his neighbor across the street back out of her driveway. Her moss green Expedition starts to roll backwards. Suddenly, a blue beach ball blows into the SUV’s path. She hits it with one of her rear tires, and the truck rises up on top of it for just a moment. The ball bursts with an enormous bang, and the truck crashes back to the pavement with an equally loud noise. The top-heavy rig sways back and forth as the boy laughs.

That young boy was me, sometime over a decade ago. The moss green Expedition was hardly the only SUV on the block. Our own family had two, at various points in time. The first was a second-gen two-door S-10 Jimmy that we assumed the lease on after my grandfather passed away suddenly. The second was another Jimmy, this time a four-door in dark green. The parents didn’t keep either of them for long. The two-door wasn’t very practical, and of course had to be returned at the end of the lease anyway. My mother hated the swinging rear spare configuration because it was difficult for her to lock securely; one time the latch came loose on a freeway exit ramp, and the tire swung out crazily on the swivel mount. The four-door was more practical, but a maddening front-end squeak that was never quite fixed led them to trade it in on a new Mustang. It was the last GM product my family owned.

For us Millennials, the SUV defined the automotive era in which we grew up. Consider that the first Ford Explorer, the most paradigmatic SUV of the entire boom, rolled into showrooms in 1990. The Explorer was mostly just a softer clone of the unibody XJ Cherokee, with fewer off-road chops and less sophisticated engineering. It didn’t matter- the Explorer went on to become one of the greatest sales successes of the 90s, despite the notorious rollover scandals. The Explorer inspired yet more imitators, and the passenger vehicle market has never been the same since. A multitude of causes have been cited to explain the SUV boom: historically low gas prices, a booming economy, a resurgence of interest in outdoor leisure activities, tax write-offs, and regulatory loopholes. In terms of the Millennials and their relationship to the automobile, arguments about what caused the SUV boom are less important than the mere fact of its existence. The rise, fall, and partial rebirth of the SUV made a powerful impression on the automotive consciousness of the Millennials. The negative externalities of the BOF Era (a period I’ll define as the years between the introduction of the Explorer in 1990 and the collapse of the world economy in 2007) are at least partly responsible for the ambivalent, occasionally hostile attitude of many Millennials towards the automobile.

SUVs became a ubiquitous sight on the roads as Millennials were growing up, but their conquest of America’s driveways and garages was never total. Low gas prices made it feasible for more middle-class people to operate them as regular-use vehicles, but they were never particularly cheap to buy. In 2000, the Explorer hit its all-time sales peak of 445,157 units, although Ford managed to shift more than 400,000 units in all but two years between 1995 and 2002. At that time, the very cheapest four door, two-wheel-drive model was still over $23,000- close to $32,000 in today’s money. In reality, most models were nudging thirty grand in year 2000 dollars by the time all the paperwork was signed. The bigger Expedition and Excursion were more expensive still.

In hindsight we now know that there was some pretty hair-raising over-leveraging of credit that went on in the first decade of the 2000s. Even so, not everyone could afford an SUV, and they became an unavoidable distinction between haves and have-nots. They introduced a classist element to the American roadways that differed from the old brand hierarchy. That made a deep impression on myself, as well as many of my friends. We were getting old enough to start understanding the basic tenets of American consumerism. Things cost money, and people made money by working. If you had more money, you could buy more things. In the context of our economic times, this had two important manifestations. Wealthy people drove SUVs and lived in large houses; poor people had sedans (or nothing at all) and lived in apartments or bungalows. The childish mind doesn’t understand that size isn’t always a virtue; nor, it turns out, did many adults.

The logic of the SUV boom was wildly simpler than in the supposed salad days of the Sloanist brand hierarchy in the 50s and 60s. It’s debatable to what extent that brand hierarchy ever penetrated the public consciousness in the manner imagined by automotive historians, anyway. The “buyers’ strike” of 1957, the failure of Edsel, the backlash of the nascent independent consumer press against the excesses of Detroit, the overwhelming dominance of “low cost” brands even during times of rising affluence, and the early success of the Volkswagen Beetle and its imitators are all challenges to the old story. The point remains that drivers who were uneducated about brands, or who didn’t care about cars in general, could easily fail to be impressed. The 1957 Chevrolet looked a lot like the 1957 Cadillac, and this was still true two decades later. If you didn’t pay attention to the brand, the conspicuous consumption aspect was lost on you. That’s how all pure, tiered branding works, right? You have to convince the consumer of his position in the brand hierarchy; but you also have to impress everyone else with the strength of the brand.  The non-purchasers of your product are the ones that make the act of conspicuous consumption truly possible. They are the ones that provide the admiration (or envy) that makes the whole system turn.

The marketing genius of the SUV was that it radically simplified the display of wealth. You didn’t need to know anything about brands, drivetrains, or interior fabrics to guess that an Expedition was more expensive than an Explorer, and an Excursion more still. Pure size turned out to be an incredibly effective substitute for the delicate logic of branding. Unlike the carefully cultivated advertising of yore, SUVs didn’t need an abundance of consumer knowledge to be effective in their message. Bigger meant more expensive, and thus more exclusive. Every kid of the 90s understood this, as did their parents. It was consumption reduced to its crassest, most vulgar form. Even the most ostentatious land yachts of the 50s, 60s, and 70s were rarely much larger than the more pedestrian sedans on which they were often based, and they utilized most of the same styling cues. The SUV was an unavoidable sensory assault that based its appeal not on some form of enlightened coexistence, but on physical dominance of the road. It was literally impossible to ignore.

SUVs trampled the notion of an enlightened, “real” luxury. They put paid to the idea that a luxury vehicle must somehow provide the owner with a superior driving experience, even if that only meant a plusher ride or easier steering. No, the remorseless logic of SUV ownership proclaimed. It must only be expensive and readily identifiable as such. Sure, there was an avalanche of phony “lifestyle” marketing associated with SUVs- they were “sport utility vehicles,” after all. We all know, though, that most SUV purchasers had no interest in the supposed rugged capabilities of their vehicles. They were minivan and wagon replacements with more swagger. As the Germans and Japanese joined in on the SUV orgy, this logic was carried to completion. The hopes of the David E. Davises of the world that the late Seventies had marked some kind of turning point in America’s love affair with the automobile were crushed. Those yuppies didn’t buy their Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes, and various other upscale European and Japanese hardware because they offered superior driving experiences or quality; they bought them because they were the latest trend in loudly advertised wealth. Those cars might have been excellent driving machines, but that isn’t why most people bought them. Toyota learned this lesson and hit a home run with Lexus. Nissan and Honda didn’t, and their luxury ventures floundered.

In the BOF era, the crude size contest undermined the traditional logic of branding to an unprecedented degree. It proved that customers could be receptive to expensive pleasure vehicles without the benefit of a premium brand image. A Land Rover Discovery with leather, a V8, and four wheel drive retailed for $36,100 in 2000; an Eddie Bauer Explorer with the same set of options was only about two grand less. BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, and Lexus maintained their pricing premiums at the top end of the market, but their advantage was slim and their overall share of the market small. The reality is that nobody struggled to sell SUVs at huge margins in the late 90s and early 2000s, regardless of the strength of their brand. Honda was so desperate to get in this game that it agreed to stick its badges on a GM product. There were plenty of weak brands that got a new lease on life because of the SUV gold rush. When the SUV market entered a sharp decline around 2003, Oldsmobile imploded, Isuzu and Mitsubishi ceased to be relevant entities, and Saab and Mercury were fatally weakened. Sales were more a function of capacity and availability than anything else; “brand” was a secondary consideration. The incessant drive downmarket by virtually all of today’s luxury automakers, and their subsequent erosion of pricing power, is at least partially a legacy of what happened in the SUV market.

In this atmosphere of radical consumption, my contemporaries and I played out our formative years. I didn’t get as much seat time in SUVs as many of my friends, but I had a favorable impression of them. SUVs and trucks were cool. Bill Paxton drove a Ram in Twister. The kids drove an Explorer in Hocus Pocus, and people got eaten out of them in Jurassic Park. I had a die-cast Explorer that I played with constantly. I didn’t have any deep ideas about resource depletion, or climate change, or driving a car that actually put you in touch with the road. I just thought they looked awesome, and that cool people drove them- the main criteria of any adolescent boy. If nothing had changed in the American political and economic picture, I’d probably be driving one today.

Of course, things did change. 9/11 was the first major world political event that Millennials experienced in a meaningful way. The long-term implications of that are enormous and wide-ranging in scope, but for the purposes of the current discussion it’s sufficient to say that the attack and the wars that followed were fodder for a critical look at the American transportation complex. Nobody who was an adolescent in the mid-2000s could avoid the acrimonious debates about American energy policy that accompanied the wars. They couldn’t ignore the mounting crisis that was beginning to thin the SUV herd either. After the Iraq invasion, gas prices began to rocket upwards. Suddenly, middle class budgets were squeezed. Expenditures had to be cut in order to feed ravenous 14 MPG gas hogs. Family trips were curtailed. Parents carpooled. Young teenagers spent long hours in boring dealership waiting rooms as Mom and Dad desperately tried to get out from under their mountain of debt and into something that didn’t cost $150 to fill up.

Meanwhile, there were other problems that combined to make driving a gas guzzler deeply unfashionable and out-of-touch. Casualty lists were ever-present in newspapers and on television. Weapons of mass destruction weren’t found where they were supposed to be; nor was the zealot who had caused us all this pain in the first place. Despots in oil-rich nations laughed at us. The public debt ballooned. Climate change science became harder and harder to deny. Deindustrialization was a mounting problem. Corporate fraud cases exposed shocking levels of institutionalized avarice. Political discourse was ever frothier. In the grim atmosphere of national suffering and sacrifice, people began to question the wisdom of consumption for consumption’s sake. SUVs were beginning to decline in a major way after the gas price spike, but others doubled down- the H2 was introduced in 2002, you might recall. Even so, the long term projections weren’t good. The political Left embraced the SUV as a bogeyman and a symbol for a wide variety of ills.

Just as those kids born the same year the Explorer debuted were about to start their senior year of high school, the bottom fell out. Of everything. The BOF Era had really died that summer, when gas crested $4 a gallon nationwide. The financial crisis was just the nail in the coffin. Now we got to see just how over-leveraged our “boom economy” really was. It was a swift, brutal lesson about the value of living within your means. More than anything, it taught us that luxury and consumption were two different things. You can get by without fancy clothes, eating out, and expensive vacations. Those can be easily set aside when times are tough. It’s much harder to get out from under a car payment for a vehicle that is now too expensive to drive and which no dealer wants to take in trade; to heat a house full of empty rooms you never use; or to pay the mortgage on that same house when the fixed-rate term is suddenly up. I was lucky in that I had a family which understood these things, so our pain was minimal. Lots of people in our community weren’t so fortunate, as was the case all across America.

So what did observant Millennials learn from the BOF Era, when the dust had settled? Mostly, that overspending on commodities isn’t a smart or fulfilling substitute for luxury. You can’t go without a place to live or a way to get around. If you’ve over-leveraged yourself into buying more housing or vehicle than you really need, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to jettison those commitments when times are tough. This doesn’t mean that luxury cars or expensive houses are going to disappear. What it does mean is that the mindless “more is more” mentality of full-size SUVs with two passengers and poorly-constructed McMansions with no furniture in bland suburbs is dead. Energy and space are basic goods that everyone needs. They aren’t meant to be burned up in an endless quest for inefficiency. Neither is inexhaustible, or totally predictable in value. Better to indulge in something with a fixed cost whose long-term obligation isn’t dependent on the vagaries of global financial and commodities markets. Keep your money tight to your chest. Only take out debt that enriches your personal equity: student loans or perhaps a fixed-rate mortgage on a right-sized house in an established neighborhood. Of course, I can’t speak for everybody. There will always be people who make bad decisions as long as money exists. If we start to experience the same level of prosperity our parents enjoyed, we might regress. But we’ve seen the inevitable end to irrational exuberance, and the conspicuous waste that follows. The shameful discarding of SUVs, many with lots of life still left in them, is the final and most sordid legacy of the era.

Like the car-critical Baby Boomers of the 60s and 70s, Generation Y is looking for alternatives. The Boomers looked to fuel-efficient imports as an antidote to Detroit behemoths. The CUV is one of Gen Y’s alternatives to the excesses of the BOF Era. The CUV offers the efficiency of a car with the headroom, seating position, and interior space that were the most redeeming qualities of SUVs. Mid-size pickup trucks are dead, so they say- but new materials and engineering techniques are already making full-sizes more efficient. Hybrids and alternative energy vehicles are only going to grow in demand. The Millennials have been castigated as a generation that doesn’t care about driving or mobility in general, but that isn’t true. We just don’t want the millstone of vehicles that are too cumbersome, too inflexible, and too inefficient to be an effective hedge against the future. The Millennials will go on to buy plenty of cars, but not by the pound.

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Look What We’re Missing: Suzuki Launches New Crossover For Europe Thu, 15 May 2014 13:45:35 +0000 iv-4_concept_12_s


The compact crossover market is so hot that even a moribund auto maker like Suzuki is getting into it – and what you’re looking at could very well be the next Vitara.

Built in Hungary, the new B-segment CUV is expected to resemble the iv-4 Concept shown above. With a 2015 launch, we’ll have to wait a while to find out whether it’s a rugged off-roader like past Suzukis, or just another milquetoast urban runabout. The latter would be more profitable, thanks to leveraging the Swift architecture, while providing a more civilized driving experience – perhaps at the expense of Suzuki’s brand image. Or whatever is left of it.

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Reader Review: 2014 Cadillac SRX Thu, 08 May 2014 16:44:18 +0000 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Reader “Bunkie” aka Peter Hansen, sends us his impressions of the 2014 Cadillac SRX, versus his 2010 CTS Wagon.

There are times when it’s a good practice to review long-held beliefs. I’ve never owned an SUV or a CUV. I have owned two Rangers, back when I lived in Columbus and had the whole house/2 kids/2 cars/mortgage-in-a-new-subdivision sort of life. I loved my Rangers. The last one came in really handy when that life imploded and I needed to ferry my things to the storage unit that I referred to as the “museum of my former life”.

Since then, it’s been a life lived in Manhattan with a progression of 3 Taurii (wagons) and 2 Cadillac sedans Now, I drive a 2010 CTS Wagon purchased as a CPO car back in 2012. We keep our car in a garage, which is an unholy but necessary expense. Our usage pattern is to escape the city on Fridays, driving about 120 miles to a weekend house in Pennsylvania. This results in about 15-18K miles per year.

Two cars back, we got our second Cadillac (a CPO STS with the Northstar) from R.J. Burne in Scranton, and I returned to the dealer to purchase our CTS. When our CTS Wagon went in for service, R.J. Burne was kind enough to give me a loaner SRX, since they’re quite a distance away from New York City, and I was interested to see how a CUV would compare to my beloved station wagon. By the time I pick up my car (which should be as you read this), I will have put almost 200 miles on the SRX, over a mix of highways and very rough back roads.

I like a certain amount of functionality in a vehicle. I love sports cars, but we live in the real world with a single vehicle, so I must compromise. That’s exactly why I worked so hard to locate a CTS Wagon. The biggest letdown is the 3.0L V6, which feels inadequate compared to the torquey turbo 4 in my sister’s 328xi. I hadn’t yet tried the new 3.6L V6, but the SRX loaner afforded me that opportunity.

Like most CUVs in this class, The SRX’s shape and size is defined by its mission to provide a high level of comfort and space. To me, it looks short and squat with overly large wheels. I can’t say that I’m a fan of the new grill, as it appears too busy. I’ve always liked the vestigial tail fins that are part of the tail lights, largely because I’m a child of the 1960s and loved the befinned Caddies of my youth.


Maybe it’s my age, but my very first impression was how damned easy it is to get into the driver’s seat. I’m about 6’2” with long legs for my height. I usually swivel my butt over and drop into the seat then swing my legs into the car. In the SRX, I was able to just step in and sit down. Like Etta James, the SRX appears to be built for comfort, not for speed. The second impression is that the driving position is more upright. This SRX was a Luxury trim, which included a thigh support. I’ve seen this feature on other cars, but the seat height has been to low for it to make a difference. Here it worked wonderfully and, for the first time, the weight of my upper legs is actually supported by the seat, not my knees and hips.

Visibility isn’t quite as good as our CTS Wagon. The A-pillar is huge. This SRX has deeply tinted rear and passenger windows, but at least the side mirrors are large and have a blind-spot monitoring feature. The rearview camera is acceptable, with a curving path graphic when you turn the wheel.


This was my first experience with CUE, and I found the learning curve to be brutal. Nothing was intuitive and every action, from setting the climate control, to finding Deep Tracks on SiriusXM, took a long time. The sound system is from Bose and, frankly, the sound quality isn’t very good. As someone who builds speakers as a hobby – and onced worked for Bose – it’s disappointing to think of how many superior components are out there.

I have yet to find the way to reset the fuel mileage and trip computer, I suspect that I won’t get time to figure this out. Having said all that, we must accept that if we want this level of control and this rich feature set, there will always be a learning curve.

The driving experience far surpassed my expectations. Compared to the most recent CUV I’ve driven (an Ecoboost Escape), the SRX felt well-planted, free of the usual top-heavy sensation through curves. The steering does an excellent job of pointing the car despite lacking feedback. The primary characteristic when pushed hard into a corner is mild understeer. Body roll is well-controlled. The brakes are nice and linear, well-suited to the car’s weight. Ride quality is another surprise. Compared to my CTS, the SRX feels sharper yet the effect of this year’s crop of monster potholes barely unsettled the car. Road surfaces that have the CTS transmitting every small irregularity to the seat bottoms are no problem for the SRX. You feel them, but the amplitude and impulse are greatly reduced. Another side benefit is that the car is very quiet, more so than the CTS.

The difference between the 3.0L in the CTS and the 3.6L in the SRX is vast. In the 3.0L, there’s simply no torque below 4000 rpm – manual shifting and driving like a lunatic are needed to extract its full performance. The SRX is almost 1000 lbs. heavier than the CTS yet it feels much stronger. Put your foot in it, and it needs one less downshift to find the ponies. Shifts are smooth but leisurely. Manual mode is better, but compared to the 328, they are slow – not that any GM/Cadillac transmission I’ve experienced has performed with authority.


From a practicality perspective, the SRX has a shorter cargo area than the CTS wagon, by about 4-5 inches. Depth is better and hatch height is much better. The CTS manages barely 19 inches while the SRX is about 28 inches.

Feature-wise, I like the driver info center. This is an area where all cars have been getting better with more customization. My loaner SRX has the Intellibeam automatic headlight-dimming feature. We had this on our STS and, at times, it required manual intervention. The SRX is much improved. It dims when following other cars, and isn’t fooled by reflective signs. I miss the fog lights and adaptive lighting from my CTS, however.

Now we come to re-examining part. I’ve stated publicly that I don’t like CUVs all that much. But as my needs are changing, I have become more impressed with the segment – provided that they are executed properly. Since I can’t have a pickup, I own a cheap trailer and can tow it behind my CTS. While my car is only rated for 1000 lbs, the SRX can tow 3500 lbs. I probably won’t even exceed the CTS’ rating, but it’s nice to know the extra capacity is there.

As someone who needs one vehicle to do it all, the SRX really won me over. I like the idea of the higher ground clearance and AWD (even with proper snow tires, the CTS does require more care in winter weather). The better seating position and larger cargo capacity are welcome. The 3.6L is a gem, and makes the 3.0L mill in my car look stone age. I may need to re-consider my biases against CUVs. At the very least, the SRX is a way for Cadillac to keep us CTS Wagon owners (all 4 of us) in the fold.

Crossovers Outsell Sedans For The First Time Ever Thu, 01 May 2014 04:01:00 +0000 20140430_largest_segments_tl

For the past decade, midsize sedans have been the most popular segment in America. But data from Polk and IHS Automotive suggests that might be changing.

According to Polk, the first two months of 2014 saw compact crossovers take the top spot in terms of market share. As Polk’s Tom Libby notes

We may now be at an inflection point in the U.S. automotive industry – IHS Automotive data based on Polk new vehicle registrations indicate that in the first two months of 2014 U.S. drivers purchased more small crossovers than any other type of vehicle, car or light truck. Non-luxury compact crossovers’ share of the industry has jumped almost six share points in the past five years, including more than three points in the last year alone.

We’ll know more as more sales data emerges today and in subsequent months. While many observers tend to focus on individual nameplate sales races (Camry vs. Accord, Ram vs. Silverado) and brands (BMW vs. Mercedes-Benz), the moment when CUVs eclipse regular passenger cars would be a true game changer for the American auto market.

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New York 2014: Outtakes Part 1 – The Masses Are Asses Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:01:59 +0000 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 Mon, 07 Apr 2014 04:36:05 +0000 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 Thu, 27 Mar 2014 15:12:20 +0000 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! Tue, 11 Mar 2014 12:05:09 +0000

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,


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 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) Thu, 20 Feb 2014 14:00:29 +0000 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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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 ]]> 114
Review: 2014 Dodge Durango Limited V8 (with Video) Thu, 16 Jan 2014 15:00:23 +0000 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?


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.



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.



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


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 ]]> 60
First Drive Video Review: 2014 Toyota Highlander Fri, 20 Dec 2013 20:25:18 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC had its first bite at the 2014 Highlander recently. Be sure to bookmark 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 Fri, 06 Dec 2013 16:44:39 +0000 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.

10 mos.
10 mos.
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%
164,920 + 12.1% 2,079,970 1,884,242 + 10.4%
]]> 49
Review: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT (With Video) Thu, 05 Dec 2013 13:00:18 +0000 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.


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


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


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

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Review: 2014 Buick Enclave (With Video) Wed, 13 Nov 2013 14:00:18 +0000 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.


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

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


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


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

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Jeep Grand Comanche Episode 2: We Jack ‘Em Up In The Yard Thu, 07 Nov 2013 23:24:21 +0000 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


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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