The Truth About Cars » Off-Road The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 17:04:35 +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 » Off-Road Dispatches do Brasil: Ford Trollers Bronco Fans With New BOF SUV Tue, 03 Jun 2014 13:50:26 +0000 ford-troller-t4-1

The accepted hagiography of the Ford empire involves the firesale of all of Ford’s various brands in the aftermath of the financial crisis, with only the Blue Oval and the Lincoln Motor Company sticking around for the ride. But that’s not quite accurate.

Ford actually has another brand that it’s not-quite-affiliated with, called Troller. To understand the connection, we need a little context. Brazil has a long tradition of small independent car makers. Some have made sport cars (Puma, Dardo, Santa Matilde, Lobini), other have made regular cars and SUVs (Gurgel being the longest lived and most successful, though there are countless others). In 1995, a small company called Troller started producing jipes in the northeastern state of Ceará and many imagined it would be another short-lived effort. But Troller has survived long enough to launch an all-new jipe (as Brazilians call this type of car, in honor of Jeep), which will use some of the global Ranger’s hardware while maintaining the robustness that make it in Brazil’s off-road circles.

Started by Rogério Farias on a ham-string budget, the small factory nonetheless made a name for itself in off road circles that enabled its growth. It gained attention to itself by participating in the Paris-Dakar Rally and even winning some phases of Brazil’s most famed off road competition, the Rali dos Sertões. In 1997, it was bought by Mário Araripe, a well heeled entrepreneur who subsequently increased production and hired more employees, eventually building a military jeep, special vehicles for use in underground mines and even a pickup that badly flopped. The T4, “loosely” inspired by the Jeep Wrangler was a success. Never cheap, it was the cheapest alternative in Brazil for real off-roading and with its combination of a diesel engine and a hearty 4×4 system, the company always turned a profit and continued growing.

In 2007, Ford bought out the company for an undisclosed sum. And now, 7 years later, the first real results of this deal appear. The new T4 will use the same 5 cylinder, 3.2 L, good for 163 horses (at least in the pickup). It will also be equipped with the Ranger’s 6-speed manual gearbox. According to Ford executives present at the launch, the new T4 will be more civilized without losing the characteristics that so endeared the model to hardcore off-roaders. A much improved interior is an example of this. Ford also said that they have improved manufacturing processes and that the special composite material of fiberglass and steel that makes the T4’s outer shell has been substantially strengthened.

Now, with a resurgent Ford, more confident and with more money in the bank, the possibility that Troller could gain overseas markets is once again ventilated. Some see it in the front of the vehicles new design. Could a Troller Bronco eventually ride the prairies again?

Troller-T4-2015-PA-05 Troller-T4-2015-PA-06 Troller-T4-2015-PA-08 Troller-T4-2015-PA-01 Troller-T4-2015-PA-02 ford-troller-t4-1 Acelerando_3_Troller_T4_13 unnamed (1) unnamed ]]> 60
Mercedes-Benz Lets You Enjoy The Outdoors, One Steppe At A Time Sat, 08 Mar 2014 22:13:14 +0000

Photo courtesy of

Mongolia. The name evokes images of vast, sweeping plains, burning deserts, high mountains and deep, crystal clear lakes. Born to the horse and with restlessness is in their blood, the wanderlust of the Mongolian people fits the greatness of their land. History tells us that under the Khans, they once swept across the entirety of Asia conquering every kingdom that dared to stand in their way and stopping only when Kublai-Khan died and his empire fractured into four separate, competing kingdoms. Today, hemmed in by Russia and China, the country has become a cultural backwater, but the spirit of the people and their connection to the land remains as intense as ever. Given all that, what you are about to see makes perfect sense.

To those of us in the United States, Mercedes-Benz is the purveyor of high end luxury vehicles and the occasional delivery van but the rest of the world receives a much wider range of their product. In fact, their large trucks are famous throughout the developing world for their longevity, toughness and off-road ability and, given that reputation MB was the natural choice for two wealthy Mongolian businessmen who decided they needed to get back to nature and engage in traditional activities like hunting wolves with eagles.

Photo courtesy of

The men chose the Mercedes Zetros 2733, a 6X6 all wheel drive commercial truck chassis that puts its 7.2 liter inline 6 cylinder engine out front of the driver and added a custom made mobile home body, specially made to be able to deal with the climactic extremes of the Mongolian wilderness. As the photos on Daimler’s website show, the living quarters are well appointed units featuring all the comforts of home, including a full galley and bathrooms that feature heated marble flooring. The vehicles are also outfitted with large flat screen monitors, DVD/CD players, wireless LAN systems for computers and self aligning satellite dishes so the trucks’ occupants can be in constant contact with the outside world no matter how far they may choose to roam.

Truth be told, I am not much of an off-road guy and I have little interest in mobile homes, but I like exploring and the idea of a nicely appointed, large off-road truck that can take me further than the local KOA campground really fires my imagination. That said, I think I’ll leave the wolf hunting to the locals, I’m not so sure I have the heart for it.

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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

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Chicago 2014: Toyota TRD Pro Ups The Off-Road Ante Thu, 06 Feb 2014 16:22:10 +0000 CHRIS BURKARD PHOTOGRAPHY, TOYOTA, TRD

With Toyota serving as the market leader in body-on-frame trucks (the Tacoma, Tundra, 4Runner and now departed FJ Cruiser), taking aim at the off-road segment seems like a logical next step for their TRD aftermarket division. The new TRD Pro lineup, shown above, clearly apes the styling cues of the Ford Raptor, and is evidence that Toyota is not going to let the Blue Oval have that market all to itself

The TRD Pro trucks won’t get any engine upgrades, but every truck in the lineup gets  TRD Bilstein shocks with a remote reservoir, TRD-tuned front springs, a front skid plate, and unique grille with a large Toyota badge in the center. All three of the vehicles will have lifted front ends, with the Tundra and Tacoma getting a 2 inch raise while the 4Runner makes do with 1.5.

The Tundra will get 18 inch wheels, with the 4Runner getting 17 inchers and the Tacoma sporting 16″ wheels. Each vehicle will get an upgraded interior with TRD parts, with the 4Runner sports an extra inch of wheel travel and the Tacoma gets a TRD exhaust.

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Pre-Production Review: 2014 Toyota 4Runner (With Video) Fri, 13 Sep 2013 18:01:04 +0000 2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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

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


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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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Review: 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque (Video) Tue, 13 Nov 2012 20:31:32 +0000

Land Rover and Jeep are the original go-anywhere brands and the brands most resistant to losing sight of their hard-core mission. Unfortunately this focus can’t shelter them from the need to meet evermore stringent emissions and fuel economy standards. What’s an iconic sub-brand like Range Rover to do? Dress up a small cross over in high-fashion bling for the urban set. This presents today’s question: does the Evoque dilute the off-road brand or is it an extension into uncharted waters?

Click here to view the embedded video.


Once upon a time, SUVs roamed the land with large-displacement engines and locking axles and you only bought a Range Rover if you owned a ranch or wore a crown. Now of course a trendy SUV is a fashion statement which explains why Victoria Beckham was chosen to flog the baby Rover. Of course, this makes total sense for the brand since the majority of Range Rover shoppers in America will never take their SUV off-pavement let-alone off-road. This departure from the full-size Range Rover’s Rubicon requirements meant the boffins could sharpen the Evoque’s edges, lower the stance, raise the belt line and slam the rear roofline. The result is perhaps the most aggressive vehicle Land Rover has crafted, and quite a relief to my eye since the Freelander and LR2′s proportions never looked right to me. Further extending the Evoque’s fashion credentials, Land Rover crafted both a three and five door Evoque, although the exterior dimensions are identical. Completing the Evoque’s reputation as the trendy Roverlet are puddle lamps integrated into the side view mirrors that project an Evoque silhouette on the ground when you approach the vehicle. Think of the Evoque as the “clutch purse” to the Range Rover Sport’s diaper bag.



Normally when you work your way down the model-line food chain you get cheaper interior bits. This is almost a universal law and is part of the reason shoppers will buy a 528i instead of a 335i. It would seem that Land Rover didn’t get the memo when designing the Evoque’s interior however as even the base Pure model we tested had a gorgeous stitched/padded pleather dash. Aside from looking good and attracting caresses from passengers, the Evoque’s touch points are notable better feeling than the more expensive Range Rover Sport. The Evoque also benefits from a fairly exclusive parts bin sharing turn signal stalks with the Range Rover line, steering wheel buttons with the Jaguar XJ and the gear selector with the Jaguar XK.

Range Rovers are known for their extensive (and expensive) options lists, but the Evoque take a different tactic bundling high levels of standard equipment into three different trim levels: Pure, Prestige and Dynamic (the two-door is available only in Pure and Dynamic). The base Pure model gets a standard aluminum roof for 2013 turning the ginormous fixed glass lid into an option (standard on Dynamic and Prestige). Also new on the option list for 2013 is a self-parking option that parallel parks your Baby Rover hands-free.

Seating in the Evoque is suitably plush with front thrones that are supportive and well bolstered for sporty driving. However, the driver’s seat doesn’t have the same range of motion as much of the competition and the foot-well is a bit crowded so if your body deviates much from my 6-foot 190-lb frame you should spend some time behind the wheel before you sign papers. The Evoque’s rear cabin is extremely well-appointed with no corner-cutting plastics of harsh seams to be found. Rear space is limited however by the Evoque’s footprint limiting the rear to two passengers with short legs, possibly three in a pinch.


Nestled in the middle of a sea of supple pleather is the same 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system found in the Jaguar XJ and he 2013 Range Rover. If you’ve experienced Land Rover’s old infotainment interface, forget everything you know about it, this is thankfully a totally different system. While the menu interfaces are still not as polished as BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI, they are far more intuitive and responsive than anything Land Rover has done in the past. The system sports excellent USB/iDevice integration although we noticed it was not cable of charging an iPad. In keeping with the Evoque’s premium image, the base audio system is a 380-watt, 11-speaker Meridian surround system that sounded like it belonged in a much more expensive vehicle.

Options bundling helps keep dealer inventory manageable so logically Land Rover limits the gadget menu to two: the Climate Package and the Luxury Package. The $1,000 Climate Package is the only way to get heated front seats and includes the heated thrones, steering wheel, washer jets and an electrically heated windscreen. The only downside to this package is that the heated windscreen’s embedded wires may annoy some drivers, so check that out in sunlight before you buy. The $4,000 Luxury Package (standard on Dynamic and Prestige) is a must for the gadget hound as it includes navigation, digital music storage, keyless go/entry, HID headlamps, auto high beams, a surround camera system and a 17-speaker 825-watt Meridian sound system. While I would honestly rate the system below the offerings from the other Euro brands, the Evoque does score points in my book for allowing  destination entry while in motion.


If  you’re worried about drivetrain reliability ,peeking under the Evoque’s boxy hood will either allay your fears or give you a lesson in world geography. Nestled sideways in the engine bay is a Ford-sourced 2.0L engine shared with everything from the Ford Taurus to the Volvo S80. (Before Land Rover enthusiasts turn their noses up at a Detroit engine, remember that the old Rover V8 was really a Buick 215.) Starting with an aluminum block, Ford added twin cams with independent variable valve timing, bolted on a Borg Warner (KKK) K03 turbocharger and lathered on the direct-injection sauce to deliver 240HP at 5,500RPM and 250lb-ft of twist from 1,750-4,500RPM. The small engine idles as smoothly as BMW’s 2.0L turbo, and like the German mill it has a vaguely diesel sound to it thanks to the direct injection system. Power is sent to all four wheels via an Aisin 6-speed transmission (Aisin is Toyota/Lexus’s in-house transmission company) and a standard Haldex AWD system from Sweden. The international combination is enough to scoot the Evoque from 0-60 in 7 seconds, about the same time as a Range Rover Sport HSE. My only disappointment is that while Tata had their hands in the Ford/Volvo parts bin they didn’t swipe Volvo’s smooth 325HP inline-6 engine for the Evoque Dynamic model.


No Range Rover would be complete without a bevy of off-road features. Of course, the Evoque is the on-road off-roader so there’s no height-adjustable air suspension, the differentials don’t lock and there’s no low-speed transfer case. Instead, buyers get a simplified terrain management system with push buttons instead of a knob that tell the traction and stability control system what to expect. Our Facebook readers asked us how the Evoque “handles wet leaves,” the answer is: as well as any other crossover. Since this is essentially the same AWD system that is in the LR2 and the Volvo XC60, the Evoque is similarly capable with the going gets wet/muddy/sandy. I wouldn’t want to try my hand rock-crawling with the Evoque, but it’s not claiming to be rock-capable anyway. Sure the Evoque does offer short overhangs, 8.4-inches of clearance and nearly 20-inches of water fording capacity, but the Volvo XC60 offers more.

In reality the Evoque is designed to traverse the urban jungle and it shows with moderately stiff springs, low profile rubber and impeccable road manners. Of course there’s no denying that Evoque is a front-heavy vehicle and it won’t ever feel as nimble as a BMW X1, but it is surprisingly well-behaved when it meets a corner. The AWD system is tuned to lock the center coupling as often as possible resulting in predictable corner carving wet or dry. The Dynamic trim’s optional lower profile rubber and MagneRide active damping suspension further refine the Evoque’s corner carving skills but they do take a toll on refinement delivering a ride that borders on harsh.

When the road straightens, the reality of a 240HP engine motivating 4,000lbs comes to light. While the Evoque’s 7 second 0-60 time isn’t sloe, the 2.0L turbo equipped X1 dispatched 60 in 6.2 seconds with the 3.0L turbo X1 entering sports sedan territory. The BMW X1 is also more efficient than the Evoque dishing out 22MPG City and 33MPg Highway thanks to the 8-speed transmission and a lighter curb weight.

There aren’t too many luxury crossovers that I would willingly flog on the winding mountain back-roads in Northern California, but the Evoque is a member of this select club that includes the BMW X1 xDrive35i and the Volvo XC60 R-Design with Polestar (I still can’t believe how long these names are). There is just one problem, the Evoque’s brakes aren’t up for the kind of abuse the chassis and engine can dole out, fading noticeably during a session that wouldn’t have made the Volvo or the BMW break a sweat. Even so, the Evoque is fun to drive hard and looks good in the process.

Being stylish isn’t cheap. Just ask the folks at Prada. The cost of the Evoque’s style is an MSRP range from $41,995 to $60,095, a stating price nearly $10,000 higher than the faster and more efficient X1. Even adjusting for feature content the difference is still nearly $8,000. This kind of pricing premium is nothing new to the brand, just price a Range Rover out if you don’t believe me. In a way, this pricing premium (and the resulting exclusivity of the mode) and a dedication to world-class interiors are what make the Evoque as much a Range Rover as the go-anywhere Range Rover. Let me answer the “is it worth it?” question with a question: what kind of shopper are you? Do you shop Prada or Wal-Mart?

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.6 Seconds

0-60: 7.0 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.4 Seconds @ 90MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 24.5 MPG over 811 miles


2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Exterior, Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Engine, 2.0L Direct Injection Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Engine, 2.0L Direct Injection Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, silhouette Puddle Lamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, silhouette Puddle Lamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, Dashboard,Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, HVAC, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, HVAC controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 63
Review: 2012 Toyota Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Edition Fri, 21 Sep 2012 18:17:38 +0000

Toyota trucks have long been the staple of practical truck shoppers, young shoppers looking for a cooler first ride, off-roaders and just about every rebel militia. What’s a company like Toyota do to keep sales of the 8-year-old truck going? Special editions of course. Despite the higher profits, Toyota decided to skip the “freedom fighter” edition with bench seating for 8 in the bed and a .50 caliber machine gun on the roof in favor of an off-the-rack off-roader. Thus the Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Edition was born. In case you are wondering, T|X stands for Tacoma Xtreme. You know, because it is way cooler to spell extreme without an “e.”

Click here to view the embedded video.


The Tacoma has been with us for a long time and there’s little disguising that despite the periodic face lifts. Still, in the truck world this isn’t really a problem as styles change slowly and long product cycles are the more the rule than the exception. Despite a 2009 refresh, the most common comment I received from friends during my week with the Tacoma was:  “I didn’t know you had an old truck.” Xtreme? Not so much. While Toyota still offers a regular cab Tacoma for $17,525, the Baja Edition is only offered in with a “Double Cab” or “Access Cab.” Color options are limited to black or red for 2012.


The last time we looked at the Tacoma’s cabin, a common complaint was the car-like interior. The basics of that interior are still with us, but Toyota swapped in a chunky steering wheel, shiny metal bling and rubber flooring to butch-up our Baja. Compared to the current Nissan Frontier and Chevy Colorado, the Tacoma is a more comfortable place to spend your time and the cabin looks less dated as well. Despite the car-like shapes and Toyota sedan door handles, my forum trolling indicates the interior holds up well to abuse. While the cabin is far from Xtreme, I don’t have a problem with car cabins in trucks.

Click here to view the embedded video.


All Tacoma models (including the base model) come standard with Toyota’s snazzy 6.1-inch “Display Audio” system. The touch-screen head unit is easy to use and allows full control of your USB/iDevice as well as Bluetooth audio streaming and Bluetooth speakerphone integration. The audio quality from the base speaker package is merely average, if you care about your tunes upgrade to the JBL system. Toyota’s Entune software is available as an option and enables smartphone integrated apps like iHeartRadio and Bing. Also available is a $1,930 package that combines Entune, the optional navigation software, JBL speakers, XM/HD radio and a subwoofer.

While systems like MyFord Touch, or even Toyota’s own higher end nav systems use Sirius or XM satellite radio to deliver data content, the Display Audio system pulls the information off the internet using your smartphone and data plan. As a result, there’s no need for an XM or Sirius subscription. The downside? You can’t access these services without a smartphone, so if you haven’t joined the 21st century and are still using a Motorola StarTac, you won’t be able whileyou roll. Is a well balanced JBL system with smartphone love Xtreme? For this segment it sure is.

Drivetrain & Off-Road Enhancements

The Tacoma’s base engine is a 2.7L four-cylinder engine good for 159HPand 180lb-ft of twist. In order to get the Baja Package you have to step up to the optional 4.0L V6 which produces 236HP at 5,200RPM and 266lb-ft of at 4,000RPM. (And check that 4×4 option box as well.) While the 2.7L is still saddled with Toyota’s old four-speed auto or five-speed manual, the V6 gets a newer five-speed auto or six-speed manual. The Baja uses a traditional two-range transfer case (read: part-time 4WD) and both a “real” locking rear differential and a brake-actuated limited-slip rear differential just like the regular 4X4 Tacoma. The lack of driveline differentiation makes sense as the Baja is built on the San Antonio assembly line, then over to the Toyota Logistical Services building (on-site) where a team disassembles the Tacoma suspension and reassembles it with the Baja bits. By hand.

Compared to the Ford Raptor, Toyota’s changes to the Tacoma donor truck are less “Xtreme” with all the changes working within the stock suspension design as much as possible. For instance, despite going from 8.5 to 9.25 inches, front wheel travel is limited by the the upper A-arm design which is retained from the stock Tacoma. The enormous 60mm Bilstein shocks (originally designed for motor home use) will support more travel should a buyer decide to swap out the A-arm for an aftermarket unit. The Baja receives new springs all the way around for two-inch bump in height and rear suspension travel is increased from 8.5 to 10 inches. To help in cooling and performance, the rear shocks are upgraded to 50mm units that sport a remote reservoir.

The Baja edition also sports a TRD cat-back exhaust, some crazy side graphics and unique 16-inch wheels shod with 265-width BFGoodrich all-terrain tires. As you would expect, all the usual TRD off-road gear is included in the Baja package from skid plates up front to a 400-watt AC power inverter integrated into the truck bed.


If you’re looking for a head-to-head Baja vs Raptor comparison, you clicked on the wrong review. The Raptor is a different animal entirely and it’s just not a fair comparison to the Baja. The Ford is bigger, heavier, more powerful, faster, more expensive, and plays to a different audience.

On the road the Baja is surprisingly civilized for an off-road tuned vehicle. If you ever needed a reason to select the “factory” off-road truck instead of DIY modding, on-asphalt manners are that reason. Aside from the drone of the TRD cat-back exhaust, the Tacoma’s cabin is quiet, comfortable and a great place to be on a 5 hour road trip. However, it is out on the highway that Toyota’s V6 and 5-speed auto start to show their age. On the gently rolling hills of US-101 in California, the Baja’s lack of low end torque and tall 5th gear meant the transmission shifted frequently. The relatively low fourth gear combined with the cat-back drone spoiled an otherwise well behaved highway cruiser.

Off road, the Baja is a comfortable companion on the trail soaking up bumps without loosing composure. Like all trucks, the Baja is front heavy (56/44 % F/R) and is designed for load carrying in the bed. This combination of a light rear end and suspension designed for a load means that most trucks tend to get “squirrely” out back on washboard dirt roads at moderate speeds. The Baja on the other hand never broke a sweat thanks to the well-tuned Bilstein shocks and springs. The improved articulation of the suspension helped the Baja feel almost as sure-footed as the FJ Cruiser on the deeply rutted trails we encountered.

There are a few things that must be said. First off, pretty much nobody takes their brand-new, bone-stock anything to the off-road park and thrashes it. In our brand-new, bright-red Toyota pickup, all eyes at the SVRA were upon us as we bottomed out on a concrete pipe. They probably went home and told stories about the crazy dude in the new truck. Second, even in Baja trim the Tacoma’s approach/departure/break-over angles take a back seat to the FJ Cruiser and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Third, Toyota does not offer a locking front differential. I didn’t think the diff deficit would be too big of an issue until we were on tight switch-back turns at Hollister Hills where the large 40-foot turning circle (44 in the long bed) meant I was off the trail more than I was on it. If the Baja had a locking or limited slip diff up front, I wouldn’t have had to constantly resort to the hundred-point-turn to navigate some of the trickier descents. Despite these shortcomings, the Baja is “light” at 4,300lbs, some 900lbs lighter than a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a whopping 1,700lbs lighter than the Ford Raptor. Depending on the type of off-roading you plan on tackling, this lighter curb weight has some serious advantages.

Pricing is where the T|X Baja Edition shines. The base Access Cab model with the 6-speed manual transmission starts at $32,990 and our fully loaded four-door model with the automatic transmission and navigation rang in at $39,150. The observant in the crowd will notice two things, the Baja package costs $4,365 more than a truck without it, but more importantly (and quite strangely) it is cheaper than the Tacoma with the less rugged TRD off-road package. Go figure. While this is much cheaper than the Raptor which ranges from $42,975 to $53,000, it is strangely more expensive than the more capable FJ Crusier which rings in at $37,400  with Toyota’s “trail-teams” off-road package. Toyota plans to make only 750 due to the production limitations in 2012 but has promised the Baja will return for the 2013 model year with some tweaked options. If you’re the kind of person that’s willing to take their new car off-road, the Baja is easily the most Xtreme capable new truck for the price. I’m just not sure I’d take my shiny new truck too far off the beaten path.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.4 Seconds

0-60: 7.08 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.5 Seconds @ 87MPH

Average Economy: 17.5MPG over 1020 Miles


2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Exterior, T/X badge, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesTacoma Baja-016 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, rear seat storage, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, rear seat storage, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Engine, 4.0L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, Infotainment Entune, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, Infotainment Entune, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Tacoma Baja, Interior, Infotainment Entune, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude Sun, 24 Jun 2012 16:13:37 +0000

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the Jeep Patriot was the Cherokee reincarnated; the last utilitarian Jeep with solid axles, four doors and a real back seat. Instead, this boxy “baby Jeep” is the most unlikely offspring of the Chrysler/Mitsubishi alliance that gave birth the “plastastic” Caliber and the Compass (aka the Lady Jeep). Unlikely how? Because the Patriot is as attractive as the Caliber is ungainly.

Click here to view the embedded video.


From the outside, the Patriot hit the nail on the head when it was released in 2006 with slab-sides, horizontal tailgate, trapezoidal wheel arches, “Wrangleresque” headlamps and high beltline. While 2011 brought major changes to the hot mess that was the Compass’s exterior, only minor tweaks were applied to the Patriot. Those tweaks followed the “don’t fix it if it ‘aint’ broken” mantra; the only exterior tweaks are revised fascias and some standard equipment like fog lights and an increased ride height on the base 4×4 model. (Models with “Freedom Drive II are unchanged.) The overall form screams Jeep, and that’s just how Jeep shoppers like it.


As a testament to how awful the interior was on the 2007 Patriot, Chrysler hasn’t refreshed the interior once but twice. In 2010 Chrysler killed the awkward “silver effect” center stack and replaced it with a monochromatic hard plastic dash with round vents. 2011 brought another raft of improvements ditching the old steering wheel and Mercedes-like cruise control stalk for the thick-rimmed corporate steering wheel, better upholstery, revised doors, armrests and switchgear. While plastics are a notch below the Honda CR-V and the new Ford Escape, the Patriot starts $6,500 less than the Japanese competition and $2,500 less than even the Kia Sportage. Given what you find in other $16,000 vehicles, the plastics finally are firmly (and honestly) competitive. However, should you option your Patriot Limited up to the nearly $30,000 ceiling, the plastics may seem out-of-place for the price tag.

The Patriot delivers excellent cargo capacity despite being shorter than the RAV-4 and CR-V. As we have said at TTAC before, pay little attention to the official cargo numbers from each manufacturer – the way they are measured doesn’t always translate to real-world useability. While the Patriot is around 10 cubes behind the RAV-4 and CR-V, the square cargo area makes the space extremely useable for bulky items. With the rear seats folded, the numbers are essentially a tie in my real-world comparison and the Patriot trumps with a folding front passenger seat for schlepping those long IKEA purchases. If your cargo is primarily of the human persuasion, the Patriot’s boxy form provides adequate headroom and for a quartet of 6’5″ Americans which is more than can be said of the competition.



With a low starting price and a focus on off-roading, corners had to be cut somewhere and the gadget fund took the hit. The base radio and speakers are adequate for people who need basic entertainment; for others, stepping up to the “Media center 430” gets you a 6.5-inch touch screen and the ability to browse your tunes off USB drives. Fortunately, we had no problem playing iTunes AAC files on the head unit. A further bump up to the 430N model (only available in the Limited) gets you the same head unit with a Garmin designed navigation system on the 6.5-inch screen. Moving up the option list to the more expensive head units does nothing to the stock speakers, so if you are looking for a bit more boom, a 548-watt, 9 speaker Boston Acoustics system is also available. The navigation system is easy to use but lacks voice command for destination entry that Ford’s SYNC offers. Buyers beware that to get the integrated flip-down “tailgate boombox” pushed heavily on Jeep’s web page, one has to opt for the $1,295 “sun and sound” package (which includes a moonroof and those Boston Acoustics speakers).

As before, if you need some Bluetooth/Apple iDevice love, be ready to pony up $475 for the uConnect package to add these items. This is a serious omission when most states in America have a hand-held phone ban in place and the competition is starting to offer Bluetooth as standard on some models. Despite the gadget options being somewhat limited, package costs can add up rapidly with the fully loaded Patriot Limited ringing in at $29,260 (just a whisker away from a Grand Cherokee Laredo) so shop wisely.


Power numbers remain unchanged at 158HP and 141 lb-ft for the 2-liter and 172HP and 165 lb-ft for the optional 2.4-liter engine. With Jeep’s renovation budget being tight we won’t see the revised “Tigershark” engines with improved NVH characteristics under the Patriot’s hood for a while. While both engines can still be described as “gutless and unrefined”, Jeep improved the CVT tuning and sound isolation making the cabin quieter than before. With 3,346lbs to motivate, acceleration in our tester was leisurely but interestingly faster than the “non Trail Rated” model, scooting to 60 in 8.4 seconds vs 9.0 thanks to the lower gearing provided by the Freedom Drive II package.

Jeep would like shoppers to believe the Patriot is the cheap, fuel-efficient alternative to the rest of the Jeep lineup. However the reality is somewhat different because of the Dodge Caliber based AWD system. Unlike the rest of the Jeep lineup, the Patriot has no transfer case, no low-range gearbox, no locking differentials and no center differential. Like most FWD biased systems, the open front and rear differentials are connected via an electronically controlled wet clutch pack. This means that if all wheels have traction and the system is fully locked, the power is split 50/50 (front/rear). While this operation is essentially the same as the systems on the competition, what Jeep does to make the system “Trail Rated” is drop in a lower final drive ratio, tweak the traction control software and raise the ride height to 9-inches. The drop from a 6.12:1 to 8.1:1 final drive is what allows Freedom Drive II package to advertise a 19:1 “rock crawl” ratio (still considerably lower than the rest of the other Jeeps). This is also the reason fuel economy dives from 21/26MPG  to 20/23MPG. FDII’s tweaked traction control system applies the brakes to the wheels that are spinning without reducing engine power to imitate a limited slip differential. Because this essentially “consumes” engine power (because the braking wheel is turning the energy into heat in the brakes) the wheels that do have traction don’t really get a larger share of the power than if all wheels had traction. This also means that if you are using the feature for a long time, especially in combination with steep down-hill runs, brake overheating becomes a worry.


On the road, the tall and narrow proportions of the Patriot and tall ride height conspire to make the Patriot less nimble in the corners than most other crossovers. The flip side is a soft ride that is more comfortable than many CUVs with sporty aspirations. We took the Patriot to Hollister Hills SVRA and it acquitted itself on the basic traIls, as well as some very moderate ones without issue. As with most stock SUVs, the limitation isn’t snazzy AWD systems, but ground clearance. While the “brake lock” system proved helpful in off-camber situations (deep diagonal ruts), it demonstrated that plenty of slip is needed before the system intervenes. Also, because the brakes essentially consume their wheel’s share of engine power, it leaves the Patriot feeling somewhat out of breath. Despite these short comings I have no doubt that none of the competition except perhaps the Range Rover Evoque (which uses similar software) would have been able to follow us. While our foray into the mud proved the Patriot isn’t the efficient replacement for your lifted Wrangler, it is a vehicle that can handle life on a farm, ranch, or rural countryside without getting stuck as easily as the competition.

While I have to agree with the “forum fan boys” that the Patriot isn’t a real Jeep despite the trail rated badge, it is probably the most capable CUV on the market. The combination of utility, fuel economy that isn’t abjectly horrible, a low starting price and an interior that no longer makes me want to put my eyes out is finally competitive makes the Patriot a CUV that should be at the top of your list if you live in the country. If you’re a city dweller, the off-road looks and low price of the FWD Patriot is also quite compelling. After spending a week with the Patriot, the only problem I foresee  with the baby Jeep is convincing shoppers to take that second look at the Jeep dealer.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2 Seconds

0-60: 8.38 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.66 Seconds @ 82.2 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 19.9 MPG over 675 miles



2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, latitude logo, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, side, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, rear, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, wheel, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, side, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, front, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, Jeep logo, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, fog light, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, trail rated badge, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, rear, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, tow hook, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, rear, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, rear, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, side, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, side, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, side, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, passanger side, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, dashboard, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, steering wheel, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, driver's side, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, steering wheel, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, center console, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, 4WD switch, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, front seats, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, rear seats, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, rear seats, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, cargo area, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, cargo area, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, cargo area, rear seats folded, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, dashboard, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, gauge cluster, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Engine, 2.4L "world engine", Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Engine, 2.4L "world engine", Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Engine, 2.4L "world engine", Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, Jeep logo, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, cargo area, seats folded, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Interior, cargo area, seats folded, Photography by Alex L. Dykes 2012 Jeep Patriot Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 56
Review: 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara Wed, 30 Nov 2011 22:28:21 +0000

Back in the day, the Jeep Wrangler was only for serious off-roaders. Posers might visit, but assaulted by the SUV’s sluggish acceleration, clumsy handling, rough noisy ride, and spartan hose-out interior they weren’t likely to stay long (or return after leaving). But Chrysler has worked steadily to eliminate these downsides and render the Wrangler fit for everyday use. Back in 2007 the Wrangler grew in size and became available in extended wheelbase four-door Unlimited form. Last year its interior was substantially upgraded. And this year the unloved 202-horsepower 3.8-liter “minivan” V6 has been replaced by a 285-horsepower DOHC 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V6. Meanwhile the chassis has been tweaked repeatedly to improve on-road ride and handling. So, with all of these improvements, is the 2012 Wrangler Unlimited as suitable as any other SUV for running the kids to school and then dropping by CostCo?

The Germans aren’t uniquely capable of tastefully refining an iconic shape redesign after redesign, decade after decade. The current Wrangler isn’t a cartoonish “retro” reinterpretation of a classic vehicle from the distant past. Like a Porsche 911, it’s a special purpose iconic vehicle that has undergone an uninterrupted evolution over the years. Chrysler has made many mistakes, but messing up the Wrangler’s styling isn’t one of them. Unchanged since the 2007 redesign, the exterior retains an unmistakable resemblance to the original Jeep. Form relentlessly follows function. The Sahara’s chunky five-spoke 18-inch alloys, though up two inches from the base Wrangler’s wheels, remain well short of over the top. Unlike with some supposed off-road vehicles, you’ll find no mere rim protectors here. There’s no “DUB Edition.” Given the 2007’s increased width, the four-door actually has better proportions than the two-door. The Jeep might not be a beauty, but no one with any appreciation for design (as opposed to “styling”) can fail to find it attractive.

The revised interior is nicer yet still suited to the Wrangler’s intended use. Though heated leather seats and automatic climate control are now available, you’ll still find no luxury car cabin inside a Wrangler, nor should you. After all, it’s still possible to remove not only the roof but the doors, and even to fold the windshield. Functionality is the clear priority. The various buttons and knobs are large, close at hand, and logically laid out. Interior storage is plentiful. Though the upright windshield can block traffic signals, the view from the cushy, thick, high-mounted driver’s seat is otherwise commanding. You’re clearly piloting no ordinary vehicle. The main ergonomic slip: there’s no good place to rest your left foot. The rear seat is similarly high and cushy, but comfort suffers from a bottom cushion that stops mid-thigh. With the four-door legroom is sufficient for the average adult to sit behind the average adult. With the rear seat in place, the Wrangler can hold 46 cubic feet of stuff. Fold the seat and you can squeeze in another 36 cubes. Both figures are competitive with mid-size crossovers.

Does the addition of 83 horsepower transform the Wrangler from slug to rocket ship? Though I half expected it to, even aided by a fifth ratio in the automatic transmission the new mill effects no such transformation. Instead, while the 2007-2011 Wrangler felt painfully slow over 40 miles-per-hour, the 2012 feels…adequate. Though sixty arrives in about eight seconds if you plant your right foot to the floor, the Wrangler doesn’t feel even that quick. Despite its 6,400 rpm horsepower peak and 4,800 rpm torque peak, the engine doesn’t ask to be revved, with some audible strain if and when the throttle is opened more than halfway. But then neither does the engine, despite its DOHC configuration and these lofty on-paper peaks, feel peaky or out of place in the Wrangler, where low-end torque has always been the priority. The new engine seems happiest in casual suburban driving, where shifts occur around 2,700 rpm. It likely feels more energetic when hitched to the six-speed manual transmission, which provides a direct mechanical connection and includes much shorter initial gearing. [Update: the optional lower final drive ratios would also help. The tested Wrangler had the standard 3.21 axles.] For even more thrust, some aftermarket firms will swap in a HEMI, and a boosted V6 should also be a possibility—all it takes is money. But would a shockingly quick Jeep even make sense?

Given the chassis, no. The latest Wrangler does ride much better than those from decades past, especially in not-as-trail-friendly 116-inch-wheelbase Unlimited form. And it even has better-controlled rear body motions than a Land Rover LR4 or Toyota’s conventional SUVs. But compared to just about any other similarly-dimensioned vehicle, the Jeep’s on-road handling, though also much improved, remains sluggish and clumsy. At 4,294 pounds, the Wrangler isn’t terribly massive, but it drives about a quarter-ton heavier than it actually is. On the road, the Jeep’s steering feels loose on-center, its body rolls considerably (if in a well-controlled, predictable manner), and its all-terrain tires readily lapse into a mushy slide. On the plus side, in 2WD (required on pavement, as the 4WD system is part-time) the Wrangler can easily be steered with the throttle. Noise levels are lower than in pre-2007 Wranglers, but at highway speeds there’s still wind rush over the header. EPA ratings of 16 city, 20 highway further suggest that the Jeep wasn’t designed to cheat the wind. Instead, it remains optimized for off-road driving, with on-road behavior a second priority.

With many bespoke bits, the Jeep Wrangler isn’t going to be cheap. A four-door Sport starts at $26,345. But opt for the plusher Sahara with an automatic transmission and body-color hard top, as with the tested vehicle, and you’re looking at a $34,585 sticker even without options like heated leather seats, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, and nav. TrueDelta’s Car Price Comparison Tool suggests that a similarly-equipped Toyota FJ Cruiser is only couple hundred dollars less at MSRP but about $1,500 less when comparing dealer invoices. Price isn’t likely to be the deciding factor between these two.

Given the list of improvements to the Jeep Wrangler over the past few years, culminating in the new V6 this year, some people might be expecting a vehicle that can go toe-to-toe with the latest crossovers in the daily commute, then tackle the Rubicon on the weekends. This isn’t quite the case. Though no longer a penalty box liable to trip over its own feet while failing to get out of its own way, the Wrangler continues to drive like…a Jeep. The latest iteration of this real thing might require less severe day-to-day hardship from the off-road enthusiasts it’s designed for, but it continues to require sacrifices nonetheless. It’s not thrillingly quick. It’s not remotely athletic through curves. It’s somewhat (down from tremendously) noisy and thirsty on the highway. Rear seat room and comfort are merely sufficient. Which, frankly, is very much the way a Wrangler should be. Any closer to being suitable for everyday life, and its essential authenticity would be lost. The world needs at least few cars that to their core aren’t meant for the daily grind, and that consequently drive differently from everything else. For those willing to compromise off-road prowess for on-road comfort and capability, perhaps because they’re never going to venture off the road, Jeep offers the Grand Cherokee.

Vehicle provided by Michael Williams at Southfield Jeep in Southfield, MI (248) 354-2950.

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Piston Slap: What is The Poor Man’s TARDIS? Tue, 01 Nov 2011 18:45:30 +0000  

TTAC commentator horseflesh writes:


Last year I wrote to you seeking the B&B’s help in selling a car. Well, Grandma’s Park Avenue is gone now, in short, I found that the best way to sell a Buick is to befriend a used car dealer and supply him with BBQ meats until he calls some other guys he knows who move a lot of Grandma cars. Done correctly, this takes your friend 5 minutes on the phone, and costs you only 15 minutes at a dealer. It’s a beautiful thing!

But now that the Buick is gone I find myself needing another vehicle… also large, and perhaps also white. I’m looking for something cheap and boxy to haul my toys around in. Mountain bikes, scuba gear, model airplanes… These things can be moved around with a sedan, but it’s a chore and there is never enough room for everything. Oh, there is a Triumph Bonneville 750 in the garage too, so naturally it needs to be taken to the mechanic from time to time. And did I mention the pinball machines that I need to move sometimes? Currently I need to ask friends with trucks for help with those things, and I’d like to become self-sufficient.

So, the ideal vehicle will have a fully enclosed cargo area of TARDIS-like capacity, be indifferent to muddy toys, and be able to haul 500 lbs of broken British motorcycle plus two people. It will be a changing room and occasionally a workshop when a toy breaks. It won’t have to go off-road, but it will have to handle a dirt road. Some kind of sink and potable water tank would be a big plus too–that isn’t mandatory, but being cheap and reliable is.

The ubiquitous Ford E-150 van looks like the right sort of thing, but I don’t know anything about its reliability when well-used, or what other good options might be.

Sajeev Answers:

Yup, you need a full size van. Maybe a Chevy Astro-like Minivan, as they are also cheap and reliable. But the Astro isn’t exactly made for drivers with left feet, so maybe the bigger vans are a smarter idea. Plus, you can get that sink you so greatly desire.

The E-150 is indeed the obvious choice, as it is the 800lb Gorilla in this market. Sprinter Vans are pricey and quite the PITA to service unless you are a certified Sprinter Technician. The older Dodge vans might be okay, but all the ones I’ve experienced suffered from off putting transmission woes. The newer Chevy Express isn’t much to write home about, but the older ones were pretty frickin’ tough and easy on the eyes. You know, for a van.

Oh, and thanks for not giving us a budget to work with. That said, I am assuming you are looking for a beater in the $10,000 or less range…or not much higher.

In that realm? Most definitely the van with the most service records. I’d stick with Fords and Chevys in your price range, with the standard V8, and a smooth (yet not sloppy) shifting transmission. You might find a custom van is your best value, even if you’ll need to hack it up a bit to be more cargo friendly.

Enjoy your rolling TARDIS.

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: A Panda For Every Purse And Purpose Edition Tue, 30 Aug 2011 17:39:26 +0000

Meet the new Fiat Panda, which is set to debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show. The ur-Panda, nicknamed the “tolle kiste” (crazy/cool box) for its Giugiaro-designed looks and available Puch-designed 4×4 system, was built with only evolutionary changes from 1980 to 2003. Not a bad accomplishment for what was supposed to be a “peasant’s car.” The new (3rd Gen) Panda, based on the Fiat 500/Ford Ka platform, has an even tougher task ahead of it: not only must it pick up sales for Fiat in Europe, but it must also form the basis of Dodge and Jeep B-segment models, aimed at the US market. Is it up to the task?

Given its immediate predecessor’s reputation for driving delight, a Dodge-branded hot hatch should be within reach. But a Jeep-branded 4×4? Martin Schwoerer reckoned the previous Panda 4×4 could “compete with a Land Rover off-road,” but then European and American versions of “off-road” can be very different. Making a Jeep of this latest Panda could be a challenge, as nobody wants a “Sad Panda” repeat of the first-gen Compass.
fiatpanda1 fiatpanda2 fiatpanda3 Hello Panda! fiatpanda5 fiatpanda6 fiatpanda7 fiatpanda8 fiatpanda9 fiatpanda10 fiatpanda11 fiatpanda12 fiatpanda13 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Wed, 25 May 2011 19:50:27 +0000

The Touareg TDI is not your father’s Oldsmobile. I know, because I unfortunately drove my father’s 85HP, 1983 Cutlass Cierra diesel when I was a kid. Since my dad was a glutton for punishment, this was not his first unreliable GM diesel; we also had a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser with the infamous diesel V8. After about 30,000 miles, both our diesels smoked like a 60 year old hooker. Since potential clean diesel shoppers seem to fall into the 30-60 year old demographic, this is still the image that diesel brings to mind for many, not the reliable but low-volume European diesels from the 70s and 80s. If sales numbers are any indication however, BMW Mercedes and VW have been changing the tide of public opinion.

VW has been trying hard to overcome perceptions of diesels for some time with varying tactics. The old V10 TDI in the previous Touareg proved that a diesel could be fast and thirsty, the previous generation Jetta TDI proved diesels can be terribly slow but incredibly efficient. The new Touareg TDI is VW’s latest attempt to prove that 90% of Americans could live with a diesel every day. At 225HP, and 406lb-ft of twist they might just be on to something. For reference this more torque than the 380HP supercharged hybrid Touareg we tested in January SUV making it the “torquiest” Touareg on these shores. (European buyers are able to spec a 4.2L V8 which wins the torque award by a hair.)

The diesel Touareg receives the same high quality interior as the Touareg hybrid we recently reviewed. Dash parts are suitably squishy, panels are aligned with Germanic precision and if it weren’t for the two-letter logo on the steering wheel you’d think you were inside a modern Audi. American shoppers are unable to buy a Touareg on these shores with VW’s “Driver Assistance Pack” which in the Euro-zone contains radar cruise control and a blind spot warning system. This omission seems contrary to the obviously high-class interior and fairly hefty price tag.

Speaking of pricing, our Touareg TDI came with the $9,950 “Executive package” raising our tester to $57,500 from the $47,950 sticker worn by base TDI models. While this may seem a tad spendy, the 2011 Touareg TDI is a far cry in pricing from the last oil-burning SUV VW sold on these shores. One of the ways VW has accomplished this price reduction is by discontenting and bundling options together into packages. The base model is fairly well featured as it stands; the $3,850 “Lux” package adds 19-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, walnut trim, leather seats with 12-way adjustable driver’s sear and electric rear seat releases. Stepping up to the “Executive package” we tested gets the buyer 20-inch rubber, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, keyless entry & go, parking sensors and the up-level Dynaudio sound system. All Touareg TDI models regardless of package have the easy-to-use VW RNS 850 navigation system with iPod/USB integration, Bluetooth and Sirius satellite radio.

VW’s latest Navigation uses a bright, high resolution eight-inch color touch-screen display that is easy to read even in direct sunlight. The latest version of VW’s navigation software continues to be touch-driven in contrast to Mercedes’ COMMAND system, BMW’s iDrive and even VAG’s own Audi brand’s MMI. The screen layouts are logical and easy to follow, the 3D mapping is on par with most systems as well. I would prefer such a system to be mounted higher on the dash thereby increasing the ease of use (and lowering distraction) while driving. Compared to BMW’s latest iDrive however the VW system seems less polished. One of the oddities that turned into something of an annoyance during our week was the traffic notification system. It’s great that the Touareg’s telematics system receives traffic information, however unlike most modern systems VW chose not to overlay the map with colored lined to indicate traffic speeds on major highways.

The Touareg TDI uses the same engine as its close cousin the Audi Q7. First released in 2004, this 3.0 liter, 24-valve DOHC powerplant is well known in Europe and found under the hood of vehicles such as the Phaeton, Audi A8, and Porsche Cayenne. With luxury brands using this engine refinement is the name of the game. While I was unable to test cold-winter starts since I live in sunny California, morning temperatures were around 31 degrees the week the TDI slept in my driveway. Unlike diesels we all remember the TDI cranked just like a gasoline engine. On cold mornings I did notice a tiny hint of vibration and clatter when the engine first started, but after a few seconds the engine quiets down to a purr smoother than I thought a diesel was capable of.

Out on the road the 225HP and prodigious torque are more than adequate to get the Touareg moving on a short freeway onramps. Our own 0-60 test executed in 6.97 seconds which is fairly close to what other publications have recorded and significantly faster than VW’s own 0-60 claims. I can only conclude that VW doesn’t want to show up the base Cayenne which is advertised at [an untested] 7.1 seconds to 60 with a professional driver and a manual and 7.4 seconds to 60 for slushbox drivers. Even if Porsche has underrated the stoplight performance of the Cayenne, these are some impressive numbers for an SUV that tips the scales at 4,974lbs as tested. Turbo lag is minimal for a diesel, that is to say it reminds me of driving a 1980s turbo car: the lag is there but it can be a pleasant companion. Probably the biggest reason the 3.0L V6 is so livable is the new 8-speed ZF automatic transmission. The ZF 8HP45 employs close ratios to help keep the engine in its relatively narrow power band (compared to a turbocharged gasoline engine). The resulting feel seems well suited to the diesel engine while the same transmission in the hybrid left me occasionally asking what was wrong with the 6-speed.

Off road, the TDI is (as one would expect), an excellent companion having well suited gear ratios and abundant torque at low speeds for crawling up steep inclines. The problem of course with the Touareg as a true off-road vehicle is the sales demographic in the USA: buyers of the previous go-anywhere SUV thought “anywhere” meant suburban outlet stores instead of the downtown mall. Because of this lack of demand and a desire to keep weight and costs down, all the fun off road bits aren’t sold in the USA. Not only did VW decide to keep the more capable 4xMotion 4WD system with low range a Euro-only option, but the adjustable-height suspension remains off-limits for American Shoppers. US buyers are also treated to a fairly ridiculous looking collapsible spare tire. Still, the factory ground clearance of 7.9-inches and full-time AWD 4Motion system are more than adequate for even a journey on the Rubicon Trail.

With the demise of the old Explorer, and the death of all GM’s GMT360 variants, most mid-size SUVs sold in the US no longer contain the RWD based drivetrains that permit moderate towing capacities around 7,000lbs. If you are searching for a vehicle that is suitable for commuting on weekdays and towing your Eddie Bauer Airstream or horse trailer with two ponies on weekends, a mid-size diesel SUV makes plenty of economic sense. The diesel Touareg is rated to tow a segment leading 7,700lbs which is nothing to sniff at. In comparison: the Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC is rated at 7,200lbs and the BMW X5 xDrive35d is rated at 6,500lbs.

If American metal is more your thing, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango twins can tow almost as much (7,400lbs) but must be equipped with the thirsty 5.7L V8 to do so. Rounding out the tow-capable SUVs, are the V8 Nissan Pathfinder (7,000lbs) and Lexus GX460 (6,500lbs). Our tester was not equipped with a class three hitch, but my local VW dealer as kind enough to loan me a Touareg TDI properly equipped for some mountain towing fun. 4,000lbs of bricks in a 2,100lb trailer proved no problem for the Touareg’s 406lb-ft of torque. Again making the Touareg the livable to tow is the 8-speed ZF automatic. Anyone who has tried towing a heavy trailer uphill with an old Dodge Ram with the old Cummins engine and 4-speed transmission knows the pain of finally hitting the power band only to have the transmission upshift and leave you back at square one.

Of course any of the competition we mentioned will tow a trailer comparably well, but the Touareg TDI’s advantage is fuel economy. While the new Durango is average for the pack with EPA numbers of 14/20, the Touareg boasts an EPA rating of 19/29 which is a touch higher than the BMW and Mercedes diesel SUV offerings. During out week with the Touareg we averaged 27.7MPG in mixed driving on the first tank, an impressive 30.5MPG on a 160-mile road trip, and 16.5MPG while towing two-tons of bricks. Compared to the base V6 Touareg, this represents a 24% increase in observed fuel economy for a $3,000 premium. Out here on the left coast, the cost of premium to fuel your base Touareg averaged $4.41 on 4/18/2011 and diesel was $4.48 (according to the CA Energy Commission), making the break-even point somewhere around 75,000 miles depending on your driving style.

As our 1050-mile week with the Touareg drew to a close I realized that it had only visited the diesel pump once during the week for an expensive 22-gallon fill-up eking 610 miles out of the first tank. VW has managed to create what GM failed to with the Tahoe Hybrid: An SUV that delivers good mileage with or without a trailer attached that has a bit of off-road cred tossed in (just in case). That being said, the high cost of diesel and the relative uncertainty of what is undeniably still a niche market in America should be a concern for shoppers. Still, if the era of high-fuel prices turns out to be our permanent future, VW’s TDI SUV makes a compelling alternative. If you’re shopping for a Touareg, just walk right past that base V6 model on the floor and give the TDI a try.

Volkswagen provided the test vehicle, insurance and a tank of diesel.

Performance statistics as tested:

0-30: 2.2 seconds

0-60: 6.97 seconds

Average economy: 27.7MPG (observed:30.5MPG Highway)

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_2360-thumb IMG_2360 V6-TDI-Volkswagen-Touareg-2011 IMG_2357 IMG_2361 IMG_2363 IMG_2358 IMG_2359 IMG_2362 IMG_2356 IMG_1918 IMG_2364 Diesel, reconsidered?

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Jeep Finds Its Moral Compass (By Accident?) Edition Wed, 09 Mar 2011 22:12:59 +0000

When we first heard that the updated Jeep Compass would be “Trail Rated,” a number of commenters pointed out that the term “Trail Rated” is little more than a Jeep marketing phrase, and argued that the Compass had no business pretending to be a true off-roader. Well, according to this picture, which Michael Karesh found on Jeep’s website, the upgraded Compass will even go so far as to offer that talisman of off-road capability, a solid front axle. Unless, of course, this is actually a misplaced picture of a Wrangler, which it almost certainly is. Oh well…

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Review: 2010 Audi Q7 TDI Fri, 24 Jul 2009 14:15:04 +0000

One of the enduring lessons of the car game is that good vehicles don't always sell well. As a car writer who took on news analysis before ever getting manufacturer-sponsored time behind the wheel, this lesson can't help but tinge my impressions of a road test. So when my first weeklong tester arrived in the form of a Q7 TDI, I felt no desire to justify Audi's decision to bring the thing to market. After all, by any reasonable analysis, the brand built by Quattro wagons should have been the primary beneficiary of America's SUV craze. Or, at least its worst enemy. Instead the Q7 showed up for the party fashionably dressed but fashionably late. And very few wanted to buy it. With the high price of luxo ute party fuel already killing the festive vibes, is switching to a new drink enough to make Audi's SUV sales party like its 1999?]]>

One of the enduring lessons of the car game is that good vehicles don’t always sell well. As a car writer who took on news analysis before ever getting manufacturer-sponsored time behind the wheel, this lesson can’t help but tinge my impressions of a road test. So when my first week-long-test vehicle arrived in the form of a Q7 TDI, I felt no desire to justify Audi’s decision to bring the thing to market. After all, by any reasonable analysis, the brand built by Quattro wagons should have been the primary beneficiary of America’s SUV craze. Or at least, its worst enemy. Instead the Q7 showed up for the party fashionably dressed but fashionably late. And very few wanted to buy it. With the high price of luxo ute party fuel already killing the festive vibes, is switching to a new drink enough to make Audi’s SUV sales party like it’s 1999?

On its face, diesel is the least sexy non-gasoline fuel out there. Sure, it’s packed with hydrocarbons and, sure, biodiesel has a certain following, but the American experience with diesel has not been a love-in. Even for those of us who are young enough not to remember the bad old diesels of the last energy crisis, oil burners bring up bad memories.

The most common impression is of full-on sensory assault: sitting at a stoplight while the jackhammer idle of a Cummins-powered Ram rises to a ground-shaking roar, having your hair blown back by an apocalyptic cloud of sooty smoke exhaled from howitzer-sized exhaust. In short, not the kind of impression one likes to leave with observers of ones expensive German chariot.

If you’re a diesel aficionado, you know that the current generation of European “clean diesels” have put many of these stereotypes to rest. The reality is still shocking. Fire up the Audi’s three liter turbodiesel V6, and the cockpit fills with sound . . . from the climate control. Roll down the windows and a faint sound might tempt you to think that internal combustion is taking place. Only parked by a brick wall is the idle noise even properly identifiable: a newborn Cummins, murmuring to itself in a barbiturate coma.

This aural timidity belies the engine’s humble on-paper proportions. You’ll note that Audi has refrained from putting 3.0 anywhere on the Q7 diesel’s badging. That’s because folks who spend the national median household income on a family hauler think numbers below 4.0 are bad luck. It’s TDI Quattro, thanks. (Massive graphics available on Audi press fleet models only.)

Lucky then, for these already lucky people, that this ain’t yer uncle Lou’s Olds diesel V6. To say the least. Thanks to basic engineering competence, common rail injection, and a Google server farm worth of computers, this V6 performs its luxobarge duty with distinction. Its (whisper it) 225 horsepower and (shout it) 406 pound-feet of torque are earned with a 17/25 mpg EPA rating. In fact, the only thing that should remind you of the Olds diesel era is the fact that diesel prices are again cheaper than gas.

But they won’t be forever. In the mean time, take the opportunity to go to new places and meet new people. I did and saw beautiful things. And met kind gas station employees who told me that they only sold low sulphur diesel. I would need to drive a couple of miles to the 76 where they sell ultra low sulphur diesel.

And, no, you can’t just top off at the Chinese restaurant’s grease dumpster. The TDI’s manual states firmly that fuels with more than five percent biodiesel are verboten. The upside is that with a 26-gallon tank and a 600 mile range, you’ll only have to fill up about 17 times before your clean diesel confronts you with your new urea addiction. Wait, is that an upside?

No, to understand the upsides of the Q7 TDI, you really have to drive it. On the open road you completely forget that the main nitrogen-containing substance in mammal urine is even being used to scrub your exhaust into compliance with 50-state emissions standards. Torque has a way of concentrating the mind on the task at hand. Tasks such as picking up the kids from the Academy or heading for the hills like your tail’s on fire. I recommend the latter.

After all, the Q7 TDI isn’t particularly exciting to drive around town. It’s competent, but it fails at the two primary in-town activities of the luxury SUV: stunting and the traffic light Grand Prix. Competency at showing off is obviously a subjective and controversial issue. I will simply say that in my week with the Q, the only two comments I got from strangers were “never seen one before” and “what’s the mileage?” A luxury ute that subtle will need to earn the peasant’s respect at the green light.

Sadly, this one doesn’t. The Q7 TDI accelerates to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, roughly the same as a Saturn Vue Red Line. Or a Mercedes R320 Bluetec. The problem is that the engine isn’t really happy until it has a good head of steam spinning its turbos. Until then it’s just three liters working against 5,512 pounds. There’s only a brief pause before the twist starts flowing, but it’s enough to keep you from feeling like, well, sixty grand.

Part of the problem is that the Audi’s Tiptronic transmission tends to short-shift through the first two cogs unless you keep the throttle pinned. Happily, dialing “S” for sport mode tightens up the whole drivetrain, improving response and acceleration which match well with the Q7′s firm steering and epic grip. Even with minimal use of the competent but unremarkable brakes, Mr. Q easily focuses on a tight line going into corners. Stab into the engine’s sweet spot, hang on tight, and the giant ute hurtles around bends with minimal body roll. Only the tightest S-bends at the most foolhardy speeds are able to confuse the chassis and induce understeer.

Munching miles on arrow-straight desert highways is where the TDI starts to feel properly at home. The engine’s computers seem to keep a thick wave of torque just below your right foot; and a muffled, gusty whoosh accompanies any surrender to the torque’s temptation. Very muffled. In fact, rumbling from the S-line’s 20-inch wheels are more of a disturbance than engine noise. Over freshly paved surfaces, the dubs add to the Q’s taut, poised handling and the ride is impeccable. On rough roads, they break the cabin’s eerie calm with road noise and chop.

Look for the cruise control and you become aware of this Audi’s one other major shortcoming as a tourer. The same S-Line package that saddles the Q with oversized wheels and unsubtle side badging also upgrades the standard four-spoke wheel with a two-spoke helm. Unfortunately, the left spoke perfectly covers the cruise control’s stubby stalk during straight-ahead cruising. Once you confirm that it is in fact there, you still have to pull over to familiarize yourself with the control. Save yourself $1,200 and improve the Q7′s cruising manners by not checking that box. Flappy paddle downshifts and brushed aluminum interior trim might be missed, but neither is an imperative.

Audi’s interiors are polarizing and whether you find them dour or refined, the Q7 won’t change your mind. In the first class front row, you get firm, supportive seating with an aristocratic vista and endless distraction courtesy of Audi’s Multi Media Interface (MMI). In second class and the steerage third row, things are less plush. The second row bench is too low, and the six foot club should expect knees to end up around ear level. Over eastern Oregon’s washboarded dirt roads, the back seat shudders and flails, threatening to shake free from its anchors. The effect on passengers is something between a “Magic Fingers” vibrating bed and a peak-condition Mike Tyson working your kidneys like a speedbag.

But the impromptu shiatsu won’t have anyone looking longingly at the third row. Only the panorama sunroof option ($1,850) keeps the way back from feeling like a Guantanamo Bay holding cell. And unless you are a four-foot yoga master, the distraction doesn’t last long. Even as  emergency seating for unexpected passengers, the third row comes up short. The rolling cargo cover must be removed to raise the seats, and once converted the bulky unit no longer fits in the remaining storage area.

Not that you run into many hitch hikers or unplanned carpoolers climbing the gravel logging roads of Southern Oregon’s Rogue-Umpqua Divide. The Q7 maintains a paved-road clip through steep ascents and winding turns, each wheel keeping in constant communication with the loose road surface. Stability control is turned off and a slight twitchiness comes into the controls; electronic flattery, not skill, makes the storming pace possible. Barreling around a corner, a Suzuki Sidekick suddenly appears, its driver frozen in awe of the Wagnerian apparition bearing down on him. Considerable nose dive and pumping ABS accompany the Q’s sudden braking, but crisis is averted.

The OHV tracks leading into Newberry Crater didn’t inspire similar gravel-stage heroics, but, again, the Q7 felt confident and capable. Even with expensive paint, oversized wheels and no special off-road equipment, the TDI makes for a willing partner through rougher terrain. At the deliberate speeds necessary to thread through sharp rocks, deep ruts and undulating ascents, the oil burner’s drag racing downsides become real strengths. Power is smooth, precise, tractable and predictable. In short, everything you want when tackling the roads that don’t show up on your nav screen.

Whether prospective Q7 owners will appreciate the TDI’s many winning qualities is a question that a road test alone won’t answer. in addition to the intrinsic shortcomings exposed here, a Cayenne is sportier and a Range Rover is more statusy. A Touareg is cheaper ($8K less with the same engine) and nearly as classy. Robert Farago drives a GL. The list goes on, but one thing is for certain: if you’re going to buy a Q7, the diesel is the one you want. The gas V6 suffers the same status and low-end pickup deficits, while the V8 is thirstier, heavier and more expensive. Besides, the TDI matches the Q7′s anonymously unique character perfectly. If you are considering showing up late for the luxury SUV party, the Q7 is one of the more intriguing guests still getting down.

[Audi supplied the vehicle, insurance and one tank of diesel.]

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