The Truth About Cars » Pentastar The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +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 » Pentastar TTAC Salutes The Dodge Avenger Fri, 21 Feb 2014 12:00:42 +0000 1900030_583142295111246_993317318_n

The Dodge Avenger was a contentious topic on TTAC. For some, it made the Dart redundant, offering the cheapest 283 horsepower money could buy. For others, it was a dreadful pile of crap, fit for sub-prime buyers, rental fleets and not much else.

Last month, we reported that the Avenger would die, to help prevent cannibalizing Dart sales and to align with Chrysler’s strategy of having one mid-size sedan per brand. On February 14th, the last Avenger rolled off the line at Sterling Heights. TTAC’s consensus on the Avenger is mixed. Nonetheless, we salute it. Where else can you get Pentastar power at poverty prices?

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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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Trackday Diaries: He Wrangled ‘Till The Butcher Cut Him Down. Mon, 04 Mar 2013 13:00:29 +0000

“So, I ordered myself a Jeep.”

“Awesome! What did you end up getting?”

“Loaded Sahara Unlimited, Gecko Green, tan leather, six-speed manual, just like you suggested.”

“Well, that is what I suggested alright… but…”

“But what?”

“I didn’t think you were actually going to do it.”

When TTAC alumnus Michael Karesh reviewed an automatic-transmission Sahara Unlimited last year, he enthused over the Jeep’s ability to be “steered with the throttle” and suggested that the manual-transmission variant might be even quicker than his tested automatic. Alas, he stated that the tires led to “mushy slides”, thus slightly reducing my enthusiasm for such a tail-happy beast. The last time I drove something that was both able to be steered with the throttle and did mushy sliding, it was a Camaro-Mustang-Challenge race car on used tires in the middle of a relatively long sprint race, and I found it to be a handful indeed.

Still, when my pal Curvy McLegalbriefs decided to go shopping for a Jeep last year I put in a vote for a manual-transmission Wrangler. She already owned a Grand Cherokee and a Crossfire so the Wrangler was simply going to be a toy for when she felt like bombing around the unimproved roads surrounding her century-old brick home, said domicile being located in the area known to readers of The Hunger Games as “District 12″. Still, it was a leap of faith; she didn’t know how to operate a stick-shift and our initial driving lessons in my Boxster, which took place after she’d ordered the Jeep, were marked by quite a bit of stalling and the occasional Ben-Kingsley-in-Sexy-Beast outburst from my place in the passenger seat.

Ten thousand miles later, she’s quite used to her green machine and she cheerfully zips it up and down very steep hills with no trouble whatsoever. I expected this would happen. She doesn’t give up easily. It’s part of her character. She grew up on a farm in the Midwest, studying the distant contrails overhead and planning her escape with meticulous precision. Cut to the present day, and she’s been everywhere from London to Guantanamo Bay. She has a bright future, a taste for vintage clothing, and no female friends whatsoever.

When a friend of mine asked me to come out to Chicago for a weekend and play bass for a guitar-club jam at some crappy dive bar halfway between the lake and O’Hare Airport, I looked at the distance (760 miles roundtrip), the equipment I’d need to bring for the trip (one SWR 4×10 cabinet, one amp rack, one Fender Jaco Pastorius Artist fretless four-string, one Carvin SB5000 five-string with a flamed koa top), and the weather (ten degrees above zero, snow predicted). I then asked C. McL if I could borrow the Jeep. She agreed, on the condition that she come along to keep me out of trouble. I had no objections.

Stick-shift Wranglers of the current generation are pretty rare. In fact, I’d never driven one before, since the press fleet at the intro was mostly automatics and I’m no longer on the Chrysler loaner list. My first impressions as we loaded the Jeep with two hundred-plus pounds of gear and pulled away towards Chicago were mostly negative. The clutch has a long pedal travel but ninety percent of it is superfluous. The long “bite zone” that I really appreciated in my old five-speed Discovery isn’t present here. Off-road, that would matter. Nor is the shifter up the standards of my ’97 Rover. Not even close. It’s long, agricultural, and extremely vague. My admiration for my traveling companion grew as I rowed the gears on the way out of my neighborhood. Was I in fourth or sixth? Only the lugging Pentastar knew for sure.

Speaking of which… Chrysler’s V-6 is my favorite among the current crop of big-power domestic sixes, well ahead of the DI Chevy in second place and the 3.7 Duratec in a distant, thrashy third. In the Chrysler 200, the Pentastar is fantastic. In the Caravan, it’s good. In the Wrangler, it feels overmatched. It needs to rev to make anything happen and it appears to have none of the casual thrust the old four-liter Jeep engine possessed in spades. Surely there’s a bit of perspective shear at work here, as I’m certain the 4.0 was weaker than the Pentastar everywhere a dyno could measure, but there you go. To make this Wrangler move with traffic, you have to shift aggressively and keep the hammer down. The observed fuel economy of 16.5mpg I saw during the trip is a reflection of that.

It’s also a reflection of the Jeep’s barn-door silhouette. The conditions of the oral travel agreement to which C. McL and I both agreed prior to the trip stated that my iPod would be plugged into the uConnect head unit for the duration, and that I would select the music. Unfortunately for me, my old 160GB iPod Classic doesn’t work with the uConnect head, so instead we listened to a hellish confection of Muse, Mumford & Sons, and the Zac Brown Band on various Sirius channels. In those conditions, I was glad that wind noise at 80mph and above makes the stereo almost useless. We stopped at Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne to pick up a 1/8″ cable, but cranking up to hear the quiet parts of “Blue Train” made the loud parts unbearable. Back to Mumford & Sons.

I’d never been in a Wrangler that rode particularly well, and I still haven’t, but this Sahara is far from the CJ-5s of my youth. The super-long (by Jeep standards) wheelbase spaces the bumps out and the tooth-rattling reaction to speedbumps I remember from various BMX-related trips in soft-top YJs is gone. As we entered Chicago proper, the Wrangler came into its element a bit. The pockmarked, off-camber streets of America’s Second City (All the hassle of New York, with none of the good parts!) didn’t bother it much. The Pentastar proved capable of pulling hard enough in first and second to make the gaps where required. The high driving position offered me a chance to stare Cayenne drivers down as I signaled my desire to acquire their current lane positions, by force if necessary. The long throws of the shifter never became second nature to me but my gearchanges became slightly less deliberate after a while.

To unload my gear at the bar, I had to make a sharp U-turn and pop up a curb, and the Wrangler handled that task at least as well as my Town Car would have. Perhaps more usefully, people in the immediate vicinity smiled at my actions, because — hey — I’m in a bright green Jeep, how bad of a guy can I be? In fact, I repeatedly noticed that kind of goodwill shown to the Sahara over the course of the weekend, including a fellow who stopped in the middle of the road of Chicago Music Exchange to offer me a paid-up parking meter pass. He wasn’t even in a Jeep; he was driving an F-150. But he was a fan.

Tuning up my Jaco bass, I confirmed what I had suspected: the combination of ten-degree external temperatures, an uninsulated fiberglass top, and an overmatched HVAC system had combined to detune the instrument’s low string from E to C#. That’s great if you’re Stanley Clarke and you’re about to hold down the low end on a Return to Forever song but for me it was a worrisome sign that extended Jeep trips would be bad news for wooden instruments. After half an hour in the bar things were back to normal, but in the interest of reviewing the Wrangler for a wide audience I should note that I’d hesitate before carrying precious items through the winter in this vehicle, whether we’re talking a PRS Private Stock with mammoth-ivory and paua heart bird inlays or something less expensive, like a human heart packed in ice. Luckily I left the PRS at home and I’ve never had a human heart of any kind.

To my immense satisfaction, the gig broke up at midnight or so, allowing me to leave the Wrangler on the top floor of the Intercontinental Hotel’s parking garage and get a full night’s worth of sleep before heading home the next day. Despite numerous attempts to do so, I never managed to steer the Jeep with the throttle, possibly because I was being a bit of a wimp. There’s nothing like the threat of an SWR bass cabinet hitting you in the back to calm down the ol’ hooning impulse. By the same token, I never managed to turn the tires to mush of any kind. They seemed fine. I made a couple of aggressive moves in the very short spaces between tollbooths on Chicago’s so-called freeway system and was never particularly disappointed in the Wrangler’s response. It wasn’t as good as my old Rovers in that respect either but neither did it ever give any sign that it was about to roll over or do anything traditionally Jeepy. The brakes were strong and dependable. The dynamic package is perfectly up to the standards of the modern road environment.

At the end of the trip, I briefly considered whether I’d buy one of these for myself. I had to conclude that the answer was “not really”. I don’t need the Jeep’s off-road capability and if I found myself doing a lot of out-of-town gigs in bad weather I’d probably just put snow tires on an AWD minivan. Still, it’s a charming and utterly unique vehicle in a marketplace that is increasingly converging towards some sort of One Tall Wagon To Rule Them All. More than anything, the Wrangler points out what crap Land Rover’s turning out nowadays. Bloated junk that won’t hold up or travel through rough conditions like the Wrangler can, at half again the money. Depressing. I’d rather have this Wrangler than any current LR product… but I’d rather have my ’97 Discovery, suitably updated with modern electronics, over the Wrangler.

For my little attorney friend, the Wrangler is just great. She’s very good at driving it now and she likes being able to make plans regardless of weather or road surface. I’m glad she got it, and I’m glad it’s still available for her and people like her to buy. It’s still the real thing.

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Trackday Diaries: You should buy a minivan. Fri, 15 Feb 2013 11:20:20 +0000

Chrysler’s Pentastar-powered minivan is, truly, madly, deeply, one of my favorite vehicles. My first meeting was with the high-buck Town and Country, followed by a very long drive in a Caravan SXT. Great vehicles, both of them, and worth the money.

Unfortunately for Chrysler’s profit margins, however, the economic outlook in this country for actual working people continues to nose-dive. The company’s fighting back with a $20,000 (after incentives and discounts) “America Value Package” Caravan. That’s right: for the price of a Honda Civic EX, there’s a 283-horsepower, seven-seater van with keyless entry available. To get a sense of whether such a proposition holds any interest for those of us without five children and a slim budget, I rented a 2012 Caravan with slightly less equipment than what you’d find in the 2013 Value Package, and took a little thousand-mile Tennessee excursion.

My long-time readers know that any mention of the Volunteer State in my writing is usually accompanied by some lurid tale regarding a highly dramatic hairdresser in her very early thirties, but I am pleased to announce that we are killing her character off. Let’s do that right now, and since you guys all think I make this stuff up anyway I’m going to make it up the way I wanted it to happen rather than the slightly annoying way it actually happened. Plus, you can skip it if you like.

It was near midnight in the Hyatt Place down the street from the Mercedes-Benz dealer. Drama lay across the ottoman in a physically improbable but very sexy position and twirled her hair in her left index finger as I strummed the final chord of “Heartbreak Warfare” on my Martin D-41.

“It’s never going to happen, is it?” she cried. “You don’t want me enough.”

“I’m a father,” I said, “I won’t leave my son to be with you in Nashville. Still, the thought of you letting that fedora-wearing douchebag of a deadbeat dad you’re currently dating move in with you makes me want to projectile-vomit the outstanding steak I just had all the way across this room.”

“It’s okay, Jack. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m dying of a rare blood disease. In fact, by tomorrow morning I’ll be dead and you’ll never have to think of me again.”

“That’s very convenient for me.”

“Just promise me you’ll visit my grave every December 7th, to commemorate our grand romantic adventure at the Omphoy Resort in Palm Beach.”

“How about I visit your old roommate instead?”


Whew! Glad that’s over. Let’s get back to the Caravan. As with the American Value Package version, my rental base model had power locks, power windows, air conditioning, a CD player with 1/8″ auxiliary input, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, traction control, all that stuff. What don’t you get? Well, there are no LCD screens to be found. The instrument panel won’t tell you how many miles per gallon you’re getting. There is no power assistance for the sliding doors or rear liftgate. The seats are finished in a hardy-looking but non-luxurious cloth and the only “memory” function they have will reside within your own cerebrum.

In other words, the equipment’s about what you would get on a top-of-the-line minivan from 1990. So no bitching allowed.

The central excellence of the Caravan in all its forms comes down to this: it’s easy, pleasant, and effective to drive. The Pentastar makes it fast enough to handle anything from short freeway merges to cut-and-slice traffic. The transmission likes to swap between fifth and sixth a lot on the freeway but the payback is real-world fuel mileage in the 26-30mpg range over longer trips. Visibility is excellent with just a slice of bonnet visible for parking confidence. The wind noise is acceptable and it’s no worse than what you get in the current crop of mid-size sedans despite the resonance effect of the big interior space.

Even with the cheapo tires fitted to non-R/T Caravans, it’s possible to double most on-ramp speed limits and fast lane changes happen without too much roll or difficulty. I suspect that most of the driving dynamics are considerably less pleasant with seven passengers on board, but guess what? The same thing can be said of a Gallardo Superleggera.

I’ve come to believe that most car companies have a core product where their experiences, customer clinics, and engineering ability are most effectively utilized. With Ford, it’s the trucks and the Mustang. With GM, it’s the Corvette. With Toyota, it’s the Prius. For Chrysler, it’s the minivan. Intellectually, I know that the Sienna and Odyssey are of equal utility and are possibly more durable, but when I actually sit in the things it’s obvious that the competition just doesn’t understand minivans as well as Chrysler does. Everything in the Caravan works. Everything makes sense. The sole quibble I have about this vehicle, really, is that the power outlets are located at the bottom of the console. That works for most people but for those of us who want to slap our navigation-capable smartphones on the windshield it makes for a long cable run and a resultant high load on the Micro-USB connector.

Finished in basic white, the Caravan was invisible to cops and in the raise-the-black-flag-and-start-slitting-throats mood which characterized my entire run from Nashville back to Ohio I skated by the highway patrol at least twice in excess of 90mph. When a couple of inbred lot-lizard-collectors decided to race their semi-trucks up a long Kentucky hill at fifty miles per hour and block most of the freeway, I forced the Caravan into the kind of highly offensive high-speed run down the far-right lane I used to pull in my Phaetons all the time. It responded with alacrity to both the request for acceleration and the full-tilt braking I needed to sneak back in line when the lane ran out.

Having made the same trip in an Altima just four days previously, I tried to determine which vehicle I’d rather make the run in should my client decide I needed to visit Nashville once a week for the rest of my life. Although the Altima was comfortable and competent, it literally didn’t do a single useful thing any better than the Caravan did.

Acceleration? The Caravan beats it.
Braking? Equal.
Handling? About the same in most circumstances.
Comfort? The Caravan is less fatiguing.
Economy? About the same.
Cargo capacity? Come on.
Features? They were equal, once you consider that the 2013 Caravan has keyless entry standard.

If you price out 2013 models, you’ll find that the Caravan has a slight advantage over the four-cylinder Altima, Accord, and even the Camry. For the same kind of money, you get a bigger engine and a bigger box to carry your stuff. While it’s hard to argue against the resale value of the Japanese-brand midsizers, nor would you be wise to discount what a family-carrying minivan will be worth used as the middle class continues its flyover-country vanishing act.

And yet, a lot of people will crunch all the numbers, do all the test drives, and still walk away from the Caravan. They’ll do it because they’ve been burned before by minivans foreign or domestic, particularly with regards to transmission durability. They’ll do it because they don’t need the extra capacity and it feels wasteful to have it even if there’s no penalty. But mostly they’ll do it because they don’t want to be seen in a minivan. Minivans are what station wagons used to be: deeply and terminally uncool. Driving a minivan feels like an abject surrender to all the things our increasingly schizophrenic society despises. Family. Commitment. Modest income. Church. Soccer teams. The old American dream, that stupid knuckle-dragging Ozzie and Harriet crap that was supposed to vanish in a single bright bicoastal flash of Chris Brown, Slow Food, and Hannah Horvath. Who wants to be associated with it?

And yet there’s freedom in that groove. Rolling up Interstate 65, listening to the Ronald Isley and Burt Bacharach album I bought ironically a few years ago and have been listening to with sincerity ever since, I saw some dumb-ass in a matte-white GT-R swerving through traffic in the most unnecessarily race-y way humanly possible. I studied his trajectory, made a few predictions, and managed to put the big white Dodge right in his windshield as he went for a fast-and-furious pass on a tractor-trailer. He backed off and tried a few lanes over, only to find me in front of him again. Five times he full-throttled his way back and forth across 65′s considerable girth, and each time somehow I just happened to be in his way. Took maybe twenty minutes. I judged the excellence of my ricer-retarding work by how much I could increase the gap between us and an Impala that had remained in the same lane for the whole time. When we started, the GT-R was about to pass the Impala; when I finished, we could barely see the Chevy’s generic chrome trunk strip ahead.

Finally I gave up the game and this time he sped up next to me, hit the brakes, and waved his heavily tattooed arms at me widly, swearing in a language I couldn’t hear but guessed to be Russian. I waved back and smiled in utterly guileless fashion. He threw his hands up. I could guess what he was thinking Stupid old bastard. All over the road. Doesn’t know what he’s doing. The big Nissan gathered speed and shrank to a distant dot ahead. I waved again. Not the brilliant hero of my own imagination. Not the cold-hearted, bloodlessly manipulative monster of Drama’s nightmares. Just a harmless guy in a minivan. Going nowhere fast. Like everyone else.

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Piston Slap: LeMons racer seeks Minivan Normalcy Fri, 09 Mar 2012 12:04:57 +0000


Brian writes:


Heeding the call for silly, not-really-that-good letters…plus I wrote you a while back about my Freestyle.  Since then, my wife actually sat in a minivan, and that’s the direction we are heading.  We are looking at replacing it quickly so that she can take the three kiddos to Grandma’s house while I enter Lemons South this March. 

Her peace of mind at Grandma’s house is well worth my ‘not-having-the-phone-ring-contantly’ while at the race, so I agree with her timeline (she doesn’t trust the Freestyle enough to make the trip – she had good ears and hears something bad in the transmission already at 10k on the latest reman unit).  So here is the thing: in 2011, Dodge went to the Pentastar in the minivan.  I am of two minds regarding my decision of a 2008, 2010 or a 2011 (Karesh will love the fact that Truedelta eliminated 2009′s for me – gotta love actual data!).

Pentastar: New, efficient, clean, powerful, 6 speed auto

3.8/3.3: Well known, service proven, 4 speed auto

At first I was reluctant to get a Pentastar, but since it’s going to be the only V6 Chrysler makes, chances are the flaws will be fairly well worked out, and since they started putting it in cars in 2007, it has been along for a while.  The older engine has been around FOREVER, which is pretty nice, although the fuel economy and performance will suffer.  Sounds like the 6 speed transmission is mostly based on the four speed, so I guess I should not be worried about that, but feel free to chime in here as well.

What say you?

Sajeev answers:

Wait, you are a LeMons racer? No wonder you actually considered the CVT to 6-speed swap on your old Freestyle! You are nuts!!!

Wait, that’s being real mean: I meant to say that people like you aren’t normal.  I should know, as I listen to your collective bullshit on a regular basis as a LeMons judge in Texas. That said, it’s nice to see that you and your wife have agreed on something far better for your situation.  Minivans rock.

Except they are all under-transmissioned for the loads carried in them. And while Chrysler’s transaxles are legendary for their LeMons-like durability in pure street circumstances, we might not have enough data to verify the new 6-speed’s worthiness in modern Mopar Minivans.  Cue Michael Karesh!

I would buy the new model simply on performance alone.  Modern close ratio 6-speed gearboxes are absolutely wonderful for launching oversized beasts while retaining decent highway cruising. If anything, the new technology will be more durable simply because they move a van more effortlessly, less stressfully.

My advice is always the same for all Minivans, as they all have the same Achilles’ heel: flush the transmission fluid every 1-3 years (depending on mileage and the weight of your cargo) and install the biggest damn transmission cooler you can find.  Run it in series with the factory radiator/coolant system, if applicable.

Do it and you’ll never feel like you’re Freestylin’ ever again.


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

]]> 9 UAW Authorizes Strike At Plant That Is Hiring Mon, 19 Sep 2011 16:25:53 +0000

Chrysler's GEMA Dundee plant -Photo: Toledo Blade

UAW Local #273 members working at Chrysler’s Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance factory in Dundee, Michigan voted to authorize a strike [Ed: despite a no-strike agreement that was agreed to inexchange for Chrysler's bailout] in advance of negotiations over local issues, particularly a recently announced rotating shift schedule that has created unrest at another Chrysler plant in the Detroit area. The proposed schedule is so unpopular that almost 99% of local #273 members voted to authorize a strike if negotiations break down. The shifts, which rotate 12 hr day and night shifts week to week, are intended, Chrysler says, to maximize productivity. The UAW says it is to reduce overtime pay. The normal 3 shift model increases straight-time production by 20% to 120 hours per week.


Pentastar engine production at Trenton Engine Plant


Chrysler has been using that schedule at the Trenton South Engine Plant for almost a year. Workers were already unhappy about the schedule disrupting their lives and increasing child care costs but when mandatory overtime on Sundays was added last month UAW Local #372 started raising safety and health issues related to the schedule.

Sergio Marchionne announcing $179 million investment to build 1.4L Fiat Multiair engines at the Dundee plant

This labor unrest takes place when both facilities are doing very well, or perhaps precisely because they are doing well. Chrysler has recently invested money in both facilities and demand is high for their products, making overtime costs an issue. The Dundee plant, in fact, is currently hiring and Trenton soon will be hiring more workers. Trenton South produces Chrysler’s new 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 engine, already available in 10 Chrysler Group cars and trucks with more being adding next year, so demand is growing. It’s the foundation of Chrysler’s powertrain strategy. Chrysler has invested $114 million to reopen the site’s Trenton North facility for production of the Pentastar and the plant will be adding 268 jobs. At the Dundee facility, originally a joint venture with Hyundai and Mitsubishi, already produced variants of Chrysler’s “world engine“. Chrysler has invested $179 million to add production of Fiat’s 1.4-liter, 16-valve “MultiAir” FIRE (Fully Integrated Robotized Engine) motor. So far, a additional 100 people have been hired at Dundee. The currently produce about 400 engines a day that get shipped to Mexico, where Fiat 500s for the North American market are assembled. Production is being increased, and hiring for a second shift is open until early October.

Sergio-Marchionne 4_cylinder_fire 9705564-small 2007 Dodge Caliber World Engine Chrysler Pentastar Engine-low C GEMA5709-300 phoenix-engines Pentastar engine production at Trenton Engine Plant Colin-Reaume-Dundee-Chrysler Larry-Patterson-Dundee-Chrysler




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