29
Sep
10

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited: The Mercedes ML’s distant cousin

 

     Potential Jeep owners rejoice!  The new 2011 Grand Cherokee is a handsome, facelifted, and vastly improved vehicle that not only promises to perform as well on the road as off, but do it with much more grace and civility than before.  Sharing certain components with the Mercedes Benz ML class have certainly helped this vehicle transform into the true luxury SUV that it has sought to be.  Gone are the hard plastics from the interior and grand-canyon like dash gaps.  Boasting a new 3.6L V6 with 290hp, the Jeep also gets up and goes, with the optional Hemi making quick work of on and off ramps.  Helping to keep all the power in check is a Jeep first, fully independent rear suspension.  Overall, the redesign of this offroader goes well below the surface.

     Appearance wise, this new model is worlds ahead of the last generation.  The rounded headlights are replaced with very sharp units with optional xenon bulbs with the trademark Jeep grill etched into the bulb protector.  The new front fascia looks much meaner and leaner than previous models thanks to those new lights as well as straighter lines all around.  The optional twin tow hooks give the Jeep that offroad look that is so appealing and useful to many enthusiasts.  All that coupled with a subtle power bulge for the Hemi give the new Jeep a much needed look that screams “I can go anywhere”

 

 

    

     As far as Jeeps go, this is one of the top designed models on the road today.  The lines all over the vehicle have been cleaned up, giving it a purpose built look, but still a sense of design and luxury at the same time.  Aside from the front end, the flanks of the vehicle look a bit stretched out, giving the wheel arches a little more bulk.  This adds to the look of muscle, as well as the fairly wide track.  While the standard Limited rims are a great choice, I would personally opt for the less-bling Overaland rims which fit perfectly with the vehicle’s off-road nature.  When stepping around the back of the vehicle, you will notice a brand new rear fascia.  Not only is this the most handsome to date, but it is also functional with a glass hatch separate from the liftgate.  Dual exhaust tips adorn the lower valence, but chrome tips are an option well worth it if you ask me.

 Now this newest model has been lauded for it’s interior, claiming that it is now a true luxury SUV and I have to say, I agree.  While it is not quite a Range Rover, the Jeep has stepped up its game significantly.  All over the vehicle, you will notice significantly smaller panel gaps, particularly in the straightforward yet elegant dash.    The brushed aluminum and wood trim throughout is a nice touch, as well as the leather seats and door panel trim.  While leather is not standard, the cloth found on the Laredo model is still a nice option.  Along with the much improved interior, a welcome dash of legroom is also present.  The overall length of the vehicle has increased, allowing for an additional 4 inches of rear legroom.  This may not sound like a lot, but for someone such as yours truly in the 6 foot 4 inch range, that is a welcome change of pace, as are the heated reclining rear seats.  One feature of note is the integrated, rechargeable LED flashlight mounted flush in the cargo area.  This highlights the utilitarian nature of the vehicle, as any offroader will tell you how valuable instantaneous light is in any situation.

     Having a limited chance to fool around with the navigation system makes it tough to determine the overall functionality of the unit, but in the time I did spend pushing buttons, I found a fairly straightforward layout.  It is a sizeable touch-screen, about 6″ across and the color and clarity are decent.  There is a built in USB jack to upload music and pictures to the hard drive.  The bluetooth capability allows you to not only sync your phone for conversations, but on certain phones, stream wireless music as well.  However, there is still an i-pod dock tucked neatly away below the climate controls.  The lighted cupholders are a neat feature, conveniently located in front of what some will call the most imporant feature, the Selec-Terrain knob.  Here the driver can select a number of different off-road settings, ranging from “Auto” to “Sand and Mud”.  There is even a hill descent control feature that allows the driver to drive down steep inclines without touching the brakes.  Another new offroading feature that Jeep has added is the removeable lower front fascia, allowing for better approach and departure angles during serious adventures.  The optional air lift suspension allows for an additional 4.1 inches of ground clearance to get you over anything in your way. 

     The handling is where this vehicle has really improved.  While you are still aware that you are driving a very capable offroad vehicle, there is still a measure of refinement that isn’t present in many of the competitors.  The level of road noise is very limted, and the amount of wandering on the highway is minimal.   The vehicle tracks straight and there isn’t much play in the wheel, things that are usually accepted on vehicles with true off road credentials.  The 5.7L V8 carried over from previous generations offers mountains of torque making pulling the claimed 7400 lbs a seemingly easy task.  It also doesn’t hurt to have the raised air intake snorkel to help with water crossings.  Where one would expect a certain roughness and ruggedness to accompany such a heritage as a Jeep, the ride quality is compliant and forgiving, while not being overly Cadillac-ish.  You do notice a fair amount of body roll, but nothing beyond what is expected.   

     Overall, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has a host of welcome improvements for the 2011 model year.  Jeep has certainly taken a step in the right direction with the more luxury oriented interior and redesigned exterior.  Not only is it now on par with the competition, but it is well above the rest with the Jeep name in offroading.  This combination of refinement and offroad prowess is rarely seen in the automotive industry, but Jeep has managed to pull it off.  For those looking for a reliable, capable and durable vehicle without the hefty price tag of a Rover name tag, the Grand Cherokee is sure to please.

     A big thanks to Chris White and Stew Hansen Jeep in Des Moines, IA for allowing me to test drive and photograph one of the few Limited models available.

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25
Feb
10

2010 Volkswagen GTI – Sophisticated Fun

Ah yes, the definitive hot-hatch that started the craze and still sets the bar today even in the time of million-horsepower hypercars and fuel-sipping hybrids.  The car provides a great balance between fun and practical.  “Why shouldn’t you be able to have both?” asked Volkswagen.  This is the essential formula for the GTI and boy does it show.

For 2010, the GTI gets a refresh along with the Golf.  The new front end is designed to have a more aggressive look but still maintain a certain “cuteness” that makes it appealing to all sexes.  The new front headlights house either traditional halogen bulbs or a set of bi-xenons with a blacked-out housing to stick to the aggressive theme.  The signature red striping remains and gives the slimmed down grill and fascia a more sinister look as it has throughout the years.  The rear gets a much needed revised set of taillights that make the whole car look a lot wider when in reality, it is nearly identical in size to last years model.  The new exhaust is routed through two polished tips placed wide apart on the back of the car to maintain the “hunkered down” look.  Other than those two main differences, the exterior remains mostly unchanged with only a few adjustments in track width and overall height.

The interior of the GTI is very driver-oriented.  The interlagos plaid seats are standard with leather available as an options, with both being heated.  In the name of weight savings, the GTI forefeits power seats but you still get a great range of adjustability thanks in part to the lumbar support as well as the tilt and teloscoping wheel.  That same wheel is also flat-bottomed for a unique GTI racer feel.  The red stiching in various places throughout the cockpit adds a nice touch of color to the interior and matches the well-bolstered seats nicely.  The aluminum accents on the doors and dash highlight the dark carbon fiber look-alike pieces that add to the enthusiast-oriented image that the GTI has maintained for many generations.  An optional ipod dock is hidden away nicely in the center armrest giving the driver full control of their music through the new touch-screen radio unit.  Where the GTI shines is the overall fit and finish.  The gaps between the dash pieces, the quality of the aluminum trim, and the feel of the meaty steering wheel give the driver a sense that they are in a truly German built vehicle.

The GTI comes equipped fairly well straight out of the box, but there are a few big options to consider.  The 6-spd manual that is standard on the vehicle is a great transmission with a positive throw and great feel.  The DSG with paddle shifters is a wonderful technological showcase, making shifts lightning quick yet maintaing a smooth feel when needed.  The rev-matching on the downshifting is pretty accurate and will get you some looks of admiration pulling up to red lights or stop signs.  The 2.0T loves to sing.  This 4-cylinder turbo makes more torque than horsepower which is pretty uncommon for a smaller displacement engine.  Trust me, 200hp and 207 lbs/ft is plenty for this little car and it gets to 60 in a hurry.

Practically speaking, the GTI is quite roomy despite its diminuitive dimensions.  There is plenty of headroom and legroom in the back seat and access isn’t all that tough thanks to the quick access handle on the side of both seats, allowing the seat to fold and move forward while still remembering the passenger’s setting.  The rear seats are a 60-40 split folding row which makes for a lot of cargo space if you don’t have any passengers.  In terms of MPG’s when you’re holding back your inner “fast” the GTI gets a fairly respectable 21-31 city/highway for the 6-spd manual model.  Realistically, you should see 2-3 mpg more than that in both city and highway driving situations.  There is a 3 mpg city advantage to going with the DSG transmission because it is unbelievably efficient.  The 2.0T is a true gem of an engine, making it practical but still very fun to drive.

Thanks a to a new trick differential program called XDS, the understeer that plagues all front wheel drive vehicles is all but eliminated in the GTI.  The programming actually brakes the inside wheel of a corner ever-so-slightly to pull the car out of the corner more effectively and make it a little more tail-happy than one would typically find in a hot hatch.  Overall feedback to the driver is good, but you can tell it is somewhat limited to favor a comfortable daily driver mode for those of us that don’t want to feel every nook and cranny of the pavement.  The steering is a new electro-mechanical system that changes the tightness according to how fast the vehicle is traveling.  For example, you don’t want to get an upper-body workout moving around a parking lot so it loosens up.  However, it also gives you a fairly taut feeling along the highway so you don’t have to make constant adjustments to stay in your lane.  The sytem is fantastic and does both very well while also providing the level of feedback expected from someone who appreciates a good feel for the road. 

A lot of money has been put towards sound deadening and ride quietness at almost any speed is great.  However, when you are moved by the motoring Gods, there is a little tube that connects the cabin to the engine and it opens up to let some of that glorious engine note in.  No, you didn’t misread, I did call the engine note “glorious”.  The little four-banger sounds nothing like the high-pitched whine that most of us associate with smaller cars.  The note is deep and throaty and quite noticeable at wide open throttle and makes the driving that much more pleasureable as I have always thought that a big part of a driving experience is the noise that a car makes.  

Overall, there are very few faults in this car.  If I had to pick something out (and believe me, this is being VERY picky), it would have to be the throttle response.  Although the car is very eager to get going should you feel so inclined, there is an almost artificial feeling to the pedal and a slight hesitation when you go for broke.  Also, heel-toe-ing can be somewhat tricky thanks to a fairly deep-set accelerator. 

It is rare that you find a car that can blend fun and functionality as well as the GTI.  Its true enthusiast nature and subtle good looks have impressed drivers for years and keep reminding us that there is fun to be had even if the car doesn’t have a gazillion horsepower 18 cylinder engine.  There are few, if any, that can truly match the GTI in pure practicality and grin-inducing pleasure.  I encourage anyone thinking about owning one of these cars to take one for a spin.  Then, and only then, will you understand exactly what I am talking about.

16
Feb
10

2010 Toyota 4Runner Limited – Sticking With What Works

 

Presence is the word of the day folks.  When I first saw the 4Runner coming around the side of the building, I was truly shocked by its size.  I am a lanky 6’5″ and the hood almost came up to my chest!  The newly redesigned front end gets a lot of attention with the angular headlights and bold grill.  In all honesty, it is similar to the Evo front end in the sense that they both look angry, but it is definitely unique.  The overall exterior of the vehicle is very angular, and pictures simply don’t do it justice.  Every accent line or contour is carefully placed so as not to be overbearing and still purvey a sense of offroad prowess.  Overall, everything has gotten a bit sharper.  It seems that Toyota is making a move towards more angles and lines and away from the soft edges and roundess that we see in the Sequoia and the older Landcruisers.  One interetsing part about the exterior is the hidden rear wiper.  Toyota has managed to integrate it entirely into the rear spoiler above the rear window.  Lovers of the power-rear window will be pleased to hear that it is still available and that it now has an auto up/down switch, as do all four windows.

On the interior, Toyota has done a nice job of integrating functionality with rugged design.  The materials are fairly supple with a nice steering wheel and leather seats in the Limited.  I did notice that the dash is a very hard plastic where I would have expected a softer material that many manufactureres seem to be leaning towards.  All controls are within an arms reach and the overall layout of the dash is well executed.  One thing of note is the arm rest.  For those of us that are of the manual transmission persuasion, we have a habit of wanting to keep one hand on the shifter.  The 4Runner, while being an automatic with a “Sport” mode, allows the driver to comfortably keep an elbow on the arm rest and a hand on the shift lever ( but for the record, your hands should be at 10-2).  For me to fit, being fairly tall, there is some adjustment necessary to allow for some headroom but once I got that out of the way there is plenty to be had.  Visitbility is good, plenty of rear windows and the B/C pillars aren’t a huge hinderance as they are in some vehicles.  There is an integrated rear view camera that shows up on a trick little screen in the rear view mirror.  This does come in handy as the rear window is fairly high up on vehicle and makes seeing whatever is directly behind you a bit of a challenge.

Rear legroom is respectable and the seats are the usual 60-40 split with a pass through and rear cupholders.  The newest feature that  will get some attention is the tailgate-type shelf that extends from the back.  Not only does it make it easier to load cargo into this taller than average vehicle, but it is also strong enough to hold 400 lbs worth of tailgaters.  With speakers integrated into the lift-gate, there is also a “Party Mode” that changes the dynamics of the speakers to project the sound out the back of the vehicle.  The upgraded sound system on the Limited had a great sound and will actually allow you to play music wirelessly through your bluetooth equipped device.  There is an optional navigation system with voice activation but the vehicle I drove was not equipped with it so a review of that will have to wait.  Overall, the interior is great and well laid out with a rugged but somewhat refined feel.  The combination of the tailgate and party mode certainly makes this vehicle serve a second purpose as a great entertainer. 

As far as the drivetrain goes, the 4.0L V6 is standard on the Limited so that is the engine I experienced.  It is rated at 270 hp with 278 lbs/ft of torque and a 5000 lb towing capacity and I don’t doubt that for a second.  I wouldn’t call it the swiftest vehicle I’ve ever driven as there is no mistake that it is a fairly heavy vehicle with a 4525 curb weight, however I wouldn’t call it slow.  There is an “Eco” light that comes on when the driver is in the “sweet spot” of the engine.  Surprisingly, the light stayed lit even while accelerating up an on-ramp with a bit of uphill.  Essentially this light is telling the driver when they are being as fuel efficient as they can given teh circumstances.  Of course I didn’t really make it work too hard, but there was a lot of torque readily available throughout the rev-range making passing and pulling away from a light fairly effortless.  Downhill Ascent Control comes in handy if you’re feeling brave and naturally there is a selectable transfer case with a knob near the shift lever for easy switches between High and Low gearing.  Being that this is one of the few TRUE offroad oriented vehicles out there, the 4Runner retains the much-lauded Body-On-Frame construction that has proven to be unbelievably durable and strong. 

While the driving experience is truly “truck” like, it behaves quite well both around town and at speed on the highway.  As one would expect with any tall vehicle, it does get tossed around a bit by the wind but overall, there is little road noise and it handly fairly well for a vehicle that has a offroad pedigree that few can match.  With the XREAS system available on he Limited model, body roll was much less than one would expect on an offroad vehicle and it was pretty composed when taking corners.  There is no question that if you are lucky enough to have that front end in your rearview mirror, you will feel inclined to get out of the way.  You have a commanding view of the road because of the higher than average ride height and you do look down on most vehicles and even sit about eye-level with some heavy duty pickups.  With this new styling, the windshield is surprisingly upright and the hood pokes out quite a bit from the driver which makes it a little tough to judge where the corners are, but I suspect that you would get used to this fairly quickly.

My only problems with the vehicle were minor.  I think that the “Eco” light could get fairly annoying if you aren’t inclined to try and get that extra couple MPG.  The V6 does have plenty of get up and go, but without really exploring the rev range, I didn’t get to see what it really had to offer.  Parking might be a little tough with the longer hood and limited visibility right behind the car.  The rear view camera does help, but the screen is pretty small which limits its fuctionality.

However, these are nit-picky little things that don’t detract from the overall experience.  I praise Toyota for sticking with a formula that works and improving upon an already solid platform that many recognize for its utility, durability and offroad prowess.  Toyota, my hat is off to you for defying the all-to-common crossover and making a vehicle that begs to be taken off the beaten path.

A big thanks to the guys down at Toyota of Des Moines for allowing me to test this fine vehicle.  Ray Murphy, Sales Manager, was kind enough to approve this whole process  which I greatly appreciate.  Thanks to Tim Immel for taking time to explain some of the key features and benefits of the 4Runner so I wasn’t completely helpless.

13
Feb
10

My Car

My ride is a a 2006 Subaru WRX STI.  I’ve lusted after these things for quite some time and I finally pulled the trigger on one in early November.  Let me just say I couldn’t be happier.  Power is instantaneous but very manageable.  The interior is pretty spartan but still useable with everything within an arms reach.  I’ll keep you posted when I learn to drive it how it deserves to be driven!

13
Feb
10

Audi’s “Green Police” Superbowl Ad

Below is Audi’s superbowl commercial that I found to be very creative and entertaining.  The “Green Police” theme was quite funny and the end where the A3 TDI is allowed to bypass the roadblock is an appropriate ending for the ad.  There isn’t too much about how great the car is or how great the safety ratings are etc., it is just a simple commerical that makes you laugh and also curious about the A3, which is, afterall, what they want to accomplish.  Check it out….

 Here at work, we recently received a voicemail from a concerned consumer who remains anonymous.  In the message, he called the commercial disgusting and claimed he was about to purchase an Audi but will no longer be doing so as a result of that commercial.  We called the genetleman back to find out exactly what made him feel this way towards what we thought was a well thought out advertisement.  Well the “unconstitutional raids” and “anti-freedom” theme are what really got him going along with the consequences for making choices as an individual.

Despite this odd response, I found the ad to be very effective.  The over-the-top theme of the Green Police was a very creative way of integrating Audi’s newest clean diesel technology.  Ontop of the departure from the usual fuel efficient ad that includes figure on MPG and how many miles per tank, Audi also has the car accelerating fairly heavily at the very end of the ad, which is something you don’t see too often.  You won’t see too many Toyota or Honda ads showing their hybrids racing from a stop.  I feel that this was a good push for the fun to drive nature of the TDI’s, which is far above what any hybrid on the road todya can deliver.  This ad also shows Audi’s step towards really supporting a big diesel movement here in the states.  We all know that Europe loves their diesel and the problem is that there are too many preconceived notions about diesel.  People believe that the cars smell, leave blue smoke when they accelerate, are loud, and are slow.  The latest Audi and VW diesels put all those things to rest and I feel that it is important for the the manufacturers that have diesel vehicles in their line up to support this high mileage alternative to hybrids. 

What do you think about the ad?  Any body else have an odd reaction to the advertisement?  Thanks for the input.

22
Jan
10

BMW Engine Heat Retention Tech

A quick glance of the engine bay

Well, my first topic will be this new heat retention tech that BMW seems to be pushing, claiming it reduces the stress on an engine during a cold start drastically.  I think that they’ve taken a rather simplistic approach to an idea that does show some promise, but my one hesitation is the ever-worrying overheating.  They do claim that it is not an issue in the article by MotorTrend, but I still question their ability to cool a heavily wrapped engine bay effectively.  If it does as well as they say in terms of reducing cold starts, I’m all for it. 

 BMW goes on to say that the vents in the front of the cooling system open when the vehicle is moving, and close when it it stopped.  Now what happens in stop-and-go traffic?  No air will be flowing to the engine bay and the vents will be closed, however the vehicle is still running.  This doesn’t sound like the best combination to me.  Even if the vents were to be open, there would still be a significant lack of airflow combined with all that insulation. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think that this does show some promise, but they do need to look heavily into additional cooling for the situations when heat retention would be unwanted.  BMW says that there are only a few minor tweaks to be done before going into production and this strikes me as a bit optimistic.  What do you guys think?  Do you think this is money well spent by BMW to increase engine life and overall efficiency?  Thanks for reading.

You can find the article here

18
Jan
10

Introduction

Hello all, my name is Pete and I’m starting this blog to make some space to rant and rave about the latest and greatest in the automotive industry.  I’ve always had a passion for most anything with an engine and particularly, cars.  First and foremost, I confess I am a VW and Audi Sales Consultant, but by no means does that compromise my ability to express an un-biased opinion (I drive a Subaru 🙂 )  In any event, I will be trying to keep up to date here with anything that I find interesting, be it new technology in vehicles or recent updates on the auto industry in general.  As a side note, a certain level of respect should be maintained during any and all discussions, I want to maintain a user-friendliness on this page that creates a nice place for auto enthusiasts to share their thoughts.  I am brand new to this so it will take some time to get into a routine but any contribution is appreciated.  Thanks, I look forward to some good discussions on anything automotive!




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