By Chris Haak
When evaluating a particular vehicle, it’s always telling to get the entry-level version of that vehicle. It’s quickly apparent what kind of vehicle the manufacturer is able to build on a tighter budget; for instance, a base Chevy Silverado may not be nearly as desirable as a Silverado LTZ, but a base Chevy Malibu LS is a pretty good car, even stacked against the Malibu LTZ. That being said, it’s always a little fun to get my hands on the loaded, top-of-the-line version of a particular model as well. There’s something to be said for a vehicle that doesn’t have any missing switches or buttons, has the nice seats, larger wheels, and biggest engine. For this reason, I thought it was pretty cool when Chrysler delivered a Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland to my driveway for me to evaluate for a week.
The Overland edition of the Grand Cherokee is the top trim level; the name comes from a chapter in Jeep’s long heritage. Overland Motors was purchased by John North Willys in 1908, who renamed the company Willys-Overland in 1912. Of course, Willys was the company that produced Jeeps during and after World War II. No Overland-badged vehicle was built after 1926 until the 2003 Grand Cherokee Overland. The Overland model includes everything that that lesser Grand Cherokees do, but also makes nearly everything optional on those other models (if it’s even available on them) standard. While I appreciate the heritage and capabilities of the Jeep Wrangler, my vote for the best Jeep vehicle currently in production goes to the Grand Cherokee. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s a pretty good vehicle. Unless you’re a complete purist, you’d probably also consider the Grand Cherokee to be Jeep’s best-looking vehicle as well.
By Kevin Miller
A compass is defined as an instrument which indicates direction. That being the case, the Jeep Compass shows that the storied off-road brand (and Chrysler as a whole) is headed in the wrong direction. The Compass was introduced in 2007, and is built on the same platform as the Dodge Caliber and the Jeep Patriot. The Patriot and the Compass are mechanical clones and also share most interior components- press photos show the interiors and features of the Compass and Patriot to be identical. The small Jeep twins got a new interior for 2009, with vastly improved dashboard and console materials and layout. Compared to the previous interior (and the existing interior in the Caliber), it is a great leap forward in both design and materials.
While the interior was upgraded, however, it is far from perfect. My tester’s interior was relentlessly black, with charcoal-colored seat upholstery, black plastic door interiors (without any fabric upholstery to break up the monotony), and black plastic dash. The reworked dash and center console have oddly shaped storage compartments, with no place to store cell phones or sunglasses. There is no compartment (other than the trunk) large enough to hold a magazine. Each door has a molded-in door bin, but the bins are not deep enough to hold soda cans or water bottles, and are not large enough even for a folded map.
The Actual Taurus is Somewhat Less Inspired…
By Kevin Miller
Ford’s press dispatches occasionally catch my attention as being over the top in one way or another. The Flex’s door sills and the Focus’ fender vents come quickly to mind. Yesterday the venerable company did it again, by linking the design of their new Taurus sedan with popular music.
The Taurus’ designers are said to have been inspired by artists such as Kem, Paul Oakenfold, and Citizen Cope- whoever they are. Maybe I’m too un-hip to recognize the names of the artists who inspired the new Taurus’ designers. But guess what? At thirty-five, I don’t consider myself particularly old nor particularly un-hip, though admittedly I pay little attention to pop culture.
Moreover, I don’t think that these musical artists are going to resonate with a majority of people who end up buying a Taurus. While Chrysler’s 300C had its proverbial moment in the sun when rappers were “blinging” the cars out for appearances in music videos, I seriously doubt that the Taurus will experience anywhere close to the Chrysler’s fifteen minutes of fame.
By Roger Boylan
“This is the perfect car!” I yelled. “It is very nice,” said my wife, who is generally more restrained about such things. And of course I was yelling through my hat; we all know there’s no such thing as perfection, in a car or anything else. But my enthusiasm wasn’t totally unjustified. There we were, cruising along crowded I-35 at a steady 70 in a two-ton diesel truck that was delivering 25+ m.p.g. and taking the curves almost as nimbly as a performance car, but was also capable of carrying five people, their luggage, and groceries in comfort and style, while keeping them entertained with a selection of Sirius XM satellite radio stations, 6-CD changer, and MP3/iPod/Bluetooth hookups. All for a negotiable sticker price of between $46 and $49K, depending on options. I was sold, or would have been, with a fatter (or fat) bank account.
The catalyst of my enthusiasm was the 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTec. As can be seen in the photos, my test vehicle was stark kitchen-appliance white in hue; not my favorite color, although a prime choice for sunny Texas, where I live. But this vehicle is good-looking enough to not suffer from any color choice. The ’08 redesign enhanced the aesthetic presence of the ML-Class, which is now, in my humble opinion, an outstandingly attractive vehicle, distinctive amid the lumpy sameness of most SUVs. The swooping belt line, downward-sloping cut lines, and faux wheel arches create a trompe-l’oeil effect that artfully disguises the truck’s true size. The ML’s overall appearance, at both ends, is elegant, compact, and dynamic: rearward, things are neatly rounded off by a polished skid plate and purposeful twin chromed exhaust tips, and at the front by wide projector-beam headlights and a toothy grille, the latter sporting a huge Benz tri-star badge, honored symbol of the company’s hundred--year heritage.
By Chris Haak
In a very rare bit of good news for GM, the company has told the Obama Administration’s auto task force (the Presidential Task Force on The Auto Industry) today that it will not yet need the $2 billion loan installment that it had originally said in its February 17 viability report to the administration by the end of March. While this is something of a piece of good news, it’s not quite as good as it sounds.
GM attributes its non-need to cost-cutting moves and spending deferrals that are starting to take hold. Basically, most new-vehicle development programs are on hold with the exception of a few high-profile ones (Volt, Cruze) and those already more or less out the door (Camaro), so the “spending deferrals” aren’t much more than slowing investment in new vehicles to a trickle – not a viable long-term strategy by any stretch.
Also, GM made clear that the company will probably still need all of the billions that it requested throughout 2009, but just doesn’t need them in March. In fact, it’s quite likely that GM will need to receive another few billion dollars from the government in April. Aside from navigating through any obstacles set forth by the Presidential Task Force, GM needs to worry about two major negotiating problems.
By Chris Haak
GM had been expecting to begin production of its all-new 4.5 liter Duramax light-duty truck diesel (pictured at left) at its engine plant in Tonawanda, New York this fall, but has now put those plans on hold, according to Automotive News. The company blamed its deteriorating financial situation for the decision, and has noted in the past that all product decisions are up in the air at this point. If GM ends up re-starting the program, it will take a year from the program’s re-initiation for the engines to reach Job 1. One problem that GM has traditionally had over the past few years, and has become worse lately as it’s hammered on all sides by bad news, is that it repeatedly starts and stops projects, which adds significant time and expense to them.
The new engine was to have produced 310 horsepower and 520 lb-ft of torque, while returning highway fuel economy in the mid-20s. The initial application for the new engine was to have been the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups.
It really is a shame to see what was seemingly destined to be one of the best engines in GM’s history shelved – and quite possibly cancelled permanently at some point. The engine is a clean-sheet design that is able to fit into the space normally occupied by the very-compact small-block gasoline V8. That meant that as long as the transmission application could handle its 510 lb-ft of torque (not necessarily a given), it could fit into nearly any medium to large GM car, truck, or SUV. Possible applications that had been in the rumor mill from time to time included the Lambda crossovers (Enclave et al), Zeta cars (Pontiac G8, Chevy Camaro, Holden Commodore), and even the Cadillac CTS. The new engine’s small footprint was attributed mostly to the intelligent way in which its exhaust and intake plumbing was reversed from the norm; instead of the exhaust exiting the engine on the outside of the “V,” it exited in the valley, and the turbocharger could be nestled between the cylinder banks for a much more compact design.
By Chris Haak
In spite of the recent news that GM was shuttering its High Performance Vehicle Operations team – the group that brought us the Cadillac V-series cars, among others – struggling crosstown rival Chrysler LLC does not plan to follow in kind with its well-regarded SRT team. Chrysler confirmed this in a live online chat with its much-maligned consumer advisory panel, and posted the transcript on its .
According to the transcript (complete with spelling errors), panel members asked Steve Bartoli, Chrysler’s VP for global product planning about the future of SRT. According to Bartoli, “SRT is sticking around and we have to make final calls on the lineup. We are big fans of SRT what is does for us and our customers.” Further, he added that “Ceberus [sic] is committed to this cause.” Good news, indeed.
Chrysler’s SRT team has churned out several very good performance versions that transformed fairly mediocre products into legitimate performance vehicles. Tracks on SRT’s “greatest hits” album include the Neon-based SRT4, Crossfire SRT6, Caliber SRT4, Grand Cherokee SRT8, Challenger SRT8, Magnum SRT8, Charger SRT8, 300C SRT-8, Ram SRT-10, and of course the Viper SRT10. Of these vehicles, the Caliber SRT4, Grand Cherokee SRT8, Challenger SRT8, Charger SRT8, 300C SRT8, and Viper SRT10 are still in production. All of the SRT-touched vehicles have improved handling, braking, and acceleration relative to their more pedestrian cousins.
By Chris Haak
We’ve called the wisdom of granting an EPA waiver to California and the states that follow California emission rules into question a few times in the past. At the risk of repeating ourselves again, California proposed greenhouse-gas (CO2) reductions that – because CO2 emissions are related more or less proportionately to fuel consumption, would have been a de-facto fuel economy standard different from the 35 mpg CAFE standard that Congress approved a few years ago. The effect of granting the waiver to California, which President Obama has said he supported doing, and in fact instructed the EPA to review the decision made by the EPA under the Bush Administration to deny this waiver. In an article about six weeks ago, I lamented this shortsighted policy choice and advocated for at least a national CO2 (i.e., fuel economy) standard rather than having different rules for different states. In an extremely rare bit of good news for the auto industry, it now appears that my wish may have come true.
Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resource Board (also known as CARB), said in Washington during a hearing last week on whether the EPA should grant California’s exemption that California would agree to withdraw its emissions waiver request with the EPA if an agreement could be reached on a national CO2 standard. The Detroit automakers and their allies have argued incessantly against the EPA granting this waiver to California and the 13 other states that adhere to California emission standards. California is allowed to regulate auto emissions because it began regulating them since the 1960s, before the Feds did, but the Federal government is the only entity allowed to regulate fuel economy. California and its allies have been arguing – thanks to a Supreme Court decision that ruled that CO2 was a pollutant – that limiting CO2 is just a natural extension of limiting pollution. But it’s more complicated than that.