Archive | July, 2010

First Drive – 2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Bringing Good Vibrations?

Chevrolet Cavalier and Cobalt, both cars that well……you know that song Good Vibrations?  What is the opposite of that song?  That is what comes to mind.  There isn’t exactly a stellar legacy left by those nameplates.  Saying Chevrolet has not been competitive in the compact car segment in a while would be telling it to you straight.

Chevrolet recognizes this and is looking to not only be competitive in the segment, but they say class-leading with the new 2011 Cruze.  Have they over-promised again, or do we finally have good vibrations?

The Cruze has been trotted out at plenty of auto shows last season, so we know the basics.  The base car (LS) will come with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, while the rest of the line up (LT1, Eco, LT2, LTZ) will come with a 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder.  This will be the volume engine.

The 1.4-liter turbo puts out an estimated 138 horsepower and 148 pound feet of torque.  The base engine and Eco models will come with a six-speed manual standard.  A six-speed automatic is optional on the LS and Eco, and standard (being only option currently available) on the other models.  I’ve heard that a six-speed manual will be available with the 1.4 liter turbo later on.

They are expecting the Eco model to earn an EPA rating of 40 mpg on the highway.  I am not sure if you have been paying attention, but that is a really really good number, and a class leading figure.  The real question is whether the car will really get 40 mpg in real world driving.

In the Cruze it was easy to find a comfortable driving position with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The dash design is unique.

Flowing across the dash is a swath of the same cloth material found on the seats. On LTZ cars with leather seating, leatherette replaces the swath of cloth on the dash. The design is fresh and somewhat consistent with newer Chevrolet’s.

I found there to be plenty of room inside, with an airy feel inside the cabin.  One thing I found annoying was the center armrest between the front seats.  The arm rest slides fore and aft, but when in the forward position it does not lock.  It should have more tension.  When two people rest their arms on the arm rest, the slider can slide back, which becomes quite annoying.

What we did not know before was how the Cruze drove.  I was going into this with an open mind, but I have driven both a Cavalier and a Cobalt.  Neither impressed me for the segment.  In the Cruze, you turn the key and slam the gas – the 1.4 liter turbo hits max torque at a mere 1,850 rpm.

From a stop the Cruze is decent off the line, but by about 10 mph the turbo has spooled up and you are off.  The power is more than adequate for driving around town, and there is no worries about making a pass on the highway.  However, this is not a sports car, and isn’t meant to be.  The electric steering is very light at parking lot speeds (almost too light?) but it firms up a little once under way.

We were let loose in the “back country” where there was quite a few hills. In those circumstances, I found that the six-speed automatic was not always hunting and seeking top gear immediately like other six-speeds.  Much of this can be attributed to the torque from the 1.4-liter turbo engine.  Since torque is so readily available, constant shifting is not necessary.  Without question, the powertrain makes a strong statement.

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla were on hand to do back-to-back comparison drives with the Cruze.  The first thing you notice is that the Cruze is more spacious then the Civic. In the Civic, I felt so close to the driver’s door and cramped side-to-side compared to the Cruze.  The reason for this is because the Cruze is both wider and longer then its competitors.

The materials in the Civic interior were very mixed. Some pieces were nice and soft touch, while others were cheap and unattractive looking.  The Civic’s transmission also seemed to hunt more when driving on the hills, and the engine was noticeably less powerful (less torque).

The Corolla’s interior is – well, almost a joke- and it drives like an appliance with a missing Kenmore sticker.  The Cruze is much more enjoyable to drive then the Corolla.  The suspension feels more controlled and almost European (especially with the 18-inch wheels).

Chevrolet sees the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra as key competitors.  They recognize that both the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra are about to be redesigned or refreshed.  For that reason, they did not have those two vehicles on hand for comparison.

Worth noting is the pricing.  The Cruze starts at $16,995. That is over $1,000 more then the Mazda3 and current Honda Civic.

Honda has a new Civic coming towards the end of next year, along with the Volkswagen Jetta, with a base price that is also about $1,000 less then the Cruze.  The Cruze is one of the most expensive vehicles in this segment.

The Cruze’s on hand were all pre-production vehicles.  Thus, the fit and finish was not 100%, however the exteriors were nearly flawless.  On the interior, I did find the cowl covering the gauge cluster was not flush with the piece of plastic it connected to.

Also, the center console had a little cubby in front of the shifter that seemed to have a large gap in between the panel it sat with.  Again these were pre-production vehicles, so we’ll see if these two small gripes are corrected in production vehicles. Of note is that Chevrolet only had Cruze’s on hand with the 1.4 liter turbo, not the base 1.8 liter. They were also LTZ  or LT models – no Eco or LS models were available.

So back to the original question, does this car deliver on the promise of a good compact sedan? Chevrolet makes the claim that the Cruze brings midsize sedan amenities and quietness to the compact car segment.  I truly believe that claim is justified.

The car is definitely competitive with the current competition. With the new Focus and Elantra on the way though, is it enough?  For once, the main problem is not the car – it will be getting people in the car.  The current perception in the segment is not good for Chevrolet, so they will need to get butts in seats. Good marketing will be essential for the Cruze to succeed.  For now though, the new Cruze brings good vibrations to the compact car segment.

Full Disclosure – My travel and accommodations were provided by General Motors

Review – 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8

I will be the first to admit that I was not around during the beginning of the pony car wars.  Luckily for me, I am around at the rebirth of the pony car wars.  The Ford Mustang really never left , while the Challenger had been off the market for some time.  The Challenger beat the new Camaro to market, but the Camaro is making up for lost time with killer sales numbers.  So back to the Challenger SRT8, is this beast one blast from the past or should it just be left in the past?

The exterior really is a retouched 21st century take on the original formula.  The exterior lines and design is unmistakably Challenger.  The SRT ups the formula with a chin spoiler, larger wheels and brakes, along with a small trunk lid spoiler.  Up front you have what almost looks like a sucker mouth front clip with four round lamps, the two inner lights being parking lights while the outer two are the headlights.  The fog lights below put out a surprising amount of light.  The character line that flows from the headlights down the side of the fenders and door flows into the rear haunches, which are exaggerated and quite large.  They look terrific.  The rear end is somewhat tall but stays true to the retro recipe set forth by the rest of the styling.  The rear tail light is a strip across the back that is really three pieces – but usually if you look quick, you would not notice.  Two squared off polished exhaust tips peek out from the bottom of the bumper to let you know, “hey I’m here, I can and will let you hear me.”  From the retro metal fuel cover to the raised hood with functional air inlets, I love the exterior lines.  They are classic – pure and simple.

Some have called the Challenger’s interior bland or boring.  I really actually feel it fits the car.  It is not over done, but the materials are all soft touch and have a feeling of quality.  The seats are nothing short of terrific.  I did note the seat bottoms were a little flatter then the seats in the Charger SRT8 I recently tested.  That said, they are terrific ,with great bolsters for your backside.  They were all-day comfortable and then some.  The gauge cluster consists of four round barrels with the tachometer and speedometer in the center and the fuel and engine temp gauges to the side.  The SRT8 model had a built in performance meter set up.  This included everthing from the ability to time 1/4 miles and 0-60 runs, to braking and even a G meter.  I must say this is very trick.  The head unit in this Challenger was the optional Uconnect system.  It is hard drive based and easy to use.  Something of note is that automatic climate control is not currently available in the Challenger.  While this does not bother me, it seems to irk some when they see the price tag on this particular car.  Did I mention the seats?  Overall, I liked the interior.

Like the other SRT8’s, the engine bay is filled with a 6.1 liter HEMI V-8 pumping out 425 horsepower to the rear wheels.  The power is channeled through either a pistol-grip six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.  I had the later and it was acceptable.  I noted the block of the engine was painted orange in a nod to the history of this vehicle , and I really liked that little detail.

I drove this car in town during the week and went up north during the weekend.  On the open highway the car was a very comfortable cruiser.  Composed at any speed, it enjoys straight lines.  When the turns start coming the car can handle it, but this is no light weight.  The car weighs over 4,000 lbs!  On the way back from up north I had my mother, girlfriend and sister all in the Challenger SRT8, along with a full trunk.  After the nearly four-hour drive I asked how they fared.  Only the person behind me (the driver) said it was cramped.  I still managed to average 22.7 mpg on that highway jaunt with the cruise control set at 77 mph.  In the city I averaged 16.5 mpg, and that included downtown stop and go along with suburb and highway driving.  The car is rated at 13/19, which I easily exceeded.

So what do I make of this modern day remake of the Challenger?  It’s big, it’s comfy (did I mention the seats?) while being somewhat practical for what it is.  A ton of fun, but at a price.  Ringing in at $44,940, this is no cheap trick.  That is a lot of coin considering what Ford and Chevrolet are offering now with the new Mustang and Camaro.  Still, this car has a different personality then both of those cars, and I think it sells on its own merits.  Would I recommend the Challenger? In a heart beat!  Now, if you asked if it is better then the Mustang or Camaro? I would say that is all in your definition of better.

Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by Dodge

Video – Overview of the 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

Massive Pile of Chevrolet Venture Fail

I know I know, but seriously when I laid eyes on it my heart told me I must share this with the world on the interwebz. This lovely piece of fail was spotted outside the local Macaroni Grill. In fact after taking pictures I saw it later on the highway. It is as if the fail itself is stalking me. As if having the front of a PT Cruiser and the rest of a Chevrolet Venture was not bad enough, someone decided to give it a stretch! Just horrid. By the way, up close the fit an finish on that front end…yea not so much. Where do people come up with these ideas? Seriously…

SPOTTED – Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine!

That is right folks!  Over the weekend I spotted The Mystery  Machine right here in Minnesota.  While Scooby Doo and the crew were no where to be seen the woman and child inside the van seemed to enjoy the attention.  Funny because I spotted them again later  in the afternoon on the highway.  Oh one last thing, I am no expert but I am fairly certain The Mystery Machine was not a Dodge….

LEAKED – 2011 Jeep Wrangler Interior Image

As many have reported the 2011 Jeep Wrangler will have an all new interior. Allpar had some terrific spy shots anonymously sent into them of the new interior. It appears a low sheen soft touch pad will be on top off the dash and on the door panels. The steering wheel is either lifted from the new 2011 Grand Cherokee or is very similar along with the shift knob. The 2011 Wranglers will also have the option of the hard tops painted to match the exterior color. For all the changes and details of the 2011 Jeep Wrangler head over to Allpar.

Source- Allpar

REVEALED – 2011 Ford Explorer


Source- AutoBlog

Review – 2010 Dodge Charger SRT8

The Dodge Charger hit the scene back in 2005 and made quite a splash.  That splash was two fold:  firstly the fact that many people were less then thrilled that the Charger name was applied to a four door sedan.  If you remember, the original Dodge Charger was a 2 door.  The second part was the bold and in your face styling, which was fresh and really spoke to many people.  The Charger has now been on the market since 2005 with only a few major changes (depending on how you look at it).  So lets dive in and see how this once-popular muscle car has fared.

The Charger has a bold styling that can be described as chunky by some.  The SRT8 kicks it up a notch, but in a subtle way.  The hood has an integrated scoop that is functional, funneling outside air into the engine bay to keep that large engine nice and cool.  The front end is lower to the ground and slightly more aggressive.  There is a belt line that runs from the top of the headlights down the side into the rear “haunches” that begin at the rear of the back doors.  These haunches go over the rear wheels and into the tail lights.  The tail lights are one piece but they have been refreshed and now have four (two on each side) circles.  The trunk has a small but raised spoiler.  It is tasteful, but I still wonder if I would want it on my SRT8.  The spoiler is attached by four bolts and I think it could be removed (not that I tried).  The wheels are 20-inches, and ride on low profile tires.  My favorite line on the whole car is the intersection of the belt line and the shoulders in the rear.  It almost looks like a lightning bolt.

The interior was originally a horrible mess.  The materials when the car launched were all hard plastic.  I am not talking about just any plastic.  We are talking about plastic that even Lego would reject for quality control.  Back in 2008, a mild refresh fixed that, and everything you touch and even most things you do not are now soft touch.  Very little hard plastic is still left.  The belt line is high, which makes it feel smaller then it really is.  Sight lines are surprisingly good.  The interior has tons of space both in the front and back.  The rear seats fold down almost flat – the bolsters prevent them from being perfectly flat.  That said, it is nice to see that they are able to fold.  This increases functionality for hauling large items.  The seats were very well bolstered and more then comfortable.  The bolsters are leather and the center of the seat is a suede-like material that keeps you from sliding when driving aggressively.

The SRT8 is powered by not just any HEMI but the HEMI.  The 6.1 liter HEMI puts out 425 horsepower and 420 pound feet to the rear wheels.  The power is channeled through a one-choice five-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting capabilities.  No manual is offered, though how cool would it be if they offered the pistol grip six-speed from the Challenger?  This engine just sounds terrific. You literally just want to slam the gas to hear it over and over again.  Of course you would expect with this amount of power this car has, mileage suffers- -and you would be correct.  It is rated by the EPA at 13/19 mpg, I saw an average of 14.3 mpg with a mix of city and suburb driving.

This car drives like a big sports car.  Wait – well not like just any sports car.  This is not a Porsche, rather this is a large car.  It will push in the corners and you will feel its weight.  That said, it is very composed. It drives European-like which should be no surprise, because the basic frame and transmission is a hand-me-down from the 1999 generation Mercedes Benz E Class (W210).

I actually was moving when the Charger SRT8 was in my possession.  I used this vehicle to see just how practical it was in daily service.  The seats folding down helped and the trunk swallowed a surprisingly large amount of boxes.  The subwoofer in the corner of the trunk did eat into some of the cargo space, but that is minimal.  The practicality of this vehicle was demonstrated in spades.

Alright so what do we have here?  Well, it is practical for a sports car.  A large trunk and large interior while still going like a bat out of hell.  I already know what you are going to say – but Joel it gets crappy gas mileage.  To that I say this – it gets no worse then my Jeep and many other SUV’s that Americans love, yet it is a heck of a lot more fun to drive.  This Charger SRT8 was fully loaded and had a sticker price of $43,730 and that is a lot of coin.  You can get any of the other new muscle cars such as the new Chevrolet Camaro SS or Ford Mustang GT with just as much power, better fuel economy and for a lot less coin.  But they do not have four doors.  It is all about what you need and or want.  I would say this is a great family sedan for the guy that simply wants fast but can not compromise and get a two door. With the Pontiac G8 GXP now dead and gone, this is one of the cheapest four-door sports sedans that houses over 400 hp.

Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by Chrysler

LEAKED – 2012 Dodge Durango (Magnum?)

As previously reported the new upcoming 2012 Dodge Durango (or is that Magnum?) is coming very soon.  In fact if earlier leaks are correct the new Durango should start production on November 8.  That is pending that the production is still on schedule or that the schedule has not shifted.  Judging by this picture which is obviously in the factory or near the pre-production line the vehicle is probably on schedule.

The design has not changed much from the earlier leaks which is to say it is strong but dramatically different from the current Durango.  The Durango (Magnum?) will be based on the new Grand Cherokee platform though probably a little longer due to third row.  The powertrain line up will also mimic the new 2011 Grand Cherokee with the Pentastar V6 and Hemi V8.

Source- Twitter

Video – Overview of the 2010 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited