Archive | October, 2010

The Stig Visits Imola Motorsports

Some kids grow up thinking Superman and Batman are the superheroes. Kids that are obsessed with automotive industry consider characters like the Stig from Top Gear as the new age super hero. Oh heck, I even consider him a super hero, kind of.

While the Stig normally resides in Europe, recently we learned the new Top Gear USA will indeed have a Stig. On Wednesday a Stig dropped by Imola Motorsports here in Minneapolis to schedule an oil change. Yes, he dropped by to schedule an oil change. You know, because if he changed his own oil he might get that pretty white track suite dirty.

We can naturally assume this is not the Stig, it still reeks of awesome. So on this frosty Friday morning the question needs to be asked, where have you seen the Stig lately? Oh and good citizens of Minneapolis, keep your eyes peeled for this white suited fella.

The Jeep Rocks And Road Tour Visits Minneapolis

This past weekend the Jeep Rocks and Road Tour visited Minneapolis. The tour is supposed to let people experience the capabilities of Jeep’s legendary vehicles. There is both on-road and off-road demonstrations provided, along with other fun-filled activities.

The tour in Minneapolis took over and transformed a vacant parking lot across from the Mall of America. The end result? A mud pit. Well it wasn’t a mud pit on Friday and Saturday. However, when I arrived on Sunday morning it was, due to rainfall Saturday night.

Though that did not make the event any less fun. The first thing I took part in was the Jeep Owner’s Playground. This was a course set up exclusively for current Jeep owners. If you brought your own Jeep you could take it through this course. The course had everything from a few high banked sand hills and rock trail, to a large hill with three humps to climb.

I was the first to hit the Owners Playground for the day. After about four runs, the large hill started to get too slick and the sides started to let me slide just a bit too much. The issue was all the rain from the night before. The entire course was becoming a sloppy mess. For safety, they shut down the large hill not long after my fourth run.

They also had plenty to do for non-Jeep owners. The main attraction was clearly the ability to drive the current line up of Jeeps on the main off-road course. Unfortunately the course had become so slick due to the rain that consumers were not allowed to drive.

Instead you were taken on the course with a professional driver. I was told a consumer did go first thing in the morning and walked away with eyes wide open. I took that to mean: “we could’ve had a problem, but we had the right staff on hand.”  I was glad to see safety was the first priority.

I went for a ride in the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited (Unlimited means four door). Naturally, the course was nothing this Jeep couldn’t handle – it took each obstacle in stride. Though the large 20 foot mountain was closed due to being too slick, I was told the Jeeps could make it up the mountain just fine. However, due to being so slick they might come down with more speed then they felt was safe.

Next up I visited the on-road course. This time I chose the new 2011 Grand Cherokee Laredo for the drive. The new Grand Cherokee handled the washboard section much better then my current 1999 Grand Cherokee would have, mainly due to the new suspension. The vehicle also had a decent turning radius. The steering was on center, though maybe too light? I would need more seat time to give that statement without a question mark.

For the kids Jeep had both a climbing wall and Jeep branded Power Wheels mini vehicles. This set up satisfied the different age groups. No matter what, families had something to do for the kids. Also on hand was a Jeep Wrangler Islander edition. The task was to see who could unlatch and take down the soft top the fastest. The last station/task was essentially a balancing act, literally.

They had a Jeep Compass on a wooden platform that was set on a log. The goal was to balance the Compass on the platform so either side of the platform was not touching the ground. I was informed only a few people have achieved the task, and it really is almost luck. I tried for over ten minutes, only to get severely frustrated. I failed, though for the record, I came close. Finally I gave up, but only because another person wanted a try.

Of course, other things were on hand to look at. The new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland was in a tent to sit in and play with. A very old Jeep Willys (?) was on hand, though no touching was allowed. Also on site were quite a few modified Jeep Wranglers, one with a regular 5.7 liter HEMI and another with a 6.7 liter HEMI. Both were quite beastly.

Overall the Jeep Road and Rock Tour was a very entertaining way to spend my Sunday morning. Even with some drizzling rain and the course turned to a mud pit, it was a blast.

Everyone there seemed to be enjoying themselves, even the staff! You can tell many of the staff are true enthusiasts themselves. That really does add to the experience and energy level. Until the Jeep Rocks and Road Tour rolls through town again, drive safe and clean the mud off your undercarriage.

Photography- Alex Bellus

Review- 2011 GMC Sierra 2500HD: All New In All The Right Places

Big trucks and Americans – they go together like McDonalds and fries right? Well until recently, they certainly did! With the crash of the economy, the rise of gasoline prices and many people selling their recreational toys, a lot has changed.

Not as many people are buying big trucks to haul big toys around while still using them for daily driving. The overall cost is just too much.

Where does that leave us? People that really need them are buying more and more of the big trucks we see on the road. Construction workers, contractors, mechanics, and the list goes on. These are the people that rely on their trucks day in and day out, through the heat and the cold. They need the truck to get the job done.

GMC recently launched their all-new 2011 Sierra 2500HD to compete with the refreshed competition. Looking at the truck, you might not notice that it is all-new. The money was spent where it should be (for a truck), mainly on the powertrain and the frame/suspension.

The sheet metal itself is essentially the same. The main changes to the exterior consist of a larger grille up and air inlets up front for better cooling. Luckily for GMC, the Sierra wasn’t a bad looking truck to begin with.

The interior is also essentially unchanged. With a functional design, the interior is terrific for its larger buttons and gauges. It makes the truck a great work truck for people that are wearing gloves.

Plenty of storage cubbies are strewn about the cabin and the seats are firm and supportive, though a little flat on the bottoms. Like the last generation heavy duties and the current Silverados, the interior has quite a bit of hard plastic. I am glad they decided to spend the money elsewhere though instead of gussying up the cabin.

The frame of a truck along with the powertrain and suspension are, in my opinion, the three most important aspects. GMC agrees and that is where the focus was laser pinpointed. A new fully boxed frame sits beneath the sheet metal. The front suspension is independent (unlike Ford and Dodge’s heavy duties), while the rear has wider leaf springs. The ride is fairly impressive, even when unloaded.

The truck I was in was equipped with GM’s 6.0 liter gasoline V-8. It pushes out 397 horsepower and 400 pound feet to the rear (or all four) wheels, through a one choice six-speed transmission. I was impressed with the transmission programming, as it wasn’t jumping at the chance to upshift every second.

Instead, it did its best to stay in the meat of the power band almost all the time. The programming clearly is focused more on towing rather then absolutely maximizing fuel mileage, which for this type of vehicle is terrific!

I take full responsibility as I messed up – I planned poorly for having this truck. Being so swamped with Fireball Run planning, the ball was dropped on making arrangements for some awesome towing. I assure you when I have another large truck (that’ll be soon), it will not happen again.

Is the new GMC Sierra 2500HD the king of the super duty hill? Well, I honestly can’t answer that. It is without a doubt a highly capable, heavy duty hauler though.

It is refined and powerful.  However, the competition has all upped their games and I have not had the opportunity to drive all of them. I will say this – if you are buying a new heavy duty truck, you would be making a mistake to at least not take a look at the new GMC Sierra 2500HD.

Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by General Motors

J.D. Power Automotive Internet Roundtable – See You There

Tomorrow I will be off to Vegas, only this time not to start a road rally. I will be covering the J.D. Power Automotive Internet Roundtable conference for Social Car News. The conference is Wednesday through Friday at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas, NV. Attendees of the conference range from retailers and OEMs, to agencies and automotive websites (hey that’s Social Car News!). The conference is a chance or people to discuss how we can move the automotive industry forward using the Internet. I look forward to the opportunity to meet with some great people and to discuss everything from traditional marketing to social media marketing. Make sure to follow Social Car News both on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

Video – Overview of the 2011 Lincoln MKT AWD Ecoboost

I just realized that for some reason I was sitting on this video. Not sure why but here it is. A short video overview of the 2011 Lincoln MKT AWD Ecoboost.

First Drive – 2010 Saab 9-5: Holy Crap Saab’s Alive!

Do you remember a car company called Saab? Don’t worry, I won’t fault you if you don’t. Just this past year they almost shuttered their doors forever. Crazy when you think about it. Well, they didn’t close the doors. In fact, they were bought by another car company called Spyker. Some of you haven’t heard of Spyker either, but that is for another post.

When Spyker bought Saab, the new 9-5 was already done, ready to roll down the assembly line and into dealerships. The production process was shut down during negotiations and then restarted once the deal with Spyker was inked. With new 9-5’s showing up in dealerships right now, I was eager to get behind the wheel and take one for a spin. Let’s go for a quick drive.

Exterior-

It’s funny, because I swear I’ve seen this look before. Oh that’s right, the new front end is very similar to the Aero X concept from a few years ago. The headlights have a light pipe on the bottom and the entire lens has a blue tint to it. The front clip is aggressive but not overly so.

There is slight sculpting on the side, tightly integrated near the bottom of the doors, while a character line runs the length of the vehicle. The rear is just….gorgeous, With the Saaby (yes, that is now a word) C-pillars and light pipes that run the entire width of the rear, I’m in love. The tail lights feature LEDs which play a part as a significant design element. The rear deck lid is short, but not odd looking in person. Overall, the exterior is a huge win.

Interior-

Take a Saab 9-5 interior that you imagine, throw great materials in it, terrific seats and a flat bottomed steering wheel. You now have the new Saab 9-5 interior.  And yes, there is a flat bottom steering wheel! The navigation unit is a touch screen, but it has plenty of buttons to get you around.

While the ignition is now a push button, Saab has not forgotten its roots. The ignition button is on the console in between the driver and passenger, just like it used to be. The night panel button (another Saab tradition) also remains. Let’s not forget about the green lightning and egg crate vents with single rotating knobs. There is a few GM parts bin items, like the wiper and turn stalks, but they work just fine. The gauge cluster has that trick round center screen also found on the Cadillac SRX. The rear seats have plenty of legroom for people over six-feet tall.

There is a lot of black surfaces in the new 9-5. This leads to a somewhat darker cabin. That isn’t a bad thing, but it is something I noted. The heads up display was easy to see in sunlight and you can turn it off if it proves distracting. Did I mention the comfy seats? I’ve gone on and on. The interior isn’t perfect, but it is worlds better then the last 9-5.

Powertrain-

The first 9-5’s will come in the highest trim level (Aero XWD) with the 2.8-liter turbo V-6 as standard. This setup puts 300 horsepower to all four wheels. 2010 is a very short model year for the 9-5, and the 2011s are slated to show up very soon. MY 2011 will bring a lower priced model, with a standard 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder making 220 HP. It will be available in front-or all-wheel drive forms.

The 2.8 liter turbo in my tester builds speed quickly, hitting 0-60 in around 6.8 seconds. This isn’t a “OMG that’s fast” feeling. It is more of a silent thrust forward. You will never be thrown into the back of your seat. While I haven’t had the chance to drive the 2.0-liter turbo yet, I heard that might be the engine for the enthusiasts. While down on power, it is also down on weight. Also, you can get the smaller engine with a six-speed manual – the turbo V6 is available only with a six-speed automatic.

The bottom line? This is the car that is supposed to help save Saab. It was developed by General Motors and is being launched by the new owners Spyker. With the right marketing this car could work. Of course, the company can’t survive off one car, but that is another story. The new Saab 9-5 is everything I hoped for. Comfortable, sporty and darn good looking.

MAMA Fall Rally – See You There

It is time once again for another MAMA rally. The fall rally is this Wednesday in Chicago, IL. It is much smaller then the spring rally which included track time at Road America Raceway. With over 50 new vehicles scheduled to be in attendance, not to mention the manufactures representatives, this should be a good day. Though I can only assume there will be no falling trees on Aston Martin’s, so drama should be a little lower then the spring rally. I will be tweeting and Facebooking to both my personal profiles along with The Car Connection, Motor Authority and Social Car News profiles.

Cars & Café – October 2, 2010

I know even when I am not at Cars & Café you wait eagerly the next Monday for a full run down. To be frank, I was on the Fireball Run this last weekend and my energy levels are dangerously low. So, not only did I miss this month’s Cars & Café but I haven’t even had the chance to get the full run down. Have no fear I wont leave you completely in the dark. Alex Bellus did attend and has provided a terrific photo gallery for your enjoyment. I’ve been informed this was the last Cars & Café for 2010. So until next year, dive safe and stay warm.