Tag Archives: SUV

Review – 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel AWD: The Durango’s Back

I remember when the Dodge Durango first came out. It was a sharp looking truck-based SUV. Then, the second generation came out and it all went to heck. The styling was a mess, the interior materials would make Lego cry, and it was just plain ugly. Now we have a third generation Durango which is based on the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. I spent a week with it to find out if it is a sharp looking SUV or another mess that would make Lego cry. Read More…

Fail – Mercedes-Benz 190E Converted Into A Crossover SUV

In Russia, we make SUV out of car! No, seriously, someone in Russia has decided to take this innocent Mercedes-Benz 190E and convert it into a SUV?

You might be saying to yourself: gee that 190E looks awfully short. Well that is because the owner chopped the rear end and then raised the ride height. That was just for starters.

One the vehicle was done being chopped and raised, fake bull bars made out of what appears to be PVC piping, were fitted around the vehicle. You know, for protection.

Once the “protection” was in place, it appears that the off-roader was painted in Rhino Liner? It is described as a “stealth paint job,” whatever that means.

Finishing off this piece of awesome is the rear mounted spare tire and headlight guards.

The vehicle is apparently dubbed the “E90.”

So you decide, is this a piece of awesome, or some horrible project gone wrong.

[Auto Motto]

Review – 2011 Kia Sorento EX: The Power To Surprise

Kia’s tagline is “The Power To Surprise,” and as of late they have truly been surprising. Revamping an entire vehicle line-upand adding new models all within a very short period of time is no small feat. First there was the new Soul followed by the new Forte, and now they have completely revamped the Sorento.

If you do not remember the last generation Sorento, no one will fault you. It was nothing special, just another body on frame SUV that got lost in the crowd selling on price, not features. Some compared its looks to the first generation Lexus RX300, which some would view as a compliment.

The front of the Sorento features Kia’s new signature grille, flanked by swept-back headlights. In some ways the headlights almost look related to the Acura TL. The honeycomb grille is matched by honeycomb surrounds for the fog lights, which which are placed in the bumper. The way light from the fog lights hits the ground makes them almost act more like driving lights then actual fog lights.

The sides of the Sorento have two sculpting points – one runs the length of the window sills until it flows into the C-pillar. The second sculpting point is low near the bottom of the doors. This brings in the sides to give the Sorento a less slab sided appearance.

The wheels on this particular Sorento were 18-inch alloys which fit nicely within the wheel wells. The side mirrors had LED repeaters while the tail lights continued with the honeycomb look from the front grille. While the front has more design character then the rear, I would say overall the exterior is a huge win.

Like the exterior, the interior is mostly a win. The new corporate steering wheel has buttons for most major functions, and they are strategically placed so your hands do not leave the wheel as often. The dashboard is made of hard plastic, but it looks decent. The interior lighting is ret and the gauges are white and red, which make them very easy on the eyes while driving at night.

The seats were all day comfortable, though the side bolsters on the front seat backs were a bit hard. The rear seat can easily accommodate three people, with a nearly a flat floor for your feet. The rear seats do fold down 60/40, but not completely flat due to the design of the rear seat bottoms.

If I had one major gripe about the interior, it would be the navigation system. The system itself works terrific and the street names are very legible with no jagged fonts. However, the system warning each and every time you turn on the car takes forever to allow you to hit accept and move past the warning screen. I am talking a ridiculously long time. There is standard iPod integration, along with Sirius satellite radio and Bluetooth.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the front seat heaters – they worked quite well, although they aren’t the fastest to heat up. Once on, they performed on par with what a Minnesotan would expect.

The only interior trim piece I could really find an issue with was the main center piece of plastic covering the front of the steering wheel. The top cut line was uneven and somewhat jagged. While disappointing, overall I was impressed with the build quality inside the cabin. While hard plastics are used in many places, all touch points such as arm rests and other areas were covered in a leatherette-like material. The interior is, without question, very class competitive.

The Sorento I was in had the base 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine putting out 175 horsepower and 169 pound feet to the front wheels. A V-6 and all-wheel drive is optional. The power is put down through a one-choice six-speed automatic with a manual shifting gate to the left. Off the line the Sorento has adequate power, but once up to speed you will need to plan your passes carefully. Highway passing is not a point and shoot decision. I also noticed that the transmission often got confused as to what it should do. When slowing to a stop from about 30 MPH the transmission would sometimes not know when to shift and suddenly make a large clunk as it shifted into a lower gear. It felt like a programming issue, though it could be an issue with this particular Sorento.

I wonder if Kia plans to put the four-cylinder from the new Optima, which puts out 200 hp and 186 lb-ft , into the Sorento as the base engine in the future. The slight bump in power would possibly help the situation with passing power on the highway. The new 2.0-liter turbo that is coming in the Optima would also be a good engine option, since it has more horsepower and torque then the optional V6.

Driving the Sorento was enjoyable for the most part. I averaged 18.8 mpg in the city and 25.2 mpg on the highway. A bit lower then the 21/29 EPA rating. The suspension is a little firm though that didn’t bother me. With that firm suspension came quite a bit of noise over rough surfaces. On the highway more road noise made its way into the cabin then expected, though it was acceptable, just not class leading.

The Sorento I was in was a EX with both the limited package and premium package 1. With a total of $3,750 in options the sticker price on this Sorento EX was $29,340 after destination. That puts it right in the heart of the CUV segment.

With competitors like the new Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Rav4, Ford Edge and many others, the Sorento can’t be just good enough, it has to be great. There is no question that Kia has good design direction both inside and out. The four-cylinder powertrain is adequate, but I’d probably opt for the V-6. The bottom line, if you are in the market for a CUV to haul the family around, you would be making a large mistake if you didn’t have the Sorento on your list. Turns out Kia’s marketing slogan does work – with its new styling language, the new Sorento really does have the power to surprise.

Full Disclosure – The review vehicle was provided by Kia

Review – 2011 Porsche Cayenne S: Finally the Porsche of SUV’s?

Back when the first generation Porsche Cayenne came out Porschephiles (that might not have been a word, but it is now) howled!  They were grabbing their pitch forks and heading to Stuttgart.

The first generation Cayenne was heavy, it could definitely go off road and it was much more capable then most any owner would ever demand of it.  But was it a good vehicle?  That depends on your definition of good.

As I just mentioned above, the first generation was heavy.  The interior was not made of the best quality materials in certain spots (far too many certain spots).  Sure, it could go off road but who really did that with it once they owned it?

What about on-road driving?  Yeah it drove like a Porsche of SUVs, but you could feel the heft.  Yet despite that, the first generation Cayenne quickly become the best-selling Porsche model.  So did the second-generation fix those problems and finally become the true Porsche of SUV’s?

Exterior

The front of the Cayenne has evolved.  It has taken on the look of the new Panamera sedan.  The headlights are very similar and the LED daytime running lights are great looking.  The rear is no longer blocky and square looking, rather it has hips (if you will) and they curve with the tail lights which are LED and very bright at night.  The tail lights are also similar to those found on the new Panamera.  The sides have a nip and tuck towards the bottom with some nice sculpting.  The exterior has been throughly updated and overall feels more taught. The styling falls right in line with the new Panamera.

Interior

As mentioned before, the last generation’s Cayenne interior was nothing to write home about.  In fact it was worse then that, but we wont go into that.  Good news!  The interior of the latest Cayenne is all that and a bag of Skittles.  Have you been in the new Panamera?  Have you been in the last generation Cayenne?  Mix the few good things from the old Cayenne and most everything else from the new Panamera and you have the new Cayenne.  The grab handles between the seats are still there, but the rest was dumped for the new Panamera interior.  The center console rises to meet the dash between the seats.  The touch screen works well and is not ridiculously confusing.  The materials are top notch, though like the Panamera there is a sea of buttons.  Luckily, they are grouped together by function.  The rear seats slide fore and aft to either give rear seat occupants more leg room or to gain more cargo room.  The interior fit and finish, along with materials all meet the bar that was raised in the Porsche line up by the Panamera.

Powertrain

The new Cayenne has three current engine choices, with a hybrid model on the way.  For now, we will focus on the Cayenne S model I was in.  The Cayenne S features the same 4.8-liter direct-injection V-8 that is in the Panamera S sedan.  Pumping out 400 horsepowerp and 369 lb-ft to all four wheels, this is no slouch of an engine.  The power is put down through an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode.  Note that this is not the newer PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) transmission in some other new Porsches.  This setup is good for a quoted 5.6 second 0-60 run and a top speed of 160 mph (after all, it is a Porsche).  The Cayenne S is rated at 16/22 MPG and I saw an average of 16.2 mpg in mixed city driving.  The engine features auto start/stop technology for fuel savings at stop lights and in heavy traffic.

This is only when enough energy has been stored from braking.  It is fairly smooth and not intrusive, but you can notice when the V-8 shuts down and starts up.  To lose some of that weight (the new Cayenne is over 400 pounds lighter then the last generation) Porsche dropped the mechanical locking differential and went to a electronic locking differential, among other things.  The weight loss is hugely noticeable!  It feels like the Cayenne went to fat kid camp and came back not only looking leaner, but driving leaner as well.

Overall, this new Cayenne is better in every way compared the original.  I sincerely doubt most any owner is going to miss the mechanical locking differential and accompanying hardware.  The weight loss is noticeable and makes for a better overall vehicle.  The look is leaner, more taught and overall a nice evolution.

The Cayenne S has a base price of $63,700, but as with any Porsche the options list is more then plentiful and they add up quite quickly.  The options list on this exact Cayenne S is a small laundry list but added up to a total of $21,940!  Again, that was not fully loaded.  Total price for the Cayenne S I was in came to $86,615.

While that is not a cheap date, it certainly more worthy of its price tag then the last-generation Cayenne.  This lighter, more luxurious, better handling, better looking Cayenne is the Porsche of SUV’s.  One last thing – there is a lot of competition with more coming so while it is the Porsche of SUV’s, is that enough?  Probably, and it will most likely continue to be one of Porsche’s best selling vehicles, right next to the Panamera.

Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by a local Porsche dealership

CUV’s – Perception vs. Reality

Recently, I had a conversation with a baby boomer about her vehicle.  She drives a Honda CR-V and tells me she likes it.  It came up during the conversation that she thought her CR-V was a truck.  I started asking questions and digging into why she might think this.  Apparently, it has to do with the raised ride height, all-wheel drive, and overall vehicle appearance.  I then, as gently as I could, informed her that her “truck” was not really a truck, rather it was what many refer to as a CUV.  CUV stands for crossover utility vehicle and these are not “trucks” in the traditional sense.

When SUV’s first came onto the market, they were little more then short trucks with four doors.  They have since evolved, but many people in the general public see current CUV’S and traditional SUV’s as the same.  A CUV isn’t like a normal SUV in many ways – starting with the fact that they aren’t body on frame vehicles.  They are unibody and essentially based off car platforms.  They aren’t designed for the same capabilities as a traditional SUV.  The aforementioned baby boomer from earlier was shocked to learn that her CR-V is based off a car.

CUV’s still have all-wheel drive, but most do not have off-road capabilities or even a low range like a traditional four-wheel drive. However, there are some that have locking differentials for deeper snow and sticky situations.  Interestingly enough, many CUV’s are more capable then most consumers will ever need.  With all that said, towing capacities are much lower then that of a typical SUV.  The current Ford Explorer is a typical SUV, being body on frame.  That will all be changing though with the new version that is set to go on sale at the end of this year/beginning of next year.  The next generation Explorer went more mainstream, being unibody.  This trend is continuing to expand among other SUV’s, including the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee (though the Grand Cherokee has always been unibody).  The 2011 Grand Cherokee will also be unibody, though it will still retain hard core off -road capabilities in certain trim levels.

What this all boils down to is perception.  People seem to want an “SUV”, but they do not want the many things associated with them.  That list includes, but isn’t limited to, poor gas mileage, rough ride, sloppy handling and many other things.  There are things people still want though – like increased ride height and the idea of off road capabilities.  So what does this mean?  It means that people want some characteristics of the SUV and not others – and that poses a challenge to marketers.

Video – Overview of the 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

Video – Overview of the 2010 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited

Review – 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

I wanted to start this review off by stating how much I really like the current Chevrolet Tahoe. As far as larger body on frame SUV’s go, I like it a lot. When I received word I would have a Tahoe Hybrid to review, my first thought was how interesting it would be. Since I like the regular Tahoe, would I like the hybrid? After a week, lets dive in and find out.

The exterior of the current Tahoe is terrific. Changes were necessary in many areas on the exterior for the Hybrid model. These changes were for improvements to aerodynamics, which include a different grille, new lower air dam which is much lower to the ground, slight sculpting in the rear rocker panels and other little things. The wheels are also a different design, and are wrapped in low rolling resistance tires. The Tahoe is a sharp vehicle but the lower front air dam on the hybrid looks somewhat awkward to me. The lower ground clearance in the front meant I scraped the front end on a few driveway entrances. This is a full-size SUV in which I can scrape the bottom front air dam on a driveway entrance. That somewhat bothered me! I also like the non-hybrid grilles slightly better. Other then the front end and wheels, you will not notice a huge difference between the hybrid and regular Tahoe aside from the hybrid badges. Though I am not a huge fan of all the necessary aerodynamic changes, the Tahoe is still a looker and the hybrid model is not that much worse.

I also like the interior of the regular Tahoe and not many changes were made for the hybrid.  The battery pack resides under the second row of seats.  They can tumble fully forward.  The third row tumbles forward but does not fold flat like the current generation Ford Expedition and can be fully removed, but they are not light.  Make sure you do not have a bad back!  Also make sure you have somewhere to store them.  The front seats are very comfortable and will be easy to take a long road trip with.  The navigation unit is still disc based and the resolution on the particular unit in this Tahoe hybrid had a somewhat fuzzy aspect to it.  The words and everything just did not seem as crisp as other units I have seen from GM of the same variety.  You do have a hybrid mode screen where you can see exactly what is happening with the powertrain.  I found that,while it was cool, ultimately I would rather have the navigation map up or the radio station presets.  I found that to be more useful.  The gauge cluster has plenty of information to inform you what mode you are running in and how much power is coming from where.  The rest of the interior is standard Tahoe, which is nice – however a power lift gate on a SUV with this price tag would not be a lot to ask for.  Not to mention the lack of telescoping steering wheel!  Overall, the interior is a nice place to spend your time, but small changes could be made to enhance it.

The powertrain is a 6.0 liter Vortec V8 with active fuel management, along with two 60 kilowatt electric motors.  This was a four-wheel drive model, so the power can be pushed to the rear wheels or all four depending on the mode.  The transmission is a “2-mode” system that was developed in collaboration with Daimler and BMW.  The transmission essentially works in two modes, one in the city at speeds below 40 miles per hour an one at speeds above 40 miles per hour. Essentially one is a city mode and one is a highway mode.  They are trying to maximize both conditions with less compromises. It is a somewhat unique approach, seeing as most hybrids do not focus on highway mileage as much as city mileage.  I was highly impressed with the overall system.  The switching between battery and gasoline, as well as the combination of both, was very smooth.  I noticed the engine was operating in four-cylinder mode a lot more often then the Silverado I recently had with active fuel management.  This tells me that the settings are much more aggressive due to the battery and electric motor assistance.  The EPA rates the mileage at 21/22 mpg.  I saw an average of 19.6 mpg in mixed city driving.

The battery pack

The total bill for this Tahoe after options and everything was $56,810 including destination.  The only two options on this particular vehicle was the entertainment/destination package which was $2,390 and the red jewel tintcoat paint for $395.  Many features that are optional on non-hybrid models or that you need to upgrade trim levels for normally, are standard on the hybrid model – including the navigation package.  The base price for the Tahoe Hybrid with four wheel drive is $53,525.

So at the end of the week, did I like the Tahoe hybrid as much as I like the Tahoe?  The reality of it is that the powertrain and driving experience is much more seamless and refined then I imagined it would be.  I was highly impressed in that regard.  The bottom line, if you are in the market for a full-size (body on frame) SUV and care about the environment mileage numbers, then the Tahoe Hybrid delivers on the promise of better fuel economy with a refined hybrid experience.

Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by General Motors

Betting on the Little Guy

Americans in general have never associated small cars with high price tags.  They are seen as regular transportation and not premium vehicles.  In Europe this is simply not the case rather small cars are very popular and the price tags are not cheap.  They are fully featured cars with options many small cars do not have in the U.S.  With the new CAFE standards coming soon automakers in the U.S. are starting to realize that maybe we need to be a little more like Europe.  Smaller cars with higher fuel efficiency and more options.

The Detroit Auto Show was all about downsizing.  Engines were being downsized using lower displacement and it is all about getting more from less.  Utilizing forced induction both in the way of turbo charging and super charging the automakers are doing what they can with the latest technologies.  It is going farther then that.

Americans are realizing they need less.  Not everyone technically needs a Suburban to haul the kids to soccer practice.  The reality of it is when you are taking two kids to soccer practice you are not towing a 25 foot boat.  In fact most people that have large vehicles do not need them at all.  It is a perception and comfort thing.  While I know some of you are readying your pitch forks, just hear me out.  Yes, some people do need their large vehicles.  Some people actually do need SUV’s.  I drive an SUV and do use it to tow boats up north.  If we weigh out how much I need an SUV it is probably more then some but still less then others.

Interior of the 2012 Ford Focus

The automotive manufacturers are starting to bet on the little guys.  Ford’s new small car line up will begin with the new Fiesta.  The Fiesta has a base price just above $13,000 but that price can get very close to $25,000 after customizing it with a myriad of options.  Next Ford debuted the next generation Focus as a 2012 model at NAIAS last month.  The new Focus will be more refined while offering more options and features.  While they have not talked pricing you can naturally assume it will cost more.  The current Focus pricing starts a little over $16,000 topping out around $22,000.  It is estimated by some that while the base price of the the new Focus will increase slightly, a fully optioned Focus might approach $30,000.  That is a lot of coin for a small car.  The question is, are Americans willing to pay a premium on these new small cars?  Some are probably scratching their heads saying how could they charge so much.  We as Americans have been asking for the same product that Europe has been getting for years.  Ford has finally listened and decided it would be cheaper to amortize costs, thus the “ONE Ford” strategy comes to play.  Cars will be developed by Ford to be sold globally with minor changes for safety regulations and such.

2011 Chevy Cruze

Chevrolet is betting on the new Cruze to carry its sales in the compact car market.  This new model will replace the lackluster Cobalt which itself replaced the Cavalier.  The new Cruze is said to be rated at 40 mpg on the highway which is an impressive number to be sure.  The car is said to be dynamic to drive and offer the premium feel of a larger car.  That is exactly what these smaller cars with larger price tags will have to do.

So will we Americans embrace these smaller cars with larger price tags?  I think it all depends on where the starting price tag is.  This all goes back to my post about why strippers are important.  The base price on a model is what seems to drive traffic to show rooms.  Maybe that will change with time and it will be features that drive customers to the showroom.  One thing is for sure, the pricing and options work in Europe where people are paying more for less.  Are you really getting less?  In the end it is all about how you look at it.  You are getting more miles per gallon, you are getting more technology and amenities all in a slightly smaller package.  So the question is, will people buy these small cars that all the auto manufactures are betting on?

Go Big or Go Home- Not Anymore

“Go big or go home.”  This saying was something I learned at a early age as ‘the American way.’ The American way has had many trends, and many of these trends move over to the auto industry.  The winds are changing at our doors again.

1984 Dodge Caravan

1984 Dodge Caravan

In 1984 Dodge introduced the world to the Dodge Caravan.  These were an instant success as they were a better option than driving around in a station wagon.  The concept of a minivan appealed to families hauling the kids with lots of gear.  With decent fuel economy and the ability to haul lots of people and luggage, it is no wonder why the minivan was a hit.  Once the initial fad wore off, the minivan started getting the soccer mom name plate.

1991 Ford Explorer

Once the minivan was no longer the ‘cool’ vehicle to be pulling up to soccer practice in, something had to took its place.  This was the birth of the SUV fad.  Having a vehicle that sat up higher made people feel like they were the king of the road.  The higher seating position and the four wheel drive capability gave people the sense of safety and security.  With poor fuel economy and un-necessary running costs for most people, the SUV was truly a symbol of what Americans thought they needed.

1999 Cadillac Escalade

1999 Cadillac Escalade

In 1999, Ford’s premium brand, Lincoln, introduced the Navigator. The Navigator was essentially a rebadged Ford Expedition.  Sales were successful enough that General Motors felt it was necessary to rush something into production that would compete with the Cadillac badge.  General Motors immediately rebadged the GMC Yukon Denali to become what was known as the first generation Escalade.  This is when SUV’s became the status symbol in America.  It was no longer cool to just have a SUV. You needed a large, premium badged SUV.

Now we skip forward to last summer.  Gas prices hit an all time high in the U.S. and people stopped their love affair with SUV’s as quickly as it started.  People started switching the SUV status symbol to hybrids.  It is always amazing to see how short term American’s memories are.  Now that gas prices have gone down significantly from last summers, we are getting back into buying SUV’s.  That said, something else has happened since last year and it is larger then just the auto industry.  The economy has been hit hard and so have people’s pocket books.  This has hurt auto sales across the board. Everything from the Toyota Prius to the Chevrolet Suburban, no one was immune to the down turn.  Sales are starting to pick up again, and people are going back slowly.  The main factor seems to be that people still like SUV’s but they want them more fuel efficient.  The new 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is rated at 32mpg on the highway.  This is very good milage for a crossover SUV since the first SUV’s were averaging 17mpg on the highway.

green-vehicle-main-imageIt seems the tides have turned once again, and people are now in love with SUV’s and good fuel mileage.  The old adage “go big or go home” seems to have turned “go green or go home”.