RSS icon Home icon
  • Heels and Wheels 2013

    Annual conference puts women in the driver’s seat

    By Nina Russin

    Aston Martin DB9

    I feel like the Queen: not the one with the Queen wave and frumpy clothes, but rather a Pussy Galore queen with Sean Connery by my side, oozing sex appeal and confidence. I don’t typically have Pussy Galore hallucinations, but I don’t usually get behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DB9 either. The experience was the highlight of my trip to the third annual Heels and Wheels women’s automotive conference in Bend, Oregon

    Of course, there was a more serious aspect to the event, its primary focus being the buying power of women, which currently accounts for at least 50 percent of all new car purchases and up to 80 percent of car buying decisions.

    According to Kelley Blue Book research Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Mazda and Volkswagen are the most popular brands among female buyers. Women tend to favor crossover vehicles and SUVs over sports cars and pickup trucks, with models such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 topping the popularity charts.

    The internet has become the most popular source of information among women shopping for a new car, due partly to the unease with which many women approach dealerships. KBB visitors typically research a vehicle for two months, take about three more months for the purchasing process and keep their cars between 8 and 10 years.

    Connectivity features are playing a larger role in purchase decisions, with Bluetooth and GPS both included among must-haves. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4X2

    SUV gets updated powertrain and refreshed styling

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

    This year, Jeep updates the Grand Cherokee introduced in 2010 with an eight-speed automatic transmission, enhanced off-road capability, a new Summit grade, diesel engine and refreshed styling. The eight-speed automatic that first rolled out on the Ram 1500 increases fuel economy to 25 mpg on the highway for the six-cylinder engine.

    Four-wheel drive models have a new speed control system that gives drivers better directional control on steep grades, while the new EcoDiesel V-6 tows up to 7300 pounds.

    Product planners also kept buyers’ budgets in mind, realizing that we are still living in shaky economic times. The base Laredo model tested starts at $28,795, excluding the $995 destination charge.

    Despite being the entry grade, the Laredo is by no means a stripped down car. A five-inch Uconnect touchscreen gives drivers access to satellite radio and HVAC settings, while a new TFT gauge cluster can be configured to provide vehicle information such as fuel economy, driving range and trip meter readings.

    Eighteen-inch aluminum painted wheels are standard equipment. Styling changes to the exterior include a redesigned grille and headlamps, larger LED tail lamps, redesigned tailgate and different rear fascias. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee/ Grand Cherokee SRT

    Mid-cycle refresh adds diesel engine, infotainment technology

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

    When Jeep launched the current Grand Cherokee two-and-a-half years ago, the new car redefined public perception of the brand. Jeep had long been known for its vehicles’ off-road capability, but suffered against competitors in terms of fit and finish.

    The 2012 Grand Cherokee maintained Jeep’s reputation for ruggedness, but added an interior rivaling premium brands. Athletes at the 2012 ALV of the Year program picked the Grand Cherokee over the Land Rover LR4.

    This year, Jeep refreshes the 2012 model with significant updates, adding a new V-6 diesel engine option with a 730-mile driving range between fill-ups. An eight-speed automatic transmission available across the line-up extends fuel economy, as well as improving the car’s launch characteristics.

    Engineers also enhanced the Grand Cherokee’s off-road capability with a speed control option that enables the driver to increase and decrease speeds by one kilometer increments for severe uphill and downhill grades.

    There are four trim levels, ranging from the base Laredo priced from $28,795 to the new Summit which sits above the Overland. Pricing for the volume-leading Limited model starts at $35,795, while the Overland is priced from $42,995. The new Summit grade starts at $47,995 for the rear-wheel drive car and $50,995 for the four-wheel drive version. Pricing does not include a $995 destination charge. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

    Ultimate off-roading machine gains power and capability

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Jeep Wrangler

    The Rubicon is the most off-road capable of any Wrangler model. With heavy duty front and rear axles, locking front and rear differentials and extensive skid plate protection, the Rubicon can traverse terrain that pedestrians would find difficult. I can vouch for this, having slid butt-first down scree on the trail the model is named for, while trying to photograph a group of Jeeps.

    This year, Jeep engineers took the Wrangler Rubicon to the next level with a new more powerful and fuel efficient engine, available five-speed automatic transmission, more aggressive rear axle ratios and a disconnecting front sway bar. The Wrangler tows up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV criteria.

    Engineering updates are the second phase of a Wrangler remake which began with an all-new interior last year. The current interior has softer touch-points, improved fit and finish, and some infotainment updates, including Uconnect voice-activated media center with Bluetooth interface.

    Base price for the Wrangler Rubicon is $29,995 excluding the $800 delivery charge. Options on the test car include the connectivity package described above ($385), heated leather front bucket seats ($900), a convenience group which includes power windows, remote keyless entry, power heated mirrors and power door locks ($685), five-speed automatic transmission with hill descent control ($1,125), body-color hard top, tinted windows and rear wiper ($1715), satellite radio, touchscreen display and 40 gigabyte downloadable hard drive ($1,035). MSRP is $36,640. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Jeep Compass Latitude 4X4

    Value-packed SUV gets styling and safety enhancements

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Jeep Compass

    Although the EPA classifies the Jeep Compass as a compact sport-utility vehicle, its roomy interior accommodates up to five passengers, with plenty of cargo space. The Compass is one of the most affordable Jeeps on the market, available as either a front or all-wheel drive model.

    Two off-road packages give the Compass the ability to navigate moderate off-road trails, with available low gear range, locking differential, and underbody cladding. The Freedom-Drive II Off-Road option also adds a full-sized spare, special tires, hill start assist and hill descent control.

    There are three available grades: Sport, Latitude and Limited. The mid-grade Latitude starts at $23,445 for the all-wheel drive model with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine: the larger of two available blocks. MSRP does not include a $780 destination fee.

    Last year, designers freshened the styling inside and out, by integrating cues from the Jeep Grand Cherokee, adding brighter headlamps, a new rear fascia to make the back end look more appealing, and using more soft-touch surfaces inside.

    In addition to its affordable sticker price, the Compass is economical to own, thanks to 23 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. I averaged 22.3 miles-per-gallon on my 100-mile test drive: slightly poorer than the EPA estimate.

    Buyers who opt for the front-wheel drive model will average slightly higher. There are two available transmissions: a five-speed manual and continuously variable automatic with manual gear selection.

    The test car has two option packages: the first adds a tire pressure display to the instrument panel, vehicle information center, automatic dimming rearview mirror and tonneau cover in the cargo area ($650). A Uconnect voice command package includes a USB port, voice-command application for the Bluetooth interface and satellite radio with a one year subscription ($780). Price as tested is $25,350. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Extended drive: 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4X4

    Off-road legend gains some urban chops

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

    Last fall, Jeep introduced the newest Wrangler: the four-by-four which, so to speak, started it all. The Wrangler’s roots date back to 1941, having been used for military purposes in World War II. Having driven the 2012 model on dirt roads and trails in the Tillamook National Forest, I feel comfortable in saying that none of the car’s legendary off-road capability has changed.

    From a practical point of view, the Wrangler needs to do more than shine off-road. With a MSRP beginning over $25,000 for the four-door model, it must be capable of serving as its owner’s only car. Realizing that, Jeep engineers focused as much on raising the 2012 model’s on-road performance as its off-road capability.

    Jeep Wrangler roots date back to the 1941 Willys

    Changes began with a more powerful V-6 engine, which lowers the Wrangler’s zero-to-sixty acceleration time by three seconds. The Pentastar V-6, which first appeared in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, delivers 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque: improvements of 40 and ten percent respectively over the old engine. For drivers merging from toll booths or entry ramps into rush hour traffic, the benefits of the power increase are huge.

    Side and rear glass areas are larger to improve visibility around the exterior. A lockable storage area for the hard top and bolts is a boon for urbanites. There are also two lockable storage areas in the passenger compartment: a glovebox and center console bin.

    Enhanced fit-and-finish and soft-touch surfaces make the Wrangler’s interior more appealing. Automatic climate control, heated seats, power mirrors and redundant steering wheel controls are important creature comforts. Bluetooth interface, satellite radio and UConnect appeal to tech-savvy buyers. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

    Iconic model is all-new from the inside out

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Jeep Wrangler

    Nothing says “four wheeling” quite the way a Jeep Wrangler does. Beginning in 2011 Jeep restyled the Wrangler’s interior and exterior, adding an available body-color hard top and fenders for the upscale Sahara. Designers made touch points on the interior, such as the door handles and center console cover, softer and more user-friendly. Buyers can continue to opt for cloth upholstery or upgrade to leather.

    The big news for 2012 is the Wrangler’s Pentastar V-6 engine: the same block which debuted on the 2011 Grand Cherokee. The engine improves the Wrangler’s performance in every way compared to the outgoing 3.8-liter block. It is lighter, offers better fuel economy and more power, with enhanced low-end torque.

    An 8.4-second zero-to-sixty acceleration time is a three second improvement over the 2011 models. The 2012 Wrangler can tow up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum standard.

    Buyers can choose between a five-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection and a six-speed manual gearbox. Both two and four-door models come in four grades: the base Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon.

    Pricing for both the Sport and Sport S remains unchanged from 2011: beginning at $22,045 and $24,245 respectively. Prices for the two-door Sahara increased $225 to $27,970, while a $175 increase on the two-door Rubicon brings the MSRP to $29,995.

    The four-door Sahara climbs $300 to $30,745, while the Unlimited Rubicon starts $250 high than the 2011 model, at $33,570. Prices do not include an $800 delivery charge. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo X 4X4

    Premium sport-utility vehicle priced under $40,000

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

    Several weeks back I drove the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited: one of four available grades on Jeep’s flagship sport-utility vehicle. This week, I got behind the wheel of the Laredo X, which sits between the base Laredo E and Limited grades.

    Base price for the Laredo is $32,215, not including the $780 destination charge. The Laredo X option package adds about $4000, bringing the price above the $35,000 cut-off for our best value category. Still, the fully-equipped test car is significantly less expensive than either the Limited or Overland grades, which start at $40,000 for the four-wheel drive models.

    The Laredo X comes with leather trim, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, remote start, a rear-view backup camera, Bluetooth interface, 115-volt power outlet, and 18-inch alloy wheels. Power comes from a 3.6-liter V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission.

    Unlike the base model, the Laredo X is available with Jeep’s new all-terrain package, which automatically adapts the car’s steering, suspension and brakes to the road surface. The driver selects one of five settings using a rotary dial on the center console, and on-board computers do the rest.

    Selec-Terrain is part of an option package which also adds tow hooks and an engine block heater ($695). The car’s air suspension works in tandem with the system to increase ground clearance on uneven terrain. A sport mode lowers the body to improve aerodynamics at higher speeds.

    The Quadra Trac I four-wheel drive system on the Laredo has a single-speed transfer case, but still offers enough off-road capability to satisfy most drivers’ needs. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4

    A second look at Jeep’s new full-sized SUV

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

    The Grand Cherokee is the flagship of the Jeep brand: a full-sized sport utility vehicle which is equally at ease on urban highways and off-road trails. Jeep unveiled an all-new version last summer for the 2011 model year, with V-6 or V-8 engines, and three available four-wheel drive systems.

    I first drove the new Grand Cherokee at a media event in northern California. Our drive route included some challenging canyon roads as well as off-road trails at a park in Hollister.

    This week, I revisited the new Grand Cherokee on more familiar roads, commuting in urban traffic and carrying cargo. With fuel prices once again on the rise, I was also interested to see how the Pentastar V-6 engine would perform in terms of fuel economy.

    The test car is the Limited: one of four available trim levels. Base price is $39,215, not including a $780 destination charge. All grades come with a choice of the V-6 or V-8 engines, and two or four-wheel drive. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4X4

    Versatile SUV gets a facelift and new interior

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Jeep Patriot

    The Jeep Patriot has become a polarizing vehicle, much like its Wrangler sibling. Patriot fans love the sport-utility vehicle’s value pricing and off-road capability. Critics point to the lack of engine power and inconsistent fit and finish.

    This year, Jeep addressed some of those concerns with a significant redesign. Designers revised the car’s front and rear fascias as well as the interior, paying more attention to fit, finish and touch-points throughout the vehicle.

     The Patriot’s redesigned back end conceals the gas tank and muffler. The new front fascia links the Patriot to other models in the Jeep line-up, including the upscale Grand Cherokee.

    Fit and finish throughout the interior is much better. Designers paid close attention to the steering wheel, knobs, buttons and door handles Soft center console and dashboard surfaces are more pleasant to live with.

    The Latitude sits in the middle of three available grades. Base price for the four-wheel drive model is $17,695, not including a $700 destination charge.

    Most buyers will want to add a premium package that upgrades the standard wheels to 17-inch alloy rims, and adds air conditioning, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, heated seats, a 115-volt outlet, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls and heated side mirrors ($3700). Front seat side airbags are also an option, included in a package which also adds tire pressure monitoring and a digital information display ($750).

    Roof rails with crossbars and a tonneau cover cost $500.

    The off-road package on the test car includes all terrain tires, a brake lock differential, full-sized spare, fuel tank and transmission skid plates, tow hooks, wiring for a trailer harness, and hill descent control ($1500).

    A special automatic transmission comes with the package, adding a crawl ratio for low-speed maneuvers.

    A 30 gigabyte media center, Bluetooth connectivity, USB port and satellite radio bring the price as tested to $25,410. Options on the test car add over 25 percent to its sticker price, which strikes me as a rather severe jump. I’d rather see basic convenience features, including keyless entry, power windows, door locks and air conditioning included in the base price. Read the rest of this entry »