Mar
31

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2014 Dodge Durango New Car Review

2014 Dodge Durango

2014 Dodge Durango

Dodge introduced its third-generation Durango for the 2011 model year. The all-new sport utility vehicle was a big improvement over its predecessors as it moved from a truck-based boxed chassis to a unibody configuration. The new Durango shared platforms with the Jeep Grand Cherokee (one of my favorites) and the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and GL-Class (thank development that was in process during the DaimlerChrysler days). Today, Dodge offers the Durango with its 3.6-liter V6 (EPA fuel economy ratings of 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway), which develops 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, or its 5.7-liter V8 (EPA fuel economy ratings of 14 mpg city and 23 mpg highway, pumping out 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque.  Rear- and four-wheel drive powertrains are offered, with the 4WD models offering slightly lower fuel efficiency.

Dodge updated the Durango for 2014 with an eight-speed automatic transmission, a new front and rear fascia, an available 8.4-inch touch-screen infotainment system and new options. Base prices for the 2014 model start at $29,795 for the entry-level SXT trim, to $40,995 for the loaded Citadel model. Loaded with a handful of options, a Durango can break the $50,000 barrier. I recently had the opportunity to spend a week with the mid-range Durango Limited RWD, with the standard V6. It was reasonably optioned, with Navigation, the Safety and Security Group and Second Row Captain Chairs. The six passenger vehicle, in Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl Coat paint arrived with a total price of $39,930.

The cabin of the Durango is spacious, roomy and functional. The front seats are comfortable and the second row offers good legroom (some passenger complained that the second row headrests couldn’t be extended high enough). There is easy access to the third row, between the captain chairs, and it will comfortably accommodate most children until they enter their teens. Passengers enjoyed the rear heated seats, swiveling reading lights and household 110-volt outlet in the second row (great for quickly charging phones and tablets).  The rear tailgate is power, with its operation button on the left rear panel (this confused many who tried to shut the trunk) — thankfully, the motorized trunk may be shut from the dashboard.

On the road, the Dodge has an excellent ride. The suspension is soft, yet the SUV handles beautifully. Cabin noise is hushed and miles pass effortlessly beneath its chassis. The V6 and eight-speed automatic are a good team, proving spirited acceleration around town, but the pair are less enthusiastic on the highway. I would recommend the V6, regardless, unless you intend to tow. My highway fuel economy was 25.1 mpg, while my city economy was 18.6 mpg.

I was very impressed with the Durango. Not only does it drive very well, but everyone who rode inside its cabin remarked about how comfortable and quiet it was — that’s a strong endorsement. Dodge has priced it very well (aggressive incentives only sweeten the deal), and the company offers plenty of configurations to suit a variety of climates and lifestyles. If you are in the market for a three-row SUV, put the 2014 Dodge Durango on your short list. It is that good.

[Photo credit: Michael Harley]

 

 

Mar
25

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2015 Hyundai Sonata Revealed Before New York Debut

2015 Hyundai Sonata Sedan

2015 Hyundai Sonata Sedan

The all-new 2015 Hyundai Sonata is expected to make its North American debut at the New York International Auto Show in next month, but the Korean automaker took the wraps off one of its best sellers a bit early. Shown above is the new sedan, which is slightly larger than its predecessor on the exterior (you’d need a tape measure to tell) and much roomier inside. The design is fresh, with most considering it an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, step (we can’t help but think there is a bit of the Audi A7 in this rear three-quarter view).

Hyundai is boasting that its 2015 Sonata uses high-strength steel throughout its construction, to improve the vehicle’s ride and raise the bar on safety, and that special attention has been given to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) within the cabin. While Hyundai hasn’t announced powertrain options, the vehicle is going on sale in Korea with three four-cylinder engine choices (the automaker was one of the first to drop the six-cylinder from the mid-size segment), each mated to a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. None are more than 200 horsepower, and there is no mention of a diesel. As before, the new model’s mission is to transport five individuals comfortably and efficiently — it is not a sport sedan.

As expected, Speedy Daddy will reserve judgement on the all-new model until after we get behind the wheel (expect that report to come over the summer).

[Photo credit: Hyundai]

Why You Can’t Blindly Trust Consumer Reports Ratings

2014 Ford Focus SE Hatchback

2014 Ford Focus SE 5-Door

Like many car geeks, I recently picked up my annual 2014 Best Cars issue of Consumer Reports, a formerly indispensable reference of all things related to automobile reliability and ratings. I say formerly because when you flip to the back section of this issue of the magazine, where CR used to publish pages and pages of reliability charts offering great detail about how well a car had performed in the company’s latest owner satisfaction survey, there are instead summary tables of data that are about as useful as a set of J.D. Power Circle Ratings. Evidently, if you want access to the in-depth data tables, you’ve gotta subscribe to CR online. As they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch, even if you pay $6.99 for it.

Want to know what I thought when I saw this? They don’t want people to notice that they give lousy reliability predictions to new vehicles that have complicated technology but are, otherwise, perfectly reliable. This is a recent trend, one reflected not just in Consumer Reports data but also in the latest J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study. In the past few years, car buyers have starting complaining about technology that they don’t understand, and these complaints are negatively impacting the “reliability” ratings formerly provided by CR and J.D. Power.

WHY YOU CAN’T BLINDLY TRUST CONSUMER REPORTS RATINGS…

Best Family Cars of 2014: The Budget Friendly Edition

2014 Ford Focus ST

2014 Ford Focus ST

Everybody loves lists. Trouble is, most lists are packed full of useless and frivolous information. Not this one, my friends. This list of the five best, compact, and most affordable family cars you can buy is based on solid research, and every model on it delivers outstanding crash-test performance. Beyond the safety aspect, though, for each of the five budget-friendly cars listed here we highlight the sportiest model, the one designed to be the most fun to drive, the one that best meets Speedy Daddy criteria.

If you don’t like the way one of these vehicles looks, and if you don’t like the way one of these vehicles drives, then pick something else on the list. And if you’re upset that the car you’re thinking about buying, or the one you already bought, didn’t make the cut, don’t blame us. The data is what the data is.

Now, without further delay, these are the best budget-friendly family cars of 2014, listed in alphabetical order by make.

FIND OUT WHICH FIVE CARS ARE THE BEST…

2014 Buick Enclave Review: He Says, She Says

2014 Buick Enclave crossover SUV

Awhile back, General Motors gave up on minivans, deciding to build a large crossover SUV with three rows of seats and both greater cargo capacity and better fuel economy than its truck-based Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon twins. The new crossover was originally sold as the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook, and as things turned out, this quartet of sport-utes was a smart business decision for the company.

Last year, the Enclave, Traverse, and Acadia were updated and upgraded with freshened styling, new safety and infotainment technology, and revised color and trim selections. This year, Buick adds Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning systems to the Enclave’s roster of safety features, and upgrades the IntelliLink system to include text-to-voice capability.

Speedy Daddy writers Christian Wardlaw and Liz Kim, married with children, spent a week with a Mocha Bronze Metallic Enclave, a loaded example with the Premium Group package, Choccachino perforated leather seats, a power sunroof, a navigation system, and a rear seat entertainment system. The price tag: $51,030. READ THE HE SAYS, SHE SAYS REVIEW OF THE 2014 BUICK ENCLAVE…

Mar
15

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GM Ignition Switch Recall — What Vehicles are Affected?

2007 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

2007 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

It is no secret that General Motors (GM) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have recalled over 1.3 million vehicles because the weight on the key ring and/or road conditions or some other jarring event may cause the ignition switch to move out of the run position, turning off the engine. The recall (NHTSA Campaign Number: 14V047000) states that the airbag (SRS) may not deploy if the ignition is in the off or accessory position, which may lead to injury or death. As of today, GM has acknowledged more than a dozen fatalities due to the faulty part.

These are the vehicles currently subject to the recall:

  • 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt
  • 2007 Pontiac G5
  • 2003-07 Saturn Ion
  • 2006-07 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2007 Saturn Sky

GM has announced that it will notify owners, and dealers will replace the ignition switch, free of charge. The recall began on March 10, 2014. Owners may contact Chevrolet at 1-800-222-1020, Pontiac at 1-800-762-2737 or Saturn at 1-800-553-6000. GM’s number for the initial recall is 13454 and 14063 for the expansion. Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

In the meantime, if you own one of the vehicles subject to the recall, GM is advising its customers to stop using heavy key chains and put only the key in the ignition slot — do not put unnecessary weight on the switch. GM, the NHTSA and Speedy Daddy all urge owners of affected vehicles to get repairs as soon as possible.

Mar
13

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2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee New Car Review

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee - Speedy DaddyJeep significantly upgraded its Grand Cherokee for 2014, treating the five-passenger SUV to a freshened exterior, upgraded interior and a new transmission that significantly improves the way it drives.

As a recap, the Grand Cherokee is the automaker’s flagship SUV offering, slotted above the Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot and new-for-2015 Jeep Renegade. The Grand Cherokee is built on a sturdy SUV platform, and it is offered with a choice between rear- and four-wheel drive — the automaker calls it 4×2 and 4×4, respectively (it is not to be confused with the new Jeep Cherokee that is constructed on a car-based platform designed for front- or all-wheel drive vehicles). The automaker offers no fewer than four engine choices, which include a 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel, 3.6-liter V6, 5.7-liter V8 and a 6.4-liter V8 in SRT8 trim. Base prices start at $29,195 for a 4×2 Laredo model, and top out in excess of $65,000 for the range-topping 4×4 SRT model.

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland. The Vesuvio Indigo Blue four-door featured leather upholstery and a very high level of standard equipment (bundled into the Overland package), which included Chrysler’s Uconnect with a 8.4″ touchscreen, 506-watt audio system, bi-xenon headlamps, adaptive cruise control and a slew of safety features. Once everything was added up, the window sticker was $48,685 — nobody said the Grand Cherokee was inexpensive!

The big news is the arrival of the 8-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the old 5-speed gearbox. With both lower and taller ratios, it improves acceleration and fuel economy simultaneously — a win-win for consumers. The second most significant news is the revised instrument cluster, complete with Chrysler’s Uconnect Access and 8.4-inch infotainment screen. Complementing the electronic revisions is a new steering wheel and a redesigned instrument cluster. Inside the cabin, passengers will find high-quality materials and pleasing trim combinations. I’m 6′ 2″ tall, and I found the front seats very comfortable.  The second row is equally as roomy, with plenty of room for standard adults. There is no third row (look at the Dodge Durango to solve that need).

Few realize that the Grand Cherokee and Mercedes-Benz ML-Class share underpinnings (thanks to the DiamlerChrysler days). The well-engineered suspension, complete with Quadra-lift air suspension on the Overland models, contributed to an excellent ride. Transitional handling and braking were also impressive. I never had a chance to try the four-wheel drive system, but Jeeps are legendary for their off-road prowess and you can expect nothing but the most capable from this American automaker. The EPA rates the 2014 model at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. My mileage was a bit worse around town (I’ve got a heavy foot), but adaptive radar-based cruise control allowed me to stay comfortably in the low-20s on the highway.

I’m a big fan of the current Grand Cherokee. I like its sporty demeanor, excellent handling and very capable (on- and off-road) chassis. Some may complain that its interior isn’t cavernous, or that it is missing a third row, but I find its size just about perfect for my family of four. Thankfully, the improvements for 2014 only serve to solidify my positive impressions — put the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee on my recommended list.

 

Mar
5

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2014 Nissan Rogue New Car Review

2014-Nissan-Rogue
Nissan introduced its all-new, second-generation, Rogue crossover late last year as a 2014 model. The five- or seven-passenger vehicle is fitted with a standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which is rated at 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, sending power to a front- or all-wheel drive driveline through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The vehicle has earned an EPA fuel economy rating of 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.

Base prices start at $22,490 for a front-wheel drive (FWD) S model, while the range-topping all-wheel drive (AWD) SL model starts at $29,420. Fully loaded, a Rogue can top out at nearly $33,000. I had the opportunity to spend a week with a Brilliant Silver over Charcoal leather Rogue SL AWD, with an as-tested price of $32,395. It was a five-passenger model, as Nissan only offers the third row option with the S and SV trims.

The cabin of the Rogue is logically configured, but a traditional transmission lever in the center console eats up a lot of potential storage space. Nissan touts the front seats as being of a NASA-inspired “zero-gravity” design, but my six-foot two-inch frame found them uncomfortable as the lower cushion didn’t support my thighs. There is plenty of head and legroom for the driver and front passenger. The second row folds (60/40 split) and slides back-and-forth with the pull of a lever, allowing more room to be allocated for passengers or cargo. Even so, occupants over six feet tall will find legroom only adequate in the middle seats.

Space and utility are the Rogue’s interior strengths. The cargo area is generous in size (remember, our test car did not have the optional third row), and Nissan’s convenient Divide-N-Hide cargo system provides more than a dozen adjustable variations to keep carried cargo in place. The seven-inch navigation screen was impressive, and it refreshed quickly. Less pleasing is the cabin illumination, which is a mix of LED and incandescent bulbs, which appear inconsistent at night. Some of the controls lack tactile feedback and the turn stalk in our test car was hard to move.

On the road, the Rogue left me disappointed. The aging four-cylinder engine (Nissan calls it the QR25DE) struggled with the vehicle’s 3,605 curb weight, and the CVT didn’t help one bit. When pushed hard around town, the engine made an annoying drone — yet thankfully, it was much quieter on the highway when it had settled down. Nissan chose that particular powertrain combination for its fuel economy, and the Rogue delivered exactly what the EPA estimated in terms of efficiency — a pleasant surprise.

Overall, I was not impressed by the Rogue. While it provided plenty of interior utility and room for cargo, passenger space isn’t as accommodating as I would have expected (moving people should be this family oriented CUVs primary objective). I also found the powertrain lackluster, especially when compared to others in this competitive segment. Overall, the all-new 2014 Rogue is uninspiring — this SpeedyDaddy suggests looking elsewhere.

 

May
13

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Why do (some) consumers hate run-flat tires?

Runflat-Tires

Nearly every motorized vehicle on the road, with very few exceptions, is riding on two or more pneumatic (air-filled) tires. The basic design of this type of tire goes back to 1846 when a European inventor wrapped rubberized canvas around a wheel and filled it with air. It was a brilliant design, as air-filled tires offered a comfortable ride, grip under a variety of driving conditions and long tread life. However, all pneumatic tires have an Achilles’ Heel — they are prone to deflate. Once the pressurized air within the tire is lost, the tire collapses and the vehicle is forced to stop.

About a decade ago, tire engineers came up with a tire that could be “driven on” after suffering a complete loss of air pressure. The new type of tire was called a “zero-pressure,” “run-flat,” or “extended mobility” tire. Most are marked clearly with “RFT” on the sidewalls (see the image above).

Within a few years of their announcement, several automakers — most notably BMW — began to make the run-flat tires standard equipment on their vehicles. While a set of the run-flat tires cost more than standard tires, auto manufacturers realized they could remove the spare tire, thereby saving weight (improving acceleration and fuel economy) and freeing up additional space in the cargo area.

But that is when things turned sour.

While consumers originally welcomed the innovative technology — thanks to heavy promotional marketing — they weren’t educated about the degradation in ride quality due to thicker sidewalls, the reduction in performance due to more substantial mass or the additional replacement costs. Even after consumers accepted those drawbacks, they still had to become comfortable driving a vehicle without a spare tire realizing that no run-flat will work if it is destroyed by a pothole or sharp debris on the road.

Even though tire manufacturers have poured tens of millions into run-flat development, and they have engineered second-generation versions that are lighter and more compliant than their predecessors, many consumers have been so disappointed and turned-off by the technology that they may never embrace them.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST is a Bite-Size Blast

SD_2014-Ford-Fiesta-ST

Any car enthusiast can appreciate the new 2014 Ford Fiesta ST. This diminutive little 5-door hatchback weighs about the same as a Mazda Miata, but offers a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine good for 197 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. That’s a whole bunch more oomph than the iconic roadster supplies, to the tune of 30 horses and 74 lb.-ft. of twist.

Plus, unlike the Miata, the Fiesta ST has a back seat for a couple of kids, and it accommodates 15.4 cu.-ft. of junk in its trunk – nearly triple what the Miata can handle. But then, the Miata does have a convertible top. And rear-wheel drive.

You’re right. The Fiesta and Miata aren’t cross-shopped. Ever. So let’s compare apples to apples – Dwarf Honey Crisps to Fuji.

The Volkswagen GTI is also a 5-door hatchback powered by a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. It makes 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. It has a 15.2 cu.-ft. trunk. It weighs more than 3,100 pounds. Do the math. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE 2014 FORD FIESTA ST…

The Speedy Daddy Rules of the Road

Do not drive after drinking, or when drunk. Do not drive under the influence of drugs. Do not text or post to Facebook or Twitter while driving. Do not drive when you'd rather be taking a nap. Do not drive fast in residential areas, or on roads that you don't know well, or in the rain, or in the snow, or in the fog, or in the dark, or on bald tires. And for damn sure, do not do ANY of these things when your children are in the car.