Jeep Sets All-Time Sales Record in 2012

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Chrysler announced its Jeep brand set an all-time global sales record in 2012. The company sold 701,626 units which is a 19-percent sales increase worldwide over 2011.

I just purchased a 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. It is the sixth Jeep I have owned in my lifetime. All of them have been under-rated, and under-appreciated. They don’t get the respect that Land Rover does, but they do the job (in my opinion) as well or better, and for much less money.

I recently test drove a fully-loaded Toyota FJ, Land Rover Sport and the Jeep Trailhawk. The Jeep cost somewhere in the middle but provided almost as supple a ride as the Land Rover while offering as much or more off-road capacity as any of the three. I could have purchased any of the three and probably been happy, but the Jeep seemed like the best compromise of supple on-road ride and serious off-road capability for a value price.

The Jeep brand is alive and these sales numbers show more proof that letting Chrysler go bankrupt would have been a big mistake.

Now if we could only do something about the general ineptitude of most Chrysler dealerships. But I digress…

10 Tiny Bits of Automotive News – February 21, 2012

1. Kia is preparing to launch its first rear wheel drive car – code name KH will share the Equis platform. It is a world car and we don’t know whether it will reach US shores or not.

2. The average price of gas is up according to AAA and it predicts that the usual summer increase in gas prices will be more severe than usual.

3. Think you’re saving money by buying a cheaper car? Not necessarily. Cheaper cars are often more expensive to insure – according to insure.com. Of course you can go too far the other way. An R8 is one of the most expensive cars you can buy and also one of the most expensive to insure. The Toyota Sienna the cheapest.

4. U.S. Department of Transportation head Ray LaHood has announced a new set of proposed distracted driving guidelines for automakers that would limit the use of in-car tech solutions that are “not directly relevant to safely operating the vehicle, or cause undue distraction by engaging the driver’s eyes or hands for more than a very limited duration while driving.”

5. The latest J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study shows a 13-percent improvement in new car dependability over the first three years of ownership. Lexus was the highest rated brand followed by Porsche, Cadillac, Toyota and Scion.

6. Tesla and Daimler are planning to build a new electric Mercedes-Benz. Teslay is set to supply a full powertrain for an unnamed electric Mercedes-Benz in the near future. Those components include a motor, transmission, inverter and all of the software necessary to keep the car whirring along.

7. Robb Report Car of the Year named – Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 followed by the Maserati GranTurismo MC, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster, Audi A7, Bentley Continental GTC, Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG, Aston Martin Virage Volante, Nissan GT-R, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Jaguar XKR-S, BMW 650i Convertible, Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca, and Chevrolet Volt.

8. The Governors Highway Safety Association reveals that the number of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths went up 11 percent during the first half of 2011 despite the fact that overall driving deaths are down.

9. Maserati introduced the GranTurismo Sport, replacing the GranTurismo S, slotting in between the base GranTurismo and the GranTurismo MC. The biggest upgrade is found under the engine, where the 4.7-liter V8 has been boosted from 434 horsepower to 460.

10. Polk Research says American drivers kept their new vehicles an average of 71.4 months — up 4.7 months from March. Both the length of ownership and the rate of increase set records.

2012 Hagerty Hot List: 10 Future Collector Cars Under $100,000

Hagerty, a classic car insurance company and host to the largest database of classic cars, announced its annual “Hagerty Hot List” of new vehicles that stand above their mass-produced peers.

“After more than twenty years of witnessing car-collecting trends, we have the unique ability to look at new cars through the eyes of a collector,” said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty Insurance. “This year’s Hot List includes cars that are sure to develop a cult-like following because their characteristics resonate with driving enthusiasts.”

Each year Hagerty asks its team of valuations experts to select which mass-produced vehicles with a MSRP of less than $100,000 will one day become collectible. The 2012 Hagerty Hot List (along with base price) is:

1. Buick Regal GS ($32,535) – It has been quite a long time since we could say “that isn’t your Grandpa’s Buick.” Surprisingly, at a time when allegedly more sporting makes don’t offer real three-pedal manual transmissions, Buick is doing it with the Regal GS.

2. Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca Edition ($48,100) – Ford is calling this a “race car with a license plate,” and it pays homage to the original and very collectible Boss 302. It is a beast on the race track, yet tame enough to drive on the street – and all for less than $50,000.

3. Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 ($61,785) – Let’s face it, Americans love SUVs. The problem is most SUVs don’t handle as impressively as they look. The SRT8 version of the Grand Cherokee takes the rugged, go-anywhere look of an SUV and combines it with performance characteristics that would earn respect on a race track.

4. Fiat 500 Abarth ($22,000) – With a 160 horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, Abarth-tuned suspension, brakes and dual exhaust, the latest in-house-tuned Fiat recalls the “small but wicked” models from the past. Fiat’s performance division also includes complimentary admission to the Abarth Driving Experience with each purchase. The cognoscenti line has formed.

5. Volkswagen Golf R ($36,000) – The Golf’s ancestor, the MK I GTI from the early 1980s, is now a legitimate collectible, and the rare 2004 Golf R32 is headed in that direction. The new, all-wheel drive Golf R is geared towards someone who enjoys driving and evokes the same “pocket-rocket” characteristics of its forbearers.

6. Porsche 911 ($82,100) – The Porsche legacy is built around the 911. Every generation runs the course from being fun used cars for good buys to eventually swelling in value. If you are most concerned about a car holding its value over the long term, then this is the car on this list to buy now and lovingly keep.

7. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 ($54,095) – Since 2005, the current generation of Shelby Mustangs has owned the king-of-the-hill position in the pony car segment. The new ZL1 Camaro with 580 horsepower brings Chevy back into the hunt and demonstrates that old-school muscle is alive and well.

8. Nissan GT-R Black Edition ($95,100) – Until this year, this is the car that young people in the U.S. have only been able to experience on video games. It manages to squeeze 530 horsepower out of a six-cylinder engine. While the invoice price is out of reach for most in the younger generation, we predict they will remember these cars years down the road after their student loans are paid off.

9. Dodge Charger SRT8 ($46,795) – What won us over is the giant touch screen in the center of the dash. And not for the reasons you are thinking. It has “performance pages” that feed input to the driver about performance statistics such as available horsepower and torque.

10. Audi TT RS ($56,850) – For people who won’t buy a Porsche because they haven’t won Le Mans in quite a while, the Audi TT RS is the answer. This is a car with global appeal, which means it will have global demand several decades down the road.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Long Term Test Review

Back in late 2010, I added a white, 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the optional 5.7-liter V-8 “Hemi” engine to my stable.

This was the first of the new fully-redesigned Jeeps. For the 2011 model year, the Jeep was re-worked from the ground up and most reviewers agree, it was well done.

I’m writing this review as an owner, so I have unique perspective on the vehicle. I literally bought the first one to ship to the Seattle area so I’ve had it since late summer 2010.

The new Jeep is built on the underpinnings of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. The quality of a Mercedes is apparent in the way the vehicle drives.

The redesigned Jeep looks more aggressive than the old. It’s still obviously a Jeep, but somewhat cooler. It’s no Range Rover. It’s not a truck that wows you with its exterior appearance, but it’s no slouch to look at either. Especially since I dressed up the car with some nicer chrome rims!

On the inside, the Jeep has improved significantly. Even some of the down-model Jeeps still have nice interior appointments. There’s less plastic than you might think. We’re talking no more Motel 6. The Jeep interior has stepped up to Holiday Inn level. After looking at Chevrolet Suburbans costing $20,000 more I can safely say the Jeep interior is superior to anything from GM in the same class. But you don’t buy a Jeep because of how it looks on the inside or out. You buy it because you want to go off road, or haul stuff or carry people. So engine performance is key. This model year, Jeep introduced a V-6 for the Grand Cherokee, but I can’t resist Hemi engines and I am not one bit sorry I went that way. The big V-8 has plenty of power.

The suspension (with contribution of a stiffer unibody from Mercedes) is much better than the old Jeep and the vehicle rides and handles so much better than before that it’s noticeable, even to people who aren’t car guys.

This Jeep is trail rated and since my primary use for this vehicle is as my work truck, i.e., taking my photo gear out on expeditions, I do take the Jeep off road. For that, I have a very reliable, easy-to-use four wheel drive system that has so far, in 15k plus miles, has proven effective off road. Selec-Terrain lets you choose one of five traction-control modes according to driving conditions: Auto, Sand/Mud, Sport, Snow, and Rock.

There’s 7,400 pounds of towing capacity and plenty of room for four very large people in this car or four large people and one unlucky smaller person who gets crammed in the back seat between two big folk. The rear cargo door lifts up and out of the way and that is the way I like it. The rear seats fold down in one second flat at the pull of a lever. There’s no magic hand shake or special dance required to get the seats to lay flat and to turn the entire back end of the Jeep into cargo space. I can haul just about anything I like back there. It’s easy, smooth and clean. In my long-term test of the Jeep it’s become one of my favorite features. Other manufacturers should copy Jeep when it comes to the ease with which you can fold down those rear seats.

The Jeep is big and roomy and sits high off the ground, and while I have no proof it provides me any real additional safety, I feel safer in it. It comes with the usual list of standard safety gear; dual front, side, and curtain airbags; traction and stability control; anti-lock brakes with integral trailer-sway control; and rough-road detection logic. Hill-start and hill-descent help are programmed into its stability systems, and active headrests are standard, too.

My Jeep also includes parking sensors and a rearview camera. I wish I had ordered the blind-spot detectors; adaptive cruise control; and a collision-warning system that senses when the SUV is approaching cars ahead too rapidly and sounds a warning. I have those systems on my Jaguar and miss them on the Jeep. Maybe next time.

Visibility is very impressive in the Grand Cherokee. The combination of the hood shape (easy to see the corners) thin pillars and a huge rear window make seeing out of the Jeep very re-assuring. Compare this with the new Range Rover Evoque (which I really want to buy mind you) and you’ll understand that the Evoke LOOKS cool but is not cool to look out of. Visibility in the Evoque just plain sucks compared with the Jeep.

After 15k miles, my Jeep still runs solid. The engine pulls very well considering its inside an SUV. There are no significant rattles. The car is solid, tight and well-made.

I do have a few complaints. Fuel mileage isn’t quite what I hoped for. My mileage street/highway combo is only about 17 mpg. The vehicle does run on regular gas, in fact it’s the only vehicle I own that does, so that helps with costs, but I would expect the engine to be somewhat more efficient.

Quality-wise, the 2011 Jeep has done much better than older models I’ve owned. I have suffered some issues. My right rear taillight burned out – fixed and covered under warranty. No big deal. My tire pressure gauges went haywire for about a week and then self-corrected. Again, no big deal – but it was unsettling. The biggest problem I faced was a serious failure of the braking and four-wheel drive system. Now mind you it didn’t actually fail. The warning lights did their job. One day driving from the studio to lunch, the brake light warning system and the four-wheel drive warning system started flashing. There was no actual problem operating the vehicle, but when I see a warning light pertaining to brakes, I take it seriously. Fortunately, I was only a mile from my local Jeep dealer and dropped it off to find that there was a major systems failure in progress. It was fixed in two days under warranty. If I didn’t have other vehicles available to me, I would have been majorly inconvenienced by this and had to pay for a rental car. What’s worse, had this happened when I was 100 miles out in the middle of nowhere, my goose would have been cooked. It was uncomfortable.

I have many miles on the car since those problems with no repeat of the issues. My verdict is this is a very good vehicle. It’s not great. It’s not inspiring. It’s not going to get oohs and aahs from the peanut gallery. But it’s very competent. It does the things I need a work truck to do. It hauls people and stuff well. It’s fun to drive. It’s powerful. It’s practical and it’s reasonably affordable, more so comparing it to offerings from Range Rover, BMW, etc.

The redesign is a success in my opinion. The Jeep Grand Cherokee has always been a favorite of SUV buyers who want to buy American. I think if the company keeps producing vehicles of this caliber at this price, they’ll be just fine.

My long-term test verdict is: Highly Recommended with the caveat that you need to watch this model carefully to make sure there is no wide-spread issue with the brake/four-wheel drive system that I experienced.