Archive for the ‘Chrysler-Fiat’ Category


Over Hill, Over Dale In the Baby Jeep

May 23, 2012

By Roger Witherspoon

It was supposed to be spring and, according to legend, a time when the apple trees were full of fluttering white petals waving over a horde of white and pink azaleas flanked by marauding multi-colored bands of wildflowers.

By all accounts, it was supposed to be a great time to drive through a sun-draped Hudson RiverValleyalong winding roads through the Catskills. It should have been a perfect time to put Hiroshima’s One World in the stereo hard drive, crank up the bass in the boom box built into the rear of the compact SUV and rock and roll all over the Hudson River Valley.

But the climate never got that memo.

So the spring road run came as the temperature dropped into the upper 30s, the wind bolted into the 40 mile per hour zone and the rain – which hadn’t been seen in these parts since January – came down with pent up fury, causing somnolent streams to roll over their banks and cover the roadways and turn packed gravel and dirt roads into gravel and mudways.

In other words, it was a great time to be in a Jeep.

The 18-inch, wide track wheels rolled over water, dirt, mud and rocks with equal aplomb as the Jeep’s independent suspension and gas-charged shock absorbers smoothed out any changes in the road surface. And the Compass’ four-wheel drive and traction control meant that there was never a hint of loss of control, regardless of what the weather did.

The compass is an interesting addition to the Jeep family of on and off-road vehicles. It is much smaller than the boxy, rugged-looking, go-anywhere Jeep Wrangler, but offers a lot in terms of comfort instead of off-road driving capabilities. It is still a Jeep, however, and can roam through small streams – or large, deeper ones if you spring for the optional “Freedom Drive” off-road package – or get you through all sorts of unpleasant road conditions.

On the outside, the Compass stands just a shade over five feet tall and looks like a smaller version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee with its same trademark, wide-toothed grill, extra-wide stance, sculpted sides, and flat, black, inset door handles.

Under the hood, the Compass has a modest 2.4-liter, four-cylinder aluminum engine producing a modest 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. That’s not going to turn the Compass into a race car like its 150-mile-an-hour big brother, the Grand Cherokee SRT-8. But it is more than enough power for a compact like this to stay ahead of traffic. And in locked 4-wheel, low gear it is powerful enough to tow 1,000 pounds and pull the car through sucking mud or deep snow, and roll easily up wet, bumpy, 30-degree slopes.

The Compass is primarily an all purpose car, good for a family or anyone with an active lifestyle who wants enough room to haul either stuff or friends. In that category it competes with the Kia Sportage, GMC Terrain, and Hyundai’s Santa Fe and Tucson. It has also been pulling motorists out of small cars like the Toyota Corolla, who are looking for a low-cost vehicle in the $25,000 range with the space associated with an SUV.

Chrysler put a lot of thought into the interior of the Jeep, which has no hard surfaces. The seats are thickly padded, double-stitched leather. The front seats are manually operated, but fully adjustable and heated. The rear seats are also mobile , and can be slid forward several inches so the back can recline enough for a comfortable nap There is also enough leg and headroom for four average basketball players. The doors are also padded so you don’t come away from a bumpy, off-road trek with an armful of bruises.

For entertainment, the Compass comes with a Boston Acoustic sound system with nine speakers, including a hinged pair built into the trunk door which can swing down and out to provide more than enough sound for the average block party. There is a 40-gigabyte hard drive to collect a few thousand of your favorite jams, as well as Sirius satellite radio and connections for a USB drive, iPod, or MP3 player. There is a CD player and Bluetooth – the latter will let you play music directly from your Smartphone.

            As a thoughtful addition, the Compass has a 115-volt outlet with a standard electric plug – which is great for running a game or powering a laptop – in addition to the standard 12-volt power port used to recharge phones. There is also soft lighting embedded in the cup holders, making them easy to find in the dark.

On an off note the Compass – and the entire Jeep line – offer a Garmin navigation system with a built in, 7-inch color screen. Garmin has its admirers, and its quirks. If you set the system at 200 feet so street names are legible on the screen, the Garmin will abruptly change to setting to a half mile or more shortly after you enter a highway. The longer view may be fine in general on a highway – but it is too long to be able to navigate a complex exit interchange.  Spokesmen for Garmin said in a statement that the automatic zoom feature is intended to save the driver the trouble of adjusting the map. They did not explain why they felt the built-in robot should tell the driver what settings to use instead of the other way around.

Garmin can also retrace previous trips with a feature called “bread crumbs.” That might be fine for keeping tabs on what the teenage driver in your house was really doing last night. But it does seem a bit creepy and begs the question of why is the robot keeping tabs on the driver and where is that information going?

Chrysler might want to reconsider installing a smart system which could become an expert witness in messy family court proceedings. Or the auto maker could give buyers an option on the types of navigation systems sold. Chrysler’s Fiats use the Tom-Tom system which, like Garmin, was originally designed as a hand-held unit, while their Chrysler and Dodge lines use more traditional, technologically flexible, satellite-based navigation systems designed just for cars.

Jim Morrison, the director of Jeep product marketing, said “the Garmin is a lower cost navigation system for us. The one in the Compass costs $685. There is a premium system, the traditional kind rather than the Garmin, but it costs $465 more and is available with the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

“The customers for the Compass and Jeep Patriot are more tuned into affordability, and don’t typically get a fully loaded car.  So we only offer the Garmin for those vehicles.”

But that’s a minor complaint about a go-anywhere vehicle which should go far in an evolving, small car market.

Jeep Compass Ltd 4×4


MSRP:                                                                        $28,910

EPA Mileage:                        21 MPG City                          26 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity:                                                      1,000 Pounds


Performance / Safety:


2.4-Liter, DOHC, 4-cylinder, aluminum engine producing 172 horsepower and  165 pound-feet of torque; 4-wheel drive; 18-inch painted aluminum wheels; rack and pinion steering; independent MacPherson strut front suspension; multi-link independent rear suspension; anti-lock brake system; stability  and traction controls; fog lights; halogen headlamps;  front and side curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:


AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio; Boston Acoustic sound system with 40 GB hard drive, 9 speakers and 2 adjustable liftgate speakers; USB, MP3 and iPod ports; Bluetooth; CD player; leather seats; heated front seats; leather steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone and cruise controls; fold flat or reclining rear seats, with 60/40 split;  12-volt and 115-volt power outlets; Garmin navigation system with touch screen.


Fiat 500: The Italian Gem From Detroit

April 11, 2012

By Roger Witherspoon

            The old guy with the shaggy white beard and wide grin started it all.

“Hey,” he shouted from two parking rows away. “A Fix It Again Tony! I had one back in the ‘70s and it was always in the shop. This one looks a lot better! How is it?”

The initial shout breaking the calm on a Sunday afternoon drew attention in the parking lot. But the word “Fiat” hooked everyone in the area.

“Hey,” said a woman who was trailed by a teenage girl with braces wearing a high school jacket. “My daughter is starting high school and is begging for something other than my eight year old heap. Do you mind if she sat in this one and turned on the music?”

And for the next 20 minutes, the copper-colored, sub-compact, four seater 2012 Fiat 500 became as way station for a score of shoppers who wanted to look at, sit in, listen to, and imagine owning the European side of the resurrected Chrysler. Fiat bought Chrysler in a shotgun marriage arranged early in the Obama administration that offered something for each company: Chrysler got to stay alive with a partner knowledgeable about small, fuel efficient cars; and Fiat got a second chance to enter the American auto market.

So far, Chrysler has gotten a lot out of the marriage with an entirely revamped domestic line, including the iconic muscle car, the Dodge Charger and its off-road Jeep group. But Fiat has been slow to hit American roadways, with the company taking time to make sure it had a stylistic winner that could appeal to American tastes. Which is why the Fiat draws a crowd: everyone has heard of it and seen the Jennifer Lopez commercials, but few have had a chance to get close to one.

The 500 is a head turner. It is a sub compact car and at 11.5 feet in length and just under five feet high the Fiat is not much larger than the Smart-for-Two and smaller than the Mini Cooper. The style can best be described as “cute” as it turns heads wherever you go.  Under the hood is a small, four-cylinder engine producing just 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. While those numbers seem anemic, the power plant provides more than enough juice to give the little car some pep once it gets under way. It is not, however, as fuel efficient as one might expect from a sub-compact import. The 500 carries an EPA rating of 27 miles per gallon in city driving, and 34 miles per gallon on the highway – and the little engine prefers being pampered with premium gasoline.

            The engine is mated to a six-speed, automatic transmission and it is a performer. On dry or wet winding roads the Fiat operates more like a sport sedan. And on unpaved, pot-holed roads the MacPherson suspension and twin-tube, sport shocks smooth out or minimize even the roughest bumps without disrupting ‘Trane’s “Love Supreme” in the CD player.

The interior of the Fiat 500 provides the biggest positive impression on neighbors and strangers who see the car – and is likely to do the same with the thousands of visitors to the New York International Auto show, opening at theJacobJavitsCenterinManhattanFriday. The seats are double-stitched, Italian leather with equally thick padding on the doors and arm rests. The front seats are manually operated, but they can be heated. And while there is ample leg room for six-footers in the front, the rear seats are more for show than use, unless the passengers are children.

  The dash provokes mixed reactions. The plastic molding is color coordinated with the exterior of the car. And the controls and dials are raised, light colored, plastic buttons. Men who sat in the car invariably exclaimed positively that the buttons were convenient and easy to get used to. Women who sat in the car disdainfully said it was like “driving a blender.”

The 500’s blender does control a wealth of gadgets. There is Bluetooth cell phone and audio connections; and the glove box contains MP3, iPod, and USB connections.  And the Bose sound system can satisfy any type of music lover. But the price of the 500, at about $23,000 is puzzling since it puts this sub-compact in a category with several, large, compact cars under $25,000, such as the Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3, Honda Civic, and Chevrolet’s Sonic and Cruze (  ).

But the Fiat 500 is unique and difficult to categorize. It is, physically, a small sub-compact car. Yet its quality, styling and precision handling would tend to pit it against a more upscale competition. For variety, at the New York International Auto Show, which opened Friday, the automaker put its Fiat 500 Abarth model in the spotlight. This variation, with a scorpion logo, has a four-cylinder power plant producing 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. That amount of power on such a light car puts it in the performance category of the Mini Cooper – which costs nearly twice as much – and would run the Fiat head to head with the $27,000 Nissan Juke, which has a four-cylinder, turbocharged engine and cannot resist a drag race.

The 500 does not have a navigation system, which is a drawback for a car costing just above $23,000. But there is a factory installed Tom-Tom navigation setup with a three-inch screen installed on top of the dash. The Tom-Tom is more cumbersome and less user friendly than its competitor, Garmin. It seems to have been designed by members of the Flat Earth Society who didn’t get Christopher Columbus’ message and still think the heavens revolve around the earth. As a result, there is no true north orientation, and the Tom-Tom landscape spins merrily around the always upward-moving avatar. The result is a system best used with Dramamine.

In addition, while the Bluetooth function is set through Tom-Tom, the system does not turn off or pause the entertainment system when you have an incoming phone call. Unlike Garmin, it simply plays both through the same set of Bose speakers and subwoofers, though there is a button on the blender to mute the music.

It remains to be seen what kind of splash the reintroduction of the Fiat will have on American car buyers. But considering the excitement in engenders on the street, this second coming of the Italians should be a lot more productive than the first venture.

2012 Fiat 500


MSRP:                                                                        $23,250

EPA Estimate:           27 MPG City                          34 MPG Highway


Performance / Safety:


1.4-liter, aluminum alloy engine producing 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission;  power rack and pinion steering; MacPherson front suspension with twin-tube shocks; rear twist-beam suspension with twin-tube shocks; 4-wheel, anti-lock brakes; stability and traction control; 15-inch aluminum wheels; halogen projector headlamps; fog lamps; front, side mounted, and side curtain airbags.

Interior /  Comfort:


AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio; Bose premium sound system with 6 speakers and a subwoofer; USB, iPod, and MP3 connections; Cd player; Tom-Tom navigation with Bluetooth; power sunroof; tilt and telescope, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone, and cruise controls;  fold flat, split rear seats; leather seats; heated front seats.

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