Archive for the ‘Off-Road Vehicles’ Category


The Ford F-150 Still the Runaway Best Seller

January 14, 2013


 13 Ford F-150 Raptor - front profile


By Roger Witherspoon


            It was dark, the moon was full, and Superstorm Sandy was at its raging height pushing a record 14 foot wall of water along the New York-New Jersey coastlines and up connecting rivers. The wave rolled through New York harbor, surged around the Statue of Liberty and then rolled up the Hudson River.

In better times the Hudson both empties into and is fed by the Atlantic Ocean at the foot of Manhattan. When the ocean tide is high the Atlantic flows into and up the river, creating a 100 mile salt water estuary. At low tide, the 300-mile Hudson brings fresh water from upstate New York down to the wide Atlantic. In midwinter, diners on the river’s edge can watch the ice flow one way as they order appetizers and reverse course as they finish dessert.

That’s also why Rick Nestler’s folk song, “The River That Flows Both Ways,” is the anthem of Clearwater, the environmental group Pete Seeger founded to clean up the historic river. (  )

But the night Sandy rolled up the Hudson was not like old times. The wall of water surged up the river, spreading out to fill in bays and streams, flowing up banks, covering riverside parks, roadways and rail yards. At the end of Peekskill Bay the water began rising over a low-lying causeway carrying the two-lane Bear Mountain Extension, which provided the shortest route to Camp Smith, an Army base, and then zigzagged up the mountainside to the Bear Mountain Bridge, about 10 miles south of West Point.

Normally, that section of the Extension was nearly even with the tufted tops of the wild phragmites grasses that hugged the shoreline. But not this night. The wild grass and the lowest portion of the roadway – a stretch of about 20 yards – were lost under about four feet of the dark rolling waters of the Hudson River. And it was still rising.

It seemed impenetrable. But then an emergency worker in a Ford F-150 Raptor pickup truck gunned his engine and barreled through the water, which was about even with the truck’s hood, using the still visible guard rails to gauge where the actual roadway was. He stopped at the entrance to the causeway and began putting out flares to block the road as water cascaded out of the pickup’s flooded cargo bed.

“How did you get through that?” I asked him.2012 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

“I don’t know, man. I just gunned it, crossed my fingers, prayed and went. I won’t try it twice. The water is still rising.”

The flares did not deter the drivers of two, huge, military trucks, who were bound for CampSmith, from ignoring the warnings and heading so slowly into the water they barely made a ripple. At the deepest point, as the water lapped their hoods, the trucks stalled. The utility worker called for police support and raced down the roadway. In minutes, dozens of police cars drove onto the causeway, the officers piling out in an effort to help the trapped soldiers. In the end, it took a lot of police and a fleet of kayaks to get them out.

So why did the F-150 make it when the Army trucks didn’t?

A series of Ford spokesmen blanched at the query, since the truck is rated at being able to ford 30 inches of water and the company emphatically does not recommend going through streams higher than the middle of its 17-inch aluminum wheels. As it happens, the emergency worker in the F-150 was lucky. By gunning the truck and barreling through the rising water, he created a bow wave in front of it, leaving just enough room for air to get through the radiator. The slow moving, careful army trucks, on the other hand, essentially drowned.

But even if rolling through the storm of the century was a matter of dumb luck, it was an impressive night for the Ford F-150 Raptor, still the best-selling vehicle of any type in the nation.

“It’s been the number one selling vehicle for 30 to 35 years,” said Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Alec Gutierrez. “Nothing else comes close. They produce diehard loyalists, and someone who buys a Ford pickup tends to stick with a Ford pickup for life.

“They sold about 650,000 in 2012, and outsold the Dodge Ram – which sold just shy of 300,000 – by two to one. The GMC Sierra was close with 575,000 trucks sold. The F-series is a huge seller for small businesses or construction companies, though in terms of towing capacity, it is comparable to the bigger Dodge Ram or GMC Sierra.”

It may have trouble keeping that edge. GM is redesigning its truck lineup and will unveil the rejuvenated fleet in a few months, said Gutierrez. Ford, however, is planning to redesign the F-150 for the 2015 model year, which will begin to arrive at dealers in mid-2014 – giving GM a year-long head start. Still, the allure of the F-150 is so strong that in 2012 the truck outsold the entire car and truck fleets of Volkswagen, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Kia, or Subaru. That is quite a cushion for GM to overcome. (   )

The F-150 Raptor is a work truck that looks good and can go anywhere and do just about anything one might want a vehicle to do. In Texas – where 20% of the nation’s pickup trucks are sold – it is common to see a line of highly polished and simonized F-150s lined up outside the venue of every high school prom.  During the day, that same truck will carry a half ton of material and tow another three tons of cargo up, down and over any construction site. It comes close to being as capable as a Hummer, Toyota FJ Cruiser, or Jeep Wrangler Rubicon going up, down, or across steep slopes, fording streams, slogging through mud or crawling over tree limbs and rocks.

13 Ford F-150 Raptor - downhill

            Under that relatively water tight hood is a 6.2 liter V-8 engine cranking out 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to a six speed, overdrive, automatic transmission, and there are separate hill climb and descent gears. There are four additional power switches in the center console for use with after-market items such as floodlights or tow winches. The truck’s stability control system allows power to be transferred from a wheel which is suspended in the air to an opposing wheel. As a result the F-150 can continue in a relatively straight line regardless of what the trail does.

Inside, the F-150 is more like a large SUV. It features two screens: an eight-inch color, touch screen in the center of the dash and a 4.2-inch information screen directly in front of the steering wheel next to the speedometer.  This small screen shows the trip computer, fuel gauge, and the front mounted camera, which is used to let the driver see rocks and other off-road impediments. The main screen is used for everything else – the navigation system, entertainment, Bluetooth, and the backup camera. For amusement, the truck comes with a CD and DVD player, MP3, iPod and USB ports, satellite radio, and Bluetooth.

13 Ford F-150 Raptor - interior   The leather steering wheel is adjustable –as are the pedals – and contains fingertip cruise and audio controls. The four, 15-volt power outlets are to be expected. But since this is a work truck, Ford added a 115-volt power outlet so you can plug in a computer or other item needing serious power.

The test vehicle had the standard Supercab, with two full doors and half doors for the rear. But even with its slanted roofline, there is leg and head room in the rear for three adults in full-sized, leather seats. A larger, four-door, crew cab is available, adding about 200 pounds to the truck’s three-ton curb weight.  Either way, it’s a comfortable ride since the front seats are adjustable and can be heated or air cooled.

GM’s trucks have been steadily gaining ground on Ford, and Dodge Ram definitely has the edgiest commercials.  But for the time being, the F-150 is still the one to beat.

           13 Ford F-150 Raptor - side


2013 ford F-150 SVT Raptor


MSRP:                                                                        $50,760

EPA Mileage:                        11 MPG City                          16 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity:                                                      6,000 Pounds


Performance / Safety:


6.2-Liter, SOHC, iron block, V-8 engine producing 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic overdrive transmission with tow mode; 4-wheel drive; hydraulic rack and pinion steering; coil-on-shock, double wishbone, independent front suspension; Hotchkiss-type, non-independent rear suspension; 4-wheel vented disc brakes; roll and stability control; 17-inch cast aluminum wheels; hill descent and off-road mode; skid plates; trailer tow; front seat, mounted side impact airbags; canopy airbags.


Interior / Comfort:


AM/FM/XM satellite radio;  CD and DVD player; iPod, MP3 and USB ports; satellite navigation  with 8-inch touch screen; SYNC connectivity and voice activation; 4.2-inch information screen; front and rear cameras; 4 15-volt outlets; one 115-volt outlet; leather, adjustable, heated and air-cooled front seats; tilt and telescoping, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls;


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.

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