Quick Look: 2013 Ford Escape

2013 Ford Escape - Craig Fitzgerald

The outgoing Ford Escape became a best-seller after its introduction in 2001, but the truth is, I never liked it much. It always felt cheap and thrashy to me, especially on the trip I took to the motorcycle show at the Javitz Center in New York City soon after the vehicle launched. So I wasn’t holding by breath for the 2013 Ford Escape, but I’m rescinding my original “who cares?” attitude. At first blush, it has what it takes to be the best small SUV in the market. Continue reading

Posted in New Cars, News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Working on a Book(s)

Hi Folks:

It’s been a while. Sorry about that. I wanted to update you on a couple of items. First of all, I’ve done a whole bunch of pieces for the Boston Globe, which I’m pretty excited about. The latest is a piece on driving a Porsche Boxster in the snow.

There’s also a piece coming on some work by MIT on how much cognitive load we can handle as drivers. Is it enough to have a hands-free phone, or is it the conversation that’s taxing our ability to focus on the road ahead. More when that piece comes out.

And, I’m working on a story for Forbes magazine on electric and plug-in hybrid cars. It’s pretty exciting to think that my words are going to be in front of 2 million readers. It had better be a good story.

Finally, I’m going through the arduous task of writing a book. I’ve put a lot of it together and now it’s the editing process that’s taking up a lot of my free time. It’s a collection of essays, mostly about cars, motorcycles and how I got lucky enough to do this for a living.

I’m hoping to have it ready for download as an ebook in the middle of May, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt to keep you interested:

I graduated in 1992. George Bush was still president. When you hear on the news that today’s economy is “the worst it’s been since…,” the date that always follows is May of 1992. Nobody I got out of college with got a job, so I considered myself lucky to not just continue working at a liquor store for $7.50 an hour.

I ended up taking a job with a company called Moore Business Forms. It was not unlike getting a job with “Moore Horse Blinders” about two months before Henry Ford started selling the Model T for $500 a copy.

Moore Business Forms was a harsh reality after being the only one in my family before – or since, now that I think about it – to graduate from college. I was a “graphics technician” who did pre-press work mostly on three-part insurance forms. You know the three-part form is officially obsolete when the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles doesn’t even use them anymore.

I serviced a bunch of sales guys who got paid lavishly to sell people paper with lots of lines printed on them that you were supposed to fill out in ballpoint pen, pressing aggressively as you wrote. One of them was named Mark Brockman and he had the world’s most obvious toupee. It was like a greasy skunk had an aneurism on his head. He and another sales guy would walk into the men’s room at exactly 9:30 every morning. Brockman would have a Boston Herald tucked under his arm, and the two of them would enter adjoining stalls and take noisy, 55-year-old guy dumps together while passing sections of the paper back and forth under the stall. I had to go to college to see this. I worked with guys in warehouses and on construction sites that wouldn’t do that.

At one point in my three years there, we had a huge company-wide initiative called “Sales Rep of the Future,” which was just as stupid and misguided as it sounds. The idea was that these old fucks who couldn’t figure out how an ATM worked were going to be armed with $2,000 laptops so that they could take orders for super-expensive paper triplicate forms.

On an electronic form.

Amazingly, only about six people in the company saw the irony in that scheme.

My buddy Jay Holdash and I worked out  the idea for a poster for “Sales Rep of the Future” in which Mark Brockman would read the Herald with his pants around his ankles, but with a space helmet on.

Yes, it’s going to be a laugh riot, folks. I’ll keep you posted.

I also wrote a kid’s book, and I’m looking for some illustration help, so if you know anybody, give me a shout.

Posted in Publishing | Leave a comment

Boston Globe Magazine, Sunday, October 30

Just a quick post to let you know that I’m going to have a piece on the back page of the Boston Globe Magazine on Sunday, October 30. Check it out! If it’s online, I’ll post it up here.

Here’s the link, which I think is open for non-subscribers to read:


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Pebble Beach, or “Why should I care about multi-million dollar collector cars?”

This car cost 47 of the houses I live in.

I get Facebook updates from Sports Car Market, Hagerty Insurance, and a bunch of writers that I know that attended the festivities in Monterey this past week. Every one of them breathlessly reported the $200 million that changed hands at the auctions. And I’m trying for the life of me to figure out why that’s a good thing.

I’ve been to those auctions, along with a lot of others around the country, including the events in Scottsdale, Arizona every January. I may be the only member of the media in attendance that doesn’t wet his pants when a car sells for a million bucks.

I have a framed memento from my time at Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car. The art department that I so enjoyed working with put it together for me when I left last year. It’s a month-by-month summary of the covers of every issue of S&E I helped to put out. In 57 months, we ran three covers in which either Monterey or Scottsdale were the featured story. Only one cover referenced the auction total for the weekend. It was my third issue as editor at S&E, and I always felt kind of badly about it because I thought focusing on the sum total of money changing hands at the auctions somehow degraded the fun of just looking at all those cars.

There have always been wealthy people interested in fine automobiles. No getting around that. But when people bought and sold cars in the past, they’d do it either person-to-person, or through a broker, privately. When I buy anything, unless I got a smoking deal on it, I don’t want anybody knowing what I paid for it.

Apparently simply owning a one-off vintage automobile isn’t enough. You’ve got to sneakily raise your bidder’s card into the air, bid unreasonable sums of money, and then put on your best poker face and look like you didn’t really want the car when your outrageous bid comes out on top. And then everybody else with the hundred bucks to get into the event gives you a standing ovation. When it’s all over, you pile into your Prius and head for the hotel, because you need to look like you give a fuck for the environment.

Vintage car auctions have become a spectacle much like Pebble Beach has: for all the wrong reasons. A large number of the people who go to Pebble Beach or to the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale don’t really care much about cars. They’re there because a few really rich, influential people are there, and they feel like they need to put on their best white slacks and go, too. Witness the entourage of sycophants and hangers-on that follow Jay Leno around at Pebble Beach. There are at least as many people willing to shell out $200 a pop to get their picture taken with Jay as there are people who would actually like to get a look at the automobiles.

Millions of people are out of work. Folks who had hopes of enjoying a comfortable retirement are now passing out stickers at the Wal-Mart entrance to make a few bucks to pay for their wife’s medical needs. Those that have jobs are witnessing their purchasing power erode like the dunes on Cape Cod.

And for some reason, all the media wants to report on is how some rarified specimen paid $16 million for a Ferrari. I don’t get it. Given the opportunity to cover these auctions, I consistently would choose to feature the cars that WEREN’T the subject of every other story in every other magazine. What cars sold that working-class schmucks like me and the readers of my magazine would be interested in, and could possibly afford?

You might think this is just sour grapes because I can’t afford the sixteen million bucks for some of these cars, but that’s not it at all. I’ve never, even for a minute, been interested in super-exotics – even Corvettes, for that matter – because they’re just not for me. I get that. They’ve never really been on my radar, and I’m completely ok with that. There are plenty of cars out there for everyone. But what really bothers me is the trickle-down effect of prices that have no basis in any reality other than the world’s most public cock-measuring contest. It has an effect on all of us. If you were interested in LS-6 Chevelle convertibles after the 2006 edition of Barrett-Jackson’s sale of the Truppi-Kling Chevelle, you saw the prices of those cars go into the stratosphere, thanks to the million-plus realized there. Two years later, that car sold for a much more reasonable quarter of a million, but the prices for every other LS-6 never really came down accordingly.

Similarly, the price for every service associated with owning an old car has increased commensurate with the prices being realized at auction. I wanted to have a new set of seats covers installed in my 1968 Buick Riviera. For five years, I received quotes well over $1,000 to do the job, which was $300 more than what I paid for the entire car. I knew the cost of the materials, and I had a good idea how long it would take a skilled professional to sew up a set of covers and I could never make the math work without including a massive premium just because the work was taking place on an old car. Finally, after years of searching, I found a great upholsterer who did the job for $450, cash on the barrelhead. Paint, bodywork, chrome, tires, the cost of owning an old car has gone from just expensive to prohibitively expensive for a whole lot of enthusiasts.


Recovering these seats shouldn't cost half again more than the price of the car just becuase it's old.

As I waded through my Facebook updates, I couldn’t decide what I cared less about, the top results at the Monterey Auctions or Kim Kardashian’s wedding. Pick your brand of self-obsessed conspicuous consumption.

Posted in Vintage Cars | 5 Comments

This Week on ThrottleYard

I’m having a great time finding cool bikes for sale and writing about them on ThrottleYard. It’s really forcing me to try and think about the bikes an audience of enthusiasts would find interesting, and I think I’ve managed to come up with some neat stuff.

Check ’em out and leave comments:

1956 Bianchi Mendola

1988 Harley-Davidson Sportster

Harris Estate Auction, Norwood, Mass.

1957 Zundapp Bella

1966 Ducati Monza

Posted in Motorcycles, Publishing, ThrottleYard, Vintage Cars, Vintage Motorcycles | 1 Comment

Sweet Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf FrontI’m not a proponent of alternative fuels, alternative power, hybrid cars or anything other than the internal combustion engine. We’ve come nowhere near the end of what an internal combustion engine is capable of. Fuel mileage can be dramatically increased if we’d all just get used to the fact that our workaday passenger cars can’t weigh 4,000 pounds and have creature comforts unheard of in the most exclusive luxury cars just a few decades ago. And when the shit does finally hit the fan, most of us already have the technology to deliver infinity miles per gallon by just working from where we are, rather than schlepping into an office every goddamned day.

That said, in certain, ideal circumstances, the Leaf works. Let’s start off where it’s not going to work: anywhere the temperature doesn’t hover between 55 and 78 degrees. Anywhere with steep hills. Anywhere the commute involves long stretches of highway. Anywhere with expensive electricity. Anywhere you like to leave town. The Leaf is most effective in a city environment where you don’t plan on taking longer trips. That works if you’ve got access to a conventional Zipcar or something that can take you on a trip of longer than 100 miles.

That’s the basic, effective range of the Leaf. You can extend that range in a number of ways, including not driving like an asshole. Slow, steady acceleration and avoiding sudden stops increases the mileage significantly.

2011 Nissan Leaf Engine

Ceci n'est pas une four-cylinder.

You can also extend the mileage by making yourself ridiculously uncomfortable in the heat and in the cold. The biggest drain on the Leaf’s range is the climate control system. Turning it on immediately reduces your range by about ten percent. So if you live in New England, where the temperature ranges from sub-zero in the depths of winter, to over 100 in the dog days of summer, you’re either going to have to get used to shorter trips, or get used to wearing a union suit and/or a thong depending on the ambient temperature. Better have both at the ready in the spring.

I live in Holliston, Massachusetts and commute regularly to Waltham. As the crow flies, it’s about a 25 mile trip, but with two gagillion other stupid crows on the road at the same time, it translates to about an hour of mixed traffic, including some 40 mph back roads, stop and go town center traffic, and a short, 65 mph stretch of 128.

In the Leaf at a comfortable 70 degrees, I can make that round trip once with plenty of juice to spare for a couple of side trips at lunch, and a run out in the evening. Doing that depletes the Leaf’s battery to the point where a full charge is necessary. Most Leaf owners will also invest in the 240v charger, which cuts charging time from empty to full to about four hours. Plugging it in to a standard wall socket is possible, but not practical. On a standard 120v plug, the Leaf takes about 18 hours to fully charge. I had about a quarter of a charge left when the Leaf arrived at my house. I plugged it in at about 6:00 pm. By 7:00 the next morning, I’d only reached about 85 percent capacity, so the charging station is an absolute must.

2011 Nissan Leaf Charging

"If you have a better method of exchanging long protein strands, I'd like to hear it."

Getting one requires an electrical assessment that costs $100, which can later be applied to the cost of having a charger installed. The station itself runs about $2,200, provided you don’t have to have your home’s electrical system upgraded. Most modern homes with 200 amp service will be fine, but depending on how far the electrical panel is from the garage could run into additional installation fees. The federal government offers a tax credit of $2,000 for installation, and you can roll the fee for the charging station into the financing of the Leaf.

The first two plugs I tried in my garage were GFCI protected, which most modern homes are going to have. When the charger came on, the draw threw the ground fault interrupter in the outlet. I had to search around for an outlet that wasn’t GFCI protected for the Leaf to charge. I found one at the very limit of the Leaf’s charger’s 15-foot cord. You can’t plug the charger into an extension cord, so the outlet has to be relatively close by.

With an 85 percent charge, I left the driveway with about 85 miles at my disposal. It was a rainy, damp, chilly morning and by the time I hit the end of my street, the windshield had fogged up. I pressed the front window defroster button and my range immediately dropped by 10 miles. Not good. One of the annoying things about the Leaf – and all modern cars, in fact – is that pressing the defrost button not only cranks the fan to high, but also turns on the air conditioning system to evaporate the fog on the window faster. That saps the battery significantly. Simply turning the fan on at a low speed and cracking a window can eliminate a lot of fog, but the Leaf won’t let me do that. Turning the fan down turns off the defroster. Oooo, I hate that. So, to preserve the mileage, I ran with the window slightly open.

2011 Nissan Leaf Dash

You'll spend too much time staring at this readout. It makes driving like an old lady entertaining

The wipers have a slight effect on range, also, as do the headlights, but there’s a secondary, conventional lead acid battery in place to run those accessories.

One of the biggest faults I have with almost all small, four-cylinder economy cars is that the engines are noisy, buzzy and crude. I really haven’t driven one that wasn’t, even from the most notable four-cylinder producers. That objection is completely off the table with the Leaf. In stop and go traffic, the Leaf is an absolute pleasure. It emits a barely perceptible whine, which, at first, sounds like an ambulance siren off in the distance, but you learn quickly to quit checking your mirrors looking for it. At all speeds, the Leaf is amazingly quiet. Wind noise is at a minimum and what you hear most of is the tires rolling against the pavement. It’s wonderful.

2011 Nissan Leaf Interior

The Leaf's interior is, surprisingly, one of its nicest attributes.

The passenger cabin is fantastic. The seats are comfortable and not too hard, although I would’ve appreciated the nicely padded left armrest that’s on the door of the Versa. The Leaf’s armrest is hard. Inside, the Leaf’s light colored interior and well designed dash makes the car feel twice its size. Visibility is much better than most cars today, and rear seatroom is respectable, even for adults. The cargo area is small, but no smaller than you’d expect from a car in this category. In summary, it works like you want it to. From a comfort and driving perspective, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the Leaf is significantly BETTER than any compact car than I can think of. It’s more comfortable, it’s more pleasant in traffic, and it’s tens of decibels quieter.

But does it work as a car? Not really. The Leaf is priced at $32,780, which is really steep considering you can buy the cheapest Versa for less than $10,000. But the government also credits you a whopping $7,500, which brings the price down to a more reasonable $25,280. But don’t confuse “tax credit” with “tax refund.” You won’t be getting a check from Uncle Sam to help pay the note on the full $32,780 every month.

The cost of electricity in my area is about $.08 a kilowatt hour, which sort of equates to a gas price of about $.75 a gallon, if I can trust the numbers from an article in Scientific American in 2009. I can guarantee they’re better at math than I am. So, over the course of a year, driving an electric car 10,000 miles will save you about $650 per year in fuel cost over a vehicle like the Prius. If I had the charging station, I could get a full charge in four hours. It would be nice if I had a charging station near the office, too, but the closest one is three or four miles away. I assume that will change in the coming years, but today, it’s not an option.

2011 Nissan Leaf Rear

The view a lot of other cars will see...oh, wait a minute.

With a full charge every night, I could get to about 90 percent of the places I need to go…in the three weeks of spring and fall when the temperature is ideal. Air conditioning in the summer would make cut my range significantly, though I’d be more likely to be able to live without A/C than heat. If I had to run the heater on a regular basis, I’d barely have enough range to get to work and back, and I simply can’t drive a car that doesn’t provide heat.

I could run it at a much lower temperature, but when I can get pretty damned good mileage out of a Mini Cooper, fill the tank in any town in America, blast the heat until I had to strip down to my underpants and not worry about whether I can get home, it’s a significantly better option in all practical terms.

I can’t say I don’t appreciate the effort, though. If I lived in San Diego, I think I’d consider one.

Posted in Commuting, New Cars | 4 Comments

Why “the News” shouldn’t cover cars

PriusTwo stories in the last few days have cemented my opinion that every news channel should have a legitimate automotive expert on speed-dial, if not on staff.

The first was the news that ABC News’s “Chief Investigative Correspondent” Brian Ross won himself a coveted Edward R. Murrow Award for his investigative report on the Toyota Prius’s “unintended accelleration” issue, which, as we all know now, turned out to be caused by stupid people whose size 14 flip-flops mash the gas and the brake at the same time.

ABC News Brian Ross

Hello. I'm Brian Ross, a festering boil on the ass of society.

Ross — whom Gawker has named “America’s Wrongest Reporter” — won the Murrow award despite the fact that Gawker called him out  for faking the video that he edited, using video of a racing tachometer shot in a parked, idling car to heighten the drama. The footage he eventually reedited and updated on ABC’s website shows the tachometer from another vehicle, which apparently Ross felt best made his point.

During the entire Prius drama, I was living up in Bennington, Vermont, working for Hemmings Motor News. As a public service to Prius owners, many of them afraid to drive the cars after Ross’s — and other journalist’s — uninformed scaremongering, I contacted the producers of every network affiliate in the Albany area, offering a tutorial on how to stop a Prius if it ran away for one reason or another (turning it off works, so does shifting into neutral, and so does mashing the brake pedal to the floor after you’ve determinted your foot isn’t on the gas.) I could secure a Prius for the story, and I was willing to drive it right to the station’s door.

I didn’t come at this completely out of left field. I was the editor of a national publication, I had contacts in the media, and I’d been on television as a “qualifed expert” (whatever that means) before.

I didn’t even get a return phone call. You see, it’s more exciting to report scary news that frightens old ladies than it is to actually try and help someone.

The second story in the last seven days that indicates newspeople not only don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, but can’t be bothered to even find anything out, is a story linked from the Hemmings Blog from the Atlanta ABC affiliate, WSBTV.

The headline of the story reads: “Historic $500,000 Georgia Car Sits in Fed Warehouse”

Wow, what kind of a car must that be? Gee, a half a million bucks could buy all the motorcycles at the St. Paul MidAmerica auction.  $500,000 was also the top price bid for “Gilda,” a tag-team effort between Virgil Exner and the coachworks Ghia. So this must be some car the government is sitting on.

Well, as the story tells us, it’s a rare, desirable, ultra-collectable 1973 Impala sedan. In green. One of the ten hundred gagillion green Impalas Chevy built that year, and every year throughout the 1970s.

Now, to be fair, the interesting part about the ’73 Impala is that it is the first production car to feature optional airbags, which would later become a ubiquitous feature in all cars for sale in the United States, so if it ever came up at auction, it would probably bid higher than the $4,500 a pedestrian Impala might bring.

But half a million? Uh. No.

Why? Because nobody gives a shit.

It’s an interesting historical footnote at best. The only people who would truly be interested are safety nerds, and none of those are car collectors. Vintage car collectors want less of the shit that the government mandated into our cars, not more.

So where did this wildly optimistic figure come from? None other than the noted vintage automotive expert Byron Bloch.

Yeah, I don’t know who he is, either. I’ve been in this business for 18 years and I’ve never heard his name before. So I did a Google search and found his website. Turns out, he’s an “Auto Safety Expert.”  I quote:

Our areas of expertise include: Fuel Tank – Fires, Truck Underride Hazards, Truck Conspicuity, Rollover – Roof Crush, Seat Backrest Collapse, Side Impact – Intrusion, Airbags That Kill or Injure, Side Windows – Ejection, Seatbelts – Slack & Automatics, Vehicle Mismatch, Trucks Without Backup Lights & Alarms, and more.

So if you find yourself injured in a crash, ol’ Byron here is the kind of guy that’s going to present expert testimony that it was the car’s fault, not the eleven vodka tonics you had, nor the fact that you were traveling 89 mph in a school zone, never checked the air in your tires, and were jabbering on your cell phone with the seat belt flapping in the wind when the accident occurred.

Byron Bloch

Hello, I'm Byron Bloch. Crash your Explorer while playing the trumpet and eating soup? Call me!

What he knows about the value of a vintage car, I have no idea, but WSBTV felt strongly enough about his “expert testimony” that they used it as the inflammatory headline for their hatchet job. 

Now whether or not you agree that the Federal government should have such a car in storage, that’s your call. I’m not losing any sleep over NHTSA hanging onto a $10,000 Impala that most vintage car collectors would like to see in a crusher, but hey, that’s just me.

In conclusion, I’m putting out a call to all media outlets: If you don’t know anything about cars, PLEASE STOP TALKING. You’re making the rest of us crazy.

Thank you.

Posted in News, NHTSA, Publishing, Vintage Cars | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your humble scribe on ThrottleYard

ThrottleYard logo

Find me here if you like rusty old crap as much as I do

If you’re anything like me, before your feet hit the floor in the morning, you’re combing eBay, Craigslist, and every other classified site you can think of to see what’s out there for vintage cars, trucks and motorcycles for sale.

BringATrailer.com was a revelation to me. “Wait, you mean I don’t have to find this stuff myself? I just sign up for updates in email or “Like” the page on Facebook and suddenly, I’m updated with a bunch of cool cars for sale every single day? How in the name of Zeus did I live without this before today?!”

Naturally, all great ideas live so that other people can copy them. I had the brilliant idea to put together a similar site for motorcycles, to the point that a friend of mine designed a logo and we found a cool URL and everything.

Of course, I then found a shiny set of keys and got distracted and it never came to fruition.

Within a few months, BringATrailer had developed its own motorcycle-specific blog, and my dreams of fame, fortune, girls and a 10,000-gallon fishtank on my blog earnings went up in smoke.

Fast forward to a month ago and I found out the blog, ThrottleYard, was looking for a few good folks to find cool bikes, write up a little synopsis and post them up. I applied for the gig and got it.

The best part is that I get paid a few bucks to do it. When I told my wife Lisa, the following conversation ensued:

Lisa: So…you find crappy old motorcycles for sale online and write about them?

Me: Yes.

Lisa: And you get paid for this?

Me: Yes.

Lisa: But you do that anyway.

Me: Yes.

Lisa: *____*

It’s not like I’m rolling in fat wads of cash or anything. But it pays a little stipend that should be enough to keep me in Sunoco 93 and cheap guitars for the summer, and I’m really having fun with it.

You can check out a few of my posts with the links below. Better yet, just sign up for the email updates, or Like the page on Facebook to get automatically alerted when something’s new.

Executive Class: 1982 BMW R100RS

The Un-Vespa: 1966 Ducati 100 Brio

Orange Crush: 1980 Can-Am 400 Qualifier 3

Posted in Motorcycles | 4 Comments

2011 Jeep Compass Latitude: Adios.

2011 Jeep Compass

The last gasp of the old Chrysler, we hope.

Disclaimer: This is a harsh review. Lest anyone think this is some kind of a blanket indictment of Jeep or Chrysler, it’s not. I’ve seen Chrysler build a truly fine new Charger, Grand Cherokee, Durango, 200 and 300 already, so I’m excited to see what’s in store in the coming years. The Compass/Patriot is mercifully at the end of the line, to be replaced in 2012 with something new from Fiat/Chrysler.

“Compass” is one of those words that you can make less and less sense of the more you read it. Try it: compass compass compass compass… It starts to look like it isn’t really a word after all.

I had much the same reaction to the 2011 Jeep Compass. It makes less and less sense the more time you spend with it.

To figure out how the Compass and the even more confusing Patriot came into being, we need to rewind a few years to when Jeep still had a Cherokee. The XJ had outlived its usable life by at least a generation, but it was still one of a few vehicles that slotted into that space. Most compact SUVs were growing bigger by the year. Take a look at where the Explorer was going as an example.

Jeep Cherokee

Jeep sold the shit out of Cherokees, long after their sell-by date had passed

Nevertheless, people really, really liked the Cherokee. It was inexpensive, tough as an old boot, and even in the leather-clad Limited trims, had still resisted all the finery that had been bestowed on most SUVs of the era. Jeep was making money hand over fist with the Cherokee, but it wasn’t enough. So they killed it, and “replaced” it with the Commander.

Now let me say that I was one of the three people that actually liked the Commander. I used it to tow a U-Haul trailer with a motorcycle in it out to Syracuse, NY, and I don’t think the Commander ever noticed it had a trailer attached, which certainly wasn’t the case with the Cherokee. But it was a big, V8-powered behemoth and not a suitable replacement for the Cherokee at all.

On the lower end, Jeep had the Liberty. Jeep pitched the Liberty as another pseudo-replacement for the Cherokee years before, but the fact was, the Liberty wasn’t particularly useful off-road, had pretty limited appeal to Jeep folks thanks to its front-drive bias, and was sort of the red-headed stepchild of the Jeep line when it was introduced. I witnessed this firsthand when I went on a Jeep Jamboree with a Liberty, and was met with almost universal disdain by the hard-core Jeepers in attendance. The Liberty had a few issues on the off-road course, but ended up making it through to the surprise of those I traveled with, but I don’t think it won any converts.

Fast forward to 2008 and suddenly, the Jeep Liberty IS finally a suitable replacement for the XJ Cherokee, to the point that it’s called the Cherokee outside North America. Completely revamped and sporting V6 power from the get-go, the Liberty even sort of looks like a modern interpretation of the XJ, dispensing with the rounded corners of the older Liberty.

Now that the Liberty is the middleweight SUV with towing capacity and rugged good looks, Jeep would’ve been left without a contender in the small, “cheap” SUV market.  Enter the Compass in 2007, with a redesign in 2011, in keeping with Chrysler’s attempt to make everybody forget about the generally awful vehicles it was producing in the last few years.

The Compass is one of those seemingly hundred or so vehicles that are underpinned by the DaimlerChrysler/Mitsubishi GS platform. It provides the platform for the Dodge Caliber, the current Chrysler 200, the Mitsubishi Outlander, the Mitsubishi Lancer, a couple of Mitsubishis we don’t see in America, plus a Citroen and the Malaysian Proton Inspira.

Now, unlike the guy from the Detroit News,  I like the new 200, but stretching and twisting a platform to build everything from a compact sedan to an ice-cream truck makes less and less sense the further you get away from the original design. Sedans. Fine. Small SUVs, not so much, especially when there are sooooo many good ones on the market now.

For 2011, the Compass was redesigned to have more of the look of the Grand Cherokee, which is honestly one of the nicest SUVs I’ve ever had the privilege of driving. Anybody interested in that class of vehicles should drive the Grand Cherokee or they’re doing themselves a disservice.

Unfortunately, none of that greatness filters down to the Compass. The driving dynamics are just lousy, from start to finish. The Compass is powered by a singularly unimpressive 2.4-liter, 16-valve, transverse mounted four that churns out 172 noisy, not particularly useful horsepower. In this application, the 2.4-liter is a gas engine that has all of the clattery sound and flaccid acceleration of a diesel, with none of the benefits. It certainly felt better in the 200, but in the Compass, it’s gutless and slow.

2011 Jeep Compass seats

I'll admit I liked this material.

Maybe that’s because if you choose an automatic transmission, you have no choice but to select one of two versions of an awful continuously variable transmission. I’ll give Chrysler the benefit of the doubt here, because CVTs almost universally stink. So far, I’ve driven exactly one CVT that didn’t feel like a conventional automatic on its last legs. They’re all bad. Trust me here. For the love of Christ, learn to drive a stick.

This version was the CVT2L, which features a low range for “crawling.” Word to the wise: despite the Trail Rated badge, and the assurance that the Compass can ford streams and climb obstacles, I’d no sooner take a Compass off-road than I would a Mercury Topaz. I’m sure you can do it, but there are dozens of vehicles better suited to the task.

The engine and transmission combo gets an EPA estimate of 28 highway miles per gallon, which is nonsense. You’ll never get close to that in the real world. In mixed driving, I saw 21 mpg, and I don’t think I ever put the pedal to the floor, and I certainly never pushed it past 75 mph.  The 12-ish gallon tank means that fillups are never too far away.

Inside, the cabin is just ok, but nowhere near where it needs to be in this class, with fast comers like the Kia Sportage delivering impressive interiors for the same money. The best thing I can say is that I like the material the seats are upholstered in. The rear seats are small and cramped, especially for two kids in car seats. The door openings are small and make loading toddlers inside a chore. In fairness, I thought the cargo area was fairly generous, but in a small vehicle like this, the room has to come from somewhere.

2011 Jeep Compass Interior

For $22,000? Not impressed.

At highway speed, the Compass felt ok as long as the road was arrow straight. An evasive maneuver to avoid a chunk of sheetmetal in the road was met with a wallowing suspension that never quite got me around the obstacle without making me feel like I was going to end up on the roof. The wind we’ve been experiencing in New England the last few weeks had a decidedly disconcerting effect on the Compass when it hit the vehicle broadside.

In conclusion, I would continue driving a 100,000 mile Escape before I invested a breathtaking $22,760 (before $1500 in local incentives) for a well-equipped 4×4 Compass Latitude. They say they don’t build bad cars anymore. I say, drive a Compass first before registering that opinion.

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Forgotten Superbike: 1995 Moto Guzzi Sport 1100

Moto Guzzis are met with almost deafening apathy in this country. Generally, they’re found in three categories: wildly overpriced, ridden like a rented mule or cheap. This 1995 Moto Guzzi Sport 1100 seems to fall into the latter group. Avaialble for $4,850 here on the Moto Guzzi National Owners Club classifieds page (scroll down a bit. It was posted on 5/11), the owner notes that he’d consider a trade, and he’d ride it to your door if your door happens to be within reasonable distance of New Milford, Connecticut.

Built in Mandello del Lario and imported here in small numbers between 1995 and 2000, the 1100 Sport fell between the tail end of the original Tonti-framed LeMans and the later V11 Sports, which eventually revived the LeMans nameplate.

These bikes — all Moto Guzzis, in fact — are an acquired taste. But once you get bitten by the Guzzi bug, it’s hard to justify any other kind of motorcycle. You find yourself defending them as if you were defending your choice to drive a 2002 Lincoln Town Car rather than a Lexus. Sure, they’re big, they’re heavy and they’re built on an antique architecture, but one twist of the throttle at idle — when that big 1100cc V-Twin tries to twist itself from under you — and every other motorcycle looks pedestrian in comparison.

They’re not quick to steer, but once you get one rolled over, it’ll hold a line whether you want it to or not. The V-twin offers 90hp, but you’ll mostly be impressed by the big, fat wad of torque down low. The common advice is to find a later, fuel injected Sport 1100 which debuted in 1996, but there’s really nothing wrong with these carbureted bikes, either. The gearbox is — again, like all Moto Guzzis — “agricultural,” and features neutrals all over the place. The design is about as timeless as a modern Italian sportbike can get, but it’s wrapped around an old-school motorcycle. The seat will have you in tears in a hundred miles, so don’t plan on riding it across the country. It’s a great backroad blaster, though.

This example looks just like the kind of bike you’d want to buy if you planned on riding a bit, rather than putting it in a climate controlled garage somewhere. Red’s the color to buy and the finish on this bike looks three feet deep. The exposed V-twin is as clean as you’d expect considering the Guzzi has covered fewer than a thousand miles a year since new. The owner suggests he’s got many more photos to share, which should illuminate some of the details you’d want to know about before buying.

For an Italian motorcycle built in not-so-great numbers, Moto Guzzi 1100 Sports are fairly bulletproof and easy to work on, without the 6,000-mile timing belt intervals of a Ducati. Once you learn its idiosyncracies, you’ll be like a Corvair owner, with 11 Guzzis parked in the garage.

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