Author - Jack Baruth

Speed Read: 2010 Chrysler 300C SRT-8

Dates in fleet:8/28/2010 – 9/2/2010

Mileage: 2470

MSRP and major options: $49,195. SRT Option Group II — electronic upgrades ($900), Kicker SRT sound system ($685)

J. BARUTH: With the LY-based 2011 model just around the corner, could our Deep Sea Blue SRT-8 be perhaps the very last LX-platform Chrysler 300 to find its way into a press fleet? It’s certainly one of the most expensive cars in history to wear the Chrysler nameplate, just knocking politely at the door labeled “Fifty Grand”. For that kind of money — less than five hundred dollars cheaper than a new BMW 535i — this had better be a very special car indeed. To find out, we crossed the country at, ahem, a brisk pace, winding up at Virginia International Raceway.
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Avoidable Contact #37: Branding got Ford into the Ranger/Panther mess, so why can’t it get them out?

Ninety-nine percent of “automotive journalism” is repeating what you’ve just been told, particularly if it seems to make a bit of sense, so it’s no surprise that several color rags and major websites have run nearly identical features about the sales of Ford’s marked-for-death Panther-platform cars and Ranger pickups. In July, the Ranger outsold the Volvo brand in the United States, nearly outsold Lincoln, and moved more units than nearly every other Ford vehicle available. The Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Town Car together are outselling the brand-new Taurus and nearly-new Flex despite having not received a major update since 1998 or thereabouts.

Most of these articles will then go on to wonder why Ford is throwing away nearly 15,000 units a month of paid-off platform sales, particularly when they have no replacement for either the Ranger or the Panthers on the horizon. 180,000 sales a year isn’t anything to sneeze about in this market, and surely the profits on these vehicles are extremely substantial. Why not just keep making the Ranger, Crown Vic, Grand Marquis, and Town Car until the volume doesn’t justify starting up the assembly plant in the morning?

Twenty or thirty years ago, that’s exactly what Ford would have done, and they would have been right to do so. Today, the answer isn’t so clear-cut. What’s changed? Branding. Follow along as I explain why Ford needs to cut these nameplates loose… but why it might make sense to keep the vehicles themselves in production.

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Speed Read: 2010 Ford Transit Connect XLT

Dates in fleet:: 7/14/2010 – 7/21/2010

Mileage:: 1410

MSRP and major options: $23,600. Roll Stability Control ($545)

J. BARUTH: Ford made one major mistake with the Transit Connect: not bringing it here five years ago. As a small businessman myself, and someone who has worked a ton of lousy delivery jobs, I would suggest that the Transit Connect could replace perhaps half of the full-size vans in service today.

I used the Transit Connect for two major jobs. Job 1 was transporting myself, thirteen guitars, one amplifier, and a stacked set of air mattresses to the “ElectraFest” in St. Louis. ElectraFest is a private meeting of vintage Japanese guitar enthusiasts. (The guitars are Japanese and vintage, while the attendees are merely vintage.) Over the course of a thousand miles, the TC was fast enough, quite economical, quiet, and pleasant to drive. Job 2 was taking twenty 18″ Porsche wheel/tire combos from my garage to our race shop; click the jump to see how they fit.

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Avoidable Contact #36: The culture wars gave Toyota a license to kill.

Are Toyotas really accelerating without warning? It’s hard to say, since it’s been years since I saw any Toyota besides a Tundra even keep up with the normal flow of traffic. The Camry is the official car of the left-lane hog, the chosen transport of that woman ahead of you who ABS-locks her brakes for a yellow light and then won’t enter the intersection for a left on green. By and large, Toyotas are characterless cars purchased by fearful, fretting nebbishes. Twenty years ago, Toyota ads screamed “OH WHAT A FEELING!” but today’s Toyota ads are naked appeals to terror of the unknown. Do you clutch your organic-fiber blanket in bed at night and roll around shaking, dreading the day when your car requires service or — gasp! — maintenance? Toyota has the car for you. Corolla! It’s for cowards! Oh what a feeling!

If the average Toyota buyer is afraid of her own shadow and worries about automotive catastrophe constantly, surely the prospect of UNINTENDED ACCELERATION RIGHT INTO A FLAMING WALL OF DEATH should be enough to keep every Camry in the United States off the road, right? Well, that would certainly be the case, except for one little thing: there is a force that motivates the average Toyota fan or purchase far more than fear, and that force is pure, blinding hatred.
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2011 Grand Cherokee: A dream come true.

It has all the qualities of a particularly unusual dream, but I doubt that I am dreaming. I am sitting in a 2011 Grand Cherokee Overland V6, next to the absolutely stunning Latina television host, Teresa Bravo, and we are banked to nearly forty-five lateral degrees. To our left is an unforgiving rock face; to the right, a drop of perhaps five hundred feet, all the way down to to where we started. I can see other Grand Cherokees down there, and they are small enough to be covered by a thumb held at arm’s length. This qualifies as a sticky situation.

The V-6 growls, the absurdly intelligent Quadra-Drive II system speaks to the sand through the three tires still in contact with the ground, and we are around the embankment and back on solid ground. It was a masterful piece of driving, if I do say so myself… and I will do so reluctantly, because Teresa, not I, was responsible for it.
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