Tag Archives: v8

SSL on the road: 2011 Mustang GT Coupe

It was just outside Route 411's 'Last Chance Beer & Fireworks' at the Tennessee border that the Mustang I was driving nearly died on me. Not in the literal sense, mind you. Internet-fueled worries aside, the Getrag gearbox on this particular example did not lunch itself. The failure my car experienced was more of the existential variety, and it came to a head while cruising the byways of one of small-town America's last great hamlets. Any car enthusiast worth their salt knows all the particulars of the newest Mustang GT by now. A 4951 cc, 412 horsepower DOHC brute under the hood, 0-60 in 4.something and a $30 grand base. Among the best performance buys of the decade, and all that jazz. Some reviews have even suggested an almost Germanic quality that places it in the rarefied air of other 4-seaters costing nearly twice as much. But that's a bunch of BS. Because more than anything, today’s Mustang GT is still every bit the American muscle car. And it's also probably the last. In a way, the muscle car can trace its lineage back to the mountain roads I'm driving today. At the confluence of the Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina state lines, a mix of light population, rolling hills and valleys, and smooth pavement exists that easily rivals anything elsewhere in the USA. In the 1920s, moonshiners stripped weight out of their cars and added go-faster parts to better evade authorities and keep the South well-oiled with bathtub mint juleps. When Prohibition ended, locals transferred the skills learned on these roads to the track, and NASCAR was born. The horsepower wars took off as manufacturer-sponsored ‘stock’ cars entered the fray, and the rest is history. The ponies and Clydesdales we're left with today (Camaro and Mustang in the former group; Charger, Challenger and 300C in the latter) are the U.S.'s last remaining carriers of the torch. These stable mates have all strayed from their humble roots in one way or another over the years, but the GT is noteworthy for being the only one left with a V-8 out front, a manual gear shift between the seats (if so desired), and a live axle distributing power to the road. None of the other cars give the option of having all three together. And don't even think about asking for flappy-paddles. Word on the street is that the Mustang loses the solid rear in its next iteration, spelling the end of the hallowed combination's availability to this market, possibly for good. But nostalgia aside, it might not be that much of a loss. There are various ways the GT lets its graying roots show, and the live axle out back is chief among them. Ford's engineers have done miraculous things with the current GT's suspension setup, but the way the back end sidesteps over mid-corner ruts and expansion joints belies the car’s modern wrapper. The rest of the suspension components feel softened to make up for the live axle's deficiencies- brake dive and acceleration squat are ever present despite the 'sport suspension' of this Brembo-package car. It's not just the axle, though. The thoroughly fresh 5-0's old school sound feels just a bit too piped-in, like the 1960s surf music at a Disney water park. The shifter and clutch still require man-sized efforts, and you can hear all the various driveline parts mesh and gnash as torque makes its way to the rear Pirellis. That’s not to say that Ford hasn’t advanced the Mustang leaps and bounds from the days of the Fox and SN95 platforms, because this car's in-town manners, comfort, ergonomics, and feature content shame its competitors. It's also quick. Damn quick. The 5-liter provides meaningful thrust anywhere in the rev range, allowing you to exploit the chassis in just about any gear. Four-piston front Brembo calipers clamping dinner plate-sized 14” rotors make for reassuring stops despite the car's weight, although pedal feel could be firmer. The 255-width Pirelli P-Zeros hang on for dear life in high-speed sweepers, as well as the tight undulating hairpins of the Tail of the Dragon (aka US 129) in Tennessee. It takes a ham-fisted stab of the throttle to get the tail into action on the tighter corners, which the defeatable stability control quickly reins in. Stabilitrak's sport mode allows more sideways slip, but even on these tight roads, it takes a committed disregard for self-preservation to get the tail end dancing. The nose dutifully follows the light steering, which isn’t especially quick but is always predictable and easy to read. All these elements combine to achieve very high limits, but the car doesn't truly tempt you to approach them. There's a stoic demeanor that stands in contrast to the enthusiastic give-and-take relationship of driver and car that you would get in an RX-8, M3 or Porsche. Combine these foibles with its numerous strengths, and you end up with a car that is pleasant to live with as a daily, but never as engaging as it could be on the most rewarding roads and racetracks. It’s likely that the car’s few remaining rough edges will be polished clean with the switch to IRS. And though the Tennessee hills might weep for the loss of their prodigal son, the car should be better to drive on these roads as a result. Which is progress most enthusiasts can get behind.        

Lord Byron — Yes*, it’s got a HEMI

Ray Wert, the Jalop of Jalops over at www.jalopnik.com, recently wrote a piece about the HEMI brand and the upcoming 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. For those who aren't scrutinizing the JGC's launch on the same level as us know-it-alls, let me catch you up. Essentially, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee will no longer have a 5.7L HEMI engine. Instead, it will have a 5.7L OHV MDS V8 with Variable-valve Timing... and an engine cover emblazoned with enormous, embossed "HEMI" branding.

It's okay if you're confused, but it boils down to this: Jeep will no longer feature the HEMI branding within its vehicle lineup. The same engine will be branded as a HEMI in other Chrysler Group LLC products (as Jeep Brand Marketing Head Honcho Jim Morrison put it, they'll be leaving it to "the Dodge and truck guys"), but not in a Jeep.

But why? Mr. Wert proposes that this is green-washing--an effort by Chrysler to minimize the enthusiast value of their vehicles in front of an ever-more-environmentally-focused media. It's not a poor argument. Just look around at the rest of the industry. Ford's twin-turbo, 350+ horsepower V6 monster is dubbed "EcoBoost," for crying out loud. If that's not green marketing, I don't know what is. But in the context of Chrysler, I think Wert's assessment, while not unreasonable, isn't quite on the mark.

When I attended the 2011 JGC launch event in D.C., the real theme that jumped out at me was luxury. Morrison made it a point to use that word and other terms that evoked the idea as often as grammatically feasible, even setting aside product information momentarily to emphatically remind everybody that Jeep essentially invented the premium SUV with the Wagoneer in the 1960s (before the Range Rover was even a blip on the Brits' radar) and brought about the modern incarnation of it with the original Grand Cherokee in 1992.

So how, as a brand marketing manager, could Morrison possibly reconcile that theme with the branding that put Jon Reep on our T.V. screens, screaming, "That thing got a HEMI?" at us for the better part of two years? Obviously, he didn't want to.

And when you look at Chrysler Group as a whole, the divorcing of brands makes more sense. One of the primary goals of the Fiat-Chrysler merger is to differentiate the various brands under the corporate umbrella and play to their strengths. Dodge is the sporty brand. Ram is the truck brand. Chrysler is the luxury brand. And Jeep is the 4x4 brand. Can there be some spill-over? Of course. There have been no announced plans to curtail future SRT development, and with unconfirmed shots of 2012 Grand Cherokee SRT-8 models rolling around, it's clear that the HEMI (Ahem... MDS V8 with Variable-valve Timing) itself isn't going to leave the lineup any time soon.

The homogenization of brand identities has been a disaster for domestic car manufacturers (see Pontiac, Mercury and Saturn). Chrysler was well on its way down this particular road too. Chrysler and Dodge were essentially indistinguishable, and Jeep and Dodge also had heavy overlap in product, if not necessarily in mission.

Remember, marketing isn't simply how a company presents itself to its audience; it's also how a company defines that audience. If your branding is muddled and mired, your brand strategy will follow suit.

And just who is Jeep targeting with the Grand Cherokee? Here's what they had to say about it in their press kit:

"Jeep Grand Cherokee buyers are 55 percent male and 45 percent female. They are affluent and educated with active, outdoor lifestyles and interests and have an income of $95,000. Nearly half have children. More than 60 percent have a college degree and 80 percent are professionals."

Not exactly the sort of people to be chasing a car-carrier down a dirt road in a rustbucket Challenger.

Let's face it. At the end of the day, the last thing a Chrysler Group brand manager wants to hear from his marketing team is, "**** it, let's just tell 'em we have HEMIs. Everybody likes HEMIs!" In fact, I bet Jim Morrison hates HEMIs. I'm certain that if he had his way, every one of those engine covers would be sanded down and painted matte black as part of the initial dealer prep, if not removed entirely. Every time he sets eyes on it, I bet it reminds him of every column inch spent discussing the merits of Jeep's HEMI-free brand strategy instead of their new (and very cool) Selec-Terrain system or the leather-wrapped dash available as an option on Overland models.

So is green-washing involved? Maybe a little, but I don't think that's the focus here. While Morrison did place great emphasis on the Pentastar V6's 23mpg highway rating, the story wasn't just about mileage and emissions. The story was about evolving the premium/luxury SUV segment and demonstrating Chrysler's new corporate image.

And once this HEMI din subsides, I think they have a great shot at doing just that.

Road Tested: 2009 BMW M3 Sedan

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Is there such a thing as having your automotive cake and being able to drive it too? If you drive any one of the handful of available sport sedans, then it’s possible to get a slice. Sliding behind the wheel of the 2009 BMW M3 Sedan however, I received a face full of Funfetti cake and pressing the gas pedal further only spreads the frosting wider across my smeared, “why-so-serious” gaping maw.

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The 2009 M3 is the aggressively-styled and powerful fraternal twin-brother to the standard BMW 3-Series sedan. While the 3-Series was buying time in a wind-tunnel, the M3 was off buying HGH. Everything is bolder on the M3 without going over the line; from the bulging hood and angry front fascia on back to the quad tailpipes, this sedan stands out. The design works very well to convey the appearance of speed before the START button is even pushed. Once that button is pushed, it is no longer merely an appearance - this M3 packs an impressive V8 factory of power. The growl from the exhaust ranges from a nice, relaxed burble up to a demonic roar which clashes perfectly with the glowing angel-eyes up front. Most often we equate a large rev range with four or six-cylinder engines but the massive kidney grilles in the front keep feeding this 4.0L 32-valve monster with air well past the 8,000 RPM mark. At times I feel like I am driving a five-passenger sport bike instead of a 3,700 lb. German cruise missile. All that heft is moved adeptly by the 414 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque this wonderful engine generates.

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I was expecting to find a six-speed manual transmission when I first opened the door to this car but found a unique knob with the following symbols: R, N, +, -, a diamond thingy, and D/S - with the iconic M logo below this hieroglyphic hodge-podge. This particular M3 is fitted with the M Double-Clutch Transmission which as the name implies utilizes two clutches for lightening fast shifts. All of the seven forward gears can be controlled by the car as a traditional automatic, or can be shifted manually via the shift knob or the steering-wheel mounted paddles. This system works very well, allowing me to shift more quickly than I could with a standard manual. However I do wish it was less complex. It has far too many settings for the speed at which the transmission responds. In automatic mode, I can choose between five settings. Switching over the manual mode, I have access to six settings with the sixth setting only available when stability control is turned off. Each setting is progressively quicker as well as noticeably more jarring. I only used two settings for most of my time in the car. I had it set to the full teeth-rattling mode quite often but I would also switch to the softest settings when I had passengers in the car. I do enjoy the M button on the steering wheel which quickly recalls the setting of the driver’s choosing but I also wish the system was whittled down to comfort, sport and M(ad).

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This BMW is an ideal car in that it is balanced in so many areas which make driving fun. It can roar to 60 mph in well under 5 seconds, winning most races in the ongoing stoplight-to-stoplight race series. However, I can use it to cruise lazily down the coast without feeling like the car needs to be driven hard. It is a great highway cruiser as well. When the time does come to push it, the M3 responds by shoving me further into the bolstered seats, clearing its throat with a growl, and blurring my peripheral vision into a darkening tunnel. If I were to stay on the gas pedal for too long I would be ripping through a ¼ mile in less than 13 seconds on my way to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. Some find basic straight-line facts and figured boring … and the M3 offers something for these folks as well. Turning the wheel and pressing the gas results in controllable tail-out excitement when the stability control is turned off or a nicely executed corner with minimal intrusion when the nanny-systems are turned on. This sedan handles curvy roads like the knife used to cut the aforementioned cake. I am still expecting to see the ShamWow guy trying to sell me one during some late night TV commercial.

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At this point I could go on and on about the iDrive system. It has gotten much better in recent years. After a few minutes of learning my way through the system, I was able to navigate all the menus with relative ease. It is intuitive and is displayed on a well-lit screen. The sound system was also fantastic and came with the optional iPod/USB adapter. I took a very long drive in this car and good music through a great sound system makes the trip more enjoyable, though at times it was fun simply listening to the car itself. The 2009 BMW M3 Sedan starts at $54,850 and is actually the lowest priced of the three available body styles. The M3 is also available as a coupe or two-door convertible. The M3 shown here is heavily optioned with an as-tested price of $65,925. Jeff Glucker is the Road Test Editor for www.nadaguides.com and graciously shares his reviews with us here at Speed:Sport:Life ... be sure to check out the rest of their reviews and articles!