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SUV Tests from Jeep, Ford, Dodge, and BMW

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SUV Tests from Jeep, Ford, Dodge, and BMW


In this issue, we are going to drive five SUV models. Let’s start with the first.

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1. JEEP TRAILHAWK: This is a package offered on the new Jeep Cherokee. It includes skid plates, raised suspension, tow hooks, lower gearing, locking differentials, and bigger wheels/tires. If you are going off-road, it’s worth every penny. I suggest ordering the bigger V-6 for best performance, but mine came with the smaller four-cylinder. The last street Cherokee I had with the V-6 got 23 mpg overall. This small engine is rated at 31 highway driving in the standard SUV, but with the raised suspension and low gearing, I got 21-23 overall. But the off- road ability is worth it. I took this on some trails that only a Wrangler could go on, and the Trailhawk did just fine. But keep in mind the Wrangler has a beefed frame, while the Cherokee is based on the Dodge Dart unibody. So you gotta take it easy on those impacts!

For those who do less off-roading, the standard Cherokee will do. But the Trailhawk is a real dirt-road machine, not a puff pack.

2. JEEP PATRIOT: Back when this SUV was introduced, it got some bad reviews. This wasn't Jeep’s fault, but sloppy management by then owner, Mercedes. Today, it has been refined. The steering, handling, ride comfort, and braking ability are just fine. The new interior looks good and the price is right, starting at about $15K. At this price, it is a true stripper with no air conditioning. Great if you live in Alaska!

The base engine is a 158 horsepower four, but the optional 172 horse four gets the same mileage, so get it instead. For off-roaders, there is the Freedom Drive pack. It includes low gearing, off- road goodies, and a CVT automatic gearbox. Great for off-pavement, but the gas mileage drops from 23-28 to 20-23. If you wanna go off-road and play, in gas mileage, you gotta pay!

If you want to do some desert adventures, the Patriot will do, but be careful with the options. Fully loaded models can reach the $30K mark. If you can afford that, you should be looking at that Cherokee!

3. DODGE DURANGO: The Durango is a good street machine--great steering, handling, ride, and braking, with improved interior and simple controls. Want power? Order the V-8 Hemi. Want economy? Order the V-6, which has enough power, and a fuel economy of 18-25 mpg. Price starts at $30K, with a loaded Hemi at about $47K. Mine was a V-6 with plenty of power goodies and was only $34K. Even the bellhop at the local hotel can afford that.

Drawbacks? Well, the front bumper rides too low, and going off-road was fine until we hit some dirt dips that wanted to tear the front end off! This is NOT a desert runner! Makes me wonder why Dodge discontinued the older model Magnum wagon, which was far lighter, got better gas mileage, was cheaper, and killed off. Go figure. Still, this is a good value.

4. FORD EXPLORER: Want engine choice? You have it here. The base motor is a tiny 2.0 at 240 horsepower with gas mileage of 20-28. Or how about a 3.5 V-6 with 290 horses and 17-24 mpg? I had the 365 HP V-6 which was a real powerhouse. But mileage drops to 16-22, a slight increase over the Dodge Hemi V-8.

This one was loaded up with everything, so it hit the $48K mark. As expected, we got the best eye candy. This rig was quick, handling was a bit firm with the sport suspension, but it performed great, and overall a slick ride.

Complaints? Well, in the past Ford got good ratings for the cabin controls because of the simple function. Not here. The radio and climate controls here are the most complicated I have ever seen--made worse by tiny buttons that Tom Thumb could never touch. A real mess! Sorry, but that is a deal killer for me. It appears that some computer geeks like this, so go ahead and get it, I say.

5. Last but not least, we have the BMW X-1 SUV. With a starting price of about $35K, this isn't cheap and with options like the bigger six-cylinder turbo engine, all-wheel drive, and luxury stuff, we can reach $50K or more! Mine was more sane with the smaller four-cylinder engine and two-wheel drive.

The BMW has the ability to go off-road with high-ground clearance and performs even better with all- wheel drive if you order the bigger six engine. Most of the parts come from the sports sedans, so this baby can really take high-speed corners well. The turbo four-engine has 240 horsepower, and with the 8-speed automatic, it can hit 0-60 mph in about 6.5 seconds. I got 32 mpg on the highway and 27 overall after 700 miles of brisk driving. I love it!!!

So here you have it. Take your pick!!