Everybody knows that SUV and car sales have tanked in the past few years. In the meantime, auto engineers have been working their buns off redesigning their vehicles. These new 2011 models reflect their hard work. They’re lighter, more fuel efficient, peppier and loaded with high-tech electronics to make driving safer and more fun.
The new engines have higher compression ratios, turbochargers and high-tech gasoline direct injection (GDI) systems. GDI vaporizes the fuel right in the combustion chamber (instead of in the intake manifold). The vaporization cools the combustion chamber and eliminates the need for premium (91 or higher) gas. Bottom line—you’ll be getting more zoom for less ka-ching at the pump.
The new models are also loaded with creature-comfort electronics like MP3-based audio systems, GPS navigation, Bluetooth hands free phone systems and DVD entertainment for the kids. But don’t quote me on any of the prerelease specs or prices given here, since I’m writing this before the models actually come out. If you’re interested in any of the vehicles, check with the dealer for the latest information.
Chrysler did a major redesign of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee—its flagship SUV. Like many other automakers, Chrysler ditched the heavy body-on-frame design for uni-body construction and beefed up body stiffness by welding the heck out of it. So the new Jeep hits the dirt with all its off-road capabilities intact. Feel free to cruise the highway and the dunes without losing body parts—yours or the Jeep’s.
Jeep also added independent front and rear suspension for carlike comfort on bumpy roads. But if you’re going off road, consider the optional Quadra-Lift suspension and adjust the ride height from 4.5 in. to 11.1 in. And, if you never know how to set your 4WD, get the Selec-Terrain feature. The system will select from five terrain settings: Auto, Sand/Mud, Sport, Snow and Rock.
The interior is all new for 2011, and it’s luxurious and roomy. You’ll get reclining rear seats, more legroom and 17 percent more cargo space. The base model engine is the new Pentastar V-6, which delivers 290 hp and gets 16/23 mpg (2WD). That’s a whopping 38 percent increase over the previous engine. Or you can upgrade to the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, which puts out 360 hp and tows up to 7,400 lbs. Jeep didn’t skimp on the safety features either. In addition to electronic stability control, you’ll find electronic roll mitigation, active head restraints, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and a blind spot/rear cross-path detection system. Chrysler lowered prices on 2011 Jeeps by about $500. The various models range from $30,995 to $42,995 for the Jeep Overland 4x4 model.
Who’s this for? If you need an SUV with comfort and backwoods capabilities along with a smooth ride on city streets, consider the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Nissan added a new model to its crossover inventory for 2011. The all-new Nissan Juke is a compact crossover SUV, but it’s strictly for the streets (even though it sits high on 17-in. tires). Its peppy turbocharged 1.6-liter direct-injected engine puts out 180 hp, which is more than enough power to get you cruising. To move the power down to the road, Nissan uses a next-generation, continuously variable transmission (CVT) for a totally “shiftless” feel. The Juke also has a control system that lets you choose among three throttle/transmission/steering response settings. Choose the normal setting for everyday grocery-getting duties. Switch to sport mode if you’re having a midlife crisis and want to pretend you’re 20 years old. Or click on the Eco mode to save as many pennies as possible. The Juke is available in two- or four-door varieties, with fold-down rear seats for hauling your DIY stuff. You can also choose between two-wheel and all-wheel drive. The interior comes with two-tone multitextured seats and a painted (yes, painted) console that looks just like a motorcycle gas tank.
The FWD models get 27 mpg City and 32 mpg highway. Prices start at $18,960 for the FWD model and top out at $24,550 for the AWD model.
Who’s this for? If you love the SUV look but need it in a downsized version, and you want to make a fashion statement, the Juke is where it’s at. Small, sporty and fun.
The GMC Terrain didn’t change a lot for 2011 because it jumped past its competitors in 2010. The Terrain already included the 2.4-liter (146 hp) four-cylinder GDI engine and high-efficiency six-speed transmission to deliver “best-in-its-class” 22/32 mpg. You read that right: 32 mpg on the highway. Just flip the “ECO” button on the console. The base model Terrain is a great family and DIY project hauler that’ll still tow up to 1,400 lbs. But if you need more towing capacity (up to 3,500 lbs.), upgrade to the 3.0-liter (183 hp) V-6 engine. Creature features for 2011 include GM’s innovative Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) system that measures ambient noise levels inside the passenger cabin and broadcasts noise-canceling sound waves through the vehicle’s speakers.
ANC provides a quieter ride at all driving speeds. The Terrain also includes XM radio, rearview camera system and stolen vehicle assistance through OnStar. Prices for the 2011 Terrain start at $24,250 and run up to $31,300. The 2011 Terrain is covered by a fiveyear/100,000-mile power train warranty.
Who’s this for? If you want an all-around full-size SUV with lots of options, good gas mileage and a comfy ride, check out the GMC Terrain. The FWD models get 27 mpg City and 32 mpg highway.
Hyundai engineers continue to shave pounds and improve gas mileage on their “lightest-in-class” Tucson crossover SUV. The 2011 version has a more fuel-efficient six-speed transmission. Hyundai also ditched the heavy V-6 engine and dropped in a lighter 2.4-liter four-cylinder. The four-cylinder engine produces about the same power (176 hp) as the older V-6, but with 20 percent better fuel economy. The changes add up to a more economical 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
The Tucson also includes standard safety features like anti-skid braking and a new uphill and downhill assist system. The assist function prevents backward roll on steep hills and reduces speed to a crawl on very steep inclines. The 2011 Tucson comes with a five-year/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper warranty and 10-year/100,000 miles on the power train. Prices start at about $18,745 for the GL model and rise to about $30,000 for a fairly loaded “Limited” model with AWD.
Who’s this for? If you’re sticking to city streets, want a lot of cargo space, 4WD or AWD, a long warranty and a reasonable price tag, take a peek at the Hyundai Tucson.
The 2011 Dodge Ram pickup trucks are packed with more creature comforts than ever. Dodge continues with their exclusive multi-link coil spring suspension to give you the best ride quality and handling without sacrificing payload capacity. The rear coil springs also eliminate rear end hop when driving on the highway.
If you haul a trailer you’ll love Dodge’s new trailer hitch wiring harness that’s integrated right into the rear bumper. And, Dodge’s trailer sway control system detects a swaying trailer and applies individual wheel brakes along with engine power reduction to eliminate the sway. The Ram 1500 series can tow up to 10,450-lbs. when properly equipped. You can also order the optional RamBox® cargo management system. The RamBox® allows you to store tools and gear in the cargo box fenders.
The FWD Dodge Ram 1500 is available with three engines: the 5.7-liter HEMI V8, a 4.7-liter V8, and a 3.7-liter V6. The 5.7-liter HEMI V8 is the most fuel efficient getting an impressive mpg of 14 city / 20 hwy. The base model Dodge Ram 1500 starts at $20,610.
Who’s this for? If you use your truck for road trips and you want a comfortable ride, check out the 2011 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup with coil spring suspension.
In 2011, Ford kicked its entire Super Duty Pickup truck series (F-250, 350 and 450) into high gear with major leaps in engine, transmission and electronics technologies. The new 6.7-liter V-8 turbocharged diesel engine is a total redesign of the old engine. Ford fabricated the engine from compacted graphite iron for reduced weight and maximum strength. The twin turbochargers are gone, replaced with a single turbocharger that spins two compressor wheels. The new design reduces turbo lag and gives much faster response when you put the pedal to the metal. The end result is a power plant that puts out 390 hp (40 more hp than the older engine).
The Super Duty also includes the completely new TorqShift six-speed transmission. Every component in this baby is designed to pull heavy loads. In fact, the specially designed torque converter damper lets you lug heavy loads with engine speeds as low as 900 rpm. That would toast most other transmissions. With its more powerful engine, this rig can tow a whopping 24,400 lbs. (F-450 with fifth-wheel trailer).
On the electronics end, Ford dishes up tons of features like trailer sway control, integrated trailer brake control and a tow-haul mode that modifies transmission shift points to provide maximum power while towing. The hill start assist system prevents the truck (and those heavy loads) from rolling backward or forward when you move your foot from the brake to the accelerator. And just set the hill descent control to your desired speed and the system automatically keeps the rig at that speed without applying the brakes.
Prices start at $35,855 for the F-250 (less with the 6.2-liter gas engine).
Who’s this for? Whether you’re hauling construction materials, a large boat or a horse trailer, the Super Duty does the job without breaking a sweat.
2011 Ford Transit Connect
Got your own small business and need to move it around town? Forget those boxy rear-wheel-drive vans of yesteryear. Get noticed with the new-to-America styling on the Ford Transit Connect. Named in 2010 as the International Van of the Year by European vehicle journalists, the Transit Connect offers many features the old cargo vans simply can’t match.
For starters, load just about anything through the 52.1-in.-tall rear doors (59.1-in. floor-to-ceiling height inside the doors). The truck provides 135.3 cu. ft. of cargo space, 72.6 in. of load length, and up to 1,600 lbs. of payload. The space between wheel arches is 48.1 in. The doors are available with or without glass.
The Transit Connect gets you where you need to go with front wheel drive and a 2.0-liter, 136-hp, four-cylinder engine. Sure, it’s a small engine, but it gets better gas mileage (22/25 mpg) than a regular cargo van.
Add the Ford Work Solutions in-dash computer ($1,395) and turn your Transit Connect into a mobile office, complete with built-in keyboard and printer, GPS voice-activated navigation and Internet. If you work with (and lose) tools, opt for the DeWalt Tool Link ($1,220) feature that performs a complete inventory check of your tools before you leave the job site (attach a special radio tag to each tool). Starting price for the 2011 Transit Connect is $21,475, including destination charge. Want to combine work and family? Just order the XLT version ($23,450) and load the kids in the second row (total seating is five adults), and still have room for cargo.
Who’s this for? Perfect for small-business owners who need lots of cargo space and want a happy accountant.