On rare occasions I buy a new car. The '67 Camaro, 70 GS, 72 Goat wagon, 78 V8 Sunbird. But then there was a long period when new cars were family cars and not my daily drivers. My cars were still interesting and had a/c but were not new though all had low milage.

In 1998 I bought the 92 TranSport as a trip/tow/daily driver primarily because it had the optional 3800 engine (I really like the 3800) and while it still runs great, it has become my son's car and others are not really suitable for multiple passengers or towing.

By the start of 2012, a number of factors combined to my looking for a replacement for the TranSport, preferally something not over its gross weight when towing another car/trailer, something that gets decent MPG, could carry more than two people, could take on a date, and, of course, needed to be "different".

While the economy is still bad, am also expecting financial times to get even more "interesting" & interest rates are still on the bottom while inflation is ramping up. Still time for low fixed rate loans & did not want to wait too long. Selling two cars provided an open space in the garage which was one "must".

Now even though GM grad, I had not always had GM cars but in recent years all were Pontiacs or Buicks so looked there first. Frankly was not impressed by the new GM. Terrain/Equinox was tinny and forums showed the Acadia/Enclave as very poor in MPG. Looked at Mazdas (CX-7 and CX-9) and several others. Drove a big Honda (Pilot ?) a few years ago but on I-35 MPG was in teens. Ho hum.

Friend suggested I look at Jeeps. Now I have never owned a Jeep, Willys, AMC, or Chrysler product. That said I learned to drive in the RHD Bahamas in a LHD Jeep. Shortest throw gearbox I have ever seen bar none. Also checked my personal box for "made in the USA". Deeetroit city even.

Chrysler having almost gone broke twice now was not a good sign but everyone around here has a F*rd. Personally have not been associated with one of those either since mother's '61 T'bird (C6 automatic proved to have a fragile first gear & 390 was best used as a boat anchor).

Drove a Compass, Liberty, and Patriot but were just MOS. CVT was interesting but for towing ? Five speed manual was fun for about five minutes. Then (suspect in despiration maybe) the salesman brought out a Grand Cherokee.

Must admit that I had discounted anything over 4000 lbs initially and did not expect much from what I considered the latest example of a GALB (Great American Land Barge). Have had several I liked (67 Fleetwood Brogham, 67 GP convertable, and the Goat Wagon was 4800 lbs) but that was when gas was under a buck a gallon.

Now Grand Cherokees come in a number of flavors up to the $60,960 (today) SRT8 with a 470 (net) hp Hemi V-8 that weighs in over 5,000 lbs. and can apparently go straight up the side of a cliff. This I do not need but does bring up an interesting aspect. It seems Jeeps are no longer limited to 4WD mud-in-the-teeth fanatics. There is also a group who is happy with the 2WD versions that may be termed "footballers" who come mainly from BMW and Lexus crossovers. Occasionally the forum threads (are two main ones, the Jeep Forum and the Jeep Garage) become quite emotional and get close the the old Ft. Worth Honky Tonk closing tradition of Fist Fight.

The effect of all of this is similar to when the squarebirds replaced the 55-57 T'bird, sales took off and earlybirders complained. Toss in the fact that you get a more modern and better equipped car for less money than the others and the result was inevitable. For February 2012 "Jeep and Chrysler both enjoyed a strong sales increase, with the perennially popular Grand Cherokee leading the way. The Grand Cherokee sold 12,724 SUVs, a 47 percent increase in year-over-year sales". Meanwhile GM was stagnant and Ford barely positive. Another result may be that the base price plus destination charge is $600 higher than a month ago.

Meanwhile back at the dealer, a WK2 was presented next. Fortuitously the demo was a base model Laredo with three options only: Uconnect/Bluetooth, "E" group which added a number of nice things, and the 5,000 lb towing package. Also 6 cyl and 2WD which means the highest MPG of any Laredo. Less than half the MSRP of the SRT8 & about 1,000 lbs lighter. Takes somone knowlegable to tell the difference, mainly not as much "bling"/chrome. I do not care for excess chrome.

Must admit I was really impressed by the short test ride. Just felt much more like a real car even though like Ezekiel's Wheel was "way up there in the middle of the air", what I still call a "blimpmobile" both from the size and the altitude. Really a nice driving position and comfortable ride.

So returned home and started to do homework & the deeper I went the more interesting it became. Some of the benefits of the near bankruptcy in 2009 became apparent. Jeep is is now essentially Jeep-Chrysler-Daimler-FIAT. The WK2 chassis is the same as the Mercedes ML which means instead of live axles, the WK2 has four wheel independant suspension with four wheel disk brakes (BIG disk brakes), ABS, traction and sway control, and even a quick pad cleaning if rain is sensed. Traction control means the old racer's trick of using brakes to simulate positraction except this can brake any wheel independantly.

On the drivetrain, the five speed lockup transmission is the least interesting but from the same firm that supplies Mercedes. Said to be very reliable. The new Pentastar V-6 engine (have always liked sixes) reflects the 20 years of improvements since my 3800s and produces 90% of the 260 lb-ft torque peak from 2000 to 6000 rpm. DOHC like the Jags of my yout but now with VVT on both intake and exhaust (many others are still VVTi - intake only). Coil on platinum plug ignition, adaptive oiling, chain driven cams (much more reliable than belt particularly with an interference engine). 9" differential. 290 hp on 87 PON or E-85 (flex fuel). EPA says 17 city/23 Highway but my second tank was over 20 mpg.

And toys. Do not need to take the key out of my pocket, just push a button (shades of the Jags but without Lucas) to start & unlocks when you walk up. Has Bluetooth connection to my cell phone and voice command. Does not have SatNav but does have Sat radio (I have my own nav and can update easily).

Styling has a lot of european influence also with strong horizontals breaking up the slab sides. Some chrome but not excessive except for the grille (working on that).

So armed with a lot of information plus employer's "Friends and Family" status returned to dealer. Being a straight no-trade deal and the end of the month for a car off the lot, it only took two more trips to get my out-the-door price negotiated. Good thing, not a month later and the base price has already increased. Suspect is just the start.

Now in residence and expect it will take about a year to get the way I want it (may lose about 2" of height), have added the stainess sills and the side rail/steps. If the past is any experience it is liable to be around for a while.

Stainless sill covers and side step.

Odd thing is that despite the apparent size, the length and width are very close to that of the Reatta it displaces in the garage. Shorter nose/longer tail but same width and only about 6" longer than the roadster.

Height comparison of TranSport and Jeep.

Also nice is that underside is even prettier than top (may be only person who cares).

Space is comperable to my old station wagon though distributed more vertically and less horizintally. Seats for five (really four with rear armrest down) though unlike the TranSport, the passenger seat folds down also so that something nine feet long but not very wide (skis ? surfboard ? christmas tree ?) will fit. But is approaching four feet wide then seven feet long is all the tailgate will close over.

First month's impressions are that I like it even better than at first. Incredibly comfortable 8 way adjust and 4 way lumbar seats. Ride is as good as any car I've had, silent at speed so can hear Sirius radio. Still getting used to walking up and it knowing I am there.

Drove to Lakeland to help set up for SunNFun air show, 147.4 miles round trip. Cool morning, light traffic, mostly 65-70 mph limits on I-4, arrived at airport 24.4 MPG ave. Piddled around airport a bit. Returned after 2 pm via same route except moderate to heavy traffic, road temp 94F. Air Con on. At end EVIC read 24.6 MPG ave. Well over EPA highway rating, winter gas, and not broken in. Being able to see over most traffic is nice. I like this.

But not all is wonderful, are some areas I would change:
1) Contrast on gauge needles is terrible, dark red on black. With sunglasses on they just disappear. I have to keep the EVIC on the MPH display. Sometimes I miss the 85 mph speedos once mandated by the gov. Over 85 you should be watching the road, not the speedo.

Am working on an answer

2) Make "Cruise Control" ON a user selectable default rather than having to select each time the engine is started. Better, put latch in EVIC and move button off the wheel entirely (see 3 - I keep hitting the on-off by accident).
3) Put dots on front steering wheel buttons or make concave/convex like ones on rear of wheel. Is dangerous having to look at wheel each time I change the EVIC when all feel the same so can see Speed or coolant temp with sunglasses on (see #1)
4) Does it really need to take at least 4 (sometimes more) button pushes to switch from MPH to Coolant temp on the EVIC ? I can display the major engine parameters (tach, oil press, coolant temp, batt voltage) on my '88 Reatta's CRT with one button.
5) Make the reciculation on the a/c latching. As a non-smoker in Florida during the 100 days of summer, max a/c with recirc needs to come on with the engine, particularly if starting remotely.
6) Allow the owner to buy the service and wiring manuals. Jeeps are often in places without dealers or even tow trucks close by. I have them for all of my other cars including the RV.
7) Make the "4 inch oval tubular side rail with steps" usuable by someone with a shoe size larger than a 5. Am getting used to aligning my off foot sideways getting in and using just my heel leaving. BTW put together some notes on installation of the rails that might be helpful.
8) "Illuminated Approach". Apparently you have to press "unlock" or pull the handle (little late) for the lights to come on. If it knows I am approaching at night, why can't it just turn the lights on when it senses the key near ? Just software.

Some things are not so easy. I used to think the "A" pillars on the Reatta were the biggest I had seen. Jeep's are bigger and "C" pillars are ginormous. From the outside you see a lot of glass but from the inside, the rear vision is minimal and anything shorter than 4 feet is invisible. A rear view camera as on the Vixen is in its future. To make matters worse, the rear wiper motor blocks even more of the critical low center vision.

Is first resident here with OBD-II plug and am learning how to use. Takes a different connector and software than my GM cars but was under $50 from Amazon. Expect a stepping stone to doing my own reprogramming (when I get a round tuit).

Have now been able to run some baselines on a flat road on a 77F day. Being able to store parameters makes later correlation easy. Also used a Tesla G-Tech accelerometer to measure some 0-60s. Major finding was that as I expected, the IAT seems quite high, up to 119F during tests. Is no reson for it to be above 100F. 0-60s were a bit of a surprise woth a low of 7.19 seconds, high of 7.26 seconds and average (five runs) of 7.23 seconds. This is quicker than I expected.

So there is a new resident but unlike most, is popular, over 120k sold last year and up 40% this. Must be all of the yuppies/yippies/hippies/boomers/gen whatevers. Now do not need to ask son when I need to tow something or carry more than one passenger. Even looks good.

Contents copyright (C) 2012 by Padgett, all rights reserved except where noted.

"Compass", "Patriot", "Liberty", "Grand Cherokee", "Jeep" may be registered trademarks of Chrysler-Jeep-Daimler-FIAT.

See "Dress Her in Indigo" by John D. Macdonald, (C) 1969