Category Archives: Used Cars

2012 BMW 328i

The BMW 3-series is a seamless concoction of practicality, shocking composure, and understated style. All 3-series have been the objects of raving and fanatical praise by all who drive them and have driven them since its inception. The tested 2012 328i proves the accolades are well deserved and the ravings justified.

BMW created the niche of car it excels in so much so with the humble “New Class” cars. The upright 2002 derivative demonstrated that a conservatively designed and tall proportioned body could be mixed with precision engineering and performance. The unassuming 2002 was and is a desirable car while circumventing brashness and inefficiency. The mentality of doing more with less continued to the e21 3-series introduced in 1977. The blocky e30, sleek e36 and e46, and e90 superseded it, each car maintaining the reputation of the 3-series. The latest F30 3-series was a quite frightening prospect to BMWs following when shown to the world for the 2012 model year. It grew into an intermediate size, discarded the beloved and spectacular naturally aspirated inline-six, and threatened the hallmark of BMW’s unequivocally good steering with an electric assist. Furthermore it played along with BMW’s newest naming scheme and confusing model proliferation with the discontinuation of the coupe and convertible and the introduction of the aesthetically challenged GT. Contrary of what BMW’s abandonment of its former unyielding reservation beginning in the early 2000s may convince, the F30 is an undeniable improvement over its predecessor.

All BMW sedans have a shape and design that goes beyond fads and the mainstream. Its a far from polarizing style; its a simplistic and traditional three-box design. With the principles of this design, the 3-series becomes uniquely subtle as it it s the long hood, tall cabin, short deck, and angled rear quarter window convalesce to grant it the essential BMW look. This general appearance is shared with all other 3-series but small details contrast the F30 with its predecessors. Such cues include thinner taillights, a flatter appearing hood, and the perhaps jarring way headlights and kidney grills meet. Both soft and sharp creases in the doors and hood make for cleanly contoured sheet metal. Sensibly sized five spoke rims on the 328i are most welcome.

Like the exterior, the interior is familiar to those acquainted with BMWs, and actually likable to those who are not. The interior of the F30 is amelioration over the innards of the e90.  In a rare instance, the chronic growth of modern automobiles meaningfully benefits a car. The 328i felt airy and lacked the uneasy stuffiness of prior 3-series interiors. The obvious increase in height was a miracle for headroom, a seemingly lower cowl and distanced windshield was another revelation. The rear seating was just as comfortable as the front, undoubtedly a sufficiently spacious place to reside. The seats themselves had a combination of softness and support that reached Goldilocks levels of pleasant compromise. The SensaTec vinyl is as nice as leather for its nicely textured and thick appearance. The unobtrusive, gently curving and sloping dash is covered in black squishy material while doors and bottom of the dash rely on padded material for tactile quality. Atop the dash and embed among a series of contours is a small screen controlled by a tactually satisfying rotary knob. The trunk is rather shallow but measures a decent 13 cubic feet.

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It is while driving that the BMW leaves the best and most indelible impressions. The driver sits low in the car behind a high cowl but thankfully visibility remains mostly unobstructed and a bunker feeling avoided. The electronic gear selector is one of the best, however its needlessly odd operation makes it seem like an unnecessary complication. The steering wheel falls to hand nicely with a perfect diameter and thickness. Take note that the 328i tested was left in the comfort mode strictly for convenience and time constraints. The electrically assisted steering is undeniably different than the hydraulic assisted setup of the prior 3-series, but this may be for the better. The feel is very light but the steering exact and extremely quick; this helps for parking and slow-speed maneuvers. On the road the lightness permits easy cruising as much as it does hard cornering. The MacPherson strut front suspension and multilink rear simply refuse to translate sudden impacts into the cabin beyond distant thumps, while completely silencing the ill effects of bad road textures. This, in sequence with the muffling of wind noise, lets the 328i glide down the road stolidly and relaxingly.

Be not misinformed, the 328i is a true performance car and exhibits the traits of such in corners. The largely imperturbable ride only enhances the drivability of the car by shielding the driver from unwanted pavement disturbances. The absorbency of the suspension and instantaneous responses of the steering makes exuberant cornering and more reserved driving fluid and graceful. Driving power to the rear wheels is the combination of a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline four-cylinder and the widely used ZF eight-speed automatic. The four-cylinder churns out 240 horsepower and 260 lbs-ft of torque and is forcibly fed with a single twin-scroll turbocharger and fueled with direct-injection. The specifications and performance are impressive, but the four has the big shoes of the previous 3.0-liter inline-six it unsuccessfully attempts to fulfill. The unmistakable and undesirable baritone thrumming of a four-cylinder replaces the sweet howl of the six. The torque-rich lower RPMs and muted throbbing sound fail to encourage vicious throttling of the engine. Straighten the right foot and the car tenaciously surges forward and because of the low-end torque, the BMW moves quickly without even having to spin above 3,000 RPMs. Yet the soothingly linear and buttery smoothness of the power delivery of the naturally aspirated inline-six is conspicuously gone from the 328i. Even so, the car is fast; 60 mph takes only 5.8 seconds. The ZF eight-speed has too many gears for this writer’s preferences, but it is likely a boon to efficiency. The EPA rates the 328i equipped with the eight-speed at 23MPG city and 33MPG on the highway. In this application, the eight-speed avoids its avid and rather hectic need to reach the highest gear as soon as possible thereby eliminating that annoyance in normal driving situations. Issues arise when downshifting for hard or moderate acceleration is demanded. A brief hesitation blunts the aloofness of the car, however this may be caused by the fact the 328i was in comfort mode instead of one of the other, sportier driving settings. The brakes were easily regulated but initially a little grabby.

Kelly Blue Book says that a 2012 BMW 328i with the average of 54,782 miles should cost 21,325 dollars. In purchasing or driving a F30 328i is to experience a mostly uncompromised performance vehicle. Ageless styling wraps tight around magical engineering and exceptional comfort. The F30 carries on and improves upon the rear-wheel drive based ingredients of BMW and the 3-series. The 328i has only the most unobtrusive of flaws; flaws only projected because the car faces such high expectations. The trading of the confining interior for a light and roomy habitation, the comfortably light steering, and the untouched principles of clear and accurate handling in combination with driving tranquility show the F30 as a very likable vehicle and a successfully executed BMW.

 

2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport Automatic

The NC Mazda MX-5 Miata, introduced for the 2006 model year and produced until 2015, is the largest, heaviest and most powerful of all the four generations of MX-5. Nevertheless, Mazda crafted an exhilarating roadster that stays true to the principles that draw people to small and simple sports cars. Lightness, ingenuity, and style all contribute towards the driving experience, culminating in a car that punches above its weight in terms of enjoyment and performance.

The original MX-5 paid homage to revered British roadsters but to the Lotus Europa in particular. Like those roadsters, and the Europa with which it bared a strong resemblance, the Miata adhered to the default front engined, rear-wheel drive format. Power came from a 1.6 liter DOHC inline four-cylinder with 116 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque and moved only 2210 pounds, creating a respectable performance without the use of excessive power. The Miata gained power and safety in 1996 with the utilization of a 1.8 liter four-cylinder and airbags, before a 1998 redesign. Sixteen years after the its introduction, the 2006 MX-5 showed a weight gain of more than 200 pounds, 1.9 inches in length, and 1.8 inches in width. The extra size came with also significantly increased power in the form of the 2.0 liter four-cylinder generating 167 horsepower (158 horsepower when mated to the automatic transmission) and 140 lb-ft of torque. Five or six speed manuals, and a six-speed automatic were available. An aluminum double-wishbone front suspension, and an aluminum multilink rear suspension kept wheels planted. Unfortunately, the NC was unable to retain its predecessors lithe and chiseled looks, and instead appeared considerably more bulbous with the help of prominent fender flares and a blunt nose. Outside of the Miata lineage, its easy to appreciate to the exquisite proportions and uncluttered styling of the NC. The featured 2012 model wears the more expressive grill and headlights, as well as the reworked tail lights first applied for the 2009 model year. As a result of these enhancements, the car looks pleasantly less rounded and takes on a more defined shape.

The purposeful interior of the Miata is a breath of fresh air in the era of LCD screens and soft-touch materials. Though small, the cabin allows for a comfortable amount of room and is surprisingly ergonomic. The trunk is usefully rectangular, but measures only 5.3 cubic feet. Similarly revitalizing is the rather quaint sound emitted by the inline four and its dual exhausts. It’s a far cry from the loud and obnoxious crackling roars and screams voiced by many of todays sports cars and sedans. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is excellently sized and very nice to grab hold of, but once on the move it communicates the cars motions with an admirable competence and a perfectly weighted feel. The car resides close to the road below and is in its element careening through corners with incredible precision due in part to its 51/49 weight distribution. It corners flatly until pushed hard, after which, body roll sets in and reigns in the driver from doing anything regrettable. The brakes are easily modulated and free from the numb hypersensitivity of others. The brake pedal itself is positioned too near the gas, and the gas too close to the right side of the foot well, a very minor issue. A clutch was not to be found in the tested car for the fact it was an automatic. Some of the shifting can be preformed manually with paddles on the back of the steering wheel and with the gear selector. The Miata’s light weight allows the car to make the most of the power it has so that 60 mph is reached in only 6.8 seconds. It eagerly revs high while accelerating with considerable alacrity and authority.

The cars rather conventional powertrain combined with its lightness produce decent, if not excellent, fuel economy. The EPA rates models equipped with the six speed manual transmission and six speed automatic at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Five speed equipped Miatas gain 1 mpg in city driving. A 2012 Miata Sport with the average of 43,215 miles and an automatic transmission is valued at $14,088 by Kelly Blue Book.

The NC Miata has already been replaced with the next generation, the ND, for the 2016 model year. This new Miata is both faster, and significantly lighter, however the NC is still an incredible car for less money. The car is a precision tool for negotiating corners and in doing so is immense fun. The strangles of incessant demand for more comfort and refinement have been unable to grasp the Miata, and have left driving a high-fidelity experience.

2012 Jeep Liberty Latitude  

        The boxy silhouette of the second-generation jeep Liberty denoted it as a rugged machine, unlike its predecessor which hid its competent mechanicals under a rounded, awkwardly proportioned disguise. Gone was the outside spare tire, bulbous hood, and four-cylinder. In was a standard V6, some extra girth, and sharp styling. 

    Like it’s Jeep contemporaries, the 2008-2012 Jeep Liberty has a tall grill and plastic front fenders separate from the body. The headlights are round, but are contained in rectangular bezels. View it from the side, and its top heavy look becomes apparent; one of the few aspects of the old Liberty to permeate the new look. Inset windows, chrome, and sheet metal bends keep with the theme. As mentioned before, the spare tire was removed from the tailgate leaving a conventional hatch and a cleaner appearance in its place.



    The interior of the tested Altitude model was very comfortable and left good impressions. Many critics admonished the lack of soft touch materials, however the hard plastics do little to detract from the interior. Perhaps the nicest thing in the interior was the thick-rimmed leather wrapped steering wheel. Also pleasant were the comfortable leather seats and the range of adjustment for the power driver’s seat. The rear seat had a reasonable amount of space, although an intrusive hump limited legroom for center passengers. Cargo space appears to be lacking because it is. Only 26.1 cubic feet is found behind the rear seat; this expands to 62.4 cubic feet. Under the floor, a shallow compartment lined with plastic awaits muddy items. 

    On the road, the Liberty is extremely maneuverable and and surprisingly responsive. The hydraulically-assisted rack and pinion steering has a nice amount of resistance and exudes a sense of precision not expected to be found in such a utilitarian vehicle. The low-speed navigation of parking lots is trouble-free thanks to a tight turning circle and excellent visibility. Wind, road, and engine noise where quelled with much success and the ride was mostly comfortable, albeit a bit stiff.   



    Under the angular hood is a 3.7 liter V6 pushing out 210 horsepower and 235 pounds-feet of torque through a smooth four-speed automatic. This powertrain worked just adequately for 4,000-plus pound Jeep, although more power would be greatly appreciated. Two four-wheel drive systems were offered in the Liberty; the part-time Command-Trac system, and full time Selec-Trac. Fuel economy is a demerit of the Liberty. A four-wheel-drive model like the one tested swills 15 gallons of gas per mile in city driving, and 21 on the highway. Two wheel drive allows for a 1mpg improvement in both driving conditions. Towing capacity, however, dwarfs that of the Jeep’s crossover competitors at a hefty 5,000 pounds.

    Kelly Blue book says the fair purchase price for a 2008 Jeep Liberty Sport is $12,314. At the other end of the price spectrum, a 2012 in Limited Jet Edition trim should leave one’s wallet $22,888 lighter.

     The Jeep Liberty is not an ideal or recommendable family vehicle. Heavy, inefficient, and impractical when compared to car-based SUVs, it makes little sense to purchase one unless all-terrain capability is a priority. That aside, the Jeep is a characterful and enjoyable alternative to those SUVs who are confined to the road.

 

The History of the Jeep Cherokee

A sign of things to come, the new Cherokee allows Jeep to participate competitively in the expansive compact crossover segment. Although compact crossovers are not completely new to Jeep as the Compass and Patriot have been produced for seven years, the Cherokee is still an enormous departure from more traditional Jeep designs. Never before has such sculptured bodywork been used on a Jeep. Despite some small details, such as the usual arched wheel openings and a Wrangler-inspired abrupt downward bend in the side glass, the seven slot grill looks out-of-place on the creased hood of the Cherokee. Underpinning the new Cherokee, is a variation of Fiat’s Compact U.S. wide platform shared with the rather pedestrian Dodge Dart. A 2.4 liter four-cylinder or 3.2 liter Pentastar V6 drives either the front or all four wheels. Only the Trailhawk trim level boasts true off-road credentials with low range gearing and 8.8 inches of ground clearance, along with improved approach, break over, and departure angles among other features. Although it alleviates the gripes and complaints summoned by those who use a more traditional Jeep for daily use, many Jeep enthusiasts look upon the softened fifth generation Cherokee in disgust, seeing it as nothing more than  another crossover unworthy of the Jeep, and more specifically the Cherokee nameplate. Through this article, past Jeep Cherokees will be discussed in an effort to show the evolution of the Cherokee, and the significant changes over its forty-year production.

1974-1983 Jeep Cherokee (SJ)

In 1974, Jeep introduced the first generation Cherokee to replace the Jeep Commando. Created to fill a niche of sporty, full-sized SUVs, the Cherokee was essentially a two-door variation of the Wagoneer. It featured large side windows behind the front doors and a grill derived from Jeep’s line of pickups. AMC’s 258 cubic inch inline-six came standard while a 360 cubic inch V8 with two or four-barrel carburetors was optional. A 401 cubic inch V8 was also available. A three-speed manual came with inline-six equipped Cherokees while a four-speed automatic was attached to the V8s. The Quadra-Trac full-time four-wheel drive system was available on Cherokees equipped with the 360 V8, and could be optioned with low range gearing. The standard four-wheel drive system was a two-speed, part-time unit. Trim levels included the base model and the S. Available graphics packages helped set the Cherokee apart from the Wagoneer. In 1975, a variation of the Cherokee that featured a wider track and fender flares was introduced for the 1976 model year. The frame was made wider for more widely spaced springs, and featured increased rigidity due to strengthened crossmembers. In 1977, a four-door model was made available. By this time the Wagoneer had moved significantly upmarket and the Cherokee was advertised as a cheaper, less luxurious alternative. By 1983, the last year of the full-size Cherokee, the Jeep featured a plastic grill and a plastic spoiler below the bumper in an effort to increase fuel economy. A four barrel carburetor was no longer offered on the 360 cubic inch V8 and the 401 cubic inch V8 was dropped altogether. Trim packages included the base model, Pioneer, Chief, and Laredo.

1984-2001 Jeep Cherokee (XJ)

Jeep, along with its parent company AMC, had suffered greatly due to the increased demand for better fuel economy in vehicles. Struggling to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, Jeep even started offering GM’s 150 cubic inch Iron Duke four cylinders in the CJ series of Jeeps by the early eighties. The current Cherokee was enormous, heavy, and inefficient. To address this issue, the completely new 1984 Jeep Cherokee debuted. The now iconic XJ series of Cherokees abandoned the body-on-frame construction of its predecessor in favor of unibody construction, refered to by Jeep as UniFrame. The Cherokee was 21 inches shorter, and six inches narrower than the previous model. At 3,100 pounds, the Cherokee was significantly lighter as well. A solid front axle was used however the suspension was of a coil sprung, multilink design. The solid rear axle was suspended by leaf springs. Powering the new Cherokees was a standard 2.5 liter four-cylinder with a one barrel carburetor, and an optional 2.8 liter V6 sourced from GM  with a two barrel carberator. Fuel economy was increased greatly as Cherokees optioned with the four-cylinder could achieve 24 mpg in city driving, and 33 mpg on the highway. The Selec-Trac full-time four-wheel drive system was available, as was the Command-Trac part-time system. The Chevrolet Blazer and Ford Bronco II, both competitors of the Cherokee, were only offered in two-door body styles. The Cherokee had a significant advantage in that it was offered in both two-door, and four door body styles. The highly recognizable styling featured arched wheel-wells, and bold fender flares in usual Jeep fashion along with horizontally creased front ten-slot grill. Rectangular headlamps and turn signals give the front of the Cherokee a distinctive look. Thin window pillars and an expansive glass area provided ample visibility. The new Cherokee was very well received and won awards from Four Wheeler, Off-Road, and 4 Wheel & Off Road magazines. 1985 brought an optional 2.1 liter diesel four-cylinder designed by Renault and the option of two-wheel drive. By 1987, a fuel-injected 4.0 liter inline-six became available in the Cherokee. Based off of AMC’s 258 cubic inch inline-six, the 4.0 liter featured a larger bore but a smaller stroke and was able to achieve power figures of 177 horsepower and 220 pounds-feet of torque. This allowed the Cherokee to have best in class acceleration. Known for their rugged construction, it is not uncommon for Jeeps with this engine to surpass 200,000 miles. In 1988, the Cherokee received the now-familiar seven-slot grill instead of the previous ten-slot unit. In 1990, a high-output version of the 4.0 debuted. Due to the new Bendix fuel-injection system, the engine now produced 190 horsepower. Few major changes were made to the Cherokee from 1991 to 1997 aside from the addition of fuel injection on the 2.5 liter in 1991, the addition of a drivers-side airbag in 1995, and an upgraded 4.0 liter inline-six tuned for better NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) in 1996. In 1997, the antiquated Cherokee received significant updates. A new, rounder front fascia, tail lights, body-side cladding, bumpers, and a stamped steel tailgate bought the Cherokee a few more years of production. The use of sound deadening materials was increased and most of the interior was redesigned for increased comfort and ergonomics. A new center stack positioned the radio and HVAC controls well within the drivers reach and a passenger side airbag was also added. The inline-six was updated for cleaner emissions in 1999, and in 2000, the base SE trim, and the four-cylinder were dropped. By 2001, the XJ Cherokee was discontinued, however production in China remained until 2005.

2002-2007 Jeep Liberty/Cherokee (KJ)

Replacing the XJ Cherokee was a much different vehicle, however it still occupied the growing compact SUV segment. The KJ series Jeeps were released in 2001 as 2002 models and were known as the Liberty in North America, and the Cherokee overseas. They featured striking styling due to their rounded, tall profile, round headlamps and tail lights, and spare tire located on the tailgate. Large, rounded fender flares and the extensive use of black plastic on Sport models made the KJ seem wide and athletic while running boards, and body colored plastics made the Limited Edition appear more upscale. Underneath, the KJ retained unibody construction, however it used an independent front suspension unlike its predecessors. The new suspension design made it not only more difficult, but more expensive to install modifications, however eight inches of suspension travel allowed for respectable off-road capability. A coil sprung, muliti-link suspension and solid axle were employed in the rear. Stabilizer bars in the front and rear and rack and pinion steering improved handling. Under the hood, a new 3.7 liter V6 was utilized, replacing the venerable inline-six. The 3.7 liter engine produced 210 horsepower and 235 pounds-feet of torque and featured a cast-iron block, two valves-per-cylinder, chain driven cam shafts, aluminum pistons, and a single balance shaft. Liberties could also be optioned with a 150 horsepower 2.4 liter four-cylinder also found in the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Dodge Neon. Overseas, Jeep Cherokees came with a direct-injected 2.5 liter turbocharged diesel, or the 3.7 liter V6. The KJ was available with a five speed manual, or four-speed automatic, and the Selec-Trac or Command-Trac four-wheel drive systems. The interior of the KJ reflected the rounded appearance of the exterior. The instrument cluster was housed in an elliptical pod instead of the rectangular shroud found in the XJ Cherokees, and new circular air vents were used. Even the radio, and HVAC controls had rounded corners. The KJ was initially only available in two trim levels, the more luxurious Limited, and the more budget friendly Sport. Midway through the 2002 model year, the Renegade model was introduced and featured exposed bolts on the fender flares, roof mounted fog lamps along with conventional fog lamps, unique rims, and running boards. By 2005, the KJ received minor updates. The rounded hood and headlights remained, however the redesigned front bumper was devoid of turn signals as they had been moved to the front fenders. Renegade models received a unique grill and hood. A six-speed manual replaced the five-speed unit. Liberties sold in North America gained the option of a 2.8 liter four-cylinder common rail diesel producing 160 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque. This engine improved fuel economy greatly as the Liberties equipped with this engine could achieve 21 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. This engine was no longer offered in the Liberty in 2006 due to more stringent emissions regulations. 2007 was the last year for the KJ series Jeeps.

2008-2012 Jeep Liberty/Cherokee (KK)

Replacing the KJ series Jeeps, the KK series Liberties and Cherokees were introduced in 2007 for the 2008 model year. UniFrame construction, an independent front suspension, and the coil sprung solid axle remained, albeit with updates. The 3.7 liter V6 was carried over from the previous generation however the 2.4 liter four-cylinder was no longer offered. In Cherokees, only a 2.8 liter common-rail diesel that produced 174 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque was offered. Both the Command-Trac and Selec-Trac II part-time and full-time four-wheel drive systems were available. The rounded look of the previous generation KJ was abandoned in favor of much more angular styling. The fender flares were more rectangular than before, and the circular headlights and hood bulges were abandoned for rectangular headlights and a much flatter hood. The tail lights no longer featured round bulges and the spare tire was removed from the tailgate which now featured a more conventional hatch design instead of the side-hinged arrangement on the KJ. A few styling cues remained from the KJ including the tall profile, and pronounced front fenders that helped give the front end of the KK and KJ a look similar to the Wrangler. An interesting option for the KK series Jeeps was the Skyslider canvas sunroof. Running from the front all the way to the back of the vehicle, the retractable canvas roof allowed for an almost convertible-like driving experience. The KK series Jeeps met with mixed reactions, with most criticism directed to its poor interior quality and packaging, poor fuel economy, and weak V6. Through its four-year production run, few changes were made other than the reintroduction of the Renegade model in 2010, and changes to trim levels and options.

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Foster, Patrick R. The Story of Jeep. 2nd ed. Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1998. Print