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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for April 2011

2011 Mudfest (4): Making mud in the off road division

If Land Rover had any serious intention of winning the off road division of this year’s Mudfest, refusing to let their LR4 onto the “hard” off road course when it got muddy was an odd way of showing it. Jeep on the other hand had something to prove, namely a series of cajone swingin’ ads touting the Grand Cherokee’s newly redesigned off-road prowess. Toyota’s FJ Cruiser Trail Edition rounded out the three way competition as the only real truck of the bunch that would rattle your teeth out of your head and not flinch when you hosed them off the floorboards.

The scene was primed for a showdown of epic proportions on a stage composed of sludge imported directly from hell. Or so we were led to believe. We returned from lunch with the promise that the road course would be converted to funnel the SUV’s into a “Hard” and “Easy” course somewhere in the unknown brush territory that surrounded the paved area of Dirtfish Rally School. 

One of the event coordinators climbed into the back of a pickup truck, sweating, breathless and bleeding from what appeared to be a near-death battle with a jungle cat. He announced that while navigating the hard course he had become stuck in the Subaru Outback wagon and subsequently only the vehicles competing in the off road division would be allowed to attempt the journey for the remainder of the day. 

A bolt of excitement shot through the auto journalists. The Grand Cherokee, FJ Cruiser and LR4 were quickly manned and released into the wild. I found myself behind the wheel of the Mini Countryman, puttering merrily towards the easy course. 

THE EASY COURSE 

Turned out to be a dirt road that weaved through light shrubbery momentarily before exiting safely back onto the pavement, at which point a line of road cones led drivers back to the garage. Terrain included both dirt and grass that apologetically tainted the Mini’s wheels in several wet patches, as if we were attempting to find field parking for a Dave Mathew’s concert at the Gorge after a light rain. 

THE HARD COURSE

Followed suit, but with muddy little ruts that reached halfway up the LR4’s tires, some of which were filled with the tears of a five-year old who’s Jeep Powerwheel had run out of batteries. 

An abrupt hump of hard-packed gravel and dirt was intended to scrape the skid-plates of passing vehicles, possibly to establish the presence of the skid plates. For an added an element of danger, an elevated exit bridge composed of 4x6 planks of wood with steep approach/departure angles was just wide enough to contain the trucks; one wrong flick of the steering wheel would send Lattes aslosh in their cup-holders.

I spent roughly forty-five minutes under the cover of the garage to think up and jot down these witty sarcasms for use here, chuckling smartly to myself as the zingers rolled in. During my absence, the other journalists continued to run laps through the hard and easy courses while the rain that had flooded the Snoqualmie River the previous night persisted. 

“Land Rover doesn’t want the LR4 on the hard course anymore,” a voice announced.

What? This was definitely going to warrant another zinger for the blog. But before my lazy eye could list away to a creative happy place, it caught sight of something peculiar:

The SUV’s were… Muddy. 

I hopped into the nearest available vehicle, a Kia Sportage to investigate. 

THE EASY COURSE

Several hours of traffic had transformed the happy trail into something horrific, as if a pretty girl had downed a fifth of Jack Daniel’s, loaded her makeup into a shotgun and blasted herself in the face. 

At its ugliest, a stretch of about thirty yards looked as if a giant set of fingers had dug gaping ruts into a dirt cake. In places the impressions were nearly a foot deep. If the little Kia and I were going to make it through this, we were going to have to pick an angle and keep steady momentum; we didn’t have much ground clearance to work with. 

A group of three fleet services representatives stared blankly with their arms crossed as I approached the muddy hell hole. Fifteen minutes later with the help of their spotting I managed to back the Kia out of the whole I dug and the easy course was closed for the day. 

Intrigued, I cruised smartly back to the garage to see what had become of the hard course, half expecting Jeep and Toyota’s PR guys to be following Land Rover’s lead by refusing to let their prestigious vehicles anywhere near harm’s way. 

Jeep’s guy invited me into the driver’s seat of the Grand Cherokee – he was making laps on the hard route. The FJ Cruiser didn’t even have a PR guy. 

Stay Tuned

Part 1: http://tinyurl.com/3n9c75f
Part 2: http://tinyurl.com/42otrg4
Part 3: http://tinyurl.com/3szcruk

2011 Mudfest (3): The Luxury Division out-pampers itself

What is luxury? Leather? Refinement? Things that are heated that don’t need to be? Crowning a winner in the luxury category of Mudfest is perhaps the most difficult division to decide; one man’s Land Rover is another man’s Infiniti QX56. The owner of a loaded BMW X3 might scoff at a Volvo XC90, yet lose sleep worrying his beamer might not stack up to the Swedish guardian angel in a horrific rollover accident in an LA Fitness parking lot. 

It was the Northwest Auto Press Association’s influential duty this year to not only determine which 2011 SUV should be deemed the most luxurious, but also to define once again just what luxury ought to mean. The following are three of the more notable coddlers I had the pleasure to review from the luxury bunch, the last of which is the winner. 

INFINITI QX56

Infiniti made no attempt with the QX56 to feign interest in downsizing their rolling New York penthouse from the glory days of the V8 powered mammoth. Inside the belly of the beast, the living room-sized cabin is so opulent and spacious it feels as though Tom Wolfe died and was reincarnated as a tan leather interior.

Paint Scheme: Liquid Platinum

Fuel Economy: 14mpg city, 20mpg highway

Bidet Toilet: Standard

Despite its size, 400hp and 413lb/ft of torque accelerated the platinum whale to cruising speeds impressively on the straightaway of the road course with a throaty growl that discharged bejeweled $100 bills out the tailpipe. Cornering was also whale-like, but I doubt anyone expects it to be nimble.

For those who can afford it, the QX56 won’t disappoint in the way of luxury, comfort and status. But for $72,560, there’s a strong case to be made for: 

LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER SPORT (Defending NWAPA luxury champion)

Before we go any further, there’s no sense in waiting to mention the defining characteristic of the $78,245 Rover:

-510hp & 461lb/ft torque from a 5.0L supercharged V8.

It occurred to me that the prospect of blasting through a wet road course in a Land Rover with 510hp between the fenders was about as clever an idea as topping out a ’99 Ford Explorer outfitted with old Firestone tires on the autobahn. Luckily the Rangie beat out every other SUV in the luxury category in the way of: 

Refinement - Our press model was equipped with AWD controlled by a “Dynamic Response” suspension system that delivers flat cornering, tight body control and sharp steering response. In other words, it actually handles the power well; a quality that was beautifully illustrated when I mashed the throttle coming out of a button turn and noticed the ride-along PR lady was stuck to the passenger door with her buttock s hovering several inches above her seat. 

Add to the mix all the magical on and off road features that make a Land Rover the usual hands down choice for the best all-around SUV money can buy, and it probably would have brought home the Mudfest luxury crown again this year, if not for: 

VOLVO XC90 (Winner!)

In these uncertain times of natural disasters, staycations and $70,000 luxury SUV’s, one is left to wonder if for $48,475 they might be just as satisfied tucked safely behind the wheel of a well-appointed Volvo as a vehicle that’s $20,000 more expensive. 

Volvo might not be the first name that comes to mind when the term “luxury SUV” is mentioned, and XC90 doesn’t seem to be trying to fight that. It makes 240hp, 236lb/ft of torque, gets 16mpg city, 22mpg highway, and looks like a Volvo. But for just under fifty grand, the XC90 is just… Nice. 

It does everything an upper-end SUV should. The interior, handling, power, options, everything about it is better than it needs to be without going off the deep end in any one direction, except for safety. 

Thanks to Volvo’s never-ending push to make their vehicles virtually death-proof, the XC90 separates itself from the rest of the pack with safety features including, but not limited to:

-Roll Stability Control (RSC)
-Rollover Protection System (ROPS) with Boron steel reinforced roof structure
-Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DSTC)
-Integral High Strength Steel (HSS) passenger safety cage
-Volvo Whiplash Protection System (WHPS)
-Seven 3-point safety belts with auto height adjustment & force limiters on front seats
-743 Airbags, several of which are airbags within airbags. 

By awarding top honors in the luxury class to the Volvo XC90 the NWAPA made a statement this year that luxury is about balance, that a top of the line SUV shouldn’t be defined by excess, but by superior well-rounded intelligent design.

Volvo nailed this concept with the XC90. Being able to drive it off a cliff and survive is only one of its perks. 

Stay tuned for more winners!

Picture: Fred Joe / NWAPA

2011 Mudfest (4): Making mud in the off road division

If Land Rover had any serious intention of winning the off road division of this year’s Mudfest, refusing to let their LR4 onto the “hard” off road course when it got muddy was an odd way of showing it. Jeep on the other hand had something to prove, namely a series of cajone swingin’ ads touting the Grand Cherokee’s newly redesigned off-road prowess. Toyota’s FJ Cruiser Trail Edition rounded out the three way competition as the only real truck of the bunch that would rattle your teeth out of your head and not flinch when you hosed them off the floorboards.

The scene was primed for a showdown of epic proportions on a stage composed of sludge imported directly from hell. Or so we were led to believe. We returned from lunch with the promise that the road course would be converted to funnel the SUV’s into a “Hard” and “Easy” course somewhere in the unknown brush territory that surrounded the paved area of Dirtfish Rally School. 

One of the event coordinators climbed into the back of a pickup truck, sweating, breathless and bleeding from what appeared to be a near-death battle with a jungle cat. He announced that while navigating the hard course he had become stuck in the Subaru Outback wagon and subsequently only the vehicles competing in the off road division would be allowed to attempt the journey for the remainder of the day. 

A bolt of excitement shot through the auto journalists. The Grand Cherokee, FJ Cruiser and LR4 were quickly manned and released into the wild. I found myself behind the wheel of the Mini Countryman, puttering merrily towards the easy course. 

THE EASY COURSE 

Turned out to be a dirt road that weaved through light shrubbery momentarily before exiting safely back onto the pavement, at which point a line of road cones led drivers back to the garage. Terrain included both dirt and grass that apologetically tainted the Mini’s wheels in several wet patches, as if we were attempting to find field parking for a Dave Mathew’s concert at the Gorge after a light rain. 

THE HARD COURSE

Followed suite, but with muddy little ruts that reached halfway up the LR4’s tires, some of which were filled with the tears of a five-year old who’s Jeep Powerwheel had run out of batteries. 

An abrupt hump of hard-packed gravel and dirt was intended to scrape the skid-plates of passing vehicles, possibly to establish the presence of the skid plates. For an added an element of danger, an elevated exit bridge composed of 4x6 planks of wood with steep approach/departure angles was just wide enough to contain the trucks; one wrong flick of the steering wheel would send Lattes aslosh in their cup-holders.

I spent roughly forty-five minutes under the cover of the garage to think up and jot down these witty sarcasms for use here, chuckling smartly to myself as the zingers rolled in. During my absence, the other journalists continued to run laps through the hard and easy courses while the rain that had flooded the Snoqualmie River the previous night persisted. 

“Land Rover doesn’t want the LR4 on the hard course anymore,” a voice announced.

What? This was definitely going to warrant another zinger for the blog. But before my lazy eye could list away to a creative happy place, it caught sight of something peculiar:

The SUV’s were… Muddy. 

I hopped into the nearest available vehicle, a Kia Sportage to investigate. 

THE EASY COURSE

Several hours of traffic had transformed the happy trail into something horrific, as if a pretty girl had downed a fifth of Jack Daniel’s, loaded her makeup into a shotgun and blasted herself in the face. 

At its ugliest, a stretch of about thirty yards looked as if a giant set of fingers had dug gaping ruts into a dirt cake. In places the impressions were nearly a foot deep. If the little Kia and I were going to make it through this, we were going to have to pick an angle and keep steady momentum; we didn’t have much ground clearance to work with. 

A group of three fleet services representatives stared blankly with their arms crossed as I approached the muddy hell hole. Fifteen minutes later with the help of their spotting I managed to back the Kia out of the whole I dug and the easy course was closed for the day. 

Intrigued, I cruised smartly back to the garage to see what had become of the hard course, half expecting Jeep and Toyota’s PR guys to be following Land Rover’s lead by refusing to let their prestigious vehicles anywhere near harm’s way. 

Jeep’s guy invited me into the driver’s seat of the Grand Cherokee – he was making laps on the hard route. The FJ Cruiser didn’t even have a PR guy. 

Stay Tuned

Part 1: http://tinyurl.com/3n9c75f
Part 2: http://tinyurl.com/42otrg4
Part 3: http://tinyurl.com/3szcruk

2011 Mudfest (2): Come mud or high water

If there was any question as to just how muddy this year’s Mudfest might actually be, our band of Northwest auto journalists was forced to navigate a confusing detour on the way to Dirtfish Rally School when the Snoqualmie River flooded from extreme amounts of rain. The small-town setting and natural disaster made the prospect of journeying to Dirtfish impossible to discern from the hit disaster movie, Dante’s Peak.

I flipped the switch of my 1998 Subaru wagon’s snorkel to the ‘on’ position, fired up the heated seats and growled a Pierce Brosnan quote from the river forging scene:

“This rig can take it.”

Fully aware of Google maps’ poisonous silver tongue, I took the added precaution of stopping at a gas station to confirm the alternate route with a local attendant so as to avoid using my Subaru’s imaginary snorkel. She corrected several turns on the print-out for me. With her caring hometown touch, I arrived fifteen minutes later at the closed bridge of the flooded river.

Thanks Cindy. I stole your pen. 

Thirty-five minutes later I was at Dirtfish Rally School, nestled in the soaking rural bosom of Snoqualmie on abandoned warehouse grounds much like those where Ken Block shoots his Gymkhana videos. The scene was terrifying. 

Already working on a tight schedule, the time lost to the flood detour had whipped our auto journalists into paranoid caffeine frenzy; there were nearly two-dozen SUV’s to test both on and off-road. No one was sure if they would have enough time to make it behind the wheel of every vehicle, or if they’d be caught in the Mini Countryman when Cindy’s gas station rode into the basin of the lot on the back of the raging Snoqualmie River. 

A gigantic Mercedes van-truck shuttled me down to the scene as small arms fire ricocheted off the fenders and spongy notepads splattered the windshield like wet locusts. 
Out in the biting wind and rain, we arrived in front of a thirty-foot tall barn of sorts that housed the new model-year competitors:

AFFORDABLE
-Jeep Compass
-Kia Sportage 
-Mini Countryman 
-Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
-Suzuki SX4

FAMILY
-Kia Sorento 
-Dodge Journey 
-Ford Explorer 
-GMC Acadia Denali 
-Honda Pilot
-Hyundai Santa Fe 
-Mazda CX-7
-Subaru Outback

LUXURY
-BMW X3
-Infiniti QX56
-Mercedes-Benz R350 Blue TEC 4Matic 
-Land Rover Ranger Rover Sport 
-Volvo XC90

OFF-ROAD
-Jeep Grand Cherokee 
-Land Rover LR4
-Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Edition

By the end of the day most people had lost their minds. The off-road courses became so rutted and goopy the “easy” trail was shut down when I nearly made a Kia disappear in a mud bog. Land Rover refused to let their LR4 on the hard course, and Jeep refused to stay off it, determined to prove the new Grand Cherokee’s hardcore 4x4 credentials were more than an “Imported from Detroit” iron-balled marketing scheme. 

Stay tuned for these exciting stories, dangerous video footage and announcements of the winners selected by the Northwest Auto Press Association. 

PART 1:
http://motorspacenw.com/member/blogentry.php?b=1067&u=144

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About this blog

Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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