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On Tuesday, April 4, Jeep brought the 2008 Liberty into the light. Rain was falling, with gusting winds, and Jeep had the only outside introduction of the show; most of the press stayed inside and looked through the window glass, but many ventured into the covered stands and, when those were full, either got wet or hid under umbrellas. Allpar's lone reporter for the event held an umbrella with one hand and a camera with the other. Frank Klegon walked up to the podium, set up among the faux boulders, accompanied by an assistant carrying an umbrella, and said, “This is my friend, Noah.”
He then described the 2008 Grand Cherokee, showing the first photos we’ve seen of the interior - up on the big display - and truthfully describing it as a major upgrade. Changes include much more woodgrain, more soft-touch surfaces, and a generally more luxurious appearance.
Both the Liberty and Grand Cherokee got substantial updates, particularly in electronic off-roading aids and aerodynamics (for better mileage and lower wind noise); the Liberty got slightly better gas mileage and many more features, and the Grand Cherokee got a huge power boost and slight gas-mileage hike from the 4.7 along with many new features, as well.
After a short introduction, he cued the introduction of the Liberty. Smoke billowed out of the summit of the faux mountain, two large doors opened, and to even greater billowing of smoke, out came the Liberty, perched atop a carousel held up above the artificial rocks. The silver Liberty made a complete rotation, and then a new, burgundy colored Liberty drove up and around - and opened the huge folding sunroof. As soon as the roof was open, an umbrella popped out, giving the crowd a good laugh.
Following the performance, we followed the Liberty into the warm, dry Jeep tent, where efficient handlers wiped it down and dried it off. The cargo bay now looks much more useful, larger than that of a PT Cruiser; the interior has been upgraded, with a more attractive dashboard sporting the new corporate climate control knobs, which make good use of bright chrome, and thin chrome lines on the gauges.
(By the way, for those dying for a 2008 Grand Cherokee interior sneak peak, we have an absolutely awful photo of the big screen on the right. It's blurry, it's hard to see, and it doesn't show the large masses of woodgrain, but here it is. Really, the actual vehicle looks better than that, though we’re sure Consumer Reports and Edmunds will find it to look exactly like that when they review it - “the interior is blurry and cheap-looking, with poor quality compression that makes the lines shaky and the speedometer unreadable, and cannot compare to the cheapest of the imports.”)
Our regional marketing representative, Lisa Barrow, helped us to find Rick Reuter to answer our Four Questions for the Liberty: Why did they drop the diesel and the 2.4 engines? Why the 3.7 instead of the 3.8? And why the four-speed automatic? Rick is a personable engineer at Chrysler, and answered the questions easily and with an air of conviction that may come from having two Jeep Libertys in the family, belonging to his wife and daughter. These are his answers, paraphrased:
We also asked how, with greater weight and the same powertrain, and a similar though improved drag coefficient, the Liberty could increase its gas mileage fairly substantially. According to Rick, this was largely a matter of reducing rolling resistance, increasing aerodynamic efficiency, and cutting parasitic losses. In particular, brake-specific fuel consumption was reduced through a different usage of EGR; and the electronic throttle helped to tighten engine control for a little more efficiency. Overall, Rick felt that real world gas mileage increased even more than EPA estimates.
Our next question had to do with styling, so Rick called over Ralph Gilles, who remains friendly and approachable despite his auto-world fame. We wondered about the risk Jeep was taking in so dramatically restyling a vehicle which has been an unquestionable hit, going from a more curvy style to the more rugged, blocky style; in particular, since most Liberty buyers have been women, we wondered if that would be an issue. Ralph responded that historically, women will buy a man’s car; what they liked about the Liberty was mainly the manageable size, which made it easy to park, fun to live with, and easy to own. It now looks more capable and rugged, which should appeal more to men, while still keeping the form factor liked by its current buyers. One styling cue he pointed out was the round headlights behind squarish lenses; they made the lamps oversized to scale the vehicle and keep it looking small and playful; the roundness gives it personality, the squareness ruggedness.
The Javits Center is a big ramshackle structure, with a roof that's far too high, making the center cold and drafty; the roof leaks, and the bathrooms are, not surprisingly, fairly dirty. Navigation signs are few and assume you've already been there, and outside entrances aren't especially convenient (nor is parking, unless you like paying the Show Surcharge). The Javits Center is hardly what one would expect of a city like New York in terms of size or polish; the average subway station was created with much more care and is in better shape, and, by the way, is on a subway line, unlike the Javits Center. After being at Cobo Hall, the deficiencies of Javits are even more clear. Architecturally, it looks like an unfinished airport inside, and is almost as functional. However, this year, on the show floor, the lighting has at least been greatly improved, so some of our photos actually look good.
The Jeep displays are impossible to miss if you walk to the Center; they are on the outer roadway in tents this year, with the Jeep offroad course in its usual place. On bright days, presumably the tents will be taken down, but on this day, they were warmer than the Javits Center itself.
The big question on the minds of many people is, what does the Demon look like under the skin? In short, what kind of suspension and architecture does it use? The Demon sits low to the ground, making it nearly impossible to get any decent under-car shots without the help of jacks, and we don't think Chrysler would appreciate us liberating a jack from a Caravan to push the Demon up (assuming it would even fit under there).
The Demon itself looks good but not awesome; it's not, in my opinion, a "gotta-get-it-now" type of car, at least not from a styling view. The Viper, even watered down, is about as desirable as a sports car can get; and they do have a modified Viper on the floor. The Demon doesn't come close - its presence is not as strong as the Viper-influenced Saturn Sky, and the big Dodge grille looks out of place on the sleek little car. (The Demon is said to be on a platform to be shared with Mercedes, along with the Hornet; a jointly designed platform that really was jointly designed.) The Demon certainly is small; it looks much smaller than the Hornet, though they're about the same size. The interior is fairly plain except for the nicely embroidered seats.
Other than the minivans, the Demon appeared to be getting the most attention from the press, but in any case, the Chrysler-Dodge area (the two brands were not clearly separated) was much more sparsely populated than Toyota and Lexus were.
Making another appearance were the seat displays from Detroit, so you can experience Swivel n Go seats Without having to get into a van. We did get into a Stow-n-Go van to try out the comfort of the odd-looking rear seats, which are at a very uncomfortable looking angle. Surprisingly, once we moved up the headrest - which appeared to be set for three year olds - the seats were quite relaxing and moderately supportive.
The new Dakota looks more integrated and sleeker up front than the 2007 models, though the side and rear views are almost identical. The massive, cartoonish chrome grille has been considerably downsized, so that the hoodline is straight and does not give way to the grille; in addition, the metal is a dull silver rather than a bright chrome. The result is a tidier, more compact looking truck that differentiates the Dakota from its somewhat-bigger cousins, the Rams. The honeycomb grille, copied by Ford but originally debuting on the 1993 Ram, works well with the more modest front lines.
The Sprinter was there in force. The step up to the cab was slippery, no doubt having been sprayed with a plastic shiner, but still treacherous even with sneakers. Inside, the ram's head logo on the Mercedes-specification steering wheel told us this was a Dodge; the cruise control remains the Mercedes favorite, with the awkward extra stalk on the left, and the controls are all from Stuttgart, which makes sense since the Sprinter is pure Mercedes. The shifter is similar to that in the new minivans, and is mounted on the dash. The use of thin brightwork gives the gauges a classier look than they would normally have, and helps to dress up the otherwise unexciting dashboard. The cargo van is cavernous but dark, with only a couple of dim dome lights and the light from the large door opening; the passenger van looks much dressier inside.
There are several interactive displays in the Dodge area, and a video describing the uniqueness of the SRT line.
Also within the Chrysler area was the Nassau concept car, which somehow did not look as good this time around as it originally did. Perhaps that was because it was lifted up to an unnatural height, changing the viewing angle and hiding the detailed gauges.
To get into the New York Auto Show, you have to get a thorough dousing of Toyota. First, you go past the Scion exhibit with the huge Scion wallstand of cars; then you go into the show, and taking up more space than just about anyone else is Toyota, in the most prime spot. The next best placement is probably from GM.
The New York Auto Show is at the Javits Center on the West coast of Manhattan. Since garages will raise their rates to $40 for parking, take the bus to Port Authority and then catch the M42 bus (every 7-14 minutes) westwards, or take the train to the subway to Port Authority (most lines stop at Port Authority; take the A-C-E or 1-2-3 or another train from the Penn Station or the S shuttle from Times Square). Or park a distance away and walk the remainder; we used Edison ParkFast a couple of blocks North. Security is high so backpacks are not be allowed in.
Our reporter, by the way, wrote that the FJ Cruiser had headlights that made it look crosseyed because they were too close to the center of the grille, a honeycomb grille from the 1993 Ram, and rearview mirrors that made it look as though it had Dumbo ears. It's not much to brag about with 16 mpg city, 19 highway (the same as the capable Wrangler). Those unaware of the "deliberately looking like an add-on" status of the compass and altimeter may think it looks foolish. With its faux bumper, one would hope it wouldn't get driven particularly fast. It has a strange looking gearbox, and no legroom in the back. For a different opinion, of course, you can see Toyoland.com's review.
Chrysler is in their traditional place both upstairs and downstairs; Jeeps and Dodge trucks are downstairs, Chrysler and Dodge upstairs. Downstairs, the Dodge trucks are moderately prominent and far closer to the entrance and exit than the car displays upstairs; they also take much more floor space. Toyota’s trucks are relegated to the side wall, next to Dodge, in the same places as last year.
The Chrysler/Dodge car display on the upper floor is all the way in the back, across the aisle from Maserati, who you might remember from Iaccoca’s flirtation with investment bankers, which proved that you don’t bring Chrysler upscale just by throwing in the name of a European luxury automaker; and from Bentley, now owned by Volkswagen, which served wine for its own announcements. (Nissan sponsored a sushi lunch; last year Lexus sponsored a box lunch.)
Minivans are in both the upstairs and downstairs displays; absent are the Imperial, 2008 Grand Cherokee, and, oddly, the real Dodge commercial trucks. There are two Sprinters and no chassis-cabs to lend an air of toughness, which would be handy given neighboring Ford’s new slogan, "Tougher than tough." It takes a tough engine to spit out spark plugs!
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