Heels & Wheels – Part 1

2013Heel & Wheels Cherokee presentation
The Jeep Cherokee presentation

Although the number of women writing about vehicles has grown significantly during the 22 years I’ve been doing it, I estimate that we are still outnumbered 10 to 1.

Three years ago a friend of mine, Christine Overstreet, decided to put together an automotive program just for women automotive writers, and that’s when Heels & Wheels (H&W) was born. With statistics like women controlling $13 trillion in personal wealth and being responsible for more than 80 percent of all consumer purchases, it is obvious we probably have the largest influence on the auto buying market.

During the three-day H&W program, we discussed what women shoppers are looking for and the reasons women purchase certain vehicles. Of course, any car event would not be complete without some of the favorite things women auto writers like to do…drive cars and maybe spend a little time gossiping, partaking in adult beverages and enjoying some fine food.

This year Christine’s program started at a hotel close to the Portland (Oregon) International Airport. We had 10 different cars to drive and a couple of dozen women auto writers. After a quick lunch, we partnered up and drove the 160-mile route, which took us over the Cascade Mountains in the shadow of the snow cover volcanic peak, Mount Hood, to our destination, the Brasada Ranch resort near the geographic center of Oregon.

During the three-day event, I had a chance to drive nine of the ten vehicles Christine had recruited for Heels &Wheels. The only one I didn’t get to drive was the unofficial star of the show, the Aston Martin DB9. Car swaps didn’t work out quite as planned so I missed the only opportunity I’ll probably ever have to drive the legendary Aston Martin — no James Bond-like experience for me. However, after careful examination I found no machine guns in the headlights so perhaps it wouldn’t have been as exciting as it was in “Goldfinger”.

2014 Heels & Wheels Jeep Cherokee
2014 Jeep Cherokee Pre-Production model

The manufacturers who sent cars to Heels & Wheels also sent representatives to answer questions about the cars. As an added treat, Kathy Graham from Jeep and Chrysler, brought a pre-production version of the all-new Jeep® Cherokee. Yes, Jeep is bringing back the Cherokee to replace the Liberty and it’s impressive as hell with features like the segment’s first nine-speed transmission, world-class off-road capabilities and many other industry firsts. The styling says Jeep, but it’s with a whole new fresh look. The most amazing features, however, is the price which will start at $22,995 when it debuts in the third quarter of this year. I’ll have more on the new Cherokee later in the year.

I did get to test drive all the others vehicles, which I will tell you about starting alphabetically:

Heels & Wheels 2013  Aston-Martin

Aston Martin DB9 – I can’t think of a woman, who wouldn’t want to own, or even sit in the Aston Martin DB9. It’s one of sexiest cars ever built. I’m really upset that I didn’t get a chance to get in the car. For the record the DB9 has a 510-hp V-12 engine, it accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and has a base price of nearly $200,000.

Heels & Wheels 2013 Buick VeranoBuick Verano Turbo – For being such an old and distinguished brand the recent Buick saga has been something of a Cinderella story. The brand was near extinction but strong popularity in China and the introduction of the high style Buick Enclave crossover started to bring Buick back. That was followed by some great designs and innovations putting Buick back on my “must drive before you buy” list. While the Buick selection is still quite limited with only five models, each offers outstanding design to get your attention and follows up with interesting features and very good products.

The Buick Verano Turbo grabbed my attention at the Heels & Wheels program. As the second variation of the Verano, the turbo version boasts 250 horsepower from a 2.0-liter turbo-charged four-cylinder engine. The Turbo has a standard six-speed automatic transmission with an optional (no cost) six-speed manual transmission, which the test car had. A Buick with a manual transmission is rare, and this one is has a nice feel with easy shifting. It adds a new dimension to the littlest Buick and a sporty alternative for a woman that enjoys driving.

The Verano is not going to be a racer, by any means, but it can certainly add some excitement for the commute and Sunday drives in the country with 0 to 60 mph acceleration runs in only 6.2 seconds. Fuel economy still comes in at 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.

Verano planners loaded up the Turbo model with nearly all the features as standard equipment. They also gave it the full complement of safety equipment, too, including 10 airbags, a rear vision camera, Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert along with StabiliTrak stability control and four-wheel disc brakes with all the electric safety enhancements.

The well-equipped base model Verano has a starting price of $23,975, including the destination charge. The top model, the Premium Group has the turbocharged engine and base price of $30,895, with only a handful of available options.

 

Heels & Wheels 2013 Dodge DartDodge Dart – The Dart is an interesting new addition to the Dodge lineup. It’s the first Dodge to be derived from the company’s joint ownership with Italian manufacturer Fiat. The Italian influence creates a solid and agile sedan with a distinctive European feel.

It’s available in six trim levels to allow shoppers to customize their car with a broad range of features and performance.

Engine choices for the Dart include the 160-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder Tigershark, the 160-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder MultiAir® and a 184-hp 2.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder. The engines are then mixed and matched with three transmission choices: a six-speed manual, six-speed automatic and six-speed dual dry clutch.

The only thing I find a bit odd is there is so little variation in power or transmissions. Even fuel economy ratings for the various combinations of engines and transmissions vary only slightly from 25 mpg city / 36 mpg highway for the Tigershark with a manual transmission to 28/41 mpg for the Aero model with the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine and manual transmission.

The Dodge Dart is a great value statement for a woman on the go. Pricing ranges from $16,390, including the destination charge, for the SE up to $27,180 for a fully loaded Limited model.

 

 Heels & Wheels 2013 Hyundai Santa FeHyundai Santa Fe – Hyundai has been the brand to watch in recent years with its steady releases of well-designed vehicles that just get better and better each year. The all-new Santa Fe is one of the top crossovers in the mid-level category. Santa Fe is available in two variations, the two-row Sport or the three-row Santa Fe, which I drove.

The Santa Fe story starts with a new distinctive design, high quality comfortable interior and an impressive drivetrain. Under the hood is a 290-hp, 3.3-liter direct injection V-6 engine. The only available transmission is a six-speed automatic with Shiftronic manual shifting mode. The all-wheel drive is an active system that quickly transfers power to the tires with the best traction, plus it has a switch to lockup all four wheels for even better traction when needed. Fuel economy is rated at 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.
The Santa Fe comes in two trim levels. The top-of-the-line Santa Fe Limited, which I drove, had all the features I would expect in an upscale brand including leather, heated seats in two rows, ventilated driver’s seat, heated steering wheel, navigation and panoramic sunroof.

The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD is for the woman with a growing family or a stylish travel vehicle for an empty nester that takes friends along. The Limited has a base price of $34,850. The addition of the technology packages and destination charge takes the price as tested to $38,730.

 

Heels & Wheels 2014 Jeep Grand CherokeJeep Grand Cherokee – The Jeep has been the key to Chrysler’s recent success, showing strong sales, especially with the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee models. Although it was all new in 2011, Grand Cherokee got a major makeover for 2014 with some design tweaks, interesting new features and an available diesel engine.

Personally, I think the latest styling qualifies the Grand Cherokee as a head turner in the SUV world, and when taken with the upscale interior appointments the new Jeep is definitely elegant and comfortable.

The Grand Cherokee is available in a wide range of models and prices. The five models start with the Laredo at $28,795 and go as high as the Summit, which has a $47,995 base price.

There is also an SRT version of the Grand Cherokee. It’s like the Mercedes-Benz AMG, BMW M or Audi S models. In this case it’s the Grand Cherokee with a 470-hp Hemi providing more than enough power for any woman driver that wants to really fast. Like all performance vehicles, the SRT is not cheap with pricing starting at $62,995.

Counting the SRT, Jeep now offers four engine choices including the award-winning new 290-hp Pentastar V-6, the 360-hp 5.7-liter V-8 engine with fuel saving technology (cylinder deactivation) and the new 240-hp V-6 diesel. The diesel boasts an EPA fuel economy rating of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. All the engines are attached to Jeep’s excellent new eight-speed automatic transmission, which helps maximize fuel economy.

I’m especially impressed with the equipment included in the Technology package, which includes one of the best and easiest to operate navigation systems currently available, at least in my humble opinion. The large touch screen has massive icons that respond quickly so you don’t wonder if you touched the correct spot. I find this especially helpful with my well groomed fingernails, (just kidding, NOT). Having driven the Grand Cherokee recently at the Northwest Automotive Press Association’s

Mudfest competition and at a new model introduction in Texas, I can attest to the Jeep’s outstanding off-road capabilities. The Grand Cherokee provides a woman with an extra level of comfort and security on the road or trail.

 

Incidentally, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee was picked by NWAPA at Mudfest as the best Luxury Class vehicle and it won the top prize — Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year.

Heels & Wheels 2014  Kia CadenzaKia Cadenza – Because it was just introduced last month and my husband, a male auto writer, insisted on going to that introduction, I had not driven, or even seen Kia’s new large car, the Cadenza. I actually got to spend a little more time in it driving back to Portland and it was love at first drive.

A little larger than the Optima, the Cadenza competes head to head with the Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Impala and Hyundai Azera. It’s a tough group of competitors, but the elegant Kia flagship is as good as or better than anything in the group. It’s the kind of car that tells the world, this woman has arrived and she has good taste in cars.

Kia has placed a heavy emphasis on design, recruiting one of the world’s top designers, Peter Schreyer, formerly of Audi. He is now responsible for the creation of striking new designs like the Optima, Sorento, Forte and now Cadenza. Like many new cars, however, the Cadenza looks much better in person than in photos.

The interior holds its own with the exterior with ergonomically correct controls in a setting filled with leather seating, soft touch surfaces and accents of wood and chrome.
Cadenza gets high marks for value, too with one very well equipped Premium model and two major packages, Luxury and Technology, adding a boatload of features and technology to an already very well equipped Premium model.

A 293-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 powers with six-speed automatic transmission drives the front wheels of the Cadenza, producing strong performance and acceleration, along with EPA fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

The Kia Cadenza is priced at $35,900, including the destination charge. The Technology and Luxury packages are each $3,000 and it is not as expensive as it might sound. It’s a bargain.

 

Heels & Wheels Discussion(OK - gossiping and partaking in adult beverages).
Heels & Wheels Discussion(OK – gossiping and partaking in adult beverages).

To read Heels & Wheels – Part 2 go to: http://ourautoexpert.com/heels-wheels-part-2/

 

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