Finally, a Jeep Wrangler Pickup—in Kit Form

Jeep Wrangler JK-8

The Mopar Division of Chrysler has come up with a kit called the JK-8 that converts the four-door Wrangler Unlimited into a pickup. Jeep owners have been seeking a pickup model for a long time.

After all, who uses the back seat of a Jeep for anything but hauling dogs, jerry cans and trash?

Jeep finally got the message that such a kit could help fill the small-pickup hole in the market, with off-road capability to boot. Mopar’s kit ($5,499) transforms your Wrangler Unlimited (base price, $25,545) into a very cool machine for transporting Honda generators, La-Z-Boy recliners, beer kegs and other necessaries.

The problem is you’re looking at $32,000 big bucks, plus installation, which can be done by a “motivated do-it-yourselfer” or, better, by a Jeep dealer. “The kit consists of new body panels that make up the pickup bed, a new bulkhead behind the front seats, new B-pillars, roll bar extensions, and a removable fiberglass roof.” Welding and painting are required.

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Why a Ford Focus Shouldn’t Have a Tow Hitch

Ford Focus on jack stands

There’s a Ford Focus in my neighborhood.

I realize that’s not particularly interesting, especially considering there are roughly 383,895 other neighborhoods, in my city alone, that can say the same thing.

The Focus in my area, though, doesn’t run. I’m guessing it’s a 2000 model. The car is perpetually sitting in its owner’s garage on jack stands with the hood open.

All I’ve ever done is drive by this car, but I’ve seen some clues as to what the problem might be.

First clue: There is a trailer hitch on the car.

Second clue: There is a cargo trailer in the driveway.

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New Cars vs. Used: The Perennial Choice

Toyota tire-kicker in Seattle

Toyota tire-kicker in Seattle

Okay, I’ll give you the bottom line up front (which you already know): In most cases, buying used makes more financial sense. As always, there are mitigating circumstances.

The biggest variable is that, for some people, cars are just transportation. For others, they represent an investment. Still others are emotionally involved and see cars as part of their identity or lifestyle.

So the choice should be made on how you value and use your car as much as it is a dollars-and-cents calculation.

We’ve written a lot in this blog about how the used-car market is at record highs, but there is some evidence now that prices are going down and will drop further by summer’s end.

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Cars Coming Soon: SSC Tuatara, Ferrari 458 Spider, New Dodge Magnum

Shelby Super Cars Tuatara

We may be in the middle of an epidemic of bad supercar names.

Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4.

Pagani Huayra.

And now, the Shelby Super Cars Tuatara. (Twit-ara or too-a-tara, discuss amongst yourselves.)

While the name might be bad, the rest of the latest offering from SSC is absolutely brilliant. And it has but one purpose in life: to take away the Bugatti Veyron’s title for fastest production car in the world.

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The Chick Car Chauvinists

1978 Volkswagen Beetle, rear driver's side

What real men drove in 1978

Earlier this week car enthusiasts got a real dose of male chauvinism regarding the “more masculine” 2012 Beetle. Volkswagen itself led the way with its campaign to attract more male buyers.

When I last wrote about this foolishness in April, I made the pitch that

VW’s most important objective was to counter the image of the 1998-2010 New Beetle as a “chick car.” I owned one of these, because it had a good turbo engine and was a beautiful design. It turns out that two-thirds of the buyers of that car were women—which never caused me any embarrassment.

Maybe those women have more taste than men. Now the macho car writers are beating their chests that not only is the 2012 Beetle much more masculine in appearance (really?), but with 20 more horsepower in the base car, male buyers will come out in droves.

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The Perils of Run-Flat Tires

Girl changing flat tire

What if you didn't have a spare?

When shopping for a car, sometimes the tires are an afterthought. You might glance down at a tire, give it a kick, note that some tread still exists and be satisfied.

Failure to really understand what kind of tires are on the car, though, can result in a major headache down the road. (Probably at 12:30 a.m. on a dark and deserted stretch of that road.)

I’m mostly referring to run-flat tires. While the technology saves a car from lugging around a spare tire, run-flats have some pretty detrimental downsides, too. That’s especially true if you buy a car without knowing it’s equipped with run-flats and don’t know that it doesn’t have a spare.

I became aware of this situation when my dad mentioned shopping for a 2004 Toyota Sienna AWD. He did some research and found a *ton* of consumer complaints regarding the vehicle’s run-flat tires. (A forum-full of nastiness can be seen here.)

Here’s the essence of the problem:

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Green Update: The Nissan Versa Comes on Strong

2012 Nissan Versa, front

Does driving a cheap car equate to being green? Well, not if you’re driving a smoking old Mercury Monterey. But some of the new smaller cars are getting incredible mileage and doing it on the cheap.

The Nissan Versa used to be the butt of many jokes, but the new Versa sedan is a “serious upgrade” of a car that is bigger inside than the Fiesta, has a new dual-injector engine and a good continuously variable transmission (CVT), and can boast 30 mpg city and 38 highway in the sedan version.

Basic transportation never had it so good. The 2012 hatchback is the same car as last year’s, but Nissan dropped the base price $240 to $15,140, including a transportation charge of $760. The sedan, going on sale next month, starts at $11,750 (at $10,990, this is the lowest MSRP in the U.S.).

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2012 Volkswagen Beetle: A Chick Car No More

2012 Volkswagen Beetle, rear

Once upon a time, the Volkswagen Beetle was the ultimate chick car.

That time was all the way up until about yesterday.

The new one, the 2012 Beetle, has managed to broaden its appeal past the miniskirt-wearing crowd and become a car that a man, a real car-loving performance-obsessed man, can drive without hunkering down and hoping no one sees him.

The best improvement about the Beetle’s new style is that it no longer looks like a cutesy animated bubble. It looks more like a Porsche. Well, at the very least, a person might be able to tell that the company that builds the Beetle is the same company that builds the 911 (which reader Jim seems to think I believe is just a pumped-up Beetle.)

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New Benz M-Class SUVs: Classy Trail Cars

Mercedes-Benz ML350 4MATIC, front

The old M-Class has been around for 13 years and always seemed boxy and too truck-like for Mercedes-Benz. The new version has redesigned most everything and rectified these faults.

It’s the car I want (and can’t afford) for traveling over and through Mexican potholes and speed bumps, driving the autopistas (tollways), and the many all-too-common dirt roads. Yeah, I’d settle for the B-Class, but this car has much more class.

The price holds to last year’s: The standard ML350 4Matic AWD costs $49,865. Power source is a 3.5-liter V6 with 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. But, for only $1,500 more, you can get the BlueTec 3-liter turbodiesel, which will perform just as well (240 hp, 455 lb-ft of torque) and give better fuel economy (20/25 mpg).

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