Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins 2nd Daytona 500

It took 10 years but he has done it again. Yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won America’s race for the second time in his career surpassing his late father’s record of only one win at Daytona’s great NASCAR race.  Sunday’s race was not the most exciting as there was a rain delay of 6 hours, 22 minutes but Dale Jr. hung on to win and that is what counts. The Daytona win also snaps his 55-race losing streak dating back to 2012.

Photo source: AOL

Photo source: AOL

In today’s world of social media it is kind of surprising Dale Jr. had not joined Twitter. However, after Sunday’s win he signed up and has tweeted up a storm ever since. His account is brilliant – over 496k followers and counting while not following anyone and having only 43 tweets as of 9PM EST on Feb 25th.  Here’s a recent selfie from Monday captured at the Daytona Experience.  His selfie tweet is awesome – Look who I ran into at the Daytona Experience. Dad’s Happy!

Photo source: Twitter

Photo source: Twitter

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2014 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT Plus

Caravan

2014 Dodge Caravan SXT Plus

In 2014, the Dodge Caravan will mark 30 years in Canada.  Introduced in 1984 model year, the Caravan quickly created a new market segment and became the de facto standard for minivans in North America.  Currently assembled in Windsor, Ontario the Grand Caravan comes in eight different trim levels for the Canadian market with the Canada value package MSRP starting at $19,985 up to the R/T package at $32,995.

RedlineNorth recently took the Dodge Grand Caravan SXT Plus ($27,995 base, $42,730 as tested) on a family trip to Great Wolfe Lodge in Niagara Falls Ontario.  Three adults and two kids loaded into the van to escape the mid-winter blahs. As many readers already know the minivan really is the perfect people mover and the Grand Caravan SXT Plus will not only get you and your family from point A to point B, but it will do it with both performance and comfort.

The Caravan is first and foremost a people mover

The Caravan is first and foremost a people mover that has both performance and convenience

Interior storage in the Grand Caravan is very plentiful.  Our test vehicle had the 7 seat configuration with second row captain’s chairs and a third row bench.  Adults getting into the third row may require a few yoga moves, but for kids it’s more than adequate. Trunk space in the caravan is surprisingly good, even with the third row seats in their upright position.  The luggage for our trip to Great Wolfe Lodge was placed with ease with lots of room left over.  Leg room is also plentiful with 40.7 inches of space for the front row, 36.5 inches for the second row and 32.7 inches for the third row.

The Dodge Grand Caravan offers a wealth of interior space.

The Dodge Grand Caravan offers a wealth of interior and luggage space.

Minivans, in general, are very good a moving people and goods from point A to point B, but they may not win any style contests.  That being said the Dodge Caravan does have some pleasing styling cues, including the black bezel quad lights, and the signature Dodge chrome cross hair grille, as well as the red accents around the interior gauges.

Red interior accents give the Grand Caravan a touch of sportiness

Red interior accents give the Grand Caravan a touch of sportiness

Convenience is where the Grand Caravan excels.  The power sliding doors and lift gate along with the interior design made getting in and out of the vehicle a breeze. The infotainment system in the vehicle is Chrysler’s Uconnect system which does a great job of providing information and entertainment and a good job of providing navigation.  A one year subscription to Sirius/XM radio is included as part of the Uconnect Hands-Free Group upgrade, which is a nice touch.  This coupled with the optional DVD player and fold down LCD screen and the kids were sufficiently entertained on the journey to and from Niagara.   Additional nice to haves in the Caravan are the USB charging ports between the second and third row seats and in the central console, along with the three zone climate control and the rear back up camera.

Available in-car entertainment system

Available in-car entertainment system

The Drive

We were pleasantly surprised with the power coming from the 3.6 liter Pentastar V6.  It comes with a six speed transmission and is common across all trims levels.  Accelerating on the Queen Elizabeth Way heading towards Niagara was a breeze despite a fully loaded van thanks to the 286 HP and 260 lbs of torque.  Sight lines were also very good and one could be forgiven for forgetting you are driving a minivan while on the highway. The towing capacity of the Caravan is a respectable 3,600 lbs, for a minivan.

One aspect of the interior design we weren’t necessarily sold on was the placement of the shifter, which is up high on the dash and takes some getting used to.  By the end of the week it still didn’t feel right reaching so high to put the van in gear, however, the additional room saved between the front two seats provides for plentiful armrest storage and in that respect is a good trade off.

Shifter placement gets some getting used to

Shifter placement takes some getting used to

Fuel efficiency in the Grand Caravan is rated at 12.2L city and 7.9L highway.  The vehicle does offer a fuel economizer feature which alters the transmission shift patterns to help improve overall efficiency, and is most advantageous during city driving.  This is a nice touch and using this feature we obtained near posted fuel efficiency during our test period.

The Grand Caravan was a 2013 Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and has come a long way since its inception in 1984, but so too has its competition such as the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. While the base Canada Value package is a bargain, the Caravan faces stiff competition in the higher trim levels.  Overall the Grand Caravan is a great family vehicle that offers both performance and convenience and is a worthy competitor in the minivan market segment.

Video of Ken Block’s scary crash at Lake Superior Performance Rally

We regularly cover news on the indelible Ken Block and this is another story we thought worth sharing.  Back in October, Ken Block and co driver/navigator Alex Gelsomino needed a win at the Lake Superior Performance Rally to take the 2013 Rally America championship. However, this was not to be as the boys missed a clump of dirt in the road along with a word in the pace notes resulting in their Ford Fiesta becoming airborne and tumbling over five times.

Check out this video interview as Ken and Alex describe what went wrong on the course that day. Thankfully they both walked away from the crash uninjured.

The video reveals Block’s incredible competitive streak as you see him start the engine and attempt to get back on the course as soon as the car stops rolling.  The only problem is the front wheels were both gone…..

Here are some more images from the crash captured by Jalopnik.

Testing McLaren’s P1 950 HP Ultra Hybrid

Auto journalist and tester extraordinaire Chris Harris is really the only player who can come close to the level of access the UK’s Top Gear folks receive. Well, he out does himself once again with this extended video where he gets up close and personal with the unreal $1.2-million McLaren.  Check out Harris’ once in a lifetime experience as he heads to Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi to get behind the wheel of this 950 HP, turbocharged V8 hybrid-electric British built McLaren P1. Of course no Chris Harris video would be complete without him sliding it around the racetrack as he is famous for doing in all his tests.

The P1 features a 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 gasoline engine similar to the engine found in the MP4-12C, but it’s tuned to deliver 727 HP and 531 lb ft at 7500 rpm. Combined with an in-house developed electric motor, which produces 176 HP and 192 lb ft, the P1 will have a total power and torque output of 903 HP and 722 lb ft.

Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4×4 Review

Living in Toronto’s east end, space is a premium so driving a full size pick-up truck is not exactly ideal. However, having recently spent a week testing the 2014 Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4×4 I have to stay it’s a marvelous machine.  With its eight-speed automatic transmission, backup camera, air suspension and smallish five-foot-seven inch box it was surprisingly maneuverable in the tight confines of Canada’s biggest city.

Ram 1500 Laramie

Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4×4

Having been named Motor Trend magazine’s Truck of the Year five times in the last 20 years the Ram brings a stellar pedigree to the table.  With victories in 1994, 2003, 2010 and back-to-back wins in 2013 and 2014, Chrysler’s Ram continues to have success with its winning platform.

In 2011, the Chrysler Group dropped the Dodge Ram model name, re-branding its line of trucks under the shorter Ram brand.  This new branding came with an amazing marketing campaign focused on the infamous “Code of the West” theme narrated by Hollywood icon Sam Elliott.  The hyper-masculine tone of these ads show the competition as being left in the proverbial dust with Elliott’s voice-over saying the infamous tag line, “Guts, Glory, RAM.” Here’s the original ad that set the creative campaign off.

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The Laramie Crew Cab 4X4 model is the third highest trim level coming in at a starting price of $38,895 CDN  MSRP.  However, our demo model came equipped with a range of additional options pushing the “as tested” price to $59,985. But before you say anything about this being significantly more than the advertised price just hold on since this Ram came with everything you could ever want in a truck.

Our tester came paired with the 5.7L V8 HEMI (395 horsepower and 407 pound-feet) and new eight-speed automatic transmission. The power-train incorporates both variable valve timing (VVT) and a cylinder shut-off system making it quite energy-efficient overall. However, don’t fret, Ram has not gone all soft on you – the HEMI provides tons of muscular power and 0-60 mph times of less than 7 seconds.  All this HEMI power is harnessed through chrome exhaust pipes providing a strong but subtle throaty, V8 exhaust note.

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The cabin of the Ram is comparable to the look and feel of any of today’s luxury cars or trucks with its rich leather bucket seats and high-end interior materials.  Along with the 8.4″ Uconnect Touchscreen with back up camera, 9 speaker amp and subwoofer stereo system, this truck has it all. Some other features especially useful in winter include heated second row seats, dual zone climate control and a heated steering wheel.

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Having chauffeured around family and friends there were many compliments about the roominess and comfort of the Ram’s back seats.  Whether it’s people or groceries, the Ram provides tons of room with its crew cab model.

Ram Laramie with air suspension set at Off Road 2

Ram Laramie with air suspension set to Off Road 2

In spite of providing all the creature comforts associated with high-end vehicles, the Ram does not compromise on its truck characteristics.  The image above illustrates the increased wheel travel available using the air suspension system which provides drivers with the ability to raise the frame of the truck enabling more travel for off-road use. The air suspension system provides a built-in lift-kit at the push of a button which is a dream come true for the off-road enthusiast who does not want to suffer the consequences in ride quality and performance of a lifted suspension.  Land Rover has used this technology on their models for years, so way to go Chrysler!

There is one other significant feature which the Ram possessed, it’s called the wife quotient.  I have written about this before in past reviews and its utmost importance at the end of the day, since without a high number, the usual result means the vehicle does not stay in the driveway. To my wife’s surprise, she loved travelling around in the Ram over the week, she thought it was the most comfortable vehicle she’s experienced in my life as an auto blogger.  She also loved the superior ride height and wide range of luxurious interior features.  If my needs were different and I required a truck, the only missing element for a perfect score would be the optional running boards.

With its rugged good looks, stellar performance and keen sense of efficiency the Ram provides consumers with an amazing opportunity to buy a truck that can do it all.

Key competitors to the Ram 1500 are the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Nissan Titan, Ford F-150 and the Toyota Tundra.

Dubai Police add a Bugatti Veyron to fleet

Last Spring, several reports appeared about Dubai’s unreal assortment of police vehicles. Their ornamental fleet consisted of Dodge Chargers, Chevy Camaros, BMW 5 Series sedans and several exotics including a Lamborghini Aventador and Ferrari Four. Well, the party continues in 2014 as they have just added a brand new Bugatti Veyron to this already insane stable.

This is so wrong for so many reasons, however, the most upsetting thing of all is, why would you paint police colours and add service lights to a $1.6 million Bugatti?

Honestly, the line more money than brains suits this perfectly.  Shame on Dubai.

We can only imagine some of our Canadian men and women in blue are wishing they worked in Dubai about now…Since those rides sure beat driving around in an old Ford Crown Victoria…..

Ken Block’s RaptorTrax

In the spirit of this month’s Sochi Winter Olympics we thought this was a very cool story to share.  Driver extraordinaire Ken Block has debuted a new creation from Ford called the RaptorTrax.  This unreal modified Ford Raptor has swapped its wheels for snow trax to become the greatest winter vehicle. Of course with Ken Block behind the wheel putting it through its paces is a bit of an understatement.  Check out this photo montage of his new toy in action as well as a start-up in this crazy machine.

Here’s another clip of Ken driving the RaptorTrax around town at last month’s X Games in Aspen. How fun would going through the drive-thru be?

North American International Auto Show 2014 Recap

Now that the North American International Auto Show is over for another year, RedlineNorth takes a look back at the highlights of this year’s show, identifies some trends as well as personal favourites.

Over 800,000 people visited the NAIAS this year, an eleven year high. Along with the 5,169 journalists in attendance and an estimated $365 million it brought to the local economy it’s fair to say Detroit is back!

NAIS-11

Plug-in Electric Vehicles were more prevalent at this year’s show, from the newly released BMW i3 (available as both a pure electric and with a back-up gasoline engine) to the plug-in version of the Porsche Panamera to the Cadillac ELR, the availability of plug-in vehicles across manufacturers as well as product lines is visibly increasing. From zero electric vehicles being available in the market only five short years ago, to upwards of twenty different models in 2014, consumers are the big winner here in terms of choice. The real challenge going forward is for manufacturers to offer an affordable plug-in SUV/CUV. Mitsubishi may be first out the gate in North America with its plug-in hybrid electric Outlander.

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Cadillac ELR

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Porsche Panamera

The next significant wave of technology to hit showrooms beyond electric drivetrains is likely to be the autonomous, or self driving vehicle.  This technology can fit well with electric vehicles and at the show Nissan had on display a right hand drive Leaf fitted with autonomous vehicle technology, along with a video showing the self driving vehicle in action on the streets in Japan. While we don’t expect to see fully autonomous vehicles to hit showrooms within the next five years, its encouraging to see the realm of the possible being stretched by the OEMs. 

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An Autonomous Drive Nissan Leaf

Overall, OEMs are on the whole offering a number of models with significant fuel economy savings from currently available electric vehicles to fuel cell concept vehicles as well as weight saving technologies such as Ford’s new aluminum body for its F150, shown below incognito when it was run in the Baja 1000.  

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2014 Ford F150

There were a number of North American and World debuts at the show this year including the 2015 WRX STI from Subaru (shown below).  With a 305 hp turbocharged engine, 67% faster steering response, and matted to a 6 speed manual gear box this car is a rocket. It’s also nice to see Subaru reverting back to the more classic sedan style STI.NAIS-9

There was plenty of eye candy on display in Detroit this year – we’re referring to the cars of course – from the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 to the Lexus RC F and the Dodge SRT Viper (shown below), raw power in the form of performance cars stole the show.

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SRT Viper

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Porsche 918 Spyder

One of the star’s of the show was this beautiful Porsche 918 Spyder, which unfortunately was displayed behind glass so we could not get up and close.  However, another darling of the show was the new 911 Targa which incorporates all the elegance of the 1970s Targa model with the latest Porsche technology and design.

911 Targa

911 Targa

Finally it wouldn’t be an auto show without some concept vehicles including this one from Nissan.   The square front end of this concept reminded us of BMW styling cues from the 1980s.

Nissan Idx Concept

Nissan IDx Concept

Overall, this year’s North American International Auto Show had something for everyone, which judging by the surge in the number of visitors this year, resonated well with the general public.  It’s always a pleasure visiting the NAIAS, especially given the hospitality of the host city of Detroit. Despite is tenuous financial footing, Detroit is on its way back.  It’s down, but definitely not out.  RedlineNorth is already looking forward to 2015.

Sources: CBC

Superbowl Car Commercials

This past Sunday’s Super Bowl was not the best of games that’s for sure as it looked like the Broncos may have thrown the game.  As for the Seahawks I congratulate you as your team deserved the win and winning your first Superbowl is a very big deal.
Super-Bowl-commercials-2014
As a car guy, the best part of the big game is seeing the new car commercials of which there were 15 this year, the same number as last year. Audi, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, VW, GM, Ford, Chrysler, Jaguar, Maserati, Jeep and Honda all splurged and spent the huge cash required for airtime during the big game. To check out all the ads see Autoblog Canada’s feature on the Top 10 Best Car Commercials from this year’s Super Bowl.  You can vote for your favourite one too.

Ohio man buried on his beloved Harley Davidson motorcycle

I realize this is a tad morbid but it’s just so over the top we thought it deserved a post.  As published in Gawker earlier this week, Ohio native Billy Standley had his dream funeral that included being buried on his beloved Harley Davidson motorcycle.  Apparently, Bill first came up with the idea 18 years ago and with the help of his family, worked on the project on and off for years. The fabricated casket was made out of plexiglass, with wood and steel rods reinforcing its bottom.

Photo Source: AP

Who’s says you can’t bring it with you?

Since the beginning of time there has always been something about embalming bodies that humans have been so curious about.  I have actually seen in person both China’s Mao Zedong and Vietnam’s Uncle Ho Chi Minh in their permanent embalmed states and it’ just so strange.  Russia’s Stalin is also embalmed in Moscow so it must be a Communist thing…..Nevertheless, there was a similar story a few years ago on Autoblog about a shooting victim in Puerto Rico who was embalmed in a very lifelike position atop his Repsol branded Honda CBR600 F4 motorcycle.

Hey, to each his own right?