I never knew about this. In fact, I still wouldn’t know about this if not for Christian Hepler, a vigilant reader from the Gaithersburg, Maryland, area who, like me, clearly spends way too much time on eBay.
The “this” I am referring to is a stick-shift Jeep Grand Cherokee. For those of you who also didn’t know about this, and therefore think it’s some sort of bizarre transmission swap, I can assure you this is not the case. Apparently Jeep really did offer a manual transmission on the first few Grand Cherokee models, including a full complement of three pedals, a tachometer, and a gear lever that resembles a hockey stick in both shape and size.
The real crime here is that Christian sent me the eBay listing AFTER the auction had ended, which is a shame, because this thing would’ve been pretty cool to bid on. Oh, sure, the speedo only goes up to 100 miles per hour, and the controls look like they’re from the 1970s, not the 1990s. And yes, it’s finished in a paint shade that the owner identifies as “Wild Berry Metallic,” which sounds like a statue they might have at the corporate headquarters for Gushers.
But this is still very much the kind of vehicle I would want to buy, or at least test drive to find out just how awful that gear lever really is. And so, if you see another of these come up for sale, let me know. That’s unlikely, though, considering they only made about 1,000, and 975 of those are probably rusting away in a junkyard with the rest of Chrysler’s forgotten products.
People often ask me about fuel efficient SUVs. “Doug,” people will say, “What about fuel efficient SUVs?” These people aren’t very specific.
The truth is there aren’t that many fuel efficient SUVs, and I’m not entirely sure why. Yes, there are a few hybrids – but with the Escape Hybrid long gone, the cheapest one, Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid, starts above $40,000. That’s about where diesel SUVs start, too.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Behold, the diesel-powered Jeep Liberty, known as the Jeep Liberty CRD. It was sold in the United States from 2005 to 2006, which means at any given time there are only a few dozen on AutoTrader. But they’re out there, somewhere, with a 2.8-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder that made 160 horsepower and a muscular 295 pound-feet of torque.
If that sounds pretty cool, it is – especially when you consider the average asking price on AutoTrader is hovering around $10,000. Think about it: a compact SUV with tons of towing power and a fuel-efficient diesel engine! It’s the greatest car in the world!
Sadly, however, there’s one problem: it’s NOT the greatest car in the world. Part of the issue is that it’s still a Jeep Liberty, which means you have to deal with the, shall we say, inexpensive interior components clearly sourced from the same people who make airline headphones.
The other problem? Fuel economy, believe it or not. Despite its diesel powertrain, the Liberty CRD returned just 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway – far below most gas-powered compact SUVs today.
But it still exists. And it’s still pretty cool.
When you think of two-door SUVs, what comes to mind? That ungainly 2-door Ford Explorer they sold for a decade? The Isuzu Amigo? The Jeep Wrangler?
Well, how about the two-door Land Rover Freelander?
That’s right. Everyone forgets about it, but the two-door Freelander very much existed – even in the United States. It was one of many failed two-door SUVs, a group that also includes the Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Isuzu VehiCROSS, and dozens upon dozens of others.
The interesting thing was the Freelander Convertible was kind of neat-looking. It had a rear-mounted spare, you could take off the roof, and it sort of looked like a combination of “cute car your girlfriend might drive” and “go-anywhere off-roader.”
Unfortunately, the Freelander itself was an awful, underpowered, trucky SUV with terrible gas mileage, a bad interior, and a transmission that was destined to fail no matter how many times you replaced it. As a result, I’d be stunned if there are ANY Land Rover Freelanders left in this country five years from now.
But I’d especially be stunned if there are any two-doors. A quick check on AutoTrader.com reveals about 80 percent of Freelanders are four-door, meaning only a small number are two-doors. A quick check on AutoTrader.com also reveals you can pick one of these up for around six grand, regardless of mileage or condition. That’s a pretty good deal, though I must remind you to budget for a new transmission. And then another new transmission a few years later.
Here’s an interesting car. Let’s say you like diesels. And let’s say you also like performance. In general, these things are mutually exclusive. Most diesels are built for gas mileage, while most performance cars are built with the furthest engine possible from a diesel. Except for those Audis that race in LeMans. Those are an anomaly.
But wouldn’t it be cool to combine diesel and performance? That’s precisely what VW did with the TDI Cup race series, an SCCA series that lasted from 2008 to 2011. The cars that ran were all diesel-powered Jettas, just like the ones you could buy at the VW dealer, except that they had 170 horsepower, 270 pound-feet, and a roll cage. Also, they were covered in decals, but not from sponsors, because who the hell would watch diesel Jettas race?
Anyway: eventually, VW decided to capitalize on the enormously minor success they had with this series by launching the TDI Cup Jetta. What a great strategy, right? Tune the standard car’s 140 horses and 236 lb-ft to the figures from the cup cars, and you have a touring car for the road. AND it has a diesel engine for fuel economy!!! HOW COOL!
Only, Volkswagen didn’t tune the engine. Instead, the Jetta TDI Cup was just a standard Jetta TDI, with the same 140 horses and the same 236 lb-ft. The only upgrades were a bodykit, some wheels, and what I can only imagine is a decal that says “TDI Cup Edition” while spanning both doors.
So, the Jetta TDI Cup. It exists. But maybe it shouldn’t.
Manual transmission and a hybrid drivetrain. These things seem like they’d go hand-in-hand. Manuals are fuel efficient. Hybrids are fuel efficient. This is the perfect combination!
The only problem is most hybrid people don’t want to bother with driving a stick. And, love ‘em or hate ‘em, CVT automatics tend to be just as good at gas mileage as manuals – if not better. The result is there are a precious few manual hybrids in existence today.
We all know one of them: the original Honda Insight. That was initially offered only with a stick, though a CVT came online later, ensuring the car would never be able to climb steep hills, or medium-sized hills, or speed bumps.
There’s also the Honda CR-Z, the Insight’s successor, which offers a stick shift to drivers who want to really wring out the 13.2-second 0-to-60 time in their “sport” hybrid.
But did you know there’s another manual hybrid out there?
That’s right, folks: the first-generation Honda Civic Hybrid came with a stick shift from 2003 to 2005. It looks like installation rates were surprisingly high, reaching about 20 percent of all Civic Hybrid models. That figure, coupled with the first-generation Civic Hybrid’s reasonable popularity, means there are a few stick shift Civic Hybrids available on the used market.
Unfortunately, the days of a manual hybrid sedan are probably long behind us. But for hypermilers who do most of their driving in the diesel-unfriendly big city, the Civic Hybrid stick is a good choice. Except for that whole thing about replacing the batteries.