Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Lot of the Redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee Punctuated with Some Austin Fun

I was in Austin a week or so ago for the third time in six months. I like Austin; I like it a lot. Its tee-shirts read: Keep Austin Weird; and it is. Weird enough, in fact, that I couldn't live there but, man, I love to visit.

My reason for being there this time was to drive the redesigned 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It made the jaunt to Austin all the better.

The big news for the next-generation Grand Cherokee is its available 3-liter EcoDiesel that delivers 240 horsepower, 30 mpg and an estimated 730 miles driving range. There are also a V6 and a V8 for those looking for more conventional propulsion. No matter the engine, an all-new driver-shiftable eight-speed automatic transmission ushers the ponies to the wheels.

Jeep also offers three different 4x4 systems, depending on the type of driving a buyer expects to do. The two more-rugged systems also include Selec-Terrain, allowing the driver to dial in the type of terrain he encounters: sand, mud, snow and so forth. There is also an auto setting which lets the system's computer determine the appropriate setting.

Jeep is claiming 60 advanced safety or security features.

Jeep put us up in the Four Seasons in downtown Austin. The last time I stayed there it was with Jaguar. On that trip you couldn't swing a dead cat over your head in the lobby bar without hitting a celebrity of some degree. Michael Madsen, Keanu Reeves and Bruce Willis were each holding court at separate tables in the small area. Luke Wilson was also strolling the halls. No such thing this time, but, heck, it was still the Four Seasons.

B.D. Riley's is one of my favorite afternoon watering holes on 6th Street.

The hotel is just three or four blocks off of the legendary 6th Street. Live music is Austin's hook and even on Sunday, my first night there, 6th was jumping.

Winker and I at Don's Depot on my previous trip to Austin.

That night I hooked up with my buddy Winker. Winker is the unofficial mayor of the Austin music scene. He spends most of his nights hitting several venues where he takes photos of the bands.

Saxon Pub extension at the airport where Winker's photos hang inside and out.

His work hangs in several honky tonks around town, as well as the Saxon Pub extension at Austin's airport. I know Winker from his days living in Florida where he was the unofficial mayor of Delray Beach. Walking two blocks of Atlantic Avenue with him might take 20 to 30 minutes because everyone on the street wanted to stop him and talk. Trying to walk through a crowded bar with him in Austin is a very similar experience.

Making music at the Rattle Inn.

Winker drove by and picked me up at the Four Seasons after the Jeep dinner in the hotel. We hit the Saxon Pub, Rattle Inn and finally The Continental. Certainly The Continental was the highlight. Providing the entertainment was a pickup band composed of musicians from other bands. Among them was Dallas Wayne.

The Big D on stage.

Dallas is the morning drive-time DJ on Sirius/XM's Outlaw Country on channel 60. OC is among the stations I listen to when I have a vehicle with satellite radio. Although he's no super celeb, I enjoy his morning gab, and was eager to see him perform. Of course, with Winker, you don't just watch the bands; you talk to them as well. So during a break, I met Dallas after which he and I spoke for about 20 minutes. What a fun and interesting guy.

It was a late night. I don't think I made it back to my room until roughly 1:30 a.m. My driving partner took pity on me the next morning and drove the first leg of the ride and drive. Being a South Texas boy, he didn't require my lackluster navigational skills, and I was able to do a little dozing as he piloted us through the Texas hill country. I assumed the reins at the driver switch about mid morning, well rested and ready to go.

Despite being a capable off roader, the Grand Cherokee is remarkably civilized on the pavement. Its cabin is nicely appointed and a wonderful place to spend a few hours, or even crank pack the passenger seat and snooze. We drove the V8 the entire day. Jeep didn't bring enough of the diesels to give everybody a crack at driving them. You'll have to wait until I get one for a week in the regular fleet rotation to get my take on the diesel.

We lunched at the Inks Ranch in Llano, TX where Jeep had constructed a dining room tent, an observation platform atop a boulder outcropping, and mapped out an off-road course. Among the obstacles we tackled on the off-road portion was the steepest hill I've ever encountered on a drive route. It must have been close to a 40-degree grade. The Grand Cherokee climbed it like a mountain goat.

After dinner that night, a half-dozen journalists and a few Jeep-PR types headed back out to 6th Street. We literally followed the music to a joint called Friends. We parked ourselves at the bar just off the stage occupied by the Eric Tessmer Band. It was an impressive show of talent. There wasn't much singing, but the music was spectacular.

This shot wasn't staged. Yes, that is a Dodge Challenger that just happened to be parked in front of the joint.

Only the drummer stayed in place, Tessmer and the bass player both wandered around the bar, outside the bar and behind the bar as they played. This turned out to be a much earlier night the one before by about three hours. That was fine with me; hell, I'm old.

Filed under "When in Rome...," when I was drinking beer -- my adult beverage of choice on this trip -- I drank Shiner Bock.

I was sort of excited when I checked my flights about a week before this trip. My flight didn't leave until about 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday. I'm usually on the first flight out of wherever I am on car-launch events. Because of the amount of work I had to try to sandwich in between trips the four weeks before this outing, I had been getting up at 6 a.m. most mornings. I was excited by the prospects of sleeping in. No such luck.

The reason for my afternoon flight was that Jeep had scheduled a track day, er, morning for us before we all boarded planes. To the track and on the track, we drove the Grand Cherokee SRT. This is the Hemi-equipped version. It has a top speed of 160 mph and can hit 60 mph from a standing stop in 4.8 seconds. Yikes! It has a launch control button to enhance those standing-stop starts.

Jeep took over the Circuit of the Americas -- the brand-new race track just outside of Austin. I'm not a big fan of driving on race tracks. I much prefer off roading. But, I couldn't let this opportunity to add a new venue to the list of tracks I've driven. This is a tricky layout with a combination of left and right turns. It was a blast. I managed to hit 130 mph on the long straightaway. Impressive, but even more so when you consider this is an SUV with a 7,200 lb. towing capacity.

All things considered, it was another terrific Austin trip.

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