Car Video:  Oversteer

Can These Old Luxury Performance SUVs Climb a Ski Mountain?

RELATED READING
See all Mercedes-Benz ML 55 AMG articles
RESEARCH BY MAKE
Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs
Acura cars, trucks and SUVs Alfa Romeo cars, trucks and SUVs AMC cars, trucks and SUVs Aston Martin cars, trucks and SUVs Audi cars, trucks and SUVs Bentley cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Bugatti cars, trucks and SUVs Buick cars, trucks and SUVs Cadillac cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Chrysler cars, trucks and SUVs Daewoo cars, trucks and SUVs Datsun cars, trucks and SUVs DeLorean cars, trucks and SUVs Dodge cars, trucks and SUVs Eagle cars, trucks and SUVs Ferrari cars, trucks and SUVs FIAT cars, trucks and SUVs Fisker cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Freightliner cars, trucks and SUVs Genesis cars, trucks and SUVs Geo cars, trucks and SUVs GMC cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs HUMMER cars, trucks and SUVs Hyundai cars, trucks and SUVs INFINITI cars, trucks and SUVs Isuzu cars, trucks and SUVs Jaguar cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Kia cars, trucks and SUVs Lamborghini cars, trucks and SUVs Land Rover cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Lincoln cars, trucks and SUVs Lotus cars, trucks and SUVs Maserati cars, trucks and SUVs Maybach cars, trucks and SUVs Mazda cars, trucks and SUVs McLaren cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs Mercury cars, trucks and SUVs MINI cars, trucks and SUVs Mitsubishi cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Oldsmobile cars, trucks and SUVs Plymouth cars, trucks and SUVs Pontiac cars, trucks and SUVs Porsche cars, trucks and SUVs RAM cars, trucks and SUVs Rolls-Royce cars, trucks and SUVs Saab cars, trucks and SUVs Saturn cars, trucks and SUVs Scion cars, trucks and SUVs smart cars, trucks and SUVs SRT cars, trucks and SUVs Subaru cars, trucks and SUVs Suzuki cars, trucks and SUVs Tesla cars, trucks and SUVs Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Volvo cars, trucks and SUVs Yugo cars, trucks and SUVs
RESEARCH BY STYLE
AWD/4WD
Commercial
Convertible
Coupe
Hatchback
Hybrid/Electric
Luxury
Sedan
SUV/Crossover
Truck
Van/Minivan
Wagon
ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Tyler Hoover June 2017

My inaugural hooptie 4x4 mountain climb was certainly my most ambitious undertaking to date. Not only did my pair of luxury performance SUVs travel more than 600 miles from Wichita, Kansas, to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, I also towed my $300 Jeep Cherokee with 361,000 miles along for the ride. During my last trip to Colorado, I left my all-wheel-drive 1991 Dodge Caravan with my sister, who lives up there. This meant the entirety of my hooptie 4x4 fleet was together in the mountains -- and ready to hit the trails.

As you would expect, all of them broke in one fashion or another. My previous duct tape fix on the Cayenne Turbo's vacuum system needed regular attention, and it really didn't like towing over 6,000 pounds up the mountain passes. My 2000 Mercedes ML55 AMG had a few underside pieces fall off, and developed an exhaust rattle. This was likely an after effect from being stolen and briefly used as a bulldozer last month. These were pretty minor problems when compared to what was dished out by my aged Chrysler products.

With the Cayenne Turbo starting to run hot from hauling its heavy load up the mountains, I unloaded the Jeep it was towing as a precaution. Thankfully, I had four friends tag along with me -- all of whom are fellow car enthusiasts -- and all of whom were eager to drive a hooptie. My ridiculously high-mileage Cherokee did a fantastic job for the last leg of the trip, climbing into the mountains, but just as we arrived at our destination, it began puking coolant everywhere. Thankfully, it only appeared to be a faulty radiator cap, which we replaced the next morning.

The Caravan started easily after its 45-day slumber -- but as we made our way to the base of the ski mountain for our first 4x4 climb, the brake pedal went to the floor. Something failed catastrophically with the front left brake caliper, which led to a brief fire that melted the plastic hubcap. This knocked my "Mighty-van" out of the day's festivities.

During the off-season, Breckenridge ski resort allows vehicles to drive up their slopes. Much like skiing in the winter, you can follow the beginner trails up to the top, or choose more challenging terrain. I had planned on taking the trails to over 13,000 feet in elevation -- but I was surprised to see lots of snow still covering the mountain.

With my three remaining 4x4s, we decided to see how high my fleet could go before the snow made it impassable. I started the trail in the Cayenne Turbo, which has a very nice off-road computer setting, along with an adjustable air ride suspension that offers up to 10 inches of ground clearance. I treated the early section as a rally stage, going way too fast for the terrain, and I slammed the suspension hard a few times. While the Cayenne never complained, the thought of popping an air strut made me very nervous.

About half-way up, I switched to my Mercedes ML55, and I felt much more confident. The fantastic all-wheel-drive system made it feel invincible, and the feedback from the suspension and steering was much better on the trail. Through all of this, my $300 Jeep Cherokee was bringing up the rear; the most capable vehicle of the bunch never needed to switch on its 4x4 system. Then it puked its guts again.

After some hard driving, we stopped again at another summit. A few seconds after the Jeep was shut off, we heard a loud pop, followed by a plume of smoke. This time, the upper radiator hose had failed. We had no choice but to abandon it. Fifty percent of my 4x4 fleet was now dead on the mountain.

I switched back to the Cayenne for the final climb, and was finally stopped by a six-foot snow drift. We celebrated the victory with a June snowball fight, then made our way back down to tend to the wounded.

What surprised me the most from this experience was my total indifference to the huge amount of mechanical failures happening over a 48-hour period. I've become so battle hardened to my hooptie fleet, that I easily shrugged everything off. My mechanic, the car wizard, will certainly be busy for the next few weeks.

A positive note from this experience was finding a great home for my ML55. One of my friends who tagged along for this trip, Matt McIvor, got the ultimate test drive with my AMG, and he's adding it to his own impressive hooptie fleet. Like me, he's also new to the automotive journalist world, and he plans on giving regular ML55 updates on his blog, Posh Cars.

I've decided to part with my 1991 Dodge Caravan, too. After having it towed back to my sister's house, I arranged to ship it back home -- where it'll be fixed and immediately sold to the first crazy person who wants it. I've run out of ideas for it -- and there's no more room in the inn.

My $300 Jeep actually lived to fight another day on this trip, and was back on the trails the next day with a very worthy adversary. No, it's not a yellow Defender, but something else that's quite capable off-road. Stay tuned for that story next week!

Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
I Bought a 1986 Plymouth Horizon
Autotrader Find: High-Performance Hummer H1 Prototype
Cheap Porsche Cayenne Turbo Ownership: 5 Things I Love (and 5 Things I Hate)

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Can These Old Luxury Performance SUVs Climb a Ski Mountain? - Autotrader