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Updated VW GTi out-funs its own numbers

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird: Volkswagen reveals 2014 GTi When I was a small boy, I thought the measure of a car could be read in the numbers it put down.

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:

Volkswagen reveals 2014 GTi

When I was a small boy, I thought the measure of a car could be read in the numbers it put down.

In this frame of mind, VW's new 2014 GTi isn't really going to cut the mustard: it has just 220 horsepower in a market which includes the 252 h.p. Focus ST and 263 h.p. Mazdaspeed3.

But here's the thing, numbers don't tell the whole story, and a front-wheel-drive hatchback with too much horsepower tends to be a handful, rather than a delight. Moreover, the previous-gen GTi (while getting a little long in the tooth) is still a segment benchmark for practical fun.

Heck, in these fuel-economy-conscious times, let's just all be glad that VW is still going to have their Golf (now in its seventh generation) available in a fire-breathing turbo-nutter version. And there's more good news.

Not only will the new GTi retain its conservative-but-sporty nature, with delicate red trim here and there, but you'll still be able to get it with those excellent plaid seats.

There's also a performance package that bumps power to 230 h.p., and at 1,350 kilograms, it's even reasonably lightweight.

NASCAR racing accident highlights danger to spectators

I'm guilty of poking fun at NASCAR stereotypes from time to time, but no one could have found anything to laugh about in last week's tragic wreck. The oval circuit racing series is no stranger to multiple-car pileups, but this time was different.

Going briefly airborne during a Nationwide Series race held the day before the Daytona 500, driver Kyle Larson's car caught the upper edge of the crash barrier and pretty much disintegrated. The violence of the collision has to be seen to be comprehended (both professional and amateur footage is all over the interwebs), but when I tell you that the engine block of car 32 ended up resting near the stands, I think you'll get the general picture.

Not only was Larson injured, along with other drivers involved in the massive crash, but spectators were showered with debris, including a front tire that sheared off and flew into the stands at high speed. It's a miracle nobody was killed outright.

In the wake of the crash, pundits are calling for improved safety recommendations. Even so, it's worth remembering how dangerous motorsports can be, even when all the precautions are in place.

Jeep brings back the Cherokee

You've been able to buy a Grand Cherokee for years, and were you to do so, you'd find it a capable, competent car. Call it the American Range Rover.

Paired with the iconic Wrangler, Chrysler has a winning lineup. Well, at least they would except for the Patriot, which is a bit ho-hum, and the Compass, which is . . . well, it's not as bad as it used to be.

However, Chrysler's Italian owners aren't satisfied with either ho or hum, and they want a bigger piece of that red-hot small crossover market. Fiat did well re-labelling their small car with an iconic name (the Dart), now they're doing the same with the Cherokee.

On first blush - yikes! This trucklet doesn't look like any previous Jeep. Heck, it doesn't even look like it's from the same planet as you or me: more off-planet than off-road.

Still, despite the Nissan Juke-ish bi-level "face," the new Cherokee's no shrinking violet. Opinion, while far from universally positive, is at least split down the middle. Time will tell whether Chrysler's styling gamble pays off.

Land Rover to launch nine-speed transmission

Many years ago, I found myself late for work, and jumped into the family Land Rover (a 1976 Series III). Hurriedly, I slammed the gearshift into reverse - and all two feet of it broke off in my hand.

Of course, Land Rover's long left behind its somewhat agricultural past, but this week's announcement that they plan to bring a nine-speed automatic transmission to market has me thinking of the difficulties I had with the simple four-speed. Also, I don't even use all nine gears on my bicycle.

Anyway, the advantage of more gears in the transmission is better fuel economy and improved acceleration. Sounds good, but such a complicated contraption will also need the processing power of the Mars Rover to make sure it's in the right gear.

Personally, give me a stick-shift any day, even if sometimes the shifter breaks off and it's literally "four on the floor."

Watch this space for all the best and worst of automotive news, or submit your own auto oddities to brakingnews@gmail.com. Follow brendan on Twitter at @brendan_ mcaleer

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