Saturday, March 21, 2015

Finding that happy place in a big-brute Sierra

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – I will be the first to admit that I am not what they call a truck guy.

I don’t have a problem with pickup trucks.  It’s just that they’re not a part of my city/metro/commuter/suburban world.  Back in the day when I was visiting my maternal grandparents’ farm in the hills of rural Kentucky, I had an appreciation of trucks.

Now, me reviewing a full-size pickup truck is a little like Donald Trump citing the virtues of a John Deere tractor.

So, when my friends recently delivered a monster-size GMC heavy duty truck to me – it was a 2015 GMC Sierra 2500HD 4WD Crew Cab SLT to be precise – I was awestruck.

The standard model starts at around $50,000 but this ride was seriously boosted with the Duramax Plus Package that included the 6.6-liter V-8 turbo diesel with some 400 horsepower and 765 foot-pounds of torque.  Bottom line on the sticker: $62,300.

Intimidated?  Yeah, like stepping into a cage to face Ronda Rousey.

To be sure, I was impressed.  This was a pickup driver’s vision of perfection, with obscene levels of power and ruggedness.  Yet, the inside was a luxury sedan scene of comfort and convenience.

Straight on, to me, the tested Sierra looked as wide as a battleship, and perhaps as difficult to maneuver.

The exterior mirrors were the size of cafeteria trays.  When I looked out the driver’s side window, I found myself staring into the left-side mirror.  It took me some time to adjust to that.

I CAREFULLY drove the beast into parking spaces.  Early on, I drove the Sierra like it was made of high-value crystal.  Didn’t want to crush any cars by accident, you understand.

Amazingly, I adjusted rather quickly to the vehicle’s width, length and sheer brute size.  I even thought about towing, say, a garbage truck around the neighborhood just to see what this Sierra could do, but I could not find a garbage truck operator to agree to any form of bribery.  His loss, right?

I was entirely comfortable in the cockpit after just one day.  The Sierra is a big rumbler, but it steered easily, and I was not bouncing around in my seat even on rough roads.

Two biggest challenges I had: I’m 6-4 and I still had to take a step and a hop to climb up into the driver’s seat.  I can’t imagine what smaller folks do.  Perhaps hire a couple of stevedores to toss their bodies into the vehicle.  Second challenge was rolling through freeway commuter traffic and suddenly realizing I’m nearly touching 80 miles per hour.

Yes, the turbo diesel is that strong and efficient.  Frankly, 70 mph felt like 40 mph.  Hats off to GMC engineers for that experience, no small feat in a truck this size.

I was a fish out of water in this 2015 Sierra but ended up enjoying my week in the high-riding hauler.  As big-boy trucks go, this Sierra is a pleasure and a player.

Friday, March 13, 2015

It's the little Fit that could, and does deliver

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews of the latest motor vehicle models also can be seen on The Sacramento Bee’s website at www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

This review originally appeared in the February 2015 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Folks who have been reviewing motor vehicles for a long time – and that includes this ancient motorer – aren’t usually excited at the prospect of driving a sporty subcompact.

The reasons are simple: We have been spoiled by too much horsepower, too much luxury and way too much sporty flair over the long term.

In Yoda-speak, jaded we are.

But some time behind the wheel of a 2015 Honda Fit EX-L (with a continuously variable transmission and a navigation system) scrubbed off large portions of my snobbishness and left me suitably impressed.

The fact that this loaded, lavishly appointed little Fit still came in at less than $21,000 also impressed me.

The Fit was extensively reworked inside and out for the 2015 model year, and it shows.

First things first, it looks saucy-racy-sporty just standing still.  The raked roofline skis down onto a strong grille.  The back end is appropriately chopped tight, and my Fit looked ready to take on some hot Subarus outdoors or on a dirt course in some distant sports arena.

Somehow, some way, Honda scooped out extra space inside the revised car for a roomier feel all the way around.  Seated in the cockpit chair, I had easy access to all controls.  A rearview camera in a subcompact?  Believe it, and it’s a very important safety addition.  And by the way, that’s standard equipment.

Cargo room at the back end is good, and there’s more room in the back seats in this new Fit.

Engine power from the 1.5-liter, four-cylinder now makes 130 horsepower and 114 foot-pounds of torque.  The power plant and the Fit’s small size enabled me to zip around lagging commuters like a champ.

I will tell you that the engine at full song all but screams into the cockpit.  I quickly adjusted to this.  I grunt and groan when I’m working out too.  At least I knew the engine was giving it everything.

More performance does not translate to worse gas mileage, however.  In fact, it’s even better this time around: 32 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway on the tested model.

I’d add the Fit to your list of cars most likely to be your secondary household ride, or the vehicle most likely to be your kid’s first new car when the time comes.

The Fit’s extensive changes are grade “A.”  This is the little Fit that could, and does deliver.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New-for-2015 Lexus coupe reviewed in Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the new-for-2015 Lexus RC 350 coupe in the latest, March 2015, edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News, published out of Folsom, California, by John Sweeney and Evonne Sotelo.

The “Hot Laps” reviews, along with my "Oil Drips" observations on anything with wheels, appear monthly in the publication.

To subscribe to the Cruisin’ News, visit www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News,P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Top-tier Camry edges into Lexus territory

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – Well, the badging on the back of the tested passenger sedan said it was a 2015 Camry XLE V6, but it looked and felt like a recently driven 2015 Lexus ES 350 sedan.

Turns out there’s a good reason for that.  This top-end Camry – starting at a somewhat hefty $31,370 in this practical four-door segment – is a Lexus just waiting to happen.

Yes, that’s the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine putting out a max 268 horsepower.  And this Camry was liberally dressed up in safety, comfort and convenience features to qualify it as a primo luxo liner in the Toyota stable.

Throw in scores of improvements and refreshed features for the 2015 model year, and you’re riding in a status-symbol Camry instead of the comparatively humble Camry that other folks are purchasing.

Not that I had a problem with any of this.

I liked the power tilt/slide moonroof, the dual chrome-tipped exhausts, the leather/heated front seats and other standard features in my tester.  I also liked the $4,500-or-so in extras that included illuminated door sills, a rear spoiler and a premium JBL audio system.

Go big with a Camry.  That’s what I say.  Well, I say that when I’m not having to write a check for permanent ownership of the vehicle, of course.

Even so, yes, I believe I would be inclined to write a check for this loaded Camry XLE if the payment was coming out of my checkbook, and I wanted a quality decade-long transporter.

The driving characteristics of the tested Camry XLE were likewise more than one would expect from a more humble, everyday driver Carmy.  Accelerations were impressively brisk, and the XLE responded instantly to even the slightest twists of the steering wheel.  Controls were easy to reach and understand from the cockpit.  The Camry also was kind enough to warn me when I was motoring along too fast amid commuter gridlock.

Fuel mileage is a so-so 21 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

I have chuckled sometimes at the use of the Camry name in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.  After all, Camry is likely not the name most think of when it comes to mixing it up in pro-racer traffic whistling along at up to 200 miles per hour.

However, after a week in the Camry XLE, I think the reference fits.  It was a robust roadway performer, but its interior luxuries were much more pleasant than what one finds inside a rip-roaring NASCAR ride.

Eat your heart out, Jimmie Johnson.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sienna's wonders arrive a little late for reviewer

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – I can’t remember the last time I reviewed a minivan.  I’m serious.

Minivans are the punch lines to many an automotive joke these days, looked upon as some relic of baby boomer vacations past.

I’m not in that joke-cracking crowd, and to be honest, I looked at the recently tested 2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium front-driver with no small amount of wistfulness.  In my head, I thought: “Where were you when I really needed you?

Sure, I rented minivans for various family outings when the kids were small.  But they weren’t anything like this primo Sienna.

The tester had room eight passengers and side doors that could be powered open/closed with the push of a button on the key fob.  Interior space was generous.  Wall-to-wall leather.  Power features to the max. A rear seat entertainment system offered dual-view screenings of Blu-Ray discs.

SIGH!

Just think how much easier this would have made a daylong drive with the kids back in the day.  Yeah, you young families don’t know how good you have it these days, by cracky!

All this rolling family fun and luxury doesn’t come cheap.  The tested Sienna started at $39,680, but it was sufficiently stuffed with enough features to justify that price.

The Sienna's 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 266 horsepower is not a tire-shredder, but I think most will find it more than adequate for the tasks required of a minivan.

Fuel mileage ratings are, shall we say, somewhat UGH!   The Sienna drinks the fuel at a rate of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.  With California gas prices currently rising at the approximate speed of nuclear fission, that’s something to consider at the dealership.

The Sienna’s design is classic minivan, but I was definitely struck at how low it rides.  Kids and various small adults can climb into the thing without damaging shins or overstretching thigh muscles.  Good to know.

Interior audio projection was most impressive, the better to keep your young passengers sufficiently focused and entertained while the driver handles the important motoring chores.  Also worth noting: a large army of airbags all around the interior.

In sum, the Sienna is a four-star example of the rather remarkable evolution of minivans over the past generation or so.

But I’m still asking: “Where have you been all my life, beautiful?”

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Honda's Civic quietly maintains its excellence

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – Two years back, I test drove a 2013 Honda Civic EX sedan.  After being Civic-less for about 24 months, I recently test drove a 2015 Honda Civic EX-L sedan.

A lot happened in between.

Well, a lot happened if you consider that Honda took an affordable, reliable, hugely popular car and stuffed it with a host of improvements inside and out for the 2014 model year.

Not many people get excited about the Civic, until they have to consider getting a car for their going-to-school child, or buy a second vehicle for their household, or recommend a passenger car to a neighbor who is seeking safe, solid transportation for the right price.

On such occasions, the Civic’s otherwise vanilla reputation turns to solid gold.

Car-crazy California likes the Civic. Nearly 68,000 new Civic registrations were recorded in the state last year, making the Civic the Golden State’s third-most-popular new-car buy in 2014, trailing only the Honda Accord and Toyota Prius, respectively, in a close horse race.

What do I like about the Civic?

It never disappoints.  Over decades of reviewing motor vehicles, I’ve been routinely slapped down by rattles, discomforts, poor engineering, poor control placements and (insert your own favorite gripe here) that go with driving a new ride.

You don’t get that with a Civic, which is a good place to start when you're pondering its coast-to-coast popularity.

The recently tested Civic EX-L with a navigation system was stuffed with gotta-have’-em features that included four-wheel disc brakes, leather-trimmed seats and heated front seats.  A continuously variable transmission is also standard on this most-expensive version of the seven Civic sedan trim levels.

All those goodies must have sent the vehicle's cost through the roof, right?  How about a starting price of $24,340 for the whole package?  Yeah, that’s a steal, given what is in the car.

And if you’re doing in the economic math in your head right now, throw in 30 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.

On the go, the Civic is agile and easy to handle.  It zips around and through city traffic effortlessly.  The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine is rated at 143 horsepower, but on the open road, it felt like a lot more than that to me.

My Civic accelerated briskly and whistled into tight commuter-traffic holes with very little weight applied by my right foot.  It was a comfortable, everyday cruiser in every way.  A weekend fun car, too?  You bet.

Safety ratings?  Strong as usual.

Sure, this is small car at a small price, and it’s not going to win many contests for super-sporty looks.  Thing is, most folks aren’t looking for those things.  Most are looking for something like a Civic.

And in that school, the 2015 Civic sedan gets an “A” grade.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Swedish surprise: A Volvo with plentiful pop

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews of the latest motor vehicle models also can be seen on The Sacramento Bee’s website at www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

This review originally appeared in the December 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Say Volvo to most folks, and you’re likely to get that “you must be ready to retire” look, or your listener offers up some spoken words, like: “Well, I hear they’re really, really safe cars.”

Sure, be that way.  I don’t mind.  And yeah, Volvo cars really are super-safe driving machines, and folks enjoying their retirement years in style do tend to like them.

But scrap those stereotypes for a few minutes and take a ride with me in the 2015.5 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E sedan.  Mine was the front-drive version starting at $39,000.

Sedate is not this car’s signature.  In fact, I had a prolonged blast putting this Volvo through spirited runs on the flats, in the hills and on tight city streets.   The 302-horsepower, 2-liter power plant employs both a supercharger and a turbo to provide a heart-pounding rush when you nail the accelerator.

Talk about a Swedish surprise.  This is no country club loafer.  It’s a genuine performer, definitely not your standard Volvo fare.

So, you might think that this muscular engine would offer lousy fuel mileage.  You’d be wrong.  It came in at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.  Nice.

Fuel mileage is undoubtedly helped by the standard start/stop technology that takes the sedan’s drivetrain heartbeat down to near zero when the car is stopped at a light.  This is not one of my favorite features as it always feels like the car has stalled out, and there’s an uncomfortable, balky sensation in those first couple of seconds when it gets going again.

Otherwise, steering was instantly responsive, and the paddle shifters made for a good time on twisty roads when traffic was light.

An eight-speed gearbox is standard, and a rigid suspension made the car feel solid and secure even on corners taken at grip-challenging speeds.

Volvo apparently wasn’t satisfied with reworking the S60 for the 2015 model year, so the automaker threw more at it for the semi-mythical 2015.5 model.  The mid-model-year touches include sound system and convenience feature upgrades.  Works for me.  I don’t go around telling folks that my car is a half-year ahead of theirs anyway.

The tester was pretty seriously dressed up.  A $3,750 Platinum package of extras included a Harmon Kardon premium sound system, power retractable exterior mirrors, adaptive cruise control and rear park-assist camera.  Then there was another 900 bucks for 19-inch diamond-cut wheels.  Throw in another $900 for a blind spot-warning system.  By the time all the extras were added up, the bottom line was $46,525.  Well, I never said it was cheap.

But hey, it looks pretty good, in a somewhat understated, sporty way.  You’re not going to mistake it for a Mercedes, although the tester might have given some M-B products a good run in the quarter-mile.

Overall, this is a “B-plus” car offering hours of comfort and driving enjoyment for those who can afford the bottom line.  Consider the car’s robust performance a four-star bonus.