Monday, May 23, 2016

Indy's young guns must watch mid-pack veterans

Mark Glover will attend the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29, his 54th Indy 500. A menu of his AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

There are young guns aplenty in the first three rows of the 33-car field that will take the green flag Sunday in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, but I strongly suspect that a prospective winner is lurking in the middle of the pack.

That has been the way of Indy of late.  A high starting position is no guarantee of drinking the winner’s milk when the grind is done.

And yet, there is highly capable talent up front.

Relatively youthful pilots whose names are not familiar to folks who follow IndyCar on a casual basis could become household names by the time the checkered flag falls.

American Josef Newgarden, 25, has shown speed all month in his Chevrolet.  He came within an eye-blink of winning the pole position last weekend.

Colombian Carlos Munoz, all of 24, darn near won this race as a raw rookie in 2013, when he was just edged out by mega-popular victor Tony Kanaan.

Twenty-nine-year-old Moscow native Mikhail Aleshin seems like a veteran of the new guard, but he has traveled a rocky road to get his shot at glory from the No. 7 starting position.

And then there’s James Hinchcliffe, the 29-year-old Canadian, who put his Honda on the pole a year after nearly bleeding out in his car after a brutal crash into Indy’s barely-forgiving outside wall.

Hinchcliffe claiming the pole is the comeback story of 2015.  He’s completely capable of upping it a notch on Sunday.

Truth be told, any one of 20 drivers could win.  Seriously.  This is ultra-high-speed motorsport, and yes, it is Indy.  Anything can happen.  A million variables are in play.  A serious favorite can be taken out by a small mistake not of his/her making.

Looking well back in the starting field should give Hinchcliffe and the young guns plenty of reason to worry.

Scott Dixon, the 2008 winner, will likely have his new engine and chassis tuned to perfection by Sunday.  He goes off 13th.  Next to him is Marco Andretti, who came within a few hundred feet of winning back in 2006 and has a handful of top-fives at Indy since then.

Starting positions No. 17 and No. 18 are occupied by two-time winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Kanaan, respectively.  I’m betting that they will be running near the front 50 laps into the 200-lap race.

How unpredictable are things?  Could, say, 24-year-old Northern California native Alexander Rossi win it as a series newcomer and Indy 500 rookie?  Absolutely, he could.  His Honda has been fast all month.  Starting from the No. 11 position, he needs to stay clean and let things happen to other cars.  If that pans out, he has a chance.

As do another dozen or so drivers, given similar situations.

Who wins it?

I’m aging and sentimental, so I’m picking three-time race winner Helio Castroneves to claim his record-tying fourth victory in this 100th running of the world-famous race.  He starts ninth.  He has a fast car.  He drives for Roger Penske.  And he knows precisely how to win this race.  Enough said.

My dark horse pick is 32-year-old Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, if you can call an exceptionally talented driver who has won the last three Verizon IndyCar Series races a dark horse pick.  Pagenaud came within one bad break of contending for the win in 2015.  The Chevy driver, starting eighth in a Penske-prepared Chevrolet, is on a serious roll.  And I hear that he likes a swig of milk after a long race.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Updated Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has plenty to like

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 ­– The Toyota RAV4 crossover sport-utility vehicle is one of the pioneers of the niche.

Its long-standing popularity can be traced to universal appeal: It’s a reasonable size, affordably priced and handles with the ease of a midsize sedan.  The RAV4 works as an everyday commuter, a suburban workhorse or a comfortable long trip traveler.

It gets a major reworking for the 2016 model year.

And in the case of my tester – the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited AWD – you can feel good about gas mileage and doing your part for the host planet.

Full disclosure: I’ve liked the RAV4 for a long time.  My wife drives one.  She loves it.  This is significant because the day before she bought her RAV4 (a comparatively old-school version with the spare tire mounted on the back), she wasn’t a fan of SUVs.

Kudos to Toyota for making the RAV4 so alluring.

What I experienced in the tested 2016 model was quiet, smooth, easy-to-handle efficiency.  Simple pleasures mean a lot in the crowded crossover SUV niche.  This RAV4 has plentiful pleasures.

With the hybrid technology, the price on the tester was a somewhat hefty $34,874, but that included everything, which in this case meant a long list of driving safety/enhancement features (pre-collision warning, blind spot monitor, “smart stop” technology and rear cross traffic alert to name just a few).

It not just all business.  Driver and passengers can enjoy the nice-looking, 18-inch alloy wheels, the power moonroof and the height-adjustable power liftgate.

Downright luxurious, I say.

On the roll, the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine combines with a high-torque electric motor to deliver spirited performance.

Toyota notes that the RAV4 hybrid’s zero to 60 miles per hour time of 8.1 seconds is nearly a second quicker than its gas counterparts.  I believe it.  I was surprised at the oomph the tested RAV4 put forth on steep uphill climbs.  And it was an effortless and nimble cruiser in dicey rush hour commutes.

Bottom line bonus: 34 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

Pretty good numbers there, especially given the pop the RAV4 has.  If you’ve been pondering a Prius but need more vehicle, this hybrid RAV4 should be on your test drive list.

Toyota touts the latest RAV4 as ideal for “active young couples who put high fuel economy at the top of a priority list that also includes utility, style, versatility and capability.”

I was horribly offended by this, because it’s a pretty enjoyable vehicle for relentlessly aging baby boomers like yours truly.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Nissan's Z still thrills after all these years

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 first appeared in the April 2016 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Me and Nissan’s Z-car go way back.  How far?

I called it a Datsun 240Z.  That’s how far.  Back then, it was one of the first purpose-built sporty cars I’d ever driven.  I was instantly hooked.

All these years later, the Z still thrills.

My tester was the 2016 Nissan 370Z Sport Coupe, with a surprisingly reasonable starting price of just under $35,000.  For that, you get a lot, and yes, there are much fancier and more powerful versions of the Z available.  You can match one to your budget and sporty expectations.

For me, the 370Z Coupe was plenty of fun as is.  The power curve underneath the hood now comes in at a hefty 332 horsepower.  Even with that much juice, fuel mileage is not all that bad at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

From the outside, the 370Z’s look is straightforward, promising muscle and power.  It looks racy even when it’s creeping into a tight parking spot.  Nissan says it incorporated DNA from the original 240Z into the design.

The modern Z has a rigid suspension that is perfectly equipped to handle the 100-inch wheelbase.  Nissan has incorporated a fair amount of aluminum into the model, which has undoubtedly helped on several fronts.  The contemporary Z feels much more stable than previous generations.

On the fly with the 370Z, the old memories come flooding back, keeping in mind that the current Z is ridiculously stronger than that old 240Z of yesteryear.  Response from the 3.7-liter engine is instant, and best of all, a satisfying rumble makes its way into the cockpit.  Outside the cabin, it’s a near-roar, a loud sound that I find completely satisfying.

For all its instant oomph, steering remains remarkably light.  I could move the car on a razor’s edge, and at no time did I feel that I was overstepping the vehicle’s limits.  My ride was equipped with a seven-speed automatic, which handled all conditions with seamless perfection.

The contemporary Z is far more civilized on the inside that the Z-cars that rolled off the line decades ago.  Interior seat comfort was good, the audio system was nicely balanced and the list of standard convenience features was exceptional.

The deeply set instrument panel was easy to use and understand.  That also brought back memories; some of the first “fighter pilot-style” cockpits I remember experiencing were behind the wheel of a Z-car.

I have been somewhat stunned by fellow reviewers who basically said the 370Z was OK for an old car.  Really?  You mean like the Corvette and Mustang, other old cars?  Those two models seem to remain rather popular.  I chalk it up to contemporary merchandise attitudes.  Alas, cars aren’t like mobile phones.  Vehicles actually retain character, and consumer loyalty, over time.

I can say without shame that I did not want to step out of the 370Z when my testing time was up.  I was having that much fun.  This is a top-tier sports car, and yeah, it had plenty of room to carry a ton of fond memories.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Chevy Camaro coupe reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro LT coupe in the latest, May 2016, 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.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Make room for Kia Sedona among minivan elite

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 ­– In a recent review, I seem to recall saying that the current minivan market has its “Big Three” – the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country siblings.

Room for one more?

Yes, add the Kia Sedona to the list as a minivan sector player.

I did not have an opportunity sample the Sedona’s extensive upgrades for the 2015 model year, and it turns out that I missed a lot.

My recent tester was the 2016 Kia Sedona SXL with a fairly hefty starting price of $39,900 and a bottom line of $44,690 with a generous package of extras added on.

This Sedona offers a high level of luxury and freeway cruising comfort.  And it’s capable of transporting up to eight passengers and their stuff.

The exterior look is classic, not-too-flashy minivan, but my ride looked good with bright silver paint and a burgundy interior color scheme.

The Sedona’s wide stance translated to a firm, secure ride on the roadways.  Very little noise reached the passenger cabin, even when I planted the accelerator.

Kia says it worked hard to get this desired result, with liberal applications of wheel-house padding, double-seal sliding doors and sound-deadening foam in the engine compartment.

The 3.3-liter V-6 engine with 276 horsepower performed well in most situations, but it did struggle at the top of some steep hill climbs.  On the flatlands, it accelerated smoothly into small holes in freeway traffic.  It was surprisingly agile in the crush of downtown traffic.

Volunteer passengers felt spoiled with tri-zone climate control, leather seating surfaces and enough room to spread out.  Yes, this Sedona was made for the long family road trip, or that visit to 40 states in one sweep adventure that you’ve been planning.

The tested Sedona was loaded with driving-enhancement and safety features, and it earned a string of top-tier, five-star federal safety ratings.

The hands-free, power rear liftgate is convenient, and entertaining.

My tester included an optional Technology Package that included xenon high-intensity headlights, a Surround View monitor and smart cruise control.

Safe, serene and luxurious, the Sedona reminds that, while minivans are not necessarily hip in this day and age, they can be supremely functional and fun to drive.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tucson climbs ladder to become a contender

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 ­– My first memories of the Hyundai Tucson sport-utility vehicle were of it being a distant second place to the South Korean automaker’s Santa Fe model.

That’s not how I would call it today.

My recent week in the new, third-generation Hyundai Tucson showed me that the vehicle has done some serious climbing up the upscale ladder, while still maintaining its position as an affordable, entry-level crossover.

Simple translation: This bargain SUV is improved in its new skin.

My tester was the 2016 Hyundai Tucson Sport with all-wheel drive and equipped with a 1.6-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine.  The starting price was around $27,500, but keep in mind that there are other trim levels of the model that are more affordable.

The Tucson looks smooth and sleek in profile, and it's attractively styled on the front end.  Nothing over the top, but a nice aerodynamic wedge.

Hyundai touts a larger interior on this new Tucson, and I believe it.  My ride seemed much roomier than previous-generation Tucsons I sampled.  The interior controls are thoughtfully positioned, laid out in a wide sweep that gave me a comfortable feeling of ample operating room.

The 175-horsepower turbo-4 engine was responsive and surprisingly powerful, even on the low end of revs.  Hyundai claims that peak torque comes in at only 1,500 rpm, which creates some motoring advantages.  The Tucson had no trouble mixing it up in crowded freeway commutes, easily slipping into small holes in traffic.

The tester with all-wheel drive was remarkably adept at cornering.  I was able to round off sharp turns with much tighter accuracy than I’ve experienced in competitors’ crossover models.  The nicely tuned suspension offered few complaints when I executed sharp turns at relatively high speed.

A nice daily driver?  Absolutely.

Fuel mileage was good at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Passenger and cargo configurations were more than adequate in this segment.

One other note: The Tucson can be had with the hands-free “Smart Power Liftgate” at the rear, which is just way too much fun.  Makes you feel like a magician demonstrating it for the neighbors.

All in all, the Tucson has grown up to be quite the player in the entry-level crossover SUV segment.  It’s not cheapo.  More like primo.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Honda's new HR-V a small SUV with large appeal

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 ­– Just when I thought there was no more room for another entry in the already crowded entry-level, crossover sport-utility vehicle market, along comes the all-new 2016 Honda HR-V.

Right off the top, I can tell you that it is a good addition.

It’s just-right in size, handles well and is equipped with some unique goodies that you typically don’t see in this sector.

The fact that it’s a fuel-sipping Honda is icing on the cake.

My tester was the comparatively upscale 2016 Honda HR-V EX-L with all-wheel drive, a continuously variable transmission and a navigation system.  Even with all that, the starting price is a reasonable $25,840.  A basic two-wheel driver version starts at less than $20,000.

The HR-V looks sleek in profile, and hey, is it a two door?

That’s the question I asked when I walked up to the tester, feeling like an idiot moments later when I realized that the rear door handles were installed flush at the very back of the rear passenger windows.

Oops.  Actually, it looks pretty cool.

The vehicle is a study in practicality.  The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, 141-horsepower engine growls a bit when asked for maximum performance, but the power plant handles most of what’s asked of it, getting exceptional fuel mileage of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway in the bargain.

The HR-V was easy to steer, and I found it to be secure and stable in rainy, wet conditions.  Body rigidity in slalom maneuvers was excellent, which I found surprising for an entry-level crossover.  I could say the same about the four-wheel disc brakes.

So, given the HR-V’s smallish size, it probably can’t carry much cargo, right?  Not so fast; with the rear seats folded, the EX-L offers cargo space of nearly 56 cubic feet.  Yeah, that’s a lot of groceries.

Interior comfort was good.  Ditto the layout of controls, easily reached from the driver’s seat.  Another plus: high safety ratings from the feds and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Cool touch: Speedometer illumination changing from white to green when fuel efficiency is being maxed.

Even cooler touch: At the push of a button, the “Automatic Brake Hold” feature keeps the brake engaged during extended stops in traffic, then automatically disengages when the driver’s foot touches the accelerator.

All in all, this is an SUV that most Every Man/Woman can afford.  The HR-V gets an “A” for effort in its debut year.