Thursday, October 20, 2016

This Dodge Challenger leaves pack in the dust

A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website

Sacramento, California – Sometimes, you get a test vehicle that makes you feel overmatched.

The recently tested 2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack two-door model was just such a vehicle.

It looks capable of flight, with old-school-NASCAR-like lines, 20-inch forged aluminum wheels and a long hood that looks like it could double as a helicopter landing pad.

Here are the numbers that really matter: a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 engine with 485 horsepower and 475 foot-pounds of torque.

Knowing this, I tried to ease the Challenger out into traffic with a very light foot on the throttle.  I failed ... miserably  The sound of burning rubber was broadcast over a wide area, much to my embarrassment.

It took me some time to get it right.  Moving the Scat Pack in reasonable order from a standing start is like climbing into a sleeping bag stretched over a slippery, high-altitude granite rock.  You have to do it carefully.

Once accomplished, you’re pretty much the master of the motoring world.

Passersby stare open-mouthed at your ridiculously hot-looking ride.

Just starting the Scat Pack produces a roar that demands attention from anyone standing within a quarter-mile radius of the car.

Prospective cut-off artists back off when they see what you’re driving.

Pokes and wildly erratic drivers are quickly dispatched with just the smallest nudges on the accelerator.

Welcome to the world of American muscle, and yeah, it feels good.

I can only imagine what it’s like to put a 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat through its paces. Maybe the feeling a cheetah gets upon encountering a herd of slow-moving antelope.

For the record, fuel mileage on the tester was 15 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

The interior of the Scat Pack was fairly basic but nicely laid out.  My optional extras included a “leather performance steering wheel,” special sporty badging and a “Satin Black” fuel filler door.  Back-to-the-70s round, analog gauges were a nostalgic treat.

The starting price for this road warrior was a surprisingly reasonable $37,995, but mine had extras that pushed the bottom line to $43,475.

This R/T Scat Pack version of the Challenger has niche appeal.  And if you have to ask what niche that is, never mind.  The power curve has somehow missed you.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Chevy Malibu does it right; hybrid tech is a bonus

A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website

Sacramento, California – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced this at car rental counters at airports across the nation … A prospective auto renter is pondering myriad options, and then, unprompted, suddenly says: “Hey, do you have a Chevy Malibu?”

That, more than anything I can think of, is the best example of the midsize Malibu sedan’s cover-all-the-bases appeal.

Yeah, it fits.  The Malibu satisfies on all levels: just the right size, good trunk space, room for adults, good engine power, admirable reliability and on and on …

And if you’re getting a fuel-sipping hybrid version of the Malibu, you’re even further ahead in the game.

That was my week recently, tooling a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid sedan around Northern California.

Yes, that hybrid package with the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine matched with a two-motor drive unit translated to a bottom line of $33,620 on the tester’s sticker. Full disclosure: My ride also had a long list of optional extras.

The bonus on the hybrid technology: 47 miles per gallon in the city and 46 mpg on the highway.

The 2016 Malibu was changed from the ground up – the 2017 model is virtually identical to the 2016 version – and the extensive tweaks included a longer wheelbase, a curb weight loss of nearly 300 pounds and numerous technology/entertainment upgrades.

All that was very cool, but for me, the new ’Bu’s familiar agility and easy steering were the top bragging points.

The hybrid’s power plant also featured Chevy’s “Exhaust Gas Heat Recovery” technology, which employs exhaust heat to warm the engine and interior cabin.  This fact wows passengers every time.

Another cool fact: the 80-cell, 1.5 kilowatt-hour ion battery pack providing electric power to the Malibu’s hybrid system generates enough oomph to power the Malibu up to 55 miles per hour on electricity alone.

Beyond the technology front, the tested Malibu had plenty of old-school amenities to add to my enjoyment.

The perks list included power/heated exterior mirrors, power lumbar support in the driver’s seat and a thorough, helpful driver information center.

For the record, the Malibu’s extensive safety package is bolstered by a top-level, five-star, overall safety rating from the feds.

All in all, the Malibu continues to impress, at rental counters and on the roadways.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Droptop VW Beetle reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Convertible in the latest, October 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, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Porsche's Panamera perfect for four-door fun

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews of the latest motor vehicle models also can be seen on The Sacramento Bee’s website at

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

Sacramento, California For Porsche purists – and I’m talking about SERIOUS traditionalists here – it was bad enough when the German performance car producer introduced the Cayenne sport-utility vehicle to North America in 2003.

But when the FOUR-DOOR Panamera sedan came along six years later, the shriek of hurt feelings could be heard around the globe.  When some called the Panamera a “hatchback,” I swear that some Porsche devotees thought the world was ending.

I had my first cockpit experience in the Panamera recently.  I had a blast, a super-fun experience.  Four doors?  Six doors?  Didn’t matter to me.

My Panamera tester had a let-it-all-hang-out Porsche scream at full song, racetrack-ready road manners and interior perks to please most of the auto-driving population.

Yes, you’re going to have to put down $80,000-plus for even the most basic version of the Panamera, which is what I had.  But this is Porsche, right?  That kind of money goes with the territory.

The exterior look of the Panamera is instantly recognizable as a Porsche, not a Honda Civic as some old-school Porsche fans would have you believe.  Think of a stretched version of a Porsche 911, and you’re there.

Interior features and comforts are plentiful and just what you’d expect in this lofty luxury/performance segment.

The essence of the tested Panamera was the 3.6-liter V-6 engine making a max 310 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque.  By Porsche standards, this is entry-level power.  For my tastes, the power plant shoved the Panamera forward with heart-racing excitement.

The complex transmission is essentially a seven-speed, twin-clutch automatic.  Fuel mileage is a pretty fair 18 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.  Be advised, however, that Porsche dictates unleaded premium fuel in the Panamera tank.

The rear-drive Panamera weighs in at nearly 4,000 pounds, but I found that it maneuvered with a much lighter feel.  My opinion was seconded by volunteer passengers who climbed into the extra two doors leading to the back seats, where there’s room for two.  They were impressed with the Panamera’s road manners, and yes, the vehicle’s rear-seat space.

And there’s this: the Panamera can be configured for a max cargo-carrying capacity of 44.6 cubic feet.

For the record, it should be noted that Porsche is rolling out a new and improved Panamera now, and it is possible to spend well into the six figures on more horsepower-laden versions of the four-door vehicle.

But for me, my first experience in the basic 2016 Panamera impressed me adequately, thank you very much.  Those four doors didn’t bother me in the least.  And volunteer passengers loved the ride as well.

It was all I’d expect from a luxury sedan with a starting price well south of $100,000.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Changes for Fusion, but good stuff stays in place

A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website

Sacramento, California – Ford’s popular Fusion sedan gets some major upgrades for the 2017 model year, but the old-school charms of the car remain intact.

It still looks pleasingly angular and sporty.  Interior comfort and controls are more than you’d expect in this segment.  Handling is superb for a car that starts on the low end of the $20,000s bracket.

And for me, a bonus.  My tester was the 2017 Ford Fusion Titanium Hybrid, a technologically advanced fuel sipper with a four cylinder/electric combination putting out nearly 200 horespower at full song.

Ford really has gone the extra mile to pack more technology into its latest Fusion. Yes, mine had extras, but who’s complaining?

My ride included adaptive cruise control, a highly versatile navigation system, a lane-keeping system and cross-traffic alert.

Wasn’t it just a few years ago that these things were only found in the luxury levels?

Speaking of that, how about luxury appointments on this mainstream sedan?  Yes, those were plentiful on the tester.

The list included 12 Sony speakers, leather-trimmed seats/steering wheel and aluminum sport pedals, easily overlooked by some but a nice touch for those who appreciate the little extras.

It took me just a short time to warm up to the rotary gear shift dial.  It negates the rush you get from occasionally slamming a center-mounted shifter into gear, but it’s not a major downer.

I noticed only the slightest bit of electric whine during operation, certainly not enough to jolt me.  Response off the line was good, and the tested Fusion was quick to move out of harm’s way during nose-to-tail freeway commutes.

As with past Fusions, the tester steered with ease and whipped around pokes with tight, precise cuts.

For me, the hybrid Fusion stacks up as a long-term investment, covering a lot of consumer target likes. Take your pick: practical-size sedan, fuel saver, four-door transportation that doesn’t require you to refinance your home and safety feature-packed passenger car that’s easy to drive in city traffic or on wide-open interstates.

My guess: Ford is going to sell a bunch of these newly reworked Fusions.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Highlander Hybrid might be just right for your needs

A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website

Sacramento, California – So you’re looking to buy a new Toyota – something one of every five California auto shoppers currently does, according to Golden State registration statistics – and you need something for the family, which enjoys regular road trips and transportation comforts.

Getting good gas mileage is high on your list as well.

Maybe you want a Toyota RAV4, but is that going to be big enough?  And that $85,000 Toyota Land Cruiser is too big in price and size, right?

What you might want is what I recently drove for a week: a 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum with all-wheel drive.

Size-wise, it’s perfectly situated between the RAV4 and the behemoth Land Cruiser.  The Limited Platinum model is loaded with passenger-pleasing perks (to the tune of $51,385 on the tested sticker’s bottom line).  And you get some pretty good fuel mileage on this sturdy roadway cruiser – 27 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

And you’re in luck if you’re looking for the 2016 edition.  Dealers are likely going to be willing to bargain with the new-and-improved 2017 Highlander on the scene.

What I found in the tested Highlander Hybrid were smooth, quiet road manners and handling that required only the lightest touch on the steering wheel.  I expected to work harder from the cockpit seat, but the tester pretty much made my motoring life a breeze.

This gave me the opportunity to enjoy the extras offered in the “Platinum Package.”  That included radar cruise control, a lane departure alert system (it was a little sensitive, I confess) and automatic high-beam headlights that were spot-on in their timing.  The package also included leather captain’s chairs in the second row.  Nice.

I’ll admit to being spoiled by the 3.5-liter V-6 engine paired with a high-torque electric drive motor-generator.  The marriage produces a max 280 horsepower, performance to spare in this class.

I was also pleased to hear virtually no whining out of the V-6/electric pairing.  In other hybrid vehicles, I’m constantly startled by a high-pitch whine that sounds a lot like the approach of a speeding fire engine.

If you’re one of those folks who keeps score right down to the inch, the 2016 Highlander includes nearly 160 cubic feet of interior cabin space.  That’s plenty of spread-out room for families, even when they’re taking full advantage of the third row of seating.

Throw in a blizzard of safety features – enough to win a top-level five-star rating from the feds – and this Highlander stacks up as must-test-drive model on your SUV shopping list.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Volvo SUV is a complex, invigorating piece of work

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews of the latest motor vehicle models also can be seen on The Sacramento Bee’s website at

A similar version of this review first appeared in the August 2016 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California I know what you’re thinking: How in the world does a 2016 Volvo sport-utility vehicle rate an AutoGlo review at a time of year when hot, new 2017 hardware is showing up on dealer lots?

Well, let’s start with this:  Of the hundreds upon hundreds of motor vehicles I have tested over many years, the 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design is arguably the most technologically complex auto that I’ve driven.

You know things are going to be different when the folks dropping off the XC90 start with: “Wait, we have to show you a few things about operating this SUV.”  Say what?

So, they explained.  How to start the vehicle.  What it can do.  How to operate the NASA-like central command system.

After a half hour or so of pushing buttons to snap open the glove compartment, drop the rear-seat headrests out of sight, maneuver the front passenger’s seat from my cockpit seat, activate the bird’s-eye 360-degree view created by four hidden cameras and utilize the FOUR-zone electronic climate control system, it was time to drive.

Well, the Volvo sort of let me drive it.  I say that because the vehicle is equipped with technology that lets it take over as needed. That includes a collision-avoidance system called “City Safety” (it can detect bicycles veering into the SUV’s path), an anti-rollover system, a “Road Sign Information” system with a front camera that can recognize signs and display those images on the speedometer or head-up digital display, automatic brake-activation to avoid that crash you’re about to have, a mind-blowing adaptive cruise control system that can be adjusted to numerous driving tastes and on and on and on …

The tested XC90 T8 R-Design is equipped with a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine that is both supercharged and turbo-boosted, and it’s mated to electric motors that throw another 87 horsepower onto the pile.  The whole package generates a max 400 horsepower and 472 foot-pounds of torque.

It also makes the Volvo sport-ute move like a scalded cat.  The tester blazed off the line from a standing start, and its freeway manners were downright sports car crazy.

I’d tell you that I burned rubber but – you guessed it – the tester had a system that balances torque perfectly, negating any premeditated burnout.

And oh, did I happen to mention that this hybrid system is a plug-in, complete with an easy-to-use charging cable to juice up the powerful on-board battery?  Strategic use of that will get you 53 miles per gallon.

If you opt for this SUV, you might want to read the owner’s manual for about 10 days before driving, because the center console command touchscreen has about a zillion options that might include sub-orbital spaceflight for all I know. On top of all this is an extensive luxury/convenience package that includes leather everything, 10-way power front seats with heat and power cushion extensions and opulent metal inlays.

The tester was likewise loaded with Scandinavian touches, including a small blue-and-yellow Swedish flag in the seat stitching, an Orrefors crystal gear shifter and daytime LED running lights in a T-pattern resembling the hammer of Thor.  I’m serious!

All this was wearing a sticker that read $82,405 on the bottom line, which I actually thought was reasonable given the engineering marvels of the machine.

I’m not sure if this XC90 T8 R-Design was my cup of tea (or yours), but it was incredibly fun to drive and packed with enough oomph to earn it a special AutoGlo run.