Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lexus RX hybrid is roomy, peppy and luxurious

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

Sacramento, California – The good old RX. It’s the venerable Lexus sport-utility vehicle that has long received exceptional reviews in the “reasonable-luxury” SUV segment.

With extensive improvements for the 2016 model year, the Lexus RX 450h gains considerable ground, enough I would guess to tempt some buyers who would otherwise shop for an SUV in the $40,000 range.

The tested RX 450h started at $52,235 and was dressed up with significant extras that pushed the bottom line to $61,420.

Yes, that’s a serious investment.  Unless money is no object, I look at this hybrid SUV as a 10-year commitment, minimum.

The latest-generation RX has been freshly sculpted to deliver a sporty punch to the eyes.

The front end in particular has an angular, imposing grille opening that would look totally at home on the snout of a great white shark.

The roofline flows smoothly off a long, sharply raked windshield, and the whole package rides on 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels as standard.  For the record, 20-inch wheels can be had on the RX.

Artfully arranged LED lights on the front and rear round out the package.

This visual feast is backed up by a 3.5-liter, V-6 engine working with an electric Lexus Hybrid Drive system to produce more than 300 horsepower.  Matched to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, the tested RX showed its muscle on daily commutes and was surprisingly agile on city streets.  Runs in the Sierra Nevada foothills were a heart-pumping blast, given the tester’s precisely tuned suspension.

Inside, five passengers have plenty of room to spread out, with lots of open space remaining for their cargo. Total interior volume is 139.7 cubic feet.  With rear seats folded, cargo capacity is 55.9 cubic feet.
 
Towing capacity, with a proper hitch, is 3,500 pounds.

From the cockpit, the numerous perks are easily reached and operated.  Ten-way power, leather-trimmed front seats; a power tilt/telescoping steering column; power-folding, heated exterior mirrors; a moonroof; and aluminum roof rails were just a few of the standard offerings on the tested SUV.

The extensive list of opulent extras on the tested RX included power-folding, heated rear seats; a color heads-up display; a touch-free power rear door; and a massive, 12.3-inch multimedia display.

The hybrid system delivers 31 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, pretty good numbers given the vehicle’s size and generally admirable pop.

Some reviewers have complained that the RX powertrain lacks quick response and adequate oomph.  I had no problems along those lines.

With the full understanding that this reworked RX is beyond many household budgets, I can say that the vehicle is nicely positioned between relatively loaded, entry-level crossover SUVs and the luxo SUV models that are the playground of the comparatively rich.

If you can afford to splurge a bit on a well-equipped SUV, this RX deserves a look.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Improved Maxima still has pop, generous perks

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

Sacramento, California – Another week, another Nissan.  But we step up in class this week to one of my long-standing favorites.

It seems that the Nissan Maxima gets way too little love among auto-reviewing colleagues, but I’ve liked it for years.  For me, it has the right mix of style, performance, comfort and convenience.

It’s the sedan you don’t hear coming.  But it has enough juice to blow past you in an eye-wink.

Changes for the 2016 model year are numerous, and only bolstered my good feelings about the Maxima.

My tester was the lofty 2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum edition, which translates to about $40,000 on the bottom line.  Happily, this buys a bunch of goodies.

Sporty styling tweaks on the exterior give the 2016 Maxima a look that’s darn near weekend racer.  Sweetly sculpted from grille to back bumper, the sedan makes you do a double-take when you first see it in profile.

The 18-inch, machined-aluminum alloy wheels added to the racy look.

Visually, the Maxima makes a promise of serious performance.  And it delivers with a finely tuned 3.5-liter V-6 rated at a max 300 horsepower.

As previous Maximas have done, the latest generation lays down heart-pumping acceleration in smooth, but not overly loud, layers.  On the freeways, even small blips on the accelerator produced comfortable space between myself and following cars.

You can almost read the mind of the driver quickly disappearing in the rearview mirror: “What the heck was that?”

This has long been true of the Maxima.  The engineers have always done it right.  I love it.  Fuel mileage is pretty OK as well, at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.

For all its robust road energy, interior comforts are numerous, luxurious and fun to use.  The dual panel panoramic moonroof, rear window power sunshade and voice-recognition system for navigation and audio were my favorites, although I think I started to drive passengers crazy with my relentless use of these features.

Nobody appreciates this kind of in-car entertainment anymore.  Go figure.

Oh, there’s a "Drive Mode Selector," with a choice of Normal or Sport.  Maxima pilots can hit the switch to tweak throttle response, transmission programming and shift adjustments.

Without shame, I confess that I had the tester in Sport mode during my entire week with the car.  When you spend time with an old friend, you want to make the most of it, right?

On my report card, the latest Maxima gets a solid “A” grade.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Nissan Sentra: Compact sedan, sizable driver appeal

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

Sacramento, California – Can I get some basic transportation over here?

There are a lot of places where you can ask that ... getting what you want and then some.

Yet in the United States, a Nissan lot might not be the first place that jumps to mind.

Maybe it's time to change your thinking. An extensively reworked Nissan Sentra has arrived for the 2016 model year.

What does it offer?  A lot for a compact sedan.

My liberally loaded tester, a 2016 Nisan Sentra 1.8 SL with a continuously variable transmission, had standard perks that included leather-appointed seats, heated front seats, a rear-view monitor, smart headlights and a Siri Eyes Free voice-recognition system.

Options on my ride included intelligent cruise control, a power sliding glass moonroof and a kickin’ Bose premium audio system.

Even with all that, the bottom line was an affordable $25,545.

Nissan’s Maxima and Altima received styling upgrades, and happily, so did the Sentra.  The latest Sentra looks decidedly sporty with a new front fascia, grille, fenders, hood and boomerang-shaped headlights.

All that sporty flash likely makes the Sentra look like its moving very fast on the fly.  If you like the illusion, don’t tell friends that the Sentra is powered by a relatively humble 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine making a max 130 horsepower.

Do tell them that you’re getting 29 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.

Frankly, I found the four banger to be more than adequate for what I was asking from the tested Sentra.  Steering was one-hand easy, and the continuously variable transmission performed seamlessly.

A surprisingly roomy interior cabin was a treat for driver and passengers.  Frankly, I felt spoiled by my surroundings, not a common occurrence in a compact sedan.

The reworked Sentra also offers a full menu of in-vehicle connectivity features, a smart shout-out to a new generation of motorists.

Another bonus: Admirable federal safety ratings in this segment.

The Sentra has its work cut out for it in a segment dominated by Toyota, Honda, Ford and others.  But if you’re working up a list of quality compacts for your college-bound child, your ever-on-the-go spouse or your soon-to-retire self, write down the 2016 Nissan Sentra and underline it in red.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Redesigned Camaro still rocks the roadways

A menu of 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 May 2016 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California The Chevrolet Camaro enters its sixth generation with a 2016 model year redesign, and let me answer your first question: Yes, it’s still cool.

In the affordable high-horsepower department, loyalties typically are divided between Mustang fans and Camaro fans.  That would figure given the decades-long history of the two makes.

What is kind of hard to believe is that the Camaro disappeared for a few years after the dawn of the current millennium.  Thankfully, sanity returned in 2010 with a much-anticipated, fifth-generation Camaro.  For Gen Six and 2016, there’s much to like.

My tester was the comparatively modest 2016 Chevy Camaro LT coupe, with a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine rated at 275 horsepower.   And the starting price was well less than $30,000, darn near a steal in the head-turning sports car class.

Even though my ride was not a thunder-producing V-8 blazer with more than 450 horsepower, I was more than pleased with the tester’s enthusiastic performance and fabulous engine growl making its ever-loving way into the cockpit.

Camaro engineers shaved significant weight – reportedly 200 pounds ­­– off the previous-generation Camaro, and Gen Six has a more-rigid structure.  For me, this translated into the Camaro handling slalom runs and high-speed lane changes with effortless ease, without me having to yank hard on the steering wheel.

Chevy promised a more agile, nimble Camaro this time around.  Promise kept.

And here’s how you know that the car is still cool: when passing motorists give you a thumbs-up, or Camaro groupies salivate all over your car when it’s parked in the supermarket lot.

Yes, seriously, these were common occurrences in my short week with the rear-driving Camaro coupe.

Which is to say that it looks good.  No mistaking the current-generation Camaro for another model, and that’s saying something in the current age of look-alike automotive hardware.  The Camaro has the double-tier, wide, get-outta-da-way front grille, which gives way to a hood line and raked windshield that look long enough to dock a hot-air balloon.  The back end has a decidedly sporty chop that is entirely appropriate for this Camaro.

Interior comforts are far advanced from the early Camaros I knew as a youth.  The tester was downright opulent, with plentiful comfort/convenience features to keep me satisfied.  A lot of chrome and flash inside the vehicle, lending a fighter-jet feel from the driver’s seat.

Flat-bottom steering wheel.  Loved it.

Fuel mileage was pretty lovable as well in this segment, coming in at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

Overall, the Camaro upgrades give it plenty to keep up with rival Mustang in the bragging rights game.  Best part: The Camaro still rocks the road.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Robust Chrysler sedan reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2016 Chrysler 300C Premium sedan in the latest, June 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.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Focus is an American contender in popular segment

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

Sacramento, California – I’m encouraged by the Ford Focus.

It’s proof that an American car company can build an affordable, practical-size car that appeals to a wide range of motorists.

And you thought Toyota and Honda had cornered that market, right?

The tested 2016 Ford Focus Titanium hatchback sedan hits all the right notes in the competitive compact segment.

The $27,850 sticker price was easy on the eyes, keeping in mind that it included plentiful extras that bumped up the starting price of $23,725.

The standard features list was lengthy, and it included the latest SYNC voice-recognition system, remote start, a Sony audio system with 10 speakers and leather interior appointments.

It looked sleek in profile and sporty wearing “Blue Candy Tinted Clearcoat” paint.  The rear spoiler was nicely integrated and did not look like a last-minute throw-on.

Fuel mileage checked in at an impressive 26 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.

In short, it’s a loaded ride with international appeal.  This is what Ford aspired to do for years, and those plans have become reality with the Focus.

The Focus on the fly is comfortable and smooth.  It’s easy to steer.  Interior space is OK.

Horsepower from the 2-liter, four-cylinder engine was rated at a max 160, which was sufficient to make the Focus a comfortable driver on twisty rural routes, in downtown gridlock and amid crowds of twitchy commuters.

I felt secure behind the wheel, fully confident that the Focus had more than enough to get me out of harm’s way as needed.

A blizzard of safety features helped the Focus Titanium score a top-rated five stars in federal safety ratings.

My package of options included 18-inch wheels, a lane-keeping alert system and active park assist – all very nice, but I would have been perfectly happy with the standard offerings.

All things considered, the tester was a solid B-plus of a car … and it was rolling proof that Ford has a grip on what a sizable portion of the driving public desires.

It’s worth noting that the Focus compact has been around as long as the Toyota Prius and that the Ford product maintains robust popularity amid an ever-growing field of alternative-fueled small cars.

Can a four-cylinder compact hold its own in that crowd?  This Focus says yes.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Stars lined up for Rossi, but skill played a part

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

Sacramento, California -- Many in the auto racing world are still trying to get their heads wrapped around the galaxy of stars that lined up to enable Northern California’s Alexander Rossi to win the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

That group may include Rossi himself.  After he pulled into Indy’s Victory Lane, he sat in his car trying to compose himself.  He later acknowledged that he wasn’t quite sure how to handle the post-race winner’s chores – how to wear the wreath, the right way to down the bottle of milk, getting the right number of sponsor hats placed on his head.

That was all needless worry.  Like everything else he did on Sunday, the 24-year-old rookie handled things perfectly.

Rossi edged out a field of seasoned, hard-charging veterans, coasting across the finish line on fumes to take the landmark 500.

There was some immediate post-race speculation that he lucked into it, and some said they were upset because the winner won by going slow.

Hogwash.

Rossi nursed his fuel allotment over the last 90 miles of the race.  Yes, it was done with constant input from his race team, but let me tell you, it is no easy task to milk 90 miles out of an Indy Car while everybody else around you is charging and seeking racing immortality.

Rossi joked that he did it with “skill,” and while that prompted some chuckles, it was absolutely the truth.  There are numerous race drivers who lack the discipline and patience to bring home victory with so much on the line.

Rossi saw his patience rewarded at Monday’s race banquet, clutching a check written out for more than $2.5 million.

Patience is a virtue.  In Rossi’s case, it was a bank-breaker.

I’d written last week that Rossi had a chance, because his Honda had been fast all month, and he seemed to understand that countless variables go into the Indianapolis 500.  Mistakes, bad judgment, unusual occurrences and plain old bad luck can take out the favorites, clearing the way for an unexpected winner.

Yet Rossi was no slouch.  He consistently stayed within striking distance throughout Sunday’s race.  Past Indy 500 winners, Bakersfield’s Rick Mears among them, always maintained that the idea at Indy was to put yourself in position to win over the last 100 miles.  Rossi followed that blueprint to the letter.

Another Indy axiom:  The track picks the winner.  Maybe, but it tends to pick drivers who have nerve, savvy and patience.  Rossi possesses all three.

In the end, the test has been consistent since the first running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911.   You have to be in front at precisely the 500-mile mark.  That doesn’t always mean the fastest car is going to win, and that’s what makes Indy so incredibly difficult to nail down.

In an era of green-white-checkered overtimes, Indy has stuck with the 500-on-the-nose formula.  Yes, sometimes that produces a winner crossing the finish line under a yellow caution flag.  But it can also make for some amazing stories, like Rossi’s run for the ages on a hot, muggy Sunday in Indianapolis.