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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reworked Honda Fit reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Honda Fit EX-L in the latest, February 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, February 7, 2015

Lexus IS 250 hits all the right notes

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 – OK, so the 2015 Lexus IS 250 sedan is not the IS 350, but what’s a few thousand dollars and 100 horsepower between friends?

As for me, I enjoyed my time in the rear-drive version of the IS 250.  It’s the least-expensive version of all the IS trim levels, starting at $36,550.

Let me repeat that: You get a LEXUS for under 37-grand.  You’re feeling better already, right?

My ride was dressed up with some $4,000 in extra goodies that, naturally, I was in no position to refuse.  Most of the coin was taken up by a sophisticated navigation system, and I was also happy to have a back-up camera, parking assist and fierce-looking 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

On the fly, this Lexus packs more than enough punch with the 2.5-liter V-6 rated at a max 204 horsepower.  Fuel mileage is OK at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.  Fun can be had snapping those steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters on a sunny day on the open road.

This being a Lexus, even at the relatively bargain-basement price, the IS 250 is loaded up with lots of smile-prompting features.
The dual chrome exhausts and big-mouth grille add just the right touch of sportiness to a generally classy-looking chassis.

On-board safety systems promise to do everything up to cradling you in giant arms in the event of an accident.

You get a choice of operating modes.  Take your pick of Eco, Normal, Sport and Snow.

The driver is spoiled the most with a 10-way power, two-way lumbar, heated seat.  Vision from that seat is excellent.  Easy-to-use controls, although I struggled a bit with audio settings, are within easy reach.

Back seat room was just fine, thank you.  Ditto on the cargo space.

The ride is silky smooth, even at high revs, which is something I absolutely expect from a piece of hardware wearing a Lexus badge.  The steering fee was just right.  Balance and road feel were rock-solid.

Overall, I experienced no surprises and felt general automotive happiness in my time with the IS 250.  No IS 350 envy from me.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Driving Soul EV keeps eyes on the mileage prize

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 was thinking about those brave motorists of the early 20th century during my recent week in the 2015 Kia Soul EV, the all-electric version of Kia’s quirky-cool vehicle.

Imagine being a motor vehicle owner at the dawn of the automobile age in America.  You like the car and consider it the wave of the future.

But you’re asking: Where can I fuel it up?

And how to keep it in one piece, looking at the rutted minefields that passed for roads back then?

I’ve written a lot copy about electric vehicles and the accompanying infrastructure over the past 20 years, and let me say up front that EVs and their alternative-powered ilk are absolutely the wave of a glorious, diversified energy future in California and elsewhere.  Bravo to the automotive engineers and technicians making it happen.  Bravo to those who turned ideas into hardware reality.

But I was a nervous wreck after my week in the Soul EV.  I can boil it down to one word: infrastructure.

In my little corner of the world – which includes a daily round-trip commute of about 30 miles – there is not enough quick-charge infrastructure to ease my mind with an EV in my hands.  To be sure, there are quick-charge EV sites within fairly close range of where I live, and in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are plentiful outlets.

But in my commute loop, the infrastructure is not yet developed to the point where I can hook up and charge up conveniently.

And that left me with one option: Use the on-board, standard, plug-in charger.  The owner’s manual on the Soul EV calls this a “trickle charge.”

And they aren’t kidding.

I received the vehicle with a range of 55 miles on it, and it was around 39 miles when I got home that night.  An overnight charge brought it back up to 57.  WOW!  I was actually fortunate in that there was a standard plug on a light pole in my workplace parking lot.  An uninterrupted, eight-hour charge, however, bought me only an additional 22 to 25 miles at a time..

Suffice it to say that my eyes stayed almost constantly glued to the mileage range readout when I was driving the Soul EV.  It was an obsession…”Oh no, I lost another mile,” I would say in my head. “It didn’t seem like I was driving that fast.”

That’s another thing.  I am not the only Soul EV driver who confessed to – I hate to say it – “driving like grandma” trying to conserve as much range as possible.

And that’s a shame, because the Soul EV that was totally redesigned last year is an otherwise enjoyable motor vehicle.  With a sloped-back roofline, it looks ready to take off like a scalded cat at a moment’s notice.  Interior comfort and controls are exceptional.  Storage area is likewise impressive.

But if you’re a daily commuter, as I am, all other issues are crushed by the need to conserve energy … not a bad thing in the scheme of things, I suppose.  And you do get help from the car, which charges the on-board battery under braking and coasting.

Kia computes the equivalent horsepower to 109, adding that the EPA-estimated miles per gallon gasoline equivalents are 92 miles on the highway and 120 mpg in the city.

As for me, even with an all-night charge, the biggest mileage range number I saw on the in-dash readout in my week with the Soul EV was 85.

More numbers: The price range on the Soul EVs two trim levels is about $33,500 to $36,000.

Bottom line: I like the car and the technology.  And I’m sure my EV-driving grandchildren will, in the distant future, love driving incredibly evolved EVs with 300-mile ranges on roadways where getting a quick-charge boost will be as routine as stopping at a Starbucks.

I can envision their future, and I feel good about it.  But as for me, where did you say the nearest charge point can be found?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Mazda3: A small package 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 – I hadn’t spent serious seat time in a Mazda3 in something like forever, so my recent week in a 2015 Mazda3 i Touring four-door model reminded me just how charming a compact-size, affordable vehicle can be.

Mazda certainly seems pleased.  The Mazda3 is the automaker’s top-selling vehicle in North America.

Not much mystery there.  Low-riding and aerodynamically pleasing to the eye – especially in profile – the Mazda3 looks attractive parked in any driveway, regardless of household income level.

I like the relatively stretched wheelbase (106.3 inches, according to the manual) on this ride, and maybe that contributed to its solid, no-wiggle handling at high speed.  The 2-liter, four-cylinder engine has a max 155 horsepower, so you’re not going to get that drag strip rush.  But the power plant certainly handles most things rather well.

Here’s something that’s sure to impress: 30 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway.

Currently low gas prices might negate the good feelings those numbers normally bring, but rest assured, they feel good standing at the gas pump.  And if you think gas prices will not be heading up again, well, check with me later.  I have an East Coast bridge I want to sell you.

The back-seat area is not cavernous, but volunteer passengers said they were comfortable in our short rides around town.

The Mazda3 is a pleasure to operate from the cockpit.  Vision is good all the way around the car, and standard rearview camera and blind spot monitoring equipment made me feel secure.

The Mazda3 was extensively reworked for the 2014 model year, so it goes into 2015 pretty much unchanged, which is all good.  The starting price on the tester was an easy-on-the-eyes $20.645.  An optional package with some technology goodies pushed the bottom line to $23,410, still pretty good in this class.

Perhaps the largest praise I can give to this Mazda3 is that it’s a compact that doesn’t feel, or drive, like a compact.  It feels midsize all the way in my hands.

Safety ratings, by the way, are top-tier.

This is a great second family car or a safe and secure ride for young folks just starting out in the work-a-day world.

It gets a solid “B” from me.