Friday, July 11, 2014

Infiniti coupe is a sweet-handling dream

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

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

Sacramento, California I recently received a 2014 Infiniti Q60 Coupe Journey with a significant amount of ho-hum.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Infiniti’s passenger car lineup.  Like it a lot.  It’s just that I had been in and out so many sporty, peppy, luxo Infiniti cars over the years that I was feeling, well, jaded.

Shame on me.  The Q60 designation might be new to some of you, but let me assure you, you’ll never forget it if you spend a little time in it.

Right off the bat, it looks good. It’s aerodynamically smooth from nose to tail, and Infiniti’s double-arch grille sure hits the right style spot.  Big fenders on the backside are accentuated by an impressive display of LED taillights.  The car looks super-sporty just sitting there.  My ride’s “Venetian Ruby” paint job surely added to the eye-candy factor.

Driving it, the heart rate goes up in a hurry.  The 3.7-liter V-6 is rated at 330 horsepower, and my Q60 was matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission.  Here’s a marriage made in heaven.

I was putting the Q60 through its paces on level ground early on, and it quickly became apparent to me that the gear-to-power-to-suspension equation was so well matched that I could put the car anywhere I wanted in a snap … without even coming close to cutting off a trailing car.

Significantly impressed, I started whipping the coupe through heavy traffic at a fairly aggressive pace.  As I headed up into the Sierra Nevada foothills, I tried to get the back end of the car to loosen up a little bit.  Not a chance.  It was rock-solid.

Five miles up the mountain road, I was just showing off.  The Q60 whipped through high-speed turns with single-minded stability, and it instantly responded in short passing zones, blazing past stragglers three at a time with just a short blip on the accelerator.  Yeah, the $40,000-and-change starting price is worth it when you’re having this much fun.

Alas, my ride was incredibly juiced up with a Premium Package (rear sonar and a power/tinted glass moonroof were part of that deal), a Sport Package (19-inch aluminum alloy wheels and a sport-tuned suspension), a Technology Package (intelligent cruise control might not be loved by all), a Navigation Package (with Zagat Survey restaurant guide, for crying out loud) and an Interior Accents Package (high gloss maple touches did look nice).

All this helped bring the bottom line to $50,405.  So, there, you’ve been warned.

Worth noting: Gas mileage was actually pretty good for a hot V-6, coming in at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

For me, the bottom line with this Q60 was that it was a great “Fantasy Week” car, which is a short way of saying I enjoyed every minute motoring around in a machine that is beyond the reality of my household budget.  The Q60 might not be as instantly recognizable as, say, a Corvette or a horsepower-laden Mustang or a Camaro, but it offers comparable levels of exhilaration and fun that you get in those sporty rides.

Ho-hum?  Not even a little bit. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

California Automobile Museum's 6th cruise coming soon

Sacramento, California -- This column will be on the road next week, but before I go, a reminder that one of the Sacramento area's biggest annual car events is coming up Aug. 9: the sixth annual California Automobile Museum Car Cruise.

Cruisers of all ages and cars of virtually every stripe will start assembling at California State University, Sacramento, in the early afternoon.  At 4 p.m. the colorful car parade will start making its way toward Fulton Avenue.  The museum expects 400 cars to be parked along Fulton, which will be blocked off between El Camino and Marconi avenues, by 5 p.m.

From 5 to 8 p.m., the on-the-street party includes live music at multiple venues, a wide selection of vendors, plenty of beer, food trucks and much more, plus access to the services of the diverse food and retail merchants along Fulton Avenue.  There is no charge for spectators.

A soup-to-nuts list of cruise awards at the Fulton Avenue staging area will wrap up the event.

Haven't signed up?  Need more info?  Here's where you need to go: www.calautomuseum.org/event/6th-annual-cam-car-cruise.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

VW Jetta SEL reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SEL in the latest, July 2014, 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 http://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, July 3, 2014

Feel the power in the upscale Infiniti QX80 sport-ute

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – OK, I’m weary these Infiniti QX small guys, the 50, 60 and 70 versions.  Give me something big, something I can sink my teeth into…

And, whoa, maybe I can’t handle it!

Look at this 2014 Infiniti QX80 AWD sport-utility vehicle monster they gave me for a week.  Wow, what a brute. It’s a rolling sovereign nation.  Starting price: $64,450.  Mine with a generous portion of luxurious goodies came to $70,095 on the bottom line.

Yes, we’re in the rich fantasy class here, and once I was driving the QX80, I quickly adopted the attitude of, “I’ve got it and I’m flaunting it.”  Nobody had to know that I was test driving it for only a week.

Good times?  Let me tell you, mashing the accelerator linked to that 5.6-liter V-8 engine with 400 horsepower was a power trip worth remembering.  You get just a little push in the back and a mighty roar does eventually make its way into the cockpit, but the real charge is the feel of this much machinery moving that quickly.

Given that the front end of the QX80 looks capable of knocking down a herd of charging bulls, nobody dares get in the way.  I could get used to this.

From the cockpit, I’m surrounded by a sea of comfort/convenience features and technology mind-blowers.  Voice-recognition, heated 10-way power driver’s seat, power moonroof, blind-spot detection, triple zone climate control (it can seat up to eight, by the way) and the absolutely-must-have Zagat Survey Restaurant Guide so I can zero in on the shortest route to by my next $100 steak dinner.

Yeah, you start to think like that after you’ve been in this SUV for awhile … five minutes in my case.

I’m also impressed with lengthy list of safety and security features.  The QX80 has enough of these to make you wonder how anybody could get hurt driving the thing.  And prospective SUV-stealers, don’t even think about it.  This Infiniti is going nowhere without the fob-holding owner inside it.

Two things that were not impressive: fuel mileage of only 14 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, plus a way-too-sensitive lane departure-warning system.  I know I’m getting grumpy-old as I’m increasingly losing my patience with various systems warning me that my driving is about to cause a disaster.  But hey, can you give me a break when I’m just easing onto a freeway exit ramp?

Bottom line, this QX80 is a giant-size luxury liner of the highest order…royalty if you will. And while it might not be for me – or even within purchase reach by throwing in my life savings – it is pretty incredible for what it is.  For the big luxo SUV-loving set, it has earned an “A” grade for sure.

And spoiler alert: Infiniti already has unveiled the 2015 QX80, sporting a new exterior design and some interior refinements as well.  Just so you know, the 2015 version remains large.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Nissan's Rogue moves up from 'cute' status

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – When the Nissan Rogue rolled out for the first time in 2008, I thought: “Now, there’s something that’s pretty cute.”

And it was marketed via social media and hip TV shows to young-ish folks – translation: younger than me – who no doubt liked the Rogue’s saucy looks and its practical size as a smallish SUV or crossover … pick your description.

So, the Rogue was completely redesigned for the 2014 model year, adding some sophistication and class without losing the cute factor.

Still, as I gazed at the nearly $30,000 starting price on my top-end 2014 Rogue SL AWD tester, I asked myself if I would be willing to drop 30-grand on it.  I mean cute only goes so far, right?

After a week in the vehicle, you know what?  I think I might be willing to pay up if I was in the market for a loaded, just-the-right-size sport-ute.

Did I say loaded?  I meant jammed to the max with enough safety, security, comfort and convenience features to keep one’s nose buried in the owner’s manual for a week.

I wasn’t really expecting standard features such as a six-way power driver’s seat with lumber support, 18-inch alloy wheels, all-season tires, hill assist, descent control, leather seating surfaces and various techno driving systems.  And yes, three-row seating for seven is available.

My tester included a $2,000 Premium Package that included a power moonroof, LED headlights, auto levelizer, blind spot warning system, lane departure warning system, forward collision warning system and moving object detection system.

Wow! Cute seems to have moved up into the penthouse over the past six years.

I wasn’t complaining.

On the fly, the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 170 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque handled most everything rather well.  No, it was not a rubber-burning road warrior, but it scooted as needed in freeway commutes and was pleasantly responsive in the drive-and-dodge maneuvers that have become staples of downtown driving.

Fuel mileage is pretty sweet at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.  Storage capacity was surprisingly generous.  My ride took on much more than I thought it would at first glance.

The lane departure warning system was way, way too sensitive for my taste.  A blindfolded passenger might have been convinced that I was on the verge of crashing the car 80 percent of the time I was piloting it.  Disable button?  Gotta have it.

Nice rework here, Nissan engineers and designers.  The Rogue was a solid “B” prior to the 2014 model year, and I’d say it has moved into “B-plus” territory in its latest skin.

I’m apparently not alone in my feelings as the 2014 Rogue has been pulling down national awards in multiple categories for months.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Psst, have you looked at the Hyundai Sonata?

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – I’ve probably said it a thousand times: “Have you looked at the Hyundai Sonata?”

That’s my answer to folks who ask me what I might recommend in a reliable, feature-loaded midsize sedan.  In most cases, the questioners have looked at the usual suspects and are prepared to spend around $30,000 or more for some new wheels.

Why spend that much when you can get a perk-laden Sonata?  This has been true for a long time.

Consider that a basic 2014 Sonata GLS starts at around $21,500.  Is that reasonable enough for you?  Yeah, I thought so.

But let’s climb the ladder all the way up to my recent test ride: a 2014 Sonata Limited 2.0T.  This is the top-drawer Sonata, and yet even it starts well below the $30K threshold with a starting price of $28,550.

Loaded?  Oh, my goodness, yes!

The short list of standard goodies includes leather seating surfaces, heated seats front and rear, rearview camera, blind spot-detection system, power sunroof, exterior mirror-mounted turn signal indicators and a full boat of audio excess.

And for the 2014 model year, the Sonata changed for the better.

Exterior sculpting tweaks give the car a more-aggressive and aerodynamic look, and the aforementioned list of comfort/convenience/safety features includes some new arrivals.  That means the Sonata can be had with more than it’s ever had before.

The four-cylinder turbo engine is a thrill-ride plus.  Besides a wonderfully racy exhaust note, my tester was quick out of the blocks and instantly responsive when making maneuvers during freeway commutes.  The Sonata tackled climbs and twisters with rock-solid ease.  I never felt like I was on the edge of control even when I was asking a lot of the car.

Despite the turbo jolt, fuel mileage comes in pretty fair at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the open road.

The tester also came with Hyundai’s “Driver Selectable Steering Modes” system, which is a fancy way of saying that you have a choice or comfort, normal and sport modes to make your driving experience what you wish.

For some reason, I kept edging into the sport mode, which relentlessly put a smile on my face.

Look, I know other hugely popular midsize sedan offerings offer much of what the 2014 Sonata has, but frankly, Hyundai dishes up huge portions of perks for a price that often defies logic.  Oh, and you get Hyundai’s super warranties in the deal as well.

No wonder folks come back to me and say: “Hey, thanks for the tip on the Hyundai.  I had no idea I could get that much car for the money.”

No problem.  Now you know.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ford Escape: Quality SUV for a practical price

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – The Ford Escape is an understandable favorite of the pragmatic auto buyer … a versatile sport-utility vehicle for those who are nauseated at the thought of paying $35,000 or more for an SUV.

Even my tester, the 2014 Escape Titanium 4WD, loaded to the max, barely scraped above the $35,000 threshold, showing $35,470 on the sticker’s bottom line.  The Titanium 4WD is the most expensive of the five Escape trim levels; the base S version with front-wheel drive starts at the serious bargain-basement price of $23,100.

Here’s the thing: Across the board, the Escape is solid.  You’re not settling for cheap, because the vehicle doesn’t feel or act cheap.  Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Consumer, you’re getting a good deal here.

No wonder Ford sells a lot of Escapes.

My tester looked sharp riding on 18-inch aluminum wheels and sporting some finely cut architecture on the front end and sides.  Stepping inside, a comfortable high-riding position in the cockpit was made to feel more secure by a strong 360-degree viewing area.

Blind spot concerns were handled by a detection system that came with a special $1,735 equipment package.  Active Park Assist also came with that.  Interesting, but I probably could have done without it.  Old school?  Yeah, you got me.

My ride also came with a $795 navigation system.  If I was buying, it’s likely that I would indeed opt for this, especially if I was investing for the long-term.

Standard features were pretty generous, including heated front seats, leather trim, a perimeter alarm and a rear view camera.  Technology systems on this model are plentiful and fun to play with.

Did I happen to mention that one of the options on my tester was a 2-liter, turbo 4 with 240 horsepower?  Oh my, that was nice.  Made this Escape feel like a Mercedes.

Handling was agile and easy, and four-wheel bite was exceptional when conditions made it a priority.

In truth, I almost felt like this Escape was overpowered, but I was so spoiled by the performance that I quickly banned such negative thoughts from my brain and simply enjoyed the ride.  Even with the power, fuel mileage was not too bad at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Passengers who volunteered to ride along said they had plenty of room and considered the ride a smooth one.  Interior cabin noise was minimal.

This Escape is a solid B-plus vehicle, and even at the top trim level, it offers a lot to motorists who need utility and versatility.