Monday, May 18, 2015

Qualifying parade offers few clues on Indy winner

Mark Glover will be attending the Indianapolis 500 for the 53rd time on May 24. Here is his take on what might happen on Sunday, when the world-famous race is run for the 99th time.

Sacramento, California – My take is that I have no idea what is going to happen during Sunday’s race.

I’m not sure I can remember a month like this at Indy.  The closest I can come is 1973, ominously a year that most would like to forget.

In 1973, it rained constantly (the rain-shortened race took three days to run), and there were some brutal crashes during the month.  The race gods pointed to speed advancements in the cars that were running ahead of safety concerns.  Rules and officials changed after the 1973 affair mercifully ended.

Fast-forward to this year, specifically Sunday, a day such as I’ve rarely seen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ed Carpenter’s sledgehammer crash before the scheduled run for the pole set instant rules changes in motion as it was the third upside-down-flip crash within a week, following frightening shunts by three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and the most-capable Josef Newgarden.

I admit, those hard hit/flips got my attention.  Why would all three cars flip over onto their tops after wall impact?  The aero package?  Odd weight distribution?  Coincidence?

Doesn’t matter.  I knew what was going to happen, and it did.  Aero kits were axed, downforce was increased and horsepower was decreased.  Essentially, we saw a Sunday qualifying parade with cars in race trim.

I think it had to be done, but at the same time, it pained me.  I’m that old-school Indy fan who has long believed that the series -- and particularly the Indianapolis 500 -- was about super-high speeds, pushing the envelope out to the far frontier.  I actually was looking forward to some runs in the 232 mph-233 mph range on Sunday.

That was the goal of series officials, to baby step up to Arie Luyendyk’s nearly 20-year-old Indianapolis 500 qualifying records, in excess of 236 mph.

Alas, it looks like they need to go back to the drawing board.  Maybe someday, right?

As for the race, Sunday’s procession of qualifying speeds in the 224/225 mph range didn’t tell me much, other than I like pole winner Scott Dixon’s chances, car and talent.  If Scott has it dialed in on race day, it’s hard to bet against him.

From there on back, take your pick.  Will Power will start next to Dixon.  He has the right car and the Penske Team machine on his side, but somehow, Power always seems to encounter a critical mid-race drawback that keeps him from dicing for the lead late in the Indianapolis 500.  If he keeps his wheels in line, he too has a chance.

So do Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Simon Pagenaud.  Ryan Hunter-Reay came from a mid-pack starting position to win it last year.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make it to the front from his 16th starting position on Sunday.

Ed Carpenter is in a back-up car, but I like his ability to adapt quickly and hustle a car around a high-speed oval.

Throw another five drivers in there, and your picks are probably as good as mine.

Cornered to make a call, I like Castroneves to use his savvy and challenge for the win late.  I like Kanaan for the same reason.  Dark horse for me: Newgarden.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Popular Honda CR-V gets better with 2015 changes

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 – Honda decided to mess with a good thing, its CR-V sport-utility vehicle, in 2015.

And hey, things turned out pretty well.

Before undergoing extensive changes for the 2015 model year, the CR-V was rolling up some fabulous numbers.  It was the best-selling SUV in the United States for years running.  In car-crazy California, it was the state’s top-selling SUV in calendar 2015, with a healthy 34,980 registrations, according to the Sacramento-based California New Car Dealers Association.

Alas, no resting on laurels here, as Honda dug in and changed things up.

Tweaks to the exterior look kept the basic SUV shape, but to my eye, the current-generation CR-V looks smoother, sportier and longer.  Honda calls it bolder; to me, it just looks more capable of slicing through the air.

On the run, the tested 2015 CR-V AWD Touring edition did that rather nicely.  It’s an excellent freeway cruiser. The CR-V has a midsize sedan feel to it from the driver’s seat, and its tight turning radius enabled me to negotiate downtown dices with ease.

Power is provided by a surprisingly peppy 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with 185 horsepower on the high end.  The comparatively lightweight engine is matched to a continuously variable transmission.

Peppy, by the way, does not mean wasteful.  Fuel mileage ratings are a pleasing 26 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.

The interior layout of controls has been reworked for the better, with everything in logical, easy reach and easily understood.  Driving-enhancement and safety features are plentiful.

I’m sure most California drivers will love the live camera image of the right side of the CR-V displayed in the center-mounted screen.  That’s triggered automatically when you hit the right-turn signal. You never know when a bicycle rider is going to try to squeeze by your vehicle’s right side when you’re making a right turn … but you’ll have plenty of advance warning of that potential disaster in your CR-V.

So, what did all these changes do for the CR-V?

They made an “A” grade car even better, and the vehicle was named SUV of the Year by Motor Trend magazine.

It should be noted that my tester is the most expensive version of the CR-V, starting at $32,770, but that includes a ton of standard equipment.  For the record, I was perfectly content with what the tested CR-V had, and there was not a single optional perk on the sticker.

Having reviewed so many SUVs over time, I confess that it takes a lot for a sport-ute to impress me.  For my money, the CR-V’s appeal is not that it has blow-me-away appeal, but it is loaded with so much that looks/functions so well.  That’s probably why it is so popular, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mercedes-Benz SL550? I'll be right there

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 April 2015 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California My conversation with my Bay Area buddy, and relentless horsepower freak, went something like this:

Him: “Hey, I’ve got a new car I want you to look at, maybe shake it down with me.”

Me: “I already have more cars than I can review right now, you know that.”

Him: “It’s a new Mercedes-Benz SL550”

Me: “I’ll be right there.”

These opportunities don’t come along every day, and really, how many more chances am I going to get to climb behind the wheel of a wondrous M-B convertible at my age?  Not many, let me assure you.

Naturally, I jumped at the chance.  But not too quickly.  Yes, the hardtop convertible show where the roof retreats into the back end of the car is still worth the price of admission, which is north of $105,000 new.

But this is a serious piece of machinery with 429 horsepower screaming out of the 4.7-liter V-8.  Fuel mileage is 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, but that’s just a wager on a 10-foot putt at the country club in this high-flying buyer segment.

Still, I was wary.  I baby-stepped it up to 60 mph and then 70 mph.  What was I thinking?  The V-8 performed so smoothly that I was touching 80 in a heartbeat, yet not a quiver or quake from the car.

This is the kind buttery performance that can get you in trouble if you’re not prepared, like slugging down sweet-tasting White Russians at a Vegas bar and suddenly realizing the attractive lady you’ve been chatting with is actually a slot machine.

But I digress.

Once I mastered the rhythm of the tester’s accelerator from a standing start – following several incredibly embarrassing lurches into intersections – I was good to go. Once comfortable, I was able to enjoy the opulent, luxurious surroundings in this SL550.  Mercedes-Benz did not hold back in that department.  Ditto scores of safety features and driving-enhancement technologies.

Please note that this SL550 is a relatively low rider.  So if you get nervous motoring between large trucks on your commute, it’s probably not gong to be your cup of tea.  It’s best to unwind the SL500 on twisty Sierra Nevada foothills roads on a quiet afternoon.  Much more pleasure to be derived there, believe me.

The big gripe with Mercedes-Benz used to be glitches in the numerous on-board electrical systems.  Although my time in the SL550 was short, I sensed none of that this time around.  And I sampled about everything in the cockpit.  I’m assuming those glitches left the train station long ago.

In the end, I didn’t want to leave this luxurious, robust performer.  I was just getting comfortable with it.  It’s top-drawer all the way. If you have the bucks to buy this SL550, go for it.  And I salute you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dodge Charger reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Dodge Charger R/T in the latest, May 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.

Friday, May 1, 2015

I want to go to there, the Sonata that is

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 often call the Hyundai Sonata sedan my “go to” car.

That’s because I’ve repeatedly told folks asking me what to look for in a practical midsize sedan to go look at the Sonata.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve offered up this advice over the years.

This is not expert advice, mind you.  It’s a no-brainer.

The Sonata is affordable, feature-loaded, carries a good record of reliability and is bolstered by some generous warranty coverage.  In sum, you get a lot of midsize for the money, a lot more than you’ll find in comparable models made by other automakers.

And now there’s more reason to like it: a nose-to-tail reworking for the 2015 model year.

Hyundai touts sporty exterior styling touches, a stiffer body structure, a smoother/quieter ride and the standard  inclusion of more state-of-the-art safety and convenience features.

Tooling around in the tested 2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited, I pretty much agree with everything the Hyundai marketing machine says.  But it’s really more than that.

The seventh-generation Sonata – yeah, I know, that will make you feel old – is truly a much sexier-looking machine than that rolled out in days past.  I love the aerodynamic side profile, and the front end tweaks are sporty to the max.

The tester’s 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with 185 horsepower is not a tire-shredding monster, but accelerations at important on-road moments are more than adequate.  Handling is quite nimble.  When conditions required me to snap the car out of harm’s way, it responded instantly and with very little pushback on me in the driver’s seat.  Impressive.

The list of standard comfort and convenience features is so lengthy that you are inclined to believe that someone mixed up and mistakenly gave you an ultra-luxury version of the car.  Alas, my Sonata started well below $30-grand, but the bottom line on the sticker swelled to $32,510 with the addition of a couple of tech-laden packages.  Both significantly added to the vehicle.

A $3,500 Tech Package included a panoramic sunroof with tilt and slide, a heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats.  The accompanying $1,550 Ultimate Package added smart cruise control, a lane-departure warning system, a forward collision warning feature and an electronic parking brake.

With all that and more, $32,510 looked pretty darn good to me.  Oh, fuel mileage is an excellent 24 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.

My only gripes: the lane-departure warning system was a little too quick-on-the-draw sensitive for my tastes, and for whatever reason, the “automatic” feature on the climate-control system seemed about 5 degrees off in this season of chilly mornings and hot afternoons.

Other than that, the newly reworked Sonata is an A-grade sedan that’s better than it ever was.

Friday, April 24, 2015

ProMaster City: a compact conveyance of convenience

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’ve always said that I will review anything, which mostly explains why a 2015 Ram ProMaster City wagon showed up at my door recently.

If that motor vehicle model doesn’t jump to mind right away, think florist shop delivery truck.

Coming off a week in a 2015 Dodge Challenger, the delivery of the ProMaster City was quite the leap.  Think parallel universe this time around.

And yet, for what it is, the ProMaster City is all good.

First off, it’s the all-new-for-2015 baby brother of the Ram ProMaster, a seriously larger van that gets a 3.6-liter V-6.  With that super-size ProMaster, you can carry your entire business around in the back end or pull it down the road (it has towing/hauling capacities exceeding 5,000 pounds).

The ProMaster City is the smaller, more practical offering, powered by a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, 178-horsepower engine.

Ram describes the ProMaster City as “all business.”  And that’s spot-on.

For small business operators and carriers of moderate quantities of cargo, the ProMaster City is a compact conveyance of convenience.

Double hinged doors open wide at the back to a generous, open cargo area in which I could darn near stand up, keeping in mind that I’m 6-4.  As luck would have it, I actually was transporting flowers during my test week, and a nearly five-foot-tall rosebush easily loaded into the back end with plenty of head clearance.

So, that empty back end must have translated to a lack of rear wheel grip on hard, fast corners, right?  Actually, not so much.  I could feel just the slightest touch of back wheel hop in these situations, but at no time did I feel that I was coming close to losing control of the vehicle.

The ProMaster City’s handling was, frankly, more in line with what I’ve experienced in some minivans.  Simply put, it handled just fine in my hands.

The tester started at $24,130, but my ride was dressed up with extras that included a 5-inch touchscreen display that incorporated the image from a rearview camera.  Bottom line on my ProMaster City was $27,590.  Controls were within easy reach from my cockpit seat.

Accelerations were not exactly brisk, but performance was fully in line with what I’d expect from a 178-horsepower four-banger.  In the never-ending pursuit of more gears, the 948TE FWD automatic gearbox had nine, count-’em, nine speeds.

Fuel mileage is a pretty good at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

One other thing I noticed: Door locks and seat belt warnings registered INSTANTLY in this ride, seemingly happening via some kind of unseen mental message sent by my brain.  Clever, those Ram engineers.

This is a solid “B” business vehicle, and seriously, not a bad ride as a secondary household errand runner.  If I ever go into business for myself, I must just get a fleet of a dozen.

Friday, April 17, 2015

All the pluses add up in Nissan's Altima

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 – Nissan calls the Altima its “cornerstone.”

That’s certainly appropriate.  The sedan is the automaker’s No. 1-selling vehicle up and down the line, and it does quite well in the United States.

Invariably, I run into lovers of Toyota, General Motors, Honda and Ford sedans who ask me: “What’s the big deal about the Altima?”

I think my best answer is: It does and has a lot that motorists take for granted.

Let’s run down the columns, shall we?

First off, it looks good. The tested 2015 Altima 2.5 SV came off as a shapely sedan parked in my driveway, wearing “Cayenne Red” paint.  “Nice car,” some folks said as they walked by.

“You’re right,” I answered.  “And have I told you that you have good taste?”

The price is right, a starting figure of $24,720 on the tested model, which was seriously dressed up with Convenience and Technology packages.  Even those raised the bottom line to a still-affordable $28,180.

The interior is comfortable, with a good range of vision from the cockpit, and pretty fair room for those seated behind driver and front-seat passenger.  A generous lineup of comfort and convenience features is thoughtfully displayed, easily reached and quickly understood.

The ride is nice.  Just the right touch on the steering, and the continuously variable transmission was a seamless operator in my time behind the wheel.  Horsepower from the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine is not tire-shredding – it's around 180 – but it’s strong enough to handle the great majority of city/highway chores.  Relatively little engine noise reached the tester's cockpit, even during aggressive accelerations.

I confess that I love the 3.5-liter V-6 (270 horsepower) that can be had in the Altima 3.5 versions.  It’s one peppy power plant.  But I’m guessing that most prudent sedan buyers will be content with the Altima 2.5-liter engine.

Fuel mileage with the 2.5 is superb: 27 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.  Those are numbers that you can take to the savings bank.

About the only thing I did not like about my tester was its super-sensitive lane departure warning system, which seemed to be monitoring my at-the wheel performance by the quarter inch.  I routinely disabled it, which lowered my blood pressure dramatically.

Bottom line, the 2015 Altima is a solid “B” to “B-plus” car, offering myriad perks for buyers looking for a sensibly priced sedan.

Can’t ask for much more than that.