Friday, April 18, 2014

Lexus hybrid sedan a luxury thrill, ditto the brakes

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 – Before telling you a little about the tested 2014 Lexus ES 300h sedan, I’d like to say a few words about brakes.

The ES hybrid luxury car I was driving had a four-wheel anti-lock braking system bolstered by electronic brakeforce distribution and a brake-assist system, not the kinds of things you normally think about … until you are forced to make an all-out panic stop.

For me, it had been awhile since I had been forced to do such a thing.  I like to think of myself as a driver who specializes in anticipation, seeing things develop in front of me before they happen.

But on a recent commute home, the perfect storm occurred right in front of my ES 300h’s bumper.  It was the classic crowded freeway crash set-up.  Everybody going around 65 mph in three lanes with the extreme left lane tapering down to an exit-only lane.  Naturally, you have idiots who use the exit-only lane as a launch ramp to cut right into high-speed traffic at the last moment.  That’s what happened in front of me on this particular day, a driver ripping to the right in front of the car that was in front of me, at the VERY last fraction of a second.

Even as I was smashing the brake and hearing the staccato sound of the anti-lock braking system exerting itself, I had one clear thought in my mind: There is no way to avoid the high-speed crash I’m about to be involved in.

And yet, the Lexus did avoid it.  Stopped on a dime.  With a foot to spare.  Not a scratch on the Lexus, or me.

The two cars in front of me were not so fortunate.

And so, beyond everything else, thank you Lexus ES 300h for saving me from embarrassment and possible physical harm.

Naturally, this being a Lexus sedan, there was a lot of everything else – luxury, numerous comfort/convenience features, a super-smooth ride, interior cabin quietness and much, much more.

Lexus aimed to make a statement in the hybrid luxury passenger car niche with this creation, and here’s the statement: 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.

Keeping in mind that the 2014 ES 300h starts at $39,350 and my ride was dressed up with another $8,000 or so of extras, it’s good to know you’re catching a break at the gas pumps with those mileage numbers.

And yet, the ES 300h doesn’t rob you of power when you need it.  The “Hybrid Synergy Drive” powertrain system combines a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with a high-output electric motor to produce a total system horsepower rating of 200.  I found the car surprisingly responsive as hybrids go.

Indeed, Motor Trend magazine touts the ES 300h as a “best buy…thanks to its torquey electric motors.”  I completely agree.

And it looks pretty nice too, with air-cutting aerodynamic smoothness bumper to bumper, with just enough side sculpting to add that Lexus dash of class.

The sedans myriad luxury features will keep buyers nose-deep in the owner’s manual for weeks at a time, not a bad thing when you’re learning to enjoy the perks of your new ride.  The high-tech light show on the car’s front end is a blast to watch as well.

As feel-good-about-gas-mileage luxury liners go, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better than this.

And did I mention that the brakes are world-class?  Yeah, I thought so.

 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Just call the 2014 Equus 'Hyundai to the Max'

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 March 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Not that long ago, I would have said it was impossible for Hyundai to build a car that was anything close to the 2014 Equus sedan.

I can now say without shame that the recently tested 2014 Equus Ultimate is every bit the player you would find wearing the badges of Acura, Lexus or Mercedes-Benz.  Incredible, but true.

For the record, it’s priced like one of those luxo-laden autos.  My ride had a bottom line of $68,920.  And I can tell you with a straight, cold-sober face that the lofty price is absolutely justified.

Standard features?  I’m talking about electronic active front head restraints, a digital heads-up readout that shows vehicle speed and the presence of cars rolling close to your left and right rear bumpers, a smart cruise control system with auto stop/start technology, LED turn signal indicators, a parking-assistance system linked to a rearview camera, premium leather surfaces throughout the cockpit, a heated steering wheel with leather-and-wood trim and a primo navigation system, including cemeteries marked by a tombstone icon.  Love that last part.

Keep in mind that this is the VERY short list of the goodies.  It’s a remarkable package for a South Korean automaker formerly known as an exporter of automobiles that were little better than shell-covered roller skates.

The exterior look is classy-sporty, with the sporty side getting a major bump from are-you-kidding-me 19-inch, turbine-blade polished silver wheels.  My tester drew crowds when parked.  It was that alluring.

On the fly, a 5-liter, the 429-horsepower V-8 dished out power and performance in ever-pleasing doses under the command of my right foot.  Power was not necessarily rip-roaring but smoothly spread out like spilled honey.  Most four-wheel pretenders simply fell off when I asked the Equus for full power during freeway commutes.

And yet, cockpit noise was minimal.  In-car conversations that can be heard among five people with plenty of room to spread out.  Simple pleasures there, but kind of hard to find in full-size sedans today.  Kudos to Hyundai engineers.

Fuel mileage was, uh, not so great at an advertised 15 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.  The Hyundai warranties, per usual, are excellent.

Remember that this 2014 Equus is an upgrade of a previous-generation car, but upgrade doesn’t really cover it.  Quantum leap is more appropriate.

Would I buy an Equus against comparative hardware made by Lexus, Acura, Infiniti or Mercedes-Benz?  I’m not sure I can answer that, but the fact that the Equus is even in that discussion speaks volumes.

The Equus is what I’d call “Hyundai to the Max,” and yeah, the max is pretty magnificent.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sporty Lexus IS 350 reviewed in latest Cruisin' News


Check out my review of the 2014 Lexus IS 350 AWD F SPORT sedan in the latest, April 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.

 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Chevy Malibu: A midsize that matters gets better

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, pay attention.  A go-to midsize passenger car has been extensively reworked for the 2014 model year.

You can call it the new ’Bu, or the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT sedan in my case.  There is plenty to like in this Chevy, but I think you have to begin with the starting price – a most alluring $25,215.

Yes, that’s the kicker.  Most folks might look at this car and think $30,000, but they likely start reaching for their checkbooks at 25-grand, especially when taking in the numerous perks that are part of the deal.

Let’s start with the exterior skin, a very nice upgrade from the previous version.

Designers tweaked the front end with a more prominent, lowered grille, throwing in some very nice-looking black and chrome accents in the process.  This gives the Malibu a more sporty look, as opposed to an “I need to run to the store, hon” four-door errand runner.

In the interest of full disclosure, my Malibu tester was dressed up with extras that bumped the bottom line on the sticker to more than $30,000.  But I can state straight up: I would have been happy with the standard offerings, period.

And those are plentiful: eight-way power/lumbar seating in the cockpit, leather wraps on the steering wheel and shifter, power features to the max, steering wheel controls, a full run of high-tech audio connections and some very cool blue ambient lighting.

Another bonus: Roomier in the back seats.  My volunteer passengers couldn’t stop talking about this.

On the roll, the 2.5-liter. 196-horsepower, four-cylinder engine was spirited enough to handle even the heavy lifting on city streets and dicey freeways.  Handling was one-hand easy.  Cockpit noise was minimal.

The suspension was a bump-absorbing all-star.  My time on roads needing repair was made easy in this tester.

The fuel-saving stop/start engine technology was not always seamless.  I sometimes got a little bit of a jolt sitting at a traffic light, or starting forward after a standing stop.  This was not what I’d call a deal-breaker, however.

My patience was likely boosted by the budget-pleasing fuel mileage ratings of 25 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.

One thing I’d advise prospective 2014 Malibu buyers: Take a close look at the standard safety and security features on the sticker.  It’s a very lengthy and impressive list for a car in this price range.

Looking for an affordable, American-made midsize sedan stuffed with much more than you’d expect from a car priced in the 20s?  This ’Bu might be for you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Racing season's start prompts plenty of questions

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 – So, just a few weeks into the major auto racing series, this much is clear to me.

Nothing.

Really, I mean it.  How can you conclude much of anything, given what we’ve seen so far?

Let’s start with NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. posts an incredibly popular win in the season-opening Daytona 500, and he looks as focused as I’ve ever seen him.  Is he ready to finally win a series title?  In my view, yes.

But hold the phone. A blizzard of Chase-making rules changes for this year is adding a dose of mystery to the Sprint Cup marathon.  Different winners every week, and we’ve been told that winning a race is a virtual write-your-ticket into the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But what if a big bunch of different drivers keep winning?  What does that do to the once-important points race?  From what I know now, winning a race seems to have taken priority over consistently high finishes.

How else to explain Jimmie Johnson’s pained expressions after seeing victory snatched from his grasp late in the past two Cup races?

Even so, I’m guessing that Johnson will win at some point this year and look a little more relaxed the rest of the way.  It’s his title to take away, and as such, he remains the favorite in my book.

Note to NASCAR: Just be sure to straighten out the math for me come Chase time in the fall.

IndyCar rolled out a new series sponsor, Verizon, and a whole lot of folks in different places (and different car paint schemes) in last weekend’s season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Will Power won the race.  Just like old times.  And if things go like they have the past few years, Power or another Team Penske driver will lead the points for most of the season, only to lose in are-you-kidding-me fashion on the last day of the 2014 campaign.

With Dario Franchitti’s injury-forced retirement, the next few races set the table for Helio Castroneves, who stands to become only the fourth driver to win four Indianapolis 500s, joining A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

To be truthful, I have no idea if Castroneves has the machine to pull it off. And frankly, we won’t know much about the 240 mph portion of the season until the series goes to Indy in May.  Even the May 10 Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Indy’s road course probably won’t tell us much about the May 25 main course of sustained speed, aka the 98th running of the Indy 500.

One other note on Indy No. 98: If I was not driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, I would be very concerned about defending Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan (pictured) now driving for Chip.  Given Ganassi’s letter-perfect team and Kanaan’s remarkable ability on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, he’s my early pick to win the big race.  I don’t anticipate that changing come late May.

Finally, Formula One.  Wow, talk about rule changes ruling the races.  With ungodly fuel limitations and a power plant package so technically complex that it might baffle top engineers at NASA, predicting the long term F1 future is all but impossible.

After the season opener in Australia, I thought the race-winning standard might be whoever survives the first two laps without the engine stopping … or those cars that finish the race before running out of fuel.

Yes, Mercedes obviously is ahead of the competition through two races.  But if we’ve learned anything from past Formula One competition, it’s that huge changes in competitiveness can occur week to week.

Ominous sign: Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel went from hopeless in Australia to third on the podium in Malaysia last weekend.  That rate of improvement from the relentless Vettel would worry me deeply if I was not driving for Red Bull-Renault.

 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Chevy Silverado has all the proper pickup perks

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, CaliforniaThe competition for attention in America’s pickup truck market is something to behold … a relentless stakes-raising game of horsepower, toughness, interior comforts and muscular styling.

With an eclectic mix of everyday drivers, ranchers, farmers and construction teams stepping up to buy pickups, I’ve always felt that the best thing you can do in the ever-evolving market is not mess up a good thing.

And fortunately, Chevrolet has more than held serve with its Silverado.

My ride was the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country 4WD Crew Cab going for just a shade less than $50,000.

For that kind of money, you definitely want it to be right.  And my Silverado hit all the marks.  Hit them quite well, to be exact.

Power comes from a 5.3-liter V-8 engine with 355 horsepower.  This throaty power plant has more than enough juice to do the job, and it emits an impressive roar at full song.  Ordinarily, engine noise invading the cabin is an annoyance, and Chevy has touted the quietness of the interior cabin.

And  yes, it is quiet … relatively speaking.

Frankly, in this case, I liked to hear the engine’s growl.  The V-8 all but screamed that the rugged-looking truck was ready to put in some hard work.

My ride was generously loaded with comfort, convenience and even luxury features.  It still amazes me how much finery is being loaded into pickup trucks in this day and age, a far cry from what I experienced as a youngster.

Fuel mileage comes in so-so at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the open road.  Well, this is a big V-8, so I can’t complain too much.

If you’re truck shopping, keep in mind that a Chevrolet Silverado comes in numerous configurations.  In fact, you’d be a sap to go looking for one without doing a good week’s worth of homework.  There are that many variables to consider.

Silverado’s styling is sweetly intimidating with a chromed-out, get-outta-my-way wall of a grille on the front end.  Gotta have that in today’s market.

I absolutely loved the steps carved into the corners of the rear bumper.  For years, it seemed like no one wanted to admit that climbing up into a truck box from the back end was a chore that could cause you injury, depending on your age, physical condition or what you were toting.

To be able to step up on one of the Silverado’s rear corners and handle/move cargo from outside the bed was a serene experience. My aging back thanks you.

Overall, the Silverado remains a solid “A” grade pickup, with all the tools needed for the road, the job site or the ranch/farm.

Thanks to GM for not messing up a very good thing.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sans flash, VW's Passat has a lot to like

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 Volkswagen Passat sedan makes its way onto a lot of “most liked” lists, and it’s easy to see why.

It comes in nearly 20 trim levels available, is generously equipped, comes off as peppy but with good fuel mileage, is comfortable and it’s affordable four-door transportation for families.  What’s not to like?

Even the comparatively high starting price of $31,715 for my upper-end 2014 Passat SEL Premium was hard to argue with, given all that comes with it.  That included plentiful safety features and standard comfort/convenience perks like power/heated front seats and exterior mirrors, leather surfaces and a rearview camera system.

Styling is fairly simple for the latest Passat, but again, I can’t argue with that because the car is a solid sedan offering with no over-the-top attempts to make it look like an Infiniti sport-sedan or a some random Corvette offspring.

Is this formula sounding familiar?  Yeah, think Camry.  Or Malibu.  Sell the world a sensible sedan, and they’ll bring bags of cash to your doorstep.

For me, where the Passat really excelled beyond the median was in performance, thanks to a 1.8-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine rated at 170 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque.

This particular power plant dished out responsiveness and performance at a most-pleasing level.  I found the turbo engine particularly helpful in negotiating crowded city streets.  Some turbos don’t like this chore, and there is lag time trying to work your way through the traffic maze.

Not so, this Passat.

And yet, check out the fuel mileage figures: 24 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.  Pretty impressive with a zippy turbo under the hood.

And 34 mpg makes for few stops on long road trips on freeways.

Cabin quietness was pretty good.  Three adults in the back seat did indeed feel a bit cramped, but the interior cabin is an easy comfort zone for four folks.

The Passat might not have enough flash for some folks, but it has so much of everything else that people look for in a passenger car that you walk away asking, “Who really needs flash, anyway?”

VW continues to emerge as a giant auto-making force on the planet, making progress in multiple international markets.  When you know how to make a good car, like the Passat, success comes naturally.