Thursday, August 27, 2015

Positive changes for Hyundai's Azera sedan

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 ­Devoted readers will recall that I liked the 2014 Hyundai Azera sedan I reviewed a year ago.

There’s a lot more to like in the 2015 model, inside and out.

Hyundai dug in with both hands to pour changes into this model, positioned just-right between the automaker’s midsize Sonata and the luxo-loaded, full-size Genesis.

The 2015 Azera looks sharp, with a mix of elegant sculpting on the front end and a “wanna race?” aero look in profile.  For 2015, Hyundai made changes to the grille, the front and rear bumper fascia and wheels (they’re now 18-inch alloys).  My tester, a Limited edition, got the LED fog lights.

The hands-free “Smart Trunk” opener is part of the deal.  Think of it as a new magic toy with which to entertain the neighbors.

Inside, things are comfortable very thoughtfully laid out.  I really liked the eight-inch color LCD navigation/audio display screen.  My eyes aren’t improving in my old age, after all.

Safety features are top-drawer, including the most helpful, standard blind-spot detection system, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist.  The blind-spot lookout in particular is a comfort.

Handling is light and nimble.  The 3.3-liter V-6 rated at 293 horsepower is a willing power plant and offered no hesitation in all conditions.

The starting price on the tester was $38,200, and you might be asking: Nearly 40K for this sedan?  Yes, and darn well worth it.

Happily, the changes brought forward in 2015 did not include shortening the list of standard features.  The tested Azera included a wealth of already-included perks, including leather seating, power folding/heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators and a tilt/slide sunroof.

Feeling better now?  I thought so.

Naturally, this being a Hyundai, the warranties are generous.

Fuel mileage is not so bad at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. The engine gives up a little bit in fuel for what it can deliver when your right foot is heavy.  No complaints here.

This Azera is an ideal choice for a family sedan that gets regular work over the long term, but you don’t want to drop a ton of money into the deal.  Costs about $40,000, feels more like a $50,000 car.

Can’t ask for much more than that.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Nissan's Murano stands out with panache, perks

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, this is a bit strange, but stick with me.

I recently reviewed a 2015 Nissan Pathfinder sport-utility vehicle, and this time around, I’m talking about my week in the 2015 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD sport-ute.

Despite having the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 260 horsepower and being priced fairly close together ($40,875 for the Pathfinder SL 4X4 and $43,955 for the Murano), the Murano seemed incredibly different from the Pathfinder.

Yes, I get it.  The Pathfinder and Murano are two distinct beasts.  But this Murano just felt so much more … so much more … SUBSTANTIAL.  Higher up on the food chain. A prime cut of filet on the steak menu.  Playing the big room instead of the lounge.

Know what I mean?

Maybe not, but after deep meditation and self-analysis, I came to the conclusion that I was swept up in the various changes and enhancements stuffed into the Murano, with 2015 marking the model’s third-generation debut.

Lots to talk about there.

Let’s start with the exterior design.  Nissan touts the “V-Motion front end, signature lighting and floating roofline.”  This is all well and good if you’re having drinks with a car designer and need to keep the conversation flowing, but for me, I loved the Stealth fighter angles and sculpted chops of the Murano’s body.

It might not register on the radar, but my tester drew numerous admiring glances from fellow motorists who might have been wise to keep their eyes on the road.  Still, I couldn’t fault their eyes for style.

Nissan must have blown the budget on consultants.  Hence the “NASA-inspired Zero Gravity” front and rear outboard seats.  OK, again, I’m speechless.  But I for one was comfortable, and my volunteer passengers likewise commented on comfort, and luxury.

The tester was packed with a Four Seasons Hotel level of comfort and convenience features.  Heated and cooled front seats, leather everything and a nine-speaker, blow-the-doors-off Bose audio system were particularly pleasing.

Maybe the cut-through-the-wind styling was working on my brain, but I aggressively pushed this Murano into tight spaces and around tight corners.  Every time, the Murano’s rock-solid stance put a smile on my face.

Plentiful safety features were a comfort.   The Murano can be had with four cameras and three radar sensors.  If you collide with something with all that, you really don’t have a case and should settle out of court.  Properly set, the Murano is ever on guard for blind spot intruders, panic-braking freeway fools and cruise control-disrupting lane changers.

Fuel mileage is pretty fair at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Bottom line: I still like the Pathfinder as a long road trip warrior, but if I wanted to spend my dough on an attention-grabbing, sporty-looking SUV that looks right at home parked at the country club or tearing around a sharp corner in the Sierra Nevada foothills, I’d opt for the Murano.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Aluminum-bodied Ford F-150 remains a top truck

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 ­There’s big news in the American pickup truck segment, as big as it gets in recent memory.

For 2015, Ford changed things up in its F-150 pickup, the star of the automaker’s F-Series lineup that has dominated U.S. sales for nearly two generations.  The most headline-grabbing change was the addition of high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloys in the truck body.

The biggest impact of the move was trimming some 700 pounds of body weight.

Naturally, given the rough-and-tough nature of the pickup segment, you would have thought that Ford announced the introduction of bud vases to its monster-selling truck.

The mere mention of the word “aluminum” sent some into shock.

Chevrolet wasted little time offering up a TV commercial where hapless human test subjects were forced to choose between an aluminum cage and a steel cage (a reference to the primary body material in the Chevrolet Silverado pickup) when a massive, angry bear walked into the room.  Natch, the steel cage gets picked every time.

OK, I understand marketing, but if you’re choosing a pickup truck based solely on the message in that commercial … well, let’s just say that I feel sorry for you.

The truth is that the Ford F-150’s new cocktail of aluminum and steel gives the truck exceptional structural integrity.  And it’s important to remember that the aluminum used by Ford is not what your mother used to wrap up the leftover meatloaf.  It is light years beyond that.

And furthermore, the 2015 Ford truck’s towing max and payload capacity actually increased with the new skin.

Obviously, the lighter body weight equates to better gas mileage, but it’s still pretty rough.  The tested, opulently dressed up 2015 Ford F-150 4X4 SuperCrew Platinum (with the 145-inch wheelbase) was rated at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.

I noticed the lighter weight in another area: When I punched the gas on the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 rated at 365 horsepower, I was treated to acceleration that I don’t recall experiencing in previous F-150s.  And the tested truck moved up through the revs with sedan-like efficiency.  That was very impressive.

The tester was loaded with goodies and perks, but the small things caught most of my attention.  That included the thoughtful box side steps that extend or retract with pressure from your foot.  And the power running boards made it possible for me and my passengers to step up into the big truck without making fools of ourselves.

I give this 2015 F-150 a solid “A” grade, plain and simple.

Are there red flags to consider?  In truth, yes.

For starters, the bottom line on my tester was a whopping $61,650.  If you can easily wrap your head around that price for a single truck, well, you’re a much more modern-thinking gearhead than I am.  Yes, there are cheaper versions available to buyers.

And for the record, both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Edmunds.com conducted tests concluding that repairing the aluminum-bodied F-150 is more expensive than like repairs to its steel-bodied predecessor.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Beast in Acura TLX outpaces luxury features

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

Sacramento, CaliforniaSo, Acura seems to be getting serious again about this horsepower/performance thing.

Besides reviving the NSX supercar, Acura is offering an all-new, performance-oriented sedan for 2015.  It’s the Acura TLX, or as I call it, the performance sedan for those of us who don’t have a million dollars to facilitate purchase of the new-generation NSX.

Let me assure you, this is a good thing.  My week in the 2015 Acura TLX 3.5 SH-AWD Advance – yeah, I know, the model name is way too long – was an enjoyable one.  The performance perks overrode the luxury features, and that’s saying something in an Acura.

The 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 engine maxes at nearly 400 horsepower, and it’s strong enough to make you forget that you are driving a four-door machine.  That’s not an easy trick.  The recently reviewed Dodge Charger comes to mind as one of the few sedans on the market with enough oomph to negate the stereotype-prompting sedan label.

The TLX blazed up and down the freeways like a champ, and its nimble handling on crowded city streets was a surprise to yours truly.  Darn thing handled like a Miata.  Amazing.

It says here on the sticker that my ride was being assisted by a NINE-speed automatic transmission.  Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference.  Might as well have been an old-school four speed.  Works just as well for me.  Is the double-digit gearbox coming to mainstream America?  Probably.

The engine’s pop was matched to so-so fuel mileage numbers of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.  Translation: If you want to operate this TLX sedan as a family vacation vehicle, you can do so and get some pretty nice mileage numbers.  Or you can blow it out with the understanding that you’re going to be visiting the gas pumps more frequently.  Totally your call.

No doubt, you should smell the roses when you drive.  On that score, the TLX does not disappoint.  The super-long list of standard features on the tester included a power moonroof, a strong navigation system, heated front seats, a 10-speaker premium audio system and even a remote engine-start feature.  That’s just the short list.

For all this, the sticker read $45,595 with nary a you-pay-for-it option in sight.  Pricey? Yes.  Worth it in this segment?  Yes.

Volunteer passengers were wowed by the tester.  When I asked them to estimate the starting price, all ventured north of $50,000.  A couple weighed in at $60,000-plus.

Passengers were impressed by the audio system, ample room for normal-size adults to spread out and a quiet cabin that fostered normal-volume, thoughtful conversations.

For an automaker that has periodically struggled to separate itself from the pack with a standout luxury/performance offering, I think this new TLX is just what Acura needs.  It’s likely to appeal to a broad base of luxury sedan and performance-car buyers.

As first efforts go, the TLX is a solid “B-plus” to “A-minus” machine.  It’s certainly worth a test drive among luxury/performance sedan shoppers.
 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Audi A3 sedan reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Audi A3 TDI sedan in the latest, August 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.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pathfinder renews urge to take that long road trip

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 spent a week with an old friend recently.  Technically, it was a 2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4X4 sport-utility vehicle, but trust me, we go way back.

Remember when the Pathfinder made its debut back in 1985, available only as a two-door model.  It was definitely more truck-like back then.

Nissan cleverly marketed the vehicle as a regular participant in endurance runs and super-long road treks over plains, mountains and streams.  Back then, just the Pathfinder offered up the promise of seeing new, faraway places on roads yet untraveled.

You got the vibe just backing the vehicle out of the driveway.

Yeah, I’m a sentimental sucker, but it works for me.

Now, four vehicle generations later, my week in the 2015 Pathfinder once again had me itching to be out on the long and winding road.  But this time around, things have changed.

The current Pathfinder – reportedly due for major upgrades over the next year – is a lot more vehicle than what I remember.  And much more luxurious.  In fact, I couldn’t envision taking this beauty off the road and into the mud up in the wilds of Alaska.

Why would I want to mess up the gleaming “Cayenne Red” paint job?

Still, I’m sure this current 4X4 could plow through the mud if asked.  The 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 260 horsepower performed at level well above that advertised number.  The Pathfinder was strong off the line and peppy on prolonged accelerations.  It drove lighter than it looked.

The exterior look is SUV basic, but smooth over the top.  Plentiful safety/security features are standard – including a blind spot-monitoring system­ –  to make you feel secure at the wheel.

Inside, the seven-passenger SUV was a study in contemporary luxury and motorist-pleasing perks.

Leather all around.  Rear-view monitor.  Rear sonar system.  Four 12-volt power jacks.  My ride was dressed up with a $2,030 tech package that included a primo 13-speaker Bose audio system, a top-tier navigation system and an Around View Monitor with four wide-angle cameras to help me avoid unwanted contact.

The extras brought the bottom line on the sticker to $40,875, which is about right.  I can’t imagine trading in this vehicle after three or four years.  No, I’d look at it as a 10-year investment, minimum.  Consider it your ticket to travel the open road for years to come.

Worth noting on the plus side: solid safety ratings.  On the other side of the coin: fuel mileage not terrific at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

The Pathfinder competes against some other solid models in this sector, and in my view, it stacks up quite well when compared with its rivals.

Sure, it can do the daily commute, or the suburban chores.  And if you’re thinking about heading out on the path not yet taken, well, you probably know what to do from there.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Navigator upgrade for 2015 is a crowd-pleaser

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 ­The sizable 2015 Lincoln Navigator 4X4 might just as well be called a rolling hotel room, but that wouldn’t quite say it all.

It’s a rolling LUXURY hotel room.  A five-star special.  Take my word on this.

You can get jaded reviewing pricey motor vehicles over the long haul, but I am not one to ignore the plush glories of this vigorously reworked-for-2015 sport-utility vehicle.

Where to begin?  Well, it’s impressive in size, so big that I felt compelled to step carefully around it, lest it become offended.

Yes, the style is somewhat boxy, but for practical transportation and big-time cargo-carrying purposes, the advantages of practical styling cannot be denied.

Inside, wow, what a blast.

A cavernous interior could easily carry the Golden State Warriors starting five and their gear.  And in comfort too.

My ride had the “Reserve Equipment Group” option package, a $6,850 luxo-fest that included a leather-wrapped instrument panel, armrests and gear shifter; premium Ziricote wood trim; and premium leather on all three rows of seats (22-inch polished aluminum wheels also are part of the deal).

Lincoln kindly points out that Ziricote is a natural-grain wood commonly used as accent material on yachts.  Who knew?  Not me, I’ve yet to own my first yacht.

On top of that, the Navigator experience includes heated/cooled front seats, second-row heated seats, powered third-row seating that can fold flat, power adjustable pedals with memory settings, power/folding/heated exterior mirrors, a power liftgate, power side running boards that automatically deploy to welcome driver and passengers, a voice-activated navigation system and a rear auxiliary climate-control system.

Oh, the usual automatic safety/warning systems also are present.

So, how does it drive?

The tester was surprisingly peppy and smooth for such a big brute.  Power comes from a 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine rated at a max 380 horsepower.  That’s more than enough to do the job, although the job gets done with wallet-sapping fuel mileage ratings of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.

Still, I was impressed with the Lincoln’s get-up-and-go attitude on hill climbs and freeway entrance ramps.  Also noteworthy: Very little noise reaches the interior cabin, and the vehicle absolutely eats up road imperfections to the point where you begin to think that all the roadways were repaved overnight.

Here’s your warning: The tester’s bottom line came in at $73,395, which should give you a clue as to what income bracket we’re talking about here.

To be honest, I don’t usually get excited about a big, high-end, gas-drinking SUV these days.  But I’m making an exception with the newly upgraded Navigator.  The reworked sport-ute does everything well in the full-size luxury segment.