Thursday, August 28, 2014

Here's that Hyundai you could have had

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 routinely have conversations with excited people telling me about their latest sedan purchase.

The names Lexus, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Infiniti, Cadillac, Chevy, Ford, Acura, Audi and other usual suspects roll off the tongue like water over Niagara Falls.

Sometimes, I come back with a variation of the marketing campaign used by a beverage maker: Wow, you could have had a Hyundai.

And I really mean it.

I’ve lost track of the times that I’ve stacked up a Hyundai sedan against a competitor and found that the South Korean product not only had more perks, but could be had for a price that was thousands less than that displayed by the competition.

A recent week in a 2014 Hyundai Azera Limited sedan not only reinforced that opinion but strengthened it.

Let’s start with the dollars.

Starting price on the tester was $34,750.  It was dressed up with a nearly $2,200 Premium Package that included fancy 19-inch silver alloy wheels, a tilt/slide sunroof, a power rear sunshade, manually operated rear side window sunshades and a rear parking-assist system.  All that is very nice and helped bring the bottom line to $37,905.

But if you throw that out, mentally speaking at least, what’s left if a long list of items shown as INCLUDED on the sticker.

That includes Hyundai’s super-generous warranties, vehicle stability control, traction control, brake-assist systems, heated/power folding exterior mirrors with turn signal indicators, chrome-tipped dual exhausts, leather seating surfaces with heat front and back, proximity key entry, high-intensity headlights, ventilated front seats, power tilt/telescoping steering column, navigation system with 8-inch screen and rearview cameras, a rockin’ Infinity Logic 7 surround-sound audio system, HD radio and a host of built-in audio/link-up technology.

So, how much did you pay for that loaded sedan made by (insert automaker not named Hyundai here)?

Yeah, I thought so.

Oh, the Azera looks sharp too, mine particularly so with a Silver Frost Metallic exterior paint scheme set off perfectly with Graphite Black interior touches.

 The 3.3-liter V-6 is an appropriately gutsy power plant with nearly 300 horsepower and an ear-pleasing exhaust note.  In my hands, the steering made the car feel much lighter than the vehicle weight rating, yet the Azera never felt loose in slalom maneuvers meant to break rear traction.  Kudos to Hyundai engineers for building in that much fun.

Fuel mileage is pretty good at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

Overall, this Azera is a no-brainer “B-plus” of a car, and upon further reflection, I’d say an “A-minus” is the decidedly more accurate grade.  And at this price, consider it a worthy back-to-school special.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A tale of two Accords: Green and golden

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 – Here’s a sign of the times: I recently tested two environmentally friendly Honda Accords, and the plug-in version was easily the sexier of the two.

So there, I said it.

Reasons?  Sure, I have them.

The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring sedan was just great, with all the styling, engineering perfection, fit-and-finish excellence and plentiful standard features you expect in one of the nation’s best-selling cars.

And the superstar fuel mileage figures of 50 miles per gallon in the city and 45 mpg on the highway are likewise great.

But when the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid (pictured) showed up at my door, I was fairly smitten.

The sharply-cut, silver-and-black blades on the wheel covers looked like something you’d see on a sports car prototype.  The rest of the exterior sculpting was sporty-appealing. The Plug-in radiated aggressiveness just sitting there.

And naturally, you get the same eye-popping fuel mileage numbers (nearly 50 mpg on both city and highway) with the bonus of an easy-to-use plug-in feature.  The plug-in is the state-of-the-art system that delivers electric power for as long as the charge lasts before the standard four-cylinder engine seamlessly takes over the powering chores.

A regenerative braking system helps boost the vehicle’s electric supply, so if you are a conservative, forward-thinking driver, you’re likely going to be challenged to spend much money on fuel.

The Plug-in starts at around $40,000, but if you intend to keep it and do the long-range math on reduced expenditures at the gas pumps, you should come out ahead, financially speaking, in the long run.

Also included in the deal is a long list of customer-pleasing perks, including a navigation system, rearview camera, automatic on-the-move warning systems and heated front seats.

You also get that cool feature that gives you a long-range, side/rear visual of the right side of your car in the nav screen when you hit the right-turn signal.

Simply put, the already popular Accord now comes in flavors stuffed with the latest driving, safety, comfort and fuel-saving technology. Translation: A good car is even more alluring.

The standard hybrid Accord is a sound purchase, and obviously, I feel the same about the Plug-in with the exterior package that won my heart.

Picking your personal favorite is a gambler’s dream, because no matter what you decide, you can’t lose.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reworked Subaru Forester is best version yet

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 – Over the years, I’ve driven something like a dozen versions of the Subaru Forester, a sport-utility vehicle that basically wrote the book on combining on-road sophistication with macho off-road ruggedness.

But I’ve never driven a better Forester than the 2014 model with which I recently spent a week.

It was smoother, stronger, better-looking and more comfortable inside than any other in the long line of Foresters I’ve previously wheeled around.

No wonder it was named Motor Trend magazine’s Sport-Utility of the Year for 2014.  Subaru initiated an extensive makeover for 2014, marking the fourth generation of the venerable model.  This remake was not a simple window dressing.  It was a serious rework of the SUV inside and out.

They made it way better than it was … or ever was.

OK, I admit that my tester was the top dog of eight trim levels, a 2.0XT Touring edition with the 2-liter, turbocharged boxer engine grinding out a max 250 horsepower.  Lots of perks with the tested model as well, which explains the somewhat hefty starting price of $32,995.  Mine had even more extras to push the bottom line to nearly $36,500.

Price and specs were forgotten once I started driving the thing.  Is this a Forester?  Can’t be.

My previous seat time in Foresters was, well, pedestrian at best.  My tester, by comparison, was a run-with-the-bulls rush.  A consistently powerful, no-lag blast from the power plant accompanied by exceptionally light steering enabled me to pull off some unexpectedly agile moves in tight city traffic and amid dicey freeway commuters.  This is a most-responsive sport-ute, and dare I say, a genuinely fun blast to drive.

And it has all the off-road goodies you need: 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, multiple braking systems, multiple control systems, generous cargo room, power rear gate with height memory, and naturally, all-wheel drive.

Multiple safety systems are top-notch.

Inside, the Forester is downright elegant in appearance and touch.  A cluster of clearly understood controls abound, easily operated from the 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjuster.

Outside, the Forester still looks very much like an SUV that will take you over a rough trail, but the latest sculpture is –  how can I say it – CLEANER than what I remember. Rounder too.  This Forester looks like it has spent a lot of time in the gym.  Or maybe extended time on the styling engineers’ computer screens.

Simply said, it all works.  It’s an “A” effort on an old favorite.

Friday, August 8, 2014

VW Jetta surprises with performance, agility

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

Sacramento, California Let me state straight-up that I like the Volkswagen Jetta sedan, and I’m obviously not alone in that.  It has long been Volkswagen of America’s No. 1 selling car.

Yes, the styling is pretty conservative, and yes, a brand-spanking-new 2015 Jetta was unveiled recently at the New York International Auto Show.

That new Jetta is something to look forward to, but let me suggest that if you can lay your hands on a 2014 Volkswagen SEL for a good price, go for it.

Why?  Because my 2014 SEL tester ran like a scalded cat.  This surprised me immensely, because the sticker told me that the power plant was a 1.8-liter, turbocharged in-line 4 with 170 horsepower.  Sure, that’s fine, but my ride really surpassed the expectations spelled out in print.  Truth be told, it all but demanded to be driven like it was stolen.

Imagine my surprise the first time I encountered a freeway slowpoke and rather GENTLY nudged the gas pedal.  Instead of slight increase in propulsion, I was pushed back into my seat and propelled to the rear bumper of the aforementioned poke in the time it takes to sneeze.  Darn near ran into the guy.

Now that the Jetta had my attention, I started making increasingly aggressive moves and was feeling like Mario Andretti in no time.  The performance was just so far beyond what one normally gets from a max horsepower rating of 170 and 184 foot-pounds of torque.  From a front-driver, no less.

And oh, there’s a bonus: exceptional agility.

The Jetta whistled into freeway holes without creating disruption, and its turn-on-a-dime dexterity made mincemeat of crawling downtown traffic.  Needless to say, I had a fun week in this Jetta, pretty much blasting anticipation of the upcoming 2015 version out of my mind for the time being.

For all its surprising, beastly oomph, my Jetta was quite civilized on the inside.  The long list of standard comfort and convenience features included satellite radio, a power sunroof, heated front seats, rear seat pass-through via armrest, front fog lights, heated exterior power mirrors and more.

Two reasonable-size people can fit in the back seats.  I would not try fitting three back there.

The tested Jetta’s safety features were plentiful, accompanied by most-favorable crash test ratings.  Extensive warranties also get a checkmark in the Jetta’s plus column.  And the Jetta can be had in, I’m serious, 17 trim levels.

Fuel mileage is very nice at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. The starting fare for all this: a reasonable $25,590.

No wonder VW sells so many of these Jettas on American soil.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cadillac ELR is reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2014 Cadillac ELR in the latest, August 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, August 1, 2014

Like your SUV loaded? Tiguan R-Line is all that

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 Tiguan is arguably the least publicized of Volkswagen’s offerings.

And that’s too bad because it’s actually a pretty good five-passenger sport-utility vehicle.

My tester was the Tiguan R-Line, with the “R-Line” treatment being added for the 2014 model year.  The R-Line package gives you extra goodies inside and out, and its performance level is impressive.

What you need to consider, however, is how much you want to spend on an R-Line, especially considering that a basic Tiguan starts at slightly less than $23,500. My R-Line tester wore a sticker with a bottom line of $37,745.

Big difference, right?

Fortunately, the R-Line comes with a lot to make the sticker price easier to accept.

The power plant is a 2-liter, turbocharged, in-line 4 with a max horsepower rating of 200.  This was more than enough oomph to move my front-driving tester around with swagger and somewhat noisy authority.  Combined with a sport suspension, my Tiguan sailed along the roadways with something resembling hot-rod-SUV arrogance.  Not that I had any trouble with that.

Looked good too, especially riding on those 19-inch alloy wheels.

The inside R-Line treatment includes a “metallic-finish” dash that did look pretty cool, and the flat-bottom steering wheel added to the turbo-racer feel of the vehicle.  Paddle shifters were part of the deal too.

The standard list of features was lengthy and included perks such as power heatable exterior mirrors, roof rails, xenon headlights, sexy-looking LED daytime running lights, leather seating surfaces, heatable front seats, a rearview camera system and a panoramic power sunroof.

Feeling better about that nearly $38,000 sticker price now?  Yeah, I thought so.

While not a massive SUV, I was impressed with the relatively high-riding view I had from the Tiguan’s cockpit, and the 360-degree field of vision was clear and comforting.

A package of generous warranties comes with the Tiguan R-Line, and the safety systems lineup is likewise noteworthy.

Fuel mileage is OK at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

Overall grade: A solid “B.”

But again, a smallish SUV going for almost $38,000 is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea.  I’m sure the Tiguan is a comparatively mundane, run-around, second car in households with daily drivers wearing Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac or Lexus badges, but nobody said life was fair.

If you have the kind of coin to drop on a VW Tiguan R-Line, I salute you.  You’re getting a good one.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Buick's LaCrosse sedan is worth knowing

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 – Buick has been bombarding the TV airwaves with commercials insisting that the public really doesn’t “know” the General Motors division.  Some ads show puzzled folks standing in front of a gleaming car that they’re quite sure is not a Buick.

I guess the iconic Buick logo the approximate size of a Frisbee on the front grille didn’t tip them off.

Anyway, I get it.  Yes, Buick has made changes, and it made some pretty big ones for its 2014 LaCrosse full-size sedan.

Change is good in this case.  I confess that I liked the LaCrosse as it was, feeling it was a relatively well-kept secret in a market where most buyers’ eyes seemed drawn to all those shiny Lexus, Infiniti, BMW and Mercedes-Benz sedans.

The 2014 LaCrosse was redesigned inside and out.  On the front end, a seriously imposing grille (Buick calls it a “waterfall” grille) can be accented by saucy-looking LED lamps.  The wrap-around lamps on the tail end look pretty sharp as well.

Inside, the interior layout of controls – a reworked center stack is part of the new package – is much easier to learn and use from the driver’s seat.

The LaCrosse has a ton of tech goodies on the menu, including warning systems overseeing lane changes, blind spots and potential collisions front and rear.  Yes, some of these can be sensitive and jarring, but for the most part, they function appropriately enough so as not to disturb the pleasure of driving.

Figuring out the alphanumeric-named trim levels of the current LaCrosse lineup might throw you off course, but in simple terms, my tester was a LaCrosse Premium with front-wheel drive.  It was incredibly dressed up with extras, which pushed the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $39,755 way up the ladder to $49,235.

Say it with me: WOW!

Considering the full-size crowd of cars that the LaCrosse must compete with, I suppose that explains the sticker jolt to some degree.  Needless to say, prospective buyers should carefully consider the option packages being offered on the LaCrosse.

Power on my ride was provided by a 3.6-liter V-6 with 304 horsepower.  The power plant was responsive and capable in all situations, and on-demand, high-end power rushed to the fore quickly when asked.

Fuel mileage is so-so at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Overall, this LaCrosse holds its own amid the feature-loaded, glittery competition.  It’s a solid “B” or “B-plus” of an American sedan.

Is this Buick worth knowing?   Absolutely.  If you haven’t test driven a Buick passenger car in a long time, this LaCrosse is a ride worthy of your time.