Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lexus LS price has risen, so has overall quality

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 Lexus LS sedan has long been one of my favorite high-end passenger cars.

In fact, years ago, I told friends and relatives that even if I had millions of dollars to spend, I’d likely still buy the LS as my every day transporter, given its sublime blend of style, performance and luxury.

This was when a Lexus LS 430 started in the mid-$50,000s.

Times have changed.  The recently tested 2015 Lexus LS 460L rear-rear driver started at $78,820 and was dressed up with extras to put the bottom line at $84,605.

Say it with me: WOW!

Yes, power, perks and other opulent wonders have been added over the years to enhance that old LS 430, pushing the price higher and higher.  For me, at this price, my week in the tested sedan was a trip to Fantasy Island.

Considered in that fashion, I appreciated the current LS for what it has to offer.

It looks sleek and strong-shouldered on the outside, but the overall vibe is class and luxury.

Inside, the luxury is overwhelming.

Plentiful luxo features are beautifully laid out amid rich wood and leather appointments.  The wood-and-leather steering wheel alone feels like it must cost 20-grand.

There’s ample front and rear room for five adults.  The comfort level is off the charts.

Performance from the 4.8-liter, 386-horsepower V-8 is impressive.  Power is dished up in buttery style, so smooth that you can be touching 80 miles per hour before you even sense something resembling high speed.

A lengthy list of safety features makes you feel secure beyond the sedan’s instantly apparent bank vault characteristics on the move.

Fuel mileage is nothing to write home about, with the sizable V-8 consuming 16 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

That’s to be expected.  Fuel costs are not high on the list of concerns voiced by Lexus LS buyers.

If anything, the luxury and performance level of the current LS line moves it up into the high Mercedes-Benz, low Bentley level.  It’s that good.  And yes, the price required to own one would certainly qualify for those lofty levels as well.

If you are sufficiently well off to consider a luxury car, the LS 460L should be on your test-drive list, even if you’re pondering other cars with stickers starting at six figures.  At the high end, cost is relative.  But the charms of this current-generation LS sedan are universal and worth sampling.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Lexus, er Avalon, sedan is the total package

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 said it before, and it remains true as the ocean tides: Take the Toyota Avalon sedan’s badging away, and it is a worthy Lexus in disguise.

That’s especially true of the tested 2015 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring SE, a loaded luxury liner with crowd appeal.

The starting price is entirely appropriate at $37,170, and my ride had not a single extra.  No problem there.  It had plenty to begin with.

The short list included leather trim, heated seats, heated exterior mirrors, duel chrome-tipped exhausts, a power tilt/slide moonroof, paddle shifters, blind spot monitor system, and on and on and on …

Sure, it helped that it looked sporty with racy alloy wheels and a paint job called, I kid you not, Attitude Black.  These feel-good touches are a gift in a sizable sedan.

What’s not to like?

Maybe the gas mileage, which comes in at a somewhat tepid 21 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

That’s a small price to pay for a willing 3.5-liter V-6 engine that generates a max 268 horsepower.

OK, this is not a tire-shredding power plant, but it does most things very well, including freeway on-ramp accelerations and hill climbing.  At the top of long, steep hills, the engine will let you know that it’s doing its best.

Steering is direct and firm.  Freeway cruises are smooth and quiet.  The Avalon was mega-stable, even on twisty roads navigated a high speed.

If you don’t go the SUV/minivan route, this Avalon might be one of the top five long-road-trip family sedans out there.  It’s comfortable for the adults riding up front, and the kids have enough room/comfort/entertainment options to keep them from constantly asking if we’re there yet.

That alone might be worth the price of purchase.

If you use the Avalon as strictly a commuter, you’ve made a wise choice.  It has strong reliability ratings over the long haul, and I would think most Avalon purchasers are inclined to keep the car for five years or more.  Maybe much more.

You can’t argue with a passenger car that transports you and cargo with little or no complaint (and I’m talking primarily about surprise trips to your mechanic here, folks) through many seasons.

A stands for Avalon, and that is its overall grade, hands-down.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Dodge Charger is formidable, even with four doors

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

Sacramento, California – I wanted seat time in the 2015 Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger because, well … who wouldn’t want time in these classic American muscle nameplates, both having undergone serious changes for the current model year?

We’re talking about the Charger this month, so let me address your first complaint right away:  IT HAS FOUR DOORS!  HOW CAN IT BE A MUSCLE CAR?

Here’s how: The tested R/T model had a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with 370 horsepower, 395 foot-pounds of torque and a start-up rumble that all but screamed a warning to get the kids off the streets, because the big dog is rolling.

I don’t take an engine’s rumble lightly.  It’s a big deal to me.  If the car’s first noise appears to signal the end of time as we know it, so much the better.  After all, again, this is American muscle.  Yes, Toyota is selling more cars in the United States than your grandfather ever dreamed of, but there is a source of muscular pride to be had in a Dodge Charger.

And sure enough, mine showed up with four doors.  Imagine that.  The fact is that old-school muscle enthusiasts have families and occasionally enjoy a good rip down an arrow-straight country road in a Charger.  It happens.

Gas mileage?  You had to ask.  It’s a pretty awful 16 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.  But you get what you pay for when you lust for the big Hemi.

In the case of my 2015 Dodge Charger R/T rear-driver, the starting price was $32,995.  My ride was incredibly dressed up – including a nearly $1,800 technology package with a blind spot/cross path-detection system and 10 Beats speakers – to bring this “Super” Charger to $43,460 on the sticker’s bottom line.

This is NOT a lightweight car, but the zero-to-60 mph time is a mere 5.1 seconds, and the beast at full song is a surprisingly agile freeway performer.  In fact, I felt the steering was a bit mushy at low revs.  Simply put, this car was built to get out and go, and endorse that goal.

The sparsely-appointed Chargers of days gone by have been replaced by a downright luxurious interior cabin.  Comfort and convenience abound in the contemporary Charger.

Happily, the exterior changes for 2015 did not take away from the Charger’s aggressive stance.  The front grille looks ready to swallow up pokes and delivers a “get outta my way, here I come” message with its appearance.

I fully realize that a nearly $43,500 ride is not within range of many household budgets.  But the good news is that you can get a sporty-looking Dodge Charger for less than my dressed-up car.  And in an age that touts the six-figure exotic sports car, this Charger provides a comparatively affordable rush.

Kudos to Dodge for making smart changes and keeping the soul of this Charger intact.

Next month, buckle up for a look at the 2015 Dodge Challenger, with two doors by the way.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Challenger reviewed in latest edition of Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus in the latest, June 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, June 5, 2015

Good old Honda Accord gives you what you want

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 almost didn’t know how to behave in the recently tested 2015 Honda Accord EX-L sedan, seeing as how my previous two Accord test drives were in a gas-electric hybrid and a plug-in.

Almost.

The EX-L’s 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at a max 185 horsepower is pretty peppy in this weight class.  It’s quick off the line and smoothly runs up the rev ladder when you want to dispatch some commuter pokes.

So, I actually spent much of my time spoiling myself with aggressive accelerations and fun-filled open-road jaunts in this, one of America’s most favorite models.

No joke on that last part.  The Honda Accord dethroned the Toyota Prius as the best-selling motor vehicle in car-crazy California last year.  The Sacramento-based California New Car Dealers Association said 73,246 Accord registrations were rung up in the Golden State in 2014, topping the second-place Prius total of 71,210.

Despite my best efforts to waste gasoline, the tested Accord would have none of it, hanging in there at a steady-as-advertised 27 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the open road.

No wonder so many parents buy the Accord for their kids.  It’s like a four-wheel babysitter.

And a feature-loaded one at that.

Even with a navigation system thrown into my tester, the bottom line on my ride came in at less than $31,000.  And that also included standard offerings such as a lane departure-warning system, leather-trimmed seats with heat, four-wheel disc brakes, a ton of superior safety features and a power moonroof.

Hmmm, give the people what they want, and they’ll probably buy a ton of these.  What a unique marketing concept, huh?  Anybody else out there listening?

If not, you should be.

My take on the Accord is pretty much that simple.  Even my eyes glaze over at the parade of “discount” vehicles out there, each one trying to point out that they have a SINGLE feature that one of the best-sellers does not.

And don’t get me started on the marketing of luxury/sports cars, where the ad creators seem to be under the delusion that everybody can afford to plunk down $80,000 or a $100,000 or so on one those models, plus the wallet-crushing insurance and fuel costs that go with the deal.

Fine, spend it if you have it.  But sometimes, you just want it simple, basic, to the point.  The Accord is all about that, and more.  It’s an “A” car all the way, and that has been true for some time. My week in the Accord sedan did nothing to change that.

Kudos to Honda for knowing just what most motorists want, and giving it to them.

Friday, May 29, 2015

2016 Kia Sorento impresses on multiple levels

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 ­One of the great things about the auto biz is that you can periodically get a glimpse of the future just by showing up.

Take the recently tested 2016 Kia Sorento SX-L V6 AWD sport-utility vehicle.  It represents an early jump on the 2016 model year, and after a week in this SUV, I’m convinced that it might be the luxury sport-ute of the future.

This was a super-loaded, structurally imposing, luxurious and smart-handling vehicle that might well have been wearing a $50,000 starting-price sticker.  The actual starting price, still the most expensive among all the available trim levels, rings in at a still-robust $43,100.

Is this the future of the luxo SUV segment: Give them everything, and a discount on the price to boot?  It is if you’re shopping Kia, I suppose.

Granted, $43,100 to start is still pretty rich, but the time I spent in the Sorento told me the investment would be well worth it for a buyer looking for a family- and cargo-hauling vehicle for the long term.  Going to be taking some lengthy road-trip vacations with the family over the next seven years or so?  This Sorento should be on your ponder list.

The tester was equipped with a 3.3-liter V-6 engine rated at nearly 300 horsepower.  It did everything pretty well.  However, putting the vehicle in “ECO” mode requires a serious application of your right foot to get the thing going.  Saving fuel has its trade-offs, right?

I was impressed with the Sorento’s rock-solid stability in freeway commuter traffic and on twisty suburban roads.  Hard corners produced nary a wiggle, and the degree of interior cabin quiet was remarkable in all situations.

Not surprisingly, fuel economy was not so great at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.  Remember, this vehicle tops 4,000 pounds and can carry up to seven passengers.

A power bonus: A towing capacity of 5,000 with the all-wheel drive package.  Nice.

Overall, this Sorento is a big brute with a comfortable, highly sophisticated interior – I found the audio output to be top-notch – and highly refined road manners.

Little wonder that Kia touted the new Sorento at a Lake Tahoe setting.  It’s arguably the perfect vehicle for that alpine locale…comfortable to wheel around the lake’s loop road and rugged enough to venture off the paved path when needed.

I give this early 2016 arrival a solid “B-plus” to “A-minus” grade.  It’s truly worth a test drive for those shopping for an SUV with some serious substance.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Montoya's Indy 500 win: a charge for the ages

Mark Glover attended the Indianapolis 500 for the 53rd time on May 24. Here is his take on the 99th running of the world-famous auto race.

Sacramento, California – All month long, the talk was about the cars.  On race day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was all about the driver.

One driver in this case: Race winner Juan Pablo Montoya.

Montoya’s charge to the front of the field Sunday in the 99th Indianapolis 500 was epic. It was arguably one of the greatest winning drives in the long history of the race.

Consider that Montoya, who started 15th in the field of 33 cars, avoided disaster three times in the chaotic first dozen laps of the race, with multiple pit stops, bodywork falling off the back of his car and a quick replacement of the rear body/wing assembly by his pit crew.

After all that, he gets the green flag at the back of the pack.  Mentally, at this point, I had counted Montoya out of the running for the top prize.

How wrong I was.

As the first half of the race wore on, there was plenty of dicing at the front, a very entertaining show with the new aero packages allowing drivers to draft down the straights and perform breathtaking late-move passes in the turns.  Sometimes, the passing was done in the turns.  Spectacular.

Somewhere along the line, I noticed Montoya’s Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, car No. 2, climbing the leader board.  I turned my attention away from the front pack and started watching Montoya.

What I saw was a relentless, highly-skilled, super-aggressive charger at his best.  Some of Montoya’s competitors use decidedly salty words to describe Montoya’s driving style, but on Sunday, that here-I-come-get-outta-my-way style was the key to victory.  Continually, I watched Montoya do deep-in-the-turn passes that few others were pulling off.

Every time he was in a drag race down the front stretch, he won going into Turn One.  Every time.  Even when it appeared the leading car had the advantage, he pulled it off.

Simply put, Montoya lifted for no one going into the turns.

The closest thing I can remember to this performance is three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford coming from the back of the field to run down pole-sitter A.J. Foyt and win the 1974 race.  That was a different era, when in-race bravery was held in the highest regard.  In today’s era, Montoya carries that torch.

By the time the 15-lap showdown to the finish came, my money was on Montoya, and he did not disappoint, including an are-you-kidding-me? passing move on Scott Dixon that saw the two cars touch.  Montoya bullied his way forward with that pass, the move of the race, and ultimately blazed past leader Will Power for the win.  Game over.

When Montoya won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2000, he showed the fastest hands in the game, the ability to immediately get a car with cold tires running under control at top speed, making super-fast corrections on the steering wheel to keep his ride off the walls.

As he showed Sunday, Montoya hasn’t lost a thing.  At 39, he might be faster than he was nearly a generation ago.  If the Colombian had stuck with Indy cars throughout his career – bypassing stints with Formula One and NASCAR – it isn’t too difficult to imagine that he might have rung up five or more Indianapolis 500 wins over that time.

He still might get five.  He’s that good.  He’s so skilled and so aggressive that I believe he was the only driver in Sunday’s race who could have pulled off the win given the cards he was dealt early in the grind.

And so, a month that was dominated by concerns over new aero kits, horsepower limits, downforce adjustments and upside-down crashes ends with a mad-skills master drinking the winner’s milk.  It will be interesting to see what kind of changes, if any, will be made in the aero packages over the next year.

No matter what, I’m already looking forward to the 100th running of the race in 2016.  The smart early money for that one is on Montoya.