Friday, October 24, 2014

Drive in hybrid Hyundai Sonata is an eye-opener

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/article2561617.html

Sacramento, California – Consider this review the main dish, with an appetizer at the end.

Yeah, I know it makes no sense, but hang with me.

I recently spent a week in a 2014 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited, and the time spent in the car was a revelation.

For years, you’ve heard me talk about the virtues of a straight-up Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan.  How can you argue with a generously equipped, smooth-driving, affordable car in this day and age?  Throw in the great warranties and high crash-test ratings, and you’ll understand how I feel.

That was my take going into my week in the hybrid version of the Sonata.  What I learned from it is that the hybrid offers a whole new subset of charms for the fuel- and environmentally-conscious motorist.

The gas mileage on the tester was advertised at 36 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.  I was getting better than that, probably because the car has cues that visually reward you for gas-conserving driving.

It’s hard for me to admit this, but I swear it’s true.  The Sonata prompted me to be easy on the startups and freeway runs, even though I was fully aware that my caution would not result in a great financial reward at the end of the week.

How to explain it?

For starters, the four-cylinder/electric powertrain has ample pop as is.  Let’s face it, with some hybrids you have to smash the accelerator to the floor to eke out something like moderate performance.  The Sonata powertrain, with a combined horsepower rating of 199, does not demand this.  It’s peppy enough as engineered.

I would expect to pay $35,000 up front for such a car.  Yet the tester started at $30,000 and change.

For that price, it was stuffed with a wide range of very nice comfort/convenience perks.

Bottom line: Before having seat time in the Sonata hybrid, I might have ignored it entirely in favor of the usual gas-fired Sonata.

Now, I’m not so sure.

And that appetizer I was talking about?  The Sonata has been totally reworked for the 2015 model year.  I’ve only SEEN and READ about the changes, but from my research, the 2015 Sonata appears to be a serious step up from 2014.

So add that to your list of complications when considering a Sonata.  Do you want to deal on the remaining 2014 gas-fueled sedans?  Or do you maybe want to consider the Sonata hybrids?  Or do you want to go all-in on a 2015 Sonata?

Tough decisions there.

But the good news is that the Sonatas are so good that you’ll do well no matter what you decide.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What's new? The joys of driving a $66K Kia K900

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/article2561617.html.

Sacramento, California – I never thought I’d see the day: A Kia motor vehicle with a sticker price of $66,400.

Welcome to the new age, a time when former discount darling Kia can build a super-luxury sedan where the designers, engineers and consultants showed no restraint whatsoever in putting together a wondrous machine.

I honestly don’t know where to start … perhaps with the countless neighbors and passersby who complimented me on my Lexus.  Telling them that my all-new-for-2015 K900 was a Kia prompted looks like I’d just announced that I was an alien who emerged from the core of the planet Juptier.

Long, smooth and luxurious on maxi-cool 19-inch chrome alloy wheels, the tested Kia K900 shouted upscale sitting still in its parking spot.

Five-star accommodations were found inside the vehicle.  What a lineup!: Heated leather seats front and rear (ventilated on the front), three-zone climate control, classy wood trim, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power trunk, front and rear parking sensors … Oh, we’ve just scratched the surface.

There’s a super-long list of safety features and enough driving/safety-enhancement devices to basically turn the car over to its own devices.  And naturally, you want LED headlights with a dynamic bending light feature and a panoramic sunroof with power shade feature.

Wait, throw in the VIP Package of options, because what’s an extra $6,000 at this point? That package includes smart cruise control, a head-up display, driver’s seat cushion extension, power front seat headrests, power reclining rear seats and rear seat lumbar support.

Yes, I was overwhelmed.  I remember when getting an extra cupholder in a Kia was a big deal.

Driving it was a heart-racing romp of brute strength, with the 5-liter, 420-horsepower V-8 squealing the tires and making mincemeat of commuter traffic.  The engine’s power, nicely dished up via an eight-speed shift-by-wire transmission, took some getting used to; I made a fool of myself lurching off the line during my first half hour in the car.

Suffice it to say that the K900 performed just as well as any other sporty-luxury nameplate out there.

What’s not to like?  About the only thing to gripe about is 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.  And that’s a stretch because buyers in this segment probably aren’t sweating the monthly gas credit card bill.  And the thrill of 420 horses can make you forget about tepid fuel mileage in a hurry.

Overall grade:  A no-brainer “A.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Reworked Legacy reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium sedan in the latest, October 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.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mazda MX-5 Miata's sporty charms have aged well

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo auto reviews also can be seen on the The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the "Car Reviews" link at PHOTO GALLERIES on the www.sacbee.com home page.

This review originally appeared in the September 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Can the Mazda MX-5 Miata really be 25 years old?

Remember when the Miata first came out? People went wacko over the tiny, sporty two-seaters.  Folks with more money than common sense were offering twice the asking price just to get one in their hands.

Well, at least they were affordable.  And frankly, the two-seater remains a bargain.

My 2014 tester was the priciest of 10, count ’em, 10 varieties: a Grand Touring model with a power hardtop, with a starting price of $30,550 ($32,735 with a few add-ons).  For the record, basic Miata fare starts at around $23,750.

To be brutally honest, I could not remember the last I was in a Miata, but I’m fairly certain I was a lot younger and way more flexible, physically speaking.  The roofline seemed to come up to my hip, so there was no graceful way to enter the car.  Essentially, I opened the driver’s side door, turned 90 degrees and collapsed backwards (and heavily) onto the driver’s seat.

I’m sure the neighbors, watching from behind their windows, found this hilarious.  And I’m likewise sure that they chuckled at my MX-5 exit strategy: open door, extend left foot onto pavement and thrust body upward into the open air … leg bones cracking all the way.

So, you get it, the MX-5 Miata remains a small car.  Size aside, its old-school sporty charms have aged with grace and are relentlessly appealing.

The exterior look is angular and race-ready aggressive.  For me, the car always takes my mind back to Triumph models of my childhood.  Good memories those.

Inside, the cockpit is functional and uncluttered, no minor feat given the small confines of the interior space.  Everything is clear and easy to use.  The contemporary MX-5 Miata is better equipped than those early models.  Modern amenities on my ride included a Bose audio system with seven speakers, heated leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel-mounted controls for multiple functions.

On the fly, the Miata is a joy.  And here’s where I part with some of my auto-reviewing colleagues.  They correctly point out that the four-cylinder, about 160-horsepower engine does not ring up sparkling zero-to-60 mph times.  But the engine propels the lightweight machine so briskly and instantly, and with such an ear-pleasing note, that you pretty much don’t care what the stopwatch says.

It’s fun and it feels good.  People who feel that way about numerous things tend to lead happy lives.  So there!

Yes, Mazda has messed with the name over the years.  Call it an MX-5.  No wait, call it a Miata.  Happily, with 25 years of history invested in the model, the automaker proudly refers to it now as an MX-5 Miata.  Good call.

Nope, this is not a family car.  No, it won’t carry a lot of luggage.  In truth, it’s not really functional as a second stay-at-home car to run errands, again because of cargo/people-hauling limitations.

But for sporty fun at an affordable price, the MX-5 Miata is an A-lister.  Here’s hoping it breezes through another quarter century.
 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Garibaldi adds color to California auto museum's event

If your gearhead obsession also includes a taste for art and eye-popping entertainment, you might want to make your way to the California Automobile Museum, at 2200 Front St., in Sacramento on Oct. 17, when philanthropist and spectacular artist David Garibaldi will be putting on his “Rhythm & Hue” show.

Garibaldi is the headliner for the museum’s annual fundraising dinner, which includes live and silent auctions, a three-course catered dinner and Garibaldi’s electric performance.

Individual tickets for the 5 to 9 p.m. event are $75.  Tables for 10 are $750, and tables for eight go for $600.  Sponsorships are welcome.

Paul Robins, news anchor with FOX television affiliate Channel 40 in Sacramento, will be the evening’s master of ceremonies.

The museum is home to a highly valuable collection of hundreds of cars of all stripes, including classics, racing machines, exotics and environmentally friendly models.

To obtain tickets or more information, go to www.calautomuseum.org or call (916) 442-6802.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

BMW coupe combines German engineering, hot rod pop

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 know it’s time to be moving on into the 2015 model year, but while there’s still time left in 2014, let me tell you about the 2014 BMW M235i coupe.

BMW rolled this one out for the 2014 model year, and for those paying attention and snapping them up, the coupe is an excellent ride.

Think German engineering with an all-America hot rod rush.

The tester was sporty-looking with just enough understatement to give it that BMW elegance.  You expect it to respond well off the line and go up through the eight-speed gearbox with seat-pressing enthusiasm.

And you’re not disappointed.

The 3-liter, six-cylinder power plant rated at 320 horsepower performed like a boss.  Even more impressive was how it tamed the road surface at high speed.

My M235i ripped through sharp corners taken at 70 miles per hour like it was a Disney park monorail.  The ride was soft and buttery, but I felt glued to my seat when the BMW frame held the line on twisting stretches of road.

Steering was firm and easy.  I never felt anything nearing a loss of control, even when I was seeking that out.

Here’s a bonus: the 2 Series coupe is larger all the way around that its BMW 1 Series predecessor.  Interior comfort was top-drawer for driver and passengers.

The list of standard perks was entirely appropriate for a car starting at $43,100.  That included a moonroof, retractable headlight washers and a ton of safety features.

My ride was dressed up to a nearly obscene level with a $2,300 Premium Package and a $2,150 Technology Package.  Suffice it to say that I was overloaded with luxury, performance-enhancing technology and navigation/communication extras … all for a bottom line of $49,025.

Alas, I have some gripes.

The automatic engine stop/start feature that drops the engine to a fuel-saving shutdown mode when the car is stopped at a traffic light or in gridlock conditions was jarring.  Even though I knew it was there, I perpetually felt like the car had stalled completely.  A couple times, there was a slight, but annoying lag in power steering once the engine powered up to full-operation mode.

And for whatever reason, the automatic climate control feature in the tester didn’t feel like it was keeping up with reality.  Setting it on an interior temperature goal of 70 degrees felt more like 74 or 75.  Obviously, I could compensate accordingly.

Bottom line: This coupe is a “B-plus” ride all the way, and the early word is that BMW had fixed and improved things with some tweaks for the 2015 model year.

That might just push the overall grade over the “A” threshold.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Versatile Versa has an easy-on-the-eyes price

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 – Never let it be said that I failed to appreciate the charms of a discount-priced passenger car.

My personal economic condition enables me to understand that going out to drop 30-grand or more on a new car is not like snagging a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk at the local supermarket.

There’s serious money involved, and oh, doesn’t it feel good when four-door transportation wears a sticker far south of $20,000?

And with that,  I give you the recently tested 2015 Nissan Versa Note SR.  This is Nissan’s affordable five-door hatchback, and the SR version is the second-priciest among five trim levels.  But even that’s a mere $17,530.

An SR Convenience Package (including a top-grade rearview monitor, satellite radio and a few other goodies) on my ride swelled the bottom line to $19,180.  But again, that’s well within range of many household budgets.

What you won’t get for that kind of money is a rubber-burning V-6, but I confess that I was fairly surprised at the spunk of the tester’s 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine with 109 horsepower.  It howled a bit at full song, but otherwise handled the propulsion chores with more than adequate competence.  The continuously variable transmission functioned flawlessly.  Steering was easy and just firm enough.

The rear hatch arrangement was easy to work with and swallowed up ample piles of widely varying cargo.

Passengers in front and back seats had complaints about my driving skills, but they said they were comfortable riding in my Versa.

It looks nice too, sort of like a high-shouldered bull that’s perpetually ready to charge. There’s a subtle spoiler at the back end; nice touch. And I liked the mix of “Red Brick” exterior paint set off against a “Charcoal” color interior on my tester.

Stripped?  Absolutely not.  The standard comfort/convenience features included leather/chrome touches, a thorough trip computer and a basket of contemporary plugged-in/audio perks.

Naturally, given this vehicle segment, the fuel mileage numbers are superior: 31 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.  So, bravo, you save money over the long haul as well.

Honda, Toyota and Ford offer up serious competition in Versa’s class, but the Nissan product holds up well in those comparisons.  Nissan seems to have figured out that lots of folks are still carefully counting and/or saving dollars these days.  The Versa is a nicely appointed, alluring vehicle for those folks.

Overall, I’d give this hatch a solid “B” with a “B-plus” in the Fun to Drive Department.