Thursday, July 29, 2010

VW Touareg highlights perks of diesel driving

Sacramento, California – Volkswagen has been on a roll of sorts, and that dates back to that delightful, prosperous, giddy time before the recession.

Back in those days of grossly overvalued stocks and real estate, VW was touting the virtues of clean diesel engines, and much of the competition was laughing at the German automaker while raising the horsepower curve to sometimes ridiculous heights.

Besides, Americans were turned off by memories of noisy, stinky diesels of decades past. VW kept insisting that it could deliver quality vehicles with robust, clean diesel engines.

And here in post-bailout America, that’s exactly what you get in the 2010 Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI -- a stellar, sizable sport-utility vehicle for folks who need that sort of thing.

Over time, the Touareg’s looks have been tweaked to make it look like a more-contemporary, aerodynamic SUV, as opposed to a bulky Euro-camper vehicle. The look is just fine – not terribly different from a lot that’s already out there, but attractive nevertheless.

Best compliment I can pay to this vehicle: In no way does it feel like a turbodiesel V-6. With some 225 horses more than 400 foot-pounds of pavement-gripping torque, the Touareg V6 TDI performs like a V-8 champ. Engine noise and tailpipe emissions offer no clue that this is a diesel.

The four-wheel drive system chimed in to make the hefty Touareg light on its wheels. The sensation coming through the steering wheel was more lightweight crossover than weighty SUV.

This is what happens when German engineering excels and gets it right.

The Touareg comes off as the prototypical vacationers’ dream. Lots of room for passengers and luggage. The thing will cruise effortlessly to beach and mountain range with nary a complaint. Fuel mileage for a vehicle this size weighs in relatively well at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

Standard features are numerous, a good thing for a vehicle that starts at nearly $44,000. Extra-special standard fare includes a 12-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, interior wood trim, front/rear park distance control, power glass sunroof and heated exterior mirrors. Yeah, this SUV spoils you quite a bit.

Frankly, however, I could have done without some $15,000 in premium extras that brought the sticker’s bottom line ominously close to $60,000, but some folks undoubtedly like their Touareg puffed up to something resembling Mercedes-Benz status. If you have the cash, go for it.

I know that many Americans still are not sold on diesel technology – Europe, amid pricey fuel, has thrived on it for years – but a simple test drive of this Touareg will tell you how much things have changed. Maybe the flood of electric and hybrid autos on the market ultimately will shove diesel to the rear of the pack. Who knows?

But if you want to sample clean-diesel technology at its finest in a pleasing SUV package, this 2010 Touareg deserves a look. It’ll give you something to tell your grandkids.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Honda crosses over with a nice new offering

Sacramento, California – Sometimes you want something different. And you get that in the new-for-2010 Honda Accord Crosstour.

Say “Accord” and you expect economical, just-the-right-size passenger car hardware. The Crosstour is not quite that.

Honda calls it a crossover utility vehicle, or CUV, combining the best aspects of a premium sedan and a sport-utility vehicle. There are repeated references to it as an SUV in various auto magazines.

Me, I’d call it more of a hatchback wagon, although I realize that those words tend to be the kiss of death in the auto biz.

No matter, the Crosstour still has that versatility thing going for it.

The tester was the four-wheel drive EX-L model, with navigation. That’s the most expensive of five trim levels, stickering at $36,220. The tester had zero extras on it, but that was just fine with me, because the standard features were sweet and plentiful.

The tested Crosstour was downright primo/luxo over the top, with goodies that included a 10-way driver’s seat, mega-leather surfaces (including the steering wheel) and a rearview camera. Air bags and safety features were so numerous as to make you feel super-secure. Thankfully, I never had to test them.

What did test out nicely was the Crosstour’s performance, surprisingly zippy even with a healthy 3.5-liter V-6 pumping out a max 271 horsepower. Ordinarily, that’s sort of right on the border for challenging speeding traffic on the interstate or making that tight lane change.

These were not issues with the Crosstour. It responded instantly and enthusiastically to foot taps/stomps on the accelerator. It climbed steep hills with remarkable ease. Handling was quick and agile. Indeed, the vehicle responded like a sport sedan in most driving situations.

Styling is sleek and aerodynamic, so much so that I defy most people not to call it a hot-looking wagon upon first seeing it.

The cargo-carrying configurations are nice, and Honda does a good job of covering the small things, like adequate covering of the cargo area when you close the back boot. It’s impossible to see from the outside what’s stored in the vehicle. That will save you a big headache in some towns.

The comparatively muscular engine registers un-Honda-like fuel mileage numbers of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. That’s the price you pay for a little oomph. And for my money, the starting price of $36,220 also seems a bit heavy. Had I been the king of Honda, I would have stood on my head to have the sticker price come in below $35,000.

All things considered, this is a nice new horse in the Honda stable. Call it what you want. Test drive it for sure.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

VW's lastest GTI still gets the heart racing

This review originally appeared in the June edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin' News published out of Folsom, California -- mg

Sacramento, California -- It’s the classic pocket rocket, one of my favorite cars of all-time.

And it has been jazzed up for 2010.

It’s the 2010 Volkswagen GTI sedan – yes, it can also be had as a coupe – and VW is to be praised for making this latest model just as spicy-looking and scoot-serious as olden, golden versions of the GTI.

In truth, it’s pretty hard to screw this thing up. History buffs will recognize that the current model has some of the styling cues from the legendary Mk I.

The exterior look is short-stocky bully that you don’t want to mess with, but there’s some stylish flair in the design as well. The black honeycomb grille is a sexy garment. Even the rear hatch area is aerodynamic. Particularly cool are the 17-inch, five-petal-style wheels that turn heads standing still and blur into roadrunner gray on the roll.

Those wheels are wrapped in high-performance tires, by the way.

Man, I love this VW’s all-black interior – a combination of menace and comfort. Everything is within easy reach, and you feel a little bit like Mario Andretti gripping the flat-bottomed, three-spoke steering wheel.

But the best part of the latest GTI remains unchanged from GTIs past. Look no further than under the hood, where you will find a 2-liter four-banger juiced up to 200 horsepower via an instantly responsive turbocharger.

Yes, the GTI leaves rubber and embarrassed sports car pilots when it blazes away from the crowd from a standing start. It’s nimble enough to pull off quick lane changes you might not try in other sporty rides. Steering is equally responsive on city streets and highways. A sweetly firm suspension makes the ride rock solid, yet road imperfections are swallowed up nicely.

Figure on making the zero-to-60 mph run in less than 7 seconds. You can take it from there: Uphill climbs are no problem. Power to get out of harm’s way is delivered in an eye-blink and efficiently.

The GTI’s drive-by-wire throttle control and VW’s patented fuel-injection system make 21 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway – not bad numbers for a turbo screamer.

Interior comfort for five was actually pretty nice in the tester. Ditto cargo-carrying capacity.

All this for a reasonable starting price of about $24,000 on the nose. The GTI coupe starts around $23,500.

Customizers can count on having a field day with this GTI. I’ve seen older GTIs stretched and cut so low to the road that they could double as a street sweeper. That’s fine with me on this latest GTI, but I kind of like the engine as is. Tweak the look, save the turbo. That’s my motto.

And thanks to Volkswagen for not screwing with a legitimate legend.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Chrysler 300C reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Sacramento, California – My review of the 2010 Chrysler 300C AWD sedan appears in the latest edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News, published out of Folsom, California, by John Sweeney and Evonne Sotelo.

The “Hot Laps” reviews appear monthly in the publication.

To subscribe to the Cruisin’ News, visit, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Volvo C30: Not a lot of loot, but lots of scoot

Sacramento, California – I can’t say I wasn’t fairly warned.

The guy delivering the 2011 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design – think two-door hatchback/sports coupe – noted that the vehicle had “surprising pick-up.”

When someone who drives cars for a living tells you that a vehicle has “surprising pick-up,” it’s the equivalent of the doctor telling you “this might hurt a little bit.”

Both are gross understatements, and the test C30 lived up to the not-so-subtle advance billing.

First off, this is a splashy-looking sports coupe, with aggressive, VW GTI-like styling and a back end that resembles a contemporary sculpture of glass, bodywork and metal.

Stepping into the C30, you think: Nicely laid out, sporty, little comfort to be had by two backseat passengers and, well, it probably has a fair amount of scoot for a little car.

All that works, except for the last part. The car has a lot of scoot.

The C30 is a rally warrior that flings itself around with jarring abruptness. The turbocharged in-line 5 is rated at 227 horsepower, but the ride feels much more robust than that. From a standstill, the tester sprinted away from virtually everything with four wheels.

So nimble was it in surface street traffic that I had to take one hand off the wheel, lest I oversteer the car up and over the curbs.

On the interstates, a tiny blip on the throttle produced remarkable – and seemingly effortless – acceleration. And yet, interior cabin noise was minimal.

It messed with my mind. The only confirmation I had that the C30 was performing at such a high level on the highway was the speed with which cars in my rearview mirror became smaller and disappeared out of sight.

Pocket rocket? Yes, absolutely. This C30 will win you some acceleration bets … not that I’m advocating that sort of thing, mind you. It’s a blast. Like seeing a 5-5, 140-pound shortstop crush a 500-foot home run.

Yet fuel mileage is pretty good at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the open road.

The starting fare for this fun front-driver is a reasonable $26,950, although you can get the lower-level T5 for $24,600, happily with the same engine.

The list of standard features on the tester was incredibly long, with enough safety, comfort and convenience features to keep a classroom full of Swedish automotive engineers busy for a year.

Two people can travel in extreme comfort. Four people not so much, and the cargo-carrying capability of the car is limited.

For some reason, the Sirius Satellite Radio in the tester would not pick up ANYTHING outside the Sacramento city limits, and it was shaky much of the time within the city’s borders. I thought Sirius had changed its name to Acquiring Signal Radio during my time in the car.

Sun spots? Aliens? I have no idea.

One other note: The underside at the top of the steering wheel (maybe eight inches across) is made of metal. Believe me when I tell you that you do not want to be touching that portion of the steering wheel after the C30 has been sitting in the hot sun for an hour or more. Hit the AC and let it bring the thing down to a less-than-sizzling temperature.

Otherwise, I like this C30. Great car for a young family, or a super second car for a family with grown-up kids.

As for the “surprising pick-up” part, that’s a nice Swedish surprise.