Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Outlander gets good grades in most endeavors

Sacramento, California – Let’s start with the essentials: Happy new year to all you motorheads out there! … So let’s now move on to the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC.

Yup, that’s a mouthful and a half, but rest assured that this is essentially an up-to-seven-passengers Outlander sport-ute with a good V-6 and an active all-wheel-drive system.

The “S-AWC” stands for Super All-Wheel Control.

Well, that probably sounds good in the marketing meetings, but I felt that the Outlander simply performed as expected with all-wheel drive. Though the vehicle is somewhat big through the shoulders, it was a nimble dancer in most conditions, including city traffic. The vehicle’s AWD works fine, no matter what you call it.

Ditto the 3-liter power plant with 230 horsepower. Accelerations are strong, and climbing power is sufficient. No need to panic merging onto the freeway.

Mileage is just OK at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

The 3.0 is absolutely the right choice for the Outlander. Frankly, I can’t imagine feeling secure with the 168-horsepower in-line 4 offered on the Outlander’s cheaper versions. My GT S-AWD tester is the priciest of five Outlander trim levels, starting at $27,795.

The Outlander’s look is pretty straightforward SUV, except on the front end, where you get a gaping shark’s mouth grille similar to what you see on Audi’s road-burners. The Outlander’s front-end sculpture seems successful in convincing poking motorists to get out of the way, at least in my experience.

Standard interior amenities are numerous and easy to use. The interior cabin is comfortable and doesn’t transmit much road noise, and the ride was fairly smooth even on recently potholed streets.

And then there’s the folding rear seat in the back. Fellow auto reviewers have characterized it as too cramped, and they’re right. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

I honestly don’t know what Mitsubishi’s engineers were thinking on the rear seat. And shame on the suits who signed off on it. It’s a unwieldy nightmare to fold up and down, and the folding mechanism contains so much hard metal-to-metal contact that the thing rattles in both the up and down positions.

Note to Mitsubishi: Please fix this. It taints an otherwise pleasant ride.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Latest Mazda3 has zoom and cargo room

This blog will take Christmas week off as the author scrambles from way behind in an attempt to finish up his holiday obligations. Best wishes to everyone this holiday season. Here’s hoping family and friends brighten your days. Before I hit the mall, here’s one more review submitted for your enjoyment. – MG:

Sacramento, California – I have to be careful reviewing the Mazda3.

It’s a long-standing favorite of family and auto-loving friends of mine, and they don’t take kindly to me beating up on their baby.

Like they had to worry. The latest Mazda3 is as attractive and functional as ever..

My tester was the 2011 Mazda3 s Five-Door Sport, a mouthful to be sure and priced at the high end among seven trim levels, starting at $20,485. Mine was dressed up with a few extras – Sirius Satellite Radio, moonroof, in-dash six-compact disc player and Bose audio – to push the bottom line to $23,110. That’s still a pretty fair deal.

The Mazda3 never fails to get praise from most of the young crowd because it has sporty looks and SUV-like convenience to go along with that affordable price.

A giant smile of a grille is accented by a swept-back front end, and the lean, cut-through-the-air look floats back to an elevated decklid overhang at the back end. Dual exhausts at the back enhance the sporty feel.

At first glance, it looks like the car won’t carry all that much, even with the rear seats folded. Turns out that’s an illusion. I loaded all sorts of funky shaped, large cargo in the back of the thing and still had plenty of room for more.

The s versions of the Mazda3 are powered by a 2.5-liter in-line 4 with variable-valve timing and 167 horsepower. This package powers the front-drive vehicle around with more than a little authority. In fact, the car is so nicely balanced and so righteously powered that you feel like you’re in perpetual hustle mode.

I thought this was just me, but a passenger ventured this during my recent test drive: “Is it my imagination, or are we really zipping along in this car?”

Well, yes, we are. But you’re getting that sensation at speeds as low as 40 miles per hour. People driving high-powered luxury cars might sniff at this, saying their car feels like it’s going 40 mph when it’s really sailing along at 70 mph.

Yeah, maybe. But does that do anything to quicken your pulse? I thought not.

And remember, this is a car company that promotes “zoom-zoom.” The Mazda3 has a nice dose of that.

Standard interior goodies and safety features are numerous and darn near luxury level in some cases. Mileage is pretty good at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

A minor gripe: I never got a good adjustment on 360-degree vision. I had to routinely move my head around to catch the blind spots, turning it more than 90 degrees to spot a sedan on my left side. That could have something to do with my 6-4 frame, but I was extra-careful with lane changes.

The Mazda3 was reworked for the 2010 model year, so changes for 2011 are relatively few.

Overall, the Mazda3 is a great car for a young couple or young family. It also stacks up as a sound second car to run all those weekend errands.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Check out rip-roaring Raptor in Cruisin' News

Sacramento, California – My review of the incredible Ford F-150 4X4 SVT Raptor pickup 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, along with my "Oil Drips" observations on anything with wheels, 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.

Mustang has a lot of dash for not much cash

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

Sacramento, California -- Horsepower doesn’t come cheap, unless you are a Mustang fan.

And if you are, rest assured that you can top 300 ponies and likely keep the bill under $25,000 for 2011, which is not a bad deal in these times.

Case in point is the tested 2011 Ford Mustang V6 Premium Coupe, a nice blend of original Mustang and modern-age engineering. The power plant is a 3.7-liter, 24-valve V-6 with twin independent variable camshaft timing. Ford did some sweet work here, with 305 hard-working horses and 280 foot-pounds or torque, yet you can still get up to 31 miles per gallon on the open road.

The engine is actually pretty tame until you ask it to do some heavy lifting. Then, it responds with a robust growl and push-me-into-the-seat effort. Six speeds flow smoothly through the transmission.

As usual, it looks good. Mine was what I’d call Battleship Gray, but black striping and chrome badging jazzed up the look – unmistakably Mustang at a glance. Inside, retro reigns with a black-and-silver trimmed, three-spoke steering wheel and analog gauges lifted right out of the 1960s. That takes me back.

Steering was exceedingly light, almost too much so, as I nearly rode up a couple of curbs early in the testing. It took me about a day to get used to it, but go easy when you first get this car, lest you leave some body paint on the walls of a tight dealership parking lot.

The list of comfort/convenience features is kind of short, and I have to believe that’s by design. After all, you’re getting a 305-horsepower Mustang for $23,965. That’s probably plenty for true Mustang devotees.

The Mustang carries four passengers, but those two in the back better be small in stature. I’ve always considered the Mustang a two-seater with some afterthoughts in the back. Even so, the cargo area in the back boot is pretty good – 13 cubic feet.

This latest-generation Mustang also provides a lesson in smart retailing. Yes, you can get much-pricier – and more powerful -- versions of the Mustang if you have the loot, but Ford has been wise to keep affordable, horsepower-laden versions of the car readily available for the under-$30,000 crowd. Guess that’s one of the reasons Ford is making money by the truckload of late.

Customizers, do I even have to go there? This Mustang is another blank canvas for creating road-going dreams. Craft away and boost the horsepower output as far as your imagination will take you.

Do icons still exist? Yes, they do. And well within reach of most budgets.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Optimal experience?: Check out this Kia

Sacramento, California – Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, Kia matched up the DNA of a contemporary Acura TSX and an old-school Pontiac Trans Am, put an affordable price on it and named it the 2011 Optima.

And that’s what you really need to know, for starters, about the redesigned-for-2011 Optima, a racy looking piece of high-performing, luxurious machinery that you or yours would likely love to have this holiday season … or in the early days of 2011.

I was fortunate enough to get the top-end EX version, which had a still-affordable starting price of $22,495. For that price, the sedan was loaded with comfort, convenience and safety features – all piled on top of Kia’s world-class warranties.

For a full five minutes, I just stared at the thing. Talk about an upgrade. The front end looked like it could slice through the air with stealth fighter jet ease. Sleek lines drift all the way to the back end.

Let me get into the driver’s seat and hit the gas … Oh yes, it feels as good as it looks.

The Optima EX snapped my shoulders into the seat on hard acceleration, and it cornered with cheetah-like agility. Uphill runs were a pavement-eating blast. The little 2.4-liter in-line 4 certainly felt stronger than the advertised 200 horses. And the bonus: Very nice fuel mileage ratings of 24 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.

Riding comfort was, well, optimal. Interior cabin noise was minimal. The whole motoring experience: special.

Is this Optima going to appeal to a younger crowd? Absolutely. In truth, it should take in the 18-to-65 age demographic.

I’ve been saying for years that you can get a loaded Hyundai/Kia product for far less than you would pay for the equivalent hardware produced by another automaker. This new Optima all but screams out my arguments.

Looking to get a quality product for a lot less money this Christmas? Put this Optima on your test-drive list.