Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reworked Rogue packed with pleasing perks

Sacramento, California – Reworked inside and out for 2011, the Nissan Rogue is an agile crossover that gives you things you’d expect from a bigger, and costlier, sport-utility vehicle.

Despite the myriad changes for the current model year, the vehicle still looks like the recently arriving, original Rogue, which is to say sporty and saucy. You’d likely be happy for your grown-up kids to be seen in the Rogue. Young families would be wise to seek it out.

My tester was the SV with front-wheel drive, pretty much the middle of six trim levels and starting at a reasonable $23,220. For that price, you get a lot.

Not only is the list of standard comfort/convenience features lengthy, it’s sprinkled with high-end goodies not normally seen in the $23,000-and-change segment. How about a rearview monitor? Standard. Ditto halogen headlights.

The standard safety and security features are likewise plentiful and top-tier. An electronic brake force distribution system, multiple vehicle-control systems and 360-degree airbags are part of the off-the-line package.

While the Rogue looks small from the outside, backseat space is actually pretty good for three normal-size adults. Likewise, cargo-carrying space is generous enough (a max 58 cubic feet) to handle most urban/suburban hauling outings.

The Rogue handles easily, and the continuously variable transmission on the tester performed with nary a hiccup. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower handles most situations well, but it’s no neck-snapper by any means. You will have to mash the gas significantly to keep up the oomph on steep hill climbs.

The engine at full song does penetrate the cockpit to the point of annoyance, but the suspension – independent strut on the front, independent multi-link on the rear – does a good job of keeping the Rogue balanced and smooth.

Fuel mileage is fair at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Overall, I regard the Rogue as the small SUV equivalent of a Honda Civic passenger car. It’s not a horsepower-laden bomb, but it’s so safe, feature-loaded and functional that it’s hard to walk past it and not write a check for the asking price.

For Nissan, a good automaker laboring to stand out among the Hondas and Toyotas of the world, that’s a very good thing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Let's race ... and watch out for Carl, Helio

Sacramento, California -- And so it begins.

Auto racing returns in earnest with this Sunday's Daytona 500, and it's staggering to think that NASCAR will be competing on a regular basis right up to Thanksgiving time.

Now that's a long season!

As always, NASCAR starts off its year with its Super Bowl event, the Daytona 500, and then a couple weeks later, it’s like it never happened as everyone lasers in on the chase for the season crown.

Jimmie Johnson will be going for a mind-blowing sixth series title in a row, and that, friends, is some serious history in the making. Just getting five is amazing, and drivers Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick made it very tough for Johnson last year. I think it will be even tougher this year.

I have the sense that fellow Cup competitors have reached the limit of their patience with Johnson winning. That includes Johnson’s teammates. I think Jimmie will find cooperation from fellow drivers very difficult to find on the big superspeedways, where cooperation is a must.

I also don’t think Jimmie will be getting too many breaks from his colleagues on short, tight tracks. My guess is they’ll be more inclined to bump him aside than they were in years past. Hamlin and Harvick will get their share of nods in preseason predictions, but let’s face it, Johnson and his No. 48 team loom as the favorites until someone knocks them off.

As for me, I’m looking at Carl Edwards as the most likely driver to end Johnson’s streak. Edwards can drive short, long, medium-fast and super-fast tracks at a high level. It’s just a matter of time before he puts a consistent campaign together. This could be the year.

In INDYCAR – that’s the latest “new” series name, one word and all caps -- you’re going to be hearing about the Indianapolis 500 centennial celebration early and often leading up to the May 29 race.

Keep in mind that the first Indy 500 was run 100 years ago in 1911, but this will be the 95th running of the race this year. Why? The track went dark in 1917-18 during World War I and from 1942-45 during World War II.

Defending 500 winner and Indy car series champion Dario Franchitti remains the top contender, but I kind of think the Roger Penske team is out for redemption after seeing the last two season titles snatched from its grasp due to uncharacteristic team mistakes.

Look for Penske pilot Helio Castroneves to claim his fourth Indy 500 victory in May and then finally put together a solid season to take the series crown as well.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Infiniti's G37 sedan is worthy of respect

Sacramento, California – I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’ve long liked Infiniti’s car lineup.

And yet, even after 20 years in the United States, Infiniti doesn’t seem to get the same respect given to, say, Lexus, BMW, Audi and Acura. Go figure.

I respect classy styling, tight-fitting bodywork, excellent interior features and performance, and two recently tested 2011 Infiniti G37 sedans delivered on all counts. If I had $35,000 to $40,000 to put down on an uplevel family/luxury/sport sedan, this G37 would be a likely candidate.

Alas, one of the tested G37s was dressed up with more optional extras than you’ll see on the IHOP breakfast menu. The bottom line came to $44,245. Kinda rich for my blood, so if I was shopping, I’d say: Hold the navigation system, the power moonroof and hash browns and give me the basic machine.

The basic machine is plenty. You get an aerodynamic, shoulders-hunched-forward rear-driver with a sporty grille and a trunk that goes deep inside from a somewhat chopped tail section. The windshield angle is set at a jaunty, sporty angle. This G37 cuts through air smoothly, and quietly.

Inside, the setting is elegant and feature-loaded. Leather appointed seats are enhanced up front with eight-way power and heating. The rear seats are roomy and comfortable, and there is climate control for the occupants.

Step on the gas and – whoa, what was that?!!! I heard a roar. I definitely heard a roar. Yes, a deep and satisfying growl from the 3.7 liter, 24-valve V-6 with a max horsepower rating of 328. Now there’s something a family of four can appreciate on the way to
Applebee’s. Let’s dust off a few sport coupes before ordering those sliders.

Power is muscular, but the handling is agile and light.

The car’s list of safety features is what I’d expect in a $60,000 Mercedes. Electronic brake, traction and car-control enhancements also are standard.

Fuel mileage is OK at around 17-19 miles per gallon in the city and 25-27 mpg on the open road.

This is a traveling car that won’t leave you worn out at the end of a long day, and even with its relatively affordable price, the contemporary Bluetooth, satellite radio and rearview monitors are in place as standard fare.

Auto-reviewing colleagues like to pit Infiniti’s G sedans -- 10 trim levels are available for 2011 -- against the BMW B Series, and yeah, I understand that. Personally, I think it boils down to personal preferences.

As for me, I lean toward the Infiniti product. Respect that.

Friday, February 4, 2011

2011 Honda CR-Z reviewed in Cruisin' News

Sacramento, California – My review of the 2011 Honda CR-Z EX 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.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Still much to like in "old" Chevy Malibu

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

Sacramento, California -- Pity the poor Chevrolet Malibu. It’s not getting a lot of love from auto reviewers who sighed and swooned over it just three short years ago.

Alas, it’s being treated like that aging Hollywood starlet whose beauty has faded with time. Next thing you know, it will doing one-night appearances at Holiday Inn lounges across the country.

Motor Trend magazine recently weighed in with “handsome sedan needs an update.”

Really? How soon we kick cars to the curb! My recent run in a 2011 Malibu LTZ -- the priciest of four trim levels, starting at $27,000 and change – was most pleasing, thank you very much. And while I was putting the Malibu through its paces, I got to thinking …

Isn’t this the car that restored General Motors’ credibility in the practical-size, moderately-priced sedan market? Isn’t this the car that saw its horizontal-split-grille design spread across other models in the Chevy lineup?

Why, yes it is!

OK, if you have the Malibu blahs, wait until later this year when yet another generation of the model is scheduled to debut. But for now, throwing the current Malibu under the bus is bad form, like telling your sweet, attractive girlfriend that you want to “see other people” six weeks after your first date.

The worst thing I can say about the current Malibu is that it does a lot well, but it does not push itself into the “excellent” category in key categories. Fine. You can say that about the equivalent products manufactured by Toyota and Honda. Ring me up if you hear somebody use the word “sexy” to describe an Accord or a Camry.

The Malibu looks pretty good, in my view. No, the 2.4-liter in-line 4 does not blow your socks off with around 170 horses to throw around, but it propels the five-passenger car quite adequately in most driving situations. Fuel mileage ratings of 22 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway are, again, good but not great.

But what do you want for your 27-grand … or your 22-grand if you looking at an entry level 2011 Malibu LS?

My LTZ tester was smooth, quiet and comfortable. Steering is easy for teens and seniors. The list of standard features in this segment was frankly impressive.

You want basic, reliable, good-looking transportation priced a notch above the discount level, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than the 2011 Malibu. Not only that, I’m guessing that dealers are prepared to deal on the current-generation Malibu with the next generation scheduled to show up before too long.

Customizers, OK, you likely face a tough task jazzing up the Malibu. Thankfully, the front end is stylish enough to provide a good starting point. From the front wheels on back to the trunk, however, that’s a canvas begging for creativity.

As for me, I’m in no hurry to push this current Malibu into the history books. I like what it has to offer now. Cheer up old girl.