Friday, April 29, 2011

2011 Acura RL earns it luxury-level stripes

Sacramento, California – Acura has been taken to task for not having a flagship car, or a car that stands head and shoulders above the rest of its fleet.

Even though most people couldn’t afford the iconic Acura NSX rocket ship, at least people knew it was at the head of the class.

Acura might have solved this perception problem with the freshened 2011 Acura RL. It has been dismissed by some as merely a loaded version of Acura’s TL sedan, and there is some support for that argument.

But the current RL is significantly loaded above the TL, and it does stand out at the top of the Acura line. My week in the middle-level RL with a Technology Package certainly confirmed that in my mind.

This RL is true luxury. The opulent standard features, classy interior feel, super silky ride and library reading room-quiet interior justify a starting price just north of $50,000.

It’s a rich-looking transporter, with fine fit and finish and an aggressive-looking grille. Exterior lines remind me of Lincolns of old – and that’s not a bad thing.

On the fly, this RL feels like it’s riding on a cloud of smooth air. Very little sound makes its way into the cockpit, even when you ask the 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter VTEC V-6 for maximum effort. Accelerations are hard enough to press you into the seat, but there is little engine growl accompanying the movement. A velvet glove, to be sure.

When applied, the four-wheel, ventilated disc brakes put a quick end to the RL’s bite, and their impressive stopping power lends an air of security.

Safety features run the gamut, from wall-to-wall airbags to electronic gadgets designed to override the mistakes of a reckless or inattentive driver.

The well-laid-out interior drips with leather and other finely polished materials. An exhaustive list of standard features includes look-at-that goodies such as a power rear sunshade and 10-way power front seats.

What’s not to like? Can’t find much of anything.

All-around vision is good. Back seats are spacious and comfortable. Big trunk. Tech package list of wow devices includes an active front-lighting system, rear parking sensors, a navigation system with voice recognition and heated/ventilated front seats.

I’ve noticed that some reviewers, apparently straining for criticism, have dissed the RL’s six-speed automatic transmission, as opposed to seven- or eight-speed gearboxes found in other rides. Really?

If that’s the deal-breaker, maybe you should be reviewing something else … like the opera.

As for me, I’ve lumped the 2011 RL into my “must test drive” list for folks asking about luxury sedans.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Infiniti EX35's 2011 updates are substantial

Sacramento, California – I’ve made no secret of the fact that I like Infiniti’s lineup of vehicles … nicely styled, fun to drive, comfortable, cool features and arguably the best navigation system in the biz.

The recently tested 2011 Infiniti EX35 Journey crossover sport-utility vehicle with rear-wheel drive did nothing to change my mind. And for a vehicle that was supposedly only getting a “revision” or a “carryover” from 2010, a lot has been done.

The EX now has a seven-speed automatic transmission, giving you two more gears to play with. Eighteen-inch wheels have replaced the once-standard 17-inchers. Dual-zone, automatic climate control is now standard across the four trim levels.

New colors and fancy option packages have been introduced for 2011. And an enhanced blind spot warning system has been added to the likable Technology Package.

Wow, might as well have billed it as an all-new car!

The EX still flexes admirable muscle with its 3.5-liter, 24-valve V-6 churning out nearly 300 horsepower. That will get you and your cargo around, and the tester was outfitted with a “snow mode” feature to help one negotiate winter conditions. Brakes were grippy to the point where I had to concentrate on a light-footed application to keep my passengers comfortably seated.

Fuel mileage is, uh, a tepid 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway – numbers that won’t make you smile in these times of $4-plus gasoline.

Pricing on the tester, just slightly cheaper than the top-line AWD version of the EX35, started at $36,350, but opulent options pushed the bottom line to $42,505. That’s fairly serious luxury fare for an SUV that’s going to cost you some more serious coin at the gas pump.

At these price levels, I now view the EX35 as that luxury sport-ute you always wanted, but you’d never pay $50,000 for another automaker’s product. The EX35 comes off as a splurge, but a moderate splurge.

This EX35 will likely motor on forever with few problems, and the kids, relatives and friends will be substantially impressed with this high-end ride. And what the heck, tell them you paid $50,000 for it. Most people don’t know car prices.

One thing that stuck in my head is that, while smooth and sleek on the outside, the EX35 is sculpted low enough to resemble a five-door hatchback. And if you don’t see that and call it a straight-up crossover, alas, it looks like a lot of other crossovers currently on the roads.

Maybe this is a byproduct of driving too many crossovers of late, but exterior-wise, the EX35 came off to me as somewhat vanilla. The good news is that most everything else about the ride is hot fudge, whipped cream and cherry-on-top delicious.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

2011 Kia Sportage gets an A-plus upgrade

Sacramento, California – Now here’s a gutsy move: Take a small, economy-priced sport-utility vehicle that has been the standard-bearer for the automaker in the United States and completely change it.

Say hello to the 2011 Kia Sportage, a crossover that has received a mountain-size upgrade.

Alas, improvement comes with a cost: The tested Sportage EX AWD wore a starting price of $24,795. And with leather-trim, a navigation system and rear sonar extras thrown into the mix, the bottom line came to $29,990.

That’s a hefty tag for a vehicle that used to be Kia’s poster child for cheap. Unfortunately, more than a few critics thought Sportages of years past looked and drove cheap, too.

You can’t say that now.

My bright-red tester looked very much like Lexus fare, with tight body fittings, sculpted with enough aerodynamic angles to get my mouth watering. The lowered body was a great change for the better.

Rear spoiler, check. Double panoramic sunroof, double check.

Looks great. How does it drive? Way better than before.

The new standard power plant is a 2.4-liter, dual overhead cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder piece of work with continuously variable valve timing. The 176-horsepower engine is a much more willing mover than its predecessor. A 2-liter turbo engine with 270 ponies is optional Sportage fare for the 2011 model year.

Fuel efficiency on the tester was a so-so 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Given the vehicle’s robust, agile performing characteristics – especially compared with underpowered Sportages of yesteryear – I had few problems with the fuel mileage numbers.

Even on hard accelerations, the Sportage cabin is quiet – also a new thing in this vehicle.

I was frankly stunned a the long list of standard items that can now be had on the Sportage, a vehicle once known for Spartan perks. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a cooling glove box and power-adjustable front seats stood out. Like I said, the Sportage has grown up and is now playing with the big boys in the crossover segment.

Throw in Kia’s exceedingly generous warranties and top-notch safety ratings, and you have a fairly impressive package.

I must add that for the second time in a relatively brief time period, the Sirius Satellite Radio subscription on my test vehicle cut out literally when the Sportage was in motion on the freeway. I’m now convinced that a vast international conspiracy is behind it.

No mystery, however, about the redesigned Sportage. It’s the best one Kia has produced.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ford Edge model reviewed in Cruisin' News

Sacramento, California – My review of the 2011 Ford Edge Limited FWD 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.

New offering from Sweden is a sweet treat

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

Something new arrived from Sweden, and no, it was not an upgraded meatball recipe.

It’s the new-for-2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD luxury sedan. For a five-passenger luxury car loaded with standard features, this Volvo is fairly affordable at $37,700. Alas, a ton of extras boosted the bottom line on the tester to $46,200. So, yes, now we’re in the luxury price category.

Keeping in mind that a Volvo sedan typically scores low on the “sexy styling” list, the S60 actually looks pretty good – coupe-like sporty, signature Volvo front end and nicely sculpted at the back end. The “Vibrant Copper” paint job – think bright orange – also looked pretty nice. However, a derivative of that color mixed with dark brown in the interior was not so hot.

If you don’t like Vibrant Copper, Volvo offers 14 – yes, I said FOURTEEN – additional exterior color options.

As the S60 TV commercials suggest, performance is key to this car. And on that front, it’s definitely a winner.

The 3-liter turbocharged six with variable valve timing churns out 300 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque. Matched with the AWD system, this S60 can be ripped around at outrageous speed, and yet the car’s traction/stability systems make it nearly impossible to spin. And believe me, I tried. Road-hugging excellence was off the charts, especially on sharp downhill turns taken at high speed.

Even during aggressive maneuvers, interior comfort and quiet stood out. Good feelings were enhanced by a ridiculously long list of standard comfort/convenience features. Per usual for Volvo, safety features were likewise numerous and provided a feeling of home-in-bed security when the car was on the fly.

Some features, however, are better than others.

All S60s have a standard perk called City Safety. In a nutshell, the car automatically brakes if the driver fails to react in time to a slowing/stopped vehicle ahead. Likewise, City Safety reacts to any object stopped in the road dead-ahead. This was tried in rush hour traffic, and it’s a great way to avoid the sudden-stop fender bender. My insurance policy thanks you.

But then there’s Lane Departure Warning system that sends out jarring beeps if the system senses that you’re straying from your path between the roadway lines. The system beeps if you have not used a turn signal, assuming you’ve mentally checked out. Problem is, it also beeps on gently winding roads and forks in the road requiring only a slight turn of the steering wheel.

The sound of beeps during completely normal operation is incredibly annoying. At least Volvo gives you a center stack-mounted button to turn it off, which I did.

Otherwise, this is a Swedish sweet treat that likely will please the “I make pretty good money” suburban crowd. In a world of mundane car “freshenings” and not-so-new introductions, the S60 really is something new, with quality.