Thursday, July 14, 2011

BMW's extras are nice; ride is even nicer

Sacramento, California – BMW introduced its X3 in 2004, calling it a Sports Activity Vehicle, sort of a luxo sport-ute that could smash through an off-road landscape if you really felt like damaging your somewhat pricey ride.

Most of us opted to simply drive the luxury liner and enjoy the perks. A reworked version for 2011 simply reinforces those urges.

My tester was the pricier of the two trim levels – a 2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i (complicated label, no?) with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $41,050. And hey, that isn’t so bad for a five-passenger, four-door SUV from BMW.

Alas, a full reading of the sticker included enough extras to load into the back of the thing. Premium and technology goodies included a panoramic moonroof, lumbar support, rear-view camera, park-distance control system and a navigation system, to name just a few.

That brought the bottom line to $53,015. Sigh!

I asked myself if I could live without the extras. And the quick answer was “yes.” But knowing BMW’s market niche, I’m guessing that most devotees absolutely want everything this xDrive35i was packing. And let’s face it, one person’s $53 K is another person’s life savings. BMW fans want the varsity package.

And for a week, yes, I was spoiled in opulent surroundings and excellent engineering. Yet it was the basic package that impressed me most.

The tester’s road manners were extraordinary – smooth, light, agile and powerful when asked. The engine is a 3-liter in-line 6 turbo with 300 horses. That’s more than enough juice to get the SUV down the road and up the hills in a hurry. Yet even at full song, interior cabin noise is slight.

Solid? You bet.

Performance, control and stability features are top-notch. Ditto the extensive safety systems. The AWD system functions with sweet precision.

Interior controls are plentiful and take some time to learn. I’m still trying to figure out BMW’s out-of-the-ordinary turn-signal system, but I think I just have a blind spot on this particular engineering marvel.

Oh, it looks good too. A clean aerodynamic look has just enough sharpness at the edges to make this BMW a sporty-looking family outing wagon. This X3 also is bigger than its ancestor.

Gas mileage is, well, not so bad if you don’t blink spending cash for BMWs – 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

Overall, this is what you expect from a second-generation model – something better than the first generation. A nice effort. If you have the dough and need a luxury-level SUV, it should be on your test-drive list.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Camaro droptop reviewed in Cruisin' News

Sacramento, California – My review of the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible 1LT appears in the latest, July 2011, 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.

HOLY BLEEP! This Jag sedan is a blast

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

Sacramento, California -- The 2011 Jaguar XJL Supercharged sedan is what I call a HOLY BLEEP! vehicle.

That’s because when people see it, they exclaim HOLY BLEEP!

And bleep well they should. This sedan within the beefed up, six-trim-level 2011 XJ lineup really is more than a car. Calling it a car sells it short, like calling Lady Gaga just another dressy girl.

This Jag is artwork on a grand scale, with a big scoop of mind-blowing performance characteristics that seem derived from advanced alien technology.

On first glance, it looks long enough and wide enough to be a limo. The elegant appearance is gloriously enhanced by a simple prancing cat in chrome on the back of the trunklid. I love that. Simply said: This is a big Jag. Say no more.

It’s on the roll that you start to edge into HOLY BLEEP! territory.

With the 5-liter, supercharged, 470-horsepower V-8 engine handling the propulsion chores, you are transported to another planet, somewhere in the Blew By You galaxy. Just the smallest pressure on the accelerator brings instant zip, and yet it is so smooth that you don’t quite get the full effect until you see surrounding cars get oh-so-small in your mirrors.

Yet the XJL cabin is so quiet that you get virtually no sound on blast-offs, and that actually is a shame, because you really expect an audio rip when the car is hitting 80 mph at one-fourth throttle. This kind of oomph and silky handling change your whole attitude.

It was so easy to sail into tight spots I normally wouldn’t think of filling in mere mortal machinery. In my head, I’m screaming at a trailing car: “Like you had even a PRAYER of slamming the door on me!”

This kind of mood-altering machismo is likely to produce speeding tickets in bunches, so it’s probably good that I had the XJL for only a week. But what a rush it was.

The interior is a Four Seasons Hotel experience, dripping with fine woods and exquisitely sculpted controls. Too bad the gear-shifting mechanism is a dial – yes, I’m serious – because even with the six-speed automatic, you feel the urge to ram a floor shifter into the pegs.

What’s not to like? Well, there’s 15/21 mpg with premium juice and a starting price of $90,700. Other than that, it is everyone’s dream.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Scion tC coupe takes a step up for 2011

Sacramento, California – I’ve liked the Scion tC two-door sports coupe from the beginning, in 2004, and there’s more to like in 2011.

The spunky little car equipped with some serious youth-oriented shout-outs has been redesigned to look more sporty on the front and back ends, and performance is more robust, thanks to a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing.

The power plant puts out a max 180 horses, and that does the job nicely for all occasions in a car that is light and nimble.

My tester with a six-speed automatic transmission had a bottom-line price of $19,995, including a $720 processing and handling fee. Absolutely no extras on the car.

Even so, my tC was liberally sprinkled with nice standard features, including the usual powered convenience devices and an ear-blasting eight-speaker sound system from Pioneer.

One important note: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the 2011 tC a top overall safety rating of five stars. No surprise there. The fact that this small coupe has eight airbags gives you an idea of how much safety consideration went into the design.

Fuel mileage is a nice 23 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, and it takes the more-affordable 87-octane.

The car is fun to drive and easy to drive.

The tC sprints briskly off the line, and the light steering makes it a top performer in dicey downtown/suburban traffic. It handles freeway duties with ease, no matter if the road is flat, twisty or hilly. An upgraded suspension system was evident – less sway and a lot less road bumping compared with my previous experiences in past tC coupes.

I would not advise trying to jam three people into the car’s back seat area. Cruel and unusual, that. Two max would be my advice, and I believe smaller adults will experience more riding comfort.

I confess that I had trouble figuring out the controls on the sound system, but this appears to be an attack of tech-challenge fever on my part. The suggested cure is more time with an owner’s manual.

The 2011 tC has been getting some very positive reviews from colleagues, who see the latest version as a vast improvement over the previous generation. Frankly, I’m not sure how much you can improve an affordable, already solid two-seater. For me, the tC is simply a better car than it was before.

Folks looking for affordable, basic transportation will like it, given that it’s a capable roadway performer with plentiful standard goodies. What’s not to like?