Monday, August 29, 2011

Enthusiast's plea: Shut up and race!

Sacramento, California – I spent the past weekend watching auto racing live and on television, and I was struck again by an ugly pattern.

Not only did I hear more whining from drivers in various racing series, the TV crews covering the events continued to do their part to ramp up the rudeness and rancor.

Wow, this is getting old!

And so am I, but I actually do remember a time when on-track missteps – real or imagined – were sorted out one way or another behind the garages. No bellyaching into the camera, no sucker punches, no hair grabbing.

Now, it seems that most drivers (and crew members) are trained in the art of the 30-second sound bite, trashing a fellow driver who did something stupid, got in the way or was simply caught up in a racing crash.

But it’s not enough to let the video evidence speak for itself. Drivers lash out at fellow drivers with seemingly relentless insults, and gestures. So-and-so was an idiot. So-and-so is always doing something stupid. So-and-so is always running his mouth.

As for that last one, do you notice how often a driver complaining about another driver running his mouth is always running his mouth? Even the spotters get in on the sound bites, pronouncing instant judgment over an open radio.

TV acts as an enabler. The pre-race shows constantly ramp up the rancor from the previous race, even though that event might have occurred two weeks back. Instead of talking about the most newsworthy facts leading up to the day’s events, half the pre-race show time is spent replaying the mouth-running footage of the past, playing up the spicy language.

It doesn’t end there. It’s ramped up even more during live interviews where the feuding parties, with interviewers almost gleefully asking, “Did you hear what he said now?”

It’s starting to resemble wrestling “entertainment.” I half expect another driver to run into a live interview and hit the driver being interviewed over the head with a folding chair.

Even worse, crashed-out drivers mouth off even when video footage shows they were clearly at fault. Yeah, this is a brutal sport. Drivers compete hard. Few roll over and get out of the way. Crashes and contact happen.

Enough already. I’ve been watching the sport long enough to know when somebody screwed up. I don’t need relentless alibis and prolonged pumping of old news.

Do me a favor: Shut up and race.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Auto upgrade: 2012 Acura TL is a step up

Sacramento, California – Acura’s handsome sports sedan, the TL, gets a new look for 2012, and the changes front and back are special enough to give owners of older TLs a touch of envy.

This freshened TL just looks better, with sweetly sharp angles seemingly borrowed from a Stealth fighter’s spec chart. My tester, the 2012 TL SH with all-wheel drive and an “Advance Package” of perks, is the most expensive of seven trim levels. My car with no listed extra-cost extras and an $860 destination charge came in at $45,945.

That’s right. Sporty luxury does not come cheap these days.

For the record, the tester was positively stuffed with tech goodies (a navigation system, rearview camera, an over-the-top Surround Sound audio system and a hard disk drive to name just a few) and the “Advance Package” consisted of a blind spot information system (the better to avoid those nasty sideways collisions), ventilated front seats, 19-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires.

Inside, the TL SH-AWD was laced with leather and opulence. Interior quietness on the road was exceptional. I’d have preferred a little more information out of the small satellite radio readout when also using the navigation system, but hey, it’s probably best that I do less reading and more paying attention to the road when I’m driving.

My TL was equipped with a drive-by-wire throttle system and a six-speed automatic transmission. The power source was a 3.7-liter VTEC V-6 with 305 horsepower. Given all that, I expected a fair amount of neck-snapping power when I nailed the gas. But I didn’t get that.

Don’t get me wrong; the Acura moved out smartly when asked. And it ate up every road challenge I threw at it. But power is dished out comparatively smoothly and evenly, not with the brute force you expect from a vehicle with a 300-pony V-6.

Fuel mileage was an OK 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

I wanted to offer special kudos to the producers of the four-wheel disc brakes. They were impressive without being jarring. I was surprised several times how quickly the brakes settled down the tester in nasty stop-and-go freeway traffic, but I was never slammed into the seat belts. Nice, controlled stopping power. Very much race car-like.

Acura has taken heat over the years for lacking a signature car, but I’d have to say this current TL sedan steps right up as a memorable ride with enduring qualities. Would I recommend it to my high-earning friends? In a heartbeat.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Elantra sedan another able Hyundai entry

Sacramento, California – Hyundai’s evolvement from a maker of cheap cars to a producer of highly-sought, quality vehicles remains one of the remarkable auto stories of the past generation, in my view.

Hyundai keeps grinding out affordable rides, packed with perks and performance for which others pay many thousands more at other lots.

The 2011 Elantra GLS sedan only enhanced my feel-good vibe about the South Korean automaker.

Reworked for the 2011 model year, the Elantra impresses right away with a pleasing, yet understated aerodynamic look. And while the back end of the car is bobbed to a certain degree, opening the trunk reveals a deeply recessed space capable of holding a generous amount of cargo.

The starting price on my tester was an easy-to-take $17,080, swelled up to near $20,000, mostly with the addition of a navigation package.

More good news on the sticker: 29 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. There are some numbers to feel good about at the present time.

The happy tour of the sticker is enhanced even more with the lengthy list of safety features and the super-generous lineup of warranties.

The Korean import offers a mixed bag of impressions on the fly.

The 1.8-liter in-line 4 with 148 horsepower has enough to get you out of harm’s way coming down the highway merge ramp, but man, smashing the gas produces a serious scream from the engine. That scream seems somewhat futile on steep hill climbs, during which time the Elantra sedan is unquestionably straining to get it done.

Yet it is an agile urban dweller. An easy feel on the steering wheel allows the car to slalom through traffic, bikes and sleepwalking crosswalk invaders. It stops on a dime.

Simply put: I liked the car better in the city than I did on the open road, although it appears that it will run flawlessly – with few gas station visits in between – on a long, flat highway.

I never quite figured out the Elantra’s “eco” mode, and frankly, I’m not sure it made any difference.

Internal amenities were nicely arranged, comfortable and easy to use, although I’m not sure I’d force a full-size adult to ride in the middle of the backseat area.

All in all, a solid effort yet again from Hyundai. This Elantra is affordable, well-backed transportation that will likely keep its owners happy for many years.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chrysler 200 sedan reviewed in Cruisin' News

Sacramento, California – My review of the 2011 Chrysler 200 Touring sedan appears in the latest, August 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.

Camaro Convertible gives you all you desire

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

Sacramento, California -- Some say you haven’t really driven a Chevrolet Camaro until you’ve driven the convertible version.

Hogwash! You take your horsepower and pony car panache where you can get it these days, and I had no reservations about putting the 2011 Camaro Convertible 1LT through its paces, having tested the 2LT coupe version not all that long ago.

The difference: The convertible is breezier with the top down.

I’m serious. Otherwise, both Camaros give you the usual mix of gut-satisfying performance/handling, sexy styling and impressive interior amenities. I think the best praise for the latest generation of the Camaro is that, even after being on the market for some time now, people still walk up and exclaim, “Hey, that’s a Camaro!”

Yes it is, and a frisky one at that.

All Camaro LT models come with a 3.6-liter V-6 putting out 312 horsepower, yet gas mileage is a fairly respectable 17 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Accelerations off the line are brisk affairs, pressing you into the seat and allowing you to enjoy a satisfying growl from the power plant.

It’s a pretty good blast for a starting price just south of $30,000.

The suspension is appropriately stiff, but not overly so, for a convertible, and you feel totally secure wheeling this droptop around in heavy traffic. Careful sculpting directs headwinds mostly around the driver, and getting the top down does not require an engineering degree.

The layout of interior controls is easy to see and use, and wind buffeting with the top down is slight enough to enable you to hear the radio without dialing up the volume level to eardrum-bursting levels. All in all, this car looks and feels good cruising the boulevard, and you have the spirit-boosting knowledge that you didn’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy this car new.

True, this is not the SS version of the Camaro Convertible. That hardware with a 6.2-liter, 426-horsepower V-8 is going to run you closer to $40,000. During my recent visit to the centennial Indianapolis 500, I got within sweating distance of the special-edition Camaro SS Convertible that would pace the race. No dice getting behind the wheel. A.J. Foyt already had the ride locked up.

No big deal, you can get some of the thrill Foyt felt on Indy 500 race day with the 1LT droptop. It has enough in it to propel your fantasies.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cheers! Venza surprises on Wine Country trip

Sacramento, California - I looked at a 2011 Toyota Venza in a showroom last fall, and I must admit that I was not impressed.

Touted as a crossover between a sport-utility vehicle and a sport sedan, I thought it looked more like a wagon with limited cargo-carrying capacity.

What was that they said about first impressions?

Turns out I liked the Venza a lot when I recently had the opportunity to pilot it in a unique environment - California's Wine Country. In that world - where I was a relative peasant among homes, cars and possessions well beyond my pay grade - the Venza was a welcome and comforting performer.

It helped that the delivered vehicle was a gorgeous Tropical Sea Metallic - think soft ocean blue -- that still managed to look stunning parked among the ocean of Mercedes, Porsches, Acuras and Bentleys in the winery lots.

My tester was the front-drive V-6 starting at $28,300, but that doesn't begin to tell the tale. This Venza had more add-ons that a congressional highway bill, bringing the bottom line to a head-turning $37,024. I'd say it was the fanciest "affordable" Toyota I've ever driven.

Here I was driving a Venza with mahogany-style inlay, high-intensity lights with automatic high-beam on/off control, leather-trimmed seats, power moonroof, panoramic glass roof at the back end, backup camera and power lumbar supports to name just a few.

Not that I minded the extra perks.

But honestly, the most impressive points on the Venza were how it drove and what it carried.

The 268-horsepower V-6 was an enthusiastic power plant, capable of doing the quick pass of a poke and gliding up those sometimes-steep driveways one finds in the Wine Country. And yet the vehicle was nimble enough to maneuver through tight town streets and cramped parking lots.

I had no trouble whatsoever putting this car through its paces in areas where I was not an everyday visitor. That might be the ultimate compliment for a car: It makes you feel secure on relatively unknown roadways.

The Venza'a cargo-carrying configurations are much, much healthier than I originally thought. And the automatic power liftgate on the rear of the tester made loading a snap. Here's a vehicle you want to take on vacation.

With the V-6, fuel mileage ratings weren't so hot at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. No surprise there.

But virtually everything else on the Venza did surprise me … in a pleasant way.