Friday, September 30, 2011

WUNDERCARS! exhibit opens in Sacramento

Sacramento, California -- Much of my past six months has been devoted to helping the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento launch its new main exhibit -- WUNDERCARS!, the story of the German automobile at home and abroad.

The museum staff has handled much the heavy lifting, and the exhibit makes its debut Oct. 1.

The machinery assembled so far is fantastic. The main exhibit area contains German cars of all stripes, many of them highly valued by collectors. Over the exhibit's nearly eight-month run (through May 11, 2012), four separate German marques also will be featured in a separate, highlighted area.

Through Nov. 28, Porsche is in the spotlight. Again, our collection of Porsche models is stellar.

Through the exhibit's run, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen also will have their time in the spotlight.

Our corporate sponsors, both Sacramento-based, are The Niello Co. and the Von Housen Mercedes-Benz Group of Dealers. These auto retailers, serving much of the Sacramento Valley, played a big role in getting WUNDERCARS! rolling.

Please visit the museum if you come to Sacramento in the near future. WUNDERCARS! and the rest of the museum exhibits provide a first-class visual/educational automotive experience.

The California Automobile Museum features scores of motor vehicles – from early horseless carriages, to opulent classics, to racing machines to contemporary makes. Special exhibits and educations classes are also part of the experience.

The California Automobile Museum at 2200 Front Street is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and every third Thursday until 9 p.m.

For more details, call (916) 442-6802. The CAM website is

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Special Volvo S60: It's all about the pop

Sacramento, California – The 2012 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design AWD sedan is a car you can get lost in … literally and figuratively.

Mashing the gas gets you lost in a hurry via a 3-liter, turbocharged, in-line 6 producing a maximum 325 horsepower. More about that in a minute.

The other thing is you can get lost just trying to describe the car.

OK, let’s give it a go: The S60 received a serious makeover for the 2011 model year, and yes, that was a mission well done by the Volvo engineers. Then for 2012, we get something called the R-Design model. That was my tester, starting at about $42,500.

So, break it down: It’s a Volvo. It’s a 2012. It has a turbocharged, six-cylinder engine. It has all-wheel drive. And it’s an R-Design. Got it?

So what’s an R-Design?

Well, you get upgraded, auto racing-style sport seats in the front, enhanced steering and handling perks. Oh, and you get an “exterior styling kit” that enables you to spice up the Volvo’s skin and undergarments.

Is all that worth it? Well, sure, I like a sporty, good-looking car, but the true pleasure in this test drive was the S60’s on-road performance. Pretty close to spectacular.

Most impressive was the tester’s ability to instantly accelerate into small holes, whether it was doing that from a standing start or blazing from 50 mph to 70 mph with a snap of the fingers. I was so impressed by these sprint maneuvers that I kept trying them out over and over, probably looking like something of a madman to my fellow motorists.

But it was just too perfect – and fun – to walk away from. This Volvo has the capability to zip around some very pricey, horsepower-heavy cars … and it does so in quiet, rock-steady fashion.

The rush is backed up by the usual blizzard of Volvo safety, comfort and convenience features. Learning some of the tricks of the audio system/display takes some time, but once mastered, it all works pretty well.

All in all, I feel like I had the $60,000 car experience in a $42,500 model. Quite the steal, I’d say.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lots to like in 2012 motor vehicle offerings

Sacramento, California – The freshened, restyled and new motor vehicles for 2012 are starting to show up in numbers, and while no single model seems to stand out from the rest at this point, there are some eye-catchers.

The one arguably creating the most buzz is one of the smallest – the Fiat 500 (pictured).

What’s not to like? The tiny Italian is critically cute, a dedicated fuel-sipper and totally fun to drive on city streets and country roads. It will be interesting to see how Fiat sales go in this year’s final quarter.

What else out there is worthy of your attention? Here’s a rundown:

• The previously reviewed, redesigned-for-2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS500 is a four-door cruiser dripping with class and horsepower. Here’s a car that makes you want to drive more often and worry about the gasoline bill later.
• The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is an SUV on highway-burning steroids. If you thought an SUV was a practical vehicle for hauling family and cargo, step on the gas in this SRT8 and feel your heart race.
• The new Hyundai Veloster is a hatch with hot-rod attitude and stuffed with high-tech entertainment goodies to please both kids and adults. Can Hyundai be cool? Darn right it can!
• A super hot-looking ZL1 version of the Camaro is ready to make its debut. The horsepower output is somewhere in the 550 range. Enough said.
• The 2012 Chevrolet Impala gets styling and engine upgrades, adding some appeal to an American model that long lit up the sales charts.
• The latest version of Volkswagen’s venerable Beetle drops the “New” name and gets decidedly more macho with more-aggressive exterior styling and muscular engines. One test drive and you’ll forget that these cars once came with a standard flower vase.
• Another SRT8 mind-blower arrives with the 2012 Dodge Charger. It looks capable of walking away from a NASCAR Sprint Cup car. While you might not get the chance to try that out, the power plant lays down enough oomph to let you fantasize about the possibilities.
• The 2012 Audi A6 is a study in primo fit and finish on a four-door sedan. The optional, supercharged V-6 engine puts out 310 horses.
• Don’t forget that BMW’s 6 Series is redesigned for 2012, and these are more than minor tweaks. The cars are bigger inside and out, and more-powerful engines are part of the mix.
• The all-new 2012 Buick Verano shapes up as an affordable, feature-loaded, practical-size sedan. A 2.4-liter in-line 4 has max horsepower of around 180, but look for more robust engine offerings up the road.

That’s it? Not by a long shot. Stay tuned for more reviews of 2012 hardware. Trust me, I’m test driving as fast as I can.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Odyssey minivan is a family room on the roll

Sacramento, California – My first thought upon examining the 2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite minivan: Where were you in ’92?

That’s 1992 -- a time when I had thick, black hair and a 7-year-old son who craved entertainment on road trips. He certainly did an admirable job of entertaining himself, but he would have absolutely flipped over this feature-loaded Odyssey, had it been available then.

The Odyssey, already a top-tier minivan, was reworked for 2011. My tester was a rolling family room.

Where to begin? The leather-trimmed interior, the multi-view rear-mounted cameras, the hard disk drive, the power/remote-operated sliding side doors and rear gate, the dozens of safety features (getting max federal five-star ratings for frontal and side-impact crashes), navigation system, 10-way power driver’s seat, second- and third-row sunshades, tri-zone climate control … the perks go on and on.

Then there was the DVD player to entertain the backseat passengers. You might remember the little hand-held video game-size screens that came with these early systems. Not so here: My tester had a super-wide 16.2-inch screen, with wireless headsets.

Incredible! May I have the check?

Whoa, there is a price to pay for all this -- $44,030 on the tester, admittedly the priciest of seven trim levels. But I’ve always kind of looked at a minivan as a long-term family investment, something you purchase when the kids are small, with plentiful driving vacations, soccer games and school field trips in the future.

On that level, this Odyssey excels. But wait, there’s more.

Gas mileage is actually pretty fair at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. And with nearly 250 horsepower put out by the 3.5-liter V-6, this minivan will handle hill climbs and freeway merges better than one might expect from a van. Just be sure to hit the accelerator hard when you really need it; it takes awhile for the revs to get up there.

I continue to like the Odyssey’s deep cargo area at the back, a spacious storage cavern even when the third-row seats are in use (the van can be configured to hold up to eight), and there are multiple cargo-carrying configurations to take advantage of as needed. If you have too much stuff for this van, you’ve probably over-packed.

Handling, by the way, is very much midsize sedan-like.

Minivans have taken hits for being too old-school, but if you’re current lifestyle screams for this vehicle segment, the Odyssey should be on your test-drive list.

Ah, if they’d only had this baby when I was a young father.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mercedes CLS550 reviewed in Cruisin' News

Sacramento, California – My review of the redesigned-for-2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 sedan appears in the latest, September 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.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chrysler's 200 is a player in crowded segment

This review originally appeared in the August 2011 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California -- mg

Sacramento, California -- Chrysler has been dealing with an identity problem for some time now.

Here’s the hard-luck list: Too many trucks and SUVs. Not enough quality, affordable passenger car offerings. The lingering bad taste of accepting a government bailout. And despite those gritty TV commercials you’ve been seeing about Chrysler’s hard roots as an American car company, Fiat is now the automaker’s majority owner.

It’s a lot of baggage to carry. But the load is a little lighter thanks to the new 2011 Chrysler 200 midsize sedan.

The 200 can be had as a pricier droptop, but my tester was the reasonable (starting price of $21,245) Touring sedan. Ordinarily this model gets a 2.4-liter in-line 4 with nearly 175 ponies. However, my tester had the beefier 3.6-liter V-6 with 283 horsepower. That power plant was one of the extras that swelled the bottom line on my car to $24,770.

First things first: This 200 is attractive, with a clean and sexy exterior look. Fit and finish from the glittering, flush headlights to the trunklid are top-notch. My tester was Batmobile black, and I was surprised by the number of folks who walked up to me and wanted to know about that beauty I was driving.

The interior look is likewise clean and attractive, with leather appointments and a center-mounted dash clock that looks like something you’d expect to see in a top-tier Lexus. I know the clock was made to look more valuable than it actually is, but hey, whoever did that job did a good one.

Safety features are plentiful to the point of making this car a deal-maker in the midsize sedan segment.

Chrysler appeared to save money on the center stack/dash, with is very Spartan and very basic. You can hear tunes and control your climate. Beyond that, not much happening.

I was somewhat disappointed that the V-6 did not produce more oomph. I really had to sink my foot into the accelerator to get top-end performance, and it took a little while for the revs to get up there. The V-6 also gets so-so mileage ratings of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

Cabin quietness, however, was pretty impressive.

So, the good news in all this is that Chrysler, no matter who’s running the store, has a midsize sedan offering that’s truly competitive. And that’s saying something at a time when the competition for American customers in the segment is ferocious.

I’m not sure the 200 has enough to lure the entrenched Honda, Toyota, Ford and GM crowd of midsize buyers, but it’s certainly in the conversation now. That in itself is a good thing for too-long-beleaguered Chrysler.