Friday, October 28, 2011

This Patriot's colors run rather well

Sacramento, California –-For an automaker that counts significant World War II glory as part of its history, Jeep has sure taken its lumps over the years.

While I have not fallen in love with every new Jeep product introduced over the past generation, I personally believe the rocks thrown at Jeep have been a little large … and a little unfair. It’s almost as if purists are angry that Jeep doesn’t stick to producing Wranglers and other vehicles with the old World War II DNA.

Take the Jeep Patriot Latitude 4X4. Here’s a nice, five-passenger sport-utility vehicle that will cost you around $22,000 and change, do just about everything right and carries a long list of standard features. Most vehicles making these claims are deserving of respect.

And it has my respect. The Patriot was freshened in 2011 and gets a few more tweaks for 2012, but essentially, it’s the same package.

Standard propulsion at Latitude level comes from a 2.4-liter in-line 4 with 172 horsepower. No, that won’t blow off a sports car, but it will handle most of the challenges found on city streets and rural highways.

My tester had an easy-to-use dashboard of controls. Cargo-carrying capacity was easily expanded to generous with an easy fold of the 60/40-split rear seats.

Fuel mileage is a so-so 21 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

I did not take my Patriot over a rock-strewn trail in the Sierra Nevada – I suggest the Jeep Wrangler for folks who consider this fun – but it certainly looked rugged enough in the fine Jeep tradition. Even with those rugged, squared shoulders, the Patriot was silky smooth and surprisingly quiet on freeway runs.

Seriously fine features include electronic roll mitigation, hill-start assist and halogen headlamps.

But just don’t take my word for it.

The recent third quarter report by the Sacramento-based California New Car Dealers Association showed that Jeep posted a 54 percent gain in new light vehicle registrations in the first nine months of 2011, compared with the same period in 2010. That topped ALL brands sold in California.

Hmmm, somebody must know something, right?

And given the near-constant reminders that the Patriot ultimately will be supplanted by a Fiat crossover, now might be a good time to get a deal on a Patriot.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dennis Gage live at Sacramento Automobile Museum...Oct. 28

Sacramento, California -- The California Automobile Museum in Sacramento is looking to reach out to a larger audience of car enthusiasts.

And what better way to do that than with the instantly recognizable Dennis Gage, host of SPEED network’s “My Classic Car”?

With his prominent handlebar mustache and signature catchphrase – “Honor the timeless classics” – Gage has lured an army of viewers into the world of classic automobiles, car shows and collectors.

On Friday, Oct. 28, Gage will be the featured speaker at the California Automobile Museum’s annual fundraising dinner. Starting at 5:30 p.m., the dinner’s keynote address is “Life in the Fast Lane – Bash with the ’Stache.”

The evening also will feature a cocktail hour, live and silent auction, a catered dinner and other entertainment. A wide selection of auction prizes includes automotive collectibles.

Tickets are $75 each and can be purchased on-site and online at

Corporate and sponsor members of the museum receive two free tickets as part of their membership packets. Corporate museum memberships or sponsorships are offered for $500.

The California Automobile Museum features scores of motor vehicles of all stripes – 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 museum has one of the most extensive docent programs in the nation.

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.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Death of a Champion

This commentary first appeared in the Oct. 18, 2011, edition of The Sacramento Bee. -- mg

Sacramento, California -- For those who have followed IndyCar racing for decades and delved into its century-old history, Sunday's terrible events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway came as no surprise.

And yet the death of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was no less shocking, no less heartbreaking. If anything, Wheldon's death unveiled the compassion and soul of the people who race mega-speed missiles for a living.

Drivers whose hard, sometimes emotionless faces have been common in past interviews wept openly – a gut-wrenching and yet spirit-lifting display of unvarnished humanity.

TV commentators, team owners and drivers said all the right things amid Sunday's grief. They accurately noted that we've become so accustomed to race drivers walking away from the most horrific crashes that we've become jaded. We expect drivers to pop up out of the cockpits of mangled cars and give a jaunty wave to a relieved crowd.

Advances in car and track safety over the past 40 years have helped foster that feeling of security. Wearing fire-resistant suits and protective helmets, IndyCar drivers are wrapped in a virtually indestructible cocoon, their bodies held in place by belts and padding.

And yet the laws of physics and flesh are brutal and unbending. Simply, a human subjected to hard impact at 225 mph can perish in any number of ways. The drivers know this entering every race.

This knowledge inspires awe in the rest of us, that they can compete in close quarters at blinding speed, week after week, knowing the potential consequences.

It takes a lot to stare down a 99-mph fastball or a charging, supremely conditioned linebacker, but let's face it: There's no comparison between those things and the dangers drivers of open-wheel racing cars face.

It used to be much more dangerous, of course.

In the 1950s and '60s, it was common for two, three or even four name drivers to die in Indy cars every year. Drivers who not only survived but won in those eras – A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti among them – would admit they didn't strive to have friendships among their colleagues because the odds were those competitors might not be around long.

I remember that era well, but alas, I, too, had become complacent lately.
After Sunday's 15-car crash at Las Vegas – the most violent I've seen in my 50 years of watching IndyCar events – I was hopeful that every driver involved would be interviewed after a checkup at the infield care center. But as I watched rescue teams at work and mentally checked off those drivers who had walked away, a dreadful realization came over me.

Oh my God, not Dan. Please, not Dan.

And yet it was Dan. All the safety team actions and the body language of the drivers told the awful truth. And then it was official.

Dan Wheldon – 33, father of two, husband, sparkling personality, well-spoken ambassador of the sport, instantly likable and IndyCar champion – was gone.

In my view, it was IndyCar's darkest day since May 30, 1964, when Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald died in a huge, fiery crash on the second lap of the Indianapolis 500. I was there that day, a 10-year-old seeing his fourth Indy 500. I have never completely gotten over that crash and its horror.

Now I will never forget Oct. 16, 2011. And I'll always remember Dan Wheldon, a champion.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Smaller engine, big surprise in Altima ride

Sacramento, California – It had been some time since I had reviewed a Nissan Altima sedan, so I eagerly anticipated its arrival.

Oh, here it is now and … Rats, it’s a 2.5!!!

A 2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 S to be specific, but the key factor here is 2.5.

I much prefer the 3.5 Altimas, with their 3.5-liter V-6s pouring out 270 glorious horses. The V-6 makes the Altima perform at a level resembling the pricier Nissan Maxima. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed more than a few moments blowing off hot cars in a series of Altima 3.5 testers.

Well, gotta live with it. The next morning I’m heading down the freeway entrance ramp with my right foot deep in the tester’s 2.5-liter in-line 4 with 175 horsepower, and I zip past a pretty good car. About two seconds later, I blast past what I consider to be a very frisky foreign model.

What gives? This Altima 2.5 S is performing way above what I remember. I looked it up: I tested 2002 Altima 2.5 S, and the horsepower rating was exactly what it is now, 175 ponies. But I don’t remember that car giving me the oomph the current model was giving me.

Somewhere along the line while I was driving Altima 3.5s, the Nissan engineers must have tuned the four-banger to run with the wolves. Nice surprise? You bet.

Everything else in the 2012 Altima was just what you’d expect from a model that compares favorably with heavyweights such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Interior space was plentiful, even in the back. Trunk space was likewise ample.

An uncomplicated, easy-to-use layout of dashboard controls made for easy motoring. The car looked aerodynamically pleasing riding on its 16-inch all-season tires. A long list of standard comfort/convenience features makes the $22,570 manufacturer’s suggested retail price seem like a bargain.

My tester was dressed up with a couple of “Convenience” packages that included an eight-way power driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power sliding moonroof and dual zone automatic temperature control. The bottom line on my ride was $26,320.

In truth, I could have done without the extras and been perfectly happy in the car. And fuel mileage ratings of 23 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway felt pretty good too.

Would I recommend the Altima 2.5 S to a friend? Yes, without hesitation. After all, horsepower isn’t everything, and saving a few bucks on gas in a still-peppy car makes my day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Restyled Civic reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Sacramento, California – My review of the restyled-for-2012 Honda Civic EX-L sedan appears in the latest, October 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.

2012 CLS550 upholds Mercedes' reputation

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

Sacramento, California -- Fall approaches, and for car folks, that means one thing: 2012 is here!

And what better way to start out the new year than a week in the redesigned-for-2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550?

I’ve heard this car described as a four-door coupe, and I have no idea what that means. Sure, it’s a sedan with the soul of a Dodge Viper, but that does not make it a coupe in my book. The four doors were the tip-off for me. Just saying.

Descriptions aside, this is an amazing car. My, doesn’t it look great just parked there in my driveway, with a screaming Mercedes tri-star centered in the middle of a menacing grille. Inside, quality is Mercedes-like, although oddly, the cupholders seem a little cheap.

The engine is a twin-turbo 4.6-liter V-8 with 402 horsepower and 443 foot-pounds of torque, which comes in at max blast as early as 1,800 revolutions per minute. Say no more; the CLS can scream with the best of them.

Acceleration is not just brisk. It’s get-a-grip-on-the-wheel intimidating, and you quickly realize that it wouldn’t take all that much to hit the electronically controlled limit of 130 miles per hour. Too bad. I’d like to get this car to a track and watch it chase down a Highway Patrol cruiser. Alas, I was too chicken to attempt this on the public roads.

Ventilated brakes on both ends bring the CLS550 to a stop with tailhook-like authority. During all the power blasts and on-a-dime stopping exertions, barely a sound makes its way into the cockpit. Now that’s impressive.

So, you’d expect to pay, what, $100,000 minimum for this car, right? That would be a fair estimate. But the tester started at a relatively affordable $71,300. Mine was jazzed up with extras to put the bottom line at $82,765. That’s still not bad for a Mercedes of this quality.

Saving money on the car deal will come in handy as gas mileage on the 2012 CLS550 is 16 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

That’s a lot of pay going out the dual chrome exhaust pipes. But if you have the cash, the CLS550 is the first positive bit of news coming out in 2012.