Friday, December 28, 2012

Prius Plug-In is a plus for fuel-saving fans


Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – I’ve now been in every version of the Toyota Prius, and when it comes to the Prius Plug-In, think of it as the original Prius with a boost.

Electrical boost, that is.

You can win a few bar bets by asking folks which car model is the best-selling one in California in 2012.  It’s the Prius.  Yes, I’m serious.  Not the Camry, not the Civic, not the Accord, not the Focus, not the Ford F-Series pickup.

Sure, California is eco-friendly and a massive market, but it’s more than that.  The Prius now comes in so many flavors that just about anybody will be pleased and get the additional perk of good gas mileage in the fuel-pricey Golden State.

For those who seriously want to stretch the gas money, this Prius Plug-In is going to be your cup of Texas tea.

With the Plug-In, you get the basic benefits of the 50-miles-per-gallon Prius liftback, but you also have the option of extending your personal economy further with extended electric driving mode.

This is done via a specially installed lithium-ion battery pack and an external charging cable.  A full charge using an standard external AC outlet takes about two-and-a-half to three hours.  Using a 240-volt charging station cuts that to about 90 minutes.

Using the gas-electric option at full song pushes the fuel mileage number to about 95 mpg.  Yes, the feds have a formula for figuring that out.  No matter what, you can figure on bypassing the fuel pumps with regularity.

I must say that I was thrown off by using the external charging cable on this Prius after years of telling people that the Prius hybrid was one you didn’t have to plug in.  Simply put, this Plug-In is the Prius you plug in. Seems easy enough to remember.

From there, it’s all Prius as usual, which is to say super technology for a song.  The starting price on the tester was $32,000, which I assure you is a bargain given all the technology riding on four wheels.

And it’s not stripped.  The tester had a generous list of standard comfort/convenience features and safety devices.  Handling was sharp and nimble, with zero hiccups in the power delivery systems.

Let’s call it the Prius with a plus, which means long-term fuel savings for the owner.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ford SUVs offer options for various tastes


Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Today, a tale of two Fords … two Ford sport-utility vehicles well known to motorists from coast to coast.

Let’s start with my 2013 Ford Explorer Limited with four-wheel drive.  Ford is expanding its Explorer offerings, and longtime Explorer fans will likely enjoy the engine choices and liberal standard features.

And yes, I certainly liked the standard comfort, convenience and functional perks, which took me two sittings to read.  The 3.5-liter V-6 with nearly 300 horses also had enough to keep me happy, even on steep climbs.  Fuel mileage was not so hot and 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.

But hey, it’s a big SUV.  You have to burn some juice to get it going.

Did I mention big?  I thought so.  Wow, this Explorer looks bigger than I remember it being.  And it drives big too.  I don’t mean that in a bad way.  It just feels like a seriously hefty human carrier when it’s on the roll.  Woe be unto the compact car driver that gets in the way of this beast.

Bigness has its charms, too.  I actually struggled to fill up the Explorer’s cargo area with boxes, when I was endeavoring to see how much this SUV could hold.  I had to go to the auxiliary boxes in the overhead storage area of my garage.

So, if you have a need for a big SUV to transport a lot of kids and cargo, this Explorer will do you right.  Mine had extras that pushed the bottom line to nearly $47,000, but the basic Limited/4WD will probably suit most folks just fine, starting at about $40,000.

More to my liking in my old age was the tested 2013 Ford Escape SE FWD (pictured), just one of seven trim levels for the extensively reworked-for-2013 Escape.  The base price of the tester was a reasonable $25,070, but again, mine was dressed up with extras to put the bottom line at $28,355.  I must confess that I did like the power liftgate for an extra $495.

I also liked the fuel mileage of 23 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the open road.  Power comes from a 1.6-liter in-line 4 EcoBoost engine.  That equates to a max 173 horses, which handled my humble driving demands just fine, thank you.  The tested Escape handled like a nicely balanced midsize sedan, with effortless steering and a smooth, quiet ride even on the freeway.

Best part: Man, it looks great.  The restyling cues are sharp and sporty in my book.  Keep those designers on the payroll.

This Escape is definitely a little brother to the Explorer.  But if your budget and cargo-toting needs are less than demanding, consider the revamped Escape a prospective occupant of your driveway.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Elantra minus two doors ... a nice addition


Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – For some reason, I couldn’t get my friends and colleagues whipped into an excited frenzy about my test ride, a 2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe SE.

Arms spread wide, I gushed: “But dude, it’s a Hyundai Elantra with only two doors!”

Apparent apathy stared back at me.  It’s a mystery to me, because yes, this new two-door Elantra is big news in my book.  You take a model that has been an impressive sedan for Hyundai, and with some saucy styling dash, you turn it into a sleek two-door cruiser with a give-‘em-hell sculpted front end.

Cool car?  Absolutely.

Even my top-end coupe started at a very reasonable fraction above the $20,000 threshold, and the generously equipped interior made that price look like a song.  Power comes from a sufficiently peppy 1.8-liter in-line 4 with variable valve timing and 148 horses.  On the fly, the power plant felt stronger than advertised.

Fuel mileage was attractive at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

Getting three adults to climb into the back of this Elantra is a challenge, I grant you.  But once seated, all have fairly comfortable room to spread out and enjoy the ride.

My volunteer passengers complimented the smooth ride and lack to backseat bumping around even when I sawed off a sharp corner.

Climate- and audio-control buttons are neatly bunched and easy to use.  Interior quiet was not Mercedes-like but impressive from a car in this segment.  Likewise, all-around vision from the cockpit was good.

I don’t know if it was the two doors or something else, but folks kept running up to the stopped car and asking me what it was … and where could they get one.  I’m no marketing expert, but I take this trend as a positive sign if I’m laboring for Hyundai.

Most automakers tout what they’ve added to a model.  Hyundai is making waves by taking away two doors.

Hey, it works for me.

Friday, December 7, 2012

2013 Scion FR-S reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2013 Scion FR-S sports car in the latest, December 2012 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 http://www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

This Ford Mustang GT is worthy of respect


This review originally appeared in the November 2012 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Respect.  That’s what you get when you’re behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang GT, especially the freshened-for-2013 version.

Fellow motorists tend to scoot out of your way when they see the GT’s Carroll Shelby-inspired front end approaching from behind.  They’re less inclined to cut you off as well.

Getting out of the car typically prompted conversations with passersby.  Most were green with envy.  Even owners of older Mustangs shouted, “Hey, trade you.”

No, I think not.  I like this Mustang.  I was happy to enjoy every minute of my full week in the tester: a 2013 GT Premium Coupe with a base price of $34,300.

That’s still a pretty terrific price for getting 420 horsepower out of the classic 5.0-liter V-8.  That’s up 8 horsepower from last year – not much, but 420 is still a pretty high number.   The power plant also produces a low-throated growl that’s also worth the price of admission.

The vehicle looks so aggressive in profile that even the neighborhood kids gave me a little respect when I parked the tester in my driveway, as if to say: “Hey that old man can’t be all that bad if he’s driving a car like that.”

My favorite touch on the exterior was the incredible light show put on at the back end with the Mustang-classic three-and-three taillights.  Honestly, they light up at night like a gaudy Christmas tree when you hit the key fob.  Great to watch.

Inside, my tester had as bare bones a dashboard as I’ve ever seen.  I think this is the trade-off – good looks and big horsepower, but we’re not going to give you luxury interior accommodations.  OK, seems like a fair deal to me.

My Mustang was equipped with a pricey Shaker acoustic audio system, which Ford touts as delivering sound on a level close to a live performance.  Not sure it was at that level, but yeah, it kicked pretty well.

The GT handled all driving situations with sporty ease, and yes, it was fun to dispatch an annoying BMW driver or two who opted to challenge the 5.0 engine’s authority.  Please note: This is not a car you can pack generously for a long trip, but then again, the Mustang never really was meant for that.

Overall, this latest version of the Mustang GT continues to rock.  Respect that.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Keselowski's run highlights the year in racing


Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Auto racing’s two-month dark period has begun, so it’s time to look back at the 2012 season predictions I made way back in February.

I had Carl Edwards winning the Sprint Cup Series title.  BIG swing and a miss there, which might also be said of Edwards’ 2012 campaign.  It had to be painful for Edwards, who came within one pass for position on the track of edging out series champ Tony Stewart in 2011.

I truly don’t know how Carl lost traction in such a big way.  But more significant is how 2012 Sprint Cup Series winner Brad Keselowski (pictured) stepped up to grab the glory.  Did he EVER blink down the stretch?  With two races to go, it seemed a near sure bet that five-time series crown winner Jimmie Johnson would lock in and take title No. 6.

Instead, Keselowski stared him down, and his crew performed at a lofty level to give team owner Roger Penske his first title in stock car racing’s top-most series.

Driver of the Year?  My vote, and congratulations, go to Keselowski.

In another glorious miss, I had Helio Castroneves winning his fourth Indianapolis 500 this year.  He was essentially a non-factor in the race as Dario Franchitti claimed his third 500 in May.  Let the hype begin: Helio and Dario each gunning to get Indy 500 victory No. 4 on May 26 next year.  Good story line there for 2013.

In February, I had Penske pilot Will Power finally claiming his first IndyCar Series championship.  Instead, for a third straight year, Power and his team stumbled at the finish line to lose what once seemed like a lock.  To his credit, veteran driver Ryan Hunter-Reay kept his foot on the gas until the last checkered flag fell.  Congrats to him for claiming that series championship.

I’m not sure what other misery can strike Power to keep his hands off the IndyCar Series trophy.  His run of bad luck has been epic.  Will 2013 actually be his lucky number?  We’ll see.

One last word: We may be seeing one of racing’s all-time greats in German driver Sebastian Vettel, who locked up his third consecutive Formula One world driving championship last weekend in Brazil.  The Red Bull team driver is only 25, and yes, before it’s over, he might own all of fellow German Michael Schumacher’s F1 records … records that once seemed light years distant.

Vettel came from way back to win it all this year, and his gutsy drive in Brazil amid a series of on-track setbacks was a study in patience and seemingly blind bravery.  The best ever?  If he’s around for another dozen or 15 years, the answer to that question is likely going to be an easy “yes.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Enjoy turkey, and the year's last major auto race


Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews also can be seen on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – It’s Thanksgiving weekend.  And you know what that means.

Yes, too much turkey, leftovers galore and preparation to absolutely blow the household budget on Christmas presents.

And it’s the end of the auto racing season.

That last part is cause for despair among those of us who closely follow rapidly rolling wheels around the world.

The last of the major series players will wrap up this weekend with Formula One’s Brazilian Grand Prix, with either Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel or Ferrari’s Fernando pulling down a third world driving championship.  Savor this one, folks.  It’s a long dry spell until racing starts gathering speed again in January.

My annual auto racing wrap-up will be posted on this blog next week.  After that, updates on my latest test drives are on the holiday menu.

Hope your holidays are safe and happy.  Use caution on those long holiday drives and in those dicey shopping mall parking lots.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mazda's 2013 CX-5 SUV is new and nice


Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews also can be seen on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Mazda’s all-new 2013 CX-5, a sensibly-sized, five-passenger sport-utility vehicle, seems to be a nice fit for the middle-class family looking for people- and cargo-carrying room for a price that won’t break the bank.

Even my comparatively pricey Grand Touring version with front-wheel drive started at a relatively easy to swallow $27,045.  A base CX-5 starts at around $21,000.

Good mileage?  Check, at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

Good cargo-carrying capacity?  Check.  I filled the tester up with boxes and was pleasantly surprised how many the CX-5 took in.

Long list of safety/security features and comfort/convenience perks?  Double-check, and they were easy to understand and use.  My tester had an optional tech package that included a “burglar alarm”.

Burglar?  Haven’t heard that applied to a motor vehicle of late, but I assumed it was capable of foiling the bad guys.

I read up on the new Mazda offering before cranking the engine and saw where Motor Trend basically liked the CX-5 but noted that the 2-liter, 155-horsepower was a bit lacking in the oomph department.

I agree.  This CX-5 was decidedly agile on city streets and dicey interstates, but I really had to put my foot in it when it came time to separate myself from the crowd or zip into a tight space in quick order.  And the engine made fairly noisy complaints when I did this. Please understand, this was not a deal-breaker, but it’s something to consider if you spend plentiful amounts of time on the highway or climbing up hills.

Mazda touts its SKYACTIV technology as an efficient blend of engine, transmission and chassis providing maximum efficiency.  Not having an engineering degree, I can only guess about the time and effort put into this.  But strictly from a seat-of-the-pants perspective, the marriage of major components seems to function well and deliver respectable fuel mileage.

It’s just not a road-burner, and my guess is that lots of folks who have grown weary of price extremes at the gas pumps are going to be just fine with that.

One slight annoyance on my tester: The lane-change warning system was a little too cautious, beeping at me when I was clear of a lagging car going 20 miles per hour slower than myself.  Considering the madness on the highways these days, erring on the side of caution might also be considered a blessing.

All in all, this CX-5 is a nicely crafted introduction from Mazda.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

2013 Mustang GT reviewed in Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2013 Ford Mustang GT in the latest, November 2012 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 http://www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fiat 500 has cute part down, and more


This review originally appeared in the October 2012 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California.

Sacramento, California ­–  Let me start by saying that I have never been big on cute cars.

OK, the New Beetle and its ancestors are nice, but I could have done without the on-board bud vase.  Just saying!

But when a 2012 Fiat 500c Lounge Cabrio rolled up for me to drive, well, it’s just a cute car.  No getting around it. You’d say the same thing if you went to a dinner party and the hosts’ 10-week-old kitten hopped up into your lap and went to sleep.

Fiat 500c equals cute.  Got that?  Fine.  Let’s get to the basics.

The Fiat 500 came to U.S. shores in various flavors for the 2012 model year, and my tester ranked as arguably my favorite, because you can drop the top.  Let the sun shine in, Italian style.

And Italian style with a 1960s flavor is what you get on the inside and outside of this two-door, four passenger model.  Before we go on, let me warn you that anyone trying to stuff even a pre-teen into one of the two back seats qualifies as a sadist in my book.  VERY tight quarters back there.  Fine with me, because I can jack the driver’s seat all the way back to accommodate my 6-4 frame.

Now, back to style: Ooh, it’s the classic Euro compact look on the exterior.  Rounded and dare I say sexy lines.  Inside, you’re transported back to the early 1960s with a no-nonsense dash with color-coded metal accents.  Absolutely beautiful.

Please keep in mind that my tester was the most expensive of the Fiat 500 lot, starting at $22,500.  You can get a basic 500 for $7,000 less, but you won’t get the impressive lineup of standard goodies that came in my Cabrio ride.  And mine was dressed up with numerous goodies that took the bottom line to a hefty $26,400.

One of the extras was a TomTom navigation system that could be snapped on top of the dash.  Nice little extra, but the thing was bulky and frankly interfered with the view out the front.

Other nagging things Fiat needs to work on: The automatic temperature sensor tied to the cooling system was registering a good 8 degrees on the high side in my ride.  And for some reason, the SiriusXM Satellite Radio system info center ALWAYS registered “unavailable.”

On the positive side, the tester had good fuel mileage numbers of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

This Fiat was a fantastic city performer, capable of zippy sprints and agile moves in tight parking spaces.  On the highway, while it locks in nicely at 70 miles per hour on the cruise control, you really have to keep your foot in it to maintain that speed without the cruise.

And because of its small size, my Fiat did not get respect from fellow freeway motorists in my week with the car.  It was almost as if they assumed my Fiat was in the way because it was so small; numerous times, I had trailing cars try to cut me off even as I was halfway into a lane change.  So, driver beware, if you plan to take this 500 into urban commuter traffic.

Otherwise, it’s a car you can fall in love with.  And I noticed that females of all ages seemed to instantly fall in love with it.  Again, just saying!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mitsubishi i-MiEV a wonder, but not a commuter


Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews also can be seen on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – My first prolonged, truly solo effort in the brave new world of all-electric vehicles left me impressed … and a nervous wreck.

Sure, I’ve driven countless EVs at various events and auto shows, with the typical experience lasting maybe 10 minutes.  And yes, I had my time in the Chevy Volt, a plug-in that has a much longer range than a typical EV, thanks to a gas-fueled engine that seamlessly regenerates the battery on the fly.

But my week in the 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE was like no other, with full responsibility for managing the small car in heavy freeway traffic and making sure the vehicle was adequately charged via a portable charger plugged into a 110-volt outlet in my garage.

They brought the car to me on a flatbed.  That gets your attention.  But it was necessary, because the i-MiEV’s 60-mile range negated its ability to make it the 100 or so miles from the San Francisco Bay Area to Sacramento.

Propulsion is provided via a 66-horsepower electric motor linked to an 88-cell, 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

At first glance, the car looked like the Volkswagen Beetle Year 3000, a rounded space bug that gave the appearance of perhaps having the ability to lift into the air for flight.  Its small size is understandable.  I get it.  We’re using only electric here.

One other thing about the car’s appearance: Looking at the front straight-on, the car’s architecture resembles a Smiley Face.

Interior controls for basic functions were easy to understand.  The ones you need to pay attention to are a little different.  Key among these is the mileage readout, the all-important vehicle range based on the last charging session.  Upon arrival, it read 61 miles.  OK, good to go.

Later that day, anticipating my usual 15-mile commute to the suburbs, I started it up (actually, the vehicle says it is “ready” as startup is silent) and the readout said 48 miles.  Huh?  Did the battery run down that much when the car was parked for six hours?

Yet as I drove the vehicle like it was made of glass, the mileage-range number started going up, a reward for cautious speed, regenerative braking and slow, gradual accelerations.  I became so fixated with the mileage number that I became the most cautious driver in the world; maybe that’s a plus.  And my worries didn’t end there.

What if I got stuck in a hopeless traffic jam?  Will the juice run out before I get home?  What if I really had to smash the accelerator to get out of harm’s way on the freeway?  Would I get enough oomph to dodge potential danger?  And how much juice might that use up?

How did it drive? Well, things went fine on city streets.  On the freeway, I felt like a pinball waiting to be batted around.  That was accentuated by exterior noise penetrating the cockpit, a byproduct of driving an all-but-silent electric vehicle.  The i-MiEV also makes some strange noises of its own at various times – no problems, just systems making necessary adjustments.

Safe at home, I immediately employed the 110-volt charger – the 240-volt, super-quick charger system is a must-install if you get this car – for its six- to eight-hour run to hopefully give me the full 60-mile range.  The next day, however, it showed 72 miles after a charge.  On the following day, it showed 48 miles.  Did I not have the charger plugged in correctly on the second day?  Maybe, I suppose.  I was later scolded for not having the 110-volt portable charger plugged in for longer than eight hours.  My bad!  Read the manual, idiot!

One other thing: The starting price on my four-passenger, five-door hatch was $31,125, quite pricey for a subcompact that you have to recharge.  But it’s reasonable, given the somewhat incredible technology therein.  And let’s face it, if you’re living near where you work, you’re not going to have to pay for gas if you religiously recharge the vehicle.

And folks, there it is:  If you live in the city and are, say, 10 to 20 blocks from where you work, this is the ideal urban vehicle to beat the gas price punch.  And yes, the same applies if your workplace is near your rural/suburban home.

No, it’s not the ideal car for someone with a daily 30-mile round-trip commute on the freeways.  Believe me, I know!  But that did not deflect the car’s potential in my mind.  Given the right living/working circumstances and driving the car for many years, it’s going to pay for itself.

Friday, October 19, 2012

New Elantra GT a fuelish, fun ride from Hyundai


Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews also can be seen on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – I’m not usually a guy who goes gaga over small cars, but this new-for-2013 Elantra GT made me sit up and take notice.

With a Black Noir Pearl paint scheme and sharp Batmobile-style sculpting around the edges, this $19,000-and-change, five-door hatch looked the part of the pocket rocket.  And sure, mine was dressed up to a nearly obscene level with more than $5,000 in extras.

Can my attention be bought?  Early evidence indicates yes, as I really liked the optional sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, navigation system, leather appointments and panoramic sunroof.

Controlling things from the cockpit kept me busy, but everything was within easy reach and did not take a doctorate degree in engineering to operate.

On the roll, the Elantra GT was significantly nimble on city street slaloms, and the steering was firm enough to make me feel like I was not overdriving the car.  Nice touch there.

Alas, with 148 horses coming from the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine, I found myself wanting more in the power department.  I really had to mash the accelerator to get the desired oomph on freeways, and while the car coasted along effortlessly in the 60- to 65 miles per hour range, I was shy about making quick lane changes as it took time to get an extra safety cushion in tight traffic.

I made a cargo run out of necessity and was surprised how much stuff the tester took in once the seats were folded.  It handled about 40 percent more than I would have guessed.  That will save you a few errands.

Gas mileage: Very nice at 28 miles per gallon in the city and a whopping 39 mpg on the open road.

Hyundai touts the Elantra GT as a competitor against the Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf, and I can’t argue with that.  I’d say each model has its advantages.  For performance, I’d probably opt for the Mazda3.  But I might lean toward the Elantra as a reliable choice for a family member or close friend.

My Elantra experience was rounded off by a lengthy list of standard safety, comfort and convenience features.

All in all, it’s hard not to like this new Elantra GT.  Who am I kidding?  I liked it just fine.

If you’re searching for practical-size, affordable, gas-sipping transportation with modern perks, put this one on your test-drive list.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Acura's new ILX sedan an entry-level pleasure


Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews also can be accessed on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – And now, something all-new from Acura: the 2013 ILX sedan.

Acura calls it the brand’s new “gateway” car, which is auto industry-speak for “you might want to try this one first because it’s a practical and relatively affordable ride in our luxury-heavy lineup.”

The bottom line is, yes, I’d agree with all that.  And man, Acura pulls out all the stops to make this small-size luxury sedan attractive to a lot of folks.  You get six trim levels playing off the same architecture, with the various offerings mixing engines (even a hybrid), glittery options, transmissions and technology goodies.

My ride was the ILX with a 2-liter, 150-horsepower in-line 4 engine and the technology and premium packages.  Base price of the car is $31,400, with the $895 destination and handling charge pushing the bottom line on the sticker to $32,295.  Keep in mind that you can get the basic ILX for as little as $25,900.

The tech/primo packages on the tester included a lot: leather-trimmed sport seats, satellite radio, heated front seats, high-intensity xenon headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, navigation system (with voice recognition), rearview camera, a top-tier audio system with Surround-Sound and a 60-gig hard drive to name just a few.

On top of every other standard feature, just sitting in the ILX gave me the feeling of getting a special luxury experience sans a major output of cash.  All of it in an attractively wrapped, midsize-feeling package.  Interior space, in my view, was rather impressive for a car in this segment.

The exterior look is typical Acura: Understated sportiness with just a right touch of elegance.  The sculpted hood is particularly fetching. Will the neighbors notice it when you bring it home?  Count on it.

On the fly, the four-cylinder VTEC handled things pretty well, but the power plant is what I’d call one major consideration in the pricing scheme.  It does OK but labors on hard uphill runs, and you’d better press that accelerator hard if your freeway merge looks like it’s going to be a tight experience.  Bottom line: 150 horsepower is what it is.

The interior cabin was nicely quiet, even when I asked the ILX for everything it had.  Fuel mileage is pretty good as well: 24 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.

More good news: The ILX earned a top safety pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Must-communicate-while-I-drive types have that option with a sophisticated in-car phone and texting hookup built into this ILX.

As for me, I opted to cut off all communication and enjoy the ride.  Best decision I’ve made in a long time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fancy Fiat reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2012 Fiat 500c Lounge Cabrio in the latest, October 2012 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 http://www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Chrysler 300 ... a sedan that still matters


This review originally appeared in the September 2012 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California   When Chrysler came out with its Chrysler 300 sedan for the 2004 model year, I remember thinking: FINALLY, a contemporary Mopar family hauler with some daring and dash!

Remember that first 300 grille, looking about the approximate size of North Dakota.  In a rearview mirror, an approaching Chrysler 300 looked like a giant land shark ready to devour compact and midsize cars alike.

Well, the grille on the current 300 is a little more understated, and dare I say stylish.  And overall, the 300 retains its swagger, a big-shouldered freeway cruiser that can haul kids and cargo … and the driver can still fantasize the he/she is piloting a horsepower-laden bomb on some NASCAR track of dreams.

My tester was the 2012 300S with all-wheel drive, which translates to a 3.6-liter V-6 power plant putting out 292 horses at a gas-gulp rate of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.  Let me state straight up: That was plenty of horsepower for me.

The 300S was a more-than-willing performer in all conditions, and no, it was not the SRT8 with a V-8 dishing up a rip-roaring 470 horses.  That SRT8 starts near $50,000, compared with a starting price of $35,820 on my tester.  I have no problem with folks spending 50-K on a speed merchant, but alas, I haven’t been on super friendly terms with the Highway Patrol for years, so I’d be happy with the cost savings.

No matter what version of the 300 purchased, you get a lot of gears: 8 of them to be exact.  Frankly, eight speeds through the automatic gearbox meant little to performance, but hey, it’s an impressive line on the stat chart.

Even in basic trim, the 300 is fairly loaded.  Interior comfort and quiet is admirable.  There’s plenty of room for three normal- to large-size adults in the back seats.  The trunk yawns open wide for a double-stack of luggage.  Good vehicle for a long vacation road trip?  Absolutely.

I again struggled with some of the controls, somehow managing to turn the blind-spot warning system on and off in a display of unrelenting technical ignorance.  You know you’re getting old when the interior controls are besting you on a regular basis.

One thing I could have done without was the in-cabin audio warning system.  Several times, after being in totally gridlocked traffic for five minutes, I’d get a jarring audio bite of “traffic ahead” through the cabin.

Well, thank you Captain Obvious!  If the system is that slow on the draw, I’d rather handle things myself.

Truthfully, though, that was a small irritation.  I’ve liked this particular version of the Chrysler 300 since it was introduced, and getting another week in it was as comfortable as slipping into a favorite set of clothes.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Car sales encouraging, but lessons still apply


Sacramento, California – Americans are buying cars again, and that’s a good sign after several years of the Great Recession Blues.

Santa Monica-based Edmunds.com says things are slowing a bit, but it has forecast that about 15 million new cars will be sold in 2013.

Their take: “2013 will likely be the first year of non-double-digit sales growth since the recovery began in 2010,” says Lacey Plache, chief economist at Edmunds.com. “Economic uncertainty at home and spillover effects from slowing economies abroad will continue to slow the pace of American economic growth, including car sales. But many of the same positive factors in play now will continue to support car sales momentum in 2013.”

OK, that’s pretty good news, right?  Sure, it’s not 17 million new units like we were seeing before the recession bomb dropped.  But 15 million is definitely a good number, having come through the firestorm of Cash for Clunkers (remember that) and the cliff edge of American car company failures.

Bonus good news: Used cars continue to sell well on American soil.

It doesn’t take too much of a genius to figure this out: The economy is slowly improving in some parts of the country.  And if you live in, say, Houston, Texas, right now, you know that things are really a whole lot better than they were not that long ago.

People are getting a little more confident about borrowing.  My guess is that many are probably coming out of their shells now that the worst of the fiscal storm apparently has passed.  And let’s face it: Cars have to be replaced at some point.  That car you’ve been nursing along for eight, 10 or 12 years is giving up the ghost, and it’s time to face facts and buy a new one (or perhaps a recent-model used car), lest you end up throwing more dough into the money pit.

While I’m encouraged by all this – and feeling good about jobs in the American auto industry – I think the current state of affairs needs to be taken with a pinch of caution.  I think we learned some things in the recent financial meltdown.  Let’s hope the lessons stick.

For one, the old formula of buying a new car every two or three years is probably gone for good.  At least for most of us.  It makes little economic sense to keep pouring big money into a new ride that often.  It’s like playing the slots in a Vegas casino.  In the long run, you’re likely going to lose.

And Detroit seems to get that.  They’re making cars for the long-term and touting the right things, including good mileage.  Good, that’s a big deal.  A generation ago, only a handful of future-seeing execs were seeing the light.

Detroit also seems to have latched onto the good public relations that can be had by building up fuel mileage numbers in their automotive fleets.  Sure, it’s OK to have a big sport-utility vehicle or a road-burning sports car here and there.  Folks still want those.  But overall, Detroit seems to have its head around the idea that fuelish is not foolish – it’s good business in this particular, somewhat nervous era of American consumption.

Detroit gets this better than the tech industry, which is sticking to the model that you should dump all your technology every two years and spend thousands more on the latest, bestest, powerfullest thing.  I’m guessing that model will ultimately collapse when more Baby Boomers start retiring and counting their pennies.  And two-year-tech reboots are going to be a hard sell until more young people start entering the job market.

I could be wrong of course … but the auto industry seems to have learned how to play the game.

Time will tell.  Right now, gotta run out and see what’s new down at the car lots.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Infiniti's new JX luxury liner a worthy entry


Sacramento, California – The Infiniti JX lineup is all new for 2013, and it steps in right away as a player in the seven-passenger, luxury sport-utility vehicle segment.

My black JX35 tester – with a 265 horsepower V-6 with all-wheel drive – looked very much like a Mercedes-Benz at first glance, and I mean that in a good way.  Impressive, angular lines and smooth, rounded shape on top looked good … and cut through the air nicely when the SUV was on the roll.

Seven full-size adults can fit in this vehicle, and it has the cargo-carrying capacity of a big brute.

Infiniti, perhaps knowing that you have to throw in everything but the kitchen sink when you’re in the luxury segment, did not hold back on the perks.  It would take me 10 minutes to READ the list of luxury, technology, safety/security and comfort/convenience features on the vehicle.

And on my tester, Infiniti broke the bank on extras.  My tester had a starting price of $41,550, but the bottom line under an ocean of optional features totaled $55,170.  Luxury indeed!

I took the vehicle from Sacramento’s sea-level flats over the top of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the south shore of Lake Tahoe … and back.  Impressions: Smooth, quiet, surprisingly powerful when asked and rock-solid on high speed turns, both uphill and downhill.

Fuel mileage for the trip actually came in better than the advertised 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.  And I wasn’t babying the thing along.

The JX35’s myriad driver warning and assist systems were interesting to experience but sometimes a pain in the posterior.  The vehicle would routinely beep at me when it thought I was driving out of my lane or veering out of bounds.  Most times, I was simply angling onto a side road, the kind of move that does not require a turn signal.  Fortunately, the beeping system can be turned off at the push of a button.

One time, during a typical run in stop-and-go commuter traffic, the seat belt tightened around me in what the on-board system thought was an imminent collision with a vehicle moving slowly in front of me.  Simply put, it was a big overreaction.

In this era of easily distracted drivers, doing everything from scrolling through music menus to what-are-you-thinking texting, I suppose these systems serve a life-saving purpose.  But for those of us who take driving and command of a motor vehicle seriously, they can be an annoyance.

Paying for the sins of others?  Yeah, probably.

But don’t let that spoil your impressions of the JX35.  It’s a very worthy entry in the luxury SUV segment, and if you have that kind of money to spend on that class of vehicle, it should be on your test-drive list.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Flex fits a certain niche in Ford's lineup


Sacramento, California – Not long ago, I did a review of the Ford Flex that was, well, less than flattering.

I caught hell for it from various folks, not coincidentally all of whom worked in some capacity for the Ford Motor Co.

It wasn’t that I did not like the Flex.  I was mystified by its existence – a massive, gas-guzzling vehicle among other Ford cars that were sending out the precise message Ford wanted to send: We make affordable, dependable vehicles and put a very high priority on gas mileage.

As for the 2013 Flex – freshened for the upcoming model year – I confess that my feelings about the vehicle are pretty much unchanged.

HOWEVER, let me say that the Flex is an outstanding vehicle for a target audience of large families, heavy cargo carriers and folks who regularly head out on the open road for long recreational trips.

If that’s what you dig, this Flex is for you.

My tester was a 2013 SEL AWD, a six-passenger (other Flex models can take up to seven) with a 3.5-liter V-6 (285 horsepower) and a starting price of $35,175.  Gas mileage was advertised at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.  My baby was dressed up in extras that pushed the bottom line on the sticker to $41,935.

That’s a pricey meatball, but the comfort, convenience and safety perks were luxury level enough to justify the cost.  Seriously! Extras on mine included a panoramic vista roof, a very nice touch.

Make no mistake about it: This is a very big vehicle.  It fills up a parking space, and the unique exterior styling makes it downright imposing … that’s imposing in an impressive way.  It’s sort of like a Range Rover on steroids.  Ford calls it a crossover, but I find that impossible.  Think SUV all the way.

On the roll, it’s actually quite smooth, but on a freeway merge ramp, you must really sink your right foot deep to the floorboard.  Ditto at the top of a steep hill.  Interior quiet was surprisingly good.  The brakes brought the big brute to a stop much quicker and firmer than I expected.

If you, the wife and kids routinely take six-hour drives on the roadways, this is the way to roll.  The Flex is like a rolling living room, without the extra size and hassle of a motor home.  If you haul a lot of kids and groceries from place to place (or sporting event to sporting event), the Flex is your cup of tea.

If you commute in a crush of daily urban gridlock and park in tight downtown lots, I would not opt for the Flex.

For some reason, Ford installed those annoying turn signals where you can’t tell if it’s going to blink once, twice or 50 times, and the steering column-mounted turn signal baton actually moves around in different positions. I never mastered it.

For my money, the Flex is better now than it was before.  Yet it’s still a niche vehicle in Ford’s otherwise economical, fuel-sipping fleet.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chrysler 300S reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2012 Chrysler 300S sedan with all-wheel drive in the latest, September 2012 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 http://www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Small wonder: Scion's iQ has its charms


This review originally appeared in the August 2012 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Let me tell you, it has been a long, long time since I’ve test driven a car that did not have cruise control.

I can’t even tell you how long.  Wasn’t Lyndon Johnson the president?  I don’t know, but know this: the absence of cruise control was a relatively mild shock to my senses stacked up against everything I experienced behind the wheel of the 2012 Scion iQ.

First off, you walk up to the thing and you’re convinced that the other half of your car is still out on the road, yet to arrive.  Heck, it’s only 10 feet long. And yet the Scion folks are very quick to point out that their creation is bigger than a Smart fortwo mini-car.

Oh, that’s cool.  And, Scion goes on:  whereas the fortwo is a two-passenger vehicle, the iQ can handle four passengers … Now, hold on here!  Wait a minute!  Are you kidding me???!!!

No, we’re not kidding, they say.  It’s “the world’s smallest four-seater.”

OK, so they’re not kidding.  Scion talks up a quirky, offset, 3-plus-1 interior seating configuration that allows the front passenger seat to go way forward to clear room for a human in the right-side back.  But folks, having been in the car myself, that’s a tough sell.

From my cockpit seat – keeping in mind that I’m 6-4 – I was just able to squeeze my palm between the back of my seat and the seat behind me.  Small child sits there in the back, right?  Sure, I’ll buy it.

And if you want to buy it, the iQ three-door liftback with an automatic transmission starts at $15,265.  Very pleasant number, that.  Here are a couple more: 36 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

So now you’re saying, great man, but this is a city dweller’s car all the way, right?  Affirmative on that.  Naturally, however, I couldn’t leave it at that, so I took my Scion iQ out for a spirited outing on the dicey Interstate 80 run between Sacramento and San Francisco.

I not only survived, I was stunned at how well the iQ maintained 70 miles per house with just a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder power plant doing the pushing.  It was getting the most out of its 94 horsepower, and it even blew off slowpokes when I became impatient and asked my right foot for more.  Amazing!

It wasn’t until later that I realized that I’d made the round trip with a tank holding only 8.5 gallons of regular gas.  If I’d known that before I started out, I would have absolutely counted on filling it up.  Never had to, it turns out.

Trivia question: How many airbags in the iQ?  If you answered 11, and I doubt that you did, go to the head of the class.

Alas, when you have a car this small, there are concessions of course.  Like no glovebox.  You get a tray that slides under the front passenger seat.  Yet those back seats are good for cargo carrying when folded.  No sense in torturing human beings in them.

Like all Scions, there’s heavy emphasis on the interior sound system, managed via a center-mounted control cluster that looks like something you’d find on a Gulfstream jet.  Never did master how to work the thing.  My loss, I’m sure.

Given everything, the car has its charms.

Five days in, I confess that I was liking this ride.  And when it came time to turn it over, I was unhappy.

Good things in small packages?  I say yes.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Toyota's pioneering Prius: An appreciation


Sacramento, California – Today, American motorists can choose from a blizzard of alternative-powered cars, so many choices that any buyer would be foolish to neglect doing some serious homework before hitting dealer lots.

Back in 2000, that wasn’t true.  That’s when Toyota came to America with its Prius, a gas-electric hybrid that, at the time, seemed so radical and technologically advanced that it intimidated many prospective buyers.  Toyota priced the car a ridiculously low few bucks below $20,000.

Truth be told, the car’s technology for that time probably had a real value of twice that.

Today, you see the Prius everywhere.  Here in California, it’s hard to drive three blocks without seeing at least one.  And you know you’ve hit the big time when you have to choose from a long laundry list of Prius offerings.  Toyota now makes a Prius for virtually every taste, and you need a scorecard to keep up with the models.

In recent weeks, I’ve spent time behind the wheel of a 2012 Prius v, a 2012 Prius c and a 2012 Prius Four.  All of them did the nameplate proud – fuel-efficient, easy to drive, easy to handle and nicely laid out.

I like to think of the Prius as a pioneer in U.S. automotive history.  The fact that you can buy a particular Prius to fit your lifestyle pretty much confirms that the model has become a mainstream player.

I liked the cargo-carrying capability of the Prius v offering, basically an extended hatchback for folks who carry around a lot of cargo and still enjoy the fuel-saving benefits of the car.  The Prius Four came off to me as a luxury-level Prius, with a pleasingly long list of standard perks and a starting price of $28,235.

The Prius flavor getting the most attention seems to be the Prius c (pictured), the comparatively small version of the model with a small price to match -- $23,230 on my top-level tester; the base model of the hatchback’s four trim levels starts at a mere $18,950.

Interestingly, the Prius c has taken hits from fellow car reviewers for being too “Prius Lite.”  The most aggressive critics call it cheap.

That’s a mystery to me, because Toyota has long taken shots for not producing a discount Prius that appeals to smaller incomes and takes some of the string out of the premium you pay for the hybrid technology.  OK, the car has a bit of a tinny sound to it when you shut the doors, but what do you want for a combined 50 miles per gallon in city/highway driving?

Oh, and the Prius c will accommodate five passengers and likewise has a lengthy list of customer-pleasing standard features.

On the roll, I found the Prius c entirely comfortable to drive in both city traffic and during busy freeway commutes.  Would I buy it as a first car for a young, relatively inexperienced driver?  In a heartbeat.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to sample the Prius plug-in, but that model also fills a niche for which Toyota was previously criticized for not filling.

Having had a deep drink of contemporary Prius hardware this year, I can tell you that the pioneer is as admirable as ever.  And if this sounds like an appreciation, well, you’re right on the money.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Power again finds misfortune in the pits


Sonoma, California – Man, Will Power must be developing a purple shrieking hate of pit stops.

For the past two years, mishaps in the pits have cost Power the IndyCar Series title.  Today, pit stop misfortune rose up again to cost him an almost certain victory in the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on the twisting Northern California road course.

Power started the race on the pole and commenced what was shaping up as perhaps the easiest Sunday drive of his career.  Only teammate Ryan Briscoe stayed within shouting distance, and through the first couple of pit stops, Power seemed to be merely toying with his second-place Team Penske teammate.

So, on lap 65, here comes Power for his last pit stop of the day.  The pit crew bumbles a bit on the stop, but no big deal, Power is maybe 10 seconds away from exiting the pits and continuing his effortless cruise in the caution-free race.

Then, CRASH!  Out on the track, Josef Newgarden and Sebastien Bourdais came together in a frightening, grinding impact against the outside wall. Newgarden sustained what were described as minor injuries.

Briscoe, who had been waiting until the last second to make his final pit stop, took the lead when he reached the blend line ahead of Power, who was caught behind traffic during the full-course caution period.

"He definitely had some bad luck in the pits, but we were there all day," Briscoe said
.
Power was more upset with what he considered blocking on the racecourse.

"I wouldn’t blame the (slow) pit stop,” he said. “It was more on the people that were holding me up. We had an eight-second lead, (and) probably lost four on the pit stop and the rest was at the track.

“And I do understand that you want to go slower where an accident was. It was a big accident for sure, but these (trailing) guys … were back a lap.”

Whatever the explanation, Briscoe took command on the restart, and Power could do no better than second when the checkers flew on the 85th lap.  Four-time IndyCar Series title winner Dario Franchitti was third, turning in what was arguably the best drive of the day; he fought and clawed all afternoon.

Power obviously felt this one was taken away from him.  But there’s this: His IndyCar Series championship points lead ballooned from 5 to 36 points over Ryan Hunter-Reay.  Now, all Power has to do is hang on for two more races, and the 2012 series crown is his.

Alas, he still has a few pit stops to make before calling it a season.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pack racing: Many still in hunt for IndyCar title

Sonoma, California – Honk if you’re still in the running for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship … Enough, I can’t hear myself think!

With only three races to go in the up-and-down IndyCar season, no less than 15 drivers still have a mathematical chance of winning the series crown.  That’s quite a statistic considering that driver Dario Franchitti has virtually owned the series for most of the past five seasons (with a timeout taken to go to NASCAR in 2008).

The long list of contenders likely will be cut dramatically at Sunday’s GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.  The twisting permanent road course in California’s Wine Country has a way of slapping down the competition, and this year probably will be no different.  Here, you can find your championship hopes vanishing amid the flying dirt of a spin in the first turn.

Team Penske’s Will Power finds himself in the familiar position of being primed to win the championship.  Incredibly, Power has seen the trophy vanish with mishaps in the pits for two years running.

Power leads surprising contender Ryan Hunter-Reay by just five points.  Huster-Reay’s midseason burst has put him in position to win the yearlong grand prize.  But three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon are likewise poised to step up with strong finishes here.

The Sonoma course has been tweaked to offer more passing opportunities, so that alone should add to the drama as the pack hustles for the top prize on Sunday.

At some point, I have to believe Power is going grab the IndyCar title that has eluded him the past two years.  He’s shown himself capable during all that time, and he’s pretty much claimed the title of best road racer in the series.  Now, if that usual Team Penske efficiency kicks in and Power keeps it between the lines, it should be a cakewalk for Power.

Right?  Well, maybe.  This is IndyCar racing, after all.

I confess that I’m already thinking ahead to next year and the promised aero packages.  I’m just hoping they don’t mess up the good thing we saw at this year’s Indianapolis 500, where the big holes punched in the air by the new cars provided plentiful passing opportunities and as competitive an Indy 500 as we’ve seen in years.

The 500 is still the jewel of the series, by far … the time when otherwise casual IndyCar fans are paying attention.  Here’s hoping the 2013 race can match the drama of 2012.

For now, things need to get settled in Sonoma.  My money is on Power to take the race, and ultimately, the series title.

Friday, August 17, 2012

NASCAR finish at the Glen was just my style


COMING SOON: I will be blogging from the IndyCar Series race on the permanent road course in Sonoma, California, next week.  In a couple weeks, check out my take on the car that pioneered alternative power among mainstream U.S. motorists – the Toyota Prius. -- mg

Sacramento, California – I can’t remember the last time I stood up and cheered an auto race that I was viewing on television.

It happened last weekend during NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Finger Lakes 355 on the 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course at Watkins Glen International in New York.

The last-lap duel between eventual winner Marcos Ambrose and second-place finisher Brad Keselowski – with disgruntled odd-man-out Kyle Busch thrown in for good measure – was one for the ages.

Alas, there was the usual griping and grousing among the back-end finishers after the checkered flag fell.  For me, the last lap dogfight was racing at its unvarnished best, and all of NASCAR should have taken notice that, rules be damned, this was racing as it should be.

I was a NASCAR follower before many people outside the Southeastern United States knew what it was, but my current gripes with the top-tier Sprint Cup Series are shared by others: too much talking before the race, too many meaningless in-car driver interviews during the pace/caution laps, way too much whining, way too many cautions and some races that seem to go on forever.

I’ve sometimes found myself dozing during a NASCAR race, because, well, I’m just not that interested in who took the lead on the 68th lap of a 500-lap race.  I likewise get tired of late-race cautions caused by drivers making ridiculous moves to move up into the top 10.  Invariably, late-race restarts produce an undeserving winner who just happened to float through the wreckage and is surprised to find that he’s the first one under the checkered flag.

Last Sunday, the final-lap run to the checkers was an action movie packed into two minutes.

Kyle Busch was leading the race, with Keselowski and Ambrose seemingly content to finish in lockstep for second and third.  Suddenly, within a short beer run of the finish, it was obvious that Busch was struggling with something.  We later learned that everyone was struggling with the same thing: plentiful oil on the track as a result of Bobby Labonte’s car springing a major leak.

Suddenly, Keselowski and Ambrose dispatched Busch in a quick-fire burst of dicey moves.  From there, Keselowski and Ambrose raced all-out to the finish.  They bumped, they smashed together, they slid, they went sideways, they blasted through the dirt and the grass – a wild, amazing show that had fans (and yours truly) jumping for joy.

And when it was over, when Ambrose somehow squeezed out Keselowski, who spent most of the last lap sideways, the two came back into the pits with broad grins on their faces.  No whining, no woulda, shoulda, coulda.  They were like two kids jumping off their first roller coaster ride.

The post-race comments of Ambrose and Keselowski essentially summed it up along the lines of: “Man was that great out there, or what???!!!”

It was boys, it was.  Busch team members and other drivers who ran afoul of the oily surface said NASCAR should have thrown the caution flag because the racing conditions had become so dangerous.

Technically speaking, they’re right.  My gut feelings: I don’t care.

Throwing the caution flag would have made for another slow parade and another green-white-checker finish, or probably several of them given the frantic moves drivers were making on the road course.

I’m glad that no hands went for the caution lights and yellow flags, because the show Ambrose and Keselowski put on was the best NASCAR racing I can remember … and maybe the best on-track action I’ve seen since Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear to the checkers by an eye-blink in the 1992 Indianapolis 500.

Boys having at it? You bet.  Give me more.