Friday, January 27, 2012

Luxury for less? Genesis sedan fills the bill

Sacramento, California – I call them the Hyundai Crowd, and they always seem to have smiles on their faces.

Rightly so, because the Hyundai Crowd is populated with buyers who have cars equipped with horsepower, luxury and engineering closely rivaling that found in Lexus, Cadillac Acura and Infiniti automobiles … But they’ve paid thousands of dollars less than the owners of those luxury brands.

Arguably the signature car for the Hyundai Crowd is the Genesis sedan, and my test ride was the top-of-the-line 2012 5.0 R-Spec edition. This car is major league hardware for a song. Charging $46,500 for this particular Hyundai amounts to a veritable giveaway, considering what the similarly equipped competition costs.

For starters, you get a nicely styled body with sexy angular cuts on the front end. Underneath the hood is a 5-liter direct-injection V-8 with 429 horsepower. It’s matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The Genesis 5.0 R-Spec on the roll is a don’t-let-it-end pleasure.

Smooth, quiet and agile, the engine’s considerable power does not rip-snort oomph so much as dish out silky doses of road-eating juice that you see more than feel. Effortlessly zipping past a flying sports car prompts just as much of a rush as noisily rumbling past it. The Genesis does the former quite well, and the gearbox manages the menu of gears with seamless perfection.

Interior comfort for five adults is top-grade. Interior perks rival anything rolling with a luxury label. Beyond-the-usual perks include folding exterior mirrors with puddle lights, cooled/heated seats, a lane-departure warning system, high-tech damping and smart cruise control.

OK, getting this Hyundai means that you might not get the same level of respect from neighbors who would “ooh” and “ahh” over a Cadillac or Lexus parked in your driveway. But rest assured that you have just as much car with this 5.0 R-Spec … and enough cash left over to finance installation of a backyard pool. Given the economics of the times, I kind of prefer having the extra money as opposed to getting off on the fawning of the neighbors.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in that.

To be sure, $46,000 and change is still serious money to put down for the purchase of a motor vehicle, but if you’ve reached that stage in your life where you want a luxury-level car that’s likely to run trouble-free for more than a decade (backed up with warranties that will work over that time period), this hot-rod Genesis should be on your list.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Keep it simple: This Mazda3 is a pleasure

Sacramento, California – Let me start by saying that I like Mazda’s vehicle lineup, even without the catchphrases.

Let’s see, you’ve got your “Zoom-Zoom.”

And the “always the soul of a sports car” pitch written right on the window sticker.

The latest is “SKYACTIV” technology, which Mazda goes to great pains to explain on its website. In simple terms, it’s a smallish engine that still has pop and gets very good gas mileage.

My tester, the 2012 Mazda3 i Grand Touring five-door model had all of the above. And I didn’t need a dictionary to enjoy my week in the car.

I keep running into young folks who like the Mazda3, and that’s really no surprise. What better vehicle for a recent college graduate or a young couple just starting a family? Good looks, utility, robust fuel mileage and peppy performance will win you a lot of friends these days.

The Mazda3 has all that in bunches.

My tester looked particularly striking in a blindingly blue paint job, and the previously mentioned SKYACTIV technology with a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine matched with a six-speed automatic transmission was a winner.

Vehicle performance was very good, with the occasional complaint at the top of a steep hill. The Mazda3 was getting the most out its allotted 155 horses. Fuel mileage numbers raised a cheer: 28 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.

The car was remarkably agile in tight spaces. Turnaround radius was comfortable … I imagine even for those who will go to great lengths to avoid a U-turn lane.

At freeway cruising speed, the tester was remarkably smooth. I got a little bit of rattle at the hatchback connection when the car did some turns at relatively high speed on city streets.

Dashboard controls were easy to see and use. Interior comfort for all passengers received high marks from some adult-size volunteers.

The price is just about perfect at $22,800 to start. My tester come in five bucks short of $25,000, courtesy of some Technology Package extras that included a blind-spot monitoring system (very nice), rain-sensing windshield wipers (also nice) and high-tech, high-intensity lights (completing a nice trifecta).

Even without the extras, this Mazda is generously equipped with standard comfort, convenience and safety features. By the way, the feds gave a maximum five-star safety rating for driver protection in frontal crash tests.

All in all, a good car gets better with multiple improvements for 2012. Don’t need any catchphrases to tell me that.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Stealthy Acura ZDX is a top-flight ride

Sacramento, California – They delivered a Stealth fighter jet to my driveway recently.

Yes, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

The accompanying paperwork – obviously a misdirection document drawn up by the CIA – identified the craft as a 2012 Acura ZDX, a five-passenger luxury sport-utility vehicle positively loaded with extras, with a starting price of nearly $57,000.

But I was not fooled. Wearing black skin that was sharply angled in seemingly every direction on the compass, this was something created to fly unobserved by radar.

How angular was the chassis? You have to hunt for the handles that open the rear doors. Seriously, a five-minute search revealed that they were hidden high on the back end of the entry portals.

Kudos to Acura's first female designer, Michelle Christensen, who made the ZDX a reality.

Although I never got the ZDX off the ground, it had enough pop to do the trick had wings been attached.

A 3.7-liter V-6 puts out 300 roaring horses, enough juice to whip the ZDX around most stragglers with authority. Off-the-line bursts were robust, but not snappish. Yet steering was pleasantly light. Balance was darn-near perfect. Braking power decidedly firm.

Acura insists that the ZDX is a “four-door sports coupe,” and for once I’m not going to argue with the naming game. The ZDX feels more like a sports car than an SUV. Yet it has all the comforts of the latter.

Backseat space is generous. Interior luxury abounds with leather, LED lighting and a kickin’ audio system. Driver helps are plentiful, with the blind spot information system a most welcome perk.

Fuel mileage was, well, pretty lousy at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. Alas, my thoughts of high-priced fuel fill-ups were drowned out by the heart-racing performance characteristics of the vehicle.

Oh yes, the rear cargo area can be configured to create a hole of nearly 56 cubic feet – perfect for carrying, say, a dozen golf bags or groceries for 100.

Luxury, performance, comfort and agility. If you have the cash, this ZDX pretty much fills up the wish list.

Just make sure you have a good cover story when the neighbors ask you about the vehicle. Remember, the CIA is watching.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sleek Audi A6 sedan reviewed in Cruisin' News

Sacramento, California – My review of the 2012 Audi A6 3.0 TFSI quattro Auto Tiptronic sedan appears in the latest, January 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, 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.

Infiniti G37 coupe a solid ride in luxury segment

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

Sacramento, California -- Freshened for 2011 and basically carried over as is for 2012, the Infiniti G37 Journey coupe represents serious fun in the entry-level luxury market.

Entry level is a nice say of saying: “I can’t afford $50,000.” So, in the I-G37-coupe, you can figure on dropping $40,000. My tester, however, was gaudily dressed up with about a zillion options, so the bottom line came in at around $47,000.

Moral of the story: You take your luxury just about any way you can get it, especially in this economy. For me, the G37 represented a week in a vehicle that I admit is one of my favorites.

How do I like thee? Let me count the ways: 330. That’s the max horsepower number laid down by the 3.7-liter, 24-valve V-6 power plant. That’s sufficient to propel the two-door G37 onto the dog-eat-dog freeway, up the steepest inclines and around the sharpest bends.

A seven-speed automatic, sport-tuned gearbox matched up with sweetly engineered independent suspension front and rear makes the G37 a joy to drive. I’d equate it with the Triumph TR4 of the early 1960s … only way safer and stuffed with convenience/comfort features that Triumph pilots of the 1960s never could have imagined.

The G37’s standard list included eight-way/heated power front seats, dual zone climate control (even though it’s fairly tight quarters in the cockpit), USB connection, iPod port, rearview monitor and leather all around. Safety features take up a good quarter of the owner’s manual, by the way.

Fuel mileage is so-so at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

The G37 looks sharp and racy, particularly wearing the upgraded 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels that came extra with my ride.

Please note that this is a four-passenger vehicle, so the idea of torturing/squeezing a fifth passenger in the back is out of the question. Also a personal favorite of mine: Infiniti’s bird’s eye view in-dash navigation map.

All in all, pretty much nothing beats the pleasure of driving this feisty coupe on the open road on a sunny day … making believe you have $50,000 in your pocket to spend on a new car.