Friday, April 27, 2012

Jeep SUV's old-school charms succeed today

Sacramento, California – Sometimes you wonder: How is it that some motor vehicle models have a knack for sticking around, seemingly defying the odds?

And I’m not talking about the Ford Mustang or Chevy Corvette. The long-lasting appeal of those cars is obvious.

But what about the Jeep Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle?

The JGC’s roots date back to the early 1980s, and given the brutal competition in the five-passenger SUV market and wallet-crushing gas prices, you can’t be faulted for thinking that the Grand Cherokee is a vehicle that has perhaps outlived its time.

But here’s the thing: Some people still need SUV convenience, space and general versatility.

In my tester -- a 2012 Limited 4X4 edition with a $42,080 sticker and yeeesh! fuel mileage ratings of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway – there was something to like. In truth, there was a lot to like.

My Deep Cherry Red, crystal pearl-coated ride was silky smooth at 70 miles per hour. The 3.6-liter V-6 with 290 horsepower actually felt stronger than advertised, bulling its way through freeway traffic and zipping around urban slowpokes. The engine created little noise in the cabin, however.

The rear cargo area was easy to navigate, even for an aging baby boomer like myself. Rear seats folded easily. The center cargo bar can be removed without injuring back muscles.

The standard list of interior perks is ridiculously long, with power seats, memory options and leather surfaces making if feel downright Lexus-like luxurious. Same story with the safety equipment, backed by a max federal five-star rating for the driver in frontal crash tests.

Because it’s a Jeep, it’s a hard worker. You can do some rough four-wheeling if you don’t mind scratching the bodywork, and the rear cargo bin has reinforced metal strips that enable you to slide heavy cargo around as needed.

For all those macho touches, however, this Grand Cherokee is elegant-looking enough that you should have no problem parking it at the country club.

SUV versatility? I should say so.

And keep in mind that the Limited 4X4 isn’t even near the top-line of seven trim levels. You want the full JGC experience, try the SRT8 4X4 version with a 6.4-liter V-8 putting out 465 horsepower. That one starts at nearly $55,000. Fuel mileage? Don’t ask.

Various auto “experts” have been writing Jeep’s obituary for years, yet this Grand Cherokee looks plenty lively to me. Much of what you get now was poured into the all-new package for 2011, and a solid reworking that was.

The SUV market isn’t what it used to be, and a glance at your local gas pump will tell you why. But for those who still need a nice-looking sport-ute that occasionally does some heavy lifting, this Grand Cherokee should be on your short list.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Better late than never: RDX a star luxo SUV

Sacramento, California – Car reviewers rarely admit it, but they sometimes get lost amid the blizzard of motor vehicles they drive.

And when the models are distinguished by alphabet soup – instead of old-school standards like Mustang, Regal or Impala – well, then it really gets interesting.

Enter Acura. Honda’s luxury label has an ILX, MDX, RDX, TSX and ZDX in its stable.

Got that? Good, you’re ahead of me.

So, when I recently took delivery of a 2012 Acrua RDX SH-AWD with “Tech Package” sport-utility vehicle, I asked, “Didn’t I just have this vehicle?”

No dummy, that was the ZDX, the one that looks like a stealth fighter jet. Oh, yeah, right.

But something else nagged, and it took me a few more minutes of glacier-slow thought to figure out: Acura is rolling out its 2013 RDX! So, what the bleep? I’m a little late to the game with the 2012 offering, right?

They say everything happens for a reason, and they’re right. I was grateful for my week in the top-line 2012 RDX, and here’s why:

The RDX is a pretty nice steal in the luxury, five-passenger SUV segment. Even my top-line tester had a comparatively affordable starting price of $37,995.

For that, I got a truckload of spoil-me-rotten comfort/convenience features, safety installments enough to please Ralph Nader on a grumpy day and a tech package produced an interior cabin of glorious comfort and entertainment.

The turbo-4 engine dished up a saucy 240 horses that felt good off the line, and I had a blast playing with the paddle shifters. Four-wheel disc brakes performed like champs. The all-wheel-drive hardware made for a sweet-handling machine.

Nice bonus: The RDX has practical crossover size, but it can transport big passengers and cargo with ease.

By week’s end I was asking the tester, “Where have you been all my life?”

To which it replied: “Right down the street at the Acura lot, you moron. But now I’m driving off into the sunset to make way for the all-new 2013 version of me.”

And the new RDX is a serious upgrade, with a sleeker body, a new engine, a new transmission and even a new all-wheel-drive system.

A top-of-the-line 2013 RDX with the tech package and AWD starts at just a tick under $40,000. That’s still not a bad deal in this luxo segment, in my view.

But here’s where timing and opportunity collide folks. Acura lots might be willing to deal on the outgoing, but still sweet 2012 RDX. Worth a test drive and a few sharp questions directed at the sales rep? I should say so.

Just let them know I knew it was a quality SUV all along.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Honda sales champ has good reason to gloat

Sacramento, California – Quick, what was the best-selling light truck in car-crazy California last year?

I’m guessing those that guessed the Honda CR-V are in the minority. The Honda sales champ accounted for 21,863 new-vehicle registrations in the Golden State last year, according to the California New Car Dealers Association.

Pretty impressive. Even more impressive: The CR-V has undergone an extensive make-over for the 2012 model year. Simply put, the fourth-generation CR-V is a major improvement over the third.

The latest CR-V has been restyled for the better, has greater fuel efficiency, handles better and contains more standard features. For those who have been delaying purchase of a CR-V – a relatively small group, judging from the recent sales numbers – now is the time to get the best one Honda has yet made.

You can get a base LX with two-wheel drive for around $22,000 and change or run up through the 10, count ’em, TEN! trim levels to get exactly what you want. My tester was the top-level EX-L version with all-wheel drive and a navigation system. Even with that and a ton of standard goodies, the starting price is a reasonable $29,795.

That standard list, by the way, is loaded with luxury-level perks – heated front seats, leather surfaces and a rearview camera to name just a few. That’s bolstered by an extensive lineup of primo safety features.

Gas mileage is OK at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.

Cargo capacity when the 60/40 fold-down seatbacks are in the down position is cavernous. Five large people have plenty of room when the CR-V is in full-people-transport mode.

Styling on the CR-V is pleasingly angular and modern, giving it about as much sexiness as you can expect in a mainstream SUV these days.

On the roll, the tester was smooth and quiet, and dare I say agile like a midsize sedan. The 2.4-liter in-line 4 VTEC engine is peppy with 185 horses, and even its loudest groans at full power were relatively by the time they made it inside the cockpit.

Car reviewers go through this process of trying to find something wrong with the cars they test, but this CR-V makes that a serious challenge.

I don’t know, maybe I’d feel better if Honda was giving them away or selling them on the lots for a hundred bucks.

Yeah, I know: That’s going to happen in my dreams.

But the wide-awake reality is this: The latest CR-V shapes up as the affordable SUV of your dreams. I expect Honda dealers will continue to ring them up in big numbers throughout the remainder of 2012.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Chevy Volt reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Sacramento, California – My review of the 2012 Chevrolet Volt appears in the latest, April 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.

Juke scores high in fun, cool categories

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

Sacramento, California – What’s in a name? Well, when an automaker names a motor vehicle the Juke, better figure on it having some pizzazz.

The Nissan Juke, a smallish sport-utility vehicle with considerable crossover DNA, plays the part well. It looks cool, and you feel like you’re driving a special something your fellow motorists are missing out on when you’re behind the Juke’s wheel.

Introduced last year and tweaked a bit for 2012, the Juke shapes up as the prototypical party/beach vehicle for the young … or a downright fun vehicle for baby boomers who still like to party.

My ride was the 2012 SV FWD CVT version with a starting price of $21,580. Veteran motorists can pretty much figure it out from there … front-driver and a continuously variable transmission. The list of standard features is not very long, but for the relatively bargain-basement price, it’s hard to complain.

The advertised fuel mileage of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway felt pretty good too.

The 1.6-liter, turbocharged in-line 4 engine is feisty, but you do have to put your foot in it pretty deep to get the revs up and the Juke moving from a standing start. Once it’s rolling along, the engine handles the expected chores pretty well.

Controls spread out over a surprisingly wide dashboard are easy to use and understand; interior room for humans is generous. The cargo area can be configured to hold more than you might think on first glance.

I kind of liked seeing the top of the headlights from the driver’s seat, a byproduct of the Juke’s upwardly angular front-end styling.

I did get some rear wheel slippage on some corners taken hard, prompting me to ease off a little bit on twisty roads. No big deal there. I didn’t expect a $21,500 Nissan SUV to handle like an Audi sedan.

I won’t jive you: I liked this Juke. I liked the price. And I wanted to spend more time with it.