Monday, July 30, 2012

Feature-loaded Azera also has some pop

Sacramento, California – The Hyundai Azera was changed up for 2012, but the premise remains the same: you’re getting something very Lexus-like for a fraction of the Lexus price.

And for 2012, you get more than ever before.

When it rolled out at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2011, the extensively reworked Azera drew much-deserved oohs and ahhs from the usually jaded auto press corps.  Jaded or not, they knew a good thing when they saw it.

While the previous-generation certainly was visually appealing, the latest version has a more modern and sporty appearance.  It looks like a performance sedan, much more than its predecessor.  Dual rear exhausts set flush with the back end’s bodywork are particularly eye-catching.

Power is substantial from a 3.3-liter V-6 with 293 horsepower.  The Azera handled the quick-acceleration and needed power bursts with no problems whatsoever.  Fuel mileage was OK at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the open road.

The Azera was pleasingly agile on the roadways, with the feel of a sports coupe more than a sedan.  It was rock-solid in turns under hard acceleration, and it was easy to zip around in downtown traffic.

From the cockpit, most motorists will be stunned to see what’s included in the starting price of $32,000. Besides a blizzard of safety and on-road control technology, standard perks include exterior mirror turn signal indicators, leather seating surfaces, heated seats front and rear, a rearview back-up camera and a navigation system.

Are you kidding me?  On top of everything else.  This car is a steal at 32 grand.

My tester was dressed up with another $4,000 in extras – including xenon headlights, ventilated front seats and a power-adjustable steering wheel – but believe me when I say that the basic Azera package is a feature-loaded bonanza.

Once again, I found a message/info center that totally baffled me.  Just trying to get the mileage range on the car, I ended up ordering takeout from an all-night joint in Hong Kong.  No, not really, but that’s how helpless I felt.  Tech-savvy motorists will figure the thing out in no time, I’m sure.

The Azera carries over virtually unchanged for the 2013 model year, which is fine with me because they seem to have gotten it just right in the 2012 make-over.  As usual, Hyundai Azera owners get the automaker’s standard excellent warranties, adding peace of mind to the mix.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ridgeline pickup's appeal crosses life's lines

Sacramento, California – Being a suburban dweller, I generally don’t have a lot of use for pickup trucks.

It’s not that I don’t like them.  It’s just that I don’t have much need for them, other than transporting the fresh-cut Christmas tree down from the Sierra Nevada foothills every year, and the occasional run to the recycle yard.  So, no, I don’t need a driveway-filling, lane-clogging monster truck to make my life better.

But if I was ever in a situation where I was forced to choose one pickup to be my personal ride, the Honda Ridgeline would be it.  Practically sized, nicely styled and easy to drive, the Ridgeline might be considered pickup truck-lite by construction workers or ranchers, but it’s just about perfect for a suburban lightweight like myself.

Yes, I know, these ruthless self evaluations can be ugly, but consider the charms the Ridgeline offers the spoiled suburbanite.

My tester was the Ridgeline Sport, an all-new trim level offering for 2012.  My four-door, five-passenger ride had four-wheel drive and model-specific perks that included 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a black honeycomb grille, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, auxiliary audio input jack, fog lights, rear privacy glass (the rear glass slides open/closed automatically at the click of a button; very cool), all weather floor mats and black headlight/brake light housings.

Which is to say it looked pretty bad-nasty for a pickup … and that’s bad-nasty in a good way.

Fuel mileage was not so hot at 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, but hey, this is the pickup segment.  Power is provided courtesy of a 3.5-liter V-6 putting out a max 250 horses.  It’s quite the stout engine, in my view.

My tester was loaded up with plentiful comfort/convenience features, which frankly surpassed what I expected for a model starting at just a few dollars over $30,000.

On-road performance was smooth and surprisingly quiet for a pickup.  Unprompted, passengers said they were surprised at the agility of the vehicle, and a few even suggested that the Ridgeline Sport had so much to offer that they’d consider buying one.  Yeah, high praise, that.

The rear cargo area is not massive, but it’s capable of doing serious hauling at 49.5 inches wide between the wheel wells, 20.7 inches deep and 60 inches long with the tailgate closed. That will haul all-terrain vehicles and a bulky kitchen appliance or two.

All this makes the Ridgeline a specialty player in the half-ton pickup truck segment, and while it’s not going to be every truck driver’s cup of tea, it’s a sure bet that this Honda’s DNA will be a perfect match for a significant group of discriminating pickup purchasers.

Worthy of a test drive?  Yes, no matter if you’re urban, suburban or rural.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Year ahead looks good with Lexus GS update

Sacramento, California – The great thing about the auto-reviewing biz is that you can get an early start on the new year.

I’m months away from devouring the Thanksgiving leftovers, and yet here I am in a 2013 Lexus GS 350 sedan, the fourth-generation GS showpiece that has been hyped in commercials since last February’s Super Bowl.

Confusing?  Forget about it the time warp and enjoy the car.

The GS 350 has a lot to enjoy, and rightly so with a starting price of $46,900.

Handling is firm and precise, as if an engineer is managing the car’s movements from afar.  The 3.5-liter V-6 with 306 horsepower is appropriately responsive, and the advertised zero to 60 miles per hour time of 5.7 seconds is totally accurate.

Please note that when you are in “eco” mode, however, you really have to stomp down hard on the accelerator to make those aggressive moves.  That’s your call: power versus fuel pump savings.  For the record, the federal fuel mileage estimates are 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.  Fair, at best.

The interior cabin is spacious, luxurious and quiet, with plentiful luxury/convenience features to keep the driver busy on a long trip.  Power everything, 10-way adjustable power front seats and leather surfaces overload are all part of the standard package.

My tester had the F SPORT package, which is a lot – heads-up speedometer/info display, 19-inch alloy wheels and bumper/grille inserts to name just a few.  Those F SPORT goodies added nearly $6,000 to the bottom line on the sticker, and by the time all the extras were accounted for, my ride was just a few hundred bucks short of $60,000.

Yes, wow, that is a big chunk of change … enough to make most of us carefully consider just what options Lexus is offering on its sedans.

The GS 350 also had those annoying BMW-style turn signals where the steering column-mounted appendage does not stick into place, creating real confusion when you just want to signal a quick lane change.  I can’t shake my attachment to old-school turn signals, to be sure.

Oh, the F SPORT treatment looks good, especially on the front end, which resembles something from a competitive sports car racing series.  Definitely a plus.

Lexus touted the ability to link the on-board multimedia system to a user’s smart phone, but seeing as how I still struggle to simply choose a ringtone, I passed … Just mentioning this for you folks who actually know what you’re doing and really like this perk.

All in all, this GS 350 is pricey, professional and perfectly enjoyable … In short, it fits the bill to wear a Lexus nameplate.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Charger R/T reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2012 Dodge Charger R/T in the latest, July 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.

This fast cat has a super-high fun factor

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

Sacramento, California I and colleagues who test-drive cars do so to inform the public and hopefully provide needed information to motoring enthusiasts.

But deep in our hearts, all of us also are waiting for a big one.  And it arrived for me recently: a 2012 Jaguar XKR-S convertible.

The numbers speak for themselves.  A 550-horsepower supercharged V-8 engine, an advertised top-end speed of 186 miles per hour (NO, I did not get it up to that threshold), 20-inch super-sexy wheels and a sticker price of $145,250.

Yes, so expensive that you don’t want anyone near the car … “Hey, you kids, get away from there!”

Wheeling around so much excess in these wobbly economic times can make you feel guilty, and that oh-so-pricey gas goes quickly with fuel mileage of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.  But when the guilt goes away in 90 seconds or so, you’re ready to have fun.

And that’s what this Jag is: pure fun.

For a week, I had a supercar that others did not, and well, it was payback time for all those motorists who’ve been bullying me on my daily commute.  Just a small smash on the accelerator made everything around me on four wheels slow to a seeming crawl.  I figured this is what the world looked like to the Six Million-Dollar Man.

I could almost hear the wails of others motorists through my droptop’s roof.  By the way, watching that power roof disappear into the back boot (and then reappear later) at the press of a button is a sensational show.

Naturally, when you drive a car like this, people think you have loads of money to blow, and who am I to let them know that I had the ride for only a week?  I somehow resisted the temptation to scream out the driver’s side window: “Hey dude, you could have bought three top-line Camaros with the money I spent on this car!”

Luxury?  Are you kidding?   Everything from a heated windshield to a carbon fiber spoiler to front seats with more power features than a jet fighter.

Alas, there are drawbacks.

Don’t even think of trying to smash two people into the back seats of this XKR-S.  What are you, a sadist?

And for some reason, the satellite radio kept cutting out on me.  I don’t know if that was because the car is so low-slung, or because it was simply moving faster than the speed of sound.

Might have to call the Jag factory to get an answer on that one.