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

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

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

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, 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.

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

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.