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

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

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

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, 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 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.