Friday, December 27, 2013

Quite a year in wheels, looking forward to 2014

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – What a year it has been in the world of wheels.

The cars I reviewed in 2013 were technology loaded, performance laden and pretty much stuffed with perks once available to only high-end car buyers.

It just goes to show you: You can’t build a cheap piece of junk anymore in this automotive market.  It’s too competitive.

And that means: Advantage buyers.  Not a bad deal at all.

The auto industry rallied significantly in California and nationwide in 2013.  That backs up a long-held theory of mine:  No matter how bad the economic times get, people still save and scrape and eventually get around to replacing their old wheels.  It’s just a fact of life in America … and has been for a long time.

Remember that when the next financial panic hits.  And alas, it will arrive eventually.

Oh, and remember the experts predicting not that long ago that Toyota was on the rocks and in a downward cycle?  Big swing and a miss there, right?

One year ago at this time, I would have had trouble buying into hard-luck Tony Kanaan being an Indianapolis 500 champion and three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti being out of the sport for good.  To be sure, auto racing remains a fast-moving, wildly unpredictable sport.

And yes, you can still get hurt strapped to a bullet traveling at 200 miles per hour or more.

A year ago, I would not have had trouble believing that Jimmie Johnson would be celebrating as a six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.  He’s now in the greatest of all time argument, right there with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.  Will Jimmie pull down a record-tying No. 7 in 2014?  I wouldn’t bet against him.

So much to look forward to in the year ahead.  But before 2013 closes out, let me say THANKS for tuning in and reading.  It’s always fun to talk wheels with friends.

See you up the road in 2014.


Monday, December 16, 2013

You have needs? Infiniti QX70 fills the bill

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – What more could one want in a sport-utility vehicle?

After a week in the 2014 Infiniti QX70 3.7 AWD, my answer is: Can’t think of a thing.

Strange as it sounds, I have an emotional attachment to luxo Infiniti SUVs, as a loaded Infiniti sport-ute was one of the first models I was allowed to test drive all by my lonesome years ago.  Flashing forward to now, however, my long-ago experience was more akin to taking a flight in a biplane.  By comparison, this contemporary Infiniti SUV model is a bells and whistles-laden Stealth fighter jet.

The tester’s technology list was long and impressive.

Start out with a lane departure warning system that also doubles as a lane departure prevention system by lightly applying the brakes if you do not respond to an audible warning.

Move on to the distance control assist system that aids the driver with throttling and braking in suddenly slowing traffic.

Then there’s intelligent cruise control (speeds automatically controlled to maintain a safe following distance).  You can adjust following distance via a steering wheel-mounted button.  You can also opt for old-school cruise control should the primo version be too much for your liking.

You also get intelligent brake assist, which has the job of warning of imminent impact. And there’s a forward collision warning system.

Keep in mind that this is the PARTIAL list of techno fireworks.

Most know that I typically don’t like to give up control of a car to various tech systems, but just seeing all these goodies in one SUV struck me as a fairly major engineering accomplishment.

Yes, my QX70 – sharp-eyed readers will note that this is a recent departure from Infiniti’s “FX” nomenclature – did have the full-on Technology Package, the Deluxe Touring Package (leather appointments, maple interior accents, aluminum pedals and 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels) and Premium Package (including voice recognition, hard drive navigation and an eight-inch color touchscreen for multiple uses) that swelled the $46,400 starting price to $57,945.

And for that price, it is good to get a lot.  Beyond the tech show, luxury features ran the gamut, making the QX70 a near five-star rolling hotel suite.  Exterior styling is aerodynamically pleasing, a positive departure from the more boxy Infiniti SUVs of years past.

On the roll, the QX70 was a study in quiet assertion.  Power comes from a 3.7-liter V-6 rated at 325 horsepower.  It propels the QX70 with authority, but be careful on the accelerator, as the torque output is so silky that you can find yourself pushing 80 mph in a hurry.  Interior cabin noise is virtually negated, even during hard accelerations.

This is a highway cruiser that makes a 100-mile jaunt seem like a springtime skip in the park.  You don’t want to get out of the vehicle after a mere 100 miles.  A 300-mile cruise with sweetly amplified music, comfortable seating and rock-solid handling is actually something to look forward to in this QX70.

That extended mileage will cost you, however.  Fuel mileage ratings are a wallet-sapping 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.

My guess is that the typical QX70 buyer doesn’t worry about such trivial things as budgeting for weekly gasoline purchases.  Alas, I’m not part of that sky’s-the-limit group.

But I certainly did enjoy my week in this decidedly classy transporter.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

For the money, 2014 Altima tough to pass up

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Upon seeing the 2014 Nissan Altima parked in the usual test car pick-up spot, my brain registered this disappointment: “Oh, it’s the 2.5 sedan.”

That’s as in 2.5 liters, enough for four cylinders and 182 horsepower.  For me, that’s a big drop from the Altima’s optional 3.5-liter, 270-horsepower V-6 engine, much preferred by me for its robust performance qualities.

Well, a funny thing happened …

I last tested a 2012 Nissan Altima 2.5, and for 2013, Nissan presented an all-new fifth-generation Altima.  Giant horsepower tweaks were not part of that reworking – 175 horses for the previous generation – but whatever happened between 2012 and now certainly made a big difference to me.

My 2014 Altima 2.5 SL tester performed with heroic enthusiasm and exceptional nimbleness.  I was stunned by the engine response, which to my mind seemed at least 25 percent stronger than I remembered from just two years ago.  Pleasant surprise?  That doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The Altima was a willing warrior on freeway entrance ramps, and some uphill runs in the Sierra Nevada foothills found it to be likewise enthusiastic, plus silky smooth through hard, twisty corners.  Steering was darn near sports car quality.  The continuously variable transmission worked flawlessly. And the interior cabin remained quiet in all conditions.

Fuel mileage is a definite plus at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price on the 2014 2.5 SL is $27,760, and you get a generous helping of goodies for that outlay.  All-part-of-the-deal perks included an eight-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, leather surfaces, a nine-speaker Bose audio system, a rearview monitor and a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

My tester included an $800 moonroof and a technology package that included a navigation system, a blind sport-warning system, a lane departure-warning system and a moving object-detection system.  All that for $1,090.  Not a bad deal.

Nissan has been touting the Altima for its near-luxury appeal at a relatively affordable price, and after a week in this ride, I have to concede that the marketing is pretty much spot-on.  With all badging removed, I’d figure paying $35,000 to $40,000 for a car like this.  Even with the extras, the bottom line on my tester was $30,625.

Oh, it looks pretty sharp too.  Sporty lines and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels are eye-catching, and the “Cayenne Red” paint job on my ride certainly didn’t hurt.

Hate to call this a compromise car, but I mean that in a good way.  Maybe you’re looking for a nicely appointed sedan for $35,000 or more, but if that was my money to spend, I’d compromise and take the Altima for a serious test drive.  You might find that your compromise was really the only logical choice from the beginning.

Friday, December 6, 2013

2014 Scion tC reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2014 Scion tC in the latest, December 2013 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 http://www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Chevy Impala carries U.S. passenger car banner

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 www.sacbee.com/business

This review originally appeared in the November 2013 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

What better place to test the latest generation of the venerable Chevrolet Impala than the mean roadways stretching from Los Angeles to San Diego, where every lane change is challenged and every on-ramp merge is a fight for survival?

My ride was the 2014 2LTZ primo version of the Impala, starting at $35,905, and most important, equipped with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine rated at 305 horsepower.  You don’t want to venture out on the low SoCal interstates with an underpowered sedan.

You pay a bit of a price in the fuel ratings, of course, with an estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, but I’ll take the power advantage every time in this urban jungle.

The good news is that I survived my week slicing and dicing on the 5, the 15, the 215, the 10, the 110 and the 605.  The Impala not only looked the part of a SoCal freeway warrior with a broad-shouldered front, smooth-on-top look, it earned its stripes by muscling into tight spots with authority when asked.

Brakes were firm and even, the better to avoid the ever-present, mysterious Southern California interstate stop from 80 miles per hour to 5 mph in the time it take to snatch a quick glance at the deep blue Pacific Ocean.

On a performance level, my Impala tester just felt like it belonged.  Very few challenged its path when I whistled it into parking space-size traffic holes traveling at 75 mph.  Risky business, that, but I confess that I admire a commuter culture that can hook into an 80 mph nose-to-tail freight train of cars stretching for a mile or more.

I also admired the Impala’s interior, a nicely laid out mix of comfort features and downright luxurious perks.   Leather, cool interior lighting and chrome accents made me feel like a high roller for at least a week.

Interior noise was remarkably mute, even when the Impala was breezing along at nearly full song.  And there’s plenty of room for five sizable adults in the seats.  The Impala had a little bit of sideways give during sharp, high-speed corner maneuvers, but not enough to give me discomfort.  It stuck sure enough, and I never felt like I was losing control of the steering.

All in all, this is a very nice job on a vehicle that counts 1958 as its debut model year.

 This latest Impala will do little to damage its status as America’s standard-bearer amid a sea of monster-selling, foreign-made passenger cars.  Impala has been the nation’s top-selling full-size sedan since 2004 and periodically challenged the Camry-Civic-Corolla-Accord powerhouses for the overall top-seller spot in some populous states during that time.

The 2014 Impala remains a contender in the ring of passenger cars that sell well and consistently get good reviews.
 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Lexus RX 350 puts you in lap of luxury

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – One of the best things about this whole car-reviewing gig is getting the opportunity to occasionally sample how the other half lives.

And that’s where the RX 350 luxury crossover sport-utility vehicles comes in … especially the F SPORT model.  Here’s a loaded, versatile SUV that I’m sure is enjoyed by many folks with the means to buy it.

Frankly, however, the RX is not out of sight.  Mine wore a sticker with a starting price of $47,000, with an option package that pushed the bottom line to $52,224.  That’s not a fortune, but it’s definitely in the luxury class.

And, oh, it does feel good.

The RX has been around for 15 years – the 2014 version, by the way, is virtually unchanged from the 2013 model – and it has gotten a bit more power over that time. Yet while the power plant has grown steadily stronger, it seems the luxurious feel to the RX interior has outpaced that trend.

Beyond the blizzard of top-level safety features, RX 350 buyers are spoiled with a super-long luxo list that includes 10-way power front seats (they’re heated and ventilated as well), power tilt/telescoping steering column, a power moonroof, perforated leather trimmed seats, classy wood trim and a do-everything information display.  My tester’s option package also added a blind-spot monitor, a primo Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system and an over-the-top nav system.

The F SPORT eight-speed automatic transmission in the tester functioned with seamless excellence, and believe me, I pay attention to such things.  And yes, I did have fun playing with the paddle shifters when I wanted more control over the gearbox.

Exterior styling is simultaneously regal and sporty, with just the right amount of sharp angles on the front end.

The cabin is bank vault-quiet even at high freeway speeds, and the F SPORT suspension makes the ride smooth and even in all conditions.  Steering is pleasantly firm, radiating a safe-and-secure feel.

Wow, there oughta be a law: Every licensed motorist should have a free week in this vehicle.

The 3.5-liter V-6 is not necessarily a road burner at a max 270 horsepower, but it gets the job done in 90 percent of all essential driving conditions, with the unused 10 percent including things like beating a Corvette off the line and climbing a 45-degree solid rock wall.

The RX 350 is so sublime that I really can’t imagine spending $60,000, $70,000 or more for a more opulently loaded SUV.  Seems like it would be a needless expense for too little reward … no matter how much money you have.

Overall, this is a grade-A vehicle all the way, perfectly placed in the practical-size luxury SUV segment.  If money is not necessarily a concern, you can shorten your list of crossover SUV test drives to this venerable Lexus model.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Avalon Hybrid has just about everything

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Don’t be shy.  You want it all, right?

Sure you do.  That’s why you would seek out a Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited sedan with the automaker’s proven hybrid technology, as opposed to a mere, near-Lexus Avalon sans hybrid.

What’s a few thousand bucks when your desires are being met?

My Avalon Hybrid Limited wore a starting price of $41,400, but it was dressed up with optional equipment (including $1,750 for a technology package that included a radar cruise control system that I could have done without), to hit the bottom line at $44,199.

Gas mileage, as usual, is a big deal.  My ride was rated at 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.  Yes, very sweet.

But as I was sitting in the car counting the money to be saved by fewer trips to the gas station over the years, I started counting the perks inside and outside the vehicle.  It’s quite a package.

Above-and-beyond features include an all-star braking system with enhancements, anti-theft system with engine immobilizer, high-intensity quad headlights, folding exterior mirrors and puddle lights, power moonroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, three-zone climate control, backup camera (every Avalon gets one), a 10-way power driver’s seat, perforated leather trim and heated rears seats.

It’s all in there.  I’ve said it before: This is the most luxury you can get short of a Lexus badge on the car.  For those keeping count, the 2013 Avalon received a major make-over (its current sleek look was crafted right here in the USA), and the 2014s are pretty much standing pat.

On the fly, a net 200 horsepower rating (including a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder standard engine) has been slammed by some as not having enough juice.  Nonsense.  There’s plenty there for what this car is going to be used for, and the ride is limo quiet and smooth.  One-hundred-mile drives in this car are a pleasure, not a chore.

I had the sense driving the Avalon Hybrid that, if economics could be thrown out the window, every household in the United States should have this car for its everyday use – a fuel-saving, super-safe and comfortable transporter of kids, cargo and friends.

Yes, I know, that's needless fantasizing.  But hey, what’s wrong with wanting it all every now and then?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chrysler 200 draws stares, and rightly so

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California The Chrysler 200 is not exactly a new arrival on the roadways, but my week in the car made me feel like I was driving a model freshly removed from the automaker’s test track.

People came running up and asking: “Hey, what is that?,” or “Is that a BMW?,” or “That’s a really cool-looking car; who makes it?”

It’s a Chrysler.  Yes, a Chrysler.  And yes, it has some Euro DNA in it, all of it good.

My ride for a week was the primo 2013 200 Limited with an “S” package, showing a bottom line price of $27,665 (please note that the 200 goes into the 2014 model year virtually unchanged from 2013).
 
The “S” package needs explaining.  Simply put, you get a big heaping basket full of goodies, inside and out.

The perks include fancy 18-inch wheels, strategically placed black touches (which looked very cool on my car’s “Deep Cheery Red Crystal Pearl Coat” paint job), leather-trim “S”-branded seats, 6.5-inch touch screen display, perforated leather steering wheel, hard disc drive, GPS navigation system and, yes, flex-fuel capability.

To which I say, WOW!  That’s a $40,000 proposition on other cars.  Throw in pretty fair gas mileage for a 3.6-liter, 283-horsepower V-6 (19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway) and a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and you have my attention.

This 200 is worth your time as well.  Look it over, and I bet you’ll be impressed by its sporty Euro exterior and sweetly laid-out interior.  But most of all, drive it.

The V-6 was a tiger working in instant, perfect harmony with my right foot.  Acceleration will not blow off a Corvette, but you do get a pleasing push in the back and a satisfying growl from the power plant as you zip past freeway pokes and clueless downtown drivers.

Uphill runs were a snap.  The steering was near-luxury-level responsive and firm.  Lane changes were crisp and authoritative, yet the chassis remained pleasantly in place even during hard maneuvers.

Yes, this is a car Chrysler NEEDS in its lineup, and it can be had in both sedan and convertible trim.

Chrysler’s 200 might not be getting the same attention its competitors receive, and that’s a shame.  This ride is a player in a crowded field.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Chevy Impala reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2014 Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ sedan in the latest, November 2013 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 http://www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Honda's Crosstour defies traditional labels

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 www.saccbee.com/business

This review originally appeared in the October 2013 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California ­– I had a Honda Crosstour once before, and it was pitched to me as a sport-utility vehicle.

To which I said: Really?

OK, you get four doors, five seats and a back end that yawns open wide for cargo, but the look is decidedly sedan-hatchback.  If you’re thinking crossover, the scales tilt decidedly toward the sedan side.

Which is OK.  I can see the Crosstour providing small families, large families and everything in between with comfort and convenience for many a year.  Just be sure to eyeball this vehicle carefully at the dealership, just so you have a good idea in your head of what it is and what it can do.

My tester was the 2013 Crosstour 4WD EX-L V6 with navigation, which translated to a fairly hefty starting price of $37,090 (please note, a two-wheel drive Crosstour EX starts at $27,230).  Happily, the sticker on my Crosstour included everything and the kitchen sink.

The starndard list included leather-trimmed seats/steering wheel, the aforementioned nav system, steering wheel-mounted controls, a driver’s 10-way power seat with two-option memory, heated front seats, a forward collision-warning system, a lane-departure warning system, a power moonroof and Honda’s blind-spot driver’s helper on the right side of the vehicle.

That last feature – Honda calls it “LaneWatch” ­– equates to giving you a real-time rearview camera view of the vehicle’s right side in the center nav screen when you snap on the right-turn signal.

Yeah, that’s pretty cool.  It certainly gives you a good view of that pesky bicycle rider coming up on your right side when you’re trying to make a simple right turn.  That alone might save you a lawsuit, or worse.
 
As for the lane-departure and forward-warning collision systems, I found them unnecessarily sensitive.

On the fly, the comparatively high-riding Crosstour is nothing like an SUV.  It’s a nicely performing sedan all the way, with more than enough power provided by a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 278 horsepower.  The ride is smooth, quiet and even in straight lines, on city streets or on twisty mountain roads.  A sturdy suspension swallows up most road bumps.

And gas mileage with the V-6 is fair at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Interior features were smartly laid out and within reach.  For once, I did not need to dive deep into the owner’s manual to figure out the various sound, entertainment and nav systems.

Overall, this vehicle gets a solid “B” grade and shapes up as a nice fit for somebody who just wants a little bit of SUV in his/her vehicle.  The Crosstour is no brute.  But it’s functional and easy to drive.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fast crowd at Nov. 8 California Automobile Musuem event in Sacramento

"Life in the Fast Lane" is the theme of the California Automobile Museum's 2013 benefit and auction, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Nov. 8 at the museum, 2200 Front St., Sacramento.

Tickets are $75 each or $525 for a table of eight. Cocktails, appetizers and a dinner are included.

The list of regional motor sports greats and guests includes Gary Pitts, regional manager of the Sports Car Club of America; Thunderhill Raceway CEO David Vodden; 24 Hours of LeMons founder Jay Lamm; Concours d'LeMons creator and Billetproof owner Alan Galbraith; Norman Racing Group CEO Jon Norman; and Larry Oka Racing Services CEO Larry Oka.

A live silent auction on-site includes an extensive list of automotive, entertainment, dining and recreational items. See www.calautomuseum.org or call (916) 442-6802.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Just-the-basics Corolla still features allure


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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – It turns out that you can get a truly affordable car with a significant amount of newness to it.

Case in point: the completely-reworked-for-2014 Toyota Corolla sedan.

Yes, that Corolla, as in the monster-seller from the Japanese auto-producing giant.  That means you’re going to get a real car, not a specialized, loss-leading bag of bolts that draws you in with dreams of stealing the pants off a local dealer with a price too good to be true.

And just to seal the deal, I can tell you that I was handed the most plain, stripped-down version of a new test car that I’ve ever received.  It was a 2014 Toyota Corolla L, next-to-last among the 12 trim levels, starting at $17,400.  No extras.

In fact, I didn’t even have a key fob and had to remember to stick the key in the door lock to gain entrance to the vehicle … just like when I was a kid.

And you know what?  I still liked this Corolla.  Liked it a lot.

OK, no messing around with plus extras.  It’s just straight-up transportation.  And on that score, it did well.  For less than $17,500, I’d say it did great.

The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine performed well, even with an advertised horsepower rating of 132.  Frankly, in my view, the car felt stronger than that number, especially in busy freeway commuter traffic.

And I had no problem with 27 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.

Also, the car is not totally stripped, with LED lights on the front end standard.  Plenty of safety and convenience features for the MSRP price, too.

Throw in a nicely sculpted body, and it’s a pretty safe bet that this latest-generation Corolla will continue to roll up good numbers at the sales lots.

I have to believe that the less-is-more approach and easy-on-the-wallet price will lure in large numbers of young buyers as it seems that the ultimate status symbol for our youngest generation of adults right now is having a job.

I’ve never had a problem with basic transportation, especially transportation that’s likely to have a young driver behind the wheel and similarly youthful passengers filling up the cabin.

Likewise, this Corolla looks like a strong candidate as a backup worker in a two-car household.  Take the Caddy to the country club if you’re that fortunate, but let the Corolla make the milk runs.

Bottom line: This 11th-generation model looks, and feels, very good for its age.

Friday, October 25, 2013

RAV4's changed look doesn't lessen its appeal

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Let me start by saying that my wife drives a 2011 Toyota RAV4 … and she absolutely loves it.

But her RAV4 is not the current RAV4, aka the fourth generation introduced for the 2013 model year and carrying on into 2014.

First thing you’re likely to ask upon seeing the latest RAV4: Hey, what happened to the rear-mounted spare tire?

Good question.  The spare is now below the floor inside the rear storage area, in line with what you get in most SUVs.

This was greeted with applause by many SUV devotees who questioned why Toyota would put a spare tire on the back end of a small SUV.  I confess that I was not one of them. I did not think the rear-mounted spare took away from the look of the vehicle in any way.  However, I can understand how you might like an interior-loaded spare when you’re changing a flat tire in the pouring rain.

And you would want a roof over your head while changing said tire in said downpour, right?  Of course, and you get that too in the latest RAV4 – a roof-hinged liftgate replacing the easy opening, side-hinged rear door.

For the record, my wife, who stands 5-2, likes her side-hinged door, as opposed to making a running start and leaping into the air to snare the top of the roof-hinged liftgate.  Different strokes for different folks.  I get it.

Personally, I’m not affected.  But then I’m 6-4.

So, bottom line, these seemingly drastic changes do nothing to detract from the RAV4’s look (which is sleek and attractive) or its cargo-carrying capacity, which remains ample in all configurations.

The interior remains surprisingly roomy for five passengers, and controls are easily understood and managed from the cockpit.  Audio systems on the RAV4 are strong and gutsy.

Then there’s this: The RAV4 is a dream to drive. It’s instantly responsive, quiet and darn-near a small sports car performer when its dodging through heavy traffic.

There’s no six-cylinder power plant, but let me assure you that you don’t need it.  The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 176 horsepower in the XLE model tester (which had the additional advantage of all-wheel drive) provided plenty of oomph.  And even sprints from a standing start were brisk and impressive.

My wife is not holding a gun to my head when I tell you that the RAV4 is the near-perfect suburban-dweller’s vehicle.  Your get good ride height to see above the crowd, midsize sedan-like handling, the ability to carry everything from groceries to cinder blocks, an easy-to-step-into floor level, big SUV capabilities in a practical-size package and an affordable price ($25,690 MSRP on the generously-equipped tester).

So, what’s not to like?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dixon's never-give-up attitude pays again

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Another year, another IndyCar series gone.

And in what has become an annual tradition, a Team Penske driver lost the series title after having a virtual hammerlock on it late in the season.  It’s a pretty amazing thing from a team that has all but defined perfection for decades, especially in the Indianapolis 500.

I can’t argue with Scott Dixon (pictured) winning the IndyCar title for a third time.  He’s relentless.  He never gives up.  And yet, he might be the nicest bulldog in all of sports.  He put together some great drives in 2013 and shrugged off crushing setbacks that might have wilted other drivers.  Cheers to you, Scott.

Two things I’ll remember from this year, besides Dixon gutting it out to the last lap:

For one, yes, you can still get hurt in an IndyCar racer, despite the incredible advances in car safety.  Three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti demonstrated that in dramatic fashion recently when his car was launched into a temporary fence in the shadow of the old Houston Astrodome.

Happily, Franchitti emerged with “only” broken back bones and an apparently nasty ankle break.  It wasn’t all that long ago that such a spectacular crash would have taken off limbs, or worse.  Kudos to the car designers.  And I’m really glad fans who were in the way of debris were not seriously hurt.
 
I still think current catch fences fall short of the mark.  The cars still get shredded.  As I’ve said before, putting a clear, bullet-resistant “wall” between cars and fans would likely keep debris out of the grandstands.

Second thrill of the year was being on hand to watch longtime sentimental favorite Tony Kanaan finally win the Indianapolis 500 last May.  I’ll always remember the thunderous roar of the crowd when it became apparent that “hard-luck” Tony was going to win the crown jewel of American racing.  His Indy run, amid record lead changes and an all-time record speed for 500 miles, was the drive of the year in the series.

And next year, Kanaan joins Dixon and Franchitti on the Chip Ganassi Racing team.  Can you say Super Team?  Certainly stacks up that way.

IndyCar will again make a run at wrapping up its season by Labor Day in 2014.  It has been tried before, and I think it makes sense.  The Indy 500 draws media attention at the end of May, and by Labor Day, football is ruling the roost.  For this particular series, I think it makes sense to have competitive races in the summer months and then clear the decks by Labor Day Monday.

And yes, I like the idea of a road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway a couple weeks before the Indy 500.  I don’t know what kind of crowd it will draw in 2014, but I kind of like the idea of restoring the whole “month of May” atmosphere at IMS.  Yeah, those old-school feelings die hard.

One other thing to ponder over the long winter: How fast will the IndyCar racers go with the proposed spec changes?  I have long believed IndyCar to be the edge of the envelope when it comes to high speed and close-quarters racing action.  Faster is better in my view.  And I think the construction of the cars provides the necessary margin of safety.
 
 
 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Honda Crosstour reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2013 Honda Crosstour 4WD EX-L V6 in the latest, October 2013 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 http://www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kia gets fancy with its new Cadenza

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 www.sacbee.com/business

This review originally appeared in the September 2013 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Kia has an all-new-for-2014 flagship offering called the Cadenza, and for those of you familiar with the typical Kia offering, prepare to be surprised.

This full-size sedan  with a handsome two-tier grille and jewel-like wheels is downright luxurious, loaded with pleasing comfort and convenience features.  From its perfectly fitted headlights to its nicely sculpted back end, the Cadenza is a head-turning bit of classy artwork.

Be advised: The price of the front-driver is not a bargain-basement deal, starting at $35,100.  And with the addition of a Technology Package and Luxury Package (my tester had both), the bottom line on the sticker swells to just shy of $42,000.

Call it a fancy Kia with a lot of extras.  Yes, I liked my week in it, with the full understanding that Kia needs a high-end offering in its vehicle lineup.

The 3.3-liter V-6 rated at 293 horsepower gives you more than you need to be sure, but you have to put your foot pretty deep down the well to get the full, press-me-to-the-seat rush.  The power plant provides more than enough to hold your own in a busy rush-hour commute, and hill climbs are likewise butter in the hands of the six-banger.  The Cadenza is pleasingly firm in slalom maneuvers.

The Technology Package is a nicely loaded mix, with a good blind spot detection system.  Only a couple times did it give me an unnecessary alarm when I was blazing past stragglers.  The lane departure warning system was not too sensitive, a big plus in my book.  I hate other systems that don’t understand the concept of a freeway exit.

The Luxury Package was likewise good.  I don’t expect to see a power tilt/telescoping, heated steering wheel in a Kia.  White interior leather touches?  Yeah, cool and classy.

Another cool thing with the tester: power exterior mirrors automatically unfolding as I approached the Cadenza on foot.  So with a proximity sensor fob capable of engineering that trick, you’d think the driver’s door would automatically unlock when my hand touched the door.  Alas, it doesn’t do that.

No big deal, I guess.  But if you have a system that unfolds the mirrors before you touch the car, you’d think they add the already established system that unlocks the driver’s door when hand skin touches door metal.  That absence produces the same reaction as opening a hotel mini-bar stocked only with 2 percent milk.  Just saying.

One other thing: You kind of have to dig deep in the center-mounted audio/navigation control systems to get what you want.  It might take you a few days of playing around and consulting the owner’s manual.  But once you get the pattern down, you’ll do fine.

Overall, a solid B-plus grade for this new arrival.  Hey Kia, any chance of putting a V-8 in it up the road?  I’d like that.
 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Surprise: Reworked 2014 Outlander excites

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Ordinarily, I wouldn’t get excited about a seven-passenger Mitsubishi sport-utility vehicle.

But this redesigned 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC absolutely surprised me.  Really, I’m serious.

Maybe I wasn’t paying attention when it was pulling in various awards for safety and such.  Maybe I should have been.

And while smallish SUV is the theme, this Outlander is decidedly a crossover.

My ride looked station wagon-sleek upon arrival, and as advertised, safety features were numerous.  A closer look at the sticker caused me to yelp, because it was a seriously loaded package for a starting price of $27,795.

Comfort/convenience features were everywhere, and the thoughtful layout of controls for the driver and front passenger was a plus.  Great warranties to boot?  Check.

The GT Touring Package added an eyebrow-raising $6,100 to the bottom line, but I confess it was stuffed with satisfying additions.  That included a navigation system with a high-definition seven-inch touch screen and 3-D mapping, a power glass sunroof, leather seating surfaces, a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate premium audio system with nine speakers and a power/remote tailgate.  Sure, I could do without the lane-departure warning system and forward collision-mitigation system (I like pilot control, at my peril, I suppose), but the option package still came off as a winner.

With a 3-liter V-6 churning out 224 horsepower, performance was not a problem.  Ditto city driving, hill climbing and every-man-for-himself freeway commutes.  The six-cylinder power plant has nearly 60 more horsepower than the down-one-step four-cylinder job, and I was glad for it.  Fuel mileage suffered only slightly at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

OK, so you want to know what that S-AWC thingy is in the model name.  That stands for Super All-Wheel Control, which is Mitsubishi’s name for an all-wheel drive system that provides enhanced stability and traction control on serpentine roadways.  Sure, I’ll buy it as my tester performed like a champ on just such surfaces on a jaunt into the Sierra Nevada foothills.  Score one for the S-AWC and Mitsubishi’s engineers.

Again, Mitsubishi touts the safety features of its reworked-for-2014 Outlander.  While most of us worry about a vehicle’s ability to hold up in “the really big crash,” the newest Outlander also tests well in the comparatively less violent, but still common shunt.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently added the “small overlap frontal crash” test to its hit parade.  Essentially, it replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or tree/utility pole.  In IIHS testing, 25 percent of the front of a vehicle on the driver’s side impacts a five-foot-high barrier at 40 miles per hour.

The 2014 Outlander scored a “good” rating in that test. Mitsubishi said the Outlander was one of only two in its SUV class to get a “good” rating.

Good enough.  But for me, that’s not the deal maker.  I liked virtually everything else about it.  Surprise, surprise.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Santa Fe for seven remains a bargain

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – High gas prices have changed the nation’s car-buying habits, but some folks still need something that can carry seven passengers or a fair amount of cargo on a regular basis.

Those needs, however, do not negate bargain shopping.

And that’s why the Hyundai Santa Fe should be on your list.  Over the years, I’ve recommended the Santa Fe to numerous friends and family members as a practical choice in the crowded field of sport-utility vehicles, some of them priced to the sky.

Not so the Santa Fe.

My tester, a 2013 Santa Fe Limited with front-wheel drive, was loaded to the teeth for a starting price of $33,100.   A Technology Package that included a sunroof and a nav system pushed the bottom line to just short of $37,000

But I can tell you straight up: I would have been just as happy without the extras.

That’s because the long list of standard features included all the contemporary traction-control devices, braking assistance technology, 19-inch alloy wheels, proximity key entry, heated seats in the first two rows, leather seating surfaces, roof rails and a windshield wiper de-icer.  That’s just the short list.

What I had in my tester would easily equate to $45,000 or $50,000 in seven-passenger SUVs made by other manufacturers.  So, yeah, you’re getting a pretty good deal here.  Throw in Hyundai’s over-the-top warranties, and you’re getting a very good deal.

The Santa Fe’s styling is classic SUV, which is to say roundish with enough aerodynamic smoothness thrown in to please the eye.

Power is supplied via a 3.3-liter V-6 rated at 290 horsepower.  That power plant propels the Santa Fe with authority, when asked, and the vehicle is agile enough to give you lane-changing confidence during crowded freeway commutes.  On long interstate hauls, the Santa Fe was quiet and smooth, the better to hear the 12-speaker Infinity Logic 7 surround-sound system that was among the extras in my ride’s Technology Package.

Cargo-carrying capacity is impressive.  The back end area is deep enough to stack boxes without blocking the rear view.

Gas mileage is only fair at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.  Alas, I’ll take the V-6 power advantage over fuel mileage in a crowd-carrying SUV every time.

Overall, the Santa Fe maintains the charms that have prompted me to recommend it to prospective SUV buyers for years.  Lots of goodies for the right price.

 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kia Cadenza reviewed in the latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the all-new 2014 Kia Cadenza sedan in the latest, September 2013 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 http://www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

BMW presents one hot crossover in the X1


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 www.sacbee.com/business

 This review originally appeared in the August 2013 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California BMW’s X1 five-passenger crossover was doing pretty well overseas, so BMW brought it to America for 2013.

Nicely played.  My 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i was a surprising bit of fun.  When it showed up, I thought to myself: too small.  And if you’re one of three people jammed into the back seat, I think that initial assessment is going to hold serve.

But when I got the xDrive28i out on the highway, “too small” had vanished in the rearview mirror.

Honest, I had trouble keeping the thing under 80 miles per hour.  I cracked the throttle halfway, and the needle just stubbornly stood there at 80 mph, seemingly begging for more.

Power comes from a 2-liter, twin-turbo, four-cylinder engine rated at 240 horsepower.  That power plant blasts the xDrive28i along like a champ.  As you’re blazing by everything on the open road like a champ, you’re thinking that you’re at the wheel of one hot car.

For me, that was literally true.  My time in the BMW X1 came during a week of mercilessly hot weather in Sacramento, with temperatures soaring to 105 degrees and above.  I’m going to assume it was nature’s fault, but the interior temperature within the little fishbowl of the X1 was so hot from sitting in the afternoon sun that I could not touch the steering wheel until the car had a good five minutes to cool down with the AC running at hurricane force.
 
My ride was the jazzed-up “M Sport Line” version, which helped boost the car’s $32,350 starting price to a somewhat eye-popping $45,245.  Given all the luxo/techno perks in the crossover, it was an understandable price, but I’m guessing that similarly dressed-up X1s might turn off folks shopping for a small crossover that gets good fuel mileage.

Mileage on the tester was advertised at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway – which my tester seemed to be hitting spot-on in my time with it.

I should add that driving dynamics of the car were exceptional. Plus, the eight-speed auto gearbox was seamless, and you could operate it as a manual.  It’s no mystery to me that the X1 garnered praise in on foreign roadways.  The xDrive28i is a good thing in a small package, and a hot performer when you want a little something extra from a crossover.
 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Old reliable Honda Civic still has the stuff

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 www.sacbee.com/business

 Sacramento, California – Hot sports cars and luxury liners that I’m fortunate to test drive get my undivided attention, but it’s good medicine to get back to the basics now and then.

 And I give you the 2013 Honda Civic EX sedan.

 OK, a Civic might not get your blood boiling, but it matters.

 
Why?  It’s the prototype starter car for budget-conscious motorists.  It’s likely going to be the car you trust most when it comes time to buy wheels for your kid.  It’s likely to be the car you pick for said offspring to drive off to college.

 I wish I had a nickel for every primo car “expert” I’ve talked to over the years who, when asked what motor vehicle they ultimately bought for their child, answered: I got him/her a Honda Civic.

 And that’s a good choice, old folks.  And while the kids might lust for a Corvette, the Civic is the wise choice.

 It gets great gas mileage.  Civics tend to run forever.  They’re uncomplicated.  They stand up well in safety ratings.  They can’t be accelerated from zero to 60 miles per hour in five seconds.  These are positive attributes when you hand the keys over to your young loved one.

 So, how does the 2013 Civic stack up in the long gray line of reliable transporters?

 From my week in the Civic EX four-door, it still holds a solid spot in the halls of practical motoring.  And this Civic is not just a warm-over from the reworked-for-2012 edition.

 You might recall that Honda took some heat for its 2012 make-over of the Civic.  Honda responded by making exterior styling changes and some tweaks inside the cabin.  All in all, the automaker did a good job of softening the rough edges it gave the Civic for the 2012 model year.

 The car’s exterior look is pretty basic, but nicely aerodynamic.  Inside, gauges are nicely laid out and easy to use.  However, I did not like the soft blue lighting in the information center behind the steering wheel.  In sunlight, I honestly couldn’t read what was displayed.  Even lit up at night, it was hard to read.

 My Civic with the 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder i-VTEC engine was smooth enough in freeway traffic and on city streets.  But it was challenged on uphill runs and struggled for long seconds to get up to speed in tight quarters on the open highway.  I really had to put my right foot deep down the well to get some performance.  That’s not necessarily a surprise with a 140-horsepower engine, but it’s something you need to consider based on your daily diet of driving.

 Safety and interior comfort/convenience features were plentiful and most welcome for an easy-on-the-eyes starting price of $20,815.

 All said, I’d still put the Civic on your top-five list of starter cars and young family transporters.  Ditto a reliable second car for rolling around town while the daily commuter is in the garage on weekends.

 Honda has preserved Civic’s sterling reputation and quickly executed some upgrades after a serious remake last year.  A good effort.