Friday, February 22, 2013

New cars, unknown make for a nervous 500

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

Sacramento, California – Forty-three cars will start Sunday’s Daytona 500, the crown jewel of NASCAR’s top tier, and I figure a dozen drivers have a very good chance of winning it.

Another 20 could win it.  So place your bet on one of those 32, and you could make yourself some money.

Yeah, I know, parity sucks.  But NASCAR has built an institution on it.  And when it comes to this year’s Sprint Cup Series season-opening spectacular, parity really doesn’t come close to telling the tale.

The introduction of the new “Generation 6” cars has thrown the science of race predicting for a 25-yard loss, and if you’ve been watching these cars run over the past couple of weeks at Daytona, you know what I’m talking about.

Several large crashes have jolted the drivers, who nevertheless seem generally enamored of their new rides.  Many freely admit that they’re still trying to “figure out” what the cars will do.

Wow, what a job! On Sunday, a monster pack of 43 drivers will head off for a nose-to-tail roller coaster ride at around 200 miles per hour.  Not exactly the most comfortable setting to continue figuring things out.

The new cars have more angles and cuts.  They no longer fit together like building blocks for an ideal bump draft.  Literally no one seems to know what 43 cars moving in a tornado of wind will do.

This makes me nervous.  You always expect the “big one” – aka a high-speed crash involving many cars – at Daytona, but I’m fearful of it coming early in the race, instead of later.  And if the drivers behave and it doesn’t come early, reset to default and expect the big one late when driver patience has left the grounds.

So, who will come out of it on top?  Kevin Harvick seems to be toying with the competition.  Maybe the team he’s scheduled to leave at the end of this year has this thing figured out.  The Tony Stewart-bossed cars likewise look good, although I expect pole-sitter Danica Patrick (pictured) to suffer the same fate she did on Thursday – getting freight-trained by a pack of cars locked into the fastest lane around the track.

How about reigning series champ Brad Keselowski?  Yeah, I’ll bite.  He’s shown increasing patience and skill since his rookie year, enough to stare down five-time champ Jimmie Johnson in the run for the series title a year ago.

How about Johnson?  Sure, but he sure seems to have lousy luck at Daytona.  Yes, he’s won the thing.  More often, however, he’s ended up in the fence or the garage earlier than he would have liked.

My pick: How about good ol’ Jeff Gordon?  He’s a multiple winner at Daytona.  Likes the place.  He has a great car.  He seems really content to see Danica in the spotlight while he starts right alongside her on the front row.  If I had to pick one driver to win on Sunday, he’s the one.

What I think will happen is that eight drivers will be in position to win at the start of lap 199 of the 200-lap race.  That’s the time to start paying attention if you’re watching on television.

Once the checkered flag falls, everyone will start talking about who will make the Chase for the Cup in September.  Long-term, I like Johnson to take series title No. 6.  His team gets high marks for handling past conversions to a new racing car.  I’m betting that experience carries them to the crown come November.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Batman's SUV? Smart money says its the RDX

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 – If Batman wanted to drive a sport-utility vehicle, I’m betting that the extensively reworked-for-2013 Acura RDX would be his choice.

Good eye, Bat guy.

My tester totally looked the part with a shining ebony paint job, stealth fighter jet angles in just the right places and enough smooth surfacing to make the five-passenger SUV cut through the air effortlessly.

Naturally, the 3.5-liter V-6 with 273 horsepower had a little something to do with that last part.Robust performance was dished up in smooth, relatively quiet doses, but you quickly realize that things are just fine as you’re blasting past everything on the road.

I had the wisdom step off the gas before my quick run up near 80 miles per hour came to the attention of uniformed persons driving black and white cars topped with blue and red lights.

Risky business never felt so good.  The RDX performed with sport-sedan quality.

Acura touted its new “motion adaptive electronic power steering system” on this RDX, and maybe I was missing the technology fireworks here, but all I can tell you is the SUV handled with snap-quick responsiveness and fiercely gripped the road even when I challenged the round rubber with high-speed slalom runs.  Very nice.

My black beauty was the priciest trim level, with the all-wheel-drive and tech package starting at $39,420.  No extras needed as the tester was dolled up with all the bells and whistles.

Inside, well, welcome to the executive suite.  Dripping in luxury and enough comfort/convenience features to keep you diving back into the owner’s manual like a kid with his first mega-Legos set.

Given all that’s in it, you’re stealing this ride for $40,000.

Yes, gas mileage might be better, but 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway isn’t a disaster with a six-cylinder power plant.

Frankly, I found zero to complain about in my week with the vehicle.  It’s a vast improvement over the RDX introduced to the world in 2007.

If you can afford the fare, it shapes up as a nice addition to your batcave.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dodge Dart reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the all-new Dodge Dart Rallye in the latest, February 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, 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.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hot Fusion? Believe it, Ford sedan that and more

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

Sacramento, California -- True story: I recently took delivery of a 2013 Ford Fusion SE sedan, and since it was raining, I snatched the car keys and got the car parked in a secure spot without giving it much of a glance.

Going out to the car later, after dark, I hit the key fob and two headlights winked back at me … two lights attached to a grille that looked similar to what you’d see on an Aston Martin.  Now, I’m confused.  I hit the fob again.  Same thing.

Is that my Fusion?  No way!

Is that the front end of the very practical car with previous styling cues that all but shouted VANILLA?  Yes, it is, and that’s just one bonus of the thoroughly reworked for 2013 Fusion.

Where to start?  There are powertrain options galore, including gas-fueled, hybrid and plug-in hybrid.  Fuel mileage ratings are delightfully lofty.  Technology options are now at a luxury level, including adaptive cruise control, parking assist and a “Lane Keeping System,” that last one a good one for folks whose attention lags at the wheel.

The Fusion, which in previous years meant “the basics” in my brain, is now a feature-loaded monster.  And, oh yes, it’s fun to drive.

My tester had the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine with nearly 180 horses popping from the four-cylinder core.  That was more than enough to handle the road chores I dished out, and yet, fuel mileage was in the 26 miles per gallon range in city traffic, and around 37 on the open road.

Steering was just-right firm.  Handling was smooth and agile. Braking was instant and substantial.  The Fusion felt firm from the cockpit, not light and subject to being blown around by the wind.

Interior features on my tester – starting at $23,700 – were plentiful.  Standard stuff included a 10-way power driver’s seat with memory function, a SYNC system and a most-helpful message center.  My only gripe was with some of the climate-control buttons, which were sometimes stubborn and took two or three pushes to respond.

Otherwise, this Fusion stacks up as the Make-over Car of the Year in my book.  And I went into this ride being perplexed about why other auto reviewers were raving about the staid-by-reputation Fusion.

Now you know.  Looking for an affordable, loaded, new sedan with a gutsy engine and good gas mileage?  Sound like a good first car for the kids?  Think Fusion.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Jetta has evolved, and hybrid version is a treat

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 – Another week, another Volkswagen.  But ah, there’s a story behind this 2013 VW tester that kept me busy for a week.

First off, the current Jetta is light years improved from the Jetta that bowed to the world at the 1979 Frankfurt Auto Show.  The 2013 Jetta, and there are an astounding18 ways to get it, is different from the Frankfurt show attendee like the rocket that blasted Neil Armstrong to the moon is different from the tin can John Glenn rode around the Earth.

The current-generation Jetta is so much more substantial than the old-school models that it’s almost a crime of deception that the current version carries the same nameplate.

And new this time around is the hybrid version, with a zero-emission electric motor (20 kilowatts) and a peppy engine grinding out a combined output of 170 horsepower.  And yes, it actually feels like 170 horsepower – quick and lively.  Here’s a hybrid that even a performance buff can love.

That good, really?  Yes, believe it.

Covering all the bases, my tester was the 2013 Volkswagen Jette Hybrid SEL Premium sedan, and it’s the most expensive one in the long Jetta lineup, starting at $31,180.  Worth every penny, I tell you.  You’re stealing top-notch technology at that price.

Fuel mileage your top priority?  Then you’ll probably like the Jetta hybrid’s government ratings of 42 miles per gallon in the city and 48 mpg on the highway?

The car just felt sizable and firm in my hands.  Responsive steering and hill climbing pop when I asked for it.  Super-quiet inside.   Long list of standard comfort, convenience and safety features.  Ample room for passengers and cargo in the boot.

Best of all for me, it did not have any of the functional mysteries that I have experienced with other hybrids … everything from “Is this thing on?” to “How much gas am I wasting at this particular moment?”  Yes, the simple pleasures mean a lot to me when I’m driving gas-electric fueled transportation.

Best hybrid on the market?  Can’t say that absolutely for sure, given the impressive Toyota Prius fleet currently putting up big sales numbers.  But I’d put this Jetta right up there.  If you can spring for $31,000 or so and count on saving a bundle on gas over the long term, this Jetta is worth the time of a test drive.

And while you’re saving all that money on gas, you might just learn to like this car for what it is.  I know I did.