Thursday, March 28, 2013

Subaru's new XV Crosstrek a good first effort

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 – Well, I couldn’t miss it, not with a seemingly glow-in-the-dark “Tangerine Orange Pearl” exterior paint color that was bright enough to turn the heads of passersby on the sidewalk.

It in this case was the all-new-for-2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek. Mine was the cheaper of two trim levels, a 2.0i Premium edition with a continuously variable transmission and starting at $22,995. A moonroof/navigation package and a $795 destination charge pushed the window sticker’s bottom line to $25,790.

It’s the do-or-die rule of auto making: If you’re going to make something new, make it eye-catching.  And wow, that was the case with this XV Crosstrek, with Impreza hatchback DNA and stepping in for the Subaru Outback Sport.

Seventeen-inch alloy wheels look good.  Ground clearance is nearly nine inches. Besides the saucy paint scheme, the exterior look of the car is likewise pretty scrappy-looking.  This five-door, five-passenger crossover sport-utility vehicle looks ready to dart off the pavement and take on some gritty off-road terrain.

Naturally, all-wheel drive (with a sweet split torque feature) is part of the package, so yeah, buyers should not be shy about getting their Crosstrek a little dirty.

Inside the black cloth-trimmed cabin, things were certainly comfortable and convenient.  The necessary power features are there, and there are plentiful cargo-carrying options inside and out -- roof rails, cargo tie-down hooks, a removable cargo tray and a retractable cargo carrier.  The maximum seats-down interior configuration produces about 52 cubic feet of open space.  Nice.

Subaru rightly touts the exceptional fuel mileage numbers of 25 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.  Given the price of gasoline, it makes sense to promote good mileage over oomph.

But understand that there is a trade-off here.  Mashing the accelerator on the freeway entrance ramp produces seriously loud engine noise … and very little propulsion.  In fact, it takes a long time to get up to freeway speed, even with the throttle mashed flat to the floor.

Enough time passes to make you say, “C’mon baby, let’s go.”

Simply put, the 2-liter boxer-4 engine (rated at 148 horsepower) has a loud bark but relatively little bite.  If good gas mileage is your goal, you’ll be little affected by this.  If you routinely drive up and down steep hills and dice in speedy commuter traffic, you might want to think things over.

Otherwise, the Crosstrek steers easily and will be a snap for suburban drivers who rarely go off-road but run daily errands involving kids, sports teams and groceries.  Four-wheel disc brakes are good and grippy, providing an extra measure of security.

For a first effort, I’d give this ride a solid grade of “B.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

F1's competition-enhancing approach: bad tires

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 – I tuned in Sunday to see the first race of the 2013 Formula One series from Australia, and my head is still spinning from what I saw.

Let me start by saying that, despite its flaws, I have long been a fan of Formula One, with its over-the-edge technology, its exotic missile cars and its money-drenched glam.  But there are some things that Formula One does that drive me crazy.  They usually involve the rules.

Or “the sporting regulations” as they say in the proper F1 world.

Again this year, Pirelli is the tire supplier.  Last year, I was stunned at the sometimes super-fast degradation of the soft tires Pirelli was supplying.  Turns out those were marathon skins compared with what’s offered this year.

The softest of the super-soft tires Pirelli produced for the Australia F1 race might best be described as chewing gum.  By lap 7, cars were coming into the pits in numbers.  Seemed to me like the drivers couldn’t get rid of that deteriorating rubber fast enough.

Three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel said his tires were “falling apart” two or three laps after the start of the race.

And here’s the kicker: The fast-failing tires were functioning as designed.

Pirelli officials cheerfully said before the race that their compounds were designed to wear rapidly, prompting more pit stops and team strategy.

So, after years of hearing U.S. audiences decry the lack of passing in F1, the Formula One lords apparently have found a way to guarantee competition.  Bad tires.

It worked, I guess.  Vettel, clearly fastest in qualifying, made three pit stops and wound up third Down Under.  Race winner Kimi Raikkonen was more careful with his tires and won with a two-stop strategy.

During the race, the commentators for the NBC Sports Network, making its maiden voyage as the U.S. television home of the international racing series, seemed totally content with the idea of Pirelli’s tires going off after amassing mileage one might normally associate with a daily suburban commute.

At the risk of sounding like a boorish, beer-chugging American race fan who just does not get Formula One, it’s beyond my comprehension how the world’s top-tier racing series, awash in billions of dollars, apparently chose to enhance competition with tires that are virtually guaranteed to go away after only a handful of laps.

In the United States, tire degradation is a sin.  When Goodyear missed the boat and supplied NASCAR teams with quick-to-shred tires for the series' 400-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2008 (prompting MANDATED pit stops every 10 laps late in the grind), Goodyear spent the next year apologizing and vowing that it would produce a more-enduring tire the next year … which it did.

So, what to expect for the rest of the 2013 F1 season?  More cars diving into the pits for tires, I suppose.

Well, that’s certainly one way to bunch up the field.  I guess the tried-and-true “debris caution” will be the next big thing … probably a necessity with all those rubber chunks on the track.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mazda's CX-9 feels better this time around

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 – The seven-passenger, three-row Mazda CX-9 is six years old now, and I remember getting into one of the earlier models.

It felt dinosaur big, and I remember having an irrational fear that I was somehow going to lose control of the big tail end – which seemed WAY far to the rear of where I was sitting in the cockpit – and wipe out an unsuspecting bike rider.

Fortunately, that disaster did not happen.

Also fortunately, the 2013 CX-9 Grand Touring FWD model I recently had for a week was nothing like my early experience.  It was nimble and responsive, and I felt entirely comfortable and in control of the vehicle during my time behind the wheel.

So, right way, good marks from me for the latest CX-9.

It didn’t hurt that my tester’s nicely angled lines – particularly on the front end – looked fairly fetching in Meteor Gray exterior paint.  The 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels also didn’t hurt.

In the driver’s seat, I had a giant cafeteria line of interior features at my command.  They worked well without taxing my brain.  Goodies included a heated power front seat (leather, no less), heated power mirrors and three-zone climate control.

Gas mileage was, ugh, a wince-inducing 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.  Yet, I’m not expecting much else out of a three-rows-of-seats transporter.

As I said, driving the CX-9 was an entirely comfortable experience, and frankly, the 3.7-liter V-6 with 273 horsepower performed at a level higher than those numbers would indicate.  Best of all, the CX-9 had about zero body sway on sharp corners taken at high speed.  I even further challenged grip with the back end loaded up with decidedly heavy cargo.  Still no sway.


Please be advised that my tester was the second highest-priced model among six trim levels: $34,785 to start and a bottom line of $38,115 on the bottom line after extras were added in.  Only the AWD Ground Touring model costs more.

And yes, that’s a fair chunk of change.  But consider that this fun-to-drive SUV can carry lots of folks and cargo and still has that upper-end ambience you expect from a $50,000 model … and maybe you’ll feel better about the pricing.

I certainly feel pretty good about this latest-generation CX-9.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Accord EX sedan reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2013 Honda Accord EX sedan in the latest, March 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.

Hugely-hyped Dodge Dart hits the bull's-eye

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

Sacramento, California -- Lacking a legit compact sedan, Chrysler/Dodge needed someone to come to the rescue.  And that need begat the Dodge Dart.

Happily, designers and engineers hit the bull’s-eye with this Dart.  With Euro DNA that goes beyond Fiat architecture and Alfa Romeo’s soul, the car also combines the very best of 1960s-70s all-America retro to make the new Dart a package of four-wheeled fun.  Driving it puts a smile on your face.

Funny thing is, I’m betting that most people don’t remember that the old Dart’s 1960-to-1976 run began as a wide, road-hogging, full-size model.  Fortunately, Dodge got wise and sized that car down to a zippy compact vehicle.

The old compact Dart is the essence of the 2013 Dart, only the new version is way better.

My tester was the Dodge Dart Rallye edition, which taught me that you have to do your homework on option packages and model offerings to single out the exact Dart of your dreams.  Think of the Rallye as a juiced-up edition of the Dart SXT.

Labels aside, my tester was thoroughly enjoyable.

The car has a decidedly sporty look from end to end, with sharp angles and clean lines that sort of beg you to get behind the wheel and stomp on the gas.  Power from the tested 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine (160 horsepower) was enthusiastic, but not necessarily sports car robust.  You have to jump hard on the gas to get those turbo revs up and moving.

The Dart can move out when asked, but it won’t chase down a ’Vette.  It handles everything else quite well.  Performance fans will likely opt for the 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that will get you about 85 extra horses. 

In my test runs, the Dart Rallye’s accelerations created a fair amount of noise in the cockpit.  But handling was spot-on.  Braking was above average in this segment.

Safety features are off the charts, including driver-inflatable, knee-protecting airbags.  The center stack of controls threw me only a couple of curves as I mastered things within a day.  I particularly enjoyed the sporty black seats with centered stripes in Diesel Gray.  Very cool.

Fuel mileage numbers will please most at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

As I said, given the varied features and models, it pays to check the Dart sticker closely.   For example, mine listed a base price of $17,995, but a long list of options pushed the bottom-line price to $24,460.  Quite the gap there, one you want to figure out BEFORE you’re signing documents in a dealer’s finance office.

One small gripe on the tester: a tardy, overly obvious traffic warning system.  Several times, five minutes into all-but-stopped commuter gridlock, a recorded voice jolted me with the announcement that there was “traffic ahead.”  Uh, thanks, Captain Obvious.

Here’s my advice: Go take a look at this car, even if you don’t plan to buy one.  You’ll like what you see.  Yes, the Dart had a truckload of pre-release hype.  But in this case, the car lives up to the publicity.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Music and motorcars: What's not to like?

If you live in Sacramento or Northern California, now hear this:

The Capitol Pops Concert Band will kick off its 16th season with a free, open to the public concert at the California Automobile Museum at 7 p.m. Friday, March 8, 2013, at 2200 Front Street in Sacramento.

Under the baton of Director Jerry Lopes, CPCB’s “On The Road” performance will include a mix of automotive-themed arrangements, 1950s-70s hits and some of the band’s traditional American favorites.

Voice and instrumental soloists will be part of the show, which will run until about 8:30 p.m., with a 20-minute intermission in the middle.

The concert is sponsored by Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

For more details, go to

Friday, March 1, 2013

While pop lacks, Outlander Sport changes work

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 – Quick, name the best-selling vehicle in Mitsubishi Motors’ North American model lineup?

It’s the five-passenger Outlander Sport crossover SUV, and kudos to you if that was the first answer that escaped your lips.

And for 2013, the OS comes with a fairly impressive list of improvements inside and out.

I liked my tester – a 2013 SE model with two-wheel drive – right from the start, thanks to a very sharp-looking “Rally Red/Black” color scheme that stood out from the crowd.  Mitsubishi redesigned the front end and did a nice job of it.  Viewed head-on, the Outlander Sport comes off not only as sporty, but downright elegant too.

Peering at the sticker reveals numerous high marks in government safety ratings, plus pretty fair miles per gallon numbers of 24 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway.  Starting price on the sticker is pretty easy on the eyes as well – $22,295, although mine was dressed up with options for a bottom line of $27,170.

Interior space: Really good.  I found that I could actually stretch out my 6-4 frame in the back and not injure myself.  Believe me, that’s a rarity for me.

A long list of comfort/convenience features kept me busy.  Most were easy to reach and to use, but I struggled mightily with a satellite radio feature that the previous car user had coded to “skip” certain stations … naturally they were stations I regularly listen to.  Took me 10 minutes to eliminate the skip feature.  I’m sure there’s a genius reason for having it in there, but I don’t want to hear it.

On the roll, everything was pretty good.  I know fuel mileage is king here in California and elsewhere in these days of $4-a-gallon-plus gasoline, but the compact 2-liter, four-cylinder, 148-horsepower engine in this crossover falls short of doing the heavy lifting.  I found myself hammering the throttle to produce noisy, but necessary accelerations.

I’m discovering that more-fuelish, less-oomph engines are now the norm for numerous SUVs on the market.  More about that in coming weeks.

For now, consider this Outlander Sport an attractive, functional, albeit a bit horsepower-challenged cargo/carbon-based life form carrier that’s within the range of most budgets.  And the warranties provide serious backup to the as-is package.

I enjoyed my week in the Outlander Sport.  During that time, it gave me relatively little to complain about.