Thursday, April 25, 2013

BMW's X5 is pricey, but pays generous dividends

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 – BMW makes some very fine motorcars, and it also issues a challenge on its model names … like how long does it take you to remember the full name of your ride?

My recent tester had the paragraph-long title of 2013 BMW X5 xDrive35i Sport Activity.  For simplicity purposes, think big SUV.  Strong, robust, carries lot of people comfortably, carries lots of cargo.

You’re feeling good about things already, right?

Well, let’s look at the check.  The starting price on the tester was $57,700, not bad for a luxury sport-ute.

But my sticker showed the following add-ons: Convenience Package (including rearview camera, four-zone climate control, a voice-command system and real-time traffic info), Cold Weather Package (heated seats and steering wheel), M Sport Package (20-inch wheels and quality walnut trim to name two perks), M Performance Package, Premium Sound Package and a Technology Package (automatic high beams, side-view camera and a head-up display).

Bottom line: $74,595.  And wow, didn’t that grab my attention?!

Frankly, I can’t imagine paying that for an SUV, but since I had the ride for a week, I expelled my personal economic realities for seven days and enjoyed the luxury side of the street.

Technology eye-poppers and comfort/convenience features take up serious space across the X5’s dash, and you can count on spending some long nights with the owner’s manual to master all of them.  Rest assured that your tech/perk expectations – especially at this price – will be more than met.

For me, the X5’s performance was worth the weeklong experience.  Power flows with authority from a 3-liter, 300-horsepower in-line 6.  The X5 pretty much ate up everything around me on the road.  Accelerations from standing stops turned into silky-smooth runaways from lesser vehicles.  Steering was spot-on.  Slalom maneuvers were ridiculously perfect.

And yet, things in the cabin stayed quiet, and there was little jostling of passengers in the seats.  Nice work with the supporting frame, BMW engineers.

One thing that stood out to me was the width of the rear tires, which looked like the monster-size rubber they put on Indy Cars in the late 1960s.  I truly don’t know how much the rear tires contributed to stability, but they looked nasty (in a good way, I mean) and capable of crushing an oil barrel.

Gas mileage is an afterthought in this price range, but for the record, the numbers are 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.

OK, this X5 is definitely in the high-end category, ideal for individuals whose annual stock dividends would pay for all the services in a typical American county.  So if you are in that prosperous group, wedge this X5 in somewhere amid your planned test drives of the Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover offerings.

This BMW might well win your heart in the end.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What is it? A Venza that's likely to please many

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 – Is it a car?  Is it an SUV?

It’s a Toyota Venza, and while the popular vote seems to favor the SUV tag, I remain unconvinced … sort of like Karl Rove refusing to concede Ohio’s electoral votes on Election Day last November.

Here’s the thing: This newly restyled Venza absolutely convinces as an SUV when viewed in profile.  And it’s a sweet-handling sedan in virtually every other aspect.  Even in profile, the roofline is low enough to make you think this is a passenger sedan with a liftback tail.  Certainly a crossover, in anybody’s book.

But those nice 20-inch alloy wheels make the case for an SUV.

Enough self-inflicted arguing already.  I like this Venza, a very thoughtful compromise for those who want passenger car comfort/handling and just enough cargo-carrying utility to make life easier.

The aerodynamic body cuts through the wind with ease, and the starting price of $38,870 on my 2013 Limited V6 AWD tester was pretty reasonable, considering all the perks that were stuffed into the thing.  A few thousand bucks in extras – all of which I could have done without and still happily enjoyed the ride – put the bottom line at $42,288.

Yes, that’s a bit too pricey for the model, even in Limited form.  Personally, I’d deal hard for as close to $35,000 as I could get, not including tax and title of course.  But that’s just me.

Venza’s exterior look is enhanced by a sharp-looking, triple-tier grille that is simultaneously sporty and classy.  Kudos to Toyota’s Calty Design studios in Newport Beach, California.

From the cockpit, the driver is presented with an easy-to-use, easy-to-reach cluster of controls capable of managing everything from interior climate to on-the-roll entertainment.

Fuel mileage ratings on the tester were, uh, only fair at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.  Well, that’s kind of SUV-like, right?

Not-so-hot gas mileage can be attributed to a peppy 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 268 horsepower.  What you lose in gas pump savings is compensated by robust performance in virtually all uses.  The Venza muscled along admirably in dicey freeway situations, including those that required the vehicle to snap out of harm’s way in a second.

All-wheel-drive performance came in handy during quick urban maneuvers.  Steering was spot-on with a perfect mix of firmness and easy lock-to-lock capabilities.

Also of note:  Plenty or room for three adult passengers behind the front seats.

Remember that my tester was the primo edition.  There are nine more trim levels of Venza on the market, all of them starting for less than my ride. And you can get a front-drive, four-cylinder basic model starting at less than $28,000.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Luxurious Lexus reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2013 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT sedan in the latest, April 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.

Big-seller Honda Accord just gets better

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

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

Sacramento, California – Just based on sales history alone, you kind of figure that the Honda Accord doesn’t need much help.  It sells like crazy, right?

But Honda’s engineers are rarely content to just sit back and relax.  For this ninth-generation Accord, they’ve raised the ante.  While the latest Accord does not scream sporty or sexy, it is a car to be desired.  Oh, let me count the ways.

My tester was the 2013 Accord EX sedan with a continuously variable transmission, starting at $25,405.  Like previous Accords, you know that it will run pretty much forever, trouble-free.  And the gas mileage numbers on the 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine are pretty nice at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.

Fit and finish on this midsize model are, as usual, spot-on.

Five minutes into my test drive, I’m overwhelmed by totally unanticipated surprises.  Good ones.

For starters, the Accord was more than peppy.  It was downright robust, the 185-horsepower engine delivering seat-of-the-pants performance way beyond what the numbers would indicate.  I was ripping the tester around like a weekend racer teen in his first NASCAR ride.  Feels good?  Yeah, it does.

Based on my experience with the four-banger, I can only guess that the optional 3.5-liter V-6 must feel like a perpetual trip to Rip City.

Even so, the tester was thinking green.  When I was coasting with my foot off the gas or braking, green semicircles lit up around the speedometer to let me know I was driving in “eco” mode.  Yeah, that felt pretty good too.

So, I got the scare of my life the first time I flipped on the right-turn signal, and an exterior image of everything from my right-front passenger door on back to eternity flashed onto the video screen mounted center dash.

Might have helped if I’d read the owner’s manual first, but I later learned that this was Honda’s “LaneWatch Blind Spot Display,” basically a camera that negates the passenger-side blind spot by showing you what’s going on via the on-board screen.

It took me a little time to get used to this, but once I did, I was addicted to it.  It’s much easier and clearer to deal with than blinking lights and audio beeps.  It’s probably going to save the lives of hundreds of bike and motorcycle riders nationwide.

Why the system is not also installed on the left side of the car is a mystery to me.  I’m sure it’s the result of exhaustive research.

The only downer in my testing was an unmistakable squeak behind my left ear, a squeak that intensified on left turns for some reason.  I chalked it up to one of those things, but maybe I overlooked some left-side-warning code in the depths of the owner’s manual.  Who knows?

I know this: The Accord is as good as it has ever been.  Honda dealers, better figure on selling a few more zillion of ’em.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Latest-generation Avalon a wondrous ride

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 put the new, third-generation 2013 Toyota Avalon sedan through its paces in the San Francisco Bay Area and up and down the Napa/Sonoma Wine Country.

And really, what better places to show off this peak of Toyota elegance?

On these roads, you get the full challenge – sometimes mind-bending gridlock, sweeping stretches of interstate that let you fully unwind the machine and twisty, tight stretches of two-lane ribbon brushing by classy wine castles, where this Toyota looks entirely at home.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: The Toyota Avalon is a luxury laden Lexus sedan wearing Toyota badging.  My tester proved the point to the max: the 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited is the cream of four trim levels.

And be advised: It’s priced that way, starting at $39,650.  Mine was dressed up with a technology package (radar cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights and a pre-collision protection system) that kicked up the bottom line to $42,195.

Yes, that’s truly Lexus-like.  But if you can afford it, the Avalon is worth it.

Frankly, I can’t imagine buying this car with the idea of selling it within five years.  For my money, it’s a 10-year keeper.

Sheet metal this time around is more sporty and fluid.  The roofline seems to go on forever, providing an aerodynamic, athletic look in profile.  The front end is saucy, yet elegant.  The car looks like it belongs, no matter if it’s parked at the racetrack or the country club.

On the roll, the Avalon is super-silky smooth and quiet.  The 3.5-liter V-6 performs at a level way above the advertised 268 horsepower.  Soft hits on the accelerator produced instant response.  I could have sworn I had 300 horses in hand, not that much of that engine noise makes its way to the cockpit.  I felt like I could have hosted a tea service in the cabin and enjoyed even whispered conversations.

Safety, comfort and convenience features are numerous and precisely what you deserve in a luxury sedan with this price.  I confess that I don’t like the radar-controlled cruise system.  Too touchy for my tastes.  Thankfully, it’s easily negated via a manual override.

For me, I put a lot of miles on this test drive, and there’s good reason for that.  I didn’t want to part with the car.  This Avalon just might be the perfect road-trip sedan.

Sedan fans, put it on your test-drive list as a must-drive.  But be forewarned, Avalon’s charms likely will push you into a long-term relationship.