Thursday, May 30, 2013

2014 Sorento gets more than worthy upgrade

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 – Having driven a 2013 Kia Sorento sport-utility vehicle just weeks earlier, I can tell you that the changed-for-2014 version of the Sorento is better.

A lot better, in fact.

It’s sleeker, more attractive, better handling, smoother and a bit stronger than its predecessor.  That’s pretty much what you want in an upgrade, right?

My tester was the 2014 Kia Sorento SX FWD version, starting at $35,000.  Mine had a 50/50 folding third-row seat addition that helped push the bottom line to $36,900 (10 trim levels range from about $24,000 to nearly $40,000).  That’s a pretty sizable investment, no matter how many people you drive around on a regular basis.

And figure on paying for gas, with the tester’s tepid fuel mileage ratings of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

Beyond that, the vehicle is all good.

This Sorento came with Kia’s UVO eServices, voice-activated telematics system.  Think of it as system that handles multiple voice commands, safety systems, car systems, entertainment features and Bluetooth match-up with the push of a button.  Some studying of the owner’s manual is required, but hey, it’s smart phone compatible.

And I had a blind-spot detection system to boot.  It worked pretty well, although it sometimes wanted to warm me of trouble when I knew for certain that I was out of harm’s way.

I liked the way the 3.3-liter V-6 handled itself.  It’s rated at 290 horsepower but felt stronger than that when I laid down on the accelerator on uphill climbs.  Interior noise was limited.  Highway cruising smoothness was pleasantly silky.

Some critics have slapped the new Sorento for having a too-pronounced nose, but I’m not among them.  The look was smooth and rounded, but the roofline is all-SUV.  The interior result of the styling is plentiful room for drivers and passengers.

From my seat in the cockpit, the interior was downright luxurious.  A long, long list standard of perks included an Infinity surround-sound audio system, rearview camera display, leather seat trim, ventilated/heated front seats and auto-light control.  Other goodies included a panoramic roof with power sun shade, heated exterior mirrors and a power liftgate.

This Sorento is part of a very competitive vehicle segment, but it has enough going for it to be a player.  If you’re in the market for a good-size SUV, you should give it a good look.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

500 miles for the ages, and a sweet win

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 – Still jet-lagged after a quick-in/quick-out weekend in Indianapolis … but boy, was it worth it!

I’ve maintained for a long time that the 1960 Indianapolis 500 was the greatest of all-time, thanks to a spine-tingling duel between Rodger Ward and eventual winner Jim Rathmann.  They battled wheel to wheel in those ponderous front-engine roadsters, swapping the lead more than a dozen times over the last half of the race.

That was the greatest … until last Sunday.

The 97th running of the Indy 500 topped them all, and I have a pretty fair perspective, having traveled to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the world-famous race since 1961.  Simply put, you can’t ignore 68 lead changes, relentless dicing among cars during prolonged green-flag periods and a new race record of nearly 190 miles per hour.

And the cherry on top: immensely popular Tony Kanaan holding on for the win, a result that created shrieks of joy the Indy faithful.

Prior to last Sunday’s race, there was considerable talk that the Indy 500 “needed” a win by an American driver to help the 500 regain its once-undisputed status as the king of all motor racing events.  Hogwash.

Just before the last restart on Sunday, the public address announcer at IMS asked how many in the crowd wanted to see leader Ryan Hunter-Reay, an American, win the race.  There was a subdued cheer.  And then the PA man asked how many in the crowd were pulling for the second-place driver from Brazil, Kanaan.

I thought the grandstands were going to collapse under the weight of the roar from tens of thousands of throats.

And whatever else you might say about the IndyCar series having too many road courses or a too-timid attitude on other high-speed ovals, these current-generation cars work at their very best at the crown-jewel event of the series, the Indianapolis 500.  On the mostly flat, 2.5-mile Indy oval, the lead car punches a very big hole in the air, creating a draft hallway for the trailing car or cars.

It’s virtually impossible to hold the lead for more than two laps.  Eddie Cheever, the 1998 Indy 500 winner and one of the ABC-TV commentators in the booth during the 500 telecast, said it best: You can’t run away and hide in these cars.  Does it make for more passing and perpetually exciting racing?  You bet.

And how could you not feel good for Kanaan?  He was the poster boy for bad karma at Indy until his magnificent start-to-finish drive on Sunday.  He started 12th and was running at the front within a few laps.  He mixed it up at the front all day, slicing and dicing amid a buzzing group of risk-taking leaders.  Loved it.

Naturally, there were some who wailed when Kanaan clinched the race due to late wall contact by three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti.  Some critics called for a green-white-checkered flag arrangement, a la NASCAR, the better to “guarantee” an exciting finish for the fans.

Don’t count me among that group.  And here’s why:

Through 97 races and 102 years, the standard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been how drivers cope with the circumstances of going 500 miles, and no more.  You want to be counted in the pantheon of driving greats – Wilbur Shaw, A.J. Foyt, Bill Vukovich, Al Unser and Rick Mears among them – then you should be held to that standard, and that standard alone.  You have 500 miles to make your mark, no matter what.

Indy is all about tradition, and it seems to me that if you know going in that everyone is operating under the same rules to reach racing’s zenith – just like all those drivers of years past – there’s no reason to complain when the 500th mile is crossed.

Crashes happen.  Rain falls.  Soul-crushing bad luck occurs.  Every driver deals with it.  No second chances at Indy when the 200th lap is done?  I’m good with it.

Sure, NASCAR does create super-close finishes by running one, two or three “extra” periods at the end of a race.  But I can recall numerous times when those extra periods bring forth a very lucky or undeserving winner, maybe one who managed to crawl through a 10-car wreck at the finish.  Drama?  Yes.  Racing in its purist form?  No.

Going back to 1960, Rathmann won that Indy 500 when Ward had to back off with just a few laps remaining, the result of a badly worn tire that was likely to blow.  Back then, a 150 mph blowout and blast into the walls of IMS were likely to end your ability to walk.  Or end your life.

Rathmann won going away at the end, going exactly 500 miles.  It was a sweet win and his only Indy 500 triumph.  Last Sunday, it was sweet for Tony Kanaan.  And 500 miles for the ages.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Got 2013 Indy 500 answers? Step right 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

Sacramento, California – A whirlwind weekend of qualifying for Sunday’s 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented more questions than answers.

So, let’s get to it:

Q.: Are the cars faster than last year?

A.: Yes, sometimes breathtakingly fast for the drivers with Chevrolet motors.  Straightaway speeds in the 235 miles per hour range were commonplace last weekend, and Chevy power plants are in the top 10 qualifying cars?

Q.: Can pole position winner, Indianapolis hometown favorite and solo racing team owner Ed Carpenter, not a well-known name outside of IndyCar, win the world-famous race this Sunday?

A.: Absolutely.  Carpenter is an oval specialist, so much so that it appears he drives the road courses just to pass the time to get to the high-speed ovals.  Carpenter is experienced, brave and smooth.  If he stays out of harm’s way – always a tall order at Indianapolis – get ready for the most popular home boy 500 win since Howdy Wilcox crossed the finish line first in 1919.

Q.: Is three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti a non-factor this year?

A.: Don’t even think about it.  Last year, Dario qualified 16th in a Honda-powered car that appeared far inferior to the Chevys.  In the last practice before the 2012 race, Franchitti and teammate Scott Dixon were turning the fastest laps at the track.  Then, on race day, they quickly moved to the front, with Franchitti edging Dixon for the win.  Dixon starts 16th this year, and Franchitti goes off 17th.   Just based on past history, expect both to move up and be in contention before the 250-mile mark.  Both of these guys know how to win at Indy.  Chevy’s pole day muscle might end up being a lukewarm memory when the checkered flag falls on Sunday.

Q.: Can Helio Castroneves win his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500?

A.: Yes, he can.  The normally spot-on-perfect Roger Penske racing team has slipped and miscued at numerous key moments over the past several years (especially a mind-blowing series of stumbles that cost driver Will Power the IndyCar series title the past three seasons).  Yet Castroneves qualified well (he will go off eighth) and seems dialed in to the competition this year.  Castroneves’ record outside of the Indy 500 is merely good; his record at Indianapolis is exceptional.  He knows how to manage race pace and when to go all-out at the end.  I picked him as a favorite earlier this year.  I still like his odds on Sunday.

Q.: Can a virtually unknown driver win on Sunday?

A.: Absolutely.  The Indy 500 has a way of crushing seemingly sure-fire winners late in the grind, and accidents/mechanical failures can eject favorites in the blink of an eye.  A comparatively little-known driver can carve his/her name in auto racing history on Sunday.  Frankly, it would not surprise me to see it happen.

Q.: Who is the sentimental favorite to win it?

A.: Hands down, Tony Kanaan.  Starting 12th with Chevy power, he’s in good position, although he was grumpy about his car’s ability to handle in traffic in last weekend’s final practice session.  I’m discounting that, because Kanaan always seems to get it figured out by race day, and he has had a hall-of-fame series of runs from back to front in past 500s.  Alas, multiple heartbreaks have kept him from drinking the winner’s milk at Indy.  Should he pull out a win this time around, the throng of Indy fans might just shake the grandstands apart jumping up and down.

Q.: Who will win it?

A.: I like Carpenter.  I like Castroneves.  I like Franchitti.  I like Dixon.  And I like Kanaan.  But I’m picking Marco Andretti to win it.  Andretti started this month with a few fast laps, and then it’s like he dropped off the publicity radar.  That’s somewhat amazing, considering his famous name and the fact that he’s starting the race on the front row in a very fast machine.  I’ve been impressed with Andretti’s savvy season so far.  He says he put in a lot of work in the off-season, and yeah, it sure looks like that made a difference.  He’s looking like a smarter, better driver all the way around this year. I’m picking Andretti to run up front throughout Sunday’s race, and I expect him to lock it down over the last 20 laps, breaking the so-called Andretti curse at Indianapolis and putting the Andretti name in Victory Lane for the first time since grandfather Mario won the 500 back in 1969.

Friday, May 17, 2013

This Lexus hybrid is a mean, green machine

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 2013 Lexus GS 450h sedan just might be my favorite guilty pleasure.

And yet, I can’t feel too guilty.  It is a hybrid after all.

Reworked and re-engineered extensively for 2013, the 3.5-liter V-6 power plant combines with electronic assistance to waltz into the near-350 horsepower community, and let me tell you, this is the hybrid hot rod of your dreams.

In fact, I don’t even think of it as a hybrid.  It’s that peppy.  Seamless power plant performance is matched with a new, stiffer – downright sport-tuned for my money – body structure.

On the outside, the car looks to be a midsize.  Inside, it has all the room of a full-size, yet it drives like a peppy, agile sports car, with a ton of luxury thrown in.

Yet fuel mileage is an impressive 29 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.

A mean, green machine?  Affirmative.

Be advised that this is a supremely engineered Lexus, and there’s a price to pay for that: $58,950 to start, and mine had extras that pushed the sticker’s bottom line to a hefty $68,814.

Yes, my ride was dressed up to near limo standards, and I undoubtedly enjoyed the 18-inch alloy wheels, the primo Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system and three-zone auto-climate control amid a sea of leather and polished wood.

But what I enjoyed most was driving it.

As I said, engine response is so instant and so robust that you pretty much lose the idea that you’re piloting a hybrid vehicle.  It doesn’t behave like a hybrid.  It acts more like a weekend racer, a scalded-cat blazer with monorail-like stability and butter-smooth, bump-absorbing characteristics.

It’s hard to imagine a better car for taking a long trip.  You have all the interior luxuries, performance as needed and plentiful comfort. And again, with its fuelish ways, even a cross-country adventure won’t crush your wallet.

I know the performance purists out there will run from any car that wears a hybrid label, and that’s fine with me.

But just between me and thee my tire-screeching friends: You really don’t know what you’re missing in this very fine GS 450h.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lexus Large drips with pop, 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

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

Sacramento, California – Call it Lexus Large … And by that I mean a Lexus sedan stuffed to the brim with luxury, performance and style.

You don’t turn down a ride in 2013 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT sedan when it comes along.  For the record, my tester was a pre-production model, but there were no bugs to work out.  It was a top-level experience all the way.

And if you want this machine, figure on paying $80,000 minimum for it.  Just so you have a starting point, right?

So many luxury features to count, but here are a few that you don’t see on a typical sedan: heated steering wheel, folding exterior mirrors, power-operated rear window shade, a lane-change warning system that is actually timed to perfection and leather seating surfaces so opulent that you’ll think they were stolen from a five-star hotel.

Power is provided by a 4.6-liter V-8 approaching 400 horsepower.  Combined city/highway fuel mileage comes in at a not-so-hot 20 mpg, but hey, who’s thinking about saving pennies on fuel when you drop 80-grand or so on a car?

Here’s the best part about this ride: Out on the highway, it serves up power like microwave-softened butter.  You’re hitting the accelerator and everything around you just freezes as you effortlessly approach warp speed.  No engine roar, no suspension lurching.  Just pure, raw power spreading like hot chocolate sauce over vanilla ice cream.

Seriously, it’s an incredible sensation.  That experience alone is worth driving a hundred miles for a test drive.

Beware, however, that you can find yourself topping 80 miles per hour in mere seconds.  Eighty miles per hour feels like 50 in this Lexus, so tread carefully.

But wait, the pleasure ride goes even further with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, seriously grippy Brembo brakes and a sport-tuned suspension.

For all its power and luxury, the exterior look is actually pretty understated.  It’s elegant enough, with just dash of sportiness, but you don’t see needless wings and sharp-angle cuts on the car, which is fine with me.  The car makes plenty of statements on its own, sans frills.

Want to live large?  This loaded Lexus should be on your test-drive list.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cadillac ATS reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T Premium sedan in the latest, May 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, May 2, 2013

Ford's Energi plug-in rolls with the big boys

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 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi SEL plug-in hybrid is meant to compete straight-on with Toyota’s iconic Prius hybrid.

Let me assure you that this all-new Ford product does a very fine job of doing just that.

From a performance standpoint, the Energi is the superior car.  Truthfully, when I was driving the five-passenger, five-door Ford on city streets and dicey freeways, it was very difficult to remind myself that I was handling a hybrid.

Yes, it’s that good.  And while I’ve seen the Energi called a wagon, a minivan and a crossover, I was completely convinced that it was a passenger car-hatch – which I mean in an all-good way.  Easy to load up passengers and cargo, and when you’re rolling, the vehicle feels like sporty sedan with a peppy, performance-tuned power plant under the hood.

Pretty incredible how Ford pulled this off.  The U.S. automaker was among those considered a distant second, third or fourth behind the overseas hybrid offerings.  And now, bang, it’s a player.

In fact, Ford says its C-MAX offerings ranked as the fastest-selling hybrids ever at launch last October-November, with 8,030 unit sales in those two months, eclipsing the previous mark of 7,300 Toyota Camry Hybrid sales in mid-2006.

The hybrid plant gives you a basic 2-liter, in-line 4 engine paired with an electric motor for a horsepower rating of 188.  The power delivered by that horsepower rating is remarkable, at least in my experience.  When prompted, my Energi tester walked away from other cars in most conditions.  It kept up with gas-fueled machinery without missing a beat.

Juicing up the battery through a pop-open plug-in port is just as easy as filling up the tank at another opening.  Fully fueled and energized, the car gives you a max miles per gallon equivalent rating of 100 and a gas-only rating of 43 mpg.  Either way, you’re doing well.

I found the interior comfort level to be exceptional, and I also liked the layout of interior controls.

I thought the exterior look of my Energi tester was funky-attractive, in a sit-down, hunched-shoulders sort of way. Some friends and family members told me they did not like it at all, an opinion shared by other auto-reviewing colleagues of mine.  Beauty is in the eye …, as they say.  Me, I thought the car looked fine.

Please note that you’ll likely be paying about $7,000 more for the Energi version of the car as opposed to the C-MAX Hybrid.  On my Energi’s sticker, the starting price was $32,950, and options pushed the bottom line to $37,830.  Yes, those are hefty numbers to consider when you’re doing the math on long-term gas savings.

Even so, it’s hard to knock this effort by Ford on price alone.

I found the C-MAX Energi to be a pretty deep-in-the-seats home run, given its technology, comfort and performance.  That’s pretty good, considering I went in expecting two-base hit, at best, from a brand-new U.S. offering.