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

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

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

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, 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, 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

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.