Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: Year of the recall and mixed racing results

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – Car sales were up in 2014, back to the sort of numbers we fully expected in the years before the Great Recession.

It’s all good, but in my view, the story of the year in the automotive industry was a no-brainer: 2014 was the year of the recall.

Depending on your source, 50 million or 60 million or so motor vehicle recalls occurred in 2014, destroying the previous record.

It seemed like there was a big recall every week.  Over some short periods in 2014, that’s exactly what was going on.

And yet, recalls are not a bad news story, not if you have perspective.

In years past, automakers fought recalls like squirrels scrapping to be first in line at your backyard bird feeder.  The thinking back then was that caving in and proceeding with a recall was a sign of weakness, all but admitting that your vehicles were inferior.

Over time, things changed.  And for the better.

Now, automakers readily jump on the recall bandwagon, even if the publicized problem is relatively minor.  The current environment finds automakers willing to fix any and all vehicle problems, and in the public arena, this is seen as a positive response that carefully considers public safety and consumers’ best interests.

Any effort to fix seat belts or mushy breaking systems or, you name it, is a positive development.

Expect lots more recalls in 2015.

Everybody loves the 2015 Volkswagen Golf (pictured) and its multiple variations.  Sure, a Golf is not the sexiest car on the roadways, but Motor Trend magazine thought enough of the Golf to name it Car of the Year.  Given all that it offers in terms of versatility, environmental friendliness and overall engineering excellence, it’s hard to argue.

It will be interesting to see how the award votes go at the upcoming North American International Auto Show in Detroit.  But as for me, I have no gripes with the Golf.

Finally, looking back at the year in auto racing, it was not exactly a golden 2014.

Yes, Will Power finally got the monkey off his back and won an IndyCar season championship.  And yes, Ryan Hunter-Reay won his first Indianapolis 500 in a sizzling late-laps duel with three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves.

But other top-tier series left me wanting.

The lords of Formula One changed the rules so that four-time champ Sebastian Vettel could not win all the races.  Instead, Mercedes-Benz cars dominated the 2014 races that pretty much were decided at the end of two laps.  Brit Lewis Hamilton claimed his second F1 crown in impressive fashion, but his “competition” boiled down to teammate Nico Rosberg.  Not very heart-racing over the long season.

NASCAR changed things up with a revised “playoff” format that ultimately crowned Kevin Harvick champion.

Good for Kevin, but the new format came within a hiccup of giving winless-in-2014 Ryan Newman the championship.  It also succeeded in eliminating hugely popular NASCAR stars Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski from the hunt before the final round.

Yet, NASCAR saw success in the TV ratings and on other fronts.  Go figure.

My concern in 2015 is NASCAR racing teams getting wise to the system and doing things like deliberately wrecking top competitors at key moments in the playoffs.  Maybe it won’t happen in 2015.  But it will someday.  Unless things change.

That said, I’m already looking forward to the first races of the new year.

Thanks for following along throughout 2014.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Christmas message: Thanks and my best to you

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – Hopefully, kind readers, you are all wrapping up your Christmas chores and preparing to enjoy some quality holiday time with family or friends.

Here’s hoping you get all those automotive goodies you put on your holiday wish list.

Personally, I am not expecting to see a new Lexus topped with a giant red bow in my driveway on Christmas morning.

Which is fine.

My blessings are many.

Thanks for stopping by throughout 2014 and reading my words about motor vehicles, auto racing and the auto industry in general.

I will wrap up the year with one last posting before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

Until then, hope all your holidays are merry and bright.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Reworked Chrysler 200 rides the waves with ease

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – A “new” version of an already existing model typically means that the vehicle has been changed somewhat.

However, the new-for-2015 version of the Chrysler 200 deserves the all-new billing in my view.

I could go through the whole laundry list, but the bottom line is this: the 200 looks like more car, feels like more car and drives like more car than I remember.

My ride was the 2015 200C, a sophisticated sedan for such a reasonable starting price of $26,225.  Mine was oh-so-dressed-up with a blizzard of optional equipment that brought the bottom line to $31,700.

It felt very much like a luxury model with all it had in it.

My tester was immediately put through a trial by fire … Check that, trial by water.

The 200C had to brave the torrential storms in my world this week, and on that score, it handled like a champ.

With the 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine driving it forward with fairly little noise, the 200C tackled roadway puddling and slick surfaces with rock-solid handling.  Best of all, at high speed, it powered between and around wobbling trucks and hydroplaning cars like it was glued to the road.

That was an extraordinary feeling of security.  I felt I could put it anywhere, and it would keep me out of harm’s way.

Interior comfort is good, and a thick steering wheel gave me an enhanced feeling of control.  The automatic rain-sensitive windshield wipers, which are optional, seemed to have a hard time adjusting to the conditions, so I set them on a regular, stay-on pace.

My biggest gripe was with the nine-speed (yes, NINE) automatic transmission, which seemed to struggle with what it wanted to do when starting up in the lowest gears.  Once cruising speed was reached, no problem.

One other gripe: The tire pressure-monitoring system continuously warned me of a low-pressure problem on the right front, even though I increased the pressure twice.  I’m going to chalk this up to the system in general.  I understand the value of tire pressure-monitoring systems, but in my experience, they often serve up a “false positive” related to tire temperatures and other factors not related to inflation.

Just saying.  Maybe it’s just my bad luck.

The exterior of the 200C was robust and broad-shouldered for this class.  Interior comfort and convenience features are plentiful and easy to use.

Chrysler says its 200 offers the most available safety features in the midsize segment, and I believe it just scanning the long list.

All in all, THE NEW TWO is a step up from the previous generation. This remake gets a B-plus on my report card.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lexus RX models rule roost in luxury SUV segment

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – I hear expert fiscal analysis on a daily basis, but here’s how I know the economy is improving: Strong sales of Lexus RX sport-utility vehicles.

Yes, this is the best-selling line of luxury SUVs in the nation, and it’s no small accomplishment given the sticker prices involved.  You need to bring more than $40,000 to the table just to get in the game for 2015, but honestly, it’s worth the coin if you crave top-tier SUV excellence from bumper to bumper.

I recently had a week in a 2015 RX 350 (pictured) starting at $42,195, and it was loaded with the usual consumer-pleasing goodies: backup camera, 10-way power front seats, power back door and fancy wood interior trim to name just a few.

Mine was dressed up to superstar class ­– LED foglamps, a dual-screen rear seat entertainment system, a head-up display and a kickin’ Mark Levinson audio system were part of the deal – and rolled off the line wearing a sticker showing $54,340 on the bottom line.

I felt spoiled just backing the RX 350 out of the driveway.  And even though this model and its basic shape have been around for some time, I still get the usual nods of approval from passersby.  You get used to saying “thank you” to folks who volunteer “nice ride.”

Yes, it is nice.  It’s just as nice in motion.

The 3.5-liter, 270-horsepower V-6 hands out power with buttery smoothness, yet your RX is blazing past stragglers like a no-muffler Chevy hot rod of days past.  Handling for such a high-shouldered vehicle is silky smooth; it holds the line in sharp turns without creating a single ripple in your center console-seated coffee cup.

And you can have this RX another way.  I did.

I turned over the RX 350 for a 2015 RX 450h.  This hybrid luxury liner started at $48,845 and, like the RX 350, it was decked out with opulent extras, which pushed the bottom line to $58,315.

Yes, this was a Fantasy Island ride even more luxurious than what the RX 350 offered.  With the engine-assisting “Hybrid Drive” electrics doing their job, my RX 450h got 30 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

There was a very slight lag in the power surge when I mashed the accelerator, but once the big brute responded, it pushed itself forward impressively.

I should note that the range of vision from the cockpit in both vehicles was extraordinary, something I’m appreciating more and more in my old age and at a time when risk-taking on the open road seems to have become a competitive sport.  Along that line, the RX models have plentiful driving-enhancement and safety features.  Can’t be too careful these days, right?

Simply put, these RX vehicles are first-class luxury offerings.  For those who can afford the price, you’re actually getting quite a deal.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Passat diesel keeps going, and going, and going...

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – I could have driven to Los Angeles … and back.

Excuse me, I hate to be fixated on fuel mileage when I’m test driving a car, but when you have been motoring along for a bit and the projected range on your vehicle says 700 miles before the next fill-up, it gets your attention.

In fact, it seemed like the fuel needle would NEVER budge in my week with the 2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE (with sunroof) sedan.  It was absolutely amazing.

OK, so some of you are saying, ugh, it’s a diesel.  Wrong friendo, it’s an extraordinary diesel, with performance and pop and none of that old-school diesel balkiness that some of you still believe exists this very day.

What is under the hood is a 2-liter, four-cylinder, clean, turbocharged diesel power plant that gets 30 miles per gallon in the city and a whopping 42 mpg on the highway.  With an 18.5-gallon gas tank, well, you can do the math from there.

You say you don’t like shopping around for diesel fuel?  Who cares?!!!  The sedan gets such gaudy mileage that you can drive around town for an hour and lose relatively little in the bargain.

And with the turbo boost, the Passat responded to my right foot with authority, more than one would expect from a 150-horsepower-rated engine.  When I nailed the gas, I wondered if I was making a dent in the fuel mileage.  Best as I could tell, I failed miserably along that line.

I admit that I don’t think about diesel too much, until I get a ride like this Passat.  It sets me to pondering about the economical possibilities, which are considerable.

A few years back, VW was getting zapped for touting diesel in an age of growing hybrids and electrics.  After a week in this Passat, maybe the critics ought to rethink those barbs.

This looks and feels like a $35,000 car.  It’s not.  The starting fare is a reasonable $28,840.

For my ride, that paid for standard features that included multiple vehicle-control systems, the aforementioned power sunroof, a rearview camera system, heated front seats and leather appointments.

Yes, that seems rather generous.  The warranties are likewise generous.

The car measures about 192 inches nose to tail, and that translates to ample interior space for driver and passengers.  The field of vision from the cockpit was good.

The Passat’s look is relatively sedate, but it’s aerodynamic enough to park it with pride in front of the neighbors.  The 18-inch alloy wheels add just a touch of saucy appeal.

The Passat reportedly is getting some big changes for 2016, and that’s all well and good.

For now, this 2015 midsize everyday driver has  B-plus charms and A-plus fuel economy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Note to NASCAR: Let's change the course

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article3455485.html

Sacramento, California – OK, NASCAR just concluded its latest “playoff” format scheme to crown a new Sprint Cup champion, which turned out to be Kevin Harvick.

Good for him.  Now scrap the format, please.

In a format that was supposed to reward winning races in a season, we came within one bobbled restart of winless Ryan Newman taking home the Cup.

That’s not a good plan.  Just the very thought that it could happen again – and likely will at some point up the road if things remain unchanged – gives me the shivers.

Please understand, it’s not that I have anything against Harvick, who raced hard in a good car all year, or Newman, a bulldog in shape and substance whose relentless driving style is easy to like.  Both drivers played by the rules as written.

You just can’t have a nationally popular auto racing series crowning an undeserving champion.  And it came close to that the first time around.

And, oh please, I’ve heard all the arguments to the contrary.  It was exciting right to the last lap of the final race.  Look at the improved TV ratings.  Love those post-race fights, by jingo … and on and on.

OK, I’ll give you that.  But I’ll also wager that I could take the top 10 drivers in the series in any given year, pick four from the group by coin flips and still put on an exciting show in the final race.  Yes, if you have ANY format that guarantees four eligible champions going into the last race, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s going to be an entertaining scrap.

But just suppose that the quartet going into the final was composed of, say, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski.  You think folks would have tuned in for that?  Why yes, I believe they would.

And for me, this is where the biggest problem surfaces with the current format.  NASCAR spent decades building up its individual driver stars, and this effort produced spectacular results in fan attendance and TV presence.  So now, you have a format that eliminated the biggest names (and biggest race winners) from the “playoffs” before the final green flag of the year.  Not good.

And worse, under the current format, with short three-race segments in the early playoff rounds, a big-name driver can essentially be eliminated from the Cup hunt with one wreck not of his own making.  And that’s precisely what happened with Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt.

Keep this format in place, and I can pretty much guarantee that the inevitable will occur: A driver or his teammate will deliberately wreck a competitor to eliminate him from the playoffs.  It will happen.  Count on it.

Call me old-school, but I still favor a championship system that takes the whole year into account.  It’s done in other racing series – that includes other NASCAR series – with no problem whatsoever.

You want to put more emphasis on winning, fine.  Award more points for individual race wins; don’t let a single race win amount to a free pass to the “playoffs.”  This would eliminate the super bonus of “one-off” wins, a la road course specialist A.J. Allmendinger taking the checkers at Watkins Glen this year and jumping right into the Sprint Cup chase field.

By awarding points instead of free passes for race wins, you force a driver like Allmendinger to earn his Chase spot over the long haul, along with other drivers doing hard work in races throughout the year.

Sure, I’m weary of NASCAR tweaking the “playoff” format, but something needs to be done to avoid a less-than-deserving Cup winner.  This is a series that runs pretty much from Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving.  That’s a long time, a lot of hard work and oceans of sweat.

The body of work over a year should stand for something.  Here’s hoping NASCAR will adjust its big show accordingly.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mazda6 a must-test-drive model in midsize segment

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article3455485.html

Sacramento, California – I was offered another week in a Mazda6, and I jumped at it.

No mystery there.  I’ve long thought the Mazda6 was an underappreciated ride in the crowded midsize sedan segment.

The Mazda6 was extensively reworked for the 2014 model year – that was my most recent experience in it – and there are a few tweaks for the 2015 campaign.  My tester, a 2015 Mazda6 Grand Touring edition, reminded me how much I liked the previous year’s makeover.

I was not alone in that, by the way.  The Mazda6 pulled down a basketful of heavyweight awards last year.
So, what's the big deal?

For starters, it’s an attractive sedan, nicely fitted front and rear and accentuated in profile to give it a full-size appearance.  All the lines flow smoothly, especially the sweep on the front end.  The 19-inch alloy wheels also are eye-catching.

The generous standard features on the tester, showing a starting price at just a few bucks less than $30,000, is especially pleasing.  The techno/luxo rush includes power/heated side mirrors (with turn lamps, too), leather trimmed sport seats, heated front seats, rearview camera, power moonroof and rear-cross traffic alert.

The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, 184-horsepower engine was peppy in the extreme.  No, it’s not going to blow off horsepower-laden sports cars, but I found the Mazda6 quite capable for entering tight spots during freeway commutes, and it reliably, aggressively powered out of harm’s way when asked to do so.

The handling was nimble, almost two-seater-like, yet volunteer passengers said they were comfortable – and had plenty of room – in our brief runs out on the roadways.

Fuel mileage is excellent at 28 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

Passengers and neighbors alike kept me asking me questions about the tested Mazda6, the kind of questions that imply obvious interest in perhaps buying one.

I did nothing to discourage such thoughts.

I think the signature of this model is that you get so much for a comparatively humble investment.  My ride was dressed up with a $2,000 GT Technology Package (radar cruise control and a lane departure-warning system were part of that mix), but I would have been perfectly content with the standard version and all that went with it.  Which is to say a lot.

In the midsize segment, the Mazda6 earns a spot on the must-test-drive list, and yes, I realize that there’s a lot to choose from in that grouping.

Suffice it to say that the Mazda6 belongs in that crowd and is worthy of your consideration.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Updated Genesis reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the updated 2015 Hyundai Genesis 3.8 sedan in the latest, November 2014, 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 http://www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News,P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reworked Legacy is a gem in crowded field

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews of the latest motor vehicle models also can be seen on The Sacramento Bee’s website at www.sacbee.com/news/business/article3455485.html

This review originally appeared in the October 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Welcome to the minority report, which is what you are when you’re a Subaru Legacy competing with the likes of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in the midsize sedan segment.

Never shy about entering the battle in the land of the giants, Subaru has rolled out an extensively reworked Legacy for the 2015 model year.  How many motorists will actually test drive it, or buy it?

Not a clue.

But those who don’t get a least a little time behind the wheel of the new Legacy are missing something.  This is a grade “A” job across the board.  And because it’s a Subaru, all-wheel drive is part of the standard package.

My tester was the 2.5i Premium, with a reasonable starting price of $23,495.  Nearly $3,000 in extras that included a moonroof, navigation system and some extra safety technology helped push the bottom line to $27,480.  But still, we’re well underneath the $30,000 threshold for a loaded machine.

The Legacy’s exterior look is shapely, with a nice aerodynamic curve over the top, cut-in sculpting on the bottom and a robust-looking double-tier grille on the front end.  For 2015, the windshield base was moved forward just a couple of inches, bringing a more raked look, and a better slice through the wind.  All-around vision from the cockpit is superb.

The engine is a four-cylinder, boxer-style worker that’s a marvel of efficiency at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.  And it scoots the Legacy along quite well linked to a continuously variable transmission.

When asked to give all, the power plant digs in fairly impressively to move the 3,455-pound sedan into a tight freeway hole.  City driving is a snap with the Legacy’s refined AWD and suspension systems, MacPherson strut on the front and double-wishbone on the rear.  My tester had a downright sporty feel.

Interior comfort is superb, front and back, and special noise-limiting touches make in-car conversations understandable even in dicey freeway commutes.  The trunk gets bigger this time around, with a generous 15 cubic feet of space.

The tester had lots of bells and whistles in the comfort/convenience and safety departments, leading me to speculate that Subaru was darn near handing out gratis perks given the starting price of the vehicle.

It’s worth noting that you can move up to a six-cylinder, 256-horsepower version of the 2015 Subaru Legacy for just a few thousand more bucks.  Having been pleasantly pleased with the four-banger, I can only image the thrills the six-cylinder power plant might dish up.

The bottom line is that this new Legacy is an exceptional midsize passenger from bumper to bumper.  If the Subaru marketing machine can convince enough Toyota and Honda loyalists (as well as consumers who might be on the fence about what to buy next) to just take a test drive in the Legacy, I’m guessing the automaker would win some converts.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Acura's ILX sedan is simply a driving pleasure

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website www.sacbee.com/news/business/article3455485.html

Sacramento, California – For all the words you absorb from auto reviewers about ultra-rich luxury and killer horsepower, the truth is that we often miss the point.

Most folks want to know about a dependable, nicely equipped every day driver, a passenger car that takes you to and from work, shares chores with you and provides enjoyable transportation during those golden moments when the only person you have to answer to is yourself.

If that’s the standard – and I wager that for many, it is – the 2015 Acura ILX sedan is a motorcar worth considering.

My tester was the ILX with a five-speed automatic and the automaker’s Technology Package, which translates to an Acura entry-level four-door starting at $31,750.  That’s the highest price among the four trim levels offered, but rest assured it’s sufficiently loaded to justify the fare.

This is my second go-around in the ILX, two years after it started rolling in the U.S. market.  I liked it the first time around, and my mind was not changed in my latest test drive.

This is a handsome-looking ride, with sharp, angular cuts on the front end lending more than a hint of sportiness.

On the move, the ILX feels and performs much stronger than advertised.  A quick-responding 2-liter, four-cylinder engine enabled me to dart around fast- and slow-moving traffic with ease, much more than I would expect out of a power plant rated at a max 150 horsepower.

Fellow reviewers have complained about tight interior room, but I’m 6-4, and I had no such problems.  Range of vision from the cockpit was good.

Interior comforts included leather seating surfaces with heated front seats.  I really liked the “projector beam” headlights that lit up my drive path with clear white light.

The Technology Package definitely boosts the ILX to near-luxo status with a romping ELS Surround audio system, a readable/workable navigation system and other goodies.  Motorists who want something more than a Honda and the flash that goes with moving up in class will not be disappointed.

Stellar fuel mileage is something to brag about.  The ILX tester gets 24 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.

My one gripe was that the driving range gauge in my ride seemed to jump all over the place without adequate justification.  Even with steady, conservative pressure on the gas pedal, the system’s estimate of miles left to go before zero jumped as much as 10 miles up or down within a mile of driving.  A one-time thing?  I haven’t a clue.

What impressed me most about the ILX was that it offered the simple pleasures of driving without digital feedback overload.  Nary a squeak or a rattle.  It responded, it handled and did it all with quiet efficiency.

Isn’t that kind of what you want in an every day driver?

Yeah, me too.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Drive in hybrid Hyundai Sonata is an eye-opener

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/article2561617.html

Sacramento, California – Consider this review the main dish, with an appetizer at the end.

Yeah, I know it makes no sense, but hang with me.

I recently spent a week in a 2014 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited, and the time spent in the car was a revelation.

For years, you’ve heard me talk about the virtues of a straight-up Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan.  How can you argue with a generously equipped, smooth-driving, affordable car in this day and age?  Throw in the great warranties and high crash-test ratings, and you’ll understand how I feel.

That was my take going into my week in the hybrid version of the Sonata.  What I learned from it is that the hybrid offers a whole new subset of charms for the fuel- and environmentally-conscious motorist.

The gas mileage on the tester was advertised at 36 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.  I was getting better than that, probably because the car has cues that visually reward you for gas-conserving driving.

It’s hard for me to admit this, but I swear it’s true.  The Sonata prompted me to be easy on the startups and freeway runs, even though I was fully aware that my caution would not result in a great financial reward at the end of the week.

How to explain it?

For starters, the four-cylinder/electric powertrain has ample pop as is.  Let’s face it, with some hybrids you have to smash the accelerator to the floor to eke out something like moderate performance.  The Sonata powertrain, with a combined horsepower rating of 199, does not demand this.  It’s peppy enough as engineered.

I would expect to pay $35,000 up front for such a car.  Yet the tester started at $30,000 and change.

For that price, it was stuffed with a wide range of very nice comfort/convenience perks.

Bottom line: Before having seat time in the Sonata hybrid, I might have ignored it entirely in favor of the usual gas-fired Sonata.

Now, I’m not so sure.

And that appetizer I was talking about?  The Sonata has been totally reworked for the 2015 model year.  I’ve only SEEN and READ about the changes, but from my research, the 2015 Sonata appears to be a serious step up from 2014.

So add that to your list of complications when considering a Sonata.  Do you want to deal on the remaining 2014 gas-fueled sedans?  Or do you maybe want to consider the Sonata hybrids?  Or do you want to go all-in on a 2015 Sonata?

Tough decisions there.

But the good news is that the Sonatas are so good that you’ll do well no matter what you decide.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What's new? The joys of driving a $66K Kia K900

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/article2561617.html.

Sacramento, California – I never thought I’d see the day: A Kia motor vehicle with a sticker price of $66,400.

Welcome to the new age, a time when former discount darling Kia can build a super-luxury sedan where the designers, engineers and consultants showed no restraint whatsoever in putting together a wondrous machine.

I honestly don’t know where to start … perhaps with the countless neighbors and passersby who complimented me on my Lexus.  Telling them that my all-new-for-2015 K900 was a Kia prompted looks like I’d just announced that I was an alien who emerged from the core of the planet Juptier.

Long, smooth and luxurious on maxi-cool 19-inch chrome alloy wheels, the tested Kia K900 shouted upscale sitting still in its parking spot.

Five-star accommodations were found inside the vehicle.  What a lineup!: Heated leather seats front and rear (ventilated on the front), three-zone climate control, classy wood trim, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power trunk, front and rear parking sensors … Oh, we’ve just scratched the surface.

There’s a super-long list of safety features and enough driving/safety-enhancement devices to basically turn the car over to its own devices.  And naturally, you want LED headlights with a dynamic bending light feature and a panoramic sunroof with power shade feature.

Wait, throw in the VIP Package of options, because what’s an extra $6,000 at this point? That package includes smart cruise control, a head-up display, driver’s seat cushion extension, power front seat headrests, power reclining rear seats and rear seat lumbar support.

Yes, I was overwhelmed.  I remember when getting an extra cupholder in a Kia was a big deal.

Driving it was a heart-racing romp of brute strength, with the 5-liter, 420-horsepower V-8 squealing the tires and making mincemeat of commuter traffic.  The engine’s power, nicely dished up via an eight-speed shift-by-wire transmission, took some getting used to; I made a fool of myself lurching off the line during my first half hour in the car.

Suffice it to say that the K900 performed just as well as any other sporty-luxury nameplate out there.

What’s not to like?  About the only thing to gripe about is 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.  And that’s a stretch because buyers in this segment probably aren’t sweating the monthly gas credit card bill.  And the thrill of 420 horses can make you forget about tepid fuel mileage in a hurry.

Overall grade:  A no-brainer “A.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Reworked Legacy reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium sedan in the latest, October 2014, 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 http://www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News,P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mazda MX-5 Miata's sporty charms have aged well

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo auto reviews also can be seen on the The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the "Car Reviews" link at PHOTO GALLERIES on the www.sacbee.com home page.

This review originally appeared in the September 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Can the Mazda MX-5 Miata really be 25 years old?

Remember when the Miata first came out? People went wacko over the tiny, sporty two-seaters.  Folks with more money than common sense were offering twice the asking price just to get one in their hands.

Well, at least they were affordable.  And frankly, the two-seater remains a bargain.

My 2014 tester was the priciest of 10, count ’em, 10 varieties: a Grand Touring model with a power hardtop, with a starting price of $30,550 ($32,735 with a few add-ons).  For the record, basic Miata fare starts at around $23,750.

To be brutally honest, I could not remember the last I was in a Miata, but I’m fairly certain I was a lot younger and way more flexible, physically speaking.  The roofline seemed to come up to my hip, so there was no graceful way to enter the car.  Essentially, I opened the driver’s side door, turned 90 degrees and collapsed backwards (and heavily) onto the driver’s seat.

I’m sure the neighbors, watching from behind their windows, found this hilarious.  And I’m likewise sure that they chuckled at my MX-5 exit strategy: open door, extend left foot onto pavement and thrust body upward into the open air … leg bones cracking all the way.

So, you get it, the MX-5 Miata remains a small car.  Size aside, its old-school sporty charms have aged with grace and are relentlessly appealing.

The exterior look is angular and race-ready aggressive.  For me, the car always takes my mind back to Triumph models of my childhood.  Good memories those.

Inside, the cockpit is functional and uncluttered, no minor feat given the small confines of the interior space.  Everything is clear and easy to use.  The contemporary MX-5 Miata is better equipped than those early models.  Modern amenities on my ride included a Bose audio system with seven speakers, heated leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel-mounted controls for multiple functions.

On the fly, the Miata is a joy.  And here’s where I part with some of my auto-reviewing colleagues.  They correctly point out that the four-cylinder, about 160-horsepower engine does not ring up sparkling zero-to-60 mph times.  But the engine propels the lightweight machine so briskly and instantly, and with such an ear-pleasing note, that you pretty much don’t care what the stopwatch says.

It’s fun and it feels good.  People who feel that way about numerous things tend to lead happy lives.  So there!

Yes, Mazda has messed with the name over the years.  Call it an MX-5.  No wait, call it a Miata.  Happily, with 25 years of history invested in the model, the automaker proudly refers to it now as an MX-5 Miata.  Good call.

Nope, this is not a family car.  No, it won’t carry a lot of luggage.  In truth, it’s not really functional as a second stay-at-home car to run errands, again because of cargo/people-hauling limitations.

But for sporty fun at an affordable price, the MX-5 Miata is an A-lister.  Here’s hoping it breezes through another quarter century.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Garibaldi adds color to California auto museum's event

If your gearhead obsession also includes a taste for art and eye-popping entertainment, you might want to make your way to the California Automobile Museum, at 2200 Front St., in Sacramento on Oct. 17, when philanthropist and spectacular artist David Garibaldi will be putting on his “Rhythm & Hue” show.

Garibaldi is the headliner for the museum’s annual fundraising dinner, which includes live and silent auctions, a three-course catered dinner and Garibaldi’s electric performance.

Individual tickets for the 5 to 9 p.m. event are $75.  Tables for 10 are $750, and tables for eight go for $600.  Sponsorships are welcome.

Paul Robins, news anchor with FOX television affiliate Channel 40 in Sacramento, will be the evening’s master of ceremonies.

The museum is home to a highly valuable collection of hundreds of cars of all stripes, including classics, racing machines, exotics and environmentally friendly models.

To obtain tickets or more information, go to www.calautomuseum.org or call (916) 442-6802.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

BMW coupe combines German engineering, hot rod pop

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – I know it’s time to be moving on into the 2015 model year, but while there’s still time left in 2014, let me tell you about the 2014 BMW M235i coupe.

BMW rolled this one out for the 2014 model year, and for those paying attention and snapping them up, the coupe is an excellent ride.

Think German engineering with an all-America hot rod rush.

The tester was sporty-looking with just enough understatement to give it that BMW elegance.  You expect it to respond well off the line and go up through the eight-speed gearbox with seat-pressing enthusiasm.

And you’re not disappointed.

The 3-liter, six-cylinder power plant rated at 320 horsepower performed like a boss.  Even more impressive was how it tamed the road surface at high speed.

My M235i ripped through sharp corners taken at 70 miles per hour like it was a Disney park monorail.  The ride was soft and buttery, but I felt glued to my seat when the BMW frame held the line on twisting stretches of road.

Steering was firm and easy.  I never felt anything nearing a loss of control, even when I was seeking that out.

Here’s a bonus: the 2 Series coupe is larger all the way around that its BMW 1 Series predecessor.  Interior comfort was top-drawer for driver and passengers.

The list of standard perks was entirely appropriate for a car starting at $43,100.  That included a moonroof, retractable headlight washers and a ton of safety features.

My ride was dressed up to a nearly obscene level with a $2,300 Premium Package and a $2,150 Technology Package.  Suffice it to say that I was overloaded with luxury, performance-enhancing technology and navigation/communication extras … all for a bottom line of $49,025.

Alas, I have some gripes.

The automatic engine stop/start feature that drops the engine to a fuel-saving shutdown mode when the car is stopped at a traffic light or in gridlock conditions was jarring.  Even though I knew it was there, I perpetually felt like the car had stalled completely.  A couple times, there was a slight, but annoying lag in power steering once the engine powered up to full-operation mode.

And for whatever reason, the automatic climate control feature in the tester didn’t feel like it was keeping up with reality.  Setting it on an interior temperature goal of 70 degrees felt more like 74 or 75.  Obviously, I could compensate accordingly.

Bottom line: This coupe is a “B-plus” ride all the way, and the early word is that BMW had fixed and improved things with some tweaks for the 2015 model year.

That might just push the overall grade over the “A” threshold.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Versatile Versa has an easy-on-the-eyes price

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 www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Never let it be said that I failed to appreciate the charms of a discount-priced passenger car.

My personal economic condition enables me to understand that going out to drop 30-grand or more on a new car is not like snagging a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk at the local supermarket.

There’s serious money involved, and oh, doesn’t it feel good when four-door transportation wears a sticker far south of $20,000?

And with that,  I give you the recently tested 2015 Nissan Versa Note SR.  This is Nissan’s affordable five-door hatchback, and the SR version is the second-priciest among five trim levels.  But even that’s a mere $17,530.

An SR Convenience Package (including a top-grade rearview monitor, satellite radio and a few other goodies) on my ride swelled the bottom line to $19,180.  But again, that’s well within range of many household budgets.

What you won’t get for that kind of money is a rubber-burning V-6, but I confess that I was fairly surprised at the spunk of the tester’s 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine with 109 horsepower.  It howled a bit at full song, but otherwise handled the propulsion chores with more than adequate competence.  The continuously variable transmission functioned flawlessly.  Steering was easy and just firm enough.

The rear hatch arrangement was easy to work with and swallowed up ample piles of widely varying cargo.

Passengers in front and back seats had complaints about my driving skills, but they said they were comfortable riding in my Versa.

It looks nice too, sort of like a high-shouldered bull that’s perpetually ready to charge. There’s a subtle spoiler at the back end; nice touch. And I liked the mix of “Red Brick” exterior paint set off against a “Charcoal” color interior on my tester.

Stripped?  Absolutely not.  The standard comfort/convenience features included leather/chrome touches, a thorough trip computer and a basket of contemporary plugged-in/audio perks.

Naturally, given this vehicle segment, the fuel mileage numbers are superior: 31 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.  So, bravo, you save money over the long haul as well.

Honda, Toyota and Ford offer up serious competition in Versa’s class, but the Nissan product holds up well in those comparisons.  Nissan seems to have figured out that lots of folks are still carefully counting and/or saving dollars these days.  The Versa is a nicely appointed, alluring vehicle for those folks.

Overall, I’d give this hatch a solid “B” with a “B-plus” in the Fun to Drive Department.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cadillac ELR is shining jewel in car world

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 www.sacbee.com/business

This review originally appeared in the August 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California There are some cars that I call jewels, and for me, that’s a vehicle cruising at such a high level of quality, performance and engineering that everything else on the road shapes up a merely normal.

Or in simpler terms: a car so excellent that I’m wondering why anyone would trust me with it.

I’ve tested some AMG-tuned Mercedes-Benz vehicles that were jewel-quality. A Bentley Continental GT?  Ditto.

And most recently, a new-for-2014 Cadillac ELR.  Sticker price: $81,135.  And worth every penny of that, I tell you.

OK, this is the Caddy with the Chevrolet Volt-sytle plug-in electric, combined with a range-extending, gas-fueled engine seamlessly taking over when the electric juice runs out.  But this ELR is no Volt, like a Space Shuttle is not a VW Bug.

Wearing gleaming “Crystal Red” exterior paint, the ELR delivered to me resembled a purpose-built racing prototype set to qualify for the 24 Hours of LeMans.  Killer Cadillac grille on the front and then rounding out in perfect aerodynamic arc clear to the back end of the vehicle.  It looked fast just sitting there.

The gleaming, 20-inch machined aluminum wheels are spectacular.

Get inside and the audio system projects a heart-stimulating symphonic sound you’d expected to hear in a top-tier military-style video game.  The car all but screams: Are you ready to rock?  Pressing the start button brings silence, but the dash lights let you know the ELR is ready to roll.

If you juiced up the car via a standard electrical outlet, you already have some 24 miles to work with before the gas-fueled engine takes over the power-feeding duties within the complex battery system.  Fully charged and gassed, the ELR has a range of about 340 miles.   Your energy usage is constantly fed to you on the dash.

And wow, does it scoot for a front-driver with a four-cylinder standard power plant.  Yes, there are systems under the hood that I don’t have a prayer of ever understanding, but I happily blasted along in my ignorance and enjoyed the ride.

It steered with magnificent ease.  The interior was quiet as a private reading room in an old-school library.

My ELR was loaded up with a ton of techno goodies, including intelligent headlamps, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-side alert, lane-departure warning system (again, a little touchy for my taste, but it can be turned off), rain-sensing windshield wipers, remote vehicle start and on and on and on.  The owner’s manual is really not enough.  I’d recommend taking a couple of nighttime classes to learn everything the car can do.

Happily, given all that goes with the ELR package, Cadillac loads it up with more than a half dozen warranties covering various components and systems.  Good call, there.

Personally, I had nothing to complain about in my week with the car, just like I’d have nothing to complain about if someone gave me carte blanche to privately play all the Pebble Beach golf courses on the Monterey Peninsula for a week.

You don’t complain when someone hands you a jewel.  And yeah, this ELR is all of that.