Friday, January 31, 2014

2014 Forte is new, and yes, improved

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 – Clean, stylish and efficient, the all-new-for-2014 Kia Forte got my heart beating, which is not a typical result when I’m driving a smallish sedan.

But there it is.

I guess part of it comes down to simple pleasures, and the Forte EX sedan I tested had that in layers.

Personally, I’m always skeptical of highly publicized “all-new” versions of car models that have been on the market for some time. You’re either underwhelmed or disappointed amid myriad changes.  Not so, this third-generation Forte.

Let’s start with the skin, which is smoothly angled and looped on a practical-size platform.  This chassis is longer, wider and lower than the previous generation, and the corresponding room is evident throughout.  Three NFL linebackers would be cramped in the rear seats, but generally, you can transport five in comfort.

I was stunned at the number of standard interior amenities I spotted from my comfortable cockpit seat, keeping in mind that this car starts at an affordable $19,400.  Besides air bags galore and a tire pressure-monitoring system, I was spoiled by an array of easy to use controls in orbit around my leather-wrapped steering wheel.

My ride included gaudy extras, a $2,600 “Premium Package” (heated seats, exterior mirror puddle lights and power tilt/slide sunroof were part of the deal) and a $2,300 “Technology Package” (nav system, LED taillights and more).  Those goodies pushed the bottom line to $25,515.

But seriously, I mentally subtracted those items and found that I would have been perfectly happy with the Forte EX as is.

That’s probably because the tester was a fun drive, with a responsive four-cylinder, two-liter engine rated at around 170 horsepower.  Response at low revs was surprisingly brisk, and the car performed well in the urban jungle commute.

Steering was instantly responsive, and I quickly found myself making quick, sharp maneuvers I normally would not dream of making in a similar-size sedan.

The Forte was stable in hard turns, and it was righteously sporty when my right foot demanded it.  Interior cabin noise was evident at full song, but not abrasively so.

Front and rear disc brakes were appropriately grabby, but the Forte’s suspension stayed rock-steady even under hard braking.

Fuel mileage certainly won’t upset anybody: 24 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.

Overall, Kia really did make this Forte a better car all the way around.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Upgraded MDX stands tall in luxury SUV segment

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 – It’s going to cost you north of $55,000 and maybe get you 20 miles per gallon in the city if you’re savvy on the accelerator.

So, why do you care, right?

You should care, because the third-generation Acura MDX sport-ute rolled out for the 2014 model year is a player in the luxury SUV segment.  Translation: If you have considerable cash, this MDX is worth more than a few minutes of your attention.

OK, you might NOT have to spend in the mid-fifties for it.  The most basic MDX starts at just a shade more than $42,000.  But take my word for it, if you want the full MDX experience, you want to think top-end.

My tester was precisely that, a lavishly loaded MDX with the “Advance Package.”  Said package includes seven-spoke, 19-inch alloy wheels; a primo 605-watt audio system with 12 speakers; a jumbo-size rear entertainment system; luxo leather seating surfaces; remote engine start (it can be launched from a football field away); lane-change assist system; a collision-avoidance braking system and adaptive cruise control, with a “low-speed follow” feature that maintains a specific distance between your MDX and the vehicle in front of you.

Luxury for seven?  Yeah, you bet.  And plenty of interior room for ride-along folks to spread out.

From the cockpit, the driver gets a beautifully designed center stack of controls.  Easy to see.  A snap to use.  Little pleasures like this make me smile nowadays.

Acura seriously tweaked the exterior.  The 2014 MDX is longer, lower and narrower than the previous generation, and significantly, it’s 275 pounds lighter than its predecessor.  It has enough angles and front-end cuts to look downright sporty in profile.

On the fly, the MDX cuts through the wind briskly and silently.  The 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 power plant is enthusiastic.  It’s coldly efficient when picking off freeway pokes, and it climbs steep hills with very little noise coming back into the cabin.

I did just about everything to challenge this tester, and it responded like a champ in all conditions.  It even took the trouble to gently tighten my seat belts when I drove hard into sharp corners.  Very considerate, that.

Bottom line: The revamped MDX stands particularly tall in a luxury SUV segment that offers well-heeled buyers so much in so many packages.  For those fortunate enough to afford the fare, the MDX belongs on your test drive list.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Urban or rural, new Tundra can carry the load

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 third-generation Toyota Tundra has all the requirements of a contemporary pickup:  intimidating size, plentiful interior room, lots of perks once associated with high-end passenger cars and power offered in various sizes and strengths.

For a guy who remembers when pickup trucks were like riding inside a noisy beer can while occasionally sliding across the width of a slick bench seat, my Tundra tester seemed like a delivery from Pickup Heaven.

This being a pickup, it’s important to narrow down the long name.  My ride was the 2014 Toyota Tundra 4X2 CrewMax Limited with a 5.7-liter V-8.  It’s a lot of truck with a starting price of $38,845, and dressed up with some premium extras, my tester showed $41,280 on the bottom line.

Let’s start with how it looks.  To me and most others I asked to look it over, the Tundra is wide enough, tall enough and long enough to make everything parked near it look small. The redesign for this new generation is not radical.  Toyota devotees will recognize this as a Tundra from a quarter-mile away.

I’ve been fascinated lately with grille designs on full-size pickups.  The current vogue is stacking thick layers of chrome across the entire width of the front, presenting a look like a giant double-decker club sandwich of steel.

This makes it appear that the truck could knock down a skyscraper if that’s what the driver intended.  The Tundra has the look in spades.

The Tundra’s cargo bed is sizable and easily accessed, a plus in this segment.

I’ll readily admit that I am not a full-size truck aficionado, but when I do test them, I try to use two sweeping standards to evaluate the hardware:

For starters, can it function in an urban environment, with dicey commutes, occasional errands to haul heavy cargo and family road trips/vacations?  Secondly, in a rural environment, can it do all the heavy chores, including trips into deep mud, and come out smelling like a rose?

There’s no doubt in my mind that this Tundra can do both, rather easily in fact.  Tow and cargo-capacity ratings are decidedly robust, emphasizing the point.

When I got the 381-horsepower V-8 up to full song in various conditions, I confess that it was a startling experience in big-vehicle power.  And yet, the Tundra’s interior ambience was downright luxurious and comforting, in my view.

With so much competition in the pickup segment, and so many variations to choose from, it’s a brutal environment in which to gain public attention.  The various automakers are throwing everything and the kitchen sink into these broad-shouldered pickups.

Does the new-gen Tundra stack up with the current competition?  From my seat, a no-brainer yes.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Scion's sporty tC gets a serious 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

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

Sacramento, California – ­I’ve been a fan of the Scion tC from the beginning, and what’s not to like in a sporty, affordable, peppy three-door hatch with a big-as-a-movie-screen clear roof?

Apparently, the folks at Scion wanted more, so the 2014 version of the tC gets road warrior/racer styling on the front and back, plus a faster-functioning automatic gearbox and improved handling via better shocks and other tweaks.

Better than before?  Oh, yes.

My affection for the tC was likely enhanced by its exterior paint job, which was dubbed – I kid you not – “Absolutely Red.”  It was all of that.  “Flagrant Red” would have worked too.

Starting price on the tester was an easy-on-the-eyes $20,210, and that included everything: leather touches, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and ventilated front brakes, to name just a few.  The car also had about a hundred air bags, or it sure looked that way from my reading of the sticker and the owner’s manual.

Gas mileage was pretty darn good at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.  Frankly, I was getting a little better than that.  This tC also scored quite high in the assorted federal government crash-safety ratings.

The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine has more than enough to make you smile with nearly 180 horsepower.  Throttle response is surprisingly instantaneous for a car in this price bracket.  The interior gets a little noisy when the engine is at full song, but not overly so.

In slalom maneuvers, the tC performed like a champ.  Terrific feel through the steering wheel even when the car was asked to do some serious left-and-right prancing.

Yes, it’s a hatchback, but don’t gripe about that, not with the ample cargo-carrying room provided at the rear.

I know it’s easy to talk Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla when you’re pondering a first new car for your kids, but this Scion tC needs to be on that test-drive list as well.  It stacks up quite well against the venerable competition, in every category.

With the sporty exterior upgrade, I’d give this 2014 Scion tC a solid B-plus.  Kudos to Toyota/Scion designers and engineers for not messing up an already pleasant ride.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Versa Note ups the ante at entry level

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 – As we zip into 2014, what better way to start than with an entry-level car?

But calling the 2014 Nissan Versa Note an entry-level vehicle doesn’t really cover it.  Entry-level warrior is more like it.

Exceedingly popular.  Liberally appointed.  Decidedly affordable.  And, oh yes, all-new for the 2014 model year.

My tester was the 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV, the priciest among three trim levels, with a starting number of $15,990.  To be fair, mine was extravagantly dressed up with options to bring the bottom line to $19,545.

That’s still not a bad price for four-door, five-passenger transportation.

Your second look at Versa Note window sticker, after noting the price, likely will fall on the fuel economy numbers.  And those should be pleasing to you – 31 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

Those numbers come from a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 109 horsepower.  OK, that’s not going to get your heart racing, but then again, that’s not the purpose of this car.  Buyers want affordable, reliable transportation with a fair amount of perks.  And that’s what you get.

Having said that, the Note’s performance is actually pretty fair.  My Versa scooted along in the dicey urban jungle and held its own on the interstates, and for most of us, it’s hard to ask much more than that in a small entry-level car.

Nissan engineers said they worked mightily to reduce the car’s overall weight, and it shows in the steering, which is instantly responsive and light to the touch. 

Styling is what I’d call saucy Euro, with road rally racer lines on the front end and a sculpted Euro chop on the back end.  For my money, a good look.

The standard package is nice, and the Technology Package goes above and beyond the call in this class, including heated side-view mirrors, a 360-degree “Around View Monitor” and a nifty navigation system.

And surprise, back seat space is pretty darn good at 38.3 inches of legroom.  Yeah, an NFL linebacker might feel crowded back there, but other adults should find the ride comfortable.

A new car for a new year. And it feels just right to me.