Friday, February 28, 2014

New Toyota Highlander is bigger, better

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at

Sacramento, California – Wow, it’s bigger.

That was my first thought upon walking up to the extensively reworked for 2014 Toyota Highlander sport-utility vehicle.

Two reasons for that thought: It IS bigger than the previous generation, and I spend a lot of time in close proximity to my wife’s trusty Toyota RAV4, a smaller SUV perfect for her needs.

I confess that I’m not always at ease behind the wheel of a big sport-ute.

Yet climbing up and into the cockpit of the tested 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited with all-wheel drive and Platinum Package, I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Vision up high and all around the vehicle was nothing short of great.

The Highlander was loaded with safety, comfort and convenience features.  The Platinum Package upped the ante with an assortment that included a pre-collision system, radar cruise control, lane departure warning system, automatic high beam-adjusted headlights, a moonroof, heated steering wheel and heated, perforated leather second-row captain’s chairs.

No wonder it’s bigger.  They needed more room to pack in all the goodies.

Not surprisingly, my Highlander is the most expensive you can buy among the 2014 trim levels, with an MSRP of $43,590.  The most basic Highlander starts a shade short of $30,000.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Platinum Package-equipped, AWD, Limited Highlander stacks up well against most purpose-built luxury SUVs on the market.  Easily, to be truthful.

So, equipped as described, this Highlander can comfortably transfer up to eight folks in three rows.  No squeezing or cramping necessary.

On the outside, the Highlander is three inches longer than it once was, and a lower roofline on the 2014 model adds a touch of aerodynamic smoothness.  The front grille is appropriately muscular, with a new-look trapezoidal grille being the most prominent feature.

My Highlander rolled smoothly through urban centers and on manic-commuter freeways, courtesy of a most responsive 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine.  Exterior noise barely rose above a quietly spoken sentence in the vehicle’s cabin.

I was impressed with the tuning of front independent McPherson strut/rear double wishbone suspension pairing.  The Highlander was ride-the-rail firm on hard corners, even those taken in the Sierra Nevada foothills, uphill and down.

Gas mileage is so-so at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, but I liked the engine’s output too much to complain about those numbers.

Be advised that the tested Highlander will probably challenge the household budgets of most shoppers looking for basic SUV convenience.  On the other hand, if you’ve been pondering loaded SUVs priced in the $50,000s and $60,000s and want something just as good for a fraction of that cost, consider reconfiguring your nav system to find the most direct route to the nearest Toyota dealership.


Friday, February 21, 2014

This pair of Fords affordable, capable

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 – Today is double-duty, blue oval day, looking at a couple of affordable Ford passenger cars that have been helping the American automaker boost sales in multiple markets.

Ford has been very clever in the perk-heavy, good fuel mileage, affordable passenger car niche, and the Ford Focus is Exhibit A in that department.  My tester, a 2014 Ford Focus Titanium hatchback (pictured), was well stocked at a starting price of $24,115.  A few extras pushed the bottom line to $26,300, but the basic offering suited me just fine.

Power is provided by a 2-liter, four-cylinder, 160-horsepower engine that was peppy enough to handle all the chores and delivered an advertised 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.  Very nice numbers, indeed.

My ride looked sharp and streamlined, even in relatively mild-looking Sterling Gray Metallic skin, and the extra cash for 18-inch alloy wheels was worth it, in my view.  Interior room was not cavernous, but adequate for even backseat riders.  Vision all around from the cockpit was exceptional.

The Titanium’s list of standard features was generous, including reverse-sensing/rearview camera feature, four-wheel disc brakes and puddle lamps.  You don’t see a lineup like that on a lot of “affordable” models.

Overall, this is a B-plus car all the way.  For young folks trying to hold the price line on their first “family” car, it likely gets an A grade.

Moving on to the 2014 Ford Fiesta SE, my week in the car produced a mixed bag of results, most of them positive.

The bargain curve is steeper in the Fiesta lineup.  You can have the most basic model starting at $14,600.  An SE sedan will run you $15,450, and an SE hatchback runs just slightly more than that.

Again, the Fiesta is pretty well equipped for the price.  And it’s loaded with safety features, including a hill-start assist control, traction control, electronic stability control and a vehicle stability management system.

The small power plant only puts out about 120 horsepower, which will get you about 30 miles per gallon on city streets and 40 mpg on the open road.

You’d think that I wouldn’t have a problem handling 120 horsepower.  You’d be wrong.

For whatever reason – gearing, tuning, heavy right foot syndrome or aging driver – I kept burning little bits of rubber on standing starts.  Seriously, it kept happening, despite my attempts to be more disciplined.

Obviously, not everyone is going to consider this a bad thing in their small affordable car.  Still, just wanted you to know.

The Fiesta was pretty noisy at full song, but it had a certain nimbleness at high speed that made me feel secure, even in heavy commuter traffic on the interstates.

A solid B for grade for this car to be sure.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Acura's new RLX gets the pulse pumping

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 – You can get jaded in this business. A new car arrives for review every week.

I reckon it’s similar to the way Hugh Hefner feels about dating … but then, I wouldn’t know about that.

So, when an all-new 2014 Acura RLX sedan showed up looking like a freeway-tooled version of a stealth fighter jet, I’m happy to tell you that my pulse picked up big-time.

So, this is evolvement of the previous RL sedan, and oh my, evolution is a good thing.  Rounded at the top, nicely cut on the front end and boasting a stable, spread out look at all four corners, the RLX arrives looking ready to rumble.

And rumble it does with 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 rated at 310 horsepower.  Other sedans have more power, but I’m not sure any of them dish up the goods any sweeter than this RLX with a sequential sport shift transmission.

I was able to dust off most of the stragglers, pokes and cut-off crazies that ventured into my path on the roadways.  Steering was easy and firm, and the response from this front driver was impressive.

My ride had a generously equipped “Tech Package” (including blind spot monitor, rain-sensing windshield wipers and power folding side mirrors) and an “Advance Package” that included adaptive cruise control, a collision-avoidance braking system, ventilated front seats and parking sensors.

And the bottom line on the sticker was $61,345, which answers your question: Yes, luxury and technology do come at a price.

Personally, I had no problem with the fare.  Acrua has been working for years to establish a true standout flagship sedan, and this RLX certainly fits in that lofty niche of Honda’s luxury division.

Fuel mileage is a fair 20 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.  Not too bad for a 310-horsepower engine.

Oh, did I mention the “Jewel Eye” LED headlights?  So very, very cool.  Bring over the neighbors just to watch you turn on the headlights.  They’ll invite you over for drinks later, guaranteed.

Some Acura devotees are undoubtedly salivating over the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid AWD version of this ride, and I understand your desires.  Luxury, power and fuel economy will lure you behind the wheel most anytime.  Looking forward to getting into that one up the road.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Reworked Mirage a seriously fuelish five-door

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 introduction of an all-new, five-door subcompact car is not the kind of news that typically prompts automotive journalists to bolt out of their seats and launch into thunderous applause.

But when you look at the sticker on a 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage and see 37 miles per gallon in the city and 44 mpg on the highway, that gets your attention … the same way a hard slap to the face does.

This Mirage is not a hybrid.  It’s packing a 1.2-liter, three-cylinder engine with 74 horsepower. Understandably, Mitsubishi touts its Mirage as the most fuel-efficient, gas-powered, non-hybrid out there.

Yeah, you say, but only 74 horsepower!  That probably means the neighbor’s dog can beat it down the street on any given day.

In truth, after a week in my Mirage ES hatchback tester, the car performed pretty well.  Yes, it made big noise when I mashed the accelerator to wedge the car into freeway traffic.  But once on the fly, it was pretty easy to handle.  It did not get pushed around in big-truck turbulence, and on city streets, it was nimble enough to give me a bit of an advantage.

Even in top-end ES trim, the starting price is $15,195.  My ride had no extras, yet the Mirage was equipped with attractive interior accents, a 140-watt CD/MP3/audio system, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, cruise control, a continuously variable transmission, fog lights, steering wheel audio controls and the usual powered assortment for door locks and windows.

Back seat room, I must confess, is not going to handle three adults easily.  One of them, probably the one in the middle, is going to be grumpy.  But honestly, that’s pretty much true of any four-door subcompact, or most two-door, sporty models.

I might have driven my Mirage in absolute obscurity except for one thing: The paint job on my tester was Plasma Purple (pictured).  The better name for the exterior hue might be Shrieking Purple.  Let’s just say that lots of friends and neighbors noticed and offered unsolicited comments on it.  One, who shall remain nameless, said it looked like “Barbie’s car.”


Well, I’ve never had a problem with being noticed, so I can’t complain.

Mitsubishi has engineered this car to be an affordable transporter within reach of young motorists, and those who just want a reliable, seriously fuelish second ride that can do the chores that the household’s big SUV or sedan do while burning up buckets full of gas.

That’s the niche, and yes, this Mirage fits it nicely.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New 2014 Fiat model reviewed in Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the new-for-2014 Fiat 500L Lounge in the latest, February 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, 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.