Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kia Soul reworked, but cool factor remains

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 – I recently spent a week in a 2014 Kia Soul ! … and yes, the exclamation point is part of the name of this specific trim level.

I say this up front, because I did not want you to think me daft, and this kind of model-naming strategy is really not all that unusual for a car that has been marketed on the airwaves with giant hamsters.

The big news for the 2014 Soul is that is has been extensively reworked, particularly in the design department.

The previous Soul was already pretty funky looking with its soulful box architecture.  The 2014 version has an angled roof, high-mounted taillights, flared fenders and a longer wheelbase.  The appearance all but shouts: Yeah, I drive to my own drummer.

Happily, the altering of the exterior skin also pays benefits inside, with additional cargo and passenger room.

Kia says the 2014 Soul’s chassis is about 30 percent stiffer than its predecessor, and I definitely noticed that.  My week in a 2012 Soul was memorable for significant sway in corners taken at relatively high speed.  That has been fixed, which is no easy task for a vehicle of this shape.

The 18-inch alloy wheels are nice, too.

A thoughtfully laid out dash remains attractive, fun and easy to use.  Everything is within easy reach of the driver’s seat.

The Soul ! comes with a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine with 164 horsepower.  It’s certainly no screamer but handles most conditions rather well.  The 130-horsepower engine on the base version probably won’t be enough for most folks.

The starting price on the tester was just a shade more than $20,000, a most-reasonable number in my view.  Alas, my ride was dressed up with another $5,000 in extras, which included a panoramic sunroof with power shade, an eight-inch navigation screen, heated seats/steering wheel, leather seat trim and, omigosh, color-changing audio speaker lights.

Gotta have that last one, right?

Fuel mileage is good at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

The Soul remains a cool-looking vehicle aimed at folks who want a cool ride that won’t drain their bank accounts.  Kia has put a lot of thought and work into styling, perks and special features that accentuate the Soul’s hip factor.

In the final analysis, they’ve done a good job of producing a feel-good car.

Overall grade: A solid “B.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hunter-Reay showed daring, skill of a champion

The difference between first and second place in Sunday’s 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 was 0.06, or in more practical terms, about $1.7 million in prize money.

But I can virtually guarantee you that all-American-boy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and second-place finisher Helio Castroneves were not thinking about prize money or personal health when they staged their electrifying duel in the closing laps of the 500.  For sheer nerve, bravery and driving skill, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything rivaling Sunday’s shootout under sunny Indiana skies.

Such is the importance of Indy that both Hunter-Reay and Castroneves threw caution to the curb and took turns pulling off sensational high-speed, high-risk passes in the sharp corners of Turns 1 and 3.

They were the kinds of passes you typically expect to see right before two cars touch and are sent blasting into the wall.

Yet, somehow, both made their cars stick.

Hunter-Reay wins the trophy for the most brazen move by diving nearly into the Turn 3 grass to whistle under Castroneves just a few miles from the checkered flag. From my seat amid the roar of the fans, I didn’t give Hunter-Reay a prayer of making that one stick.

The fact that he did is more than enough to make the case: Hunter-Reay flat-out earned this one.

But oh, what might have been.  It was that kind of race.

First off, the race stayed green for nearly three-quarters of the distance…absolutely incredible.  If someone had asked me to bet a nickel on that before the green flag fell on Sunday, I would have held on tight to my 5 cents.

What ifs?  How much time do you have?

What if Marco Andretti had forced the issue just one-tenth of a second more with Castroneves on the last restart?

What if pole-sitter Ed Carpenter had not been taken to the wall in a foolish late-race crash?  Carpenter seemed to have a car that was arguably the most capable of taking on Hunter-Reay in the late going.

What if Juan Pablo Montoya, who was getting the best fuel mileage among the front-runners, had not received a speeding penalty in the pits, a mistake apparently made while he was struggling to remove a tear-off strip from his helmet?
It's a 500-mile race, but it can turn on a dime.

For sure, it pains to think that Castroneves came within an eye-blink of making Indy 500 history.

Had he beaten Hunter-Reay to the line, Castroneves would have matched A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as Indy’s only four-time winners. Had Castroneves won, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway PR machine would have been gearing up this very day to promote Helio’s effort to become the first five-time winner in 2015.

Bottom line: Helio is still young enough to get Indianapolis 500 wins Nos. 4 and 5.

And while I like a good story and deeply enjoy Indy’s rich history, I have to give it to Ryan Hunter-Reay.  He showed all the courage and skill one expects of an Indy 500 champion.

And that, my friends, trumps history, ambitions and everything else.

Monday, May 19, 2014

World of possibilities in Sunday's Indianapolis 500

What to make of Sunday’s 98th running of the Indianapolis 500?  It’s my 52nd Memorial Day weekend classic, and there are about that many variables in play when it comes to picking a winner.

Since I’m showing up at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, I might as well take a shot.

For starters, any one of 20 drivers could win.  Yes, I’m serious.  Look at the qualifying speeds.  There’s VERY little separation among the top two dozen drivers.  And given the architecture of the cars, drafting to pass is going to be a most common occurrence on Sunday.

In fact, I can virtually guarantee you that if the lap last is run under the green flag and you have a handful of cars racing together in line at the beginning of that lap, the second- or third-place car will win.

As was demonstrated last year with driver Tony Kanaan’s late pass to victory, it’s nearly impossible to hold back the second-place car for any length of time in a nose-to-tail formation.

Kanaan and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, aren’t generating much buzz this week because their cars did not generate the kind of speed found by the hot shots of the just-concluded qualifying weekend.

Don’t let that fool you.  I thought the same thing in 2012, when the Ganassi cars of Dixon and teammate Dario Franchitti seemed to be lacking in speed.  On race day, they had more-than-adequate speed and exceptional fuel mileage.  Franchitti and Dixon finished first and second, respectively.

That could happen again on Sunday.  Kanaan deserves particular attention. He drives the Indy 500 like Wynton Marsalis handles a trumpet.  His 16th starting position means nothing.  He could be leading the race by 100 miles, and yes, he’s very capable of notching a second straight Indy win.

With so many cars are bunched tightly on the speed charts, this year’s race shapes up as a blizzard of potentially glorious stories: Marco Andretti winning to break the “Andretti curse” at Indy, James Hinchcliffe bouncing back from a recent concussion to take the prize, hard-luck Will Power banishing his demons with a 500 win and Helio Castroneves winning a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500.  I can also envision Carlos Munoz, last year’s runner-up and not well known outside Indy racing, drinking the winner’s milk on Sunday.

As for me, I’m picking pole-sitter Ed Carpenter to win it, and that win will rank as one of the most popular in race history if the soft-spoken, hometown Indianapolis driver can pull it off.  Carpenter started from the pole last year, but myriad problems kept him out of the scramble at the finish.

If he steers clear of problems and is running in a line of three to five tightly bunched cars at the end, watch him closely.  He’s very good on the fast ovals.

Luck will enter the play at some point.  A lot can happen in 500 miles: tire trouble, mechanical ills or just being in the wrong place at any given moment.

Dark horse pick: 2000 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, returning from his adventures in other racing series to win at Indy once again.

Deep dark horse pick: Josef Newgarden, a seriously talented, smart 23-year-old who could propel himself into the national spotlight when the checkered flag falls on Sunday.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Wanna race? Lancer GT has that kind of look

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 – Well, I was warned.  Fair and square.  By my own son.

Seeing that I had a 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT for a week of testing, he said I’d better be prepared to be challenged by other motorists.

Really?  Come on!

I mean I was not behind the wheel of a Lancer Evo, with its turbo-boosted power plant capable of nearly 300 horses.  By comparison, the 2.4-liter four-banger under my tester’s hood dished up a relatively modest 168 horses.

And no, I was not one of those folks who had installed hardware under the hood that would supply power far in excess of the Lancer GT that left the factory floor.

But in the end, my sole heir was correct.

I was getting chosen … Quick nods at traffic lights, imploring me to unwind the Lancer for the next, wide-open quarter mile.

Being older, wiser and, most important, fearful of adding the kind of points that can result in suspension of my driver’s license, I declined all invitations.

But I learned a lesson from the younger generation.  In this case, looks can mean a lot.

The Lancer GT is, without question, sculpted for the performance crowd. Flat-skirt architecture running down both sides and a big-mouth grille all but scream urban racer.  The rounded, aerodynamic architecture on the top side completes the sporty layout.

Naturally, Mitsubishi doesn’t hold back on language touting the Lancer’s aggressive look.  The paint job on my tester, for example, was “Wicked White/Black.”

Well, OK, if you say so.

I did not go so crazy as to yank on a pair of driving gloves and don a pair of “Top Gun” aviators, but such is the sporty appeal of the Lancer GT that you feel inclined to look the part when you’re putting it through its paces.

In truth, the Lancer GT is a sporty ride for the frugal.  My tester had a most-affordable manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $21,445.  Mine was opulently dressed up with a $3,300 Touring Package (leather seating surfaces, a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, heated front seats and a power glass sunroof were part of that deal) and a $1,850 navigation system with special features.  The bottom line came to $27,390.

The peppy four-cylinder engine does a nice job of propelling a car of this size, but I wouldn’t recommend seeking out top-tier sports cars.  Simply put, they’ll have more juice than you have.

The tester’s engine did make a fair amount of noise at full song, but it was not a chronic annoyance.  Fuel mileage is fine at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.

Overall, the Lancer GT gets a rock-solid “B” grade, and if you’re looking for a sporty car that won’t prompt you to apply for a second mortgage, this is your ride.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rugged Trailhawk reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4X4 sport-utility vehicle in the latest, May 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.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

New Lexus IS 350 walks the sport-luxury walk

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 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Lexus knows what we like.  How else to explain the new, third-generation 2014 Lexus IS sport-luxury lineup?

Lexus has thrown so much into the newest IS that it’s hard to figure out where to start.  Good looks, good perks, high performance and lap-of-luxury interior features made the $41,700 starting price on the tested IS 350 AWD sedan seem like a steal.

Oh, wait, there’s more.  Mine had the spoil-me-rotten F SPORT package.  That added on F SPORT-branded 18-inch wheels, backup camera, variable/sport-tuned suspension, heated front seats, leather touches, a top-tier navigation system and a primo Mark Levinson audio system … to name just a few.

It also pushed the bottom line on the sticker to $49,600.  Selfishly, I didn’t care.  I was too busy lapping up that luxury.

Lexus has been known to be a bit reserved in its exterior styling in the past, but the designers loosened the belts a little this time around.  The car looks darn near purpose-built for freeway racing with an edgy front end and a sculpted raised edge sweeping low on both sides of the car.  The look is decidedly “choose me fool” brag.

And the car can back that up pretty well with its 3.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam, 306 -horsepower V-6.  My tester had the six-speed automatic gearbox, but much fun was had using the paddle shifters on the open road.

The IS 350 could blaze when asked, and in so doing, it leaves most of the surrounding traffic in the dust.  It’s very easy to feel utterly secure and downright aggressive in this ride as you quickly get used to the quick, nimble maneuvers that the car is capable is dishing up.

Trouble?  Yeah, if you don’t keep your head screwed on right, you might be surprised that you really were going 85 miles per hour when you blew past that Highway Patrol car stopped on the highway shoulder.

Happily, for those who lack discipline, the IS 350 is jam-packed with safety technology and the kind of control systems that keep the car hugging the road.  Indeed, my tester exhibited monorail-like characteristics for a week.  The vehicle seemingly kept me from putting a wheel wrong.  Lexus is aggressively touting the body rigidity of this IS 350.  Turns out, it’s the real deal.

Fuel mileage is fair at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.  Volunteer passengers who rode with me loved the interior look and all the comfort/convenience goodies.

You might have figured out by now that the IS 350 takes direct aim at BMW’s popular 3 Series.  Comparatively speaking, the Lexus competes quite nicely with the BMW.

 So if you’re shopping in this segment, take my advice: Test drive BOTH lines, and take your time pondering before writing the check.  The competition here is just that close.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Hyundai's Tucson is particularly nice for the 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

Sacramento, California – One of the oddities of this car-reviewing game is … well, let’s call it chance.

What are the odds of getting a 2014 Hyundai Tucson sport-utility vehicle right on the heels of a nearly $63,000 Lexus GX 460 SUV and a $40,500 Acura RDX sport-ute?

I know what you’re thinking: No contest.

No way the Hyundai stacks up again those Lexus/Acura luxury liners, right?

But hold the phone.  When I took a long, hard look at the standard features in the tested 2014 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD and looked at the bottom line on my loaded-up version of the Tucson – $29,835 – I was feeling pretty good about things.

I mean, let’s face it, if you’re shopping the Hyundai lot for an SUV, you’re not thinking “no contest.”  Truth is, you probably looked at the sticker prices on the Lexus and Acura offerings and, upon careful examination of your household budget, thought, “no chance.”

And that’s one of the reasons that vehicles like the Hyundai Tucson exist.  It’s a fairly priced, yet nicely equipped SUV that will do the job without bringing your savings account to its knees.

My tested Tucson was particularly alluring along this line.

Consider the long list of features wrapped into the enticing manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $26,200: 18-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, downhill brake control, “hillstart” assist control, automatic headlights, power/heated side mirrors, leather seating surfaces (ditto the steering wheel and shifter knob), heated front seats and a rearview camera.

Nice, right?  I’m happy with just that.

But the tester added a Technology Package that included a tilt/slide panoramic sunroof, LED taillights, a 7-inch touchscreen navigation display and a premium audio system.

Now, I’m really happy.  And I’m still under $30,000 on the bottom line.

The 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine had adequate pop with 182 horsepower.  Yes, the Tucson did have to noisily exert itself on steep uphill climbs and hard accelerations into freeway traffic.

No problem for me.  I did not expect a bank-vault-quiet road burner for this niche.

Fuel mileage was pretty good at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the open road.

Everything worked nicely and was within easy reach from the cockpit seat.

Styling is fairly conservative, but the front end is angular enough to look sharp when the Tucson is parked on the street.

Overall, this Tucson is a good vehicle worthy of a solid “B” grade in this niche.

And sure, if you have the money to spend on a more luxurious, horsepower-laden SUV, I’m not going to stop you.

But I’m guessing most Tucson buyers are most content with what they get, and happy that the household checkbook still has a little something left on which to live.