Friday, June 27, 2014

Nissan's Rogue moves up from 'cute' status

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 – When the Nissan Rogue rolled out for the first time in 2008, I thought: “Now, there’s something that’s pretty cute.”

And it was marketed via social media and hip TV shows to young-ish folks – translation: younger than me – who no doubt liked the Rogue’s saucy looks and its practical size as a smallish SUV or crossover … pick your description.

So, the Rogue was completely redesigned for the 2014 model year, adding some sophistication and class without losing the cute factor.

Still, as I gazed at the nearly $30,000 starting price on my top-end 2014 Rogue SL AWD tester, I asked myself if I would be willing to drop 30-grand on it.  I mean cute only goes so far, right?

After a week in the vehicle, you know what?  I think I might be willing to pay up if I was in the market for a loaded, just-the-right-size sport-ute.

Did I say loaded?  I meant jammed to the max with enough safety, security, comfort and convenience features to keep one’s nose buried in the owner’s manual for a week.

I wasn’t really expecting standard features such as a six-way power driver’s seat with lumber support, 18-inch alloy wheels, all-season tires, hill assist, descent control, leather seating surfaces and various techno driving systems.  And yes, three-row seating for seven is available.

My tester included a $2,000 Premium Package that included a power moonroof, LED headlights, auto levelizer, blind spot warning system, lane departure warning system, forward collision warning system and moving object detection system.

Wow! Cute seems to have moved up into the penthouse over the past six years.

I wasn’t complaining.

On the fly, the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 170 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque handled most everything rather well.  No, it was not a rubber-burning road warrior, but it scooted as needed in freeway commutes and was pleasantly responsive in the drive-and-dodge maneuvers that have become staples of downtown driving.

Fuel mileage is pretty sweet at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.  Storage capacity was surprisingly generous.  My ride took on much more than I thought it would at first glance.

The lane departure warning system was way, way too sensitive for my taste.  A blindfolded passenger might have been convinced that I was on the verge of crashing the car 80 percent of the time I was piloting it.  Disable button?  Gotta have it.

Nice rework here, Nissan engineers and designers.  The Rogue was a solid “B” prior to the 2014 model year, and I’d say it has moved into “B-plus” territory in its latest skin.

I’m apparently not alone in my feelings as the 2014 Rogue has been pulling down national awards in multiple categories for months.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Psst, have you looked at the Hyundai Sonata?

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’ve probably said it a thousand times: “Have you looked at the Hyundai Sonata?”

That’s my answer to folks who ask me what I might recommend in a reliable, feature-loaded midsize sedan.  In most cases, the questioners have looked at the usual suspects and are prepared to spend around $30,000 or more for some new wheels.

Why spend that much when you can get a perk-laden Sonata?  This has been true for a long time.

Consider that a basic 2014 Sonata GLS starts at around $21,500.  Is that reasonable enough for you?  Yeah, I thought so.

But let’s climb the ladder all the way up to my recent test ride: a 2014 Sonata Limited 2.0T.  This is the top-drawer Sonata, and yet even it starts well below the $30K threshold with a starting price of $28,550.

Loaded?  Oh, my goodness, yes!

The short list of standard goodies includes leather seating surfaces, heated seats front and rear, rearview camera, blind spot-detection system, power sunroof, exterior mirror-mounted turn signal indicators and a full boat of audio excess.

And for the 2014 model year, the Sonata changed for the better.

Exterior sculpting tweaks give the car a more-aggressive and aerodynamic look, and the aforementioned list of comfort/convenience/safety features includes some new arrivals.  That means the Sonata can be had with more than it’s ever had before.

The four-cylinder turbo engine is a thrill-ride plus.  Besides a wonderfully racy exhaust note, my tester was quick out of the blocks and instantly responsive when making maneuvers during freeway commutes.  The Sonata tackled climbs and twisters with rock-solid ease.  I never felt like I was on the edge of control even when I was asking a lot of the car.

Despite the turbo jolt, fuel mileage comes in pretty fair at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the open road.

The tester also came with Hyundai’s “Driver Selectable Steering Modes” system, which is a fancy way of saying that you have a choice or comfort, normal and sport modes to make your driving experience what you wish.

For some reason, I kept edging into the sport mode, which relentlessly put a smile on my face.

Look, I know other hugely popular midsize sedan offerings offer much of what the 2014 Sonata has, but frankly, Hyundai dishes up huge portions of perks for a price that often defies logic.  Oh, and you get Hyundai’s super warranties in the deal as well.

No wonder folks come back to me and say: “Hey, thanks for the tip on the Hyundai.  I had no idea I could get that much car for the money.”

No problem.  Now you know.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ford Escape: Quality SUV for a practical 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 – The Ford Escape is an understandable favorite of the pragmatic auto buyer … a versatile sport-utility vehicle for those who are nauseated at the thought of paying $35,000 or more for an SUV.

Even my tester, the 2014 Escape Titanium 4WD, loaded to the max, barely scraped above the $35,000 threshold, showing $35,470 on the sticker’s bottom line.  The Titanium 4WD is the most expensive of the five Escape trim levels; the base S version with front-wheel drive starts at the serious bargain-basement price of $23,100.

Here’s the thing: Across the board, the Escape is solid.  You’re not settling for cheap, because the vehicle doesn’t feel or act cheap.  Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Consumer, you’re getting a good deal here.

No wonder Ford sells a lot of Escapes.

My tester looked sharp riding on 18-inch aluminum wheels and sporting some finely cut architecture on the front end and sides.  Stepping inside, a comfortable high-riding position in the cockpit was made to feel more secure by a strong 360-degree viewing area.

Blind spot concerns were handled by a detection system that came with a special $1,735 equipment package.  Active Park Assist also came with that.  Interesting, but I probably could have done without it.  Old school?  Yeah, you got me.

My ride also came with a $795 navigation system.  If I was buying, it’s likely that I would indeed opt for this, especially if I was investing for the long-term.

Standard features were pretty generous, including heated front seats, leather trim, a perimeter alarm and a rear view camera.  Technology systems on this model are plentiful and fun to play with.

Did I happen to mention that one of the options on my tester was a 2-liter, turbo 4 with 240 horsepower?  Oh my, that was nice.  Made this Escape feel like a Mercedes.

Handling was agile and easy, and four-wheel bite was exceptional when conditions made it a priority.

In truth, I almost felt like this Escape was overpowered, but I was so spoiled by the performance that I quickly banned such negative thoughts from my brain and simply enjoyed the ride.  Even with the power, fuel mileage was not too bad at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Passengers who volunteered to ride along said they had plenty of room and considered the ride a smooth one.  Interior cabin noise was minimal.

This Escape is a solid B-plus vehicle, and even at the top trim level, it offers a lot to motorists who need utility and versatility.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Trailhawk knows true meaning of off-road

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

Sacramento, California Most of us who review motor vehicles fail to subject four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicles to challenging off-road tests … We smile inwardly and think, “I’m not taking somebody’s $30,000-$40,000 SUV over the rocks, possibly creating damage that might end up being repaired with money out of my pocket.

That’s common sense, but my first 15 seconds in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4X4 told me that I was in the cockpit of a five-passenger vehicle made to take on the toughest mountain/forest trails.

You see a prominent “Trail Rated” badge on the Trailhawk’s skin, and then you glance down to see an in-cockpit dial that gives you these options: AUTO, SNOW, SPORT, SAND/MUD and ROCK.  Plus you get a choice of specialty cruise controls.

Then you move on to the NINE-speed transmission and features that include off-road suspension, electronic roll mitigation, specialized speed control, a special terrain system, all-speed traction control, hill descent control, brake stability control, hill start assist and trailer sway damping.  Throw in the 17-inch all-terrain tires that look capable of climbing up the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and you get the message: This is a SUPER-SERIOUS off-road performer.

Alas, my humble off-pavement excursions in the tested Trailhawk posed virtually no challenge at all to this muscular ride. I might as well have challenged Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt to a footrace.

And yet, the Trailhawk’s obvious outdoor ruggedness was surprisingly offset by its good manners on paved surfaces.  Even riding on all-terrain tires, the highway cruising ride of the Trailhawk was pleasingly smooth.  The 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 184 horsepower stepped up nicely in freeway commuting, and the power plant was a quick responder, when asked, in dicey downtown traffic.

Surprise, the fuel mileage numbers are better than you might expect out of this package: 21 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

Keep in mind that the Cherokee has been brought back to replace the Liberty, and my initial response to this is a shouted “BRAVO.”  The Liberty was OK, but it did not offer much in the way of heart-pumping excitement.  By comparison, the tested Trailhawk raised my pulse shortly after I backed it out of a parking spot for the first time.

The base price on the tester was just short of $30,000, but a generous helping of optional equipment (including a $1,895 comfort/convenience package that included a power liftgate, a remote-start system, rear back-up camera and an eight-way power driver’s seat) boosted the sticker’s bottom line to $34,625.

I’ve noticed that the Cherokee has been getting awards from people who do stuff like drive up into the Rocky Mountains, so I’m guessing that its to-the-max off-road gear is living up the expectations of hardcore dirt-and-rock drivers. Well, you won’t get an argument from me. I’m convinced.

I enjoyed my relatively civilized week in the Trailhawk and highly recommend it to folks whose idea of getting gone is heading deep into the woods, driving over streams or climbing over rocky surfaces.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Infiniti coupe is reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2014 Infiniti Q60 Coupe Journey in the latest, June 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.