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.