Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sienna's wonders arrive a little late for reviewer

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website

Sacramento, California – I can’t remember the last time I reviewed a minivan.  I’m serious.

Minivans are the punch lines to many an automotive joke these days, looked upon as some relic of baby boomer vacations past.

I’m not in that joke-cracking crowd, and to be honest, I looked at the recently tested 2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium front-driver with no small amount of wistfulness.  In my head, I thought: “Where were you when I really needed you?

Sure, I rented minivans for various family outings when the kids were small.  But they weren’t anything like this primo Sienna.

The tester had room eight passengers and side doors that could be powered open/closed with the push of a button on the key fob.  Interior space was generous.  Wall-to-wall leather.  Power features to the max. A rear seat entertainment system offered dual-view screenings of Blu-Ray discs.


Just think how much easier this would have made a daylong drive with the kids back in the day.  Yeah, you young families don’t know how good you have it these days, by cracky!

All this rolling family fun and luxury doesn’t come cheap.  The tested Sienna started at $39,680, but it was sufficiently stuffed with enough features to justify that price.

The Sienna's 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 266 horsepower is not a tire-shredder, but I think most will find it more than adequate for the tasks required of a minivan.

Fuel mileage ratings are, shall we say, somewhat UGH!   The Sienna drinks the fuel at a rate of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.  With California gas prices currently rising at the approximate speed of nuclear fission, that’s something to consider at the dealership.

The Sienna’s design is classic minivan, but I was definitely struck at how low it rides.  Kids and various small adults can climb into the thing without damaging shins or overstretching thigh muscles.  Good to know.

Interior audio projection was most impressive, the better to keep your young passengers sufficiently focused and entertained while the driver handles the important motoring chores.  Also worth noting: a large army of airbags all around the interior.

In sum, the Sienna is a four-star example of the rather remarkable evolution of minivans over the past generation or so.

But I’m still asking: “Where have you been all my life, beautiful?”

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Honda's Civic quietly maintains its excellence

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website

Sacramento, California – Two years back, I test drove a 2013 Honda Civic EX sedan.  After being Civic-less for about 24 months, I recently test drove a 2015 Honda Civic EX-L sedan.

A lot happened in between.

Well, a lot happened if you consider that Honda took an affordable, reliable, hugely popular car and stuffed it with a host of improvements inside and out for the 2014 model year.

Not many people get excited about the Civic, until they have to consider getting a car for their going-to-school child, or buy a second vehicle for their household, or recommend a passenger car to a neighbor who is seeking safe, solid transportation for the right price.

On such occasions, the Civic’s otherwise vanilla reputation turns to solid gold.

Car-crazy California likes the Civic. Nearly 68,000 new Civic registrations were recorded in the state last year, making the Civic the Golden State’s third-most-popular new-car buy in 2014, trailing only the Honda Accord and Toyota Prius, respectively, in a close horse race.

What do I like about the Civic?

It never disappoints.  Over decades of reviewing motor vehicles, I’ve been routinely slapped down by rattles, discomforts, poor engineering, poor control placements and (insert your own favorite gripe here) that go with driving a new ride.

You don’t get that with a Civic, which is a good place to start when you're pondering its coast-to-coast popularity.

The recently tested Civic EX-L with a navigation system was stuffed with gotta-have’-em features that included four-wheel disc brakes, leather-trimmed seats and heated front seats.  A continuously variable transmission is also standard on this most-expensive version of the seven Civic sedan trim levels.

All those goodies must have sent the vehicle's cost through the roof, right?  How about a starting price of $24,340 for the whole package?  Yeah, that’s a steal, given what is in the car.

And if you’re doing in the economic math in your head right now, throw in 30 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.

On the go, the Civic is agile and easy to handle.  It zips around and through city traffic effortlessly.  The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine is rated at 143 horsepower, but on the open road, it felt like a lot more than that to me.

My Civic accelerated briskly and whistled into tight commuter-traffic holes with very little weight applied by my right foot.  It was a comfortable, everyday cruiser in every way.  A weekend fun car, too?  You bet.

Safety ratings?  Strong as usual.

Sure, this is small car at a small price, and it’s not going to win many contests for super-sporty looks.  Thing is, most folks aren’t looking for those things.  Most are looking for something like a Civic.

And in that school, the 2015 Civic sedan gets an “A” grade.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Swedish surprise: A Volvo with plentiful pop

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews of the latest motor vehicle models also can be seen on The Sacramento Bee’s website at

This review originally appeared in the December 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Say Volvo to most folks, and you’re likely to get that “you must be ready to retire” look, or your listener offers up some spoken words, like: “Well, I hear they’re really, really safe cars.”

Sure, be that way.  I don’t mind.  And yeah, Volvo cars really are super-safe driving machines, and folks enjoying their retirement years in style do tend to like them.

But scrap those stereotypes for a few minutes and take a ride with me in the 2015.5 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E sedan.  Mine was the front-drive version starting at $39,000.

Sedate is not this car’s signature.  In fact, I had a prolonged blast putting this Volvo through spirited runs on the flats, in the hills and on tight city streets.   The 302-horsepower, 2-liter power plant employs both a supercharger and a turbo to provide a heart-pounding rush when you nail the accelerator.

Talk about a Swedish surprise.  This is no country club loafer.  It’s a genuine performer, definitely not your standard Volvo fare.

So, you might think that this muscular engine would offer lousy fuel mileage.  You’d be wrong.  It came in at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.  Nice.

Fuel mileage is undoubtedly helped by the standard start/stop technology that takes the sedan’s drivetrain heartbeat down to near zero when the car is stopped at a light.  This is not one of my favorite features as it always feels like the car has stalled out, and there’s an uncomfortable, balky sensation in those first couple of seconds when it gets going again.

Otherwise, steering was instantly responsive, and the paddle shifters made for a good time on twisty roads when traffic was light.

An eight-speed gearbox is standard, and a rigid suspension made the car feel solid and secure even on corners taken at grip-challenging speeds.

Volvo apparently wasn’t satisfied with reworking the S60 for the 2015 model year, so the automaker threw more at it for the semi-mythical 2015.5 model.  The mid-model-year touches include sound system and convenience feature upgrades.  Works for me.  I don’t go around telling folks that my car is a half-year ahead of theirs anyway.

The tester was pretty seriously dressed up.  A $3,750 Platinum package of extras included a Harmon Kardon premium sound system, power retractable exterior mirrors, adaptive cruise control and rear park-assist camera.  Then there was another 900 bucks for 19-inch diamond-cut wheels.  Throw in another $900 for a blind spot-warning system.  By the time all the extras were added up, the bottom line was $46,525.  Well, I never said it was cheap.

But hey, it looks pretty good, in a somewhat understated, sporty way.  You’re not going to mistake it for a Mercedes, although the tester might have given some M-B products a good run in the quarter-mile.

Overall, this is a “B-plus” car offering hours of comfort and driving enjoyment for those who can afford the bottom line.  Consider the car’s robust performance a four-star bonus.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reworked Honda Fit reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Honda Fit EX-L in the latest, February 2015, 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.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Lexus IS 250 hits all the right notes

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website

Sacramento, California – OK, so the 2015 Lexus IS 250 sedan is not the IS 350, but what’s a few thousand dollars and 100 horsepower between friends?

As for me, I enjoyed my time in the rear-drive version of the IS 250.  It’s the least-expensive version of all the IS trim levels, starting at $36,550.

Let me repeat that: You get a LEXUS for under 37-grand.  You’re feeling better already, right?

My ride was dressed up with some $4,000 in extra goodies that, naturally, I was in no position to refuse.  Most of the coin was taken up by a sophisticated navigation system, and I was also happy to have a back-up camera, parking assist and fierce-looking 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

On the fly, this Lexus packs more than enough punch with the 2.5-liter V-6 rated at a max 204 horsepower.  Fuel mileage is OK at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.  Fun can be had snapping those steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters on a sunny day on the open road.

This being a Lexus, even at the relatively bargain-basement price, the IS 250 is loaded up with lots of smile-prompting features.
The dual chrome exhausts and big-mouth grille add just the right touch of sportiness to a generally classy-looking chassis.

On-board safety systems promise to do everything up to cradling you in giant arms in the event of an accident.

You get a choice of operating modes.  Take your pick of Eco, Normal, Sport and Snow.

The driver is spoiled the most with a 10-way power, two-way lumbar, heated seat.  Vision from that seat is excellent.  Easy-to-use controls, although I struggled a bit with audio settings, are within easy reach.

Back seat room was just fine, thank you.  Ditto on the cargo space.

The ride is silky smooth, even at high revs, which is something I absolutely expect from a piece of hardware wearing a Lexus badge.  The steering fee was just right.  Balance and road feel were rock-solid.

Overall, I experienced no surprises and felt general automotive happiness in my time with the IS 250.  No IS 350 envy from me.