Friday, April 24, 2015

ProMaster City: a compact conveyance of convenience

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

Sacramento, California – I’ve always said that I will review anything, which mostly explains why a 2015 Ram ProMaster City wagon showed up at my door recently.

If that motor vehicle model doesn’t jump to mind right away, think florist shop delivery truck.

Coming off a week in a 2015 Dodge Challenger, the delivery of the ProMaster City was quite the leap.  Think parallel universe this time around.

And yet, for what it is, the ProMaster City is all good.

First off, it’s the all-new-for-2015 baby brother of the Ram ProMaster, a seriously larger van that gets a 3.6-liter V-6.  With that super-size ProMaster, you can carry your entire business around in the back end or pull it down the road (it has towing/hauling capacities exceeding 5,000 pounds).

The ProMaster City is the smaller, more practical offering, powered by a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, 178-horsepower engine.

Ram describes the ProMaster City as “all business.”  And that’s spot-on.

For small business operators and carriers of moderate quantities of cargo, the ProMaster City is a compact conveyance of convenience.

Double hinged doors open wide at the back to a generous, open cargo area in which I could darn near stand up, keeping in mind that I’m 6-4.  As luck would have it, I actually was transporting flowers during my test week, and a nearly five-foot-tall rosebush easily loaded into the back end with plenty of head clearance.

So, that empty back end must have translated to a lack of rear wheel grip on hard, fast corners, right?  Actually, not so much.  I could feel just the slightest touch of back wheel hop in these situations, but at no time did I feel that I was coming close to losing control of the vehicle.

The ProMaster City’s handling was, frankly, more in line with what I’ve experienced in some minivans.  Simply put, it handled just fine in my hands.

The tester started at $24,130, but my ride was dressed up with extras that included a 5-inch touchscreen display that incorporated the image from a rearview camera.  Bottom line on my ProMaster City was $27,590.  Controls were within easy reach from my cockpit seat.

Accelerations were not exactly brisk, but performance was fully in line with what I’d expect from a 178-horsepower four-banger.  In the never-ending pursuit of more gears, the 948TE FWD automatic gearbox had nine, count-’em, nine speeds.

Fuel mileage is a pretty good at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

One other thing I noticed: Door locks and seat belt warnings registered INSTANTLY in this ride, seemingly happening via some kind of unseen mental message sent by my brain.  Clever, those Ram engineers.

This is a solid “B” business vehicle, and seriously, not a bad ride as a secondary household errand runner.  If I ever go into business for myself, I must just get a fleet of a dozen.

Friday, April 17, 2015

All the pluses add up in Nissan's Altima

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

Sacramento, California – Nissan calls the Altima its “cornerstone.”

That’s certainly appropriate.  The sedan is the automaker’s No. 1-selling vehicle up and down the line, and it does quite well in the United States.

Invariably, I run into lovers of Toyota, General Motors, Honda and Ford sedans who ask me: “What’s the big deal about the Altima?”

I think my best answer is: It does and has a lot that motorists take for granted.

Let’s run down the columns, shall we?

First off, it looks good. The tested 2015 Altima 2.5 SV came off as a shapely sedan parked in my driveway, wearing “Cayenne Red” paint.  “Nice car,” some folks said as they walked by.

“You’re right,” I answered.  “And have I told you that you have good taste?”

The price is right, a starting figure of $24,720 on the tested model, which was seriously dressed up with Convenience and Technology packages.  Even those raised the bottom line to a still-affordable $28,180.

The interior is comfortable, with a good range of vision from the cockpit, and pretty fair room for those seated behind driver and front-seat passenger.  A generous lineup of comfort and convenience features is thoughtfully displayed, easily reached and quickly understood.

The ride is nice.  Just the right touch on the steering, and the continuously variable transmission was a seamless operator in my time behind the wheel.  Horsepower from the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine is not tire-shredding – it's around 180 – but it’s strong enough to handle the great majority of city/highway chores.  Relatively little engine noise reached the tester's cockpit, even during aggressive accelerations.

I confess that I love the 3.5-liter V-6 (270 horsepower) that can be had in the Altima 3.5 versions.  It’s one peppy power plant.  But I’m guessing that most prudent sedan buyers will be content with the Altima 2.5-liter engine.

Fuel mileage with the 2.5 is superb: 27 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.  Those are numbers that you can take to the savings bank.

About the only thing I did not like about my tester was its super-sensitive lane departure warning system, which seemed to be monitoring my at-the wheel performance by the quarter inch.  I routinely disabled it, which lowered my blood pressure dramatically.

Bottom line, the 2015 Altima is a solid “B” to “B-plus” car, offering myriad perks for buyers looking for a sensibly priced sedan.

Can’t ask for much more than that.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mercedes-Benz SL550 reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz SL550 in the latest, April 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.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

New Lexus RC 350 is molten hot, and more

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 March 2015 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Right away, I wondered about the official name of the paint job on the new-for-2015 Lexus RC 350 coupe dropped off for me to try.

It was “Molten Pearl,” appropriate for a color that looked like a hybrid of lava and competition orange.  And yes, the see-it-in-the-dark skin made the low-riding, sleek sports car look like a purpose-built racer.

Paint some numbers on the hood and the sides, I imagine I could have driven it onto the track at Daytona without anybody raising a hand.

Lexus wanted to build a luxury-sport coupe to stand out from the crowd, and let me assure you that they hit that mark dead-center.  On looks alone, the tested RC 350 with the F SPORT package (19-inch wheels, a nav system and super-sporty touches all the way around in a nearly $4,000 option package) would give most performance-craving drivers an itch to lay down some serious cash.  For my ride, the bottom line was $53,140.

The core of the machine is a 3.5-liter, 24-valve, dual-overhead-cam V-6 producing 306 horsepower and 277 foot-pounds of torque.  When right foot is mashed to the floor, there is a most-satisfying growl from the power plant, and the RC 350 easily dispatches pokes on city streets and open highways.

It is nothing short of a fantastic freeway cruiser, because you not only get the horsepower rush, but the frame is sport-tuned to perfection.  Not a wiggle to be found as you’re pushing the car to speeds that might get you in trouble if the right folks are watching.

And yet, be advised that you can turn down the dial to an “ECO” level.  For those who buy sporty transportation for the fuel mileage – and I have no idea who you are – the RC 350 will make 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Certain civilized things are part of the package, including a helpful blind spot monitor doing duty on both sides of the car.  When the RC 350 is cutting through the traffic, the last thing you want is to be clipped from the side.  The Lexus system, happily, works instantly and is not jarring with too much warning noise.

Less-than-all-out acceleration is smooth and even, a plus when you’re trying to play nice and not draw too much attention to yourself.   I found all-around vision from the cockpit to be somewhat limited, but again, the blind spot monitor made me feel secure when I was putting the car through its paces.

Interior luxury is Lexus-level all the way.  Loved the wood trim in particular.  I did struggle with a center console-mounted touchpad that controlled, among various things, the audio settings.  My stubby fingers managed to send the on-screen cursor into wild gyrations that I’m sure would have generated laughter from Lexus engineers had they been watching.  Let’s just say it took some time for me to get the rhythm of it.

I should point out that there is very little room in the back seat area once the front seats are adjusted for normal-size adults.  I’m not sweating that too much, because this molten mover is not exactly family transportation.

The RC 350 is meant to be unwound and allowed to rip the straights and saw off the corners with effortless sporty attitude.  And it does that quite well.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Volvo's V60 wagon is big on sporty vigor

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

Sacramento, California – Volvo has introduced a new V60 sport wagon, and it’s heavy on the sport part.

My 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 AWD R-Design showed up wearing write-me-up red exterior paint, and at first glance, I took it as a smallish wagon.

A few minutes behind the wheel had me forgetting all about that smallish reference.

Power comes from a 3-liter turbocharged, six-cylinder engine rated at 325 horsepower and 354 foot-pounds of torque.

That equates to zero to 60 miles per hour in a short and sweet 5.5 seconds, but for me, the blast was not in the numbers but the feel.

Swinging it down the entrance ramp onto Interstate 80 was not the normal experience as the V60 dug in and was in full, glued-to-the-road performance mode in what seemed like an eye-blink.  Surrounding cars just fell away, or so it seemed.

Lots of people boast about cars that do this.  In truth, very few actually do it in spades.  So, the V60 had my attention right off the bat.

Performance is impressive on freeway straights, uphill runs and twisty country roads.  The car does not put a foot wrong, even when the driver is endeavoring to make that happen.

Volvo’s touted “Corner Traction Control through Torque Vectoring” might need an hour of explaining from a top automotive engineer.  But I figured it out with one 65 mph rip around a sharp, uphill corner in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Fun to drive, for sure, but what about the practical stuff?

It turns out that the V60 is quite comfortable from the cockpit seat, and the rear boot has ample space for the cargo that most of us carry.  If you want to tow a big boat, this isn’t your vehicle, but if you do a lot of weekend road trips, you’ll probably be happy with this vehicle’s size.

Back seat passengers told me they did feel cramped amid a full load of travelers.  A couple of them complained that you had to duck your head dramatically when entering the vehicle, lest you belt the frame with you melon.  Just saying.

The tester had a liberal dose of safety, luxury, comfort and convenience features in the true Volvo tradition.  It had enough stuffed in it to justify its starting price of $45,150, in my view.

I will say that it takes some confidence to launch a sport wagon in the hugely competitive U.S. market these days, and I wonder how many buyers Volvo will lure to the lots with its V60.  From my experience, this V60 deserves to be on a prospective buyer’s test-drive list.

There are other well-known sport wagons out there, but you’re missing something if you overlook this one.  This V60 is a strong new offering, getting a rock-solid “B” grade from me.