Monday, August 31, 2015

IndyCar's finish: Finding meaning amid the sorrow

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

Sacramento, California ­ An IndyCar season touched with pain and sorrow concluded on the twisting road course in Sonoma on Sunday.

The race was a spellbinding affair, with now four-time series champion Scott Dixon winning the season finale and snatching the IndyCar series title from Juan Pablo Montoya, who had both arms wrapped around the trophy since the beginning of the season.

Montoya came within one pass on the track – not just on Sunday, but anytime during the 2015 season – from winning the title.  Amazing.

Of course, the race was just part of the story, coming only six days after the death of Justin Wilson, the talented, 37-year-old IndyCar driver who managed to become someone rarely seen in professional sports these days – a man seemingly loved by all.  Wilson never awoke after a freakish crash in IndyCar’s 500-miler at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania on Aug. 23.

Wilson was struck in the helmet by a heavy piece of debris from another car that had crashed hard into Pocono’s outside wall.

Those involved in IndyCar racing and those who follow it were emotionally crushed by news of Wilson’s death.  From the fringes came the usual torrent of scorn, with some advocating that high-speed, open-cockpit IndyCar racing be banned.

This is nothing new.  This mating dance has been going on for decades, dating back to the first races held on the freshly built Indianapolis Motor Speedway more than a century ago.

Back in 1959, the January issue of Mechanix Illustrated had this on its cover: “U.S. Senator Says: Auto Racing is Murder!  It Must Be Outlawed.”  This was accompanied by a photo of auto racer Jim Rigsby's front-engine sprinter sailing over the wall at Dayton Speedway in Ohio, a fatal crash that occurred in 1932.  Inside the magazine, U.S. Sen. Richard Neuberger’s screed called for an end to the needless bloodshed of auto racing.

I remember a network news anchor reporting the death of IndyCar racer and two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon after a violent crash on the Las Vegas racing oval back in October 2011.  The anchor suddenly burst out: “What does this mean?”

I’ll tell you what it means.  Any human being strapped into a bullet-like, high-horsepower car capable of 230 miles per hour knows going in that there is a possibility that he or she can be horribly hurt or killed.  All IndyCar drivers, from the rawest rookie to the most savvy veteran, know this.

As violent as professional football is, I would guess that a very small minority of players – and maybe zero – go into a game with the thought, “I could die out there today.”

And this is why those who follow IndyCar racing sit in awe of those who practice it.  It seems impossible for flesh and blood to function with this fearsome knowledge, let alone dice within inches of each other in race after race.  How could anyone do that?  Seems super-human, doesn’t it?

Truth be told, IndyCar fans have a thinner skin than the fans of decades ago, and I mean that in a good way.  Back in the 1950s and 1960s, it was common to have two, three or four name drivers killed in crashes during a season.  It was accepted as a hard reality.  But over time, the geniuses of safety made the sport much safer with myriad improvements, including rubberized fuel tanks, energy-deflecting chassis materials and virtually bulletproof cockpits.

I am first to welcome improvements to current IndyCar cockpits that would make it all but impossible for shrapnel or anything else to get into the driver’s “office.”  I hope Wilson’s death does indeed prompt something of the kind.  A cockpit intrusion likewise killed Wheldon in 2011.

But understand this: The men and women who drive IndyCar machines know the score.  They crave safety, and relentlessly advocate for it.  They have no interest in banning the sport.  I would describe IndyCar’s private reaction to the most recent pleadings as quiet ridicule.

There will always be men and women who compete in violent sports to the dismay of rational-thinking people and those who, understandably, do not want to see another single person die in such endeavors.  But that basically discounts ages of human nature and the need of some to test the boundaries of human skill amid deadly serious chaos.

Justin Wilson was one of those people.  He was an incredibly good man.  But he was also a racer.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Positive changes for Hyundai's Azera sedan

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

Sacramento, California ­Devoted readers will recall that I liked the 2014 Hyundai Azera sedan I reviewed a year ago.

There’s a lot more to like in the 2015 model, inside and out.

Hyundai dug in with both hands to pour changes into this model, positioned just-right between the automaker’s midsize Sonata and the luxo-loaded, full-size Genesis.

The 2015 Azera looks sharp, with a mix of elegant sculpting on the front end and a “wanna race?” aero look in profile.  For 2015, Hyundai made changes to the grille, the front and rear bumper fascia and wheels (they’re now 18-inch alloys).  My tester, a Limited edition, got the LED fog lights.

The hands-free “Smart Trunk” opener is part of the deal.  Think of it as a new magic toy with which to entertain the neighbors.

Inside, things are comfortable very thoughtfully laid out.  I really liked the eight-inch color LCD navigation/audio display screen.  My eyes aren’t improving in my old age, after all.

Safety features are top-drawer, including the most helpful, standard blind-spot detection system, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist.  The blind-spot lookout in particular is a comfort.

Handling is light and nimble.  The 3.3-liter V-6 rated at 293 horsepower is a willing power plant and offered no hesitation in all conditions.

The starting price on the tester was $38,200, and you might be asking: Nearly 40K for this sedan?  Yes, and darn well worth it.

Happily, the changes brought forward in 2015 did not include shortening the list of standard features.  The tested Azera included a wealth of already-included perks, including leather seating, power folding/heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators and a tilt/slide sunroof.

Feeling better now?  I thought so.

Naturally, this being a Hyundai, the warranties are generous.

Fuel mileage is not so bad at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. The engine gives up a little bit in fuel for what it can deliver when your right foot is heavy.  No complaints here.

This Azera is an ideal choice for a family sedan that gets regular work over the long term, but you don’t want to drop a ton of money into the deal.  Costs about $40,000, feels more like a $50,000 car.

Can’t ask for much more than that.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Nissan's Murano stands out with panache, perks

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

Sacramento, California ­OK, this is a bit strange, but stick with me.

I recently reviewed a 2015 Nissan Pathfinder sport-utility vehicle, and this time around, I’m talking about my week in the 2015 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD sport-ute.

Despite having the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 260 horsepower and being priced fairly close together ($40,875 for the Pathfinder SL 4X4 and $43,955 for the Murano), the Murano seemed incredibly different from the Pathfinder.

Yes, I get it.  The Pathfinder and Murano are two distinct beasts.  But this Murano just felt so much more … so much more … SUBSTANTIAL.  Higher up on the food chain. A prime cut of filet on the steak menu.  Playing the big room instead of the lounge.

Know what I mean?

Maybe not, but after deep meditation and self-analysis, I came to the conclusion that I was swept up in the various changes and enhancements stuffed into the Murano, with 2015 marking the model’s third-generation debut.

Lots to talk about there.

Let’s start with the exterior design.  Nissan touts the “V-Motion front end, signature lighting and floating roofline.”  This is all well and good if you’re having drinks with a car designer and need to keep the conversation flowing, but for me, I loved the Stealth fighter angles and sculpted chops of the Murano’s body.

It might not register on the radar, but my tester drew numerous admiring glances from fellow motorists who might have been wise to keep their eyes on the road.  Still, I couldn’t fault their eyes for style.

Nissan must have blown the budget on consultants.  Hence the “NASA-inspired Zero Gravity” front and rear outboard seats.  OK, again, I’m speechless.  But I for one was comfortable, and my volunteer passengers likewise commented on comfort, and luxury.

The tester was packed with a Four Seasons Hotel level of comfort and convenience features.  Heated and cooled front seats, leather everything and a nine-speaker, blow-the-doors-off Bose audio system were particularly pleasing.

Maybe the cut-through-the-wind styling was working on my brain, but I aggressively pushed this Murano into tight spaces and around tight corners.  Every time, the Murano’s rock-solid stance put a smile on my face.

Plentiful safety features were a comfort.   The Murano can be had with four cameras and three radar sensors.  If you collide with something with all that, you really don’t have a case and should settle out of court.  Properly set, the Murano is ever on guard for blind spot intruders, panic-braking freeway fools and cruise control-disrupting lane changers.

Fuel mileage is pretty fair at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Bottom line: I still like the Pathfinder as a long road trip warrior, but if I wanted to spend my dough on an attention-grabbing, sporty-looking SUV that looks right at home parked at the country club or tearing around a sharp corner in the Sierra Nevada foothills, I’d opt for the Murano.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Aluminum-bodied Ford F-150 remains a top truck

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

Sacramento, California ­There’s big news in the American pickup truck segment, as big as it gets in recent memory.

For 2015, Ford changed things up in its F-150 pickup, the star of the automaker’s F-Series lineup that has dominated U.S. sales for nearly two generations.  The most headline-grabbing change was the addition of high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloys in the truck body.

The biggest impact of the move was trimming some 700 pounds of body weight.

Naturally, given the rough-and-tough nature of the pickup segment, you would have thought that Ford announced the introduction of bud vases to its monster-selling truck.

The mere mention of the word “aluminum” sent some into shock.

Chevrolet wasted little time offering up a TV commercial where hapless human test subjects were forced to choose between an aluminum cage and a steel cage (a reference to the primary body material in the Chevrolet Silverado pickup) when a massive, angry bear walked into the room.  Natch, the steel cage gets picked every time.

OK, I understand marketing, but if you’re choosing a pickup truck based solely on the message in that commercial … well, let’s just say that I feel sorry for you.

The truth is that the Ford F-150’s new cocktail of aluminum and steel gives the truck exceptional structural integrity.  And it’s important to remember that the aluminum used by Ford is not what your mother used to wrap up the leftover meatloaf.  It is light years beyond that.

And furthermore, the 2015 Ford truck’s towing max and payload capacity actually increased with the new skin.

Obviously, the lighter body weight equates to better gas mileage, but it’s still pretty rough.  The tested, opulently dressed up 2015 Ford F-150 4X4 SuperCrew Platinum (with the 145-inch wheelbase) was rated at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.

I noticed the lighter weight in another area: When I punched the gas on the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 rated at 365 horsepower, I was treated to acceleration that I don’t recall experiencing in previous F-150s.  And the tested truck moved up through the revs with sedan-like efficiency.  That was very impressive.

The tester was loaded with goodies and perks, but the small things caught most of my attention.  That included the thoughtful box side steps that extend or retract with pressure from your foot.  And the power running boards made it possible for me and my passengers to step up into the big truck without making fools of ourselves.

I give this 2015 F-150 a solid “A” grade, plain and simple.

Are there red flags to consider?  In truth, yes.

For starters, the bottom line on my tester was a whopping $61,650.  If you can easily wrap your head around that price for a single truck, well, you’re a much more modern-thinking gearhead than I am.  Yes, there are cheaper versions available to buyers.

And for the record, both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and conducted tests concluding that repairing the aluminum-bodied F-150 is more expensive than like repairs to its steel-bodied predecessor.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Beast in Acura TLX outpaces luxury features

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

Sacramento, CaliforniaSo, Acura seems to be getting serious again about this horsepower/performance thing.

Besides reviving the NSX supercar, Acura is offering an all-new, performance-oriented sedan for 2015.  It’s the Acura TLX, or as I call it, the performance sedan for those of us who don’t have a million dollars to facilitate purchase of the new-generation NSX.

Let me assure you, this is a good thing.  My week in the 2015 Acura TLX 3.5 SH-AWD Advance – yeah, I know, the model name is way too long – was an enjoyable one.  The performance perks overrode the luxury features, and that’s saying something in an Acura.

The 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 engine maxes at nearly 400 horsepower, and it’s strong enough to make you forget that you are driving a four-door machine.  That’s not an easy trick.  The recently reviewed Dodge Charger comes to mind as one of the few sedans on the market with enough oomph to negate the stereotype-prompting sedan label.

The TLX blazed up and down the freeways like a champ, and its nimble handling on crowded city streets was a surprise to yours truly.  Darn thing handled like a Miata.  Amazing.

It says here on the sticker that my ride was being assisted by a NINE-speed automatic transmission.  Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference.  Might as well have been an old-school four speed.  Works just as well for me.  Is the double-digit gearbox coming to mainstream America?  Probably.

The engine’s pop was matched to so-so fuel mileage numbers of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.  Translation: If you want to operate this TLX sedan as a family vacation vehicle, you can do so and get some pretty nice mileage numbers.  Or you can blow it out with the understanding that you’re going to be visiting the gas pumps more frequently.  Totally your call.

No doubt, you should smell the roses when you drive.  On that score, the TLX does not disappoint.  The super-long list of standard features on the tester included a power moonroof, a strong navigation system, heated front seats, a 10-speaker premium audio system and even a remote engine-start feature.  That’s just the short list.

For all this, the sticker read $45,595 with nary a you-pay-for-it option in sight.  Pricey? Yes.  Worth it in this segment?  Yes.

Volunteer passengers were wowed by the tester.  When I asked them to estimate the starting price, all ventured north of $50,000.  A couple weighed in at $60,000-plus.

Passengers were impressed by the audio system, ample room for normal-size adults to spread out and a quiet cabin that fostered normal-volume, thoughtful conversations.

For an automaker that has periodically struggled to separate itself from the pack with a standout luxury/performance offering, I think this new TLX is just what Acura needs.  It’s likely to appeal to a broad base of luxury sedan and performance-car buyers.

As first efforts go, the TLX is a solid “B-plus” to “A-minus” machine.  It’s certainly worth a test drive among luxury/performance sedan shoppers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Audi A3 sedan reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Audi A3 TDI sedan in the latest, August 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.