Thursday, September 24, 2015

Reworked Honda Pilot competes well in SUV crowd

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

Sacramento, California ­– It has been an awful week of bad news in the auto industry, but thankfully, my week in the totally-reworked-for-2016 Honda Pilot sport-utility vehicle was pleasant.

Honda engineers somehow made the big, three-row Pilot bigger but lighter than the previous generation, and they incorporated numerous interior features to warm the hearts of drivers, adult passengers and kids.  No small accomplishment, that.

My tester was a top-level Elite with all-wheel drive.  Elite versions of the Pilot get second-row captain’s chairs (with heat), 20-inch wheels, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel and a panoramic glass roof.

That’s a very short list of standard features filling the window sticker.  Browsing the sticker brings other eyebrow-raising touches, including a nine-speed automatic transmission.

Did I mention paddle shifters?  Yeah, I had those too.

On comfort/convenience features alone, the 2016 Pilot Elite stacks up well against luxury-laden SUVs produced by rival manufacturers.  And when equipped with the optional front crash-prevention system, the Pilot gets a 2015 Top Safety Pick shout-out from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The IIHS honors are the cherry on top of a long list of other safety perks, including a lane departure-warning system, a brake-assist system and adaptive cruise control.

The tested Pilot was powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 280 horsepower.  In most situations, the power plant responded quickly and performed admirably.  On steep hill climbs, however, I could feel it laboring, with a fair amount of engine noise snaking its way into the passenger cabin.

Fuel mileage for a three-row SUV is pretty fair at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

Exterior styling on the Pilot is aerodynamic enough to please the eye, but it’s an undeniable SUV at first glance.  Interior plugs and ports can handle most of the electronic carry-alongs, including iPads, smartphones and game consoles.

Having tested a string of SUVs of late, I think the Pilot is a worthy competitor in the crowd, and I’m guessing its long-term sales success will boil down to buyers’ very specific personal preferences.  With my tester wearing a hefty bottom-line sticker price of $47,300, REALLY liking the vehicle is going to be a top priority in my view.

Likely buyers include families with solid middle-class-or-above incomes, business fleets and urban commuters who spend serious hours on home-to-work runs, longing for those weeks when they can take the family on a long driving vacation, made all the more pleasant with the interior comforts and entertainment features of their smooth-cruising Pilot.

One feature I did not relish on the tester was the automatic “idle stop” feature, which cuts the engine during a prolonged stop.  I realize this saves on fuel consumptions, but sometimes, the technology delivered a significant jolt on restart, like getting a firm shove from behind.  I don’t know if the size of the vehicle came into play on that, or not.  Simply put, I disabled the system with the push of a button, and that needs to be done every time the vehicle is started up.

Otherwise, this new Pilot has the juice to fly high in the sizable SUV segment.  I give it a solid “B” grade.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Audi A3 TDI eats up the road at full song

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

Sacramento, CaliforniaHey, that’s a cute little Audi, I thought.

Yes, the 2015 Audi A3 TDI sedan front-driver with a six-speed “S tronic” transmission is all that.  You want to walk up and pet the thing, such a sweet little Audi sedan.  Whooooozza good boy?!

Appearances, however, tell only part of the story in this 2015 introduction.  This is a racy-looking sedan with a starting price of $32,600, which is relatively affordable for an Audi.

The elegant interior is attractive and thoughtfully turned out.

The biggest surprise comes on the fly.  The sticker tells you that power comes from a 2-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel, and in my mind, that meant that I could expect something close to minimum performance.

Turns out I was wrong.

Stomping the accelerator hard brought little excitement.  When the revs picked up, however, it was another ballgame.  The slight turbo lag was followed by an entirely pleasing turbo blast that was, frankly, somewhat unique.

I’ve driven turbos that press you into your seat and those that snap your neck and those that squeal the tires.  The A3’s turbo reaction was immediate forward propulsion with no distracting extras.  No fuss, no muss, no waste.  It just starts eating up the road.

This was news from a power plant advertised at a max 150 horsepower.  Maybe there was some kind of mistake at the factory, I thought.  Repeated trips on the throttle with my right foot continued to produce the same results.

Here’s the best way I can describe it:  The turbo kick-in provided the distinctive sensation as though I had grabbed the road in my bare hands and just started reeling it in at super speed.  Something like a giant pulling in a fire hose.

 And it wasn’t just the initial blast.  The tested A3 continued to dig in as it climbed up the rev ladder and zipped up to and around fast-moving cars with remarkable, unvarnished oomph.  Amazing.

Needless to say, it was fun to drive.  And my ride was dressed up with nearly $7,000 in extras, including a posh $2,600 navigation system, 18-inch/10-spoke wheels and nicely place aluminum enhancements.  I also liked the dual chrome exhausts paired together at the left rear of the vehicle.

Besides zip, the disc brakes were instant stoppers, a crash-saving plus during my test drive when a seemingly insane driver decided to rip across my bow at something like 50 miles per hour in a crowded suburban mall parking lot.

The “S tronic” transmission gives you the option of full automatic operation or do-it-yourself trips through the gearbox.

Fuel mileage ratings are stellar at 31 miles per gallon in the city and 43 mpg on the highway.

One thing not carefully considered was the placement of dual cupholders at the front of the center console, positioned hard against the climate controls.  Putting even a small Thermos-style coffee container there pretty much wiped out driver/passenger control of the system.  One time, on a hard braking maneuver, my coffee container leaned forward enough to turn off the system.  Seems like a small thing, but really, it was annoying.

Otherwise, this is an exceptional entry-level luxury sedan with surprising performance characteristics that also make it decidedly sporty.  I’d call it the little hot-rod sedan with a little something extra.  It’s certainly worth a test drive at your local purveyor of Audis.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Turbo VW Beetle reviewed in the latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T coupe in the latest, September 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.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Improved Acura RDX is a loaded, enjoyable SUV

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

Sacramento, California ­Another one of my favorite sport-utility vehicles gets a major reworking for the 2016 model year.

My recent week in the 2016 Acura RDX AWD with Advance Package, wearing a bottom line of $44,340 on the sticker, gave me time to catch up with all the upgrades and enhancements.  And yes, those are plentiful, pushing the RDX to a level far above its 2007 introduction.

The exterior look is bumped up with exotic-looking “Jewel Eye” LED headlights, super-sporty grille sculpting and new alloy wheel designs (18-inchers on the tester).  It’s unmistakably an SUV on first glance, but you get the impression it’s capable of a high-velocity romp.

And you’d be right to think that, with a more powerful, yet more efficient 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 279 horsepower.  Fuel mileage is pretty fair at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

The tester was aggressive off the line and remarkably nimble at freeway speed.  I had the option of paddle shifting through the gears, and given the vehicle’s sophisticated handling characteristics, I’m guessing many RDX buyers will opt to have fun with the paddles.

I’ve been in a string of SUVs of late, and I must confess that this one topped the list in terms of driving ease and enjoyment.  No surprises, rock-solid suspension and nary a rattle to be found.  Truly, an enjoyable ride.

The “Advance Package” designation simply translates to “really loaded.”  Parking sensors, auto-dimming side mirrors, remote engine start and a lengthy list of high-tech safety features are part of the deal.

Interior space also has grown for the 2016 model year, a move appreciated by my passengers, who spent a lot of time playing with the interior gadgetry.  There’s a ton of that, so much that I literally could not get to all of it in a week.  Somehow, with so much communications technology in the RDX, I think I missed an opportunity to order a Chicago-style pizza and have it delivered to my driveway by helicopter.

Maybe next time.

The list of traditional standard luxury features is long and includes heated front seats, a driver’s 10-way power seat, a power moonroof and a power tailgate.  But again, the high-tech linking, communication, navigation and audio systems on this SUV make you feel that you are driving a state-of-the-art 2016 luxury/performance machine.

I can’t imagine parting with the RDX once I had it in my possession.  It has that much to like.

Therefore, it’s a no-brainer “A” of a vehicle.   And 2016 is already looking pretty fantastic.