Monday, November 23, 2015

In the end, a most-deserving NASCAR champion

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

Sacramento, California ­– When it was all said and done Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kyle Busch emerged as a most-deserving NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.

No question, it’s likely that most of NASCAR Nation wanted Jeff Gordon to polish off his last campaign with a storybook finish, pulling in a fifth championship.

But frankly, the first title for Busch was the more remarkable story.

His comeback over a single season ranks as perhaps the greatest in motorsports history. Only Niki Lauda’s comeback to nearly claim the 1976 Formula One world championship after suffering hideous burns in the German Grand Prix that same year comes close.

Busch’s February in Florida was light years removed from his Sunday evening in the Sunshine State.

Nine months ago, Busch broke his right leg and left foot in a brutal crash in the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.  He would be laid up for weeks, missing the Daytona 500 and 10 more Sprint Cup Series races before coming back.

That interval between races typically is reduced to one sentence.  But if you’ve ever had to rehab broken bones on both legs, you know that what occurred during Busch’s absence from the track was nothing short of torture.  Rehab from those injuries involves sweat, blood, pain and depression.  And in Busch’s case, determination.  A ton of it.

I had written him off seconds after he smashed into the inside wall at Daytona.  I was wrong.

Just getting back into the car within the year would have been an accomplishment.  Keep in mind, the pain of broken-leg injuries doesn’t go away when you’re mobile again.  It lingers.  So, just imagine trying to dance on the pedals of a heavy NASCAR machine in the heat of competition with that going on.

Instead of just showing up, Busch quickly went on a tear, winning four races.  Incredibly, he somehow managed to climb from the depths of the well into the sunlight.

He makes the Chase.  Yet not much conversation centered on Busch as NASCAR’s “playoffs” unfolded.

Instead, most attention was centered on suspicious yellow flags and the mind-numbing Matt Kenseth-Joey Logano “duel.”   It was disheartening to watch.  Kyle Busch?  He just kept driving.  And advancing.

On Sunday, back in Florida nine months after leaving it in pain, Busch quickly established himself as one of two drivers with enough juice to win the race and 2015 series title.  The other was defending series champ Kevin Harvick.

But it became apparent to me as the laps wore down that Busch had Harvick covered, and Busch wasn’t giving up the title unless the track suddenly disappeared into a giant sinkhole.

Great story?  Absolutely.

Do I still believe that NASCAR needs to tweak its playoff system to avoid elimination of Cup contenders as a result of accidental or deliberate crashes?  Yes.

NASCAR has several months to work on it.  As for Busch, I think he’s earned some quality family time.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Something new, and good, from Lexus

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

Sacramento, California ­– The 2015 Lexus NX was introduced early this year, and it proceeded to draw rave reviews from some highly respected auto experts.

Having recently spent a week in the 200t F Sport version of the crossover SUV, I finally understand what all the excitement is about.

First off, it’s not your typical Lexus at first glance.

Angular sculpting touches, particularly on the bottom half of the vehicle in profile, make it look like some super-sporty Mercedes-Benz prototypes I’ve seen in years past.

This being a Lexus and taking in its Stealth jet fighter lines, I assumed my ride probably came in at around $50,000.

Not even close.  The starting price was a very reasonable $36,580.  And even with the classy F Sport package touches and a generous round of extras – including a power tilt/sliding moonroof – the bottom line was a still easy on the eyes $43,230.

The NX represents a series of firsts for Lexus.  First compact crossover.  First turbocharged gasoline engine.  First luxo compact crossover that looks like it could take on a Nissan Z.

OK, I made up that last one, but you go with your gut sometimes.

On the fly, the 2-liter, 4-cylinder turbo engine rated at 235 horsepower was an enthusiastic power driver.  Response durng aggressive accelerations into tight quarters was excellent.  Steering characteristics were likewise superb.

Also, it’s a true crossover…that is to say that it handles like a sedan but gives you all the interior seating space and cargo room that you need for the basic chores in urban, suburban and rural settings.  I’m not sure I’d use it as a ranch vehicle, but frankly, I think this NX is up to the task.

Interior amenities are satisfyingly Lexus-like.

Controls are easy to understand and use.  The interior cabin is comfortable and quiet.  The vehicle feels luxurious just stepping into it.  After some time on the road, you’re feeling positively spoiled.  Shouldn't we be paying more for all this?  It occurred to me.

The F Sport package gives you the additional perks of a sport-tuned suspension and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.  Lots of fun to be had here.

By the way, the 2016 NX model comes off the line virtually unchanged from the 2015 intro vehicle.

Imagine my surprise when I read that Lexus geared the NX to a “social, highly engaged, youthful audience.”

OK, so they missed my demographic by a mile.  No harm, no foul.

I still enjoyed the NX immensely.  It’s a solid addition to an already outstanding vehicle lineup from Lexus.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Acura's MDX has racy looks, earnest oomph

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

Sacramento, CaliforniaI see on the schedule that I am due to receive the 2016 Acura MDX with all-wheel drive and a ton of special extras.

And while getting a luxury sport-utility vehicle wearing a $58,000 sticker price is certainly something special, it doesn’t get the heart racing like, say, a Corvette or a wickedly overpowered Mustang.

A three-row, seven-passenger SUV doesn’t have that kind of spice and … What the ????!!!

My MDX tester (PHOTO by Charles Glover) shows up in all its silver paint splendor, and I see right away that it’s equipped with a NINE-speed automatic transmission and an upgraded AWD system, wearing the name Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.  The front end of the thing has a grille-by-NASCAR look and that is accentuated to the max by a string of “Jewel Eye” LED headlights.

Further inspection of this seriously-made-over-for-2016 model reveals push-button gear shifting (I can hear the purists howling from here!!!) and a four-wheel independent suspension.  Naturally, this being an Acura and priced higher than my first house, it’s loaded with enough comfort, convenience and safety perks to fill a big-city phone book.

Even as I start it up, I don’t know what to expect, given that laundry list of somewhat surprising features related to forward movement.  About a half hour later, I’m pretty impressed.

Luxurious and quiet cutting through the wind, this MDX is also a performer, reaching a level that far exceeds the advertised 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 290 horsepower.  And I’m not used to seven-passenger SUVs responding so quickly and enthusiastically when I mash my right foot to the floor.

The run-up through the nine gears is seamless and pleasingly rapid.  Handling is downright sedan-like.  The MDX felt totally secure and in control in my hands.  I already know that this MDX is a big-seller in the Acura lineup, and now I’m thinking: “Wait until folks get a load of this upgraded version.”

For all its high-spirited energy propelling a weighty vehicle, the MDX gets pretty good fuel mileage at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

Cargo-carrying configurations run the gamut with moving second-row seats and folding third-row seats to produce a formidable package hauler.  There’s even a handy sub-floor storage space at the very back to hide a briefcase or similar-size item.

The list of safety features is incredibly long, with enough on-board warning systems to save your bacon even if you’re asleep at the wheel.  I found the front-end system warning system a little too fast on the draw, however.  It seemed perpetually convinced that I was going to ram the car in front of me during typical rush-hour commutes on the freeway.

There are small, cool touches that I found interesting.  For example, the digital display showing the desired interior cabin temperature would flash red when I upped the automatic control and blue when I pushed down to make it colder.  A small thing for sure, but nifty.

All this was pleasant.  Rarely am I surprised by a vehicle these days, but this MDX did the trick.  As year-over-year improvements go, the 2016 MDX is a winner in the high-end SUV segment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Four-door Mini Cooper reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Mini Cooper S Hardrop 4 Door hatchback in the latest, November 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, November 5, 2015

Enclave competes well in luxury crossover niche

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

Sacramento, California ­– I have friends who have purchased a Buick Enclave sport-utility vehicle.  They love it.  And that’s no surprise to me.

An Enclave, various versions of which can be had for between $40,000 to $50,000, just feels more substantial than the standard offering…Sort of the way a Cadillac sedan feels compared with a Chevy.

The nicely styled Enclave is downright limo-like and luxurious throughout, in my view.

Who wouldn’t love that after plunking down the asking price?

My recent week in the 2016 model was an experience of driver-spoiling superlatives.

Smooth, quiet ride. Check.

Long list of comfort/convenience features. Check.

Three rows of comfortable seating. Check.

Outstanding safety features. Check.  Bonus: In 2015, the Enclave received a top-tier, five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Changes for the 2016 model year are few, but particularly eye-catching are the gleaming 19-inch wheels ­– aluminum is standard, chrome-clad rollers are optional.

The Enclave feels big when you haul your body up into the driver’s seat, but the vehicle feels smaller on the fly.  My tester was pleasingly responsive on freeway commutes, not something I always feel in a three-row sport-ute.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the Enclave in a hurry.  All-around vision from the cockpit is superb, another rarity in a three-row SUV.

With the 3.6-liter V-6 engine rated at 288 horsepower, the Enclave was peppy enough in most situations, although it did whine just a bit on a particularly long, steep hill climb out of the Sacramento Valley.

The smooth ride and plentiful standard entertainment features make this Enclave an ideal family road trip vehicle.  Taking along a lot of stuff?  The cargo room behind the third-row seat alone is 23.3 cubic feet, but the SUV can be configured to tote a monstrous 115.2 cubic feet of belongings.

Considering that the Enclave is a relatively recent arrival with its 2007 launch, it has done rather well, with around 500,000 units sold since then.

Again, I am not surprised.

The Enclave competes in a tough class that includes Lexus, Acura, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz makes, but this American-made luxury crossover has the goods to hold its own in that crowd.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

NASCAR's "playoffs" are out of control

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

Sacramento, California ­– If you’ve been keeping up with what NASCAR calls its Sprint Cup Series “playoffs,” you’ve likely lost touch with racing.

Because what it is going on out there right now is not what I’d call racing, a genuine shame since I’ve truly enjoyed my sometimes intimate involvement with NASCAR over the decades.

But what we have at the racetrack now is something akin to Big Time Rasslin’ or Roller Derby.
Whose fault is it?  One word: NASCAR.

The racing body built this house of horrors brick by brick, and even though the ominous writing was clearly written on the wall a year ago, the series now finds itself on the extreme end of a sham – far removed from “have at it, boys” and now firmly entrenched in the “omigod, what are they doing out there?” zone.

Two weeks ago at Talladega Superspeedway, the “greatest drivers in America” couldn’t execute 100 feet of green-flag racing on two race-ending restart attempts.  Coincidentally, defending series champ Kevin Harvick, helped trigger the second incident.  He was in a badly lame car and just happened to catch the rear bumper of a car blazing past him on the right.  The ensuing wreck secured Harvick’s advancement to the next round.

No evidence of foul-play, NASCAR said…Wink, wink.

Then last weekend, in the endless 500-lap run around Martinsville Speedway’s oval, Matt Kenseth made good on his repeated threats to stick it to Joey Logano, who has dominated this year’s playoffs and was dominating Sunday’s race when he was intentionally wrecked by Kenseth.

By the way, Kenseth was delivering “payback” for a recent racing incident that was nothing more than hard, competitive racing between him and Logano … the kind of bumper-to-bumper battle that fans see a thousand times in a typical NASCAR season.

NASCAR has created the current situation with short playoff rounds in which a single bad race can eliminate a competitive driver … Jimmie Johnson this year, for example.  So, it didn’t take long for drivers to figure out that competitors could be eliminated from the series trophy chase by wrecking them.  Or perhaps you can wreck another driver who is in line to win the series championship simply because you’re mad at him.

Is any of this a surprise?  No.

I wrote the following in a blog post on Nov. 17, 2014, just after the conclusion of last year’s Sprint Cup Series season: Keep this format in place, and I can pretty much guarantee that the inevitable will occur: A driver or his teammate will deliberately wreck a competitor to eliminate him from the playoffs. It will happen. Count on it.

And so, here we are.

And while I appreciate the storybook ending folks want as Jeff Gordon prepares to wind up his sensational career, I have serious trouble with him inheriting what would be a fifth NASCAR championship with the aid of strategic wrecking. I would rather have the drivers decide it with their skills, no matter what form of racing we’re talking about.

For example, at the 2014 Indianapolis 500, I would have been pleased to see Helio Castroneves win his record-tying fourth Indy classic.  Instead, he lost by an eye-blink in a spectacular late-race duel with winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.

But suppose a Castroneves teammate (or friend) had decided the outcome that day by, say, deliberately crashing out Hunter-Reay during a previous caution period, giving Helio the win.  For my money, that would have been the most undeserved Indy 500 victory of all-time.

What’s next for NASCAR?  Racing teams deliberately crashing out the cars of other racing teams, based on pre-race plans?  Can you imagine the screaming if the equivalent happened in pro football?  A defensive end perhaps crushing the knee of the opposition’s star quarterback two seconds after the whistle blows on a given play, all in the name of “doing anything it takes to win the championship?”

Sad.  Wake me up if you ever go back to racing.