Thursday, February 25, 2016

Volkswagen helps itself with improved 2016 Jetta

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

Sacramento, California ­– Like other auto reviewers, I felt seriously burned by the diesel emissions-cheating scandal that swept over Volkswagen last year.

I talked to a lot of Volkswagen employees and car buyers who felt likewise burned.

Fortunately, a recent week in the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE sedan went a long way toward restoring my faith in the brand.

Jetta has long been VW’s best-selling car.  For the 2016 model year, it received numerous upgrades to make it an even stronger contender in the U.S. sedan market.

For me, the most dramatic change is the addition of a more-responsive 1.4-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine to replace the 2-liter, naturally-aspirated power plant.  The new engine actually feels much stronger than the advertised 150 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque.  Handling was sharp.  I was able to zip the Jetta in and out of tight spots with plenty of margin for safety.  That felt good.

Besides offering more zip, fuel mileage improved to 28 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.

Styling is pretty standard sedan-like, but the tested vehicle cut through the wind nicely.  Interior comfort is good.  Volunteer passengers said they were pleased as well.

The list of standard features on the tester was impressive.  That included halogen headlights and foldable, heated, power side mirrors on the outside and heated front seats and a crystal-clear rearview camera readout on the inside.

A long list of safety and driving-enhancement features reads like something one sees on a much pricier sedan.  The sticker on the tested Jetta was a decidedly affordable $20,915, including the destination charge.  Nice.

For the record, the 2016 Jetta scored a top-tier overall score of five stars in federal government safety ratings.

Other pleasant surprises: A spacious 15.5 cubic feet of trunk space, and you can get more by taking advancage of the folding 60/40-split rear seatback.  Still not enough?  Try opening the pass-through slot on the rear seataback, enabling you to fit skis or golf clubs into the cabin.  I also liked the instrument cluster gauges framed in chrome.  An attractive touch of style.

So, while Honda, Toyota, Ford and General Motors continue to serve up affordable sedans of note, this Jetta is a competitor in that segment and deserving of a test drive.  I’d give it a solid B to B-plus.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tacoma is tops in tale of three sizable Toyotas

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

Sacramento, California ­ This is a tale of three Toyotas … sizable ones.

In a recent string of deliveries, I had time behind the wheel of a 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser sport-utility vehicle with four-wheel drive, a 2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum CrewMax pickup and a 2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4X4 Double Cab (pictured).

That’s a great big bunch of Toyota hardware, but let’s begin with the Land Cruiser.

The tested SUV could be the poster child for gigantic SUV extremes.  It takes some loot to land this luxury liner: the bottom line on the tester’s sticker was $84,820.

Standing next to it made me feel small…no easy thing as I stand 6-4.  Inside, the Land Cruiser was stuffed with dozens of luxury, comfort and convenience features.  It’s a rolling five-store hotel.  It also has plenty of driving/safety-enhancement perks.

Naturally, you need a big engine for this transportation, and I had it with a 5.7-liter V-8 rated at 381 horsepower and 401 foot-pounds of torque.  This power plant moved the big brute around nicely.  And for all its size and power, the Land Cruiser was remarkably smooth and quiet on the open road.

Alas, fuel mileage came in at just 13 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway.

For those who want lots of luxury and space and have no fear of writing a big check, this reworked-for-2016 Land Cruiser is for you.

As large as the Land Cruiser was, it was trumped by the tested Tundra.  Ideal for a ranch, a work site or a sprawling farm, the tested Tundra made me feel inadequate in my daily suburban-city commutes.  I felt like I was in the wheelhouse of a giant oil tanker.

The tested Tundra was priced at a relatively practical $50,275.  A blizzard of interior comforts and wide open spaces reinforced the fact that pickup trucks have a come a long way since the boxy rides I remember on my grandpa’s farm.

Fuel mileage on the Tundra was a similarly tepid 13 miles per gallon in the city and 17 mpg on the highway.  But I will say this: The steering and suspension on the Tundra were so finely engineered that I quickly became comfortable behind the wheel of a truck big enough to have its own ZIP code.

The Tacoma was my “Goldilocks” ride among the three tested Toyotas … just right. Less gigantic and certainly nimble for a pickup, I could envision the Tacoma doing double duty as an urban commuter and a suburban workhorse.  The highly-respected truck gets better this model year with numerous refinements for 2016.

The Tacoma’s 3.5-liter V-6 was rated at 278 horsepower, which handled most conditions quite adequately.  However, when I needed quick acceleration to put myself out of harm’s way, I found that I really had to bury my right foot deep on the accelerator.

Fuel mileage was slightly better than the other two tested giants.  The Tacoma was rated at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on highway.   The tester was priced at $40,020.  Not bad at all in this compact pickup segment.

If I had to choose one of the three based on my household budget and personal transportation needs, I’d opt for the Tacoma.  But all three have sizable appeal.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

66th Sacramento Autorama feature top craftsmen

The 66th Sacramento Autorama drew thousands to Cal Expo over three days, Feb. 12-14.

Featuring some of the nation's top auto customizers, some 600 motor vehicles competed for major awards.

Organizers say the annual event is one of the largest indoor car shows in the nation, and it pays homage to Sacramento's role in the post-World War II custom car craze that began in California and spread across the nation.

To see show award winners, go to

Friday, February 12, 2016

Sacramento Autorama kicks off three-day run today

The 66th Sacramento Autorama, featuring some of the West’s top automotive detailers and hundreds of colorful customized cars, kicks off its three-day run today at Cal Expo in Sacramento.

Some 500 vehicles will be in competition for top show awards.  In many cases, car owners have put thousands of hours into building, customizing and maintaining their vehicles.

Hours are noon to 8 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Award presentations begin at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $20 for ages 13 and up, $10 for ages 6 to 12 and children ages 5 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult; discounted tickets may still be available at participating O’Reilly Auto Parts stores. Parking costs $10 on the Cal Expo grounds.

For more information, see

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Toyota's Avalon loses nothing in hybrid form

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

Sacramento, California ­– I’ve been a longtime fan of the Toyota Avalon, having reviewed it enough times to get that point across.

It’s a Lexus-level sedan with Toyota badging, loaded with plentiful comfort, convenience and safety perks.

But a recent week in a 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited model was a new experience.  The good news: This hybrid version of the venerable Avalon does not diminish the model’s reputation.

If anything, it enhances it.

Over years of reviewing hybrid vehicles, I’m still stuck on old-school values.  For me, the best thing a hybrid motor vehicle does is make me forget that it’s a hybrid.  A bad-news bias?

Not at all.  Let me explain.

I’ve tested dodgy hybrids – especially first-generation models rolled out years ago – that gave well-made hybrids a bad name.  They spoiled the motoring experience with clunky transitions between electric and traditional internal-combustion power … or fuel mileage that fell far short of what was advertised … or making loud, whining noises that gave me the alarming impression that I was about to be crushed by a speeding fire engine.

The tested Avalon did none of this.  What it did was deliver peppy, reliable performance in a quiet manner.

The Avalon Hybrid was equipped with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine matched with a 105-kilowatt electric motor, what Toyota calls a Hybrid Synergy Drive System.  The automaker’s engineers say the system works to provide a maximum 200 horsepower, and yes, that was more than adequate to move the tester with authority, when asked.

The big bonus of the system is 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.

The current-generation Avalon looks good, classy enough to park at the country club but sleek enough in profile to get the occasional challenge from a freeway lead foot.  As is seemingly required these days, a monster-size grille adorns the front end.

My tester sparkled in the sunlight with arguably the coolest exterior paint color name I’ve ever encountered: Parisian Night Pearl.

On the inside, luxury and customer-pleasing goodies were wall to wall.  The lineup included premium, leather-trimmed, heated/ventilated, power front seats with lumbar support; a power rear window sunshade; three-zone climate control; and a surrounding cushion of 10 air bags.

The bottom line on the tester was $43,285.  That’s a hefty price to be sure, but again, this is a Lexus-like transporter capable of delivering years of driving enjoyment, and simultaneously saving you serious coin on your annual fuel expenses.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Acura's upscale, green machine hits 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 ­– Getting a top-flight Acura sedan is serious business.

It’s a major investment with a lot of moving parts, and you must do your homework to make sure a particular Acura four-door model is precisely what you want amid a sea of equally pricey competitors.

Just getting the name right can be a challenge.  Believe me, I know.

I spent a recent week in a 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD with Advance Package sedan.

Get all that in one take?  If so, you’re likely smarter than I’ll ever be.

Long name aside, my week in the tested RLX was utterly enjoyable, even though it did take me the full week to sample and semi-master all of the RLX perks and features, which are generous.

For a starting price of $65,950 – enough to get my attention – a buyer of the tested RLX gets a giant ball of wax, all standard.

Safety features include high-tech air bags covering seemingly every inch of the interior cabin, vehicle stability assist, a super-grippy braking system with electronic brake distribution, a forward collision-warning system, a lane departure-warning system and much more.

Interior comfort and convenience features are decidedly five-star.  You'll spend a fair amount of time with the owner's manual just getting the hang of everything.

The exterior look is upscale classy, but that is sported up with a power moonroof, 19-inch alloy wheels and stunning “jewel eye” headlights.

Looks good, feels good (quiet and roomy) and drives good.

The driving part is enhanced by a unique hybrid power train system matching a 3.5-liter V-6 with THREE electric motors.  Acura says the combination nets a max 377 horsepower.

This significantly enhances driving pleasure.

With most hybrids, a cautious attitude and a light right foot will serve you well.  After all, there’s no sense in slicing a hybrid around among internal-combustion beasts.  But you can throw that out the window with the RLX Sport Hybrid.

It has plenty of pop off the line or maneuvering on the fly.  I’ve had similar experiences in Lexus hybrids, and this Acura stacks up well against that competition.

Fortunately, because the RLX Hybrid’s three electric motors are making a contribution, the advertised gas mileage is a very nice 28 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

That goes a long way toward negating aggressive driving guilt.

Obviously, starting at nearly 66K, this Acura is not for everybody, but it’s a player for prospective buyers of sedans that combine luxury, power and green characeristics.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

2016 Kia Optima reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo sedan in the latest, February 2016, 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.