Monday, November 28, 2016

An appreciation of greatness in our time

Blogger's note: Due to technical problems at a remote location, this item failed to post last week.  Apologies for the delay.  The sentiments remain sincere -- MG

Sometimes, in sports, we witness greatness but fail to completely appreciate it as it's happening.

As a youngster, I watched Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown run over, around and through tacklers like a wolf among sheep.  Sure, it's what he did, right?

When UCLA was winning seven consecutive NCAA men's basketball championships in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I considered it almost routine.

Now that I'm older, and hopefully wiser, I appreciate what Jimmie Johnson did on Nov. 20 in the fullest possible way.  Seven championships in NASCAR's top-tier series.  SEVEN!

Yes, Richard Petty did it.  Dale Earnhardt did it.  But it's hard to picture them pulling down seven in this NASCAR era that's not only mega-competitive but nearly demands a couple of mind-blowing, lucky breaks along the way.

Can you picture Petty or Earnhardt amassing all those titles under the current Chase format, where a single bad race near the end of the "playoffs" can spell doom to what was otherwise a spectacular year?  I'm not sure I can picture it.

What I have witnessed with Johnson is sustained excellence and off-the-charts mental toughness ... must-have tools in today's playoff format.

Watching the 2016 season-ending race at Homestead Miami Speedway in South Florida, I gave up on Johnson's chances about five times.  Even before the race began, he was shuffled to the back of the field due to post-tech inspection work done on his car.  I figured it would take him half the race to get back near the front.  Instead, his manic drive into the top 10 left him three-quarters of the race to play his hand.

Even so, his car seemed to be the weakest of the four gunning for the championship.  He was consistently trailing Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.  They seemed to have the horsepower, handling edges they needed to keep Johnson stuck on six NASCAR championships.

Repeated adjustments on Johnson's car in the pits made for long stops, and Johnson seemed constantly on the verge of shuffling back into the 15th position.

Yes, Edwards' dive-bomb move on a late restart took him out and did some damage to Logano.  Still, with 10 laps to go, it looked like Johnson was a third seed behind Busch and Logano.

Amazingly, on the last restart, Johnson drove away from everybody.  It was like his car was super-energized.  He even blasted past Elk Grove's Kyle Larson, who had the field covered all day.  It was an amazing thing to see.

But no more amazing than watching Johnson win five championships in a row.  And no more amazing than watching him notch championship No. 6.

The people who follow this sport are now making the right call: We're seeing one of the greatest of all time.  Is title No. 8 coming up next year?  Can Johnson win 10 before he hangs it up?  Based on what I've seen, I think it's possible.  Johnson stays in superior physical shape, and his skills seem, if anything, at their peak at age 41.

It will be interesting to see how far he pushes the envelope over the next few years.  But for now, it's a good time to simply appreciate greatness in our time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Elantra's seven speeds, dual clutch = fuel savings

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

Sacramento, California – The all-new-for-2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco sedan is a nicely priced compact car that surprises you with a long list of perks that you might not have guessed when first glancing at the window sticker.

The sticker’s bottom line on my tester read $21,610 – which included only $125 for carpeted floor mats and an $835 freight and handling charge – so the affordable starting price of $20,650 included a blizzard of standard high-tech devices, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a hands-free smart trunk, to name just a few.

But the star of the show for this sixth-generation Elantra is the power package.

Let me explain.

The Eco is equipped with a turbocharged, 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine making a maximum 128 horsepower and 156 foot-pounds of torque. That engine is mated to a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission with specific gear ratios.  The combination delivers 32 miles per gallon in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway.

Impressive?  I’ll say.

Some auto-reviewing colleagues of mine claim that the dual-clutch technology created a momentary power lag when they hit the accelerator with force.  I felt this the first time my right foot landed hard on the accelerator, but my own adjustments on accelerator pressure after that seemed to override the lag.

Is that possible?  I’m not telling you that I’m smart enough to outwit a seven-speed transmission, but the bottom line for me was one minor lag experience, and no more after that.

All in all, the Elantra Eco was a fun ride.  I could easily envision it as a daily commuter/driver, with the bonus of comparatively rare trips to the gas pumps.

Steering was a fingertip breeze, and the tester was pretty much without a wiggle on sharp turns taken at high speed.

Yes, it does whine a bit at the top of steep hill climbs, but so do most compact cars with four-cylinder engines and horsepower ratings less than 150.

My ride also looked good with “Symphony Silver” exterior paint, LED daytime running lights, smooth over-the-top lines, a wide-yawning grille and 15-inch alloy wheels.

If your holiday shopping list includes nicely equipped basic transportation, an affordable new ride for one of your children or a four-door commuter that won’t crush your budget, this thoughtfully reworked Elantra should be on your test drive list.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

VW’s Dune droptop is a peppy, cool-retro Beetle

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews of the latest motor vehicle models also can be seen on The Sacramento Bee’s website at

This review first appeared in the October 2016 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Over the years, I’ve driven so many variations of the Volkswagen Beetle that the myriad changes have washed over me like so much white noise.

Until now.

A recent week in the 2017 VW Beetle Dune Convertible showed me that driving the iconic post-World War II sensation can still be a fun, heart-pumping experience.

My droptop was wearing saucy “Sandstorm Yellow” paint, Dune badging and a power black cloth top that went up and down with ease.  Beetle devotees will notice DNA from the old Baja Bug in this model, and it’s a great retro shout-out to the vehicle that won hearts in Southern California in the 1960s.

The Baja Bug look is enhanced by a sizable air-intake opening on the front end.  The fog lights are encased in two black, honeycomb vents on either side of the centered intake – another visual plus.  The tester rode high on 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.

This Dune surprised me with its muscular performance, courtesy of a 1.8-liter turbocharged-4 making 170 horsepower.  I smoked the tires the first couple times from a standing start.  That wasn’t my intention.  That was the little vehicle telling me to be careful with its more-than-adequate power.

Once you get the rhythm of the accelerator, the Dune just scoots along.  Brisk starts easily create space between you and trailing traffic.  The convertible is agile enough to zip into tight spots without aggressive braking.

All this was enjoyable from a cockpit that was attractive and well-designed.

A two-tone interior color scheme was sufficiently sporty, and the Dune was equipped with more connectivity devices and high-tech options than I’d ever use in a lifetime.  Controls were within easy reach and easy to use.

Gas mileage was a very nice 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.  The starting price is about $24,000 on the nose, although the Dune can be dressed up with some technology extras.

Fellow auto reviewers have sometimes put down the Dune as just a dressed up version of the basic VW Beetle convertible, and I can understand that to some degree.

However, I think this Dune has enough of its own spice and Baja Bug mojo to be a special model to Beetle-loving buyers.

Please be advised that the Volkswagen Beetle Dune Convertible is best enjoyed as a two-person runabout.

Take it out for a weekend drive, open it up and get away from the crowd.  Just my 2 cents on this retro-themed machine.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Maserati Ghibli sedan reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2016 Maserati Ghibli sedan in the latest, November 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.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Pathfinder road trip warrior gets better with age

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

Sacramento, California – Two years removed from reviewing the Nissan Pathfinder, I found much to like in the extensively reworked-for-2017 version of the venerable road trip warrior.

The tested SL 4WD version of the sport-utility vehicle looks more aggressive than its predecessor, with prominent “boomerang-shaped” headlights nicely placed on the restyled front end.  An aerodynamic profile translated to quiet motoring on the highway.

Best of all, the V-6 engine gets a significant power boost for 2017; the 3.5-liter V-6 now puts out 284 horses.  That’s up 24 from the previous generation.

And it shows.  The tester jumped off the line from a standing start and demonstrated significantly more muscle on the freeways than what I remember from a couple years back.

The starting price of $37,390 on the tested Pathfinder included a generous menu of goodies: eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, a heated/leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated exterior mirrors with LED turn signals, a motion-activated liftgate and a most-helpful rear cross traffic alert.

Mine was dressed up with about $3,400 in extras, an SL Premium Package that included a premium Bose audio system with 13 speakers and a dual panorama moonroof.

Worth noting: a top-level, five-star overall federal government safety rating.

Fuel mileage comes in at a so-so 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

As I’ve said in previous reviews, the Pathfinder takes me back to younger days when it was regarded as the prototypical vehicle for an extended road trip far from the urban jungle.  The characteristics that implanted those memories in my head remain in the 2017 Pathfinder.

It’s an easy-steering, nimble, generally quiet cruiser, even as it's making its way up steep climbs in the Sierra Nevada.  Yes, you can take it off-road, but for me, the Pathfinder is best enjoyed on a daylong road outing, opting for the scenic rural roads over the get-me-there-now interstates.

Just my romanticized preference, mind you.

If you are likewise inclined to hit the road, take along friends and cargo.  The Pathfinder’s three-row, seven-passenger capacity configuration offers plenty of spread-out room.  If your road trip involves just two of you, the Pathfinder’s back end can be configured to carry plenty of suitcases and supplies.

Overall roominess – passengers and cargo – comes to 173.8 cubic feet. Need to take more stuff?: towing capacity is up to 6,000 pounds.

For me, this is the best Pathfinder yet.  If you’re a road trip junkie, it should be on your test-drive list.