Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sato's all-out style claims racing's biggest prize

The Indianapolis 500 was run for the 101st time on May 28.  It was Mark Glover’s 55th 500.

Prior to Sunday, it’s a fair bet that most sports-following Americans had never heard of Takuma Sato.  Casual sports watchers likely responded to news of his victory in the 101st Indianapolis 500 with: “Who?”

For those of us who have been watching Sato for years – he’s no youngster at 40, by the way – Sunday’s triumph was pure Sato … fearless, all-out, go-for-it and let the chips fall where they may.

Those things have been Sato’s downfall in other races, where his unrelenting passion to squeeze his car into the smallest of openings either put him into the wall or on the no-Christmas-card list of fellow IndyCar drivers who were eliminated amid Sato’s sometimes ill-advised charges.

I will say this of Sato: He’s always been that way.  And while his go-for-broke style is not necessarily suited for tight road courses or narrow street circuits, it’s perfect for the last 10 laps of the Indianapolis 500.

Over the past decade, Indy 500-winning runaways have vanished.  The aero design of the cars all but guarantees close racing right up to the checkered flag.  On Sunday, that meant it was Sato time.  This wasn’t Sato’s debut in late-race heroics.

In 2012, he charged hard into Turn One under race leader Dario Franchitti, only to lose control and crash into the outside wall as Franchitti went on to post his third Indy 500 win. Typical Sato, said some.  Others felt that Franchitti squeezed Sato too aggressively.

On Sunday, it went Sato’s way.  I will freely admit that I was pulling for Helio Castroneves to win a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500, but when he took the lead with just six laps to go, my gut told me Sato’s ultra-aggressive nature would not let that stand. With five to go, Sato edged his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda to the front and held off one more hard charge from Castroneves to win the race.

Sato’s screams over his radio after crossing the finish line were the byproduct of more than three hours of tense, wheel-to-wheel racing, but they just as well could have been the emotional release of so many close calls and near things over his many years in open-wheel racing.

It could have been even more interesting had two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso’s McLaren-Honda held together for just 20 more laps.  Alonso was masterful Sunday, making moves high and low in traffic to stay up front.  He looked like a veteran of 10 Indy 500s, not a “rookie” in his first start.

For my money, Alonso’s performance rivaled that of the late, great Scotsman, Jimmy Clark, the two-time Formula One series champ and 1965 Indy 500 winner.  Clark won the 500 on his third try, and Alonso hinted Sunday that he might be back for another go on the world-famous Indiana oval.

That I’d like to see.  The 2018 Indianapolis 500 can’t get here soon enough.

A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Monday, May 22, 2017

Wide-open Indy 500 has many potential winners

The Indianapolis 500 will be run for the 101st time on May 28.  Mark Glover will be attending his 55th 500.

Picking the Indianapolis 500 winner is a thankless task.

There are too many variables that come up over 500 miles.  I’ve seen solid favorites swept out of the race, getting involved in heartbreaking shunts not of their making.  I’ve seen drivers luck into victory, but their likeness looks just as shiny on the Borg-Warner Trophy presented to the race winner.

What to make of this year?  Again, any one of a dozen or more could win it all.

Yes, in my mind, it’s likely that the winner will come out of the first three rows.  Unless he doesn’t.

The first nine starters are loaded with talent and are piloting swift rides.

You have to like 2008 champ and 2017 pole position winner Scott Dixon.  He routinely does well at Indianapolis, and he rarely makes a mistake.  And yet, with a couple of breaks here and there, he could have been a four-time winner as I write this.

He’s won only once.  That should tell you how difficult it is to make your way first to the checkered flag.

What is obvious to me is that Honda was holding a lot back before showing its cards at Indy over the past weekend.  Prior to May, the betting money was on the Chevrolet power plants, which seemed brimming with power … certainly more than the Hondas were showing.

So much for that wisdom.  Honda dominated the weekend speed charts, which means that defending champion Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and even perpetual hard-luck driver Takuma Sato could take the big prize.

It would not surprise me if Fernando Alonso, the two-time Formula One champion and 2017 Indy 500 rookie, won the race.  He has mad skills, has taken to the blindingly fast 2.5-mile oval like a champ and has a Honda engine at his back.

Dark horse: Watch out for Ryan Hunter-Reay in his Andretti Autosport Honda.  He starts 10th and by all rights should have been in the “fast nine” running for the pole.  Circumstances held him up there, but on race day, I see him hustling to the front in a hurry.  He’s very good on this track.

Among the Chevys, Indy veteran Ed Carpenter stands with Dixon as a logical co-favorite.  Carpenter is an oval master and an Indianapolis Motor Speedway genius. Bad breaks have denied him the Borg-Warner Trophy before.  Is it his time?  Could be.

For what it’s worth, I’m picking 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan to win it again this year.  Driving a fast Honda, Kanaan chose a different qualifying set-up from Dixon, and it cost him some speed.  In race trim, however, Kanaan is likely to be on equal footing with Dixon.

Like I said, it’s very hard to go against Dixon, but if it comes down to a 10-lap shootout between him and Kanaan at the end, I think Kanaan’s aggressive, go-for-broke driving style gives TK the edge.

More winner’s milk for Tony?  I’m betting on it.
A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Turbocharged Kia Soul adds ! to the equation

A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – I liked the Kia Soul from the beginning, and no, I was not swayed by the admittedly super-clever marketing of the unique-looking vehicle.

I thought it had just the right Funky Factor out of the box, and its interior space and polite driving qualities added to the enjoyment.

My recent week in the tweaked-for-2017 Kia Soul equipped with an enthusiastic turbocharged engine moved the Soul up a couple of notches on my personal feel-good chart.

(I’m going to pause here to explain something to automotive enthusiasts who demand that even the smallest details be noted.  This particular Soul model was unveiled last November at the Los Angeles Auto Show as the “Soul Exclaim.”  But Kia has since designated this on its window stickers with an exclamation point (!).  OK, the bottom line is that this is the most horsepower-laden of the Souls, to which I say: !)

The power plant is a 1.6-liter, gas direct injection turbo-4 with a max 201 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque coming in a low rpms.

Anyone who has ever been in a Soul for even a few minutes should be able to figure out what those particular numbers mean in this vehicle.  Performance is enthusiastic, to say the least.  A rush?  Yes, that and more.

And yet, fuel mileage comes in at an impressive 26 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.  Also, the extra power boost does not translate to a clunky, bumpy ride.  The tester motored along in a fairly quiet, refined way in all conditions.

A seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission manages the power package.  And it manages quite well.

A first glance at the Kia Soul might tell some that there is not enough interior room for their stuff.  But folding the rear seat and other quick configuration fixes will give you a most generous 61.3 cubic feet.

This turbo Soul has some special looks worth noting: 18-inch alloy wheels, special trim, special badging and dual chrome, twin-tip exhausts.

Interior features are plentiful, especially for the bargain starting price of $22,650. I think the feature I enjoyed the most was the leather-wrapped, D-shaped steering wheel, which felt sporty and comfortable in my hands.

The Soul is touted as a young person’s car, but I beg to differ.  My youth is way back in the rearview mirror, and I enjoyed the Soul every minute I drove it.  I’d also consider it to be an ideal run-around-town car for empty nesters who still have chores to do but relish free time out on the roadways.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Optima PHEV features big savings, enjoyment

A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California – I’ve sung the praises of the Kia Optima sedan in previous reviews, but now, there’s more to like.

A lot more mileage, for starters.

My recent week in the all-new, 2017 Kia Optima PHEV offered up a sublime blend of sound automotive basics and top-level plug-in hybrid technology.

Kia’s Optima PHEV stretches the wallet-saving numbers to the limit. A 2-liter, four-cylinder gas engine and a strong 9.8 kilowatt-hour, lithium-ion polymer battery pack combine to give you the equivalent of 103 miles per gallon.  Gasoline alone nets you 40 mpg.

Electronic conversions are tricky, but rest assured that the power package delivers around 200 horsepower at its max.  And you can motor 29 miles in all-electric mode, given sane driving habits.

Total driving range: Around 600 miles or thereabouts.

Impressive, yes?

Needless to say, the gas-electric pairing is seamless, and from your cockpit seat, you can monitor a host of hybrid functions.

Please be advised that the starting price for all this is $35,210, and my ride was ornately dressed up to push the sticker’s bottom line to a hefty $41,750.

My options were pleasing – a panoramic sunroof, a blind spot-detection system and extensive LED lighting inside and out were among them – but the standard package is pretty nice as well.

The automatic offerings include a good navigation system with an eight-inch touchscreen, a primo Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system and a heated leather steering wheel.  It's downright luxurious on some levels.

The exterior looks smooth and sporty, with my ride looking particularly handsome on 17-inch alloy wheels.

For all its gas-electric technology, response was instant and robust, when asked.  Steering was spot-on perfect, with just the right amount of firmness coming to my hands on the steering wheel.

As in all Optimas, you get a wide range of high-tech safety features.  Traction control, electronic stability control and vehicle stability management systems were among the oh-so-secure perks built into the tester.

All in all, this Optima is a most formidable product.  Its mix of technology, generous comfort/convenience features and old-school driving charms is a delight.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

'Economical' Mercedes droptop packs a punch

A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo reviews of the latest motor vehicle models also can be seen on The Sacramento Bee’s website at www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

This review first appeared in the April 2017 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California You know you’re in the high-class neighborhood when your test ride is considered a bargain with a starting price at around $52,500.

Welcome to the world of Mercedes-Benz, and my tester was the 2017 SLC300, a convertible with a willing 2-liter turbo 4 with nearly 250 horsepower.

Yes, this is the “economical” version of the car, which also can be had with a 3-liter, twin-turbo 6 dishing up around 362 horsepower.  But that’s another story for another time.

If you’re keeping score, the SLC-Class replaces the automaker’s SLK class.  It’s not unusual to change the name to usher in something new, although most of what’s in the 2017 SLC300 will be familiar to veteran Mercedes pilots.

Interior luxury features are nicely placed and plentiful.  The upholstery was spot-on, perfectly stitched and radiating elegance, a nice bonus in a car priced less than 60-grand.

Exterior styling on the SLC300 is decidedly sporty and aerodynamic.  And yet the front grille seems understated in this day and age of grilles bigger than a battleship.  Simply said, it’s a classic Mercedes-Benz look that presents just the right mix of sophistication and sportiness.

Performance was definitely a highlight, smooth and forceful, yet quiet in the cabin.  The car took to the freeway with a smoothness one expects from a car with a six-figure sticker.  On city streets, it was agile and quick to respond.  It darted out of harm’s way with effortless ease.

Yes, I enjoyed my all-too-short time with the tester.

Fellow reviewers noted that the SLC300 accommodates taller people.  And at 6-4, I agree that the ride from the driver’s seat was a welcome comfort.

Of course, the retractable hardtop is a blast to operate and show off to the neighbors.  When folks come over to gawk at the hardtop show, be sure to tell them about the nine-speed automatic transmission.  They might not know the significance of that, but it sure sounds impressive.

What is impressive is the advertised 25 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.  Granted, my tester was not a neck-snapper of a beast, but those are still pretty fair numbers from a Mercedes-Benz convertible.

Mercedes’ always top-notch safety systems included collision-prevention braking, a backup camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and parking assist.  The lane-keeping feature was not overly reactive, a nice departure from other, recently tested systems that wanted to rip the steering wheel from my hands.

All in all, this is a Mercedes worth pursuing – relatively affordable for many budgets and nicely equipped bumper to bumper.

Performance-loaded Audi reviewed in Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro S tronic in the latest, May 2017, 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 www.cruisinnews.com, call (916) 933-0949 or send an e-mail request to cruisinnews@mac.com. Mailed requests for information should be sent to Cruisin’ News, P.O. Box 1096, Folsom, CA 95763-1096.