Saturday, March 28, 2015

Audi A3 droptop has pep, luxury, fun factor

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

Sacramento, California – Audi rebooted its A3 lineup for the 2015 model year, and at first glance, I believed that the droptop offerings were the most desirable of the lot.

So I was pretty overjoyed to get a 2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic show up at my parking spot.  Yes, the name is longer than a drugstore receipt, but it’s easier to just boil it down to peppy, luxurious, convertible fun.

That works, right?  Believe me, it does.

The tested A3 had a willing 1.8-liter, four-cylinder turbo engine that felt way stronger than the advertised 170 horsepower.  Serious zip accompanied my right foot at every call.  And beyond that, the monorail-like road manners were a surprise to me.  I’m not used to a front-driver giving me this kind of feel for the road.

A secure feel, I might add.

My ride has a classy, understated-sporty look, and the optional 18-inch, 10-spoke wheels were certainly a plus.

Naturally, here in sunny, drought-stricken California, you get plenty of opportunities to drop the top and enjoy the sun's rays.

Top up or down, the interior perks are quite generous and luxurious.  Standard fare on my A3 included leather seating surfaces, power lumbar adjustments and a solid-feeling three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel with multiple control buttons on it.

Sounds like a $50,000 ride, you say?  Not even close, and yes, this is an Audi.

The starting price is an incredibly reasonable $35,600.  My tester was dressed up in the extreme with an S line exterior package, LED interior lighting, power folding/heated exterior mirrors and much, much more to bring the bottom line to $45,525, far south of the 50K border.

Perhaps the most appreciated feature of the vehicle: the pop-up screen that magically appears in the top-center of the dashboard.  That location makes reading data easy; no need to take your eyes off the road, thank you very much.

Worth noting: a wealth of strategically placed airbags and super-glue-style brakes (ventilated discs on the front end and solid discs on the rear).  Also, the rearview camera was part of the option package.

This is a California car, given the percentage of sunny days in the Golden State, but I’d have no trouble recommending an A3 Cabriolet for a back-East citizen.  It has enough to handle all road conditions, and yes, that first top drop of the spring is extra special in lands were rain and snow fall frequently.

On the grade card, this A3 is a solid “B” to “B-plus” ride.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Finding that happy place in a big-brute Sierra

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

Sacramento, California – I will be the first to admit that I am not what they call a truck guy.

I don’t have a problem with pickup trucks.  It’s just that they’re not a part of my city/metro/commuter/suburban world.  Back in the day when I was visiting my maternal grandparents’ farm in the hills of rural Kentucky, I had an appreciation of trucks.

Now, me reviewing a full-size pickup truck is a little like Donald Trump citing the virtues of a John Deere tractor.

So, when my friends recently delivered a monster-size GMC heavy duty truck to me – it was a 2015 GMC Sierra 2500HD 4WD Crew Cab SLT to be precise – I was awestruck.

The standard model starts at around $50,000 but this ride was seriously boosted with the Duramax Plus Package that included the 6.6-liter V-8 turbo diesel with some 400 horsepower and 765 foot-pounds of torque.  Bottom line on the sticker: $62,300.

Intimidated?  Yeah, like stepping into a cage to face Ronda Rousey.

To be sure, I was impressed.  This was a pickup driver’s vision of perfection, with obscene levels of power and ruggedness.  Yet, the inside was a luxury sedan scene of comfort and convenience.

Straight on, to me, the tested Sierra looked as wide as a battleship, and perhaps as difficult to maneuver.

The exterior mirrors were the size of cafeteria trays.  When I looked out the driver’s side window, I found myself staring into the left-side mirror.  It took me some time to adjust to that.

I CAREFULLY drove the beast into parking spaces.  Early on, I drove the Sierra like it was made of high-value crystal.  Didn’t want to crush any cars by accident, you understand.

Amazingly, I adjusted rather quickly to the vehicle’s width, length and sheer brute size.  I even thought about towing, say, a garbage truck around the neighborhood just to see what this Sierra could do, but I could not find a garbage truck operator to agree to any form of bribery.  His loss, right?

I was entirely comfortable in the cockpit after just one day.  The Sierra is a big rumbler, but it steered easily, and I was not bouncing around in my seat even on rough roads.

Two biggest challenges I had: I’m 6-4 and I still had to take a step and a hop to climb up into the driver’s seat.  I can’t imagine what smaller folks do.  Perhaps hire a couple of stevedores to toss their bodies into the vehicle.  Second challenge was rolling through freeway commuter traffic and suddenly realizing I’m nearly touching 80 miles per hour.

Yes, the turbo diesel is that strong and efficient.  Frankly, 70 mph felt like 40 mph.  Hats off to GMC engineers for that experience, no small feat in a truck this size.

I was a fish out of water in this 2015 Sierra but ended up enjoying my week in the high-riding hauler.  As big-boy trucks go, this Sierra is a pleasure and a player.

Friday, March 13, 2015

It's the little Fit that could, and does deliver

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

Sacramento, California Folks who have been reviewing motor vehicles for a long time – and that includes this ancient motorer – aren’t usually excited at the prospect of driving a sporty subcompact.

The reasons are simple: We have been spoiled by too much horsepower, too much luxury and way too much sporty flair over the long term.

In Yoda-speak, jaded we are.

But some time behind the wheel of a 2015 Honda Fit EX-L (with a continuously variable transmission and a navigation system) scrubbed off large portions of my snobbishness and left me suitably impressed.

The fact that this loaded, lavishly appointed little Fit still came in at less than $21,000 also impressed me.

The Fit was extensively reworked inside and out for the 2015 model year, and it shows.

First things first, it looks saucy-racy-sporty just standing still.  The raked roofline skis down onto a strong grille.  The back end is appropriately chopped tight, and my Fit looked ready to take on some hot Subarus outdoors or on a dirt course in some distant sports arena.

Somehow, some way, Honda scooped out extra space inside the revised car for a roomier feel all the way around.  Seated in the cockpit chair, I had easy access to all controls.  A rearview camera in a subcompact?  Believe it, and it’s a very important safety addition.  And by the way, that’s standard equipment.

Cargo room at the back end is good, and there’s more room in the back seats in this new Fit.

Engine power from the 1.5-liter, four-cylinder now makes 130 horsepower and 114 foot-pounds of torque.  The power plant and the Fit’s small size enabled me to zip around lagging commuters like a champ.

I will tell you that the engine at full song all but screams into the cockpit.  I quickly adjusted to this.  I grunt and groan when I’m working out too.  At least I knew the engine was giving it everything.

More performance does not translate to worse gas mileage, however.  In fact, it’s even better this time around: 32 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway on the tested model.

I’d add the Fit to your list of cars most likely to be your secondary household ride, or the vehicle most likely to be your kid’s first new car when the time comes.

The Fit’s extensive changes are grade “A.”  This is the little Fit that could, and does deliver.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New-for-2015 Lexus coupe reviewed in Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the new-for-2015 Lexus RC 350 coupe in the latest, March 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.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Top-tier Camry edges into Lexus territory

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

Sacramento, California – Well, the badging on the back of the tested passenger sedan said it was a 2015 Camry XLE V6, but it looked and felt like a recently driven 2015 Lexus ES 350 sedan.

Turns out there’s a good reason for that.  This top-end Camry – starting at a somewhat hefty $31,370 in this practical four-door segment – is a Lexus just waiting to happen.

Yes, that’s the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine putting out a max 268 horsepower.  And this Camry was liberally dressed up in safety, comfort and convenience features to qualify it as a primo luxo liner in the Toyota stable.

Throw in scores of improvements and refreshed features for the 2015 model year, and you’re riding in a status-symbol Camry instead of the comparatively humble Camry that other folks are purchasing.

Not that I had a problem with any of this.

I liked the power tilt/slide moonroof, the dual chrome-tipped exhausts, the leather/heated front seats and other standard features in my tester.  I also liked the $4,500-or-so in extras that included illuminated door sills, a rear spoiler and a premium JBL audio system.

Go big with a Camry.  That’s what I say.  Well, I say that when I’m not having to write a check for permanent ownership of the vehicle, of course.

Even so, yes, I believe I would be inclined to write a check for this loaded Camry XLE if the payment was coming out of my checkbook, and I wanted a quality decade-long transporter.

The driving characteristics of the tested Camry XLE were likewise more than one would expect from a more humble, everyday driver Carmy.  Accelerations were impressively brisk, and the XLE responded instantly to even the slightest twists of the steering wheel.  Controls were easy to reach and understand from the cockpit.  The Camry also was kind enough to warn me when I was motoring along too fast amid commuter gridlock.

Fuel mileage is a so-so 21 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

I have chuckled sometimes at the use of the Camry name in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.  After all, Camry is likely not the name most think of when it comes to mixing it up in pro-racer traffic whistling along at up to 200 miles per hour.

However, after a week in the Camry XLE, I think the reference fits.  It was a robust roadway performer, but its interior luxuries were much more pleasant than what one finds inside a rip-roaring NASCAR ride.

Eat your heart out, Jimmie Johnson.