Friday, April 24, 2015

ProMaster City: a compact conveyance of convenience

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

Sacramento, California – I’ve always said that I will review anything, which mostly explains why a 2015 Ram ProMaster City wagon showed up at my door recently.

If that motor vehicle model doesn’t jump to mind right away, think florist shop delivery truck.

Coming off a week in a 2015 Dodge Challenger, the delivery of the ProMaster City was quite the leap.  Think parallel universe this time around.

And yet, for what it is, the ProMaster City is all good.

First off, it’s the all-new-for-2015 baby brother of the Ram ProMaster, a seriously larger van that gets a 3.6-liter V-6.  With that super-size ProMaster, you can carry your entire business around in the back end or pull it down the road (it has towing/hauling capacities exceeding 5,000 pounds).

The ProMaster City is the smaller, more practical offering, powered by a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, 178-horsepower engine.

Ram describes the ProMaster City as “all business.”  And that’s spot-on.

For small business operators and carriers of moderate quantities of cargo, the ProMaster City is a compact conveyance of convenience.

Double hinged doors open wide at the back to a generous, open cargo area in which I could darn near stand up, keeping in mind that I’m 6-4.  As luck would have it, I actually was transporting flowers during my test week, and a nearly five-foot-tall rosebush easily loaded into the back end with plenty of head clearance.

So, that empty back end must have translated to a lack of rear wheel grip on hard, fast corners, right?  Actually, not so much.  I could feel just the slightest touch of back wheel hop in these situations, but at no time did I feel that I was coming close to losing control of the vehicle.

The ProMaster City’s handling was, frankly, more in line with what I’ve experienced in some minivans.  Simply put, it handled just fine in my hands.

The tester started at $24,130, but my ride was dressed up with extras that included a 5-inch touchscreen display that incorporated the image from a rearview camera.  Bottom line on my ProMaster City was $27,590.  Controls were within easy reach from my cockpit seat.

Accelerations were not exactly brisk, but performance was fully in line with what I’d expect from a 178-horsepower four-banger.  In the never-ending pursuit of more gears, the 948TE FWD automatic gearbox had nine, count-’em, nine speeds.

Fuel mileage is a pretty good at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

One other thing I noticed: Door locks and seat belt warnings registered INSTANTLY in this ride, seemingly happening via some kind of unseen mental message sent by my brain.  Clever, those Ram engineers.

This is a solid “B” business vehicle, and seriously, not a bad ride as a secondary household errand runner.  If I ever go into business for myself, I must just get a fleet of a dozen.

Friday, April 17, 2015

All the pluses add up in Nissan's Altima

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

Sacramento, California – Nissan calls the Altima its “cornerstone.”

That’s certainly appropriate.  The sedan is the automaker’s No. 1-selling vehicle up and down the line, and it does quite well in the United States.

Invariably, I run into lovers of Toyota, General Motors, Honda and Ford sedans who ask me: “What’s the big deal about the Altima?”

I think my best answer is: It does and has a lot that motorists take for granted.

Let’s run down the columns, shall we?

First off, it looks good. The tested 2015 Altima 2.5 SV came off as a shapely sedan parked in my driveway, wearing “Cayenne Red” paint.  “Nice car,” some folks said as they walked by.

“You’re right,” I answered.  “And have I told you that you have good taste?”

The price is right, a starting figure of $24,720 on the tested model, which was seriously dressed up with Convenience and Technology packages.  Even those raised the bottom line to a still-affordable $28,180.

The interior is comfortable, with a good range of vision from the cockpit, and pretty fair room for those seated behind driver and front-seat passenger.  A generous lineup of comfort and convenience features is thoughtfully displayed, easily reached and quickly understood.

The ride is nice.  Just the right touch on the steering, and the continuously variable transmission was a seamless operator in my time behind the wheel.  Horsepower from the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine is not tire-shredding – it's around 180 – but it’s strong enough to handle the great majority of city/highway chores.  Relatively little engine noise reached the tester's cockpit, even during aggressive accelerations.

I confess that I love the 3.5-liter V-6 (270 horsepower) that can be had in the Altima 3.5 versions.  It’s one peppy power plant.  But I’m guessing that most prudent sedan buyers will be content with the Altima 2.5-liter engine.

Fuel mileage with the 2.5 is superb: 27 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.  Those are numbers that you can take to the savings bank.

About the only thing I did not like about my tester was its super-sensitive lane departure warning system, which seemed to be monitoring my at-the wheel performance by the quarter inch.  I routinely disabled it, which lowered my blood pressure dramatically.

Bottom line, the 2015 Altima is a solid “B” to “B-plus” car, offering myriad perks for buyers looking for a sensibly priced sedan.

Can’t ask for much more than that.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mercedes-Benz SL550 reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz SL550 in the latest, April 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 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.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

New Lexus RC 350 is molten hot, and more

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 originally appeared in the March 2015 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Right away, I wondered about the official name of the paint job on the new-for-2015 Lexus RC 350 coupe dropped off for me to try.

It was “Molten Pearl,” appropriate for a color that looked like a hybrid of lava and competition orange.  And yes, the see-it-in-the-dark skin made the low-riding, sleek sports car look like a purpose-built racer.

Paint some numbers on the hood and the sides, I imagine I could have driven it onto the track at Daytona without anybody raising a hand.

Lexus wanted to build a luxury-sport coupe to stand out from the crowd, and let me assure you that they hit that mark dead-center.  On looks alone, the tested RC 350 with the F SPORT package (19-inch wheels, a nav system and super-sporty touches all the way around in a nearly $4,000 option package) would give most performance-craving drivers an itch to lay down some serious cash.  For my ride, the bottom line was $53,140.

The core of the machine is a 3.5-liter, 24-valve, dual-overhead-cam V-6 producing 306 horsepower and 277 foot-pounds of torque.  When right foot is mashed to the floor, there is a most-satisfying growl from the power plant, and the RC 350 easily dispatches pokes on city streets and open highways.

It is nothing short of a fantastic freeway cruiser, because you not only get the horsepower rush, but the frame is sport-tuned to perfection.  Not a wiggle to be found as you’re pushing the car to speeds that might get you in trouble if the right folks are watching.

And yet, be advised that you can turn down the dial to an “ECO” level.  For those who buy sporty transportation for the fuel mileage – and I have no idea who you are – the RC 350 will make 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Certain civilized things are part of the package, including a helpful blind spot monitor doing duty on both sides of the car.  When the RC 350 is cutting through the traffic, the last thing you want is to be clipped from the side.  The Lexus system, happily, works instantly and is not jarring with too much warning noise.

Less-than-all-out acceleration is smooth and even, a plus when you’re trying to play nice and not draw too much attention to yourself.   I found all-around vision from the cockpit to be somewhat limited, but again, the blind spot monitor made me feel secure when I was putting the car through its paces.

Interior luxury is Lexus-level all the way.  Loved the wood trim in particular.  I did struggle with a center console-mounted touchpad that controlled, among various things, the audio settings.  My stubby fingers managed to send the on-screen cursor into wild gyrations that I’m sure would have generated laughter from Lexus engineers had they been watching.  Let’s just say it took some time for me to get the rhythm of it.

I should point out that there is very little room in the back seat area once the front seats are adjusted for normal-size adults.  I’m not sweating that too much, because this molten mover is not exactly family transportation.

The RC 350 is meant to be unwound and allowed to rip the straights and saw off the corners with effortless sporty attitude.  And it does that quite well.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Volvo's V60 wagon is big on sporty vigor

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

Sacramento, California – Volvo has introduced a new V60 sport wagon, and it’s heavy on the sport part.

My 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 AWD R-Design showed up wearing write-me-up red exterior paint, and at first glance, I took it as a smallish wagon.

A few minutes behind the wheel had me forgetting all about that smallish reference.

Power comes from a 3-liter turbocharged, six-cylinder engine rated at 325 horsepower and 354 foot-pounds of torque.

That equates to zero to 60 miles per hour in a short and sweet 5.5 seconds, but for me, the blast was not in the numbers but the feel.

Swinging it down the entrance ramp onto Interstate 80 was not the normal experience as the V60 dug in and was in full, glued-to-the-road performance mode in what seemed like an eye-blink.  Surrounding cars just fell away, or so it seemed.

Lots of people boast about cars that do this.  In truth, very few actually do it in spades.  So, the V60 had my attention right off the bat.

Performance is impressive on freeway straights, uphill runs and twisty country roads.  The car does not put a foot wrong, even when the driver is endeavoring to make that happen.

Volvo’s touted “Corner Traction Control through Torque Vectoring” might need an hour of explaining from a top automotive engineer.  But I figured it out with one 65 mph rip around a sharp, uphill corner in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Fun to drive, for sure, but what about the practical stuff?

It turns out that the V60 is quite comfortable from the cockpit seat, and the rear boot has ample space for the cargo that most of us carry.  If you want to tow a big boat, this isn’t your vehicle, but if you do a lot of weekend road trips, you’ll probably be happy with this vehicle’s size.

Back seat passengers told me they did feel cramped amid a full load of travelers.  A couple of them complained that you had to duck your head dramatically when entering the vehicle, lest you belt the frame with you melon.  Just saying.

The tester had a liberal dose of safety, luxury, comfort and convenience features in the true Volvo tradition.  It had enough stuffed in it to justify its starting price of $45,150, in my view.

I will say that it takes some confidence to launch a sport wagon in the hugely competitive U.S. market these days, and I wonder how many buyers Volvo will lure to the lots with its V60.  From my experience, this V60 deserves to be on a prospective buyer’s test-drive list.

There are other well-known sport wagons out there, but you’re missing something if you overlook this one.  This V60 is a strong new offering, getting a rock-solid “B” grade from me. 
 

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  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

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  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

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.