Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reworked Subaru Forester is best version yet

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Over the years, I’ve driven something like a dozen versions of the Subaru Forester, a sport-utility vehicle that basically wrote the book on combining on-road sophistication with macho off-road ruggedness.

But I’ve never driven a better Forester than the 2014 model with which I recently spent a week.

It was smoother, stronger, better-looking and more comfortable inside than any other in the long line of Foresters I’ve previously wheeled around.

No wonder it was named Motor Trend magazine’s Sport-Utility of the Year for 2014.  Subaru initiated an extensive makeover for 2014, marking the fourth generation of the venerable model.  This remake was not a simple window dressing.  It was a serious rework of the SUV inside and out.

They made it way better than it was … or ever was.

OK, I admit that my tester was the top dog of eight trim levels, a 2.0XT Touring edition with the 2-liter, turbocharged boxer engine grinding out a max 250 horsepower.  Lots of perks with the tested model as well, which explains the somewhat hefty starting price of $32,995.  Mine had even more extras to push the bottom line to nearly $36,500.

Price and specs were forgotten once I started driving the thing.  Is this a Forester?  Can’t be.

My previous seat time in Foresters was, well, pedestrian at best.  My tester, by comparison, was a run-with-the-bulls rush.  A consistently powerful, no-lag blast from the power plant accompanied by exceptionally light steering enabled me to pull off some unexpectedly agile moves in tight city traffic and amid dicey freeway commuters.  This is a most-responsive sport-ute, and dare I say, a genuinely fun blast to drive.

And it has all the off-road goodies you need: 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, multiple braking systems, multiple control systems, generous cargo room, power rear gate with height memory, and naturally, all-wheel drive.

Multiple safety systems are top-notch.

Inside, the Forester is downright elegant in appearance and touch.  A cluster of clearly understood controls abound, easily operated from the 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjuster.

Outside, the Forester still looks very much like an SUV that will take you over a rough trail, but the latest sculpture is –  how can I say it – CLEANER than what I remember. Rounder too.  This Forester looks like it has spent a lot of time in the gym.  Or maybe extended time on the styling engineers’ computer screens.

Simply said, it all works.  It’s an “A” effort on an old favorite.

Friday, August 8, 2014

VW Jetta surprises with performance, agility

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

This review originally appeared in the July 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Let me state straight-up that I like the Volkswagen Jetta sedan, and I’m obviously not alone in that.  It has long been Volkswagen of America’s No. 1 selling car.

Yes, the styling is pretty conservative, and yes, a brand-spanking-new 2015 Jetta was unveiled recently at the New York International Auto Show.

That new Jetta is something to look forward to, but let me suggest that if you can lay your hands on a 2014 Volkswagen SEL for a good price, go for it.

Why?  Because my 2014 SEL tester ran like a scalded cat.  This surprised me immensely, because the sticker told me that the power plant was a 1.8-liter, turbocharged in-line 4 with 170 horsepower.  Sure, that’s fine, but my ride really surpassed the expectations spelled out in print.  Truth be told, it all but demanded to be driven like it was stolen.

Imagine my surprise the first time I encountered a freeway slowpoke and rather GENTLY nudged the gas pedal.  Instead of slight increase in propulsion, I was pushed back into my seat and propelled to the rear bumper of the aforementioned poke in the time it takes to sneeze.  Darn near ran into the guy.

Now that the Jetta had my attention, I started making increasingly aggressive moves and was feeling like Mario Andretti in no time.  The performance was just so far beyond what one normally gets from a max horsepower rating of 170 and 184 foot-pounds of torque.  From a front-driver, no less.

And oh, there’s a bonus: exceptional agility.

The Jetta whistled into freeway holes without creating disruption, and its turn-on-a-dime dexterity made mincemeat of crawling downtown traffic.  Needless to say, I had a fun week in this Jetta, pretty much blasting anticipation of the upcoming 2015 version out of my mind for the time being.

For all its surprising, beastly oomph, my Jetta was quite civilized on the inside.  The long list of standard comfort and convenience features included satellite radio, a power sunroof, heated front seats, rear seat pass-through via armrest, front fog lights, heated exterior power mirrors and more.

Two reasonable-size people can fit in the back seats.  I would not try fitting three back there.

The tested Jetta’s safety features were plentiful, accompanied by most-favorable crash test ratings.  Extensive warranties also get a checkmark in the Jetta’s plus column.  And the Jetta can be had in, I’m serious, 17 trim levels.

Fuel mileage is very nice at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. The starting fare for all this: a reasonable $25,590.

No wonder VW sells so many of these Jettas on American soil.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cadillac ELR is reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2014 Cadillac ELR in the latest, August 2014, 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 http://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.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Like your SUV loaded? Tiguan R-Line is all that

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – The Tiguan is arguably the least publicized of Volkswagen’s offerings.

And that’s too bad because it’s actually a pretty good five-passenger sport-utility vehicle.

My tester was the Tiguan R-Line, with the “R-Line” treatment being added for the 2014 model year.  The R-Line package gives you extra goodies inside and out, and its performance level is impressive.

What you need to consider, however, is how much you want to spend on an R-Line, especially considering that a basic Tiguan starts at slightly less than $23,500. My R-Line tester wore a sticker with a bottom line of $37,745.

Big difference, right?

Fortunately, the R-Line comes with a lot to make the sticker price easier to accept.

The power plant is a 2-liter, turbocharged, in-line 4 with a max horsepower rating of 200.  This was more than enough oomph to move my front-driving tester around with swagger and somewhat noisy authority.  Combined with a sport suspension, my Tiguan sailed along the roadways with something resembling hot-rod-SUV arrogance.  Not that I had any trouble with that.

Looked good too, especially riding on those 19-inch alloy wheels.

The inside R-Line treatment includes a “metallic-finish” dash that did look pretty cool, and the flat-bottom steering wheel added to the turbo-racer feel of the vehicle.  Paddle shifters were part of the deal too.

The standard list of features was lengthy and included perks such as power heatable exterior mirrors, roof rails, xenon headlights, sexy-looking LED daytime running lights, leather seating surfaces, heatable front seats, a rearview camera system and a panoramic power sunroof.

Feeling better about that nearly $38,000 sticker price now?  Yeah, I thought so.

While not a massive SUV, I was impressed with the relatively high-riding view I had from the Tiguan’s cockpit, and the 360-degree field of vision was clear and comforting.

A package of generous warranties comes with the Tiguan R-Line, and the safety systems lineup is likewise noteworthy.

Fuel mileage is OK at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

Overall grade: A solid “B.”

But again, a smallish SUV going for almost $38,000 is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea.  I’m sure the Tiguan is a comparatively mundane, run-around, second car in households with daily drivers wearing Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac or Lexus badges, but nobody said life was fair.

If you have the kind of coin to drop on a VW Tiguan R-Line, I salute you.  You’re getting a good one.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Buick's LaCrosse sedan is worth knowing

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Buick has been bombarding the TV airwaves with commercials insisting that the public really doesn’t “know” the General Motors division.  Some ads show puzzled folks standing in front of a gleaming car that they’re quite sure is not a Buick.

I guess the iconic Buick logo the approximate size of a Frisbee on the front grille didn’t tip them off.

Anyway, I get it.  Yes, Buick has made changes, and it made some pretty big ones for its 2014 LaCrosse full-size sedan.

Change is good in this case.  I confess that I liked the LaCrosse as it was, feeling it was a relatively well-kept secret in a market where most buyers’ eyes seemed drawn to all those shiny Lexus, Infiniti, BMW and Mercedes-Benz sedans.

The 2014 LaCrosse was redesigned inside and out.  On the front end, a seriously imposing grille (Buick calls it a “waterfall” grille) can be accented by saucy-looking LED lamps.  The wrap-around lamps on the tail end look pretty sharp as well.

Inside, the interior layout of controls – a reworked center stack is part of the new package – is much easier to learn and use from the driver’s seat.

The LaCrosse has a ton of tech goodies on the menu, including warning systems overseeing lane changes, blind spots and potential collisions front and rear.  Yes, some of these can be sensitive and jarring, but for the most part, they function appropriately enough so as not to disturb the pleasure of driving.

Figuring out the alphanumeric-named trim levels of the current LaCrosse lineup might throw you off course, but in simple terms, my tester was a LaCrosse Premium with front-wheel drive.  It was incredibly dressed up with extras, which pushed the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $39,755 way up the ladder to $49,235.

Say it with me: WOW!

Considering the full-size crowd of cars that the LaCrosse must compete with, I suppose that explains the sticker jolt to some degree.  Needless to say, prospective buyers should carefully consider the option packages being offered on the LaCrosse.

Power on my ride was provided by a 3.6-liter V-6 with 304 horsepower.  The power plant was responsive and capable in all situations, and on-demand, high-end power rushed to the fore quickly when asked.

Fuel mileage is so-so at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Overall, this LaCrosse holds its own amid the feature-loaded, glittery competition.  It’s a solid “B” or “B-plus” of an American sedan.

Is this Buick worth knowing?   Absolutely.  If you haven’t test driven a Buick passenger car in a long time, this LaCrosse is a ride worthy of your time.

 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Infiniti coupe is a sweet-handling dream

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

This review originally appeared in the June 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California I recently received a 2014 Infiniti Q60 Coupe Journey with a significant amount of ho-hum.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Infiniti’s passenger car lineup.  Like it a lot.  It’s just that I had been in and out so many sporty, peppy, luxo Infiniti cars over the years that I was feeling, well, jaded.

Shame on me.  The Q60 designation might be new to some of you, but let me assure you, you’ll never forget it if you spend a little time in it.

Right off the bat, it looks good. It’s aerodynamically smooth from nose to tail, and Infiniti’s double-arch grille sure hits the right style spot.  Big fenders on the backside are accentuated by an impressive display of LED taillights.  The car looks super-sporty just sitting there.  My ride’s “Venetian Ruby” paint job surely added to the eye-candy factor.

Driving it, the heart rate goes up in a hurry.  The 3.7-liter V-6 is rated at 330 horsepower, and my Q60 was matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission.  Here’s a marriage made in heaven.

I was putting the Q60 through its paces on level ground early on, and it quickly became apparent to me that the gear-to-power-to-suspension equation was so well matched that I could put the car anywhere I wanted in a snap … without even coming close to cutting off a trailing car.

Significantly impressed, I started whipping the coupe through heavy traffic at a fairly aggressive pace.  As I headed up into the Sierra Nevada foothills, I tried to get the back end of the car to loosen up a little bit.  Not a chance.  It was rock-solid.

Five miles up the mountain road, I was just showing off.  The Q60 whipped through high-speed turns with single-minded stability, and it instantly responded in short passing zones, blazing past stragglers three at a time with just a short blip on the accelerator.  Yeah, the $40,000-and-change starting price is worth it when you’re having this much fun.

Alas, my ride was incredibly juiced up with a Premium Package (rear sonar and a power/tinted glass moonroof were part of that deal), a Sport Package (19-inch aluminum alloy wheels and a sport-tuned suspension), a Technology Package (intelligent cruise control might not be loved by all), a Navigation Package (with Zagat Survey restaurant guide, for crying out loud) and an Interior Accents Package (high gloss maple touches did look nice).

All this helped bring the bottom line to $50,405.  So, there, you’ve been warned.

Worth noting: Gas mileage was actually pretty good for a hot V-6, coming in at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

For me, the bottom line with this Q60 was that it was a great “Fantasy Week” car, which is a short way of saying I enjoyed every minute motoring around in a machine that is beyond the reality of my household budget.  The Q60 might not be as instantly recognizable as, say, a Corvette or a horsepower-laden Mustang or a Camaro, but it offers comparable levels of exhilaration and fun that you get in those sporty rides.

Ho-hum?  Not even a little bit. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

California Automobile Museum's 6th cruise coming soon

Sacramento, California -- This column will be on the road next week, but before I go, a reminder that one of the Sacramento area's biggest annual car events is coming up Aug. 9: the sixth annual California Automobile Museum Car Cruise.

Cruisers of all ages and cars of virtually every stripe will start assembling at California State University, Sacramento, in the early afternoon.  At 4 p.m. the colorful car parade will start making its way toward Fulton Avenue.  The museum expects 400 cars to be parked along Fulton, which will be blocked off between El Camino and Marconi avenues, by 5 p.m.

From 5 to 8 p.m., the on-the-street party includes live music at multiple venues, a wide selection of vendors, plenty of beer, food trucks and much more, plus access to the services of the diverse food and retail merchants along Fulton Avenue.  There is no charge for spectators.

A soup-to-nuts list of cruise awards at the Fulton Avenue staging area will wrap up the event.

Haven't signed up?  Need more info?  Here's where you need to go: www.calautomuseum.org/event/6th-annual-cam-car-cruise.