Friday, September 26, 2014

Versatile Versa has an easy-on-the-eyes price

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 – Never let it be said that I failed to appreciate the charms of a discount-priced passenger car.

My personal economic condition enables me to understand that going out to drop 30-grand or more on a new car is not like snagging a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk at the local supermarket.

There’s serious money involved, and oh, doesn’t it feel good when four-door transportation wears a sticker far south of $20,000?

And with that,  I give you the recently tested 2015 Nissan Versa Note SR.  This is Nissan’s affordable five-door hatchback, and the SR version is the second-priciest among five trim levels.  But even that’s a mere $17,530.

An SR Convenience Package (including a top-grade rearview monitor, satellite radio and a few other goodies) on my ride swelled the bottom line to $19,180.  But again, that’s well within range of many household budgets.

What you won’t get for that kind of money is a rubber-burning V-6, but I confess that I was fairly surprised at the spunk of the tester’s 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine with 109 horsepower.  It howled a bit at full song, but otherwise handled the propulsion chores with more than adequate competence.  The continuously variable transmission functioned flawlessly.  Steering was easy and just firm enough.

The rear hatch arrangement was easy to work with and swallowed up ample piles of widely varying cargo.

Passengers in front and back seats had complaints about my driving skills, but they said they were comfortable riding in my Versa.

It looks nice too, sort of like a high-shouldered bull that’s perpetually ready to charge. There’s a subtle spoiler at the back end; nice touch. And I liked the mix of “Red Brick” exterior paint set off against a “Charcoal” color interior on my tester.

Stripped?  Absolutely not.  The standard comfort/convenience features included leather/chrome touches, a thorough trip computer and a basket of contemporary plugged-in/audio perks.

Naturally, given this vehicle segment, the fuel mileage numbers are superior: 31 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.  So, bravo, you save money over the long haul as well.

Honda, Toyota and Ford offer up serious competition in Versa’s class, but the Nissan product holds up well in those comparisons.  Nissan seems to have figured out that lots of folks are still carefully counting and/or saving dollars these days.  The Versa is a nicely appointed, alluring vehicle for those folks.

Overall, I’d give this hatch a solid “B” with a “B-plus” in the Fun to Drive Department.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cadillac ELR is shining jewel in car world

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 August 2014 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California There are some cars that I call jewels, and for me, that’s a vehicle cruising at such a high level of quality, performance and engineering that everything else on the road shapes up a merely normal.

Or in simpler terms: a car so excellent that I’m wondering why anyone would trust me with it.

I’ve tested some AMG-tuned Mercedes-Benz vehicles that were jewel-quality. A Bentley Continental GT?  Ditto.

And most recently, a new-for-2014 Cadillac ELR.  Sticker price: $81,135.  And worth every penny of that, I tell you.

OK, this is the Caddy with the Chevrolet Volt-sytle plug-in electric, combined with a range-extending, gas-fueled engine seamlessly taking over when the electric juice runs out.  But this ELR is no Volt, like a Space Shuttle is not a VW Bug.

Wearing gleaming “Crystal Red” exterior paint, the ELR delivered to me resembled a purpose-built racing prototype set to qualify for the 24 Hours of LeMans.  Killer Cadillac grille on the front and then rounding out in perfect aerodynamic arc clear to the back end of the vehicle.  It looked fast just sitting there.

The gleaming, 20-inch machined aluminum wheels are spectacular.

Get inside and the audio system projects a heart-stimulating symphonic sound you’d expected to hear in a top-tier military-style video game.  The car all but screams: Are you ready to rock?  Pressing the start button brings silence, but the dash lights let you know the ELR is ready to roll.

If you juiced up the car via a standard electrical outlet, you already have some 24 miles to work with before the gas-fueled engine takes over the power-feeding duties within the complex battery system.  Fully charged and gassed, the ELR has a range of about 340 miles.   Your energy usage is constantly fed to you on the dash.

And wow, does it scoot for a front-driver with a four-cylinder standard power plant.  Yes, there are systems under the hood that I don’t have a prayer of ever understanding, but I happily blasted along in my ignorance and enjoyed the ride.

It steered with magnificent ease.  The interior was quiet as a private reading room in an old-school library.

My ELR was loaded up with a ton of techno goodies, including intelligent headlamps, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-side alert, lane-departure warning system (again, a little touchy for my taste, but it can be turned off), rain-sensing windshield wipers, remote vehicle start and on and on and on.  The owner’s manual is really not enough.  I’d recommend taking a couple of nighttime classes to learn everything the car can do.

Happily, given all that goes with the ELR package, Cadillac loads it up with more than a half dozen warranties covering various components and systems.  Good call, there.

Personally, I had nothing to complain about in my week with the car, just like I’d have nothing to complain about if someone gave me carte blanche to privately play all the Pebble Beach golf courses on the Monterey Peninsula for a week.

You don’t complain when someone hands you a jewel.  And yeah, this ELR is all of that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

MX-5 Miata two-seater reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring two-seater in the latest, September 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, September 5, 2014

Acura's RDX holds up well through the years

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 – Sometimes in this auto-reviewing business, the vehicles stack up, and you get seat time in back-to-back model years of the same vehicle…all within the span of a few weeks.

So it was with me recently, getting a 2015 Acura RDX with all-wheel drive and the Technology Package (pictured) shortly after testing the 2014 version of the same sport-utility vehicle.

No worries mate. For me, it was a fairly basic assignment.  The two vehicles were pretty much the same animal, taking model years out of the equation.  And what was there reflected well on the upscale Acura brand.

For a starting price of slightly more than $40,000, Acura’s entry-level SUV has a fairly peppy 273-horsepower V-6 engine.  On the move, the power plant handled most everything competently and with a pleasingly low level of noise creeping into the cockpit.

I had to sink my foot deep into the accelerators on both testers when steep hill climbs were required.  Given the horsepower rating, that wasn’t necessarily a surprise, and certainly not a deal-breaker.

Fuel mileage was OK on both: 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

Luxury, comfort, convenience and safety features were plentiful, and I was pleased that the Technology Package included an easy-to-operate power tailgate, a responsive navigation system and a rearview camera.  Alas, one of my complaints was sun glare frequently disturbing my view of the high, center-mounted dash screen.

The exterior look is pretty standard, understated and definitely in line with what I expect from an Acura SUV.

Overall, the vehicle is loaded, comfortable and an able performer, a solid “B” if not higher.  And Acura touts the long-standing sales popularity of the RDX.

Case closed…Well, almost.

I was stunned with much of what I saw from customer reviews of the RDX online.  Some of the criticisms were downright mean-spirited and brutal.

In kinder terms, here’s some of what I saw: The RDX doesn’t have enough technology, even with the Technology Package.  The technology is difficult to use.  The dash layout is a mess.  It’s nothing but a dressed-up Honda CR-V.  There are not enough power adjustments available on the front seats.

Wow, really?

I will concede that $40,000 for a motor vehicle is indeed a hefty chunk of change in this day and age.  And I know that the auto-selling business is so competitive now that automakers are stuffing more and more standard perks into their products in an effort to draw the ever-wandering eyes of consumers.

But frankly, after doing a line-by-line comparison of standard features in the RDX with competitors’ similar offerings, I concluded that the RDX fits fairly and nicely in this entry-level, luxo SUV segment.  And you can take that to the bank.
 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Here's that Hyundai you could have had

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 – I routinely have conversations with excited people telling me about their latest sedan purchase.

The names Lexus, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Infiniti, Cadillac, Chevy, Ford, Acura, Audi and other usual suspects roll off the tongue like water over Niagara Falls.

Sometimes, I come back with a variation of the marketing campaign used by a beverage maker: Wow, you could have had a Hyundai.

And I really mean it.

I’ve lost track of the times that I’ve stacked up a Hyundai sedan against a competitor and found that the South Korean product not only had more perks, but could be had for a price that was thousands less than that displayed by the competition.

A recent week in a 2014 Hyundai Azera Limited sedan not only reinforced that opinion but strengthened it.

Let’s start with the dollars.

Starting price on the tester was $34,750.  It was dressed up with a nearly $2,200 Premium Package that included fancy 19-inch silver alloy wheels, a tilt/slide sunroof, a power rear sunshade, manually operated rear side window sunshades and a rear parking-assist system.  All that is very nice and helped bring the bottom line to $37,905.

But if you throw that out, mentally speaking at least, what’s left if a long list of items shown as INCLUDED on the sticker.

That includes Hyundai’s super-generous warranties, vehicle stability control, traction control, brake-assist systems, heated/power folding exterior mirrors with turn signal indicators, chrome-tipped dual exhausts, leather seating surfaces with heat front and back, proximity key entry, high-intensity headlights, ventilated front seats, power tilt/telescoping steering column, navigation system with 8-inch screen and rearview cameras, a rockin’ Infinity Logic 7 surround-sound audio system, HD radio and a host of built-in audio/link-up technology.

So, how much did you pay for that loaded sedan made by (insert automaker not named Hyundai here)?

Yeah, I thought so.

Oh, the Azera looks sharp too, mine particularly so with a Silver Frost Metallic exterior paint scheme set off perfectly with Graphite Black interior touches.

 The 3.3-liter V-6 is an appropriately gutsy power plant with nearly 300 horsepower and an ear-pleasing exhaust note.  In my hands, the steering made the car feel much lighter than the vehicle weight rating, yet the Azera never felt loose in slalom maneuvers meant to break rear traction.  Kudos to Hyundai engineers for building in that much fun.

Fuel mileage is pretty good at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

Overall, this Azera is a no-brainer “B-plus” of a car, and upon further reflection, I’d say an “A-minus” is the decidedly more accurate grade.  And at this price, consider it a worthy back-to-school special.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A tale of two Accords: Green and golden

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 – Here’s a sign of the times: I recently tested two environmentally friendly Honda Accords, and the plug-in version was easily the sexier of the two.

So there, I said it.

Reasons?  Sure, I have them.

The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring sedan was just great, with all the styling, engineering perfection, fit-and-finish excellence and plentiful standard features you expect in one of the nation’s best-selling cars.

And the superstar fuel mileage figures of 50 miles per gallon in the city and 45 mpg on the highway are likewise great.

But when the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid (pictured) showed up at my door, I was fairly smitten.

The sharply-cut, silver-and-black blades on the wheel covers looked like something you’d see on a sports car prototype.  The rest of the exterior sculpting was sporty-appealing. The Plug-in radiated aggressiveness just sitting there.

And naturally, you get the same eye-popping fuel mileage numbers (nearly 50 mpg on both city and highway) with the bonus of an easy-to-use plug-in feature.  The plug-in is the state-of-the-art system that delivers electric power for as long as the charge lasts before the standard four-cylinder engine seamlessly takes over the powering chores.

A regenerative braking system helps boost the vehicle’s electric supply, so if you are a conservative, forward-thinking driver, you’re likely going to be challenged to spend much money on fuel.

The Plug-in starts at around $40,000, but if you intend to keep it and do the long-range math on reduced expenditures at the gas pumps, you should come out ahead, financially speaking, in the long run.

Also included in the deal is a long list of customer-pleasing perks, including a navigation system, rearview camera, automatic on-the-move warning systems and heated front seats.

You also get that cool feature that gives you a long-range, side/rear visual of the right side of your car in the nav screen when you hit the right-turn signal.

Simply put, the already popular Accord now comes in flavors stuffed with the latest driving, safety, comfort and fuel-saving technology. Translation: A good car is even more alluring.

The standard hybrid Accord is a sound purchase, and obviously, I feel the same about the Plug-in with the exterior package that won my heart.

Picking your personal favorite is a gambler’s dream, because no matter what you decide, you can’t lose.

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.