Friday, December 12, 2014

Reworked Chrysler 200 rides the waves with ease

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 – A “new” version of an already existing model typically means that the vehicle has been changed somewhat.

However, the new-for-2015 version of the Chrysler 200 deserves the all-new billing in my view.

I could go through the whole laundry list, but the bottom line is this: the 200 looks like more car, feels like more car and drives like more car than I remember.

My ride was the 2015 200C, a sophisticated sedan for such a reasonable starting price of $26,225.  Mine was oh-so-dressed-up with a blizzard of optional equipment that brought the bottom line to $31,700.

It felt very much like a luxury model with all it had in it.

My tester was immediately put through a trial by fire … Check that, trial by water.

The 200C had to brave the torrential storms in my world this week, and on that score, it handled like a champ.

With the 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine driving it forward with fairly little noise, the 200C tackled roadway puddling and slick surfaces with rock-solid handling.  Best of all, at high speed, it powered between and around wobbling trucks and hydroplaning cars like it was glued to the road.

That was an extraordinary feeling of security.  I felt I could put it anywhere, and it would keep me out of harm’s way.

Interior comfort is good, and a thick steering wheel gave me an enhanced feeling of control.  The automatic rain-sensitive windshield wipers, which are optional, seemed to have a hard time adjusting to the conditions, so I set them on a regular, stay-on pace.

My biggest gripe was with the nine-speed (yes, NINE) automatic transmission, which seemed to struggle with what it wanted to do when starting up in the lowest gears.  Once cruising speed was reached, no problem.

One other gripe: The tire pressure-monitoring system continuously warned me of a low-pressure problem on the right front, even though I increased the pressure twice.  I’m going to chalk this up to the system in general.  I understand the value of tire pressure-monitoring systems, but in my experience, they often serve up a “false positive” related to tire temperatures and other factors not related to inflation.

Just saying.  Maybe it’s just my bad luck.

The exterior of the 200C was robust and broad-shouldered for this class.  Interior comfort and convenience features are plentiful and easy to use.

Chrysler says its 200 offers the most available safety features in the midsize segment, and I believe it just scanning the long list.

All in all, THE NEW TWO is a step up from the previous generation. This remake gets a B-plus on my report card.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lexus RX models rule roost in luxury SUV segment

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 hear expert fiscal analysis on a daily basis, but here’s how I know the economy is improving: Strong sales of Lexus RX sport-utility vehicles.

Yes, this is the best-selling line of luxury SUVs in the nation, and it’s no small accomplishment given the sticker prices involved.  You need to bring more than $40,000 to the table just to get in the game for 2015, but honestly, it’s worth the coin if you crave top-tier SUV excellence from bumper to bumper.

I recently had a week in a 2015 RX 350 (pictured) starting at $42,195, and it was loaded with the usual consumer-pleasing goodies: backup camera, 10-way power front seats, power back door and fancy wood interior trim to name just a few.

Mine was dressed up to superstar class ­– LED foglamps, a dual-screen rear seat entertainment system, a head-up display and a kickin’ Mark Levinson audio system were part of the deal – and rolled off the line wearing a sticker showing $54,340 on the bottom line.

I felt spoiled just backing the RX 350 out of the driveway.  And even though this model and its basic shape have been around for some time, I still get the usual nods of approval from passersby.  You get used to saying “thank you” to folks who volunteer “nice ride.”

Yes, it is nice.  It’s just as nice in motion.

The 3.5-liter, 270-horsepower V-6 hands out power with buttery smoothness, yet your RX is blazing past stragglers like a no-muffler Chevy hot rod of days past.  Handling for such a high-shouldered vehicle is silky smooth; it holds the line in sharp turns without creating a single ripple in your center console-seated coffee cup.

And you can have this RX another way.  I did.

I turned over the RX 350 for a 2015 RX 450h.  This hybrid luxury liner started at $48,845 and, like the RX 350, it was decked out with opulent extras, which pushed the bottom line to $58,315.

Yes, this was a Fantasy Island ride even more luxurious than what the RX 350 offered.  With the engine-assisting “Hybrid Drive” electrics doing their job, my RX 450h got 30 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

There was a very slight lag in the power surge when I mashed the accelerator, but once the big brute responded, it pushed itself forward impressively.

I should note that the range of vision from the cockpit in both vehicles was extraordinary, something I’m appreciating more and more in my old age and at a time when risk-taking on the open road seems to have become a competitive sport.  Along that line, the RX models have plentiful driving-enhancement and safety features.  Can’t be too careful these days, right?

Simply put, these RX vehicles are first-class luxury offerings.  For those who can afford the price, you’re actually getting quite a deal.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Passat diesel keeps going, and going, and going...

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 could have driven to Los Angeles … and back.

Excuse me, I hate to be fixated on fuel mileage when I’m test driving a car, but when you have been motoring along for a bit and the projected range on your vehicle says 700 miles before the next fill-up, it gets your attention.

In fact, it seemed like the fuel needle would NEVER budge in my week with the 2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE (with sunroof) sedan.  It was absolutely amazing.

OK, so some of you are saying, ugh, it’s a diesel.  Wrong friendo, it’s an extraordinary diesel, with performance and pop and none of that old-school diesel balkiness that some of you still believe exists this very day.

What is under the hood is a 2-liter, four-cylinder, clean, turbocharged diesel power plant that gets 30 miles per gallon in the city and a whopping 42 mpg on the highway.  With an 18.5-gallon gas tank, well, you can do the math from there.

You say you don’t like shopping around for diesel fuel?  Who cares?!!!  The sedan gets such gaudy mileage that you can drive around town for an hour and lose relatively little in the bargain.

And with the turbo boost, the Passat responded to my right foot with authority, more than one would expect from a 150-horsepower-rated engine.  When I nailed the gas, I wondered if I was making a dent in the fuel mileage.  Best as I could tell, I failed miserably along that line.

I admit that I don’t think about diesel too much, until I get a ride like this Passat.  It sets me to pondering about the economical possibilities, which are considerable.

A few years back, VW was getting zapped for touting diesel in an age of growing hybrids and electrics.  After a week in this Passat, maybe the critics ought to rethink those barbs.

This looks and feels like a $35,000 car.  It’s not.  The starting fare is a reasonable $28,840.

For my ride, that paid for standard features that included multiple vehicle-control systems, the aforementioned power sunroof, a rearview camera system, heated front seats and leather appointments.

Yes, that seems rather generous.  The warranties are likewise generous.

The car measures about 192 inches nose to tail, and that translates to ample interior space for driver and passengers.  The field of vision from the cockpit was good.

The Passat’s look is relatively sedate, but it’s aerodynamic enough to park it with pride in front of the neighbors.  The 18-inch alloy wheels add just a touch of saucy appeal.

The Passat reportedly is getting some big changes for 2016, and that’s all well and good.

For now, this 2015 midsize everyday driver has  B-plus charms and A-plus fuel economy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Note to NASCAR: Let's change the course

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/article3455485.html

Sacramento, California – OK, NASCAR just concluded its latest “playoff” format scheme to crown a new Sprint Cup champion, which turned out to be Kevin Harvick.

Good for him.  Now scrap the format, please.

In a format that was supposed to reward winning races in a season, we came within one bobbled restart of winless Ryan Newman taking home the Cup.

That’s not a good plan.  Just the very thought that it could happen again – and likely will at some point up the road if things remain unchanged – gives me the shivers.

Please understand, it’s not that I have anything against Harvick, who raced hard in a good car all year, or Newman, a bulldog in shape and substance whose relentless driving style is easy to like.  Both drivers played by the rules as written.

You just can’t have a nationally popular auto racing series crowning an undeserving champion.  And it came close to that the first time around.

And, oh please, I’ve heard all the arguments to the contrary.  It was exciting right to the last lap of the final race.  Look at the improved TV ratings.  Love those post-race fights, by jingo … and on and on.

OK, I’ll give you that.  But I’ll also wager that I could take the top 10 drivers in the series in any given year, pick four from the group by coin flips and still put on an exciting show in the final race.  Yes, if you have ANY format that guarantees four eligible champions going into the last race, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s going to be an entertaining scrap.

But just suppose that the quartet going into the final was composed of, say, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski.  You think folks would have tuned in for that?  Why yes, I believe they would.

And for me, this is where the biggest problem surfaces with the current format.  NASCAR spent decades building up its individual driver stars, and this effort produced spectacular results in fan attendance and TV presence.  So now, you have a format that eliminated the biggest names (and biggest race winners) from the “playoffs” before the final green flag of the year.  Not good.

And worse, under the current format, with short three-race segments in the early playoff rounds, a big-name driver can essentially be eliminated from the Cup hunt with one wreck not of his own making.  And that’s precisely what happened with Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt.

Keep this format in place, and I can pretty much guarantee that the inevitable will occur: A driver or his teammate will deliberately wreck a competitor to eliminate him from the playoffs.  It will happen.  Count on it.

Call me old-school, but I still favor a championship system that takes the whole year into account.  It’s done in other racing series – that includes other NASCAR series – with no problem whatsoever.

You want to put more emphasis on winning, fine.  Award more points for individual race wins; don’t let a single race win amount to a free pass to the “playoffs.”  This would eliminate the super bonus of “one-off” wins, a la road course specialist A.J. Allmendinger taking the checkers at Watkins Glen this year and jumping right into the Sprint Cup chase field.

By awarding points instead of free passes for race wins, you force a driver like Allmendinger to earn his Chase spot over the long haul, along with other drivers doing hard work in races throughout the year.

Sure, I’m weary of NASCAR tweaking the “playoff” format, but something needs to be done to avoid a less-than-deserving Cup winner.  This is a series that runs pretty much from Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving.  That’s a long time, a lot of hard work and oceans of sweat.

The body of work over a year should stand for something.  Here’s hoping NASCAR will adjust its big show accordingly.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mazda6 a must-test-drive model in midsize segment

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/article3455485.html

Sacramento, California – I was offered another week in a Mazda6, and I jumped at it.

No mystery there.  I’ve long thought the Mazda6 was an underappreciated ride in the crowded midsize sedan segment.

The Mazda6 was extensively reworked for the 2014 model year – that was my most recent experience in it – and there are a few tweaks for the 2015 campaign.  My tester, a 2015 Mazda6 Grand Touring edition, reminded me how much I liked the previous year’s makeover.

I was not alone in that, by the way.  The Mazda6 pulled down a basketful of heavyweight awards last year.
 
So, what's the big deal?

For starters, it’s an attractive sedan, nicely fitted front and rear and accentuated in profile to give it a full-size appearance.  All the lines flow smoothly, especially the sweep on the front end.  The 19-inch alloy wheels also are eye-catching.

The generous standard features on the tester, showing a starting price at just a few bucks less than $30,000, is especially pleasing.  The techno/luxo rush includes power/heated side mirrors (with turn lamps, too), leather trimmed sport seats, heated front seats, rearview camera, power moonroof and rear-cross traffic alert.

The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, 184-horsepower engine was peppy in the extreme.  No, it’s not going to blow off horsepower-laden sports cars, but I found the Mazda6 quite capable for entering tight spots during freeway commutes, and it reliably, aggressively powered out of harm’s way when asked to do so.

The handling was nimble, almost two-seater-like, yet volunteer passengers said they were comfortable – and had plenty of room – in our brief runs out on the roadways.

Fuel mileage is excellent at 28 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

Passengers and neighbors alike kept me asking me questions about the tested Mazda6, the kind of questions that imply obvious interest in perhaps buying one.

I did nothing to discourage such thoughts.

I think the signature of this model is that you get so much for a comparatively humble investment.  My ride was dressed up with a $2,000 GT Technology Package (radar cruise control and a lane departure-warning system were part of that mix), but I would have been perfectly content with the standard version and all that went with it.  Which is to say a lot.

In the midsize segment, the Mazda6 earns a spot on the must-test-drive list, and yes, I realize that there’s a lot to choose from in that grouping.

Suffice it to say that the Mazda6 belongs in that crowd and is worthy of your consideration.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Updated Genesis reviewed in latest Cruisin' News

Check out my review of the updated 2015 Hyundai Genesis 3.8 sedan in the latest, November 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.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reworked Legacy is a gem in crowded field

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/article3455485.html

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

Sacramento, California Welcome to the minority report, which is what you are when you’re a Subaru Legacy competing with the likes of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in the midsize sedan segment.

Never shy about entering the battle in the land of the giants, Subaru has rolled out an extensively reworked Legacy for the 2015 model year.  How many motorists will actually test drive it, or buy it?

Not a clue.

But those who don’t get a least a little time behind the wheel of the new Legacy are missing something.  This is a grade “A” job across the board.  And because it’s a Subaru, all-wheel drive is part of the standard package.

My tester was the 2.5i Premium, with a reasonable starting price of $23,495.  Nearly $3,000 in extras that included a moonroof, navigation system and some extra safety technology helped push the bottom line to $27,480.  But still, we’re well underneath the $30,000 threshold for a loaded machine.

The Legacy’s exterior look is shapely, with a nice aerodynamic curve over the top, cut-in sculpting on the bottom and a robust-looking double-tier grille on the front end.  For 2015, the windshield base was moved forward just a couple of inches, bringing a more raked look, and a better slice through the wind.  All-around vision from the cockpit is superb.

The engine is a four-cylinder, boxer-style worker that’s a marvel of efficiency at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.  And it scoots the Legacy along quite well linked to a continuously variable transmission.

When asked to give all, the power plant digs in fairly impressively to move the 3,455-pound sedan into a tight freeway hole.  City driving is a snap with the Legacy’s refined AWD and suspension systems, MacPherson strut on the front and double-wishbone on the rear.  My tester had a downright sporty feel.

Interior comfort is superb, front and back, and special noise-limiting touches make in-car conversations understandable even in dicey freeway commutes.  The trunk gets bigger this time around, with a generous 15 cubic feet of space.

The tester had lots of bells and whistles in the comfort/convenience and safety departments, leading me to speculate that Subaru was darn near handing out gratis perks given the starting price of the vehicle.

It’s worth noting that you can move up to a six-cylinder, 256-horsepower version of the 2015 Subaru Legacy for just a few thousand more bucks.  Having been pleasantly pleased with the four-banger, I can only image the thrills the six-cylinder power plant might dish up.

The bottom line is that this new Legacy is an exceptional midsize passenger from bumper to bumper.  If the Subaru marketing machine can convince enough Toyota and Honda loyalists (as well as consumers who might be on the fence about what to buy next) to just take a test drive in the Legacy, I’m guessing the automaker would win some converts.