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Vehicles Archive

Parking Faux Pas

photo[1]A couple times now, I’ve mentioned that I’m not very good at parking. That might be an understatement. I’m really bad at it.

Regular parking spaces, angled parking spaces, parallel parking, even spaces that simply require me to pull straight ahead…I always wind up lopsided or over the lines. I’m a great driver, but when it comes to low speed maneuvering, apparently I have some kind of deficiency.

But the other day, I hit a new low. Literally.

I drove into Chicago to meet someone for lunch. There were street-sweeping restrictions in the neighborhood that day, so I could only park on one half of the street, but those spaces were already taken. (I would have considered taking my chances parking on the street-sweeping side, but the couple cars over there had boots, so I figured it was better not to risk it.)

After driving around for 15 minutes, I finally saw a space. It was along a curb, with a car in front and an alley in back, so I had room to pull in without needing to parallel park. Perfect! I pulled up and realised I was hanging slightly into the bike lane, so I backed up and turned closer to the curb a bit, then pulled forward…and heard a terrible scraping sound and realized I was stuck.

I tried backing up, but it wouldn’t go. I tried inching forward, but it wouldn’t go. I thought if I could rev it hard, I could make it, but of course there was a car in front of me.

I got out and surveyed the scene. On a normal curb, my tire would have bumped, but this was a really really tall curb, and my wheels were jammed. Panic set in as I tried to figure out how I’d get home and how we would unstick the car.

I got back in and tried a few more times. I realized that by turning the steering wheel lightly, I could move a fraction of an inch in either direction. So I sat there, slowly rocking my car out of the space and praying that no one was filming it for YouTube. At one point, I noticed a AAA tow truck emerging from the alley behind me and was about to flag it down, but it turned the other way. I continued to maneuver the car inch by inch until I had finally freed myself.

I texted my husband to tell him I ruined our hubcaps. He wrote back, “We don’t have hubcaps.”

I said, “Well maybe we should. In that case, I ruined the round metal things in the middle of the tires.”

I hoped it would “just buff out,” but Hubby says no. So I broke our car, but at least it appears to be cosmetic.

Now it’s your turn. Make me feel better by sharing your traumatic parking stories.

 

2013-2014 Mercedes Benz GL 450 Video Review: Kids, Carseats and Safety

Rather than bore you with a wall of text, this review of the 2013 Mercedes Benz GL450 4Matic will be primarily a video and photo review.  As usual, there will be an emphasis on seating kids, vehicle safety and carseat compatibility.  The GL-Class was updated for 2013, with the main improvement for families being slightly more interior space.  There were also updated powertrains, a revised dashboard and console design, exterior styling refinements and the addition of some advanced safety features.  Unfortunately, the Driver Assistance Package with DISTRONIC PLUS, Blind Spot and Lane Keep Assist adds almost $3,000 to the $64,000 base price.  My loaded 4Matic model with just about everything was an eye-popping $96,610 sticker price, but expect the street price of the more fuel-efficient GL350 BlueTEC to be well under $70,000, even with the Driver Assistance Package.

 

 

The second row is wider than any midsize SUV I’ve tested, and most of the smaller full-size SUVs as well. The middle seat is wide enough for narrower carseats and there is no funky crossover of seatbelts and LATCH anchors! It’s not adjustable for legroom, but does provide a good amount of space as it is.  There are also plenty of cupholders and spaces for storage.

 

 

It doesn’t stop there.

Smooth Sailing: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder – Kids, Carseats & Safety Review

pathfinderI got off to a rocky start with the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder I recently test-drove for a week, but in all fairness, it wasn’t really the car’s fault.

See, it has one of those push-button ignitions, and when I went to take it for a spin, I guess I didn’t notice that the car wasn’t completely on. I had just gotten done selecting my radio station and connecting my phone via Bluetooth. Then I threw the car into reverse and started backing down my driveway. I soon realized that the car seemed sluggish, and it was hard to turn.

Finally, just as the car finished inching out of my driveway, it stopped and wouldn’t move anymore, no matter what I tried. In a panic, I called my husband (using my freshly paired phone and the car’s speakers). Even though the Pathfinder was now blocking my entire street and I had visions of someone plowing into this borrowed car, I did see the humor in the situation, and I half-laughed, half-cried to my husband, “The car is stuck! I need your help!”

It turns out my husband had been watching me from the window the whole time and couldn’t figure out why I had parked the car in the middle of the street. He came out, got in the car, started it up, and had it back in the driveway three seconds later.

“How did you do that?!” I demanded.

“You have to step on the brake while you press the button. Didn’t you notice the engine wasn’t on?”

“I thought it was just really quiet,” I answered sheepishly. In my defense, the last car I drove with a push-button ignition was a Prius, which is silent. “How did I get down the driveway, though?”

“Gravity?”

And so began my week. My husband was worried about letting me drive alone after that, but I assured him I’d be fine.

Despite the rough start, so to speak, I soon fell in love with the Pathfinder, as did the rest of the family.

I had the Platinum edition, which comes fully loaded with leather, navigation, DVD, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, etc. Obviously all that luxury helped a lot. But even without all the extras, we were very impressed with the Pathfinder, both in terms of driving and easily seating the kids.

The 2013 Pathfinder is redesigned, with a sleeker exterior and roomier interior. It’s less truck-like but still big enough for most people’s needs, and it gets better fuel mileage than the previous incarnation. It boasts a 5-star rating for side impacts, with 4-star ratings for frontal and rollover.  The overall average from Safercar.gov is a 4-star crash rating.  The IIHS has not yet completed its testing.  So far, the 2013 Pathfinder has received the top “Good” ratings in both the moderate overlap frontal crash test and the IIHS side impact test.

 

DRIVING

You know how some people know a lot about wine, and they say things like, “This one is fruity, with oaky undertones”? I don’t know anything about wine, so I say things like, “Yeah, I like that,” or “Oh my god! It burns!!! It burns!!!”

You’ll have to forgive that I’m like that with cars, too. I’m not a car-person in the sense that I can discuss “suspension damping” or “throttle response” (I had to go read some Edmunds reviews just to come up with those terms). So how was the Pathfinder to drive? I liked it. (And it didn’t burn.)

To try to give a bit more description: I was nervous at first because it felt big, even though it’s comparable in size to the Honda Odyssey I drive now, and the Honda Pilot I drove previously. It handled very nicely, though, and I soon found I loved driving it. It had smooth, quick acceleration from a stop, and handled turns great. I discovered, upon having to make a u-turn on a narrow Chicago street, that it has a nice, tight turn radius.

The drive was very quiet, especially compared to the not-so-quiet Odyssey. I also found the brakes to be nice and responsive. (The Edmunds review described the brakes as “spongy.” Not being a wine/car person, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I didn’t experience anything I’d describe as sponginess. The day after I got the car, though, Nissan issued a recall for a brake issue on some Pathfinders, so maybe they got a dud?)

According to the car’s control panel, my gas mileage for the week was around 22 mpg, which is the combined city/highway fuel mileage estimated for the vehicle. I drove 207 miles and used about half a tank of gas. Not bad.

 

PARKING

I wouldn’t normally include a section on parking, because…why? But this truly deserves its own section.

Confession: I’m a good driver, but a terrible parker. I’m not just talking parallel parking: I mean ANY parking. I always wind up too far over to one side or another, and I’m NEVER straight. It’s pretty embarrassing.

Anyway, when I was sitting there at a stop light on my virgin trip, I noticed a “camera” button and decided to push it. In Heather’s review of the Tesla S, she mentioned you could see out of the backup camera while driving, so I thought that might be the case here, too. Turns out that’s not quite what it did, but it might be even cooler. When I pressed the camera button, the screen changed to show the view from a forward camera and also a “birds-eye view” of the car that showed what was behind, in front of, and on both sides. Perfect for parking? Yes, especially for someone with such meager parking skills.

Once I started going above a couple miles per hour, the camera view turned off, but I turned it back on when I got to the parking lot at the grocery store. As I turned into my spot, the “overhead” camera showed me the lines in the pavement and also showed computerized lines marking the direction of my front wheels.

photo 1[1]

Using these tools, I effortlessly parked PERFECTLY, possibly for the first time in my life.

My car also came equipped with sensors that beep when you have obstacles (including people) behind you while you’re in reverse. Very handy, and a great safety feature for keeping kids safe around cars. Nissan calls this the “Around View Monitor System with Camera Aided Sonar.” I guess that describes it pretty well.

 

CAR SEATS

Overall, the Pathfinder was great for transporting kids. Typically, I much prefer minivans over SUVs for transporting more than two kids, mainly because of third-row access issues, but if I had to own an SUV, the Pathfinder would be high on my list specifically because of the great third-row access.

The Pathfinder has a feature that allows the second-row seats to fold slightly forward and move up, even with a child seat installed! Best of all, it’s easy enough for my child to do. (I’ve found a lot of second-row seats rather difficult to move, even for an adult).

There are limitations to this.

2013 Chevrolet Traverse Video Review: Kids, Carseats & Safety

CarseatBlog has already reviewed the similar Buick Enclave.  In fact, we declared it as one of our two safest family vehicles for 2012!  For the 2013 model year, only minor changes were made to GM’s crossover trio that includes the Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia.  So, this review will be a bit less detailed than some of our other auto reviews.  The main changes for the Traverse are to styling, primarily the front end and the interior.  Also touted are minor improvements to the transmission and suspension.  For safety, GM’s front center airbag, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning are now available and the rear camera with a new 6.5″ screen is now standard.  The MyLink infotainment system with bluetooth streaming support is also available.

 

Please note that since our video above was made, the 2013 Traverse received the same top crash test ratings from the NHTSA as the 2012 and earlier models, so it remains one of the safest vehicles on the road!  For bigger families, there’s also an 8-passenger version that includes a second row bench seat, rather than captain’s chairs.  The 2nd row center seat is not particularly wide, but should accommodate a narrow carseat or passenger. We took a look at one at the Chicago Auto Show, but unfortunately the lighting available left our video a little dark, so apologies in advance!

 

 

Child Passenger Safety:

Overall, my comments are very similar to our previous review.  Like the Enclave,

Driving Graycie Home: The Tesla Model S Goes for a Long Drive

Matt and I worked on this next blog post together. Well, I shouldn’t say together exactly, since if we actually wrote it together, it wouldn’t be almost 22 years of wedded bliss now, would it? I wrote some parts and he wrote some parts and we meshed it together. Actually, I have to admit I slept most of the drive home; put me in the passenger seat of a smooth car and I’m out faster than a mellow baby in a swing. Matt was very sweet not to mention this part and I’m very lucky he was busy driving and not taking pictures . . .

We had been planning our “unplanned” trip home with the Tesla Model S for a few weeks, ever since we decided to go pick up the car from the factory instead of having it delivered. My dh, Matt, had wanted to make it a “bro weekend” with our son, but hello, anything that included a vehicle factory tour must include me, so the ladies barged in on their plans.

We drove to the airport and parking our old Lexus RX330 in long term parking. A colleague interested in buying it would pick it up later that day and try it out over the four days that we would be gone. We have not been in it since. She served us well.

We flew into San Jose and went out to grab a cab to go to the Tesla factory about 10 miles up I-880 in Fremont. It was amusing; the cab line in Las Vegas can be scores of people long with cabs lined as far as the eye can see. In San Jose, there was one cab waiting. So we hopped in. It was a Prius. Gas guzzler.

The factory has a new owner greeting and waiting area, where we were greeted and waited. We were early, and looked around the parking lot at the new, shiny Teslas.  On a whim I looked at the VINs of the gray cars, and lo and behold, there was ours, just waiting for us.