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Thanks, Dad!

My dad and I didn’t have a whole lot in common. He traveled during the week and sold equipment to railroads, while I’m at home every day doing internet publishing and child passenger safety work.  He was always puttering outside or in the garage, I am usually inside on the computer.  He liked westerns, I like sci-fi.  He liked country music, I like rock/pop.  He drank Genuine Draft, I prefer Guinness.  He was more of a “farm boy”, I am definitely more “city”.

In talking to one of my sisters recently, I realized that he did impart at least one common interest to me.  Cars.  Turns out, we all had childhood memories of helping him grease the points or do an oil change.  To this day, I still put my cars on ramps to do an oil change, a hassle I’d probably never consider if it wasn’t for my dad.   My passion happens to be new cars and keeping kids safe in cars, while his favorite pastime was restoring antique cars.  So, perhaps it is not surprising where my interest originated, especially considering how different a path it is than high power electronics design, my career before this one.

So where is this going? In honor of dad, who would have been 78 today, I decided I was going to splurge on a safer, new set of tires for my car.  Something he would certainly appreciate!  My old ones were Toyota’s crummy OEM tires, but still in pretty good condition, so I hadn’t been able to justify replacing them.  Weird thing, while I was at the shop having the new treads installed, I was passing the time talking to Kecia about upcoming blogs on the phone.  I happened to learn that her car was in the shop at the exact same time last Monday morning, also for a new set of Michelin tires.  What are the odds of that?

Maybe we can chalk it up to like minds thinking alike.  Maybe it was simple cosmic coincidence.  Tires are perhaps one of the most important and also most overlooked safety features on a car.  I’m sure Kecia is glad she got her new tires with all the rain New York state is getting (safe wishes to anyone else affected by frankenstorm Sandy this week)!  So, anyone else put on a new set of rubber recently?

The All-New Lexus GS 450h–Luxury in Green

The all-new 2013 Lexus GS 450h is not a Prius. Sure, it’s a hybrid and it has a battery in the trunk, but let’s be honest, you’re not buying the GS 450h to save gas. The new 2013 Lexus GS 450h is luxury on wheels. You’re buying the GS 450h to feel like you’re doing something to save the planet while you cool your bum during the summer and warm your hands during the winter. It’s a luxury car with green benefits. The GS, though, isn’t your ordinary green luxury car—it’s got spunk.

2013 Infiniti JX35 Review: Carseats + Safety + Luxury = Win?

There aren’t a lot of options for luxury SUVs with 3-rows of seating for large families.  The 2013 Infiniti JX35 Luxury Crossover SUV tries to set the bar in terms hi-tech and luxury features, but to get them all, it comes at a steep price of over $55,000.  That’s well above its entry level price of around 40 large.  Perhaps the closest competitors we’ve reviewed would be the Acura MDX and Buick Enclave.  The MDX is sportier, though somewhat smaller, while the Enclave seems similar in performance if perhaps a hair larger than the JX.  So what sets the JX apart?  The most obvious factors are unique styling, a very comfortable ride, easy 3rd row access and the safety features included in the technology package.

The bevy of optional TLA safety features is quite impressive and sets it apart from most competitors.  Trekkies will liken it to safety “Shields”.  The $2200 Driver’s Assistance Package (DAP) starts with a Back-Up Collision Intervention (BCI) system that saved my loaded AWD model from a rear bumper basher by braking before a car zoomed past me in a parking lot.  That car was impossible for me to see, due to the large SUV with dark windows in the spot next to me.  Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW) will apply brakes if its radar detects that you are approaching an object too quickly.  Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC) with Distance Control Assist (DCA) keeps you at a safe speed and distance in traffic on the highway.  Blind Spot Warning (BSW) alerts you with a light if a vehicle is in one of the large blind spots and an audible alarm sounds if you signal to merge to that lane.

The $3100 Technology Package includes everything above and adds Lane Departure Warning (LDW) that alerts you if you stray over the yellow or white lane lines on the road without signaling a merge.  In addition, it has Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) and Blind Spot Intervention (BSI).  These systems go beyond warnings and apply gentle braking on the opposite side of the vehicle from the detected threat.  This slightly slows and nudges the vehicle the other way to further alert you without affecting your steering control.   Finally, this package adds front seatbelts that are pretensioned automatically when a crash appears imminent.  Unfortunately, you must also get the $2950 Deluxe Touring Package (DTP) to get the tech package, making it a $6000 option.  OMG!

Combined, these features could potentially lull an otherwise good driver by providing too much sense of security.  On the other hand, even I benefitted a few times in my one week test drive.  A tired or inattentive driver (not to mention a typical parent with a crying baby or whining kids in back) may find these features to be a literal lifesaver!  We had hoped to see a similar system in Volvo’s City Safety package on the XC60 we tried to evaluate one a couple years ago. If it’s anything like Infiniti’s system, it may be worth the extra coin.  On the other hand, these systems are not foolproof.   The lane departure system can give false alarms and the backing system can miss smaller obstacles.  So, these features are a great aid to good drivers, but should not be relied upon to take the place of careful visual checks and alert driving.  They are off by default, so they are easily disabled.

A brief comment on driving the JX35.  It’s a great cruiser for the family, but it’s no more fun to drive than a good minivan.  On the plus side, it’s quieter and more comfortable than most minivans and for a price, it’s loaded with just about every hi-tech feature you could want.  My main ding is visibility, which is mediocre.  The optional AroundView is the best camera system I’ve seen.  It mitigates the marginal natural visibility for the driver, but you have to buy yet another pricey premium package ($5,000) to get it.  The 265hp engine and continuously variable transmission are smooth and get it going quickly enough.  Fuel economy was reasonable for such a heavy vehicle.  The computer indicated 25mpg on a short road trip, but closer to 18mpg around town.  The EPA says 18 city/23 highway for the AWD version, 18/24 for the 2WD model.

On to child passenger seating.  How about that child safety seat feature you’ve seen in commercials?  The one where you can flip forward the passenger side of the second row bench seat to access the third row, even if a child seat is installed there?  Yes, it works and is probably the easiest system of its type in any SUV.  Keep in mind that the carseat must be installed with LATCH (rather than the seatbelt), something that may be possible only at 40-48 pounds or less, depending on the carseat.  Also, a rear-facing child seat won’t offer nearly the same access to the third row.  Here’s a demonstration, please don’t try this at home with a child in the carseat when you flip it forward!

The All-New 2013 Lexus ES 350/ES 300H Review

The Lexus ES introduced luxury and top safety features to mid-size car buyers in 1989. This August, Lexus will release the all-new 2013 Lexus ES 350, a sixth-generation version of the workhorse that started out with 156 hp and now has 268 hp @6200 rpm. For the first time, a hybrid version of the ES, the 300H, will also be released. Vroom vroom!

Sleek new styling includes a spindle grille that gives the ES a lean, mean look that the younger crowd will like yet won’t turn off those of us with more gray than brown. The ES 350 also has sporty dual exhaust pipes and flared fenders for a bolder appearance. Some of the design features are made for aerodynamics and sound reduction: the side mirrors are set off of the windows just a bit to reduce wind noise and it works. The windshield is acoustic glass, which has a plastic film compressed between two layers of glass that helps reduce sound (ok, does anyone else cringe at the thought of replacing that?).

Crazy Woman With Carseats (& large blond doll) Invades Serious Automotive Event!

Last week I had a date with some guy that I met on the internet. It was pretty awesome as far as first dates go. We met at Bear Mountain State Park, took a few nice rides together and got all sweaty in the backseat of a vehicle!  Then we had lunch, hung out in a $400,000 Rolls-Royce and had some fun with my BubbleBum. Seriously, how can you top that?

Okay, since we’re both married I guess I should elaborate before someone winds up served with divorce papers. The guy is new CPS Tech “Nopanegain” (aka Brett) and we met online at car-seat.org. Since we’re both New Yorkers, we struck up a little conversation and found out that we share many of the same interests.  Brett has been a serious automotive journalist for more years than I’ve been alive (haha – just kidding, Brett!) and he’s got a lot of connections. He gets invited to cool automotive events that I don’t even realize exist.  Since this particular event (where they allow the select group of invited journalists to drive all the vehicles present) was going on in my neck of the woods, he invited me to join him.  I was lured by the eloquence of this one particular line in his invitation:  ”If you are a car person, you’ll basically crap your pants.”  ROFL!  I’m sold, dude!!

Here’s a peek at how we spent our grueling day at the International Motor Press “Spring Brake”. I hope all our readers will appreciate the sacrifices that we made and the hardships that we endured to bring you this very important information. Unlike the rest of the attendees, we were more interested in exploring the backseat than we were in zipping around on the park’s back roads. I know that sounds so lame but that’s how true CPS geeks roll!

2012 Jaguar XK Coupe in Crystal Blue: Beautiful luxury vehicle. Not sure why they bothered to make it a 4-seater, though. I guess the backseat is really meant for your briefcase/handbag/miniature purebred in a puppy tote. My head hit the roof back there! But we were determined to find a functional cps solution for that seating position. BubbleBum and Huggable Images to the rescue!  

            

 

2012 Fiat 500 Arbarth: Considerably less luxurious but cool nonetheless. Rear seat only accommodates two but is surprisingly roomy for a vehicle so compact. Rear-facing seats will be a very big challenge. We installed a Chicco KeyFit30 and rear-facing Britax Roundabout 55 but that left no room for anyone taller than 5′ in the front seat. I’m 5’4″ and my knees were crammed painfully into the door of the glovebox with the RA55 installed behind me. On the flip side, due to the contour of the back of the front seats – I had enough leg room to sit comfortably in back so forward-facing carseats and kids in boosters may not be a problem.  

          

 

2013 Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II saloon: Hands-down the most awesome vehicle I’ve ever sat in. I’m totally sold. Now I just need to come up with about $420, 000 plus taxes, title and fees. The optional $4k sheepskin floor mats are not optional at all. Those are a necessity – trust me. I have no desire to actually drive the vehicle myself. I just want to sit in the back seat, drink Champagne in excess and eat Grey Poupon straight from the jar. As for kids and carseats – even though the backseat is wide enough to easily fit any combination of CRs, I wouldn’t dream of allowing children or carseats in this vehicle. Not even a Foonf (sorry, Clek). Hey, that’s what the Au Pair’s Mercedes E63 AMG Wagon is for!  Hence the lack of carseat pictures in the Rolls-Royce. Even *I* would not defame and disrespect this vehicle in that way.

              

 

2012 Bentley Supersports Convertible: Another outrageous luxury convertible that costs more than many average American homes. I would have loved to try some real installs in this vehicle but we only had a few minutes with it. Just enough time to grab the BubbleBum and the 6 year old Huggable Images doll again! The looks we got walking around with these things were priceless!  

      

 

It was a fun and fantastic day and I’m greatly indebted to my new friend Brett for the experience!  I do have more to share but it’s boring stuff that might actually be useful to our readers so that’s going to wait for another day. Stay tuned!