I reviewed the third generation 2010 Toyota Prius a few years ago. Starting with model year 2012, Toyota gives those seeking great fuel economy a roomier version for both passengers and cargo. The standard Prius hatchback has a lot of compromises for fitting carseats in back, so I’ll take a closer look at seating for both kids and adults in back.
The driving experience of the Prius V wagon is actually a lot like the typical Prius. It’s not sporty, it’s not particularly quiet, and the ride isn’t the smoothest. Still, you’re not buying it for luxury, you’re buying it for the 44 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, which I pretty easily topped in warm weather conditions around town. Make no mistake, the “V” isn’t for “Van”. The Prius V simply isn’t an alternative to a minivan or midsize SUV, as some other reviews might suggest. In terms of size, it’s a nice alternative to a compact SUV or a midsize wagon.
Over a year ago, my dh let me know that a new electric car company, Tesla, was taking pre-orders for their cars. The Tesla was going to be an all-electric plug-in car, just what he wanted. Matt had looked at the Prius, and we had the Lexus CT 200h for a while (and his mom even has one!), but they just weren’t what he was looking for. This new Tesla Model S had the perfect combination of geek: lots of electronics, lots of batteries, lots of flash. Could he please, please, please buy this new car? Please? How could I disappoint him? Besides, when one back is scratched . . .
Anyway, the kids had a day off school early in November so we decided to maximize the fun by taking a trip to Disneyland. We’ve been there many, many times and were season pass holders at one point, so we were looking forward to the trip. But this trip was different because Tesla Motors recently opened a small showroom in the Fashion Island mall in Newport Beach, and that was the real point of the trip, right? Even the kids were excited to take a test drive in daddy’s new car because after all, we’ve heard about this car every day, several times a day—many times a day. For.The.Past.Year. Matt has even already wired an outlet in the garage in anticipation of plugging in his new car, even though its arrival isn’t expected until probably February. I really wanted to see the car to make sure the company that’s had our money for over a year is living up to its promises.
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 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.
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!