Category Archives: cars

Chrysler Pacifica: A Minivan for Anti-Minivan People?

This post is sponsored by FCA US; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

I am not a minivan person. This is exactly what I said when I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing the Chrysler Pacifica. To me minivans are clunky, chunky, boxy and just don’t get me excited about driving. I like to drive. I like a car that has some oomph, style, and maybe just a touch of sexy.  So, not a minivan.

I also like a challenge and after learning that Car and Driver ranked the 2017 Pacifica as the number one pick in the category I thought I’d take this one on.  After a week-long test drive I hoped to answer this question;

Is Chrysler Pacifica a minivan for anti-minivan people?

Minivans do rise to the top of the list in one really important category; safety. The Pacific holds the crown in this category with somewhere around 100 safety features including lane departure warnings, a very impressive surround-view camera, forward-collision alert, and parking assist (perfect for lousy parallel parkers like ME!) Does it make me a bad mom that safety isn’t my only consideration?  I get that it should be, but… I want to enjoy the ride too! 

The Fun Factor

If I could design a family crest it would half to have some sort of road trip reference. We’ve gone from beach houses to cabins atop mountains, hotels big cities to tents the middle of nowhere, and four wheels took us most of those places. Keeping everyone entertained is key to a successful road trip and Pacifica truly has something for everyone in this category.

Any car, in fact most cars these days, can have a DVD player. Chrysler’s Pacifica goes far beyond this with a suite of interactive games (no wifi needed), wireless and USB port compatibility with nearly any device, available satellite radio and more.   

Our family put Pacifica through the paces on our annual Holiday Hot Cocoa Rally. Every year we pile into the car with full thermoses, fresh cookies, and wrapped gifts for charity. After stops to drop off gifts, it’s a marathon of holiday lights, tunes, and memory making. After all it is the most wonderful time of the year, right? 

The Pacifica did a great job setting the mood with a really impressive sound system, heated seats and steering wheel. Where the car truly stood out was in its ability to allow you to configure the seating with one-hand operation stow-and-go in the second row seats. That feature turned the car into a cafe, theater, and arcade all in the space of one evening!

Even this non-minivan person was impressed with how this was so much more than a ride. I will say that with all the tech and features included in model we test drove, I can see it taking some time to learn how to optimize these options. I’m not sure if Chrysler dealers offer an in-house “How To” session but if they do I’d highly recommend availing yourself of this education. 

Bonus Smart Features

When it comes to life in cars, my kids have what I can only think is destructive power on par with a tornado. I can leave the car wash with a sparkling clean ride and within an hour of picking them up it looks like a band of gypsies have taken up residence in the back seat. That’s on an average day. The force is increased immeasurably when we’re on an epic eighteen hour jaunt from Maryland to Louisiana.   Add to that our new furry family member; Gordon the Frenchie (who has white fur, what was I thinking?!) and keeping a clean car is a pipe dream.

Then came Pacifica’s built-in vacuum cleaner. Pure BRILLIANCE!

Some other great bonus features to the model we drove, included;

  • a panoramic roof
  • touch-free trunk door operation
  • second level rear storage
  • heads-up display for navigation, trip tracking, systems alerts and more

Plus, it makes for a pretty sweet break room when you’re working events on the go… or trying to get five minutes of kid-free time in your day.

Final Analysis

There is no denying that the Chrysler Pacifica has some really amazing features. You’d be hard pressed to find a car that offers more in terms of being family-friendly and offering cutting edge safety features. The tech integration makes a mobile lifestyle both fun and productive.  As a family ride, the adaptability is unbeatable.

So, did the Pacifica make a minivan person out of me? Not-so-much.

While it’s packed with awesome options for safety, storage, and entertainment, it still drives like a minivan in my book. The body shape is sleeker than most but still a bit boxy for my tastes and the profile sits a bit low. I like a higher ride if I’m not in a performance car.

Being that we have a big family and love us some long drives, I may have to ponder on this just a bit longer. Were I to wake up on Christmas day and find a big red bow festooned Pacifica in my driveway I wouldn’t be disappointed.  If Ryan Gosling were in the passenger’s seat… Hey Minivan Girl!

Save

2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring (review)

Mazda CX-3 Touring ReviewThe quest continues. Our second in line to the keys – the 17 year old – is still in need of a car and we’re still looking.  Thus far we’ve taken fully loaded SUVs and cool crossovers through the paces. Now we’re starting to think a little smaller.

Collaborating with Drive Shop has allowed us to do a few extended test drives (averaging a week or so) for cars we’re considering. The newest ride to hit our driveway was the 2016 Mazda CX-3. Let’s say this was a whole new road for us.

2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring Review

It would be remiss of me to not mention [before the review] that it’s been quite awhile since we’ve spent time in a sedan.  Even with not-so-little nugget number four off on his own doing the grownup thing, we are still a big family. Five humans, one french bull-dog who loves his bye-bye. I typically takes a bit more car to get us all around. There was certainly and adjustment period with the Mazda CX-3.

Is It Big Enough for 5?

If you don’t have too far to go, and the dog doesn’t mind staying at home, five can fit. The leg room may not be much if you had full-size folks in the back seat though. Were the teen just shuttling her sibs or besties about, it works out fine.

Best Safety Features?

Three BIG pluses in this category:

  • Blind Spot Monitoring – In my humble opinion this safety feature should be as mandatory as a seat belt. Every car has a blind spot therefore they should all have this potentially life-saving feature. 
  • 24 Hour Roadside Assistance – Toss me a thumbs-up if you’re a parent and could rest easier knowing your kid had this!
  • Skyactiv Body Ring Structure – So, explaining this can get a little engineering-deep and I’m no engineer. To put it simply Mazda has figured out a formula that makes the body structure both lighter and more rigid. How is that a safety feature, you ask? Basically they built a better egg shell. Learn more about Skyactiv and why I was blown away by how it improves safety, here.

Let’s Talk Tech

Here is where I started to figure out that I may be just a little bit on the spoiled side when it comes to car tech. Though the CX-3 we drove came equipped with navigation system and satellite radio, the tech pretty much stopped there. Beyond the fact that it was tech-lite the monitor/hub isn’t integrated into the design very well. It pops up above the dash and is just cumbersome. 

 

 

Kick off Monday with a laugh and a new ride for a week. Gives me hope Monday might not suck too bad.

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola ✈ (@dipaolamomma) on

The model we drove was supposed to have integrated technology that works with Pandora® but we couldn’t get that to work. The teen herself practically lives on Pandora so she was stoked about this. Seems though that it may only work with a paid subscription.

SSM Text Messaging sounds like a great feature for a teen-driven car. The problem is this works about as well as most other talk-to-text platforms… meaning, not so good.

Gas Mileage

Here is where the Mazda CX-3 Touring gets the biggest points. (drum roll please) We averaged 33 miles highway and a whopping 29 driving around town. WOWZERS! That could really go a long way towards saving a college kid some coin.

Price Tag

One surprising perk of stepping down to a sedan from an SUV or crossover – in this case at least – was GOOD sticker shock. I can’t recall the last time took a car for a test drive that boasted a price tag under $30k. This particular car came it at $26,150. That included some premium package additions. 

Lifestyle Points

Not much to report here. The rear seats do fold flat to give you extra cargo space, but you pretty much can’t have passengers when you do that. I will say though that the lines on the body are pretty cool. This doesn’t look like a sedan, and honestly it may even have a different classification, but to me 4-doors and a low profile says, sedan. It has a unique profile that sort of says crossover but in a sedan sort of way. Maybe when an SUV and a sedan have a baby you get the Mazda CX-3 Touring? ha!

Sometimes I think my parents had it easier – “You want a car? Go get a job. Until then  you can borrow the station wagon if you pay for your own gas.” In retrospect that was likely better.

2016 kia sorento SXL AWD (review)

It’s a funny thing, how different the lives of our kids can be from those we lived as children. For example, my offspring have zero clue what a hand-me-down is. My first car was one, and yet my husband and I are still on a quest to find the right brand-spankin-new car for our teen.  I call this the, up hill in both directions’ effect. Always wanting better for our kids while continually reminding ourselves how we never had it so good. Ha! 

Collaborating with Drive Shop has allowed us to do a few extended test drives – one week or so– for cars we’re considering. The latest ride to go through the paces was the Kia Sorento SXL AWD.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD Review

First let me start by saying that I completely get that this car isn’t exactly what most would think of for a 17 year-old. I’ll go a step further and say that part of me is green with envy at the thought of my kid driving a shiny new set of wheels all decked out with nearly every bell and whistle you can imagine.

Here is the thing, it seems the kiddo has her heart set on a couple of colleges in the frozen North. Like… way north! So having a car that can handle both harsh winters and ski gear could be a plus. Also, she’ll be home for well over a year so this is going to start off as a family car. That brings us to this 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD review – and spoiler alert this one tops her list so far.

Is It Big Enough for 5?

Driving around town it certainly felt like it fit the bill. It has tons of leg space and three rows of seats you can configure to your needs.

That configuration ability is a saving grace as the rear cargo space is nearly non-existent. As we’ve done with all the cars we’re testing though our Drive Shop collaboration, we took this one on a road trip for a real test.

2016 Kia Sorento XSL AWD reivewThree hours – and enough in tolls to nearly make a car payment— later, we landed in the Big Apple. Packed into the Kia were not only bags for a family of five, but also our newest fury family member, Gordon Von Ottawa du Barkimedes a.k.a Gordon the Frenchie. I swear this dog has more gear than all the kids combined. All that fit easily into this car. 

Major points in the roominess category and extra props for the panoramic sunroof that makes you feel like the space is even bigger.

Best Safety Features?

Three words… Electronic Stability Control. Driving in harsh winter weather is about more than scraping ice off off the windshield. My first winter on the East Coast Maryland got hit with an epic storm. After three days being snowed in when I finally ventured out I took a epic skid on black ice. It was terrifying. If my kid is going to drive in the Tundra THIS is the must-have safety feature.

This model also boasts Side Curtain airbags in the first and second row seats and my other must-have feature, lane departure warning. I have to tell you, going back to a car without lane departure warning is tough. It’s like walking a tightrope without a net. Seriously, how is this not a mandatory feature?

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD review of tech

Let’s Talk Tech

Hands down the tech in this car is the reason it makes the whole family’s short list. As you might expect the kids were stoked about the plethora of power outlets for their gadgets. We aren’t talking just a couple of old-school cigarette lighter style outlets that need an adapter.

Just about every seat has a USB port nearby. There is even a rapid charge USB port in the center consul. The real swoon inducing moment was finding the AC plug! I’ll admit it takes some getting used to how it works – plug, turn, push – but man what a great option for a family on the go.

Telematics. Know what that is? You need to. It takes the rear camera concept and turns it into an all-around view from above. I am the worst parallel parker in history – or I was until Telematics. 

Infinity surround sound was made for satellite radios and people who love to drive. Or in my case mothers who like to cruise the pickup line at school with the base cranking on some Jamiroquai. The kids totally loved that, not-at-all.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD review safety feature

Gas Mileage

Every rose has it’s thorn my friends. You might find yourself getting poked by a few at the gas pump. While we aren’t talking Hummer-bad gas mileage here we aren’t exactly in hybrid land.

I drive a minimum of fifteen miles a day and with an average of around 19 miles to the gallon… ouch. The Sorento did do better on the highway clocking in at about 24 mpg.

Price Tag

The 2016 Kia Sorento follows on the heals of it’s older brother , the 2015 winner of the JD Power “Highest Ranked Midsize SUV in Initial Quality” and the price tag reflects that champion lineage. That said, with all the tech, safety and luxury features {hello Napa leather cooled and heated seats and surround view monitor} I’d say it’s still a good deal.

The 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD we drove came in at $45,600.00

Lifestyle Points

50/50 fold third row seats. Panoramic sun roof. Kickin’ sound system and tech galore made this ride score super big in the Lifestyle category.

 

Having the roller coaster all to yourself.

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola ✈ (@dipaolamomma) on

We trekked to, from and around New York without one single, “She’s touching me.” That alone puts this one high on my list. I may not let the teen abscond to college with it.

Do you have a teen driver? What are you looking for in a car for them? I’d love some advice!  

 

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring (review)

Ssh… nobody tell our teen.

We are car shopping for her. Well in all fairness it won’t really be a car just for her. It will need to work for the whole family, even if she’ll be the primary driver {gulp}. We recently took one of our short-list cars on an extended test drive, the Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring.

mazda cx-5Road trips are our thing. Being a family of five that means our cars have got to be roomy enough to allow for ample, ‘Stop! Touching ME!’ space. Since the teen will be the primary driver of our next car, safety features and tech are at the top of the list too. Good gas mileage? Well who doesn’t need that?!

Overall the Mazda hit quite a few of those sweet spots. It certainly surprised us in some areas. A covert questioning of the teen’s thoughts {she still thinks the old mini-van is going to be her ride} resulted in a two-thumbs up for some of the following…

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring (review)

Is It Big Enough for 5?

We tend to travel with lots of gear. Sometimes that means folding chairs for the basketball game, other times it’s backpacks and hiking supplies. More often, it’s luggage for five,  electronics and roadtrip snacks. Our cars need to have ample cargo space. The CX-5 Grand Touring has this in spades.

The cargo area was even big enough to serve as our ‘base camp’ sledding this winter.

That said, the rear passenger seating space is smaller than we’re used to. The kids say they’d have liked a bit more room. It felt, “too darn cozy” according to the 11-year-old. But anytime he’s closer than arm’s distance to his sisters it’s to close for comfort.

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring ReviewBest Safety Features

Hands down the blind spot monitoring wins in my book. When thinking of a teen driver changing lanes in traffic on the highway {or honestly, anywhere} I get hives. The CX-5 has both a chime and blinking alert to warn you of items in your blind spot.

Three point seat belts for ALL! 4-Wheel disk brakes, front and rear stabilizers, are pretty sweet too. 24 hour roadside assistance brings it all home. I’d have to say that the safety features were my favorite things about this ride. 

Let’s Talk Tech

The navigation system in the CX-5 Grand Touring was a little cumbersome. I think that can be said for most any system. Having tested out dozens of them I’ve figured out there is certainly a learning curve that takes longer than a week to get over.

The suite of tech and entertainment in the model we drove was… well.. sweet. I could connect my Pandora account to the audio with an app that is already installed. Syncing my phone was a breeze. It seemed I discovered something new nearly every time I turned on the car.

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring ReviewThe only draw back for me was the control dial used to navigate the technology features. It’s located in the center console and I found it distracting and clunky.

Gas Mileage

Pretty darn good! We drove mostly in city traffic, stop-and-go, the pickup line at school, and averaged 28 miles a gallon. One of the things that certainly contributes to the great gas mileage is Mazda’s SkyActive technology.

From the ground up SkyActive is at work. The body, chassis, transmission and engine are designed to give this car better handling, safety and fuel efficiency. The most noticeable impact of SkyActive for our test drive was the gas mileage for sure.  

Price Tag

Gone are the days when you could snag your teen a ride in the $5,000 range. {Wait, you could do that? Okay, maybe in 1989} so we knew that sticker shock might be a factor going into this. Prepared for that we also took into account that this wasn’t going to be a teen cruising mobile but more of a third car for the family.

The model we drove came in at $29,470 with standard equipment. Not over the top price range we were considering but also not a bottom price either.

Optional equipment included; navigation system, LED headlights, adaptive front lighting, trim, cargo mats, a really cool cargo cover, daytime running lights and a few other options, but these only bumped the price up a little over $1,500. Totally worth it.

Lifestyle Points

All the nooks and crannies – cargo nets, storage space and even a brilliantly designed center console that has a cutout recessed far enough I can get my giant water bottle for Yoga class in it – are obviously designed for people who spend time in cars. Extra USB ports and AC/DC outlets are lifesavers for the family that travels with tech.

Mazda earned big bonus points in my book with their charitable efforts – whether you buy one of their cars or not. The Mazda Drive for Good® Event gives back to communities across the country. During the campaign Mazda pledged one hour of their time to a local worthy cause with every test drive. When a lease or purchase came through they donated $150 to one of four national or 40 local charities.

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Review

The total amount of the 2015 Mazda Drive for Good® Event ended up in the ballpark of $5,354,000 and over 72K hours of service. They also kindly supplied us with a gift card for our favorite local charity. I’m a sucker for brands that give back! 

On a scale of 1-5 {five being best} in the Will this be The Teen’s Ride score book, the Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Edition lands a solid 4, maybe even a 4.5. We’ll certainly keep shopping. Remember… mum is the word.

Do you have a teen driver? What are you looking for in a car for them? I’d love some advice!  

2015 Lexus GS 350 F Sport – The Ultimate Road Trip Ride

The Road Is Life - Jack Kerouac - Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom

Kerouac may have elevated the road trip to a metaphysical awakening, but no matter what kind of ‘trip’ you’re seeking the journey begins when rubber hits the road. 

Idling in the pick up line at school, I often find myself daydreaming of the days when the rubber beneath me isn’t attached to the family taxi. It matters not if you call it a ‘swagger wagon,’ the fact is the family car just isn’t that cool – or mine isn’t. 

The oldest Nugget is now out on his own, the next one in line will be driving this year. It won’t be long until I can start shopping for a car I want to drive, rather than one that has room for four kids and all their accoutrements.  To be honest, I’m already researching what comes next.

glaming roadtrip in the Lexus GS 350 F SportEarlier this month I had the chance to indulge in daydreams made real when Lexus invited us to take their GS 350 F Sport along on a road trip to go glaming in Upstate New York. I fear that Violet Beauregard (the given name of the deep blue crossover I drive) may never recover from the envy.

So what’s to love about this car? Certainly not how it looks on the outside. In fact, I’d say it looks much like any other slightly sporty sedan out there. The front grille is even reminiscent of the Toyota Camry. Not surprising considering Toyota is the parent company of Lexus.  Judging a book by it’s cover is rarely a fruitful endeavor, the same holds true with the “cover” of a car. 

The GS 350 F Sport interior has a cool, almost vintage 70s luxury muscle car feel to it. Sporty touches –chrome plating on the foot board, a sleek clock in place of the typical digital,  a cockpit-style console-  play the perfect background to a suite of tech (Lexus Enform) that compliments the power residing under the hood.

2015 Lexus GS 350 F Sport Review - cockpitPut simply, this car was just fun to drive. It took the steep climb into the Appalachian mountains like it was parking lot flat. The drag on the engine felt minimal. It handled like a dream on the  winding turns down the two-lane highway into the Finger Lakes region.  With the turn of a knob I could take it from gas-conserving ECO mode into Sport mode, giving me extra control of the driving experience. The kids were overly impressed with the switch in dashboard lighting colors and the schematic readout on the heads-up display when modes changed. Hey, if it keeps them from whining about weather we’re there yet or not, it’s a luxury feature in my book.

Lexus GS 350 F Sport ModeAs much as I’d love to pick a car based solely on how much I like driving it, the sad truth is there are other factors that weigh more heavily.

Does It Get Good Gas Mileage?

29 mpg on the highway is good for a family like ours who spend most weekends on the road. It’s great for a car with 306 horse power.

Can I Get The Groceries In it?

Yes. The trunk is spacious. We fit three carry-on sized suitcases, 2 fully packed SCOUT bags, and a small cooler in it and still had room for our road-side shopping hauls.Lexus GS 350 F Sport Review

Is It Safe?

While it’s packed with the typical safety features (air bags, lane departure warning, car seat tethers) Lexus goes above and beyond here. The Pre-Collision System available on the GS includes a Driver Attention Monitor that is designed to know you’re ogling the offerings displayed in front of that cute little road-side antique shop. It can tell if you’re facing away from the road when an obstacle is detected ahead and warn you, potentially helping you avoid disaster, it can even automatically begin braking a full two seconds before impact. Then thee is the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system that employes radar technology to sense the speed of any vehicles in front of you. If your vehicle gets too close to the vehicle ahead, the throttle is automatically reduced and the brakes are applied. As soon as the road ahead clears, it brings you back up to speed.

Is It Worth The Money?

This IS a Lexus, and luxury in any car tends to come with a hefty price tag. The GS 350 F Sport starts out at around $53,500. For that though you’re also getting some cutting edge tech in the form of a fully integrate suite that includes a 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen multimedia display. Though I’ll admit that I find the mouse in the console a bit distracting. Plus you do get a car that hugs you… seriously, it hugs you. There are what seems to be endless options for adjusting the driver and front passenger seats. Pump up the lumbar and side supports, and hug it out. Add these features, to the safety suite, respectable gas mileage and that price tag doesn’t seem too far out in left filed. Would I pay it? I’d have to sleep on that.

 

Disclosure: I was provided the opportunity to drive this vehicle for one week as an extended test drive. I received no compensation from the manufacture, nor incentives or directives to provide a favorable review. All opinions are 100% my own – because you deserve nothing less!