Category Archives: cars

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!  

2013 Lexus GS 450h: A Backseat Review

Life happens in cars, enjoy the ride. That tagline from She Buys Cars pretty much sums up my life. Between ferrying the kids to school, running errands, getting stuck in traffic here in the DC/Baltimore metro and our frequent family road trips a good portion of my time is spent in a car.

The same is true for the Little Nuggets. We are a family on wheels. My kids have become quite the car experts along the way. With each car I review, they put in there two cents all well. They like leather seats, aren’t fans of seat-belt air bags (too stiff and bulky). In their opinion every car should come with a rear seat entertainment system and wireless headphones. Shocking, I know. Their favorite color, oddly enough isn’t red or black, but silver.

We recently spent a week with the 2013 Lexus GS 450h. While shooting video for my review, Little Nugget #4 interjected that she thought she should be the one talking about the backseat, after all when was I ever back there anyway? I suspect that part of this was a desire to be on camera, the kid is a total ham!

The biggest “wow” feature for me was the Lexus Enform App Suite. I make no bones about it, I am a wired mom. I have been known to go through mild withdrawal issues when finding myself in a WiFi dead spot. This car was designed for drivers like me! With the App Suite I was able to make dinner reservations, find the cheapest gas and even check the weather. You can also order movie tickets on the fly, connect to Facebook and more, all using the industry’s first available 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen multimedia display. Cool huh? It gets even more cool. The GS 450h has it’s own mouse. Yep, you can navigate your way through the plethora of features in this car using a mouse, much like the one on your desk.


While the mouse and all the tech features are very intuitive, I did also find them a bit distracting. This could be because my car is virtually a covered wagon in comparison. Whatever the cause though, I did feel that I spent an excessive amount of my time with the car trying to figure out all the features. There is a tutorial feature, but I didn’t find it very helpful. That said, I’m sure that, were I to purchase this car, taking advantage of the one-time free setup at the dealer would make a world of difference.

A Few of My Favorite Things

  • Combo moon/sun roof.
  • For a sedan, the cargo space is great.
  • Lexus Enform with App Suite.
  • 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen multimedia display.
  • Mark Levinson® Premium Surround Sound Audio System. (Rocked the tunes in the pick-up line at school, adding to the features by making the kids cringe.
  • Heads Up display. (This displays your speed and the direction you’ll need to turn when using the navigation system right on your driver’s side windshield.)
  • Rear-seat climate and audio controls. (available with the Luxury Package, which the car I drove had.)
  • Rain-sensing intermittent windshield wipers with mist cycle. (This was a great feature during the soggy trips we took.)
  • Drive Mode Select with Normal, EV, ECO, Sport S and Sport S+ modes.
  • Power rear sunshade. (this was such a thoughtful touch. I can see it being perfect for long sunny, summer road-trips. It also automatically goes down when you put the car in reverse.)
  • Cousins to the power sunshade, the rear windows have two-part manual sunshades as well.
  • Lane Departure Warning.
  • Intuitive Park Assist. (Which admittedly, I need.)

Things You Need to Know

  • You are buying a luxury motor vehicle. The total “sticker price” of the model we tested: $71,407.00
  • The EPA estimate for MPG on this model is 29 city/34 highway. I drove a combo of both and average around 33 MPG.
  • All the tech features are going to take a nice chunk of time to get used to.
  • The “mouse” can be distracting.
  • The manual rear sunshades tend to be hard for little hands. They also “snap” back into place with a force that might not stand up to repeated use by little folks.
  • The front spoiler is very low. Several times I had to park well behind parking bollards to avoid bumping them or having them scrape the undercarriage.
  • The front cup holders have a tension bar in them that can (and did) puncture some take-out cups.
  • While the rear passenger features, like climate and volume control are nice, they may not be good for families with younger children.
  • The rear leg room could be bigger.

The kids’ favorite thing? I think we covered that. Though they would like me to ask Lexus to consider that whole entertainment system with wireless headphones thing.

(Want to read more of a “Grownup” review of this car? Visit Traveling Mom)

Lexus provided the vehicle featured in the review, with a full tank of gas. No form of compensation was provided. As always, all opinions in this review are my own -in this case Little Nugget #3’s as well.  

Toyota Prius V: Remaking the Road Race?

Remember those cheesy 70’s car flicks? You know, like Cannonball Run or Smokey And The Bandit? Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in one of those damn things.

“We’ve got long way to go, and a short time to get there…” come on watch this mommy run (errands, pick up kids and get crap done!) Plus there is inevitably a “Smokey” (or red light camera) just waiting to nab me. Not that I speed or anything, not me, never.

The other part of 70’s car-lore I seem to be stuck in is the gas wars. Sweet cheeses gas prices are unpredictable and HIGH! When I got offered a role playing alongside the star of the MPG saving screen, Toyota Prius V, I was in.

The first thing that you notice about the Prius V is it anything but “American Heavy Metal”. This isn’t a bad thing. With a compact, yet hip, design you can tell right off that this car is built for efficiency. Think a quiet, broodingly cool James Dean rather than a Steve McQueen.

While you won’t find all the bells, whistles and “Fine Corinthian Leather” of a luxury car, this car does have a lot to offer. You also aren’t in for a muscle car ride either. The best part, you guessed it… gas mileage!

Back to the Cannonball Run analogy. I hit the road to school twice a day, ran errands like there was a trophy for it and even rallied for a few short road trips. Nearly two weeks after she pulled up in my driveway, the Prius V still had petrol to spare. I averaged a whopping 49 miles per gallon. Droolin’ aren’t ya Burt Reynolds?

A Few of My Favorite Things

  • Did I mention 49 MPG? I did? Well that’s because I am still amazed by that number.
  • Huge cargo space.
  • Hybrid Synergy Drive System
  • 6.1 inch touchscreen for navigation and entertainment systems.
  • 12V power outlet and USB port.
  • Panoramic moonroof with power sunshades (my second favorite feature, this really makes you feel like you’re driving in the open air without messing up the hair)
  • Advanced parking system. Yes, I confess I need this sometimes.
  • 60/40 split rear seat recline. This feature was great for both long drives and loading gear.

Things You Need to Know

  • Total “sticker price” of the model we tested: $36,555.00
  • If you’re used to a car that has some get-up-and-go, the Prius V will take some adjusting to.
  • This car is SUPER quiet. In fact, so much so that the only way I could tell it was on was if the “Ready” indicator was on. I found this a little unnerving at first, but I got used to it.
  • At the time of this test drive the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had yet to rate this car.
  • The ground clearance borders on, “low rider”.
  • And now onto the most important part of any She Buys Cars/Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom/ Traveling Mom review… where did I put my purse? Toyota knocked this one out of the park! There is a very roomy “cubby” below the dash and in front of the center console that is perfect for everything from that cute little Judith Leiber to the biggest of the Boho bags.

Over all the gas milage was the winner for me. I doubt I’d ever hop in a Prius V for an epic road race, but for everyday adventures, sure. Or maybe I should shop the studios a script about an epic, all Prius road race flick? Does anyone know if Affleck is available? After that Oscar snub we might be able to get him cheap!

Infiniti QX56 Road Trip (Nuggets Style)

Ah the family road trip. Did we learn nothing from The Griswolds? Okay, so maybe I’ve never had an elderly aunt pass away in the car, but I’ve sure had my fair share of, “She’s touching me!” and “Are we there yet?!!!” , close calls with the demise of my sanity. Frankly, anything further than a jaunt to the drive-thru can provoke car cacophony. Could the car itself have something to do with this?

Recently my larger family -six in all, plus one stray- spent a week putting the 2012 Infiniti QX56 4FWD to the test for She Buys Cars & Traveling Mom. I would be remiss if I did not start by sharing what might be the best first impression exclamation ever uttered, courtesy of my seven year old son, “Mom, it’s like a tank for families!”. If such a thing did exist, this would be it. (only far more luxurious than any tank this former Naval Airman has ever laid eyes on)

Sitting behind the wheel of this seven passenger luxury SUV you get a sense of serenity, partially from the posh interior, Bose 13 speaker premium sound system, and what feels like a 360 degree view, ultimately for this self-proclaimed “Car Girl”  the power surging from the 5.6 liter V8 engine was near Nirvana.

A Few of My Favorite Things

  • Leather wrapped, heated steering wheel. Warm and toasty, instead of blue and frozen fingers on those cold morning carpools.
  • Hard Drive Navigation System. With this feature you can even search for restaurants by their Zagat rating. Foodie heaven!
  • Push Button ignition. No more fumbling with the keys.
  • Hands-free Bluetooth phone and streaming audio via Bluetooth as well.
  • USB connection, for my Geekery.
  • Rear entertainment system for the kids, nearly as important as the tethers and anchors for the child safety seats. (okay, not really, but you know what I mean)
  • Blind Spot Warning System. This is an awesome feature! A little light near the sideview mirror blinks when there is something in your blind spot. Try to change lanes when the light is on and alarm sounds.
  • Remote Tip-Up second row seats. GREAT for big families, making clamoring over the seats a thing of the past!
  • 10-Way power driver’s seat with 2-Way power lumbar support. I drove for three hours and twenty-seven minutes without any nagging reminders from my back.
  • Backup Camera with an aerial view as well. This was simply space-aged awesome.
  • Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA). This active safety feature continuously monitors and analyzes closing speeds to a vehicle ahead. If the you do not respond to the Forward Collision Warning and a collision cannot be avoided, this system automatically engages the brakes to help reduce collision speed and impact, which could save you and reduce damage in an accident.
  • Power Sun/Moonroof. This feature makes me feel cool when I’m driving and when I wasn’t, I could just gaze out the window (see photo below)

Things You Need to Know

  • Total “sticker price” of the model we tested: $75,340.00
  • This model gets an EPA estimated 14 MPG City and 20 MPG Highway, though I averaged 26 MPG on our road trip which was 97% Highway travel.
  • The engine is a 5.6 liter V* with 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque.
  • The model I drove was “fully-loaded”, base models start around $63,100.00
  • You need to have the key fob on you (or in your bag) in order to unlock the car. This isn’t a bad thing, it just took some getting used to.
  • With the third row of seats folded down there is a ton of cargo space. Fold down the second and you pretty much have a flat-bed truck. That said, with all the seats up, there isn’t much room for cargo in the rear. We still managed to get all our gear stowed, but having little people, with feet that didn’t touch the floor, helped.
  • Because this car does pretty much everything but drive itself, you really need to spend time learning how everything works. The owner’s manual comes in volumes! They have a great website and yes, there is an app for that. Just know that you will have lots of homework to do.

So let’s answer the burning question… can’t we all just get along, or at least get into the car?

Infiniti QX56 Traveling Mom Review from Lara DiPaola on Vimeo.