Category Archives: Reviews and Giveaways

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!  

Motorola Droid Turbo Giveaway: Take Better Travel Photos

Take better travel photos from anywhere in the world with Verizon WirelessIf I had a dollar for every time a member of my family rolls their eyes over how many pictures I take I’d check one of those items off my bucket list.  Take an epic solo trip – CHECK! How many travel photos do you think you’d take if you won a Motorola Droid Turbo giveaway?

Though they may find my laying on the sidewalk to get the best shot both annoying and disturbing, there is a reason why I take so many pictures. Kathleen was her name.

I can still remember the sound that marked her arrival in our one-tumbleweed town – a low rumble, followed by a roar. I was five years old the day Tropical Storm Kathleen sent a nearly four foot wall of water through our town. I’ve never forgotten that sound.

Her wake washed away life as my family had known it. Once she was done I’d never again hold my mom’s hand, a trembling ball of excitement waiting to get a wave back from the Engineer driving the train that ran past the house. No train would ever travel those tracks again. The friendly rabbits that took shelter in Manzanita grove behind our neighborhood would never come back. Nearly every photo my mother treasured was damaged or destroyed.

We were lucky that September day. The sandbags held, for the most part. Much of our town was damaged. At the bottom of the mountain they weren’t so lucky.  Homes, lives, almost the entire town was lost.

So much can be gone in the blink of an eye, in the roiling waves of Nature’s furry, on random happenstance. Having seen that first-hand at such a young age shaped me. A quiet voice in the back of my head tells me to hold on. Pictures are how I hold on to the people, places, emotions that shape our lives.

With my very first “job” {hocking greeting cards from a company that advertized in the back of a magazine} I earned myself a Polaroid 1000 Land Camera – complete with Instamatic film cartridges and a fancy disposable flash bar. I was well on my way to becoming the next Dorothea Lange. 

Or… not. 

My photography skills – or lack there of– were fodder for endless comic relief. “Hey, look! Jason is Flash Gordon. See the blur?!” I was notorious for beheading my subjects, on film at least. Shaking a photo to aid in development became the preamble to public humiliation.  Yet, I was undaunted. I wouldn’t let a few bad photos {okay, a ton} keep me from snatching those memories and holding on tight. 

In the many decades since that first camera I’ve gotten a little better at snapping a photo. I’ve also had the chance to capture pictures in some of my favorite places around the globe. Sometimes there is still blur, but for the most part everyone has a full head on their shoulders.

I took this photo with the HTC One M9 Smartphone while visiting Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. Taken in the dark, the only filter used was the low-light feature on the phone. Not bad, eh?
I took this photo with the HTC One M9 Smartphone while visiting Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. Taken during their Northern Lights display, this is a night shot. The only filter used was the low-light feature on the phone. Not too bad, eh?

The advent of smartphones with good cameras {and let’s be honest, great filters} may not have made me a better photographer,  but it has made for better pictures. I’d like to think my willingness to lay on that sidewalk, stretch out over the precipice, and elbow the elderly out of my shot has had an impact as well. 

I hope that one day the rolling of eyes and the exasperated sighs of my family will fade. It may be a bit much to think that they’ll ever appreciate my insistence that they never take a bite before I get a picture of the food. I hold hope that they’ll eventually forgive me for forcing them to ask the Irish Customs Inspector wait until I was set up to get the shot before he stamped their passports – and then sharing it on Instagram because I have great Global Service with Verizon.  Even if none of this ever happens, no matter where we roam in this crazy adventure, I will  have the pictures to remember. These are the moments that I never want washed away.

A group of some of my favorite Wanderlusters have teamed up with me and OM Media Group to let you know about Verizon’s Global Service, help you stay connected while wandering the globe, and make sure you never miss a shot. Share your favorite travel photo(s) for a chance to win (a Motorola Droid Turbo). Be sure to join @theonlinemom and the Verizon Wireless Buzz crew for some fabulous Twitter chats – every Friday at 3:00 p.m. eastern using the hashtag #VZWBuzz
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms:

 

Valid to residents of the United States only. All photos must be original with no copyright or distribution restrictions. Photos remain the property of the entrant, who further agrees to give Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom, OMMedia Group, and participating bloggers permission for use solely in promoting this giveaway. Entries with nudity, violence or illegal activities will be deleted and the entry voided. Prize fulfillment will be completed by OMMG. No cash value or substitutions. Winner will be chosen by random number generation and announced within 48 hours of the contest end date (8/30/2015). Winner will be notified via email and has 72 hours to provide shipping information for the prize. If 72 hours lapses without contact, a new winner will be drawn.

 

 

 

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less! 

 

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!  

Taking the Pain out of International Flights

Someone once said that getting there was half the fun. Obviously whoever said that didn’t spend much time stuck in airports or squeezed into economy seating on international flights. I, on the other hand, have. Making the most of your trip starts with taking the pain out of international flights.

 Tips for taking the pain out of international travel from CNOW

That Stale Sandwich Costs HOW Much?

Unless you can subsist on twelve pretzels and a miniaturized bottle of water, you’re going to need a little nosh before you board that long flight. Though some airports are getting better when it comes to eateries -notably a small extension of iconic Jerry Remy’s in concourse “C” at Boston’s Logan, where you can grab pub grub worthy of Bean Town and even passably good Chowdah –   most still subscribe to the old “standards” of bland, stale, and over priced fare.

If you’re looking at a long layover the better bet is often an airline club lounge.  These airport oases feature a veritable cornucopia of quality bites, comfortable seating, charging stations, and even grownup libations. On a recent flight with Aer Lingus I was invited to visit their lounge. Though it was a bit cumbersome to get to, once there the chef-prepared food, self-serve cocktail station, WiFi, and even take-away snacks were well worth the trek.

Not a member of the elite circle for the carrier you are flying with? No worries, several airlines offer one-day passes for purchase when traveling with them or on partner carriers.  With many in the $30-$50 range, they can easily pay for themselves after a refuel and a drink or two.  

Get Me OUT of Here!

One of my favorite tips for getting the best price on international flights, is to book them with a long layover. The added bonus here is you get a mini-trip out of it  – if you plan things properly.  Plus you get to escape the airport and stretch those gams, not to mention it’s great for staving off cabin fever in kids and adults alike.

Some of our best trips have been long layovers!

Turn a layover into a mini trip

I Was Promised There Would Be WiFi…

Nothing is quite as frustrating as hitting cruising altitude only to find out that the WiFi you were so stoked about is spotty, at best. Don’t physics play a role here?? I mean you’re closer to the damn satellite so shouldn’t the WiFi work?! Yeah, not always. 

As any good Scout will advise you… always be prepared.  Not just for the WiFi letdown, but for less than attractive on-board entertainment options like; $5 headsets that ONLY work on the two-pronged plane outlets, nonfunctional video screens, and… Boyhood (I’ll never get those twelve years back) 

My advice? Load up that playlist, download some flicks you WANT to watch (important not to confuse this with streaming – no WiFi = NO streaming,) grab a good old fashion page turner. Last, but not least, take along GOOD headphones. Nobody wants to hear the the fussy baby in the middle of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock soliloquies. Nobody!

I’ve become enamored of  BackBeat Fit wireless headphones by Plantronics – sent to me by Verizon Wireless for a test drive.  I’d never have expected that going wireless would make such a difference.  No more tangles (or cords stuck in the hairbrush in my purse.) The sound is on par with over-ear headphones like Beats, without messing the do or making you a target for a snatch and grab.

The Cold Shoulder

Let’s talk travel pillows. Call me picky, but there is no way I’m resting my head on the multi-user flatbread that passes for an airline pillow. That said, I’m not so keen on lugging a bulky travel pillow around the globe either.

The solution? An inflatable neck pillow. There are several on the market. Some in the classic “U” shape, others with a more ergonomic design like the Bucky Gusto.  REI carries a number of options you can test before buying.

Ugh, I’m So Bloated!

Okay, this may border on the wrong side of “TMI” but I tend to swell up like a tick during long flights. Not only can this be unsightly and uncomfortable, it can also be unhealthy.  For years I’d tried to stave off the bloat with extra hydration and moving about the cabin as often as I could. This can present issues on two fronts if you hit turbulence.  It isn’t fun to be over hydrated and stuck in your seat.

Find yourself a good – even cute – pair of compression socks and  maybe cut back on the water a bit. You may still swell a bit but you’re not going to have to grin and hold it.

Sweet Dreams, Baby

 If there is one universal truth to all air travel it is that the best fight is one you can sleep through.  As I often travel with kids in tow, this isn’t always possible. Neither is it an option if you can’t seem to nod off. Popping an Ambien at nine in the morning is often even less practical. This leaves us to turn to more homeopathic avenues – which are likely better for us anyway. 

Valerian has long been used to help ease the path to dreamland and has several application options as an essential oil. Some other options are lavender, and camomile. On the less holistic side there are a plethora of sleep aid products out there that contain active ingredients like diphenhydramine – which incidentally also helps with motion sickness and is an antihistamine that may help ease symptoms of allergies.*

I hope these few tips will have you enjoying every leg of your next adventure. Have tips of your own? I’d love to hear them!

Virgin Atlantic JFK Clubhouse Spa
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Spa at JFK (photo credit: Virgin Atlantic Airlines)

 

 

* please be sure to check with your doctor before taking anything to help aid in sleep.

Disclosure: Technology item(s) mentioned were sent to me for review, no monetary compensation was provided. Opinions expressed are entirely my own, because honesty is always my policy. I have relationship with Verizon Wireless as part of the #VZWBuzz Social Media Team, but have not been asked to, nor required to provide a positive opinion.