It’s Possible that in Korea “Optima” means Wisdom

12.7.12

It’s the end of 2012 and the Kia Optima Hybrid with a Premium package finally made it’s way to my house. The only other Kia I’ve driven has been the Rio and as adorable as the Rio is you get zero respect from the valet attendants (except the guy at Barneys who happened to love it as much as I did).

The Optima is a mid size sedan maybe teetering on the edge of full sized. It’s got a lot of leg room for everyone and parked next to the XF it looked similar in stature. The Optima has something that most luxury cars charge a ton of dough for, luxury. The sun roof on the Optima is not to be missed. If you love light coming at you Kia has embraced the oversized sunroof with a dual design.

Driving the Optima Hybrid is lovely. It’s a fairly quiet car. It doesn’t have the capsule like feel of a heavier sedan and you can hear the engine wind down into hybrid mode but that’s something that I’ve experienced with every hybrid under $50,000. With a $25,700 base price the Optima Hybrid exceeded my expectations on everything but fuel consumption. It pains me to say it but I got just 29 miles a gallon from this vehicle after a week. I thought I was doing something wrong and when I ran into my friends at Gadget Review I asked them what kind of mileage they got and they were 36 or so… I’m just baffled by this and don’t really have a good explanation.

Here’s the window sticker for the vehicle I drove. You’ll see it’s very nicely equipped.

Driving the Optima in the Los Angeles rain was interesting. One of the reasons that Angelinos drive so poorly in the rain is because it rains so rarely that in a downpour (like I had while driving this car) loads of grease and oil and make the roads suddenly slick, there’s no slow washing away of debris so our streets are a disaster in the first hours. Not being one to miss an opportunity I found myself an empty road, got up to 45 miles an hour and slammed on the brakes. The Optima handled this like a champ, stopping on a dime without even the tiniest swerve.

The crash ratings are good on this car, I’d like to see five stars everywhere but with things like effective ABS brakes (I assure you not all ABS braking systems are made equally) and Hill Start Assist (no more rolling backwards when you’re stuck at the light on Sunset and La Cienenga) you’ll have much less use for curtain airbags. Since I’m two years away from having a teenage driver I’m starting to look at vehicles differently, accident avoidance is key.

The Optima is a good car in many ways. It’s not an exciting drive, it’s not particularly fast but it’s also not annoyingly slow. It’s a sedan and has the capability of being a great daily driver. What makes the Optima a brilliant sedan is that it’s a Kia. If this vehicle had any other badge on the hood it would be at a different price point. The 10 year powertrain warranty and five year limited are also incredibly convincing reasons to buy a Kia.

If you’ve got a family back seats matter. There is a lot of legroom in this car and as an added bonus you can get heated rear seats. I’ve only seen this in the 7 series BMW and the S Class Mercedes. My iphone integrates beautifully with the Kia and as I’ve noted before the navigation system is wonderful.

This is a smart car, it’s simple and sturdy. I’m more than a little concerned about the difference I experienced in fuel consumption but even with that in mind I think it’s a smart purchase for folks who love sedans.

The trunk is huge (and remind me to tell you about the world’s best bath towels)

 

 

 

You’re Not Media You Can’t Come In

11.28.12

I spent the day at the LA Auto Show. This is my sixth or seventh year where I’ve attended as credentialed media and it’s the first year where I felt like I had a valid plan of attack. I decided to skip the press conferences and to pick one car from each manufacturer to photograph and follow up on at a later date.

The best laid plans…

I have to confess that I got incredibly distracted once I hit the Convention Center floor. There were only three Bentleys and I diligently slobbered over all three of them. I swooned over a Morgan display, ogled the Plus 4 and fell hard for the Callaway Corvette and trucks on display.

I am polyamorous with the cars. I can’t even apologize for it any more.

This year is a good year though. This year I’m looking at cars I love but I’m also looking at cars I might buy. We have two leases ending in just months and to say I’m excited about two new cars is like saying Lady Gaga is slightly eccentric. I am over the moon… except there’s one thing.

Last week I’d decided that I want to keep my car. I cannot tell you how much I love my Lexus. Unfortunately they no longer make the HS so if I want to stay in it I’d need to buy my car at the end of the lease. This is a horrendous fiscal decision that just about everyone regrets but one I’m ready to make because I just love that Lexus so much. Every time I almost run out of gas I giggle because I used to fill up every Friday and now I fill up every two weeks or so, longer if I’ve had a press car. I don’t know how much gasoline costs because it’s not a meaningful part of my budget.

Everything in that car is perfect, except that it’s almost three years old.

So I’m looking at all the hybrids (I’m a hybrid devotee) and there’s a sea of Priuses, a C-Max that I’m dying to really drive and a few options from BMW. Something happened and I was pulled over to Lexus where I was prepared to be disappointed but then the heavens parted, angels played harps, butterflies danced on rainbows and I saw the GS450h. The bamboo trimmed interior made me think of a spa and the 348 hp combined with 34 mpg ratings had me looking for Ashton Kutcher to tell me I’d been punked. There are a zillion details on the GS450h that I’m looking forward to exploring when I finally get behind the wheel and one of them is the triple memory seat. I personally like to use two memory settings for just myself. I sit two basic ways, one with a ponytail, and one without. When my hair is up behind me I need the seat to recline a little further. I have a lot of hair.

There are a few places to eat during press days. My favorite is always Porsche. I’d been there in the morning for a German sausage and fruit cup and on my way out of the show I thought I’d pop into Auto Trader’s media booth for a bottle of water.

I went to walk in and a man in a suit asked me if I was media. I showed him this.

Well, I didn’t show it to him so much as he lifted it up to examine it and he said to me, “This lounge is only for real media.”

I may have stuttered. I didn’t quite know what to say.

“This is only for real journalists.” He repeated and pulled his iPhone out of his pocket (hello irony) to ignore me a while.

I started to walk away when he sort of tsched me. You know that horrible sound that middle school girls do when they don’t like someone. That’s the sound that the Auto Trader guy gave me. I turned around and I was going to say something to him but then he was staring at me again like he hated me.

And this is where I knew I was an adult. I didn’t mention to him that the Auto Trader is no longer in print. I didn’t scream at him about how he didn’t know that media was in his pocket and his grubby hand. I bit my tongue when I saw his cheap suit and bad haircut and I walked away.

I don’t even hate Auto Trader. I just really really dislike that guy.

I guess I’m growing up.

2013 Acura ILX Tech Hybrid Road Test and Review

09.17.12

When the Acura ILX showed up at my house I was really excited. I thought that it would be nice to compare with my Lexus HS… apples to apples sort of thing and all. Well, that’s really not possible because the HS is no longer made, though I am looking forward to driving the Lexus ES hybrid for 2013. It doesn’t seem to compare well to either vehicle as it’s (surprisingly) in a different pricepoint.

The car I drove is the ILX with the tech hybrid package with a total drive off price of $35,295. The window sticker says to expect about 38 MPG combined city and highway on it and I found that to be fairly accurate.

The interior is spacious and luxurious. The kids have plenty of room in the back seat and one of the kids in our carpool is a leggy 5’10”.

When I get these cars I drive like a jerk for the first day or two. The ILX is interesting because just to the left of the steering wheel is a little button that says “ECON”. Most hybrids assume that the driver cares not one whit about performance and that they’re content to chug along with a gas pedal that could double as a suggestion box. Acura assumes you want performance so days one and two were spent in sports mode with the ECON button not depressed and me racing off the line at red lights like it’s the Indy 500. It’s a horrible way to drive a car and not particularly joyful unless the car has decent pickup and the ILX has more than decent pickup when you’re not conserving precious fossil fules.

Fortunately the ILX hybrid doesn’t cater only to jerks and for the next several days I played with the car in drive and ECON mode. For the week combined I ended up with an average of 36 MPG and on the days when I drove like a normal human being should (not hypermiling either) I consistently was between 41-43 MPG. Keep in mind that I’m a mostly city driver and hybrids are perfect for lifestyles like mine.

This is the MPG when I’m driving in sport mode and racing everyone off the line. It’s impressive.

I felt like I was in a really snazzy Honda Accord. The dash is low and the visibility is good. I’m not sure why in recent years automotive manufacturers haven’t given us better views of the road. Maybe it’s because they’re busy accommodating the navigation systems?

Speaking of navigation systems I’m ready to declare the Acura navigation system to be my favorite of all time. I know, I’m not supposed to play favorites but theirs is done right. It’s intuitive and it’s complete. It’s the only navigation system that I’ve used which offers accurate traffic. As an Angelino I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this is.

We didn’t love the audio package. It was a little tinny and I might suggest an upgrade if you are a music lover. It would probably be fine for me as equipped because, let’s face it, no amount of tuning will make Call Me Maybe sound good and I lost control of the radio a few years ago.

Safety is critical and the 2013 Acura ILX has received the highest possible safety rating of top safety pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting vehicle occupants involved in front, side and rear crashes, plus rollover performance based on ratings in the Institute’s tests. It is worth noting that the IIHS uses these tests to determine how much your auto insurance costs so they have a few million reasons to be as accurate (and tough) as possible.

A couple of details for my friends who love buying American: 45% of the parts are US or Canadian and just 35% are from Japan and the final assembly point is in Greensburg, Indiana.

 

Summer Camp is the New Birkin Bag

06.12.11

When Jane was born I wanted a Birkin bag. The two year wait list made me long for it in ways I’d never imagined. When I found out that I could sell it for nearly double the purchase price within 48 hours I no longer wanted to own a Birkin so much as I wanted to buy many of them.

When Alexander was born I was doing a brisk business in couture resale and the Blue Jean and Palladium Birkin was the hottest bag on the market so I decided to carry one. It brought me about two solid weeks of intense pleasure, and then I realized that it was a heavy, boxy handbag that was too masculine for my liking and the sippy cups that I’d placed in it were ThisClose to costing me a cool $8,000. I regained my senses and sold the bag.

My husband and his friends never understood my business, they couldn’t comprehend carrying a purse that looked like a hybrid between a diaper bag and briefcase. I’d patiently explain, “It’s like wearing your paycheck on our arms. It’s how we show people we have value.”

This explanation has never worked particularly well with reasonable men. Exotic car owners nod slowly and knowingly, I would not call these men reasonable.

The women I’m surrounded by now still have their Birkin Bags but the sippy cups were replaced by water bottles and lip gloss a few years ago. Minivans have been traded for high end hybrid trucks and the new competition is school and camp.

Ask an LA kid about their summer plans and you’ll hear about camps with organic farming, adventures, sports, drama and the arts. You’ll hear that they didn’t go to their first choice camp but they are hopeful because they are waitlisted. Kids will tell you about summers spent in Europe or eco tourism in South America.

And mothers will puff up with delight when you ask about summer plans, particularly that one lady, you know who she is. She’s the one who used to have the swank purse, but now she has the swank vacation and the hybrid, because being ostentatious with couture went out of style in the Great Recession, but where Hermes left off, summer camp has filled the void.

 

2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid Review

05.12.10

I want to marry this car. The end.

Okay, well maybe you’re expecting a more thoughtful review. What a demanding group you are.

The Mercury Milan is the Ford Fusion’s hot cousin. I was one of the lucky few to drive the Fusion Hybrid last year, and during this most recent round of car shopping it was my first choice.

The Milan Hybrid is a stunning car at a great price. The one I drove for this past week had an MSRP of $33,570.

This is not a performance car, but for Los Angeles traffic (ugh) you don’t really need it. With a sturdy 2.5L Duratec® 16-valve I-4 engine, the Milan faked me out. I felt like I had plenty of power getting onto the freeway (yes I drove a few times at night just to be sure it could move), and the transitions from electric engine to gasoline and back again were smooth. I’ve now driven almost every hybrid on the market (forgive me BMW if I don’t take your 19MPG hybrid seriously enough to test drive it) and the Mercury has the smoothest transition of all.

I just leased a Lexus hs250 hybrid, and I feel like this is the perfect car review for me. I’m really comparing apples to apples here. The Mercury in my driveway is $3,450 more than the Lexus, and they share some of the same fantastic features.

With both the Lexus and with the Mercury I got 34 miles a gallon after a week of regular driving. This pleases me. I am a terrible driver with a lead foot. Were I to pay better attention the mileage would be better as it was when I drove the Ford Fusion Hybrid last year and averaged closer to 40 MPG. If I’m busy loving the planet, this is the right car for the job.

The Mercury Milan has good but imperfect crash ratings. The front impact for driver and passenger received five out of five possible stars. Front seat side crash ratings were perfect with five stars, and the side rear seat as well as the rollover ratings received just four out of five stars. Good, but I’d like to see five stars in the back seat, us moms want to protect our kids.

I have to say the Mercury Milan pleases me for a number of reasons. I’m going to give you a list and just encourage you to drive one at your local dealer:

  • Although the interior leather has cream colored panels, the floors and backs of the seats are black. This is good when you have kids.
  • Nice pickup, not speed racer, but this isn’t a wimpy car
  • 175 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque
  • Wears nicely. The car I drove had almost 11,000 miles on it. Granted it’s part of a well maintained fleet, but it still impressed me.
  • Tight handling. I like this, remember me, leadfoot?
  • SYNC I love the technology that Ford uses. It took me just a few short minutes to figure out the navigation, to connect my bluetooth and to be on my way. The UI (user interface) is smart.
  • Trunk space: Enough for a dead body and a shovel. Go ahead, judge me.

I happen to love Mercury, so I hopped in the car with a bias. Before Jane I had a third generation Mercury Capri which was red, convertible and MINE. I think of Mercury as a premium brand. I don’t necessarily think “luxury brand” but I know some folks do.

My husband did not love this car. He liked it, and agreed that it’s a lot better than the Lexus, but when I said, “don’t you love it?” His response was, “it drives like an Enterprise rent a a car.” To be perfectly fair, the only reason I’m not currently driving this car full time is because it doesn’t lease out well. I love cars, and I love new cars, so I’ve resigned myself to leasing. I’m not sure if there isn’t a good lease rate because Ford is notoriously conservative (no bailout for Ford) or if it’s because the residual value is low.

If I were the type to buy a car, this or the Ford Fusion Hybrid would have been my first choice. I’m just not that type.

We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I love the car, he does not. Part of me thinks he’s just jealous, you know, since I want to marry it and all.