On Friday, I was privileged to attend another "drive and ride" event hosted by General Motors, to get a preview of their new Chevy Cruze (which won't be on lots for another month)... and had the opportunity to interview one of their engineers about the vehicle's safety features.
I am readying a sneak-peek type of post over at AskPatty.com, as well as a planned video showing where we went on our drive. But the folks at Chevy beat me to it by putting together a professionally edited video of their own... starring ME.
Want to know what we thought of the vehicle? Watch this space and I'll let you know when my review is live at AskPatty.com. In the meantime, learn more about the Cruze and its fuel efficiency features at Chevrolet.com and The Future is Electric.
Disclosure: I have no business affiliation with General Motors or its agents. I was not paid to write this post - however, I was given a gift card to use for expenses while we drove the vehicle. There was no expectation that I would write a positive post about the car.
My daughter starts high school in the Fall, and while she is mildly excited about that, she has lately become obsessed with another upcoming milestone. I know this from the conversations we have each morning on our way to school.
"I want YOU to teach me how to drive when I get my permit next year," she announced recently.
Ummmmm.... Well, I think by law, she will need to take lessons from a licensed driving instructor. But she will need to get several hours of practice behind the wheel, and I guess I'm the experienced adult who will have to grit my teeth and sit beside her.
Did I say I was experienced? I have driven the roads of Los Angeles for nearly 40 years... but I still need to learn some new tricks, as I discovered last week when I attended a driver safety event hosted by Toyota Motors' Lexus division.
I don't think I have to point out that there have been vast improvements in automotive technology over the past four decades. My first car did not have a lot of safety and fuel economy features we now take for granted: catalytic converters, airbags, power seats and windows, anti-lock brakes, and vehicle stability systems may have been available on higher end vehicles in the 1970's -- but now, most of those features are standard (and many are mandated). Onboard computers? When I got my first driver's license, you needed an entire room to hold a computer. Only visionaries (and the writers of Star Trek) would dream that some day they would be an integral part of the car you drive.
So I should not have been surprised when the professional drivers at Lexus Safety Camp noted that advances in safety technology dictate changes in the way we drive -- or should. Take the way we grasp the wheel. Back in the prehistoric 1970's, we were taught to think of the wheel as a clockface and put our hands in the "10 and 2" position.
But today, the safest place to keep your hands is at "9 and 3." That's because of the addition of the airbag within the wheel; in the event of a collision, you don't want your hands to be in the way. Care must also be taken to position the wheel so that the airbag isn't going to hit you in the face.
New technology can make your vehicle behave differently. Take the addition of anti-lock brakes. As someone who buys and holds on to cars for ten years or more, I hadn't a clue what was going on in my Volvo the first time I engaged my ABS system. The pulsation of the vehicle as I came to a quick stop was quite frightening - but according to the experts at Lexus, that's exactly what's supposed to happen:
If there is one thing I learned at the safety event last week, it's that driver education doesn't end in high school. As we age and our vehicles become more sophisticated, it would behoove us all to take a refresher course every few years. I'm glad Lexus put on the event and am pleased to put the word out.
DISCLOSURE: I received no compensation for this post, although the company did feed me and send me home with a goodie bag filled with promotional materials, a first aid kit and car games for the kids. I have no business affiliation with Lexus or their parent company, Toyota.
My husband went back to work today, after a week when he was underfoot taking some vacation days.
So now I can get back to work, too - beginning with my recap of the L.A. Auto Show, which concluded over the weekend.
It's become something of a tradition for us to attend the show with my car-loving friend, Tim, and his family. But this year, it was a serious endeavor: The lease on my Volvo S60 is up in June and I need to make some decisions.
The car is a joy to drive, but it's had some major mechanical issues (all of which were repaired for free under the manufacturer's warranty). The last one occurred during its most recent routine maintenance: the radiator had to be replaced, at just 30,000 miles.
So as much as I love my Volvo, I don't think I can afford it once the warranty runs out.
That's why I skipped the dream machines at this year's Auto Show (you know, the ones that costmorethanmy house) and focused on the practical: a vehicle that makes sense for a mom in a carpool.
I'm in a different place from where I was when I entered into my lease nearly three years ago. I had owned my previous vehicle (a Saturn) for 11 years, and drove the one before that (a Ford Tempo) for 11 years as well. With so many new fuel technologies being developed, I was leery of investing in a new car that might be obsolete in a couple of years.
And after turning 50, I think I was experiencing something of a midlife crisis: I'd never owned anything but a small, practical car. I wanted something sexy... European... yet safe. The Volvo fit the bill.
There are a lot more hybrid models on the market today, but more are in the pipeline - and the technology is still in flux. For that reason, I would want to continue leasing... except for a major lifestyle change that occurred when my daughter started training at a new gym that's 35 miles away from my home. For the first two years with the Volvo, I was able to keep within the 12,000 mile per year terms of my lease. Now, I'm struggling. Carpooling helps -- but I'm still 1500 miles above where I should be.
So I'm going to have to buy my next car, and it will likely be a lot less luxurious than the one I'm driving now. While I want one that's comfortable (because we Angelenos practically LIVE in our cars!), it will also have to be practical, reliable -- and offer enough legroom for my soon-to-be teenager and her friends.
Finally, I want to support the American auto industry - so I would like to find all these wonderful features in a Ford, GM or Chrysler vehicle. I have noticed that GM and Ford (especially) have come a long way in the quality and styling of their products and I'm anxious to try some of them out. (I actually did get to try out GM's new Traverse and loved it. Too bad it's out of my price range.)
That said, I'm not going to choose my next automobile purely out of a sense of patriotism. I need to be sure that the manufacturer will still be in business in six months (or ten years). I want good safety ratings, great gas mileage -- and the most car for my money. That means I'm also looking at models from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Hyundai and Kia.
These are the models that most impressed me at the show:
Chevy Malibu: It's been redesigned on the inside and out, and there's even a hybrid model (although the savings in mileage might not be worth the additional cost). I am looking forward to giving this one a test drive.
Saturn Vue: It's been redesigned (courtesy of GM's European Opel crew) and is less boxy than the original. Its sticker at the Auto Show indicated a 4-star safety rating, so it appears that they've solved the rollover problems of the older model. And there is a hybrid version due out this spring.
My old Saturn was the most reliable car I'd ever owned and it would be nice to get back into one. I may also look at the Aura (which already has a hybrid model available) - but I'm feeling a lot more partial to SUV's and crossovers these days.
Subaru Outback and Forester - the latter has been redesigned. Both get really good mileage and some models are PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicles). And you can get into a fairly full-featured one for about $26,000.
Toyota Prius: Still the leader in hybrid gas mileage, and surprisingly roomy interior.
Honda Insight: Honda is relaunching its hybrid-only model and it looks like it will give the Prius a run for its low mile-per-gallon money.
I also like the look of the new Civics. I test drove one the last time I was in the market and was not impressed (but at that time, I'd already fallen in love with my Volvo - so nothing was impressing me then).
Other models I want to look at:
Ford's Fusion, Escape, Edge and Flex - although I am afraid the latter two models are too costly for my budget.
Kia Sorento: I rented a Sedona over the summer for our trip to Las Vegas and was impressed with its economy, comfort, and drive.
Nissan Rogue: I think it's cute. I'd like to take it for a test drive.
Hyundai Santa Fe: I hear good things about Hyundais, which look a lot richer than you'd expect for the price. And you can't beat the 10-year warranty.
So there's my list. I think it will be interesting to see what I end up with. The last time I did this, the car I got was NOT one of the ones I was initially interested in seeing.