Stories by Tara Weingarten

  • Road Test: Cadillac XLR-V: Born in the U.S.A.

    The car is angular, muscular, bold and aggressive. It has big brakes that are cross-drilled and vented front and rear. It rides on four 19-inch wheels and has four chrome-tipped exhaust pipes grouped together for a mean, nasty look. And (hold on tight!) it catapults from zero to 60 miles per hour in only 4.6 seconds. Italian exotic, you say? Wrong answer. This doll's purebred domestic. Caddy's high-performance XLR-V is nothing like the classic bobbing boats that our grandparents dreamed of winning on a game show. Instead, Cadillac's quickest car yet--a hard-topped roadster--is a tight ride that feels firmly planted on the pavement even at warp speed.On a test drive that topped at 145 miles per hour, I was squeezed into my seat back, with obvious power to spare. Also, this model gets extra points for the beautifully crisp, sharp shifts from the six-speed automatic transmission, which hit the redline each time before shifting to the next gear. Very nice. The engine sounds almost right...
  • ROAD TEST: LEXUS IS 350

    Lexus is known for its luxe, fast, smooth cars. Now with the second-generation IS 350, it wants to rule the sports sedan category. Sorry, kids: we're not quite there yet. Yes, the IS is as speedy as a rocket--zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds--from a 3.5-liter, V-6, 306-horsepower engine. (That's a full half-second faster than its main rival, BMW's 3 Series sedan.) And its acceleration is sure almighty. But during a day of racetrack testing, the IS shuddered while braking under very high speeds, the result of myriad safety-related electronic braking interventions. I found it disconcerting. Of course, few people will have the chance to push the car near its 142mph limit. And under normal and even high-speed driving, the IS is very safe, and won't exhibit its braking glitches. But because of it, BMW needn't worry about ceding its crown.So where does that leave the IS? Solidly at the top of the luxe, fast and smooth strata, with the added benefit of sportlike features. It's the perfect match...
  • Road Test: F430 Spider

    It's 85 degrees outside--autumn in L.A., after all--and I should be melting. But I've got goose bumps behind the wheel of the new Ferrari F430 Spider. I press the START button and all hell breaks loose. ( Plus , the angels in heaven sing.) A deep, sultry riot of sound emerges from four exquisitely tuned exhaust pipes. And with 483 horses at 8,500rpm and a 4.3-liter V-8 engine, there won't be anything but an intense ride ahead. The F430's piercing physique, limitless power and surgically precise steering urges me to do naughty things, like take a warp-speed drive on a twisty road that would mean I'd never see my license again. But reason sets in and I steer into the mountains like a normal person, with the sweetest grin.My slot-car-like ride was full of grace. The F430 has a top speed of 196mph--no, I didn't reach it--and it slings from zero to 62 in a DNA-rearranging 4.1 seconds. As for the interior, who cares? I mean, it's great, sporty, even luxe, with leather seating as supple as...
  • Good Life

    For well-heeled TV lovers, the newest frontier in channel-surfing is moving from the couch to the patio. Manufacturers are coming out with sleek-looking sets that you can watch and keep outdoors, whether on a yacht, a beachside veranda or at a ski chalet. "It's an extension of the outdoor-living concept," says Dale Potts, chairman of Mirage Outdoor Concepts. "It's happening all over the world--in Sweden, Portugal, South Korea. It goes with the trend in high-end outdoor furniture and outdoor spas."With consumers now transforming their backyards into living rooms, two American companies have come forward to complete the picture. Their new all-weather outdoor TVs are aimed at luxury consumers, many of whom already own a plasma-screen TV or top-of-the-line LCD flat screen. (Customers have also shown great interest in putting them on yachts.) "We're introducing it to people that have the most and want the best, the latest and the newest," says Larry Kaiser, CEO of SunBrite TV, a...
  • Road Test: Audi A3

    If you're the kind of woman--or man--who buys jewelry in the diamond district instead of at Tiffany, then the A3 is your kind of car. That's because it offers the expected luxury of the Audi brand for the price of bargain wheels. There's the wizardly (yet optional) all-black-on-the-outside, clear-on-the-inside glass roofs for front and back-seat riders, which makes this ride feel roomier. I also like the 10-speaker audio system and defogging power side mirrors. My six-speed manual test car felt quicker than what I would have expected from the compact 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 200-horsepower turbocharged motor, and it rides on buff 17-inch wheels. But I was disappointed with the excessive body lean while cornering--not Teutonic enough for this German marque.Inside, I sparked to the modern feel of the nubby, textured-aluminum air vents and my short-toss, six-speed manual shifter. The firm support of the perforated, stitched leather seats and leather-sheathed steering wheel felt...
  • Food: Highbrow Pub Crawl

    So your palate has graduated from canned beer and pizza to goat-cheese crustini and a creamy microbrew. For the grown-up pub experience, try one of our favorite gastropubs. ...
  • CLOWNING AROUND

    There are your serious wheels, like Vipers, Ferraris and Carreras, and then there are the cars that make you want to giggle. Guess which category the new HHR falls into? Chevy's take on the PT Cruiser phenomenon is part hot rod, part 1950s grocery-delivery truck. Bulging with exaggerated details, this is a funny car--with the emphasis on "fun." Take the color of my tester: a supermetallic lavender the shade of frosty sterling roses. It isn't a sane color.
  • She's one cool cat

    Let's be real. In the rarefied air where $100,000-plus automobiles live, all are resplendent in over-the-top luxury. And so it is with this cat's new flagship sedan, the Portfolio, the seventh-generation XJ. Its beauty and sex appeal aren't subtle; it's more like the Angelina Jolie of the premium car category, with long, toned, sweeping lines and punctuations of blingy chrome, worn like well-placed jewelry. Every time I glance at it, I can't help but think of it parked on the manicured gravel driveway of an English manor house--or at some Hollywood big shot's Malibu pad.But beauty isn't just skin deep here. The 4.2-liter, supercharged V-8 engine puts out a ripping-good 400 horses. And it has an air-suspension system that continually softens or hardens the shocks depending on road conditions so the drive is always smooth, even on the bumpiest streets. Inside, buttery suede covers the roof, soft-grain leather with contrasting piping covers the seats and satin-finish American black...
  • A real good sport

    The Guinness Book of World Records says the Miata is the best-selling roadster in history. With this spectacularly engineered third-generation MX-5 (don't call it a Miata anymore), the record holder is in no danger of being left behind. I am smitten with this sweet little two-seater's serious road grip, an engine that responds the moment I push on the gas, and steering that is so agile, it's like I just need to think about turning and the car does all the work. Best of all, this true definition of a sports car is a cheap date.Of all the excellent points, it's hard to pick just a few. But here goes. The manual ragtop flips up and down in three seconds with the brush of one hand. My six-speed shifter has such a crisp short throw, I just flick my wrist and the gearshift slides into its gate. The roomy trunk can fit five grocery bags. And I'll say it again: the car's steering seems to navigate on instinct. Slightly bolstered seats kept my body placed while cornering, and the cockpit is...
  • Zippity doo dah

    A funny thing happened on my test drive of the redesigned Passat: people noticed. In the supermarket parking lot, a couple asked me about the car and nodded approvingly. And a friend commented on the nice leather seating. (I didn't have the heart to tell her it was high-grade faux leather.) You'd think VWs wouldn't get attention. They're not exotic. Maybe all the props came from the fact that this sixth-generation model sure is charming. Because it's German made, it has that solid, seriously built feel. But it's also a family car, with easy seating for five and a sizable trunk to fit everyone's stuff.My four-cylinder, 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower turbocharged engine zips with direct injection that all but does away with turbo lag. And the ride is medium stiff, tight enough to stay on track while cornering but soft enough so rough roads aren't a kidney rattler. I like the gizmo called Hill Hold Assist, which allows me to take my foot off the brake and stay put while stopped on inclines....
  • ROAD TEST | 2006 9-7X

    Saab owners like their cars quirky, with a center-console-mounted ignition, acrobatic flipping cup holders and a gnome shape. So what happens if General Motors, owner of Saab, decides to morph the car into a big, honkin' SUV? Spy the new 9-7X from the front and it looks like an inflated Saab sedan. Eye it from the rear and you'd be hard-pressed to find any of its Swedish heritage. Think Chevy Trailblazer or GMC Envoy, which isn't a stretch since the 9-7X rides on the same platform. And though the platform has no effect on exterior design, the 9-7X's tush isn't too snazzy.Luckily, Saab engineers tightened the flabby ride of an SUV and honed its steering so that the 9-7X handles better. It also has ample pickup from a beefy 5.3-liter, 300-horsepower V-8 engine. It's certainly luxurious enough, with well-proportioned, comfortable seating, ingenious air vents (I know you know, but it's worth repeating) and electric seats, mirrors... everything. Yet it wears cheap-looking faux-wood...
  • ROAD TEST: PONTIAC G6 GTP COUPE

    Think American muscle cars are too bold, loud, twitchy and obnoxious? Then size up the G6 GTP coupe. Though not technically a muscle car, it has its share of beefcake traits. There's generous torque from a 3.9-liter, 240-horsepower V6 engine, racy bolstered seats and excellent, taut steering. As for looks, he's kinda sexy. From up front, you can't mistake it for anything but a Grand Am, the midsize car the G6 replaces in 2006. But from the back (hubba!), check out the redesigned aerodynamic physique, a little Acura coupe-esque. Plus, this two-door is ready to tear off the starting line with an unmistakable forward stance.Handling is tight and stable. And like a true muscle car, it doesn't have too much power assist in the steering, so it takes some effort to maneuver. Love that. Inside, there's roomy seating for four with ample legroom. I especially like the chromed shift knob and ringed gauges, which look sporty. My tester included the $1,265 leather package, with truly stylish...
  • Not Up To Speed

    Think "minivan" and you usually get a ride that's unsexy, decidedly unhip and suburban, right? But what if that minivan--oops, I mean crossover vehicle--was made by Mercedes-Benz. Sexy now? Sorry, no. There's just something about a wedge-shaped hunk that's impossible to construe as attractive. Though the Mercedes folks insist the R class isn't technically a minivan (the press material compares it to a sport utility vehicle, luxury wagon and sports car), it certainly looks the part--albeit with a prettier interior and no telltale sliding side doors.As for sports-car-like performance, I'd like to test the one they used for comparison. The model that I drove handled corners about as well as a schoolbus. On the bonus side, there's some giddyap from the 5.0-liter, V-8, 302-horsepower engine. Inside, legroom is outstanding, with plenty of space for six tall adults. Stereo headphone jacks in the back kept my little ones entertained. But when it comes to versatility, the R class again falls...
  • Daily Dining: If It's Tuesday...

    Can't decide which night is best to visit your favorite restaurant? It may not be Friday or Saturday. Try these Los Angeles eateries, which serve up specialties only on certain evenings.WINE LOVERS' SUNDAYS: Boa (310-899-4466). This hip steakhouse offers 50 percent off all bottles on its list.MOZZARELLA MONDAYS: Jar (323-655-6566). Baker Nancy Silverton whips up divine, simple dishes of warm pulled mozzarella.TRUFFLE TUESDAYS: Cafe Del Rey (310-823-6395). Take in the heady aroma of an all-black truffle dinner, including black cod with truffle scales in a sea-urchin butter sauce.DOUGHNUT WEDNESDAYS: Grace (323-934-4400). Get messy devouring treats like brown-sugar doughnuts with blackberry preserves. GRILLED CHEESE THURSDAYS: Campanile (323-938-1447). Try goat cheese with tapenade or Swiss with bacon and artichoke hearts. Way better than Mom used to make.
  • Adventure: The Need For Speed

    So your junior Danica wants to be a race-car driver? She's got a lot to learn before she nails the driving test at 16. Start her off with one of these karting classes for kids. At Jim Hall Kart Racing School ($195 for three hours; jimhallkartracing.com) in Oxnard, Calif., kids 10 to 14 learn such techniques as choosing the correct driving line and threshold braking. Junior will pull up to one-and-a-half Gs on a half-mile, 14-turn track. "You feel like a real race-car driver," says Charlie Shulman, a 12-year-old from L.A.In California's wine country, the Jim Russell Racing School ($300 for four hours; jimrussellusa.com) gets 8 to 12-year-olds going up to 50mph on a mile-long track. The best news: they've never had an accident.
  • Over The River...

    The road to Grandma's house can be bumpy: parents squabbling over directions, kids whining that they're bored. To smooth the ride, TIP SHEET asked Parents executive editor Kate Lawler, experts at crutchfield.com and nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge to recommend the travel gear below. Start by giving each child a new toy or book for the journey and pull over every couple of hours. Load everyone into the Chrysler Town & Country, which comes with an optional DVD player and loads of storage space. Enjoy the ride!
  • ROAD TEST: 2005 NISSAN X-TERRA

    Nissan marketers recently asked a test group to give one word that best describes the X-Terra. The most common answer: yellow. It's not that the car looks like a banana; it was just one of the first colors introduced on the value-priced SUV when it arrived in showrooms five years ago. But after a week driving this next generation, I think "rugged" is a more apt descriptor. Or maybe "boxy," "beefy" and "bulging." This five-seater, flared with muscles, has the sex appeal of Brad Pitt in "Troy" (with none of the bad dialogue). Like most Nissans, the X-Terra is all about low-end torque, giving plenty of power off the line from a 4.0-liter, V-6, 265-horsepower engine. And with stiffer suspension than the former model, the car's handling has vastly improved.Some might say the X-Terra looks like last year's news. It's true, at the tail end. But up front, the big, brawny fascia appears to have more body. I like that the roof rack comes with a covered gearbox to hide your junk. And there are...
  • THE GOOD LIFE

    HOTELS: MAY I SHINE YOUR SHOES?The word butler still conjures up visions of a Wodehousean gentleman in coattails, effortlessly managing every detail of an English country estate. But thanks to a growing trend at luxury hotels from Tokyo to Las Vegas, manservants are getting a makeover. Instead of the famously stolid butler of Victorian descent, today's version is a warm and affable personal concierge-cum-valet. And all you need to do to get one is make the right reservation.Relying on individualized service to set them apart, tony boutique hotels have turned to butler services in an effort to lure customers away from large five-star chains. Like the butlers of yesteryear, these majordomos are apt to look upon an unstarched collar with a somewhat jaundiced eye. But they're also trained to surf the Internet, play the sommelier, unobtrusively pack and unpack bags, plan parties and arrange itineraries. They can even organize hot-air-balloon rides. "Any hotel can provide all the...
  • ROAD TEST: SUBARU B9 TRIBECA

    I pull in to the swank Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. There's a Bentley parked in front of me. A Maserati convertible next to it. Ho-hum, just another day in the hotel's showroom--I mean parking lot. Then the jaded valet approaches and gives me a nod. "Nice car," he says. "What is it?"Forget Subaru's rep as reliable wheels for the Birkenstocks-and-granola crowd. The new B9 Tribeca, Subaru's first foray into the SUV genre, is urban groovy, with contemporary lines inside and out. But it's also competent, with full-time all-wheel drive, a decent 3.0-liter, 6- cylinder, 250-horsepower engine and stability and traction control. It's also an ideal size: big enough to seat seven, but not so gargantuan that it would be impossible to navigate on city streets. Subaru's new 'tude gives driver and riders little luxuries that most of us now expect. There are three-stage heated front leather seats, an eight-way power driver's seat and a leather-wrapped shift knob. And the Tribeca rides and handles...
  • TRAVEL: TAMALES IN PARADISE

    Santa Barbara, Calif., between the sapphire blue Pacific and tall, rocky Santa Ynez mountains, is the West Coast's most romantic hideaway. You can stroll on the sand, walk under palm trees or watch dolphins in the water. Here are our top picks:Stay at Bacara Resort and Spa (from $450; bacararesort .com). Right on the beach, with a 42,000-square-foot spa and rooms that carry the softest Frette Italian linens, robes and slippers.Eat at La Superica (622 North Milpas Street; 805-963-4940). Julia Child and Martha Stewart each caused a stampede when they told viewers about this taco stand. Expect long lines, since its tamales are so hot.See the Santa Barbara Mission (sbmission.org). Founded by Spanish Franciscans in 1786, it's one of the state's finest examples of mission architecture. Several structures built by Indian labor remain: a grist mill, aqueducts and ruins of a pottery kiln.Go on a one-hour catamaran ride across the Santa Barbara channel, passing humpback whales. Then paddle...
  • ROAD TEST: VW JETTA 2.5

    In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that I chose a Jetta as my first car out of college. It embodied all that was divine about being young: it looked way cool, was spry and roomy enough to ferry around my posse. The latest Jetta takes me back. A little more refined than my mid-1980s model, this fifth-generation sedan is still energetic and eager, but don't think of it as just a kid's car. For about $21,000--a bargain in today's market--this Jetta comes standard with an army of air bags, including the all-important side curtains, and an anti-lock-brake system.Though it might not look like much, the new Jetta flies under the performance radar, pairing a subtle appearance with a passionate ride. It has 39 percent more pulling power than the previous generation. And like all the Jettas before, it handles with the finesse and predictability of a German machine. I also like how this compact VW comfortably seats five, though it's small enough to fit in sliver-size parking spots....
  • ROAD TEST: MITSUBISHI ECLIPSE GT

    This fourth-generation Eclipse was assembled in Normal, Ill., but there's nothing ordinary about this little sports coupe. It just might be the best example of a fresh-out-of-the-box performance car; it's got power, a sports suspension and looks every bit like a pimped-up ride. Sure, there's "torque steer" (difficult to control when you accelerate hard), thanks to an ample 3.8-liter, V-6 MIVEC engine paired with front-wheel drive. But it's not so bad as to spoil the 263 horses. And for a front-drive car, the steering is surprisingly tight.My test car's color, Sunset Pearlescent, actually looked like toasted tangerine. The retro-inspired dashboard resembles a midcentury take on a space-age control panel. The leather interior (tangerine, again) is paired with aluminum dials and superintuitive climate and audio systems. Even more impressive, the bolstered seats kept my body firmly in place around corners. On the downside, back-seat legroom is so small, none of my friends would sit back...
  • ROAD TEST: ISUZU ASCENDER

    The car industry may be moving in the direction of smaller crossovers and compact SUVs. But how do big families get around these days? Check out the new seven-seat Ascender, comfy as a living room and large enough to haul the company softball team. So what if gas is careering toward $3 a gallon (as it is here in L.A.)--pass that ball cap to the third row of seats and ask your passengers to pony up. At least they'll enjoy excellent headroom, thanks to a stepped-up roofline and plush-as-a-Barcalounger overstuffed seats.The Ascender's soft suspension rolls over potholes and road imperfections with impunity. But with that smooth ride comes a noticeable sway, so your buddies might complain of a boat-rocking sensation. The ride is a little too soft for me (then again, you might forgive it if you normally cross bumpy roads). My tester cranked formidable power from a 5.3-liter V-8 engine with 300 horses. Even on steep hills, this SUV performed well. Inside, the optional faux burled wood on...
  • THE TIP SHEET

    Movies on the MoveBy Ramin SetoodehWhat's showing on your next flight? Who cares. These days, more travelers are taking off with portable DVD players--8 million units were sold worldwide last year, up from 3 million in 2003, reports the market-research firm In-Stat. As prices drop way below those of laptops, the latest gadgets are wired with more extras. So what should a newbie carry on? TIP SHEET tested a handful of players. Here's what looked the best:Audiovox D2010 ($450) ...
  • CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

    What the... well, I never swear. But a few laps around the California Speedway in the Carrera GT, and I was cussing like Chris Rock. It wasn't at the car, per se. It's just that this GT is so insanely powerful--a masterpiece propelled by a mind-altering 5.7-liter, V-10 engine that cranks out 605 thoroughbreds--that other words escaped me. To be sure, the Carrera GT is one stroke shy of being a bonafide race car, yet it was built and marketed to be a street car. For argument's sake, let's just say it's not your garden-variety roadster. With so much grit coming from this midengine beauty, the GT requires driving skills beyond what most of us have. Then again, if you can afford the car, you can pop for a few lessons at a track school.The Carrera GT wears an aerospace-grade carbon-fiber chassis, has race-car-like structural rigidity for superior navigation around tight corners and hits 60mph in 3.8 seconds. My smile appeared much quicker. And it stayed put when I felt the car's...
  • ROAD TEST: PONTIAC GXP

    Pontiac's Grand Prix GXP isn't your typical family-vacation trickster--which makes it the perfect choice for your summer ride. Starting with the exterior, I love its purposeful pinched nose, the big racing wing over the trunk and the beefy 18-inch shiny Alcoa-chromed wheels. And there's a generous 16 cubic-foot trunk, including a cargo net, to hold all your vacation gear and trinkets. But when you hop behind the wheel, this sedan comfortably accommodates the brood while keeping it fun for you. Seriously bolstered seats formed to my body, making a long trip much more pleasant. An ergonomic shift handle is also easy to maneuver, though I opted to play with the engaging TAPshift steering-wheel-mounted finger paddles to change gears.Most exhilarating is the 5.3-liter, V-8, 303-horsepower engine, which is great for those uphill climbs if you decide to go on a mountain escape. But be warned: when I stepped hard on the gas from a standstill, the engine produced so much torque all at once,...
  • ROAD TEST: NISSAN 350Z

    Pssst. Wanna buy a Porsche, cheap? Well, you can't. But if you long for that taut, honed Porsche steering and lag-free acceleration and can't handle the payments, check out Nissan's 35th Anniversary edition Z, which sells for half the price of a 911 Carrera. Yes, it's been 35 long years since Datsun, Nissan's former self, introduced the sexy little Z--so get over it. But if you're depressed about the passage of time, this new Z, with 300 ponies, a six-speed manual transmission with padded shifter, five-spoke 18-inch wheels, Brembo brakes and a front spoiler, will make you so happy, it'll shave a few years off your psyche.Unlike other Japanese muscle cars, the Anniversary Z feels like it was German engineered. Determined acceleration redlines at an impressive 7,000RPM, and the racing-inspired Brembos stop the car so well and quickly they're confidence-inducing. I liked how the seat backs, built with exaggerated side wings, held me solidly in place while cornering. But I was...
  • ROAD TEST: MERCEDES CLS500

    On a typical day in Los Angeles, where I live, I spot at least one celebrity, a dozen surgery-enhanced starlet wanna-bes and tons of freshly minted exotic cars. So I was stunned when I parked my CLS500 tester at a ritzy garden party in the Santa Monica mountains and watched as several west-side hipsters slanted their Guccis to check out my wheels. I'd thought everyone here was immune to automotive eye candy, but no. With its sleek coupe lines draped over a four-door body, Mercedes has blended the sexiness of a two-door with the practicality of a sedan. And what a looker it is.Yet unlike an L.A. bubble-headed beauty, this Benz is loaded with substance. Massive power comes from a 5.0-liter, V-8, 302-horsepower engine. Combine that with smooth, seamless shifting between seven--yes, seven--gears, and I was down for some fun in the sun. Most impressive is the electronic shifting, which adapts to the driver's current driving style. When I hit the accelerator hard, it responded in a snap,...
  • The Tip Sheet

    TECHNOLOGYSafe Cars Of The FutureWhen it comes to cars, many people will gladly pay extra for premium sound systems and plush leather seats. But when offered additional safety features, buyers frequently opt to save a few bucks. Why spend $2,300 on a collision-warning system when you could put the money into a rear-seat DVD player to entertain the kids?Cyndi Robin used to think that way--until a pickup truck broadsided her and her 3-year-old granddaughter. Both passengers had to be pried out of the car by paramedics. Had Robin's 2004 Lexus RX330 not come equipped with an amusement park's worth of airbags, she's convinced they would have been gravely injured. Instead, they walked away without a scratch.Certainly, safety technology can save lives once an accident occurs. And now a growing arsenal of safety features will help you avoid a crash in the first place. Here's a primer on the latest auto-safety technology:BLIND-SPOT INFORMATION SYSTEM Cameras mounted on each side mirror...