Tara Weingarten

Stories by Tara Weingarten

  • ROAD TEST: MASERATI QUATTROPORTE

    I spent the weekend with a seductive Italian--masculine but not macho, and as chic as a GQ model in an Armani suit. I'm talking, of course, about the Maserati Quattroporte. Zooming on a Santa Barbara, Calif., freeway and armed with 400 horses in a 4.2-liter, V-8 engine, I thought that if it had wings, it could have taken off. But this is no garden-variety sports car. With four doors, it's also a stylish family sedan--I suppose, if your name is Michael Schumacher.Designed by Pininfarina, the famed Italian auto-engineering firm, this fifth-generation Quattroporte handles tight and sticks beautifully to the road on 18-inch wheels. Shifting is a little jerky through a sequential manual gearbox accessed by chrome-plated paddles behind the steering wheel, similar to those on Formula One racecars. I thought a manual shift or even an automatic transmission would have been smoother. But I like how sportiness yields to luxe on the inside, with creamy leather seating and a deeply grained and...
  • ROAD TEST: HONDA RIDGELINE RTS

    Honda's new Ridgeline five-seat pickup is so big and bold-looking you'd think it was made in America. This truck wears an Erector-set-like boxy frame and a menacing, aggressive front end. Pretty, it's not. Practical, it certainly is. Need to haul 1,500 pounds of cargo? No problem. Want to tow something weighing 5,000 pounds? Sure. Its 3.5-liter, VTEC V-6, 255-horsepower engine is up to the job, and the four-wheel-drive traction works well. It also sports a tighter chassis than some other trucks in its price range, making it a stellar road handler. I felt completely safe plodding through L.A.'s rain-soaked streets during a recent storm; there wasn't a slip from the 17-inch wheels.The Ridgeline's retro industrial-design interior is more attractive than the busy exterior. Oversize aluminum-trimmed door handles and gauge rims, and a soft-rubber steering wheel play to the Tonka-tough image. The commodious back seat, with ample storage space underneath, can fit three burly fellows. And...
  • ROAD TEST| MERCEDES SLK350

    If the SUV says utility, the sporty roadster with a convertible top is all about a carefree day on the road. Mercedes gets this right in the redesigned SLK350. I scooped up a friend, popped the top and took to the hills above Malibu. This beauty fit perfectly into the landscape. The SLK is sculpted, tight and cut--like a body-builder. A steeply sloped front end meets a seriously slanted windshield; it looks as if this SLK is zooming even at a standstill. But zoom it must, with a 3.5-liter aluminum V-6, 268-horsepower engine. Slipping through the rocky coastline, I thrilled to the skin-tight responsive steering, the seamless shifting and the pitch-perfect traction. This is a monumental improvement over the previous-generation SLK, which looked cheap and gave a decidedly uninvigorating ride.Inside, sleek is the buzzword. My tester had red leather seats and door inserts contrasting with matte black. The dash is all about matte metallic finish, and the bling-bling Mercedes logo is...
  • FOOD: ITALIAN FOR SUSHI

    Sushi lovers on the left and right coasts are angling for a new kind of raw fish. Forget about wasabi-spiced slivers of yellowtail and soy-drenched toro; the buzz now is on crudo. Italian for "raw," crudo is spiked with robust Mediterranean flavors of garlic, citrus, tomato and fresh olive oil. Il Grano (Los Angeles; 310-477-7886) serves Maine scallops with candied lemon peel, and snapper with chard and poppy-seed dressing. Esca (New York; 212-564-7272), where crudo got its start in the United States, offers Spanish mackerel with muscat-steeped golden raisins. Seablue (Las Vegas; 702-891-3486) dishes out yellowtail "jack" with spicy shiitake mushrooms and ponzu sauce. And at Oliveto (Oakland, Calif.; 510-547-5356), try the halibut with black truffles, Meyer lemon vinaigrette and bottarga. No chopsticks required.
  • FIRST-CLASS RIDE

    If it's luxury you're looking for, you don't have to spring for a Bentley. You can slip into the new $16,000 Chevy Cobalt and get many of the same interior goodies found on that regal $158,000 tourer. Priced to compete with Toyota's Corolla and the Honda Civic, the Cobalt LS is fine basic transportation dolled up to make your commute less painful. Some of the standard features--air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, audio system with CD and four-wheel antilock brakes--are what make driving enjoyable and safe.Though I am disappointed in the Cobalt's nondescript exterior design, I like what Chevy did inside. My tester, with the $595 sport package, had a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever. The gauges, with a sporty white background, are more appealing than the standard black. And the brushed aluminum dash is au courant. Door seals are engineered to keep the cabin silent, just like on pricier cars. And when it comes to power, it's good enough for this car...
  • ROAD TEST | LAND ROVER LR3 SE

    Land Rover describes its new LR3 as "architectural." It's also fun, with a tailgate that closes like a clamshell. Inside, the cabin is so vertically spacious, even those over six feet will have room to spare, and its signature stadium-style second row allows back-seat passengers two extra inches of headroom. I also like the three glass sunroofs that illuminate the interior front and back. On the road, the LR3 handles well, with four-wheel drive and standard six-speed automatic transmission. Good power comes from a 4.4-liter V-8 engine that bangs out 300 horses. Taking a cue from its design, this all-terrain cruiser, with traction settings for mud, grass and sand, is made just for that beach clambake. Tip: The HSE model bumps up the perks, like DVD navigation, for $5,000 more.
  • THE TASTE OF THE EARTH

    Along the lanes of Burgundy, A. J. Liebling once wrote, the very road signs read like wine labels. The place names speak of the flinty or chalky earth, of soils that have for centuries sacrificed themselves to yield up tantalizing notes of apple or leather. But most Americans, having mastered a simple five- or six-part vocabulary of varietals (Cabernet, Chardonnay...), never learned to tell a Chassagne Montrachet from a Puligny-Montrachet. California wines have mostly been defined by the type of grape and the wine maker's style, not the vineyard or the year. That suits the typical wine drinker seeking consistent enjoyment rather than an intellectual challenge, says Linda F. Bisson, an oenologist at the University of California, Davis. The soil and weather, being Californian, were assumed to be perfect.But precisely because their products are so routinely excellent, California wine makers have begun to look for ways to distinguish themselves. "A few years ago, customers never asked...
  • ROAD TEST | JAGUAR X-TYPE

    If it's true that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, then what does it mean when Jaguar puts its logo on a less-than-sumptuous car? Yes, I'm talking about the X-Type. This month the second-generation entry-level Jag makes its debut. The first model was universally panned for looking too much like a Taurus and, worse, driving like one--not a stretch, since Ford bought Jag. While this redone version has a classier appearance and the elements of a luxury brand--wood veneer, leather seats, automatic climate control--the interior still left me underwhelmed.As for performance, the 3.0-liter, V-6, 227-horsepower engine with five-speed automatic transmission is barely adequate. Merging onto the highway, I stepped on the gas, watched the revs climb and heard a roar from the engine but didn't see much acceleration for all its activity. On the plus side, there's a bevy of useful standard features: 17-inch alloy wheels, one-touch moon roof and a nice wood-and-leather steering wheel....
  • HOME: SHARP AS A... TILE?

    For foodies, stainless-steel knives have lost their edge. Today's urbane cutlery is made of industrial-strength ceramics. The advantage: the material is stronger than steel, stays sharp up to 10 times longer and won't turn fruits and vegetables brown. The downside: the knives have to be professionally sharpened. For the best quality and selection, try Kyocera (kyocera advancedceramics.com). Its three-inch scissors (below left) are supersharp and should last a lifetime. The five-inch slicing knife with a stained wood and rivet handle (below right) is ideal for everyday use. The Summit Collection (YTCSummit.com) also has excellent quality and style. The five-inch utility knife in black ($100) has an ergonomic handle and is super-lightweight to reduce fatigue. The six-inch chef's knife ($112.50) melts through meat and poultry like buttah. URI Eagle Ceramic knives (urieagle.com) are less expensive than the competition, with cheaper-looking and poorly proportioned plastic handles. Yet...
  • ROAD TEST | LEXUS GS 430

    Mother Nature laid it on thick: rain, wind, even a little ice for my test drive of the redesigned GS 430. Would this debutant handle the big stuff and still keep its luxe cool? Sure enough. This superbly redone second-generation GS is packed with safety technology that does everything to keep the sport sedan's hunky 18-inch wheels with Z-rated tires fixed on the road. Several times I felt the onboard computer kick in, fluttering the brakes and controlling the accelerator, to right the car when the back wheels began to slip. If the car got buffeted by wind, it self-corrected its steering. On a rain-slicked straightaway, I turned off the traction-control button and floored it, just to see how sure-footed the GS would be without its safety gizmos. Huge surprise that the GS shot forward with no slippage or tire spin. Very nice.Technology carries into the cockpit with push-button ignition, heated seats and an ingenious drop-panel drawer that controls 10 different functions, like the fuel...
  • AN X-CELLENT RIDE

    I'm not the X Games type, and yet I feel pretty gonzo in the redesigned Pathfinder. Everything about this SUV is athletic: its angular physique and robust flared fenders; the beefy, cut, rubber side runners and tailgate pad, and the macho, tough-looking chrome grille. Inside, the dash gets a rugged and utilitarian treatment with chrome trim. And though it might seem trite, I adore the excellent cup holders that actually keep drinks secure, even over bumpy pavement. The shift handle and steering wheel are grippy rubber, and seats are covered in supersoft and comfy terrylike fabric. Pretty unusual for a truck.Nissan's Pathfinder was one of the first SUVs. Like all early sport utes, it was a rough ride with iffy fit and finish. Now the Pathfinder jams on the same sturdy platform as Nissan's behemoth Titan and Armada, and has exceptionally stable handling despite its high ride. It also has admirable acceleration from a 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower engine. Your family will feel at home in...
  • BREAKING THE ICE

    Beat winter blues by taking a spin around an outdoor skating rink. These are open at least through late February: New York Be one of the quarter-million skaters to slice the ice under the Manhattan skyline at Rockefeller Plaza (adults from $9, kids from $7; 212-332-7654). Boston Skate into American history at the Frog Pond in Boston Common, Beantown's oldest park ($3, children under 14 free; 617-635-2121). Ann Arbor, Mich. Stop by Buhr Park Ice Arena for drop-in hockey games and figure-skating lessons (adults $4.50, kids $3.75; 734-971-3228). Yosemite National Park, Calif. Glide under Glacier Point and Half Dome at this Curry Village rink (adults $6.50, kids under 12 $5; 209-372-8341).--Tara Weingarten
  • HAVE KALE, WILL TRAVEL

    They are on their way now, by overnight express, nestled in tissue paper and custom-designed boxes, to any place where restaurant menus take more than a dozen words to describe a $14 salad. Peacock kale and baby red brussels sprouts, butterball turnips, bull's blood beets and all the greens, micro- and otherwise, plus 17 kinds of potatoes, in five sizes. From the unlikely neighborhood of Huron, Ohio, where it was 18 degrees last Friday, vegetables from Bob Jones's Chef's Garden are in the air, bound even for places like Los Angeles that are perfectly capable of growing their own salads, challenging the reigning orthodoxy formulated by the great advocate of fresh, seasonal, local produce, Berkeley, Calif., restaurateur Alice Waters. When Waters told NEWSWEEK that "we should try to eat from within a range of an hour or two from where we live," she meant by truck, not jet. The Jones family, farmers in northern Ohio for six generations, has created a model for the 21st-century market...
  • ROAD TEST | CORVETTE C6

    I'm cruising in a totally bitchin' Corvette when I spy the speedometer and it reads 50. Fine, except that I'm in a 35mph zone. Oops, 50 feels like 20 in this car. And that's good, or bad, depending on how you feel about speeding tickets. Chevrolet has done such a stunning job boosting the iconic Vette's power and stiffening its frame that it zooms effortlessly. And yet it's a real challenge to drive it like a normal car.That's because the C6 is no normal car, with its 6.0-liter, V-8, 400-horsepower engine. Neck-snapping on takeoff, but remarkably smooth in its acceleration, this two-seater really stays planted on curvy roads. I love the coupe's new look, even if it lost its signature blinking headlights. Composite body panels resist rust and dings. And the new interior is sporty yet comfortable. But be warned: a sports car packed with obscene power doesn't go unnoticed. By anyone.Tip: Speed freaks may opt for the even sportier Z51 manual-transmission sport package with tuned gears...
  • ROAD TEST | AUDI A6

    One of the best perks of reviewing cars is that, occasionally, I get to hang with the folks who design and build them. So it was recently, on a trip through the hilly roads of Sonoma, Calif., that I tested the redesigned A6 seated next to its designer, Achim Badstubner, who had flown in from Germany. Of course, it's a thrill only when you like their work; otherwise it's an awkward drive. Fortunately, the A6's new contrivance is satisfying in every way. Badstubner discarded the old A6's flabby appearance, giving it a strapping, masculine architecture with high shoulders and an elegant front fascia. It's also slightly longer and roomier than the previous model.The redesigned A6 is faster, too, with a 3.2-liter, V-6, 255-horsepower engine (35 more ponies than the outgoing model). And it's packed with technology, like full-time all-wheel drive, Tiptronic transmission and computer-guided steering and braking programs that make this sport sedan safer, with noticeably keener handling. Plus...
  • FOOD | FEELIN' CLAMMY

    Looking to defrost with a bowl of soul-warming clam chowder? Red or white, here are our picks: Grand Central Oyster Bar (New York): Some of the best red in town, with chunks of surf clams, tomatoes, green peppers and potatoes. Just a bit spicy. $4.75/12 oz.; 212-490-6650Scoma's (San Francisco): Overlooking the bay at Fisherman's Wharf, Scoma's has rich, creamy clam chowder infused with leeks, celery, garlic and thyme. $4.95/8 oz.; 415-771-4383Union Oyster House (Boston): Sip this super-thick, extra clammy chowder with chunks of potatoes at the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the States (since 1826). $4.95/8 oz.; 617-227-2750Blue Mermaid (San Francisco): Choose from eight chowders, including Dungeness crab and corn, and smoked chicken and hominy. At Fisherman's Wharf in the Cannery. $3.95/8 oz.; 415-771-2222
  • TRAVEL: AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER

    Most family reunions mean cheek pinches from Aunt Ethel, feuds with your siblings and stale stories about how awkward you looked as a teen. But today's elaborate gatherings make it all worthwhile. Really. Take Coleen and Rupe Ricksen's 50th-wedding anniversary last spring. Twenty far-flung relatives of the Oakland, Calif., couple met up at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix (arizonabiltmore.com; from $340 per night) for a weekend tribute. After sipping icy Margaritas at a pool cabana, the five adult children, with help from the hotel's staff, devised a treasure hunt, which used family heirlooms and souvenirs as clues. "Each item sparked a story," says Jane Jackson, one of the Ricksens' daughters. "Even my siblings and I discovered things about our parents and grandparents that we never knew."Savvy reunion planners are forsaking the backyard barbecue in favor of upscale affairs. With families more scattered and busier than ever, more relatives are willing to pay a premium for that rare...
  • ROAD TEST: GMC SIERRA HYBRID

    I came to a stop at the light and watched the tachometer drop to zero as my GMC Sierra stalled. Yikes. I'm in thick traffic. Now what? Then I remembered, I'm in a hybrid and that's what hybrids do. Though this Sierra acts and looks just like its gasoline-powered cousin, like all hybrids it shuts down at standstills to save on fuel and prevent noxious emissions. Yet unlike smaller hybrid vehicles, this full-size pickup always seemed to need the gas-powered engine to move. As a result, its fuel-efficiency numbers aren't astounding: 17mpg city versus the gas version's 15mpg. And both engines get 19mpg on the highway. But the hybrid version burns slightly cleaner, cutting the truck's CO2 emissions by 10 percent.Everything else about this truck is like it is on the gas-powered model. And this one sports an extended cab and four-wheel drive. For now the Sierra hybrid is available in just six states, but GM plans to expand distribution based on demand.Tip: Four onboard 120-volt electrical...
  • BLOCK OUT THE RAYS

    Sunglasses aren't just for the beach. They're also needed on the ski slopes--because of high-altitude exposure to ultraviolet light. This winter, see if these new offerings are easy on your eyes (pictured, from top).Ray-Ban Junior RJ9019 ($63; www.rayban.com) Eye doctors warn you to protect your kids' eyes from the cumulative effect of UV rays. These shades block harmful light and fit the 8- to 12-year-old crowd.Revo 3030 ($239; revo.com) These UV-blocking lenses were designed by a NASA engineer for space-shuttle portholes. Spring hinges make for a comfy fit.Smith Factor Lightweight ($109; www.smithoptics.com) This frame comes with four sets of interchangeable, carbonic lenses with protection from the sun's rays.SpyOptic Dallas ($125; SpyOptic.com) These women's shades come in champagne bronze. They look like something Jennifer Garner would wear while fighting bad guys between runs in the Alps.
  • HEAD FOR THE GREEN

    Palm Springs has been L.A.'s swingin' playground since the Rat Pack made it their weekend home in the 1950s. But there's a new reason to visit now: Smoke Tree Ranch (smoketreeranch.net), a private desert enclave for wealthy southern California vacationers, including the late Walt Disney, recently opened its guest cottages to the public. You can lounge around in 70-year-old Spanish-style casitas in 375 acres of undisturbed cactus and wildflowers. Three meals are served daily in the Ranch House dining room, and there's old-time entertainment like bonfires, cowboy singalongs and scavenger hunts.Next, hop on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (pstramway.com) for a 2.5-mile rotating ride up a steep mountainous incline to a snowy landscape where you can dine, snowshoe and cross-country ski. And no matter what, don't miss the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies (psfollies.com), a tongue-in-cheek cabaret variety show featuring a cast of leggy showgirls, all over the age of 50. Oh, yeah, and if you...
  • ROAD TEST| LOTUS ELISE

    Though I've never driven a go-cart through city streets, I now feel as if I'm an expert at it. With my tush just inches from the pavement, I darted around Los Angeles in the Lotus Elise. Lotus's racing heritage is apparent in its Formula- like appearance, if not in its street-legal engine. Yes, it's quick--going from zero to 60 in five seconds flat--owing to a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, 180-horsepower engine in an ultralightweight body. And its steering is exceptional. But then I stopped behind a Honda Civic and felt like an ant. Driving one of these on urban roads is not for the faint of heart, what with all the gargantuan SUVs.Inside, creature comforts are minimal. The adequate air conditioning and pathetic Blaupunkt stereo are about it. The floorboards are aluminum--very cool. And there are bolstered racing seats, a MOMO steering wheel and an aluminum shift knob--all to enhance the racing feel. Getting in and out is tricky, so I don't suggest pulling up to a fine restaurant in it....
  • MAGIC FLUTES

    Anyone who's traveled through the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux can tell you they're lovely. But French wine drinkers there take the local grape so seriously, it can nearly spoil the romance. Yet there's no need to be intimidated in the rolling hills of Champagne. You don't need to ponder metaphorical notes; just pop a cork and feel the moment. To get the most from the region, join Perrier-Jouet's daylong "Fleurtation Package," named after P-J's famous flowered (or fleur, en francais) bottle. A 90-mile drive from Paris brings you to Epernay, the heart of Champagne and the home of Perrier-Jouet. Tour the house's vineyards, learn how bubbly is made and then dine in Perrier-Jouet's private 18th-century town house. A five-course lunch that includes such romantic treats as oysters, truffles and caviar is paired with a bottomless glass of Perrier-Jouet's tete du cuvee Fleur de Champagne, Fleur Rose and Fleur Blanc de Blanc. Ladies bring home a set of six crystal flutes; men receive a...
  • FOOD: THE OLIVE GARDEN

    You can buy kalamata olives from Greece, Arbequinas from Spain and Picholines from France. But we grow table olives in America, too--about 14 million cases a year in California. To celebrate this season's finest, Sonoma County is hosting an Olive Festival next month (sonomavalley.com) with olive- grove tours and a "Martini Madness" party. Can't attend? Jazz up these domestic offerings with a little olive oil, garlic and parsley. Graber Olives: Its salt-cured, green Manzanillas are tree-ripened, giving them a soft, fleshy feel and a rich, buttery taste with excellent acidity. Mail-order at Graberolives.com ($17.95 for two tins of big olives, including shipping).Armstrong Olives: Specializes in green Queen Sevillano olives cured in vinegar, salt and water and then hand-stuffed with garlic or jalapenos. Available only at supermarkets; Armstrongolives.net for locations ($4 to $7 a jar).Black Pearls: The black Manzanilla (small) and Sevillano (jumbo) pitted olives are crisp and toothsome...
  • ROAD TEST | T&C LIMITED

    Five years ago in the preschool carpool line, a father bragged to me about his Town & Country. "This is the Mercedes of minivans," he boasted. I didn't agree with him at the time, but the 2005 comes a bit closer to the claim. Though I still don't like the bulbous exterior, there are interior touches that seem to make family life on the road easier, like storage compartments under the floor mats for stashing toys and a clever sliding ceiling-mounted storage system to hold small items.But when it comes to performance, the T&C still fails to impress, especially when compared with other minivans in its price category. My Limited Edition tester, with its V-6 engine, lacks get-up-and-go. I also dislike the exaggerated lean I feel when taking even small corners. If that doesn't bother you, then you can enjoy the T&C's luxuries, including leather and suede seats and tumble-under seats that fold flush to the floor. It's so easy and fun, kids will beg to help. Imagine that.Tip:...
  • FOOD: STUFFED WITH THE STARS

    Hollywood celebrities have long moonlighted as restaurateurs. In the 1960s, Los Angeles diners tied on a bib at Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel, wondering who could know seafood better than the Skipper. In the 1970s, Sonny told us how to eat Italian at Bono's. tip sheet checked out the latest crop of celebrity hot spots dotting the Sunset Strip.Blowfish Julian Lennon's Zen-ish haunt serves some of the best sushi in town (try the halibut sushi with lemon or ponzu sauce). TV screens play anime, and a young, chic crowd grooves to house music (9229 Sunset Blvd., 310-887-3848).Katana So hip it hurts. Wear disaffected black and sit among the beautiful people outside on a veranda overlooking the bustle of Sunset Strip. Or sit inside and try the Robata open-flame charcoal-cooked dishes. Partly owned by Ryan Seacrest and Tori Spelling (8439 Sunset Blvd., 323-650-8585).Chi Dark and swank contemporary Asian interior and cuisine that includes dim sum, skewered meats and vegetables, and noodle...
  • ROAD TEST | ACURA RL

    For years the RL has struggled to compete in the midsize luxury-import category. When it came to snob appeal, performance and style, it lost out to BMW and Mercedes. But take a look at it now. The 2005 RL sparks with a 3.5-liter VTEC V-6, 300-horsepower engine, advanced all-wheel drive and electronics that should make any geek happy. One excellent feature, the keyless entry and ignition, means you carry a transmitter to lock and unlock doors and to start the engine.The best thing about the RL is that it comes in only one fully loaded trim level. That means tidbits like leather seats, navigation, audio system, moon roof--even XM Satellite Radio--come standard. How fabulous is that? Less terrific is the hard-to-use computer system, activated by a mouselike central dial. It controls fan speed, audio and navigation. I had to pull over more than once to figure out how to locate a radio station and lower the air conditioning. Should you buy the RL, and there are many reasons why that's a...
  • DRINKS: GOING SCREWY

    Wine openers may soon be a thing of the past, as vintners replace their corks with screw caps. Blame "cork taint." As much as 10 percent of all wine with a cork falls victim to a mold known as TCA, which causes wine to develop a musty "soggy dog" taste. Screw caps eliminate the problem. Worried that you're buying Mad Dog? TIP SHEET tried some of the best:PlumpJack: This boutique Napa Valley winery was the first premium Californian to use caps on its best cult reserve. Try the 2001 PlumpJack Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($320 for two).Veramonte: This Chilean Sauvignon blanc is fruitier than most ($9.99).Bonny Doon: About 95 percent of this Santa Cruz winery's cases are capped. Try Le Cigare Volant ($32).RH Phillips enclosed its entire 300,000-case production with caps. Try the Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon ($8).Cypress is a line of six excellent screw-cap wines made by the respected J. Lohr winery ($10).
  • ROAD TEST | MINI CONVERTIBLE

    You just can't be in a bad mood when you're in the cheerful Mini Cooper. And now that it comes in a ragtop, there's even more reason to smile. The convertible's top is brilliantly designed. Push the button once and the top slides halfway, like a sunroof. Push it again and the entire roof folds down in just 15 seconds. I also love the car's mod industrial-design interior, with exaggerated tubing for door handles and chromed switches that look as if they came from an expensive airplane cockpit. Though clown-car size on the outside, there's actually room for four adults inside.As for performance, the Mini Cooper S, which is the sporty model, has a stiff chassis and handles beautifully, perfectly balanced with sharply honed steering. But the S lacks power on takeoff. Acceleration picks up once the car gets going, but I would have liked more zip lower on the RPM ladder. And yet all is forgiven when I look at the Mini. I just want to pinch its fenders.Tip: Opt for the non-S model and save...
  • ROAD TEST: HONDA ODYSSEY

    You've heard of a sports car and a sports sedan, but a sports van? Honda's latest iteration of its Odyssey minivan is so quick and handles so well, it just might be the world's first one. Just ask my kid, who spent the better part of the week plastered to the sides of his seat feeling lateral Gs as I hugged corners and zigzagged through canyons.Sure, it has dual sliding power doors and room for seven, like all minivans. And, like the others, its third row folds flush to the floor for more cargo space. Inside, there's an updated, stylish dashboard display and extra-wide seats that made my tush look thinner (love that). It's even safer than the last-generation Odyssey, with Vehicle Stability Assist, which detects understeer and oversteer and automatically applies the right brake pressure to put the car back on a safe path. But really, it's all about driving fun. And since there's no fun in playing carpool, its nice to know there's a little oomph under the hood for when you've dropped...
  • ROAD TEST: PORSCHE 911 CARRERA

    As if the last Carrera model weren't exhilarating enough, Porsche's 2005 redesign of this classic coupe is even better. With a slimmer silhouette, the new Carrera looks more serious and even sexier than before. Gone are the fried-egg headlights, replaced by ovals that flick at popular designs from 911s past. Yet Porsche retained its most characteristic styling cues, including its signature robust, rear-flared wheel wells.On the road, I was certain the car couldn't be improved. I was wrong. The steering is as precise as an Olympic skater's; the handling is so predictable and sure that I spent much of the day squealing with joy as the 911 held traction around turns long after other sports cars would have given way to sliding. An optional feature, the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), tightens or softens the car's suspension depending on your need for speed. Porsche claims that the sport setting on this feature produced lap times that were five seconds faster than those of...
  • FAMILY: MISSED MANNERS

    If your little angel is more like a devil, sign him up for a crash course in gentility. These hotels offer one-day classes on everything from table manners to the waltz.Hotel Bel-Air, Los AngelesChildren 6 to 12 learn the art of introduction, phone manners and protocol for eating such dishes as caviar, shrimp and asparagus. After they've rejected the food, kids get to decorate their own petit fours. Price: $250, hotelbelair.comThe Mansion on Turtle Creek, DallasThe finer points of dining on spaghetti and soup are taught to the 5-to-12 age group. Also: lessons in napkin folding. Price: $50, mansiononturtlecreek.comDon Cesar Beach Resort, St. Pete Beach, Fla. In a party setting, kids 5 to 12 learn how to politely work a room, as well as the right way to shake hands, write a thank-you note and navigate a four-course meal. Price: $65, doncesar.comThe Ritz-Carlton, Boston The "Day of Social Savvy" from the Judith Re Academie introduces today's youth to ballroom dancing. Also, they'll get...
  • ROAD TEST: JAGUAR S-TYPE R

    Jaguar purists still lament Ford's purchase of the venerable British company, but I say the brand still has plenty of panache. The tweaked redesign of the 2005 S-Type has long, curvaceous lines that nod to the badge's halcyon days and little updates that pull the S-Type R edition into the 21st century. I love the (optional) aluminum sheathing over parts of the dashboard and center console. It's an unusual contrast to the rest of the interior's stitched-leather trim, and more updated than tired lacquered wood veneer. But I was disappointed that the windows don't have the one-touch up/down feature, a little surprising for a car at this considerable price.As for performance, I had to retrieve my stomach from the back seat after sampling the S-Type R's raucous acceleration. With a 4.2-liter, V-8 supercharged, 390-horsepower engine, this cat bolts, nearly popping off the road when I hit the gas from a standstill. Though not a true sports sedan, the car plants itself well enough to the...