Tara Weingarten

Stories by Tara Weingarten

  • 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...
  • At A Crossroads

    I stared at the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee and saw a hint of minivan. "No," my friend said, "it has Hummer lines, it's more buff." I could see that, too. So how could it look like both a minivan and an assault truck? Say hello to the age of the "crossover" vehicle. Part family transport, part utilitarian hauler, part off-road wonder, today's vehicles want to be all things to all people. And the 2005 Grand Cherokee does it better than most.We hopped in the car for a day of testing on southern California's steep mountain roads. Wearing a 5.7-liter HEMI, 330-horsepower V-8 engine, the Grand Cherokee bolted up hills leaving room for more power. To test its 375 lb.-ft. torque towing capacity we hitched my buddy's boat to the back. No problem. Off-road, we devoured rocks as if they were pebbles. But I was concerned the brakes were underpowered for its size since it took longer to stop than I would have liked. I was also put off by the car's onboard computer, which alerted me to my 9...
  • Bring Me An Island

    Peter Palmisano is a jet-setter. No, the Napa Valley resort owner doesn't wear open shirts and gold chains, but he is a member of Abercrombie & Kent, one of about 15 destination clubs, a travel service modeled on country clubs that first appeared about five years ago. They offer members access to luxury properties for a price: A&K membership costs $275,000 to $450,000, with yearly dues of $8,000 to $30,000. Founded in 1999, A&K offers what CEO Rob McGrath calls "white glove" access to an expanding list of more than 70 houses and apartments in 29 locations worldwide. Expect the fire to be lit, the cook to be ready with your dinner, the babysitter to be waiting and a gassed-up BMW in the garage when you arrive. Palmisano and his bride honeymooned last year in Belize, where A& K dropped them off on a different deserted island every evening with a gourmet dinner. He's also used A&K in Arizona and New York. "Why limit yourself to one destination when you can travel...
  • ROAD TEST | TOYOTA SCION TC

    Why should kids have all the fun? Though Toyota asked its youngest designers to build a line of cars they themselves would want to drive, this newest Scion, the tC, appeals to my short-on-cash but want-it-all-anyway inner teen. For $17,265 the hatchback tC is long on extras like an in-dash 160-watt Pioneer CD audio system with six speakers; power windows, doors and mirrors; a tilt steering wheel; halogen headlights and two moonroofs, one each for front-and rear-seat passengers. The sporty instrument panel is whimsical: chromed accents everywhere and edgy amber illuminated gauges.I think the tC's 160-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine is spry, and handling is very good. But what I particularly like, seeing as this is likely to be an inexperienced driver's car, are the standard safety features: airbags for both front seats, plus a driver's-knee airbag, antilock brakes and three rear head restraints to help prevent whiplash in a crash. Though it isn't much to look at from the...
  • ROAD TEST: FORD GT

    Test driving Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Bentleys, one expects lookie-loos. But with a Ford? Clearly, this is no ordinary Ford. With a warplike 205mph top speed, the GT is one of the most anticipated sports cars to come out of Detroit in years. Packing a 5.4-liter, supercharged V-8, 550-horsepower engine, so robust and full of vibration it jiggles the flesh, this 1960s-inspired supercar hits 60mph in a mind-numbing 3.3 seconds. Inside, aluminum toggle switches and gauge surrounds feel space age. So showy, and yet something intangible is missing. Though it handles nicely, accelerates like a slingshot and has the looks of a virile leading man, the GT lacks the subtle steering finesse that I love in comparably priced European sports cars. That aside, it's one of the few American cars buff enough to make grown men cry.Tip: With just 1,500 made, expect premiums up to $100,000 over sticker.
  • It's Camp Chardonnay

    It's fall harvest in Napa Valley. Workers slice ripe, heavy grape clusters off the vines. They taste a grape or two, pronounce them sweet, wield the knife and toss the cluster over their heads into a bucket strapped onto a backpack. But these are no ordinary laborers. Each one has paid hundreds for the privilege of learning about how wine is made. It's called "crush camp," and it's a fantasy for the budding wine enthusiast. We checked out several California wineries that have opened their vineyards to beginners.St. Supery's "Harvest Adventure" in the Rutherford area of Napa Valley is one of the best. It teaches the basics in a $250 half-day program (stsupery.com). Instead of a babbling tour guide, you get a winemaker to lead you though the vineyards. "We learn about Brix--the sugar analysis--on our 35-acre estate, and it feels pretty good to be surrounded by Chardonnay and Petit Verdot in this beautiful valley so early in the morning," says St. Supery's CEO Michaela Rodeno. It...
  • Road Test | Subaru Outback

    I'm a West Coast woman but I can't help but feel like a New Englander in Subaru's redesigned Outback L.L. Bean edition. It has so many practical features that Northeastern folks covet, yet it's also loaded with town-and-country luxuries like thick Berber floor mats, matte (OK, simulated) wood and chrome interior accents, a leather-wrapped and lacquered mahogany steering wheel and an enormous panoramic sunroof that extends deep into the back seat.On the practical side, there is ample rubber-lined cargo space, well-designed backseat cup holders and fantastically quick acceleration from the 3.0-liter, 250-horsepower, 6-cylinder Boxer engine. And, like all Subarus, this one comes standard with full-time all-wheel drive, which not only helps get you through tough winter storms but also makes for excellent traction, even on dry pavement. Of course, it does guzzle more gas than a standard two-wheel- drive vehicle. Yet I loved how the new Outback handles, tight and predictable. All the...
  • Perfect Weekend: The Hamlet By The Sea

    Sausalito, the postage-stamp-size waterfront village just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, has a colorful past. Decades ago its mayor was a convicted madam. More recently, touristy shops flooded the artsy town. Today this hamlet has reached a deserved high-water mark--and it's the perfect northern California getaway.Stay at Casa Madrona. A refurbished 1885 mansion with 16 hillside cottages, many with private bay-view decks and fireplaces, and a new luxury spa. Rates from $149; casamadrona. com.Eat at Poggio. An upscale northern Italian sidewalk trattoria with homemade gnocchi that's light and delicate, and salads and vegetables plucked from the restaurant's organic garden; poggiotrattoria. com.See the Sausalito Art Festival over Labor Day weekend. In its 52nd year, with 20,000 works of original paintings, sculpture, glass and photography by local artists; $20 entry; sausalitoartfestival. org.Visit the Discovery Museum with kids. Renovations add a replica of the San...
  • ROAD TEST | VOLKSWAGEN R32

    Some cars, like the R32, look like they were designed for teenagers. But this compact hatchback, whose exterior resembles an ordinary GTI model with some extra sport cladding, is really a beast in bunny-rabbit clothing--and far too much car for a child. The beefy 3.2-liter, 240-horsepower VR6 engine cradled inside a lightweight package makes for one exhilarating, rocket-propelled ride.At first glance, the R32 hardly looks like a $30,000 car. I mean, check it out, where's the snob factor? It's under the hood, in the dual exhaust pipes and six-speed shifter, around the Electronic Stabilization Program and on the standard 18-inch alloy wheels. I like the brushed-aluminum interior accents, the power moon roof and, especially, the Koenig sport seats and three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel. Yeah, baby. And just in case the R32's wolf-like offerings make the driver (not me, of course) do something stupid, there are excellent safety features, like side air bags for front-seat riders,...
  • TIPSHEET

    Eugenio Perazza just wanted a desk for his 2-year-old granddaughter, Anna, a budding artist. But Perazza, the owner of the Italian furniture-design firm Magis, couldn't find any well-made, modern kids' pieces that he liked. The search inspired him to launch Me Too (www. magisdesign.com), a new children's line that marries high-end, contemporary design with childlike whimsy. With vivid colors and clean forms, the collection includes such styles as Seggiolina Pop (soft, simple chairs in lilac or citrus colors) and Julian (a tomato-red stool with a comic-strip feel).In recent years, companies with furnishings aimed at tykes, such as Pottery Barn Kids, Bombay Kids and Land of Nod, have become increasingly common. Me Too is one of a small but growing band of designers making fanciful kids' products meant for a contemporary home. "I think there's a focus on functionality that's important, but there's also an emphasis on fun," says Phil Robinson, who oversees the annual International...
  • ROAD TEST | FORD FOCUS

    Who would have guessed that the Focus, long popular for its low price and not much else, would emerge in a 2005 redesign as a true driver's car? The ZX4 ST sedan, which comes only in 5-speed manual, satisfied all my pragmatic demands, plus my need for speed. On the sensible side, it has a huge trunk and a spacious interior, and features like air conditioning, power windows, doors and mirrors. As for performance, the 2.3-liter Duratec inline 4-cylinder engine puts out a sufficient 151 horses for the car's light weight, and the handling is superb. Ford improved everything on the new Focus: its suspension is tighter, it has better struts, shocks, brakes and increased low-end torque, plus improved fuel economy. Its engine sound is even mean and sportier. And there are interior delights like a leather-sheathed steering wheel and shift knob, an aluminum gauge panel and an excellent MP3/CD audio system. So much for so little is so rare these days.Tip: To save $5,000 opt for the less sporty...
  • TRAVEL: IT'S DOUBLE OR NOTHING

    Trey Taylor thought he had frequent-flier miles all figured out. The Atlanta-based Internet executive flies Delta exclusively, shops with a SkyMiles credit card and pays his mortgage online through a program with a Delta tie-in. You'd think he'd be darting around the planet free. Instead, when Taylor attempted to trade some of his 250,000 miles for a trip to Roanoke, Va., last month, the airline gave him two options: choose a different date or fork over double the miles. Feeling cheated, he paid cash for two full-fare tickets. "Some of the airlines are very good at giving out the miles," he says, "but they don't want to take them back."Sound familiar? To the 70 million Americans who participate in frequent-flier programs, it's not news that free tickets are hard to come by. But there are signs that it's becoming even more difficult. As carriers struggle to stay profitable, many have reduced the number of daily flights and, consequently, the number of seats available to nonpaying...
  • NO ROSE GARDEN

    We all know you go to Sonoma to taste good wine, but now gardeners seeking inspiration can look beyond the local grape. The Cornerstone Festival of Gardens (cornerstonegardens.com), the nation's first permanent folly garden, opened last month and showcases the best in cutting-edge international landscape design. Forget about pansies and tulips. Here superstars of the garden use man-made materials to tart up the landscape.Claude Cormier's "Blue Tree" is a Monterey pine (diseased and destined to be chopped down) that's encased in 80,000 sky-blue Christmas balls. At certain times of day the tree seems to disappear into the saturated blue northern California sky. In an ode to rural America kitsch, Tom Leader's "Break Out" is a maze in which visitors pass through dozens of screen doors and come upon a radio crackling a Johnny Cash tune and a fridge filled with staples like Spam, yellow mustard and beer. Other designers include Topher Delaney, whose works are now on display in Germany;...
  • ROAD TEST: MAZDA MPV

    Face it, no one buys a minivan to be fashionable. But the Mazda MPV, while not a standout in the looks department, has charms to make any parent smile, not the least of which is its low price. Like all minivans, it has ample room for seven. But it also has a third row of "tumble under" seats that fold flush into the floor, and the second row of stadium-style seats is on rails, so they slide to one side or can easily be taken out completely to enlarge cargo space.Most surprising to me was how swiftly this van moved. With a 3.0-liter, 200-horsepower engine, this box zipped into freeway traffic at my command. Its four-wheel antilock disc brakes are excellent, as is the van's smooth, seamless shifting. My gripes: the steering-wheel-mounted shifter extends up over the dashboard, blocking my view of the radio controls. Not to mention the dash's bland plastic styling. How about a little pizazz? It seems Mazda put all that under the hood.Tip: My top pick for sports-car-minded drivers with...
  • GUYS PICKUP ON THIS

    Single women, take note. Chevy's new SSR pickup is a guy magnet. Driving my shockingly yellow tester, I was hooted at no fewer than five times. A guy in a passing Lexus even pressed his nose against his car window to take a look. You fellas crack me up. But I admit that this fiery hot-rod pickup, with its Jughead-and-Veronica styling, is an eye-catcher. Love it or hate it, with a 300-horsepower V-8 engine, this truck means business, running on the same rugged platform as a GMC Envoy and Chevy Trailblazer.General Motors went for broke here, with a hard-covered flatbed and retractable hardtop roof, both of which operate at the flick of a switch. Interior buttons and gauges, sheathed in matte aluminum, keep with the doo-wop theme; they're oversize and almost cartoonish-looking. But like many pickups, the SSR is a two-seater, which seems a bit outdated. When I hauled a new computer home from the store, my husband had to drive his own car so our son wasn't left behind. Not very practical...
  • FOOD: WHAT'S IN A NAME?

    Adam Tihany had one caveat before agreeing to design Cravings, the Mirage hotel's new $12 million buffet that opened late last month in Las Vegas: don't call it a buffet. His preference? An "all-you-can-eat self-service dining experience." Fine: ditching the moniker was a small concession for Mirage executives to make to lure Tihany, the renowned designer behind New York City's Jean Georges and the Mandarin Bar near London's Hyde Park. "I see Las Vegas as the single most important design laboratory," says Tihany. "Forget Asia and Europe."Gone are the steam-warmed vats of lasagne--and the suspiciously low price: dinner is $20.50 per person. Food is cooked fresh at individual stations, served up on small, stylish plates, and, in some cases, made to order. Dishes like freshly sliced sushi, wood-fired pizza and hearts-of-palm salad are displayed in front of the kitchens--and wood ovens--where they're prepared. And the decor is elevated, with stylish tabletop flatware and oversize square...
  • Tip Sheet

    Travel: Fly Business--For LessFlying "business" used to entitle employees not just to unlimited wine and legroom but also to pampered, restriction-free travel. That meant a personal trip planner and the flexibility to take an earlier flight if the conference got boring. Then came the 2001 terrorist attacks, the global recession, the war in Iraq and SARS. Businesses, which used to account for 70 percent of airlines' revenue, slashed their travel budgets, replacing face-to-face meetings with videoconferences and luxury air travel with trains. Meanwhile, low-cost carriers drove down standard ticket prices so much that economy-class fares are now on average six times cheaper than business class.With the recession lifting and cross-border business booming, business travelers are starting to see the end of box-lunch coach travel. The first quarter of this year saw the greatest upturn in business travel budgets since before 9/11--15 percent more than the first quarter of 2003, according to...
  • Road Test: Mustang: A Real Stallion

    The valet parking attendant outside an L.A. restaurant opened my car door and gushed, "Mucho macho." I beg your pardon? I may not be a Barbie doll, but no one's ever called me macho before. Then I saw him checking out my tester, the beefy 40th-anniversary edition Mustang, as if it were Carmen Electra. Whew. My femininity still intact, I had to agree. Like the Mustangs many of us grew up with (Ford has sold 8 million) this stallion is 100 percent American muscle. It has a 4.6-liter, V-8 grumbly engine that cranks 260 horses; it gallops at the slightest tap. And it looks the part with "mucho macho" racing stripes on the long, low profile hood and sports-car-like body cladding.Best of all, it's a fun ride, with good steering and suspension. My coupe's red paint glittered in the California rays. And I admired the oversize leather shift knob that's like a Vegas slot pull. But the biggest drag is the rest of the interior, with budget-looking plastic and an unimaginative dashboard array....
  • A Toy Story

    Everything about Mazda's fancy new Miata reminds me of the old roadsters from the atomic age. Remember those charming Triumphs, MGs and Datsuns from the early 1960s? They rode low to the ground, held the road tight and had responsive steering. But mostly, they just looked like fun. Zipping through town in the MX-5 was a blast. I'm reluctant to call this two-seat ragtop a toy--but I can't help it. You play with toys to have fun, right?This Mazdaspeed Miata is tricked out with chromed pedals, a sporty gauge cluster, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and body-hugging bucket seats. I dig the car's manual soft top; it quickly slides up and down without the worries of electrical failure. But I was surprised at the sluggish turbocharged 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. I expected a little more oomph. I also loathed the tinny-sounding Bose stereo system. But that's not Mazda's fault; I've always thought that Bose makes inferior car stereos. Then again, I can't think of another car on the...
  • Road Test: Gmc Envoy Xuv

    I picked up a set of birch trees for my yard last week and hauled them home all by myself. I'm not bragging--or going into the landscape biz. It's just that I was driving around town, testing out GMC's new Envoy XUV, when I passed a nursery and thought, "Why not?" The Envoy XUV has a power-sliding roof that retracts, turning this SUV into a pickup truck at the touch of button. This versatile transport begs for spontaneous tree-shopping, since the rear cargo area is sheathed in plastic and easy to hose down. A power MidGate window separates the cargo and passenger areas, meaning the truck can handle long items with the window down or be closed off during inclement weather. It also has a power-window tailgate that drops or swings, to accommodate loading items of various sizes.Though the XUV is classified as a midsize SUV, I thought it was plenty big--with more than 95 cubic feet of cargo space. My trees certainly had room to spread out. So did my family. The most serious complaint I...
  • Drive Like A Rebel

    In the 1950s, James Dean looked hot in his white tee and blue jeans. But he looked even hotter leaning against his sleek silver Porsche 550 Spyder. If you can overlook the horrible end Dean met in his car, you can't help but be fond of the roadster's charming looks. And underneath its hood was Porsche's first Boxer engine. Now, the German carmaker commemorates that compact powerful motor with the limited-edition Boxster S.Along with other car writers, I spent a day driving those same curvy two-laners that Dean drove nearly 50 years ago. But had he driven today's Boxster, with its myriad safety features (airbags, automatic skid control and a wider, lower stance), he would probably have come out alive. Besides improved safety gizmos, the limited anniversary edition comes with a 264-horsepower engine (164 more ponies than Dean's model), a sport-tuned suspension and a numbered plate for each of the 1,953 anniversary editions made. It comes in one fabulous color: Dean's metallic silver,...