The Crazy Fun of Drag Racing a Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcat

Image: FCA
Image: FCA

Every year at the end of June, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) hosts an incredible event in Detroit that gives journalists a chance to drive all of the company’s vehicles. The brand includes Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Ram, and Fiat so it’s a pretty big list. It’s a rare chance to experience every car in the lineup during the course of one day.

It all goes down at Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan and this year, they had something special planned for their show-stopping Hellcats.

If you aren’t familiar with these cars, then here’s the lowdown. They are the muscle cars of the Dodge lineup and they bring a ridiculous, insane, stupid, completely unnecessary amount of power to the road. Each has 707 horsepower which is mind-blowing. The first time I had the chance to drive the Charger Hellcat I was admonished to pretend there was an egg under the gas pedal and to try not to break that egg. Why? Because smashing that egg will result in the car turning into a rocket ship on wheels. Not that this is a bad thing.

This time, things were a little different. They did not want us to drive slowly. They did not want us to take it easy. They wanted us to let loose with all 707 horsepower on a section of track reserved just for the Hellcats. It was separate from the rest of the event and required a short bus ride. Once you stepped off the bus, there they were—two Hellcats patiently waiting to blow your mind.

It was all staged like a real drag race complete with that red, yellow, and green light post to let you know when to hit the gas. There are very few times in your life that you can let loose with a car this powerful and this was my big chance. I did not waste the moment.

Now, not being a professional drag racer or professional driver, I have no experience with how one is supposed to drag race. I thought it was just about hitting the pedal hard and steering in a straight line. There were a few people in front of me awaiting their turns and we got to talking about the best way to start.

You’re supposed to left foot brake which is incredibly difficult if you haven’t developed the muscle memory in that foot. It’s sort of like that first time you got behind the wheel of the car with your Dad to learn how to drive and hit the brake so hard at a stop sign the seat belts locked. Come on, I’m not the only one that managed to hard brake and test their Dad’s patience.

It’s like that when you try to left foot brake. You’re also supposed to rev the engine a bit before the light turns green and then snap your foot off the brake and give it gas when the light changes. The guys told me that if I didn’t do it this way, then I’d post a horribly slow and embarrassing time.

Anxiety, much?

I watched a couple of guys give it a go and then it was my turn. There was an experienced driver in the passenger seat on every run so there was someone to guide you at least a little, but the fancy footwork was all up to the driver. I told him about all the advice and he asked me what I wanted to do. “Mash the gas pedal,” I said. “Then you do that,” he said.

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

The light turned green and I mashed that pedal for all it was worth. The engine roared, the tires squealed, and the car took off down the track like that rocket ship I mentioned early. It was glorious. I didn’t even care if I managed a decent time because getting to let loose with all that power was so exhilarating.

Nevertheless, when I got out of the car after the first of what would be many runs, they all asked about my time. Turns out I was right in line with the rest of the group and even better than a few. Score one for letting loose and having fun, technique be damned!

Yesterday I had the chance to drive a Challenger Hellcat up the coast from Massachusetts to Maine. It was a bright green Sublime that you could see a mile away. It was all I could do not to mash that pedal once again when I got to an open stretch of highway. There aren’t a lot of times when you can take advantage of all the car’s power, but oh is a Hellcat worth it for those few moments when you can let it go.

FCA covered my expenses to attend this event.

GeekMomPoll: Our Favorite Pixar Movie is…

Note: back in 2012, the GeekMoms rated their favorite Pixar movies. Given the release of Inside Out this weekend, it seemed like a fun poll to revisit this weekend.

It was a close call. Seventeen GeekMoms rated twelve Pixar movies, assigning 1,298 points based on a one to twelve ratings system, and it was almost too close to call. In fact if you rate them one to twelve where twelve is the lowest vote, then rate them one to twelve where twelve is a higher score (as depicted above), that top spot is a hot debate.

  • Only one GeekMom placed Cars 2 in their top five, four GeekMoms placed it last.
  • Four GeekMoms rated The Incredibles as their favorite Pixar movie, making it the movie to receive the number one spot from the most GeekMoms.
  • Eight of the twelve movies did not earn a single bottom place vote from the GeekMoms. Not surprisingly Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. , Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3 made that list. A surprise to this GeekMom was the fact that no one ranked The Incredibles, Ratatouille or Up as their least favorite Pixar movie.

But not every GeekMom has seen all the Pixar movies. Where the movie hadn’t been seen, a score of zero was assigned. Of movies not seen, four GeekMoms have not seen Cars 2, two have not seen Ratatouille, two have not seen Toy Story 3 and at least one GeekMom has not seen either A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, The Incredibles or Wall-E. Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars and Up were seen by all seventeen GeekMoms polled.

The GeekMom winner?

The Incredibles

While Toy Story seems to have an edge in points, it has been seen and rated by all polled GeekMoms. The Incredibles, has only been seen by sixteen of the seventeen polled GeekMoms. The remaining GeekMom would only need to place it in her top five, to give it the edge in points over Toy Story, regardless of whether one or twelve is considered the best movie. Only two GeekMoms did not put The Incredibles in their top five, and so it seems likely that it would make the lone GeekMom’s top five and edge out Toy Story.

The Technology Is There, So Why Aren’t You in a Zero Emissions Car?

AGV Cover
Image: NEMPA

Automotive technology has come a very long way over the last few years. Fuel efficiency is better and seeing hybrid and electric cars is no longer out of the ordinary, but there’s one problem. No one is buying into the whole zero emissions thing right now even with a growing number of options that are significantly better for the environment.

This was the topic of conversation at the NEMPA/MIT Technology Conference held this year at the MIT Technology Center. It’s an annual event organized by the New England Motor Press Association along with MIT to focus on technology issues in the automotive industry. The topic this year was the challenge of getting people to buy into zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs).

You might remember a few years back when gas prices were frighteningly high and everyone was clamoring to get into a more fuel efficient car. There weren’t even a heck of a lot of hybrid options out there at the time so people were on waiting lists for cars like the Prius. Then gas prices came down and our priorities changed.

The expert panels of speakers included representatives from General Motors, Toyota, MIT, and the International Council on Clean Transportation. They represented different groups all trying to convince consumers to go green and get into a zero emissions car.

Image: NEMPA
Image: NEMPA

If you look just at the cost of gas, that might not convince you to get into a ZEV, but if you look at the environmental impact, then it’s a no-brainer. Bob Perciasepe of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions gave a great example of the impact of ZEVs.

A hybrid produces roughly three tons of carbon dioxide annually which is a lot less than a beast like a Hummer at ten tons. Your traditional gas car probably falls in the middle somewhere, so you can feel good if you’re driving a hybrid. If you want to feel really good, then look at a ZEV. They come in at 60% more climate-friendly than even a hybrid. That’s a significant difference.

Pure electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are out there and they’re much more environmentally friendly than even the best hybrid on the road. The problem is, people are loathe to embrace this new technology and want to stick with what they know.

Image: NEMPA
Image: NEMPA

There are concerns about electric vehicles and their range, but the network of public charging stations continues to grow as does the speed at which they can fully charge a vehicle’s battery. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are lagging behind on refueling options making them an even tougher sell. The infrastructure doesn’t exist in a way that makes most people comfortable.

It’s like that old line from Field of Dreams. If they build it, they will come. The next time you’re in the market for a new car, take a second look at ZEVs and consider not just the dollars in your pocket, but the pollution in the air and how much you can help by going zero emissions.

2015 Heels and Wheels Puts Women Behind The Wheel

2015 Jaguar F-Type Convertible, Image: Nicole Wakelin
2015 Jaguar F-Type Convertible. Image: Nicole Wakelin.

There are dozens of automotive events held throughout the year, with journalists and bloggers invited to drive and learn about a brand’s latest offering. Heels and Wheels is unique because not only does it have cars from different companies all in one place, but it’s also only for women.

It isn’t so much about excluding men as it is tailoring a program specifically to women. All the attendees are women and so are most of the presenters. You might think cars are a guy thing, but this event proved that women are just as excited about cars.

There was quite a list of vehicles for us to drive and they covered every possible car buyer. There was a Jaguar F-Type convertible that runs $105K and, although it may clean out your bank account, it will be worth it for the thrill of driving it on a twisting road. It is the essence of a sports car with looks, power, and a delicious sound.

Those who still have kids in the house will appreciate the Kia Sorento and Nissan Murano. Both of these cars were favorites with the moms because they are manageable crossovers with good mileage, plenty of room, and great styling. The pair have been completely redone for this model year, so you’re getting the latest and greatest in safety and technology all for about $40K.

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

Even if you have kids, you might be someone who wants a car somewhere between the sporty Jaguar and a utilitarian crossover. The Buick Regal GS was a surprise, providing a very upscale driving experience. This is not your dad’s old Buick. It’s way better and you will be impressed by how much the brand has to offer. Roomy, luxurious, and very responsive, the Regal is a worthy family sedan.

Also in the mix were two muscle cars from Dodge. We had a chance to drive both the Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack and the Dodge Challenger 392 Hemi Scat Pack Shacker. These were my personal favorites because I simply love a muscle car. There’s an older generation Charger parked in my garage, so I’m completely biased. These two are much more powerful than what I drive and they made me want to buy a new car.

We’re talking 485 horsepower with all the brash, in-your-face looks and sound that a car can muster. The Challenger would be tricky with kids, but the Charger is your chance to own a family sedan with serious attitude. Both make you feel like you own the road and, this part I love, both had a woman engineer at the helm.

Alison Rahm. Image: Nicole Wakelin.

Alison Rahm is the chief engineer behind these two muscle cars and they are, like some people say of their pets, her babies. Sure, her babies happen to have enough horsepower to blow the doors off of other cars, but that suits her just fine.

Heels and Wheels 2015 was a chance to drive a great selection of cars and talk with a diverse group of women, each with their own preferences when they’re behind the wheel. No two of us were looking for the same thing in a car, which is why there are so many cars out there in the first place.

The lesson here is to get out there and drive when you’re looking to make a new purchase. Try out every car you like and see if it’s really what you want or if it’s not what you expected. Whether it’s a Jaguar, a Kia, or a Dodge, there’s a car out there for you that’s a perfect fit.

My travel expenses were covered by Heels and Wheels to attend this event.

Go Green With The All-New 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid

2016 Sonata Hybrid (2)
2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Image: Hyundai.

Gas prices have left the stratospheric heights they reached a few years ago, which means people aren’t thinking about hybrids these days. The pain at the pump isn’t so bad and hybrids get a bum wrap for being blah, ho-hum cars that no one wants to drive. The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid has been completely redone this year, giving you plenty of reasons to go green.

There are two models to choose from, so you can go traditional hybrid or opt for the new plug-in model. Both are surprisingly not hybrid-ish behind the wheel. You’re not driving a sports car, but you also won’t feel like you’re driving a glorified scooter. There’s even a chance for you to play with your drive experience by selecting one of three drive modes.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid PHEV, Image: Hyundai
2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid PHEV. Image: Hyundai.

Eco is the most economical choice and it’s also the least exciting. I wouldn’t drive in Eco unless I found myself in the middle of nowhere, desperately trying to eke out the best fuel economy possible.

There’s a huge difference when you switch to Normal and the Sonata Hybrid suddenly becomes a car you want to drive. Press on the gas and the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine proves that it is alive after all, with 193 net horsepower in the hybrid and 202 net horsepower in the plug-in. It’s all paired to a very smooth 6-speed automatic transmission.

Turn things up one more level to Sport and the steering and throttle response increase slightly. Again, not a sports car, but you’ll completely forget you’re in a hybrid, especially if you can find a nice winding road with tight corners. Opt for the plug-in and you unfortunately lose Sport mode, but stick with Normal and you’ll still be happy.

There’s a nifty energy indicator in the instrument cluster that lets you see how your driving style and choice of modes are affecting your fuel economy. It gamifies the driving experience by breaking things out to show how often you’re driving efficiently and how often you’re driving like Mario Andretti. It’s likely to make you ease up on the gas, if the numbers aren’t going in the right direction.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid PHEV, Image: Hyundai
2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid PHEV. Image: Hyundai.

The plug-in will run in three different modes and you can choose which one. There’s electric, hybrid, and battery charge. It can run purely on electric for 24 miles, more than any other vehicle in its class. That does mean it has a larger charge time of about 3 hours on a 110 volt and nine hours on 240 volt. It also has a class-leading range of 605 miles.

On the outside, there are some changes from the gas version of the Hyundai Sonata. There’s a larger grille, modified front and rear bumpers, and new wheel designs. It’s like a stealth hybrid that doesn’t want to brag about being green.

Hyundai has also pushed a lot of the battery components beneath the floor mat in the trunk to make for a nice flat load surface. It has 13.3 cubic feet of cargo space, so there’s plenty of room for groceries or a family’s luggage. They did eliminate a spare tire to free up some of that space, but there is a tire-mending kit instead.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Image: Hyundai
2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid PHEV. Image: Hyundai.

While we’re talking about all that space provided by the lack of spare and relocated battery, let’s talk about the warranty. The car has a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 10-year/100,000-powertrain warranty, but the best part is the lifetime hybrid battery warranty. They’re the only ones with a lifetime warranty on their hybrid battery, giving them a huge advantage over the other guys.

The interior is spacious and, as is typical of today’s Hyundai, absolutely beautiful. They aren’t the cars they were a few years ago and this is a very good thing. The Sonata Hybrid has plenty of room for a family of four and if you need to put someone in the middle in the back, they won’t hate you for giving them that seat.

There are two big reasons people buy hybrids. The first is environmental responsibility and the second is fuel economy. Hyundai has the first one covered not just by producing a hybrid, but by being environmentally responsible at a corporate level.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Image: Hyundai
2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Image: Hyundai.

Their recently remodeled headquarters uses recycled concrete from the old building to reduce waste and varying types of glass on the windows to make climate control more efficient. They even boxed up 73 pine trees and kept them safe during construction before replanting them at the new finished building.

They’ve got the second one covered with the numbers you’d expect from a hybrid. The estimated highway fuel economy on the Sonata Hybrid is 44 mpg, while the plug-in electric gets 93 mpge. You will happily be driving past the pump far more often than you have to stop.

The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid offer two great choices for those looking to go green with their next car purchase. A beautiful and comfortable interior, sporty styling, great fuel economy, and that lifetime hybrid battery warranty make this car a winner.

Hyundai covered my expenses to attend this drive event.

The 2015 Ford Edge Gives You New Tech in a Family Crossover

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

Crossovers are smaller SUVs that make it easy to carry kids and cargo, are much more affordable than full-size SUVs, and have fuel economy that won’t have you crying when gas prices rise. The Ford Edge has been leading the pack in sales, so Ford was very careful to improve things with their 2015 redesign.

It’s definitely a mom car in all the best ways. It manages to be functional and stylish so that you’ll like carting your kids to and fro and won’t mind having to make a mad dash to the grocery store because you suddenly need supplies to bake cupcakes for a party at school tomorrow.

Let’s start with the new technology in the #FordEdge, in particular the parking package. The Titanium trim level comes with an option package that will help identify a spot that is large enough for your car, and then steer you into that space. You manage the gas and brakes while the car manages steering.

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

As the wheel spins, a disconcerting thing if you’ve never experienced this before, messages on the infotainment screen will tell you when you need to shift from Drive to Reverse. It will do this both for parallel and perpendicular parking and if at any time you want to take control, then just put your hands on the wheel and the system disengages.

The only drawback is that the system is slow. If you’re in heavy traffic and there are cars waiting for you to park so that they can pass, then you’re going to get a few honks of the horn.

There’s also lane keep assist which will help keep you from drifting out of your lane. If the car drifts past the lines, it will let you know and it will nudge you back in the right direction. There are limits, however, as it will eventually tell you to put your hands back on the wheel. This isn’t full-on self-driving technology, but it’s getting close.

One of my favorite bits of technology wasn’t as fancy, but it was very useful. There’s a 180-degree front camera that lets you see when you’re trying to pull out. My drive was in Arizona so there wasn’t a snowbank in sight, but this feature would be so helpful when the winter snows make pulling onto the road an impossible task. It even has a washer so you can clear off mud and salt.

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

The inside benefits from an upgrade with materials that look and feel better than the previous generation of the Edge. I also liked that surfaces aren’t fussy, so when your kids inevitably get something icky and sticky on the seats, the seats will be easier to clean.

Soft-touch surfaces abound and there is storage everywhere you look. There are spots on the doors for holding water bottles that keep them in place so they don’t fall out when you open or close the door. There is a cubby on the top of the dash and another to the left of the steering wheel. If there was a spot that could hold something, Ford made it usable.

Storage right on the dashboard! Image: Nicole Wakelin
Storage right on the dashboard! Image: Nicole Wakelin

The rear seats fold down easily and even kids could push them back up into place. The best part about these seats is that when they fold up they do not catch the seat belt.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve managed to catch the seat belt as I’ve pushed the seats back and then had to open them up, adjust the belt, and push the seats back again. There’s a gap that lets the seat belt easily move so this just won’t happen in the Edge. It’s a small thing, but the kind of thing you’ll really appreciate when it’s freezing cold or pouring rain and you just want to get into the car.

Ford has also made the Edge a very smooth and comfortable ride no matter where you sit. The rear seats are large enough that the kids won’t be touching each other, God forbid, and front passengers won’t be bumping elbows either. The Edge evens out rougher roads nicely and the ride is quiet so you will be able to hear your kids and talk to them without that awkward half-yelling thing you do in noisy cars.

There are three engine choices starting with the all-new 2.0-liter EcoBoost twin scroll turbo 4-cylinder with 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. This is the smallest of the engines and if you’re looking for oomph, then this is not the engine for you.

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

The 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 gets 315 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque and is a lot more fun to drive. There’s more power here and you feel it when you accelerate, but you’ll also pay an extra $10K for the option, so drive them both to see what you think before you make the call.

The last choice is a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 with 280 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque that has flex-fuel capability. They all get a 6-speed automatic transmission and can tow up to 3500 pounds for when the weekends come and it’s time for a getaway. Trucks are great, but they’re far from your only option for hauling stuff behind a vehicle.

The Ford Edge has received myriad updates for 2015 that not only keep it from falling behind in this competitive segment, but help keep it leading the way. Pricing starts at $28K making it easy to get into this comfortable, attractive, and functional crossover.

Ford covered my expenses to attend this drive event.

New Chevrolet Teen Driver System Keeps Kids Safe

Image: Chevrolet
Image: Chevrolet

Those first 16 years go by in the blink of an eye and suddenly you’re handing over your car keys to your teenager. You do everything you can to keep make sure they’ll be safe, make sure they know what to do, but how do you know if they’re really behaving behind the wheel? New Teen Driver technology from Chevrolet can help.

This snazzy new tech will make its debut in the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu and will help parents monitor their teen’s driving habits so that they can make sure they’re being safe. It starts with muting the car’s audio if the front seat belts aren’t buckled as a little reminder to buckle up.

The volume can also be preset, based on the key fob, so that music can’t be blasting at a ridiculous volume that would cause distraction for your new driver. Additionally, if the vehicle is equipped with active safety features like forward collision alert, stability control, traction control, and rear cross traffic alert, then these features will be automatically turned on and won’t be able to be turned off.

The Teen Driver system can also keep track of how your teen is driving by providing information on how far and how fast your kid is going on the road. Forward collision alerts, forward collision braking events, and antilock brake events can also be monitored to provide parents the opportunity to discuss driving patterns with their teens.

The system is not subscription based and is available as an option on lower trims while being a standard feature on the Premier trim of the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu. Now you’ve got one more tool for keeping your new teen driver safe on the roads.

The Wonderful Crazy of Attending an Auto Show

Photo: Nicole Wakelin

Nerds have conventions like SDCC and NYCC, but gearheads have their own versions of these fan conventions. There’s the LA Auto Show and the New York Auto Show, but the big one is, of course, the Detroit Auto Show. It even has an acronym, NAIAS, because every good show needs an acronym.

I attended this year’s NAIAS (North American International Auto Show) for the second time as a guest of Ford. They gave us access to all the latest and greatest that they had to offer, but they also gave us plenty of time to wander the show floor and check out the general craziness of things.

Photo: Nicole Wakelin

The big deal at auto shows is when they reveal cars and it’s all staged like a mini rock concert. There is loud music. There are lights. There is even sometimes smoke just to make it really, super cool. You don’t actually need to look at the schedule of events, but rather can just hear where the next debut is about to occur.

There were several big debuts from Ford and they happened not on the show floor but in the Joe Louis Arena which is attached to the convention center. It is a special slice of crazy. Last year they debuted their new F-150 and this year they debuted the F-150 Raptor. This had truck people all in a tizzy.

Photo: Nicole Wakelin

They also showed off the Ford GT, and this one had me in a tizzy. It looks absolutely beautiful and it sounds completely delicious. After its debut, they brought it into the auto show proper for display. You know how I knew it had arrived? The rumble of the engine as it slowly coasted into its place was enough to announce its presence without even being seen.

The media days at an auto show are completely insane with photographers and journalists from around the world all converging on Detroit for a few days to see what automakers think we’ll all want to buy in the coming years. Even if you can’t attend the media days, if you’re into cars, make a trip to your local auto show and get a look at all the latest and greatest in shiny automobiles.

Ford covered my expenses to attend this event.

Hanging Out With Dodge and Mötley Crüe at Gas Monkey Live

General Lee #DodgeRocks
The General Lee, but no sign of Bo and Luke. Image: Nicole Wakelin

Dodge is 100 years old. In fact, it’s actually 100 years old on this very day, as I’m writing this post. It was November 14, 1914, that the Dodge brothers built their very first car. This is a pretty big milestone and to celebrate, Dodge threw one heck of a party.

Dodge Rocks Gas Monkey” involved a car show on an epic scale with over 800 Dodge fans bringing their cars to the Gas Monkey Live venue in Dallas, Texas, to show them off and enjoy a concert with Mötley Crüe. I’ve been to car shows, but this one puts every other car show ever to shame.

I signed the hood of a car! Image: Nicole Wakelin
I signed the hood of a car! Image: Nicole Wakelin

Try to imagine row after row of Chargers and Challengers and Vipers with the most beautiful custom work you have ever seen just sitting there for you to try not to drool over. These weren’t Dodge’s cars, these were real people’s cars and they were all incredible.

There were brand new cars along with some classics in simply beautiful condition with lots of custom bits that made each one unique and very personal. The owners ran the gamut from grandfathers proud of their vintage rides to twenty-somethings with tricked out rides full of lights and gadgets galore.

Mopar Thor Tattoo #DodgeRocks
Thor says, “Mopar or No Car!” Image: Nicole Wakelin

My absolute favorite car of the bunch was one Texas boy’s Thor-themed Challenger. Yeah, nerds unite even at a car show! Even better? The car originally belonged to the guy’s grandma. A grandma driving a Thor Dodge Challenger? Awesome.

There were also ride opportunities where professional drivers thrashed about a track in a Viper drift car to the delighted squeals of their passengers. Okay, it may only have been me squealing, because it was simply too much fun to sit quietly.

Thor Challenger Engine #DodgeRocks
Behold, the Thor Dodge Challenger! Image: Nicole Wakelin

Once the drifting was over it was time for drag races with two Challenger Hellcats. Drag racing. In a parking lot. Legally. With a professional driver. Oh, Dodge, you killed me with all the awesome car goodness.

It was held at Gas Monkey Live. Richard Rawlings’ new music venue across from the Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill. He was on hand to chat and take pictures with the crowd. It’s worth noting that this guy has the most perfectly styled hair. Seriously, I can’t style my own hair as well. Richard “Perfect Hair” Rawlings was a great host and I’m pretty sure he was just as stoked as the crowd for the whole thing.

Wicked Witch #DodgeRocks
Of course the Wicked Witch drives a Hemi. Image: Nicole Wakelin

Unbelievably, this was not the end of the awesome because once the car show was over, it was time for another show from Mötley Crüe who are in the middle of their “All Bad Things Must End” final tour. Dodge and Rawlings arranged for the band to play at the garage and they arrived in Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcats with all the squealing tires and smoke one would expect for a rock band’s grand entrance.

The concert itself was fantastic. This was no giant arena, but a smaller venue unlike any that Mötley Crüe normally plays. Not only did they sound great even after all these years, but my 14-year-old self was in her glory singing along to songs I remembered from high school.

It was all over too fast, but it was an absolute blast and it’s still hard to believe I got to be a part of something so special. Happy birthday, Dodge, and thanks for inviting me to the party! #DodgeRocks

The 2015 Dodge Charger: A Sedan That’ll Blow Your Mind

Dodge Charger Hellcat Track
Image: Dodge

Once you have kids, you have to rethink your automotive priorities. That cute little two-seater won’t work anymore no matter how much you love it, so you’re going to have to spring for something larger. There’s the ubiquitous minivan, but there’s also the good old sedan. The 2015 Dodge Charger is a sedan, but good doesn’t apply. This is a bad, bad, sedan and it’s so much fun, you won’t even miss that two-seater.

Let’s get something out of the way right at the start. The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. If you’ve looked at a Charger then you’ve heard about this beast with its 707 horsepower. This is insane. I say that in a good way and, having taken it around the track, it was some of the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel of a car. Still, this isn’t the Charger I’d buy as my everyday car.

I know, that sounds like a whole different kind of insane—why wouldn’t you want all that power?—but stick with me for a minute. I happen to own a 2010 Dodge Charger, so I’m speaking as the Mom who refused to buy a minivan and instead bought a muscle car.

Dodge Charger SXT
Image: Dodge

When I got into the Hellcat on the track, the instructor pointed at the “707+ horsepower” on the screen and asked me what it meant. I looked at him questioningly and said, “Don’t mash the gas pedal?” and he responded, “Right. Pretend there’s an egg under that pedal. Be very, very gentle.”

Okay, egg under the gas pedal. Check. They gave us the go ahead, I gently pressed the gas, and instantly the imaginary egg under my gas pedal was a blob of sticky goo. I didn’t mean to do this, but 707 horsepower is a lot and it’s hard not to hit the pedal harder than necessary.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved that car and drove it in circles until the Dodge people told me I had to get out of the car and go home. The one I would buy, however, is the 2015 Dodge Charger SXT Plus. I had the chance to drive this one through the West Virginia countryside and it was enough to make me think about upgrading what’s in my garage right now.

2015 Dodge Charger model lineup.  From left to right: 2015 Dodge
Image: Dodge

This version of the 2015 Dodge Charger has a 3.6-liter V6 engine with 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. There’s also a Rallye Group that turns his into a 300 horsepower engine with 264 lb-ft of torque. Note that this is not a Hellcat but those are still hella good numbers. Another good number is the price. The Hellcat starts at $63,995 while the SXT starts at $29,995.

You can mash the gas pedal, when the law allows, and you will get an impressive burst of speed that will squish you back into the seats and put a smile on your face. It is loaded with comfort and convenience features and the SXT trim makes things a little more special, a little sportier, with LED fog lamps, Uconnect 8.4″ touchscreen, heated seats and mirrors, remote start, dual zone climate control, an Alpine sound system, and a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

Dodge Charger SXT  (2)
Image: Dodge

Add on the Plus Group, which technically costs less to add than the actual options if you separated them out, and you up the sport factor even more. Now you’ve got leather seats, a heated steering wheel and backseats, a rear camera, illuminated cup holders, driver and passenger lower LED lamps, and a security alarm.

Basically, the Charger SXT Plus is the Hellcat’s smarter, slightly more well-behaved older brother. He’s the one you want to bring home to Mom because he’s responsible and polished, but still a sexy bad boy beneath all those good manners.

Chrysler covered all expenses for me to attend this event.

Chevy Aims to Educate: Keeping Teen Drivers Safe

GeekDad Matt Blum and GeekMom Nicole Wakelin with a new friend. Image: General Motors

There are a lot of milestones in a child’s life like getting that first tooth and learning to walk, but the one that scares a lot of parents is the day their teenager gets a driver’s license. It’s a rite of passage for teens, but how do we make sure our kids are safe once they drive away?

That was the focus of the #ChevySafety event recently held in Detroit during Teen Driver Safety Week. We heard from a panel of experts on teen driver safety and got a behind-the-scenes look at all that goes into making cars as safe as possible for all of us.

First, the reality of the situation. Car crashes were the leading killer of teens ages 13-19 in 2012. That’s a downright frightening statistic, but don’t go running to take your teen’s keys just yet. There are things we can all do to help ensure that our kids are safe whether they’re the ones behind the wheel or a passenger in a car one of their friends is driving.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280 (1)
Image: General Motors

You may have a car with the latest safety technology, one that warns of approaching traffic, cars in your blind spot, and even beeps if you drift out of your lane, but all that technology isn’t the thing you need to be focused on for keeping safe. The biggest thing that any of us can do, and it’s one that’s been hammered into our heads for years, is buckle our seat belts.

It’s kind of funny that, given the vast amount of safety technology in cars, something old-school is most likely to save our lives. You’d also think that teens would buckle up all the time since we’ve been strapping them in to within an inch of their lives since the day we brought them home from the hospital, but you’d be wrong.

Learning about safety tech first hand. Image: General Motors

A study by Safe Kids Worldwide, partly funded with a $2 million grant from General Motors, showed that 25% of teens don’t buckle their seat belts. Add to that the fact that nearly half of teens killed in car accidents in 2012 weren’t wearing a seat belt and the problem is even clearer. Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death to those sitting in front by 45% so almost half of those lost young lives could have been saved by a seat belt.

You know it’s important and I know it’s important, but how do we impress upon our kids that they need to buckle up every single time? Talk to them.

Studies show the more we talk to our kids, from the time they’re young not just when they’re teens, the more likely they are to heed our advice. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has done studies that show teens are twice as likely to buckle up and 70% more likely not to drink and drive when parents take an active part in the process of educating them about driver safety.

Image: General Motors

We saw the extensive amount of testing that goes into making cars safe, from crash test dummies to high-tech virtual reality labs that can analyze something as minute as the pattern a windshield wiper clears so you can always see clearly. We also got a look at the incredible OnStar Command Center where they can help in an instant if something does go wrong, but it all comes back to parents. We simply need to talk to our kids.

The technology is incredible to experience first hand and it’s easy to see how it can help save lives. The facility where they run all those dummies through their tests is huge and impressive, but it just won’t do the trick if teens don’t buckle up.

There are programs like Countdown2Drive that will help you get started with this important conversation. Talk to your kids early and often about buckling up and not driving distracted and you’ve gone a long way toward making sure they come home to you safe and sound.

General Motors covered all expenses to attend this event.

2015 Toyota Camry: The Family Sedan Gets an Upgrade

2015 Toyota Camry
Image: Toyota

The Toyota Camry is kind of a big deal. It’s been the best-selling car in America for the last 12 years in a row, so when Toyota decided to change it up, they had to do so very carefully. You simply can’t afford to mess up the best-selling car in America and the good news is, they made it even better.

They didn’t just tweak it a little here and there, they completely overhauled it with every single body panel except for the roof getting a new look. Inside, they’ve changed most of the surfaces so that what you touch feels better. This is the Camry you know, but at the same time you’ve never met.

I had the opportunity to drive the 2015 Toyota Camry recently and I was looking forward to seeing what they changed and if it really made any difference. Every time an automaker comes out with a new version of an existing car they claim it’s different, but making it feel that way is a bit of a trick.

2015 Toyota Camry Front
Image: Toyota

Toyota totally pulled it off, making this mild-mannered sedan less mild and a lot sportier and more appealing. It’s offered in no less than nine different variants, so there’s likely one that will fit your budget and your needs.

It sounds a bit complicated, but basically what you’re looking at are changes in trim from the base LE, to the sporty SE, to the more luxurious XLE, and lastly the XSE which combines both sport and luxury features. They’ve also got a hybrid that comes in three different trim levels.

Your last choice is between two different engines with either a 2.5-liter 4 cylinder or a 3.5-liter V6. Most people opt for the smaller engine, but I’m telling you, if you enjoy driving and want a little more pep on the road, you should give the V6 a test drive. There is a big difference between the two so it’s worth checking out.

2015 Toyota Camry Badge
Image: Toyota

I drove not all, but quite a few different variants of the new Camry and got a really good feel for what they changed. The one with the most noticeable new look was the SE, the sporty one, and it has a downright aggressive grille with styling to match. No mild-mannered anything as this thing takes to the road.

The luxurious XLE will make you feel like you’ve taken a seat behind a much pricier car than its $26,150 starting price. Yes, you can get into all but the V6 variants for under $30K, and you get an impressive list of safety and convenience features.

2015 Toyota Camry Interior
Image: Toyota

Driving a sedan this size likely means you’ve got passengers along with you, often kids, and we all want our kids to be safe. Standard features include 10 airbags, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist as well as Smart Stop Technology brake-override system. That’s all standard on every single Camry that rolls off the line.

You can opt for additional features like a Pre-Collision System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Auto High Beam, and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Safety is a priority for Toyota and it shows in all these safety features.

2015 Toyota Camry Charger
Image: Toyota

Convenience features also abound with a 12v power port, USB port and a wireless charging system for select smartphones. There’s a special space where you just set your phone, a light comes on, and you’re charging. How cool is that?

The Camry looks good, feels good, is packed with safety, and is something of an escape from the world outside the car. Even the sounds of a torrential downpour during my drive were kept at bay. This is thanks to better door and window seals, noise insulating carpet, and exterior tweaks to make the air flow over the car with less turbulence.

If you’ve driven a Camry and think you know the car, think again. Toyota has taken the best parts, made them better, and given everyone a reason to take another look at the 2015 Toyota Camry.

Toyota covered all my expenses to attend this drive.

The Tech Behind The 2015 Ford F-150: And Now I Want a Truck

Image: Nicole Wakelin

I have never owned a truck because I couldn’t see why anyone would buy one unless they worked in construction or were a cowboy. Those guys, they need one, but me? No, I do not need a truck to haul my kids to school. However, after driving the all-new 2015 Ford F-150, I really, really want one.

Trucks are a big deal in the automotive world, and this one is pretty much the biggest deal of them all. It’s not just the best-selling truck in the United States; it’s the best selling vehicle. Period. The end. So when Ford redid the whole truck this year, people were excited and nervous.

When you’ve got a vehicle like the F-150 in your lineup. you simply can’t afford a fumble. Ford introduced their truck back in January at the Detroit Auto Show, but it wasn’t until now that they invited the press to drive it for the first time down in San Antonio, Texas. I was on this first-drive of the F-150 and it was an incredible experience.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

You may or may not know the horsepower on your car, but if you’re buying a truck, there are numbers you’re sure to be looking at before you plunk down your hard-earned cash. The two biggies are towing capacity and payload, and the F-150 has the other guys beat when it comes to full-size pickups.

It can tow 12,200 pounds and haul 3,300 pounds, and it does this with the help of some pretty amazing technological advancements. One of those advancements helps not just with its capability, but with its fuel economy and that’s due to the use of aluminum alloys instead of only steel.

This truck lost an incredible 700 pounds over the previous generation. That is a stunning number in an industry where every last ounce they can cut from a vehicle’s weight is cause for celebration. This means better fuel economy, braking, maneuverability, and handling, all of which become incredibly important when your truck is carrying a load or pulling a trailer.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

And, if you’re like most people, you’re thinking about those aluminum cans you can squish under the heel of your shoe and wondering if this is a good idea. Is it safe? Is it strong? Will it hold up under the pressures of daily use? The answer is yes.

They torture-tested this thing over more than 10 million miles, which covered all sorts of scenarios. They had it on their proving grounds, in labs, and even gave it to select customers who they new would, well, beat the heck out of it to see if they could make it fail. They couldn’t. The truck passed all of those tests with flying colors.

The F-150 now comes with four different engine choices, including a new 2.7-liter EcoBoost designed just for trucks. This engine is capable of producing 325 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque, which falls in the middle in terms of capability. Most people needing mid-range capability and about 90 percent of those who look for light-duty trucks will find this engine a good fit.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

It’s also equipped with start-stop technology that turns off the engine when the vehicle stops, saving you money at the pump. This is one of those features that, in some vehicles, is simply awful. The sound and vibration of the engine turning off and on can be downright jarring, but it was almost imperceptible in the F-150 trucks I drove. Really, the only reason I noticed it was off was the sudden silence, just like driving a hybrid.

There’s also an EcoBoost for those needing more from their truck. The 3.5-liter engine provides 365 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. This one is the monster. It’s also the one capable of the top range in towing and payload and has been tested in the real world with over 500,000 F-150s with this engine already on the road.

Inside, there is a mind-boggling array of trims that take the F-150 from basic truck that gets the job done all the way to something that looks and feels like a high-end sedan with leather trims and wood finishes. And it’s also packed with the latest infotainment and safety technology like a 360-degree camera, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, and a lane-keeping system. No matter your needs, there’s a configuration of the F-150 that will be a perfect fit.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

And driving the F-150 is something you have to experience. It is a big truck, so if you haven’t piloted one down the road, then your first few minutes will be spent thinking, “Wow, this is big.” That feeling, amazingly, only lasts for a short time, because though this is a big, capable, powerful, truck, it’s also a very well-mannered one.

Handling is smooth and easy, making you forget just how much truck that steering wheel is moving along the road. The seats are also supportive and comfortable, so that even after a full day of driving, there’s no road-weariness or stiffness when you get out of the truck.

I had the chance to tow a 9,000-pound trailer—something I have never done before—and once my heart stopped trying to beat right out of my chest, it was easy. Despite being a lighter vehicle than before, the trailer never pushed the truck, even going downhill. I drove a competitor’s truck right after the F-150 and experienced the disconcerting sensation of the vehicle almost jerking forward when the trailer did push the truck. In the F-150, it simply didn’t happen and the drive was much easier.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

It was a unique experience driving the 2015 Ford F-150, with access to engineers and experts that could answer my every question and explain exactly what the truck was doing along the way to make driving easier. They’re running special test drives from October 11 through December 21 in 38 cities, so you can try out the new F-150, too. Pre-register for events or just show up and they’ll be happy to let you take a drive.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what the all-new 2015 Ford F-150 has to offer, whether you’re using it to haul heavy loads or just for hauling the kids to school.

All trip expenses were covered by Ford.

The 2015 VW Golf GTI: The Hot Little Car That’s Big Fun

Image: Nicole Wakelin

I learned how to drive a stick, or manual transmission, back when I was in college. It was after someone totaled my car and I was buying a new one on a budget. I saved $500 going with a manual so I learned, on my brand new 1991 Jetta GL, and the car lived to tell the tale. When I got behind the wheel of the new 2015 VW Golf GTI I was reminded of why everyone should learn how to drive a stick. The answer is one word and that word is fun.

Now, I’m not going to say the actual learning bit is fun. That’s kind of terrifying as you try not to roll back on hills, and embarrassing as you stall in front of your friends, but it is so worth it. It’s worth it so you can get behind the wheel of a car like the VV Golf with a manual transmission and see just how much fun it can be to drive. That’s exactly what I got to do at this year’s Volkswagen full-line drive.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

It’s available as a 6-speed automatic, but, really, if you’re going for a hot little turbocharged hatchback with 210 horsepower, then you need the 6-speed manual because that’s where the fun lives. It’s right there, in that little knob that looks like a dimpled golf ball (cute, Volkswagen) and you hold it in the palm of your hand.

If you know how to drive a manual transmission, then you totally get me. There is something empowering about revving an engine hard, taking it up to that redline, and then shifting gears. The car doesn’t do the work for you, deciding when it thinks you should shift as if it knows better. You do the work for yourself and in the Golf GTI it’s work that will make you all kinds of happy.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

The thing is, in a car like the Golf GTI, it’s not fair to call it work because it’s just too darn fun. Some manuals are difficult, with finicky shifts and touchy pedals, but not this one. Within just a few minutes I was cruising the winding roads of Virginia with my driving partner, Julia Coney of All About The Pretty.

Both of us were in love with our bright red Golf GTI. This is the sport-tuned version of the Golf and it loves to be driven. We also thoroughly enjoyed our time in Virginia and The Salamander Resort which fellow blogger Carissa Rogers fell in love with during the trip.

I say “our” Golf GTI because we both wanted to drive it home. In fact, Julia loved it so much she was seriously considering buying one when the program was over! I took a different approach and decided to see how seriously they took that VW commercial where the guy licks the handle of the VW he wants so no one else snags it from the lot. Sadly, it did not make the car mine.

You’ll get some stellar fuel efficiency while you’re having fun since the Golf’s 2.0-liter inline four cylinder is not thirsty. Its 25 city/34 highway EPA estimates will have you driving past the pump more often than you stop.

Not only will it save you money at the pump, it won’t break the bank with its $24,995 starting price. This includes a leather-wrapped, multi-function sport steering wheel, 18″ Austin alloy wheels, 5.8″ color display touchscreen, Bluetooth, and LED fog lights. If you want it completely tricked out, it can still be yours for under $30K.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

Driving shouldn’t just be about getting from point A to point B. I know, a lot of the time that’s all it is when we’re rushing from one thing to another, or stuck in rush hour traffic. Driving isn’t so fun then, but the right car can make dull driving bearable, and good driving absolutely joyous.

And that’s what the VW Golf GTI is all about. It brings the joy to driving. If ever there was a car that was made to be a manual, this is that car. This hot little hatchback looks good, is comfortable, handles beautifully, and on a warm summer day with the sunroof wide open, it’ll make you want to keep driving until you run out of road.

Volkswagen covered my expenses to attend this event.

Cruisin’ Alabama in the 2015 Hyundai Sonata

2015 Hyundai Sonata Profile
Image: Nicole Wakelin

The 2015 Hyundai Sonata is all new this year and the folks at Hyundai invited me down to Montgomery, Alabama to spend some time behind the wheel of their newest vehicle. Why Montgomery, Alabama? Well, it’s home to the plant that makes the #NewSonata so not only did we get to drive the car, we got to tour the factory, take pictures where it’s not normally allowed, and drive a car right off the line and onto the street.

It’s not every day that you get to see first-hand how cars come together, especially not at a place as incredible as the Hyundai plant in Montgomery. It is an expansive place that operates 24/7 without a break in production. It makes over 1000 cars a day during three shifts, and although that’s a lot, the people at Hyundai said they could make more, but choose a slower production rate.

Hyundai Assembly Line
Image: Nicole Wakelin

The reason is simple, and it’s one that, in an age of recalls that roll out daily and have everyone a little on edge about the safety of their car, should make you feel good about driving a Hyundai. Their goal is to have 97% of vehicles roll off the line in perfect, ready-to-ship form. That means that only 3% have to have adjustments made due to a problem.

Those problems might not be very big and could be as minor as paint with a finish that doesn’t pass muster, but Hyundai puts a focus on quality. Quality over quantity means you’re driving a car that was made with care.

Hyundai Plant
Image: Nicole Wakelin

We toured the factory on a tram straight out of a Disney ride and were permitted to take pictures in areas where it’s normally forbidden, and what we saw was wonderful. It’s spotlessly clean, much quieter than you’d expect, and a genuinely happy place. The employees waved and smiled, and even posed for the camera. The guys on the line making your car are a happy lot who take pride in their work and look to really enjoy their jobs.

I drove a shiny red 2015 Hyundai Sonata Turbo right off the line and into the humid Alabama weather for a tour through some beautiful countryside. I partnered up with the wonderful TerriAnn van Gosliga of CookiesAndClogs and DrivingMamas on a drive route that took us on highways and through winding country roads so we got a good feel for the car.

Hyundai Line
Image: TerriAnn van Gosliga of

There are two different engines, one being a turbo with 245 horsepower that, if you love to drive, is going to put a nice wide grin on your face. Even the smaller 185 horsepower engine is powerful and makes merging onto highways and passing other cars easy.

It handles beautifully and feels like a much more expensive sedan than it is—something that Hyundai excels at in all their vehicles. You can get into a Sonata for a starting price of $21,150 or get a totally loaded model for $33,525. That’s a very reasonable price considering the huge number of features in the car.

2015 Hyundai Sonata
Image: Nicole Wakelin

There are seven standard airbags including one for the driver’s knees, a rearview camera, available Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and a Lane Departure Warning System to keep you and the family safe. Convenience features are there, too, with heated and ventilated front seats, and even heated seats in the back as well as beautiful leather seats and accents that really add to the luxury vibe.

Driving it for several hours through unfamiliar roads was really quite a test for me since I had back to back plane rides and was pretty tired. Amazingly, it wasn’t tiring at all driving the #NewSonata. It was relaxing, comfortable, and fun from beginning to end.

2015 Hyundai Sonata Front
Image: Nicole Wakelin

Hyundai has really stepped up their game over the last few years and they aren’t the brand they were ten years ago. Their cars are plush, well-equipped with safety and convenience features, and boast prices that are far less than competitors.

If you’re in the market for a mid-size sedan, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata is arriving at dealer showrooms now and is definitely worth taking for a test drive.

Hyundai covered all expenses to attend this drive experience.

Nothing Says “I Love You Mom” Like a Pink Cadillac

Cadillac Celebrates Teddy Bridgewater and Rose Murphy
Image: Cadillac

Most of us get flowers, breakfast in bed, and cute handmade cards for Mother’s Day, but football player Teddy Bridgewater bought his mom a shiny pink 2015 Cadillac Escalade.

The timing is perfect for the holiday, but technically he’s fulfilling a promise he made to his Mom when he was just a little three-year-old boy. He promised his Mom that, someday, he’d buy her a pink Cadillac and he was finally able to follow through and deliver on that promise.

Bridgewater just finished a successful stint as the star quarterback for the University of Louisville and will soon be moving on to the NFL. In fact, he’s expected to be be a first-round pick in today’s NFL Draft. He figured that now was the time.

The reason for the color has a lot to do with his Mom, Rose Murphy. She’s a breast cancer survivor who raised four children and served as an inspiration to Bridgewater and his whole team at the University of Louisville. Spike Lee even made a short film chronicling their story.

Bridgewater presented the Cadillac, in a shade of pink that he custom chose just for his Mom, in New York yesterday.

You might not be getting a custom pink Cadillac on Mother’s Day, but even in the case of this gift, it’s the thought behind it that make it special. I know I’ll love whatever my kids get for me just as much, if not more than, a new car.


Geeking Out Over Tires With Continental Tire

Image: Continental Tire
Image: Continental Tire

As a car geek, I jumped at the chance to spend a few days with Continental Tire learning about tires by driving on their track in Uvalde, Texas. How could I pass up the chance to drive it like I stole it without having to worry about being arrested when I got out of the car?

This trip involved a group of bloggers who, for the most part, don’t know a lot about cars so it wasn’t geared toward gearheads with lots of boring technical specs, but toward real people. People who just need to know what they need to do to keep their families safe on the roads.

After a wonderful dinner in San Antonio where we all had a chance to get to know each other, we got up early the next day to drive out to Continental Tire’s proving grounds. This isn’t just a track or two, but a 5,000 acre facility with paved and dirt tracks designed to mimic every kind of terrain you might tackle. Okay, you probably aren’t going to tackle some of it unless you’re thinking of becoming a professional rally car driver, but it’s there to test the tires that would do the job.

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Part of the proving grounds. Image: Nicole Wakelin

There were three different scenarios set up with both Continental Tire TrueContact tires as well as competitive brands. The first test was a wet braking test that had us accelerating to 55 MPH on a wet track then slamming on the brakes to bring the car to a dead stop. The second test had us taking a tight 200 meter circle with a section of wet track on one curve, and the last test was a wet pad set up with cones for an autocross handling test. My drive partner, Jessica, was perfect, because she was as ready to put these cars to the test as I was and had no fear about driving hard.

The wet braking test easily painted us the clearest picture of just what a good set of tires can do to keep you safe. Check out these results with 55-0 MPH times and the distances it took to stop.

  • Nissan Altima Bridgestone Ecopia 422 4 seconds, 145.2 feet
  • Nissan Altima Michelin Defender 3.5 seconds, 135.7 feet
  • Ford Mustang Continental TrueContact 2/32nd front tread 4.7 seconds, 178.9 feet
  • Ford Mustang Continental TrueContact 4/32nd front tread 3.9 seconds, 141.1 feet

The takeaway there is really how much of a difference just 2/32nds of an inch on your tire makes in how quickly you’ll stop and how far you’ll go. I was on a closed track and the worst thing I was at risk of hitting was an orange cone or two. In the real world, those cones are other cars and other people. Your tires matter.

Image: Continental Tire
Image: Continental Tire

It’s also worth noting that they put those tires with the worn treads on the front of the car. This might not be what you’ve heard over the years, but if you can’t replace all your tires, the worn pair should always go on the front. We experienced the difference this makes while on the 200 meter circle. With good tires on the back, it was easy to regain control coming off of the wet track. With the good tires on the front, let’s just say there were not so many orange cones on that track as there were when we started the day and there was a lot of hysterical laughter in our car.

We spend a lot of time in our cars these days, and as moms we’ve often got our kids along for the ride. This experience showed me the importance of having good tires on your vehicle. We all get our tires checked once a year at inspection time, but after seeing how dangerous worn tires can be, I’ll definitely be checking mine more often.

Continental Tire covered all expenses for this trip.

The 2015 Hyundai Genesis: Luxury That Won’t Wipe Out the College Fund

2015 Hyundai Genesis
2015 Hyundai Genesis, Image: Nicole Wakelin #NextGenesis

Luxury cars are the kinds of things people dream about getting someday even if they have no idea when that someday will arrive. Once you have kids, the idea of putting their sticky little fingers in a pretty car, and the thought that the price could wipe out the college fund, make the prospect seem even more unlikely. Here’s why the Hyundai Genesis makes it possible for a family, even one with sticky-fingered kids, to enjoy a luxury ride.

Kids are tough on cars. They make construction workers in clunky, dirt-covered boots look elegant and refined by comparison. There’s no way around the fact that they’re going to mess up your car no matter how much you try to keep it looking neat and pretty. And that’s why you want fancy leather seats instead of fabric upholstery.

2015 Hyundai Genesis Interior
2015 Hyundai Genesis, Image: Nicole Wakelin #NextGenesis

It may seem counterintuitive, but keeping leather seats looking good is far easier than keeping any kind of fabric clean. Ground in whatever-it-was-she-carried-into-the-car wipes off of leather. Leather also doesn’t absorb whatever-it-is-she-just-spilled when you didn’t even know she had a sippy cup in her hand in the first place. Guess what? Leather seats aren’t an expensive add-on but standard in this car.

You also want to keep you and your family safe with all the latest whiz-bang technology, and the 2015 Hyundai Genesis has plenty of that, too. There’s a rear-view camera to better see kids who might run behind your car, nine air bags, anti-lock brakes, rear-cross traffic alert to help avoid people cutting behind you at the last minute when you’re backing up, and traction control and stability control to help when the weather gets bad. And once again, it’s all standard.

2015 Hyundai Genesis Grille
2015 Hyundai Genesis, Image: Nicole Wakelin #NextGenesis

It’s got all the convenience features of a luxury car too, one of my favorites being a trunk that will automatically pop open when you stand next to it for just a few seconds. No balancing on one foot and waving the other under the bumper. There’s also dual temperature control so you don’t have to fight with your passenger, and a 12-way power driver’s seat that’s heated. Yup, it’s all standard on the 2015 Hyundai Genesis.

And how much do you have to shell out for this snazzy new luxury automobile? It has a very not luxury starting price of $38,000 for features that will cost you an extra $20,000 with other brands. It’s not cheap, but it’s a darned affordable luxury car.

If you’ve dreamed of getting a luxury car someday, that someday could be a lot closer than you think once you get behind the wheel of a 2015 Hyundai Genesis.

I attended the 2015 Hyundai #NextGenesis media lunch with all expenses paid by Hyundai. Opinions are my own.

The 2015 Chrysler 200 Packs Futuristic Tech To Keep Your Family Safe

2015 Chrysler 200
2015 Chrysler 200, Image: Chrysler

Every time a new car comes out there are new safety features and the 2015 Chrysler 200 is no exception to that rule. But, here’s the thing—what does all of that fancy tech actually do on a day-to-day basis to keep you and your family safe? In this case, it’ll actually take the wheel for a second and make sure you don’t drift off the side of the road and into a tree. The future, you’re soaking in it!

There are lots of safety features in every car and things like antilock brakes and airbags are the norm. We see them on the giant list of features, make a mental note, and move along. But some of the safety tech they’re putting in cars these days is getting downright futuristic like the Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist on the 2015 Chrysler 200.

I had the opportunity to drive the 200 at the vehicle’s recent launch in Louisville, Kentucky and tried out this feature firsthand and it was amazing. If you start to drift out of your lane, the car knows and it lets you know you’re in trouble by giving the wheel a little nudge and putting you back in your lane. Yup, for just an instant, the car drives itself down the road.

2015 Chrysler 200 Interior
2015 Chrysler 200, Image: Chrysler

There’s a little graphic on the instrument cluster that tells you when the feature is activated so you know it’s on duty and keeping track of what you’re doing. If you turn your signals on, then it has no problem with you going left or right and nothing happens. But, if you don’t signal, and start to drift it will move you back into your lane. You can actually watch the wheel move.

I tried this out and, dang, it was impressive! It knew to move the wheel just the tiniest bit to keep me from going off the road, but it didn’t take the wheel out of my hands. If I’d been doing some emergency maneuver, it wouldn’t have stopped me from steering the car wherever I wanted, but it would have helped if I was drifting. It’s a little scary to think of the car driving for you, but in this case, it was truly reassuring.

In that moment when your mind wanders, or you’re tired, or you’re simply not paying attention like you should be, this little feature could save your life.

You might be wondering how much a car that has something this futuristic costs, and the answer might surprise you. The 2015 Chrysler 200 is not a stripped down sedan but quite a luxurious car. It’s got plenty of standard and available features that can make it even more plush, but you can get behind the wheel of one for a price as low as $21,700. Even fully tricked out it’s $33,400. Not bad at all for a car that packs some impressively futuristic tech that could save your life.

Now, if they can just give it some snarky artificial intelligence like KITT and possibly David Hasselhoff as a co-driver, it’d be perfect.

Pixar Easter Eggs Revealed!

The folks at Pixar love hiding in-jokes and references to their impressive body of work in their films. If you’re a fan you might know about some of these Easter eggs already, but others may be a nice surprise.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, merely a taste of the longer feature available in the Discovery section of Disney’s new cloud-based media service Disney Movies Anywhere, which allows you to share your Disney content across an array of platforms and iOS devices.

Do you know about any Pixar Easter eggs? Share them in the comments!

Talking Cars, STEM, and Moms With One of the Women Behind the New Ford Mustang

The women behind the Mustang. Image: Ford.

I spoke with Ford Vehicle Line Director Marcy Fisher about working on the new 2015 Ford Mustang, getting kids into STEM careers, and her path to becoming an engineer. Guess who one of the people she credits with helping her find that path?

That’s right—her mom.

The Ford Mustang is one of the most iconic American cars ever made, so its redesign was a big deal, especially if you happen to work at Ford. I asked Marcy what it was like finding out that she’d be working on such an incredible car. She said it was both exciting and a little daunting.

“It’s like a dream, in this company, everybody wants to be on Team Mustang. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, but at the same time, really, a little bit scary,” she said. It wasn’t a matter of simply doing the job, but of making all those fans happy. “You don’t want to be known as the person who messed up the 50th Anniversary Mustang!”

It wasn’t just Marcy behind the new design, but a whole team and she gives them a lot of the credit for being vested in the project and wanting to make this Mustang the best Mustang ever. “Everyone wants to work on this vehicle,” she said. “They’re excited to go the extra mile. We all know what the Mustang is, and that we have to deliver that for the customer. We can’t let the customer down.”

The All-New Ford Mustang
The 2015 Ford Mustang. Image: Ford.

I also asked Marcy if she’d faced any challenges as a woman engineer, especially in the very male-dominated automotive industry, and her answer is one that every woman and every girl should take to heart.

“I think people feed a little bit off of what you believe your own capabilities are, and so, I’ve never thought of myself differently because I’m a woman. I don’t think about myself as a woman in the automotive industry. I think about myself as an engineer in the automotive industry.”

She says that in her 28-year career, she has always focused on simply doing the best job possible and that the quality of her work overcomes the objections or stereotypes of others. “Be great at your job. Always put forth your best effort and your best foot, have the best interests of the customers at heart, and let that guide your driving force,” she said. “In the end, people see what you’re capable of.”

As to her decision to become an engineer, she gives a lot of the credit to her mom in helping guide her choice. “I was always good at math and science and was lucky enough to have a mother who was very influential and who was also, I think, very ahead of her time,” she says. “She spent a lot of time looking at actually what do I want out of a position and it kept coming back to engineering.”

Marcy also had this last piece of advice for girls looking to pursue careers in STEM fields:

“The main thing is to be true to yourself. And no matter what situations or decisions you’re facing, it’s always okay to be exactly who you are. You should celebrate that and not try to fit into a world that you think you need to somehow conform to to be part of the culture of that group.”

The 2014 Honda Odyssey Had Me At Built-In Vacuum

2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite. Image: Nicole Wakelin

There are a lot of reasons why we buy the cars we buy, but if you’re looking at a minivan, I am telling you that once you see the built-in vacuum in the 2014 Honda Odyssey you’ll be sold.

I’m a bit of a neat freak and when my kids were younger it drove me nuts how messy they could make a car. It’s like all kids turn into Pig-Pen and a cloud of debris just magically appears on the seats, the carpet, the doors, the windows, and even the roof. Oh, admit it, you’ve seen an unidentifiable smudge on the roof above your kid’s head and wondered, “How’d she do that?” just like every other parent.

This means hauling out the vacuum, or being too lazy to do it and dealing with the mashed, ground-in consequences later. Unless, of course, you are looking at minivans and you opt for the 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite. It is the single coolest unnecessary but totally necessary car accessory ever. Ever.

Look at all those cupholders! Image: Nicole Wakelin

I really thought it was going to be silly when I saw it on the gigantic list of features. That list starts with all kinds of things to keep you safe like lots of airbags, cameras, and audible and visual alerts when you’re about to smack into someone you don’t see.

Next come the convenience features like a cool box to keep drinks cold, a bag hook for trash bags accessible by second-row occupants, more cup holders than you can shake a stick at, and an entertainment system that features split-screen capability to increase the odds of keeping the whole car entertained. And then, there’s the vacuum.

It’s actually called HondaVAC because cool features need cool names, and it’s tucked away in a side rear compartment. You just put the car in accessory mode, open the little hatch to pull out the super-long hose, pick one of two attachments, and you’re keeping your car from becoming a biohazard zone.

Behold, the HondaVAC. Image: Nicole Wakelin

I expected it to be an afterthought, something that worked only so-so, but it really worked! It’s possible I threw various cereals on the carpet to test and that it sucked up Cheerios, Corn Flakes, and Boo-Berry with equal vigor. It even handled finer stuff like a bunch of sawdust from a board I hauled to the dump.

My kids are older now, and most of the time do not leave a trail of debris when they’re leaving the car, but if you’ve got little ones and are looking at a minivan, trust me. The vacuum in the 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite is the best car accessory ever!

Beauty’s Got Muscle: A Girl and a Car Proving Women Can Do Anything

Beauty Got Muscle
Image: Beauty’s Got Muscle

We’ve pretty much established at GeekMom that you can be a geek about anything. It could be comics or movies or knitting or tie-dying, or even cars. That’s the case for Katie who has had an ongoing love affair with a ’78 Chevy Nova that she rebuilt. And she’s on a mission.

When you think women and cars you likely don’t think of the women covered in grease and dirt, ripping apart an engine and lovingly putting it back together again. You probably think of what we usually see, which is a model draped over the hood of a car, posing as a piece of eye candy.

Katie is a beautiful redhead who, I’d imagine, could pose and pout with the best of them, but she chose instead to get some grease under her nails and rebuild “Ned Nova.” She’s as passionate, if not more so, than any guy has ever been about a car.

Katie rebuilt Ned Nova with the support of the amazing team at S&P Classics who taught her what she needed to know to do the job. She started out by asking them if she could apprentice at their shop, and they agreed, but they were the ones to suggest she learn by working on her own car.

Katie and Ned Garage
Katie and Ned Garage

The video of Ned’s rebuild is technically about a car, but I don’t see it that way. I see it as the story of a young woman learning how to embrace the things she loves despite naysayers. I see it as learning how to live for the moment and do the things you never knew you could do. I see it as not letting anyone tell you that you can’t do something just because you’re a girl.Now that Ned is fixed up better than new, Katie is taking him on a mission to find other like-minded women who love cars. She thinks it’s about time that women weren’t seen as an intrusion into the man’s world of cars, but as equal players on the field. I happen to agree with her.

Watch the video below and then share it with the girls and women in your life because we all need to know that we can do any damn thing we set out to accomplish!

BRAKES Driving School Aims To Keep Teens Safe

BRAKES Driving School
Image: BRAKES Driving School

The people at BRAKES Driving School are on a mission to make your teen driver safer behind the wheel.

It’s a scary proposition handing over those keys to your son or daughter. No matter how much time you spend coaching them, no matter how many times you tell them what they should and shouldn’t do, there’s just no way to know how they’ll react to situations once you’re out of the car.

BRAKES (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe) was started by NHRA drag racing star Doug Herbert, who lost his sons Jon and James in a highway accident back in 2008. Since then, Herbert has since made it his mission to keep other parents from suffering his pain.

BRAKES Driving School
Image: BRAKES Driving School

Herbert created BRAKES the very same year that he lost his sons, as a non-profit designed to provide free driver education for teens. The Teen Pro-Active Driving Course is offered at no charge to teens ages 15 to 19, to teach them skills they just don’t learn in a typical driver’s ed class. The class includes…

Accident Avoidance using a slalom course to teach elevated steering control; a Distraction Exercise to teach increased focus and concentration; a Wheel Drop-Off Recovery Exercise to teach the proper method of retaining control when the vehicle drops a wheel off a highway shoulder; a Panic Stop Exercise to give teenagers safer and more controlled responses when braking in an emergency; a Car Control and Recovery Exercise that teaches the skills necessary to maintain or regain control in wet or icy road conditions.

Classes are held monthly at the Zmax Dragway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, with vehicles provided by KIA. Just because you don’t live in the Charlotte area doesn’t mean your teen won’t have the chance to participate.

The BRAKES team travels around the country, offering classes sponsored by local communities who want to get involved, show their support, and help make our roads safer for everyone.

Duplo: The 2×2 Problem

All Images: Sarah Pinault

For the second Christmas in a row, our family received a multipack of Duplo. This time we added farm animals and fencing to the mix, a few new people, and a new car base. The boys are loving the new additions, and an extra box of blocks is always a good bet with my boys. They have no problem playing with these bricks for long stretches of time, making all manner of things. I, however, have issues with symmetry, a need to join blocks in an architecturally sound way, and a 2×2 problem.

You know the 2×2 problem well, even if you can’t quite put your finger on it. For me it is Duplo, for you it might be Lego. The accumulation of multiple sets inevitably leads to a block imbalance: So few 4x2s for construction, so many 2x2s.

The kids have no problem with the 2×2 blocks, but the parents, we’re a little more distracted by the impossible task of building with the smaller blocks. Whenever a construction project is complete, or even in progress, there is always a pile of blocks off to one side with which the parent is expected to produce the Empire State Building. This is always a big pile of 2x2s.

With the expansion of our building materials this year, I was hoping to redress the imbalance. Alas, more 2x2s. I have been trying to come up with some useful ways of using these smaller increments, ways that don’t fall apart instantly, and don’t offend my adult sensibilities!

1. The underwater camera. This is a more peculiar shape than the cameras we generally construct from Duplo, but given the constraints of the 2×2 we decided to go Jacques Cousteau, and design an underwater camera. It even works in the bath tub.


2. The classic pyramid. While the 4×2 enables the construction of a more artistic pyramid, the 2×2 is a mainstay in Egyptian playtime.


3. The 3-D pyramid. Yes, the pyramid is already three dimensional, but what we are looking for  here is depth. You can even go in from underneath and remove superfluous blocks, thus making tombs.


4. The photo frame. Run around the house with this bad boy and take pictures, with an actual camera, of anything you would like to frame. That is, have your child run around the house looking for things they would like to frame, ahem!


5. The robot. Not as sturdy as the multi-brick kind, but a decent robot can be made from simple 2x2s. These are great for robot wars, as they break up easily on impact. Robot wars: a game in which siblings knock each other’s robots together until one breaks. Kind of like the old British game of conkers, but not.


6. Tetris. Okay, this one is not at all fun to play, but it looks kind of cool. It will fill those moments when you are being told not to play with your child’s construction project.


7. The steps. Simple. Classic. Completely boring unless you are a four year old with farm animals that like to play Lemmings.


8. The race track. The piece de resistance. Once constructed, this kept both of my boys occupied for longer than I thought possible. A simple track construction, using a three pronged width for long stretches, and a four pronged turn. Towers and turrets can be added at will. Be warned, siblings will attempt to block their opponent’s car by putting bricks behind their progress, a la turtle shells in Mario Kart.

Duplo Track

So that was a wonderful morning spent learning how to construct minimalist projects with my boys. Any suggestions to add to our repertoire?

Late to the Game: Formula D

Formula D © Asmodee
Formula D Image: © Asmodee.

It’s been a few weeks since the sound of engines stopped roaring through my living room on Sundays. If your household is anything like mine, you or someone you live with is missing the thrill of regular motor racing. While Formula One has never quite taken off in the U.S., here in Europe it’s enormously popular. Even the smallest teams fielding cars destined to spend the season as back markers invest millions on development each year*.

Formula D attempts to recreate the thrill of Formula One racing in a board game, and I was keen to see how well it did.

The Formula D board is absolutely enormous and covers most of my dining room table (this is not a travel game). The board is two-sided, allowing for F1 racing or an illegal street race. Each one has slightly different rules, both of which could be applied to either track. The F1 circuit is based on the famous Monaco track and follows it faithfully with accurate corners given their correct names. Each corner is assigned a number; players must stop that many times as they pass through the corner to avoid damaging their cars by driving too fast through them.

Formula D Gearbox & Damage Points © Sophie Brown
Formula D Gearbox & Damage Points. Image: © Sophie Brown.

The speed of the car is determined by the gearbox, which assigns die rolls. In first gear, only ones and twos can be rolled. Second gear allows rolls of two to four and so on up to sixth gear, where the die rolls range from 20 to 30.

Clearly, the lower gear you are in, the easier it will be to stop the required number of times in a corner. However, driving too slowly will allow opponents to pass you and win the race.

This is a game of intense strategy and thought, as gears can only be shifted up incrementally and engine braking (shifting down more than one gear at a time) costs damage points—just as in real life such heavy braking would damage your car. You need to constantly look ahead and plan your speed many moves in advance to avoid being caught out.

Damage points are one of the major ways in which the beginners’ game differs from standard Formula D games. In the beginners’ game, damage is assigned unspecifically. Each car begins with 18 points; failing to stop the correct number of times in corners or driving too closely to other cars can result in damage and your points are reduced accordingly. Lose all 18 points and your car is out of the race.

In standard games, however, damage is assigned to specific parts of the car including the tires, brakes and engine, with each area having just a few available points. This removes an issue in the beginners’ game where it is too easy to think, “I’ve got 18 points and can afford to run this corner and take the damage.” Instead, it makes the game much more realistic, although I’ve seen plenty of F1 races where the drivers seem to make equally risky decisions!

A Street Race Character from Formula D © Sophie Brown
A street race character from Formula D. Image: © Sophie Brown.

The standard game also allows for much more detail to be added into the race, including tire choices and weather conditions both during “qualifying” and the race itself. You can also choose to play races with multiple laps, bringing in pit stops to repair damage points.

These all add up to a game that, in your imagination at least, is very similar to a real F1 race with a lot of the same decision-making required that would also be made by real drivers and team bosses. Football manager-style games have been popular for decades and Formula D does a good job of bringing that kind of play to motor racing. In the street race, each character has different abilities, which can benefit them during the race. However, there are also new issues to contend with, including dangerous road surfaces and locals taking pot shots at the cars as they race past.

You do not need to be an F1 fan, or even a fan of motor racing, in order to enjoy Formula D, although those familiar with the circuit and style will certainly get more out of the theming. I am not a sports fan in any way, but even with my basic knowledge of F1, I was able to appreciate the game’s accuracy. Formula D streamlines the experience so that avid racing fans will be able to enjoy it without feeling talked down to, but players who have never even seen a race will be able to pick it up easily, too.

The basic game mechanics are incredibly simple to learn, so the difficulty lies in planning a good strategy around the track. Here, some knowledge of racing strategy can be very useful, but is still non-essential. The game can accommodate up to 10 players, making it great for a busy night when games with limited player numbers could force people to sit out. If you appreciate strategy paired with a great theme, Formula D will be another great game for your collection.

GeekMom received this game for review purposes.

*In 2012, the budget for Marussia F1 was just under $100 million. This year, they finished the season on zero team points.

Planes: Flying Onto the Small Screen

Planes, Image: 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Image: 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Last week saw the release of Planes on Disney DVD. I was pretty excited to see this film, because it is one of the few Disney releases I did not get to see on the big screen. Having explored the world above the world of Cars this week, I’m quite happy putting this into our regular rotation of family night movies. Here’s why I think you should join me.

To start with, I’m not even going to pretend you can watch this movie, let alone review it, without inevitably comparing it to Cars. There are cars in this movie, Mater’s short “Air Mater” set the scene for the feature film, you simply cannot avoid comparison. The movie has the same feel to it, both about vehicles with independent lives and personalities, both center around racing.

Cars had a very simple story line behind it, it was the Doc Hollywood of the cartoon world. In Planes I could see several story lines at work within one overall story, all of which are played out well, and any one of which is sure to appeal to you:

  • Dusty Crophopper. Local boy makes good. Farm boy makes good. Underdog surprises all. This is the overarching theme of the movie. That a small crop duster plane can dream beyond the world he was born into and soar higher than even he knew was possible, literally. But this isn’t my favorite storyline.
  • Skipper Riley. Skipper’s story ends up being a lot harsher than the one you thought they were telling. It’s the cartoon version of the movie that Ben Affleck should have made instead of Pearl Harbor! But this isn’t my favorite storyline.
  • El Chupacabra. El Chu is the Mexican racer who is consumed by his love for Canadian plane Rochelle. He is aided in his pursuit of Rochelle by Dusty. Think Steve Martin in RoxanneBut this isn’t my favorite storyline!
  • Ishani. The Pan Asian champion, a ruthless but beautiful plane who does despicable things in order to win, but is redeemed by the end of the movie. This is my favorite storyline, and after watching her short clip on the extras section of the DVD “Meet the Racers,” I like her even more. She wants to win. She knows she can win. She uses all of her guile to win. I don’t want to spoil her story too much here, but it was her contribution to Dusty’s victory that got me choked up.
  • Then there’s the bad guy. The bad guys in the previous movies from this mechanical world were all likable villains. Ripslinger is just plain out nasty. It gives Dusty’s story line something more to back up against. Ripslinger is not the bad guy you love to laugh at like Chick Hicks, he’s not the bad guy with a world view motive like Miles Axelrod, he’s just the bad guy who wants to win.

Ever since my special edition of Sleeping Beauty in 2003, I have been addicted to the extras provided by Disney on their DVD release. Planes didn’t have as many as I would like, but none of them felt like filler extras:

  • Deleted Scenes – storyboard material and rough animation for some extended scenes.
  • Franz’s song – A deleted song by Franz the flying car. I am so glad they deleted this song from the movie because I love it and it would inevitably get stuck in my head for days!
  • Top Ten Flyers – Colin Cowherd goes through a list of pilots (flyers) and looks at their contributions to aviation.
  • Meet the Racers – The fictitious version of Top Ten Flyers.
  • Klay’s Flight Plan – The meat and potatoes of DVD extras in which the director, producer, and others talk about the movie.

I was most excited to see Klay’s Flight plan, which contains interviews with Klay Hall and John Lasseter, but I was surprised to find Meet the Racers was my favorite extra. Five short trailers for the movie, each focusing exclusively on one of the planes instead of the main story. It affirmed my love of Ishani. Though I did enjoy the sneak peak at the drawings from a train movie that was never made.

The movie’s theatrical release this summer generated much debate over the production of sequels and spin offs, but much like the movie’s hero, I think the underdog can hold its own against the big bad reviewers. It will certainly be interesting to see what the DVD sales do, will the nay-sayers win out, or will the kids who just love a good movie about planes rule the day? My vote is with the kids. After all “Is there an awesome beyond awesome, or is awesome the most awesome I’ll ever be.” – Ripslinger.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Discovering Detroit And The Wonder Of OnStar

The basement lab at OnStar. Apparently they're in league with Batman! Image: Nicole Wakelin #ConnectedByOnStar
The basement lab at OnStar. Apparently they’re in league with Batman! Image: Nicole Wakelin #ConnectedByOnStar

General Motors flew me out to Detroit last week to learn about OnStar, drive some snazzy new Buicks, and explore the city. Yeah, that last one seemed a little iffy since it has something of a reputation these days, so I was curious to see what they had planned for the trip.

The adventure started off with dinner at the Westin Book Cadillac, our home for the duration of the event. We got to meet the other bloggers on the tour as well as folks from General Motors, Buick, OnStar and a representative from the Michigan Economic Council who talked about their Pure Michigan campaign.

The City of Detroit is, and I think everyone knows this, not at its best right now. We all see the same sad images on the nightly news, but what we don’t see is just how much the city has managed to turn itself around. It’s still a vital and very hopeful community that is making a comeback. We were about to see for ourselves just what the city had to offer.

Detroit and the General Motors Building, Image: Nicole Wakelin #ConnectedByOnStar
Detroit and the General Motors Building, Image: Nicole Wakelin #ConnectedByOnStar

We spent our first full day in Detroit learning about OnStar. I thought I knew what it was, but really, I didn’t have a clue. Since it’s not on my personal vehicle I’d never used the service. In my mind, it was a service available in GM vehicles that would call for help in a crash and provide directions on occasion, but not be something I’d use everyday.

I underestimated its usefulness by about a million miles. First, touring their command center, you see the scope of it all in a new light. The place looks like something out of a sci-fi flick with huge monitors in a secure room that we were able to look at through a giant glass wall.

There’s a live map with dots that show where people are pressing that OnStar button. The dots are even differentiated between those pressing the button for non-emergency assistance, those using it in an emergency, and those who didn’t press the button at all but had it automatically activate due to an accident.

There were a lot of dots on that map.

It was also interesting to see that there were monitors playing various news channels. The reason is so that they can see what’s happening in the world and be prepared for large emergencies, say an earthquake or tornado, and be ready for the increase in calls for help. No matter what happens when you’re in your car, you are truly #ConnectedbyOnStar in every situation.

The OnStar Command Center, Image: Nicole Wakelin #ConnectedByOnStar
The OnStar Command Center, Image: Nicole Wakelin #ConnectedByOnStar

And that is the thing about OnStar that completely blew me away. These people, from the executives we spoke with to the call center representatives we got to sit with, don’t see their job as giving directions. They see it as helping people. They see it as saving lives.

Sure, they can point you to the nearest gas station or help you find a hotel on a road trip and are happy to take that call, but they do so much more. They told one story about a hunter who was a doctor and accidentally shot himself. His call wasn’t so much for help as it was to track down his wife so he could say goodbye. He was convinced he was going to die.

OnStar was convinced otherwise and they directed help to where he’d parked his vehicle off in the woods. They saved that man’s life and he surely would have died without their help. They’ve also helped people through delivering babies and even stopped attempted suicides.

There’s also a feature called Stolen Vehicle Slowdown and we got to try it out on a closed road. They said, “Drive it like you stole it!” and I hit the gas. A few seconds later, OnStar got the staged police call, my speed decreased and eventually I had no engine power, just braking and steering. Not only will that mean your car is recovered in one piece, but a thief won’t hurt anyone in a prolonged chase.

My partner in crime, Stephanie McCratic of, Image: Nicole Wakelin #ConnectedByOnStar
My partner in crime, Stephanie McCratic of, Image: Nicole Wakelin #ConnectedByOnStar

The people that take the emergency calls are all specially trained to handle them just like an operator who takes your call when you dial 911. They know what to do, how to work with local authorities to help you, and how to help save your life. It was amazing.

The last day of our trip we had a ridiculously fun scavenger hunt that took us all around Detroit. The idea was to use OnStar to get directions to various locations that had us seeing what we might not otherwise see. I got to drive the new 2014 Buick Regal which I thoroughly enjoyed. You can read my full review of the Buick Regal here.

We stopped at a Whole Foods that was the first grocery story within the city limits, then purchased canned goods we dropped at a food bank in a less fortunate part of town. We also drove to the beautiful Belle Isle and took a picture of Canada over the water.

A reclaimed abandoned house, part of the Heidelberg Project. Image: Nicole Wakelin #ConnectedByOnStar
A reclaimed abandoned house, part of the Heidelberg Project. Image: Nicole Wakelin #ConnectedByOnStar

Yes, there are areas of Detroit that are as heartbreaking as what you see on television, but our journey around town showed that it’s still a vital city. There are people living and working there who are determined to turn things around and, although it may take awhile, they’re getting it done.

General Motors covered all travel expenses for this trip.

The New 2014 Kia Soul: A Funky Tech Packed Ride You’ll Love Driving

2014 Kia Soul, Image: Nicole Wakelin
2014 Kia Soul, Image: Nicole Wakelin

Kia struck advertising gold with the hamsters in its Kia Soul commercials and they’re at it again with the newly launched 2014 Kia Soul. They celebrated the occasion with an event in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last week that gave everyone a chance to hang out and enjoy a little time behind the wheel of the new Soul.

Although it’s the funky, fun, hip car in the Kia line, you can’t deny the nerd appeal of a car that has such unique styling and features dancing hamsters in its commercials. I mean, really, I wouldn’t be surprised to find someone cosplaying the hamsters at NYCC next weekend.

It’s billed as an urban hatchback and fits that billing perfectly, but that is in no way where its appeal ends. This is a surprisingly roomy car with enough space for mom, dad, and a couple of kids in the back with a hatchback that makes it easy to carry their stuff, too.

2014 Kia Soul, Image: Nicole Wakelin
2014 Kia Soul, Image: Nicole Wakelin

They’ve made a lot of changes, from interior and exterior design, to the tech, to the body itself, that all make this more drivable and more fun than its predecessor. Cues for design changes were taken not just from what engineers thought should be changed, but from what drivers said they’d like to see improved.

It starts with more space. Yeah, something you never have enough of when you’re driving with a family. There’s more legroom front and rear as well as more headroom. It’s also got an additional half cubic foot of cargo capacity and a wider opening to make loading easier. All that extra room also comes with a quieter ride.

This is where the engineers had their way with the Soul, and it’s a good thing. They used a new expansion foam to fill all the body cavities to reduce the sound of wind and road noise. Our drive through the countryside of Minnesota and Wisconsin happened on a rainy day. Sure, you could hear the sounds of the rain against the car, but it wasn’t obtrusive and you could still easily have a conversation without raising your voice.

2014 Kia Soul, Image: Kia
2014 Kia Soul, Image: Kia

The engineers also worked their magic on the Soul with Ultra High Strength and High Strength Steel that make it lighter and stronger. They even changed the A-pillars, those sections of metal between the windshield and the side windows, so they’re narrower and obstruct less of your view.

The exterior styling is tweaked, although it is still very much the stand-out, squared-off hatchback. It’s lower and wider than before without compromising the distinctive look that is the Kia Soul. The most unique change outside is a new “floating” body color panel in the tailgate that emphasizes the whole design.

The interior features some of the biggest changes with a greater focus on comfort and improved technology. Basically, the outside is as funky as the inside is tricked out. There are soft-touch materials throughout so you’re not resting on hard surfaces, slick-looking glossy trims, and leather trimmed seats. After spending a good few hours driving the 2014 Kia Soul, I can attest to it feeling as good as it looks.

2014 Kia Soul, Image: Kia
2014 Kia Soul, Image: Kia

And now for the shiny gadget parts of the Kia Soul. There’s a new, larger 8″ touchscreen that scrolls up and down with your finger, just like your smartphone. It also lets you access audio/video and navigation all on the same screen which reduces problems with distracted driving. There’s even an available larger LCD color screen found in the instrument cluster that can show turn-by-turn directions and keep your eyes looking forward.

Pandora fans will love that they don’t need to manage the app from their smartphones, but can instead just use the Soul’s touchscreen or voice command. You can even skip and like songs without needing to use your smartphone.

You’ll get three months of complimentary SiriusXM Data Servies and Travel Link so you’ll have all the information you could want right at your fingertips. Stock quotes, road conditions, weather, movie times, fuel prices, and more are all easy to access and, should you find yourself hooked when the trial is over, you can subscribe to both for the price of one.

2014 Kia Soul, Image: Kia
2014 Kia Soul, Image: Kia

And speaking of price, you can get a Kia Soul for as low as $14,700 for the base model with available options and higher trims taking you over $27,000. There’s lots of room for playing around with exactly what you want in your Soul, and if an electric car is on your list, hold on. They’ve got an all-electric version on tap for later next year.

The Kia Soul first made itself a standout with its looks and its hamster-filled commercials with catchy pop tunes. The newly updated 2014 Kia Soul carries on the tradition in a car that’s as fun to look at as it is to drive.

Kia provided transportation and lodging for this event.

The Tech Packed Into The 2014 Jeep Cherokee

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee, Image: Nicole Wakelin
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee, Image: Nicole Wakelin

The 2104 Jeep Cherokee is loaded with enough tech to make a nerd’s head spin. That tech isn’t just the kind that involves gadgets and gizmos, but also features that let the thing climb up and down a mountain and tuck itself into a parking space on a city street.

Cars these days are so much more than cars. They’re extensions of our very tech infused lives and the completely redesigned 2014 Jeep Cherokee is a perfect example of how automakers are merging the two. Let’s start with the gadgety stuff.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited, Uconnect, Image: Jeep
2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited, Uconnect, Image: Jeep

There’s an 8.4″ touchscreen that feature Chrysler’s Uconnect system which I’ve found to be one of the most intuitive infotainment systems available. The screen is larger than what you’ll find in many vehicles and it makes it easy to read when following a planned route. It’s well-placed so your eyes travel just to the side, rather than down and way off the road and the buttons are large enough that they’re easy to press and you won’t be accidentally tapping the wrong one.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee has an impressive number of digital-audio options so no matter how you want to listen to your favorite songs, you’re covered. There’s Bluetooth, USB, and aux-in or you can just plug an SD card right into the dash. The Uconnect has also gotten an upgrade for 2014 that includes apps like Yelp, Pandora, and Slacker and will even let you turn your car into a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Despite having incredible off-road capability, most people won’t likely take their Jeep truly off-road, but there’s some impressive tech that will make it easier if you should choose to give it a try. I drove the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk up a rutted, rocky, dirt road that was so tight in places that I was convinced I’d be taking the paint off their shiny new car.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, Image: Nicole Wakelin
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, Image: Nicole Wakelin

I managed to not destroy the car (phew) thanks in part to the Jeep Jamboree instructors who were along the route telling me exactly how to turn the wheel and to the tech that helped keep the car moving in the right direction. Engaging the Selec-Speed feature keeps it evenly crawling forward between 1-5 MPH without having to touch the brake or gas so you can just focus on steering, much the way hill-descent controls you when you’re coming back down.

It’s also got a feature that is a first for a Chrysler vehicle in its ability to park itself. I tried out the parallel parking feature and not only does it find a spot where it knows you’ll fit, but you just sit back, take your hands off the wheel, and control only the brakes as the car slides into place. It will also neatly back you into a perpendicular spot with the same ease.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee is that interesting mix of vehicle that will cart you around town as easily as it’ll trek up a mountain, and it has all the tech you’d expect in a tricked out sedan. If you’re looking for some off-road fun in between weekday drives, give it a drive and see for yourself what Jeep has to offer.

Chrysler provided transportation and lodging to attend this event.