GirlDriver, USA

GirlDriver, USA
Look! It's GirlDriver, USA.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Shared dinner with Ralph Jakobs, head of research and development for Volkswagen. He is located here in Chattanooga home to the first U.S. Volkswagen plant, which we will tour tomorrow.

The new Passat, which we also drive from Chattanooga to Nashville tomorrow, is being built here. There's been a lot of anticipation around the car and my colleague journalists and I are looking forward to getting into the cars.

Jakobs shared some pretty interesting information tonight. About 85% of the parts in the new Passat are sourced in America. Some also come from Mexico where VW used to build the New Beetle and some from Germany. But 85% American parts? That's amazing when you think how difficult it is to buy anything made here anymore.

I asked how many parts were sourced in China. "One," said Jakobs, "the sunvisor." Really? Only one part sourced in China? Wow.

More later on the plant and the vehicle.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Don't Saudi Men Have Anything Better To Do? A Saudi GirlDriver defies a fatwa

In Saudi Arabia, the U.S.'s favorite oil buddy, women are not allowed to drive. But Manal al Sharif, a 32-year-old Saudi woman took to the road last week, posted a video of her driving (, which the Saudis are trying to censor. She was detained briefly, but continues to organize via the web a protest that puts Saudi women behind the wheel en masse. The protest is scheduled to take place on June 17th in Saudi Arabia.

Apparently there is a campaign afoot among Saudi men to beat women who drive. But as with the Arab spring, it is unlikely that the women will be intimidated or stopped. Spread the word. Lend support.

Saudi women can't take public transportation because of the separation of men and women in the culture. That leaves them twiddling their thumbs unless they can afford a driver. Says Sharif, "It's too expensive. Many women can't afford it."

This may on the surface be about culture, but right underneath it's about control. Go Manal.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Beyond Slackers

It’s pretty hard to top a Slackers burger accompanied by sweet potato fries followed by a drive through Capitol Reef National Park. So we don’t try. It’s getting late and we are expected to be at the Gateway Resort Tuesday afternoon. We head for the interstate 70 north of Moab and Arches National Park and drive for three more hours until we reach the resort in Colorado, near Grand Junction. Our gas mileage throughout the trip has averaged between 24.4 and 24.9. Total miles: 917. The XC60 prices range from $33,500 with destination to over $42,000.
Volvo’s three XC models are not brand new. But they represent 50% of Volvo sales in America, so the point of asking journalists to drive these vehicles for a week is to give them a lifestyle positioning. I wonder if consumers care if a car is a brand new design or a mid life-cycle update—or if the companies push the impulse to buy a brand new model because they throw millions of marketing dollars at it and don’t give the older model any marketing support.
At this resort, Gateway, we are invited to participate in any of the outdoor (or be outdoorsy, if you want to spin it as lifestyle) activities that are offered. Phil and I have both chosen to go for a little clip clop atop a horse, so Wednesday morning we set out, me on Melody, a spirited little quarter horse and he on Splash, a big comfortable Percheron cross. Amy, our trail boss, is full of information about the geology, history and local color of our location so we learn about the first rancher families of Gateway and the rock formations that surround us in the canyon. Well into the ride, it starts to thunder. We can add another 20 minutes onto our ride or head back. Although I feel like a sissy, I’m suffering from day two of a heavy cold, it is freezing on the trail (it’s not rain, it’s sleet) so we head back and give our horses back to their pasture. We drive XC70 T6 with all-wheel drive and the 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder turbocharged engine with 300 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. torque. It also comes with a 3.2-liter inline 6-cylinder engine with 240 horsepower and a ULEV emissions rating and a 230 horsepower with PZEV emissions rating. All-wheel drive with Instant TractionTM is optional on the 3.2.
The technology package on this car speaks to Volvo’s leadership in safety. It’s got Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Collision Warning with Auto Brake (CWAB), Distance Alert (DA) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW). In other words if you drop the ball and lose focus, its got your back. The XC70 prices range from around $33,500 to $39,000 with destination. Pretty good stuff.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Onward to Slackers Burgers and the gorgeous Capitol Reef National Park

We head south-southeast on Route 24, north of Koosharem—through Loa, Teasdale and into Torrey where we find Slackers Burger Joint just in time for lunch. Slackers is listed in Utah magazine’s 75 Best Places for a Burger. We stop for lunch puzzling over the fact that Utah magazine has found 75 great burger joints. There are almost 3 million people in Utah but really, how many “great” burger joints can there be? Even if Utah magazine was padding the story a little, they found an absolute gem of a restaurant, family owned, where I ordered one of the top 75 best burgers I’ve ever tasted. The bread to beef ratio was perfect. Pickles, mayo, lettuce, tomato—the works. With sweet potato fries, it was a great meal within a snazzy roadside joint environment. I checked out the kitchen—it was spotless. Slackers is also the culinary gateway to a park I had never heard of before we drove into it, Capitol Reef National Park. Cliffs, arches, twisting canyons and spires rank this park as the biggest surprise of the trip. I've never read about it, never heard anyone mention it or write about it in an article and all I can say is, go there.
We are spending long hours driving on this trip. The XC60 is true to its Volvo heritage and that includes comfortable, well-bolstered seats. The 12 hour/six hour drives are a real test of how important good seats are to comfort and endurance on a long trip. The other noticeable feature is that there is plenty of visibility all around. So many cars today don’t have good visibility out the rear window because of what is called “the high belt line.” The high belt line narrows the measurements of the side and rear windows. The XC60 has all the competence that the Swedes build into their vehicles. But, the XC60 is more than competent and sensible; it is a joy to drive.

Volvo Team Panguitch

We name our driving team the Panguitches after a town of the same name along our route. The name captures us and it rhymes with sangwich, as in “I think I’ll make myself a sangwich.” Panguitch is a Paiute word, natives who lived in the area when the white settlers came.

We go north from Bryce, passing Panguitch, on Route 89, a good secondary road. At Koosharem, we are stopped in our tracks by an old sign painted on the side of a building advertising No Rip Overalls. It’s a mercantile store with two gas pumps. We stop to photograph and fill up. Gas is running $3.69-$3.89 a gallon. At those prices, we're rollin'.

We step into Grass Valley Mercantile Store and back in time. We didn’t have to pay first to pump gas at the out of date pumps and we tell the owner how surprising that is to us city folk. “There’re only two roads out of here,” he says, and we all got guns.”

Bryce Canyon

The great lodge

After big rustler breakfast grub at Bryce Canyon Lodge, one of the great national park lodges built in the 1920s, we walk towards the ridge of the canyon. There it is, a hoodoo magical kingdom, part Disney, part geology. The mythical inhabitants, the warring factions, the lovely daughter of the king endangered by a scoundrel all yours to imagine. If you don’t see the magical kingdom angle, study the history of these rocks called Claron formations, which got going about 200 million years ago. Do both. At an altitude of 8,500 feet, a short hike from Sunrise Point down into the hoodoos takes one’s breath away physically and psychically. Frequent stops are required to get it back. A cold is taking hold too, making me woozy––as if the magnificent rock formation colors soft off-whites to deep brick aren’t enough to make one’s head spin.

Phil Reed. Possible head spin.

Mythical canyon.

After climbing around the hoodoos for a short while we drive toward our next destination, Gateway CO.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who does this?

Yesterday morning, May 16, Volvo handed us keys to a new XC60 and said, “Be at the Gateway Resort near Grand Junction, CO in two days. Have a nice trip.”
Other than that, Phil Reed from and I were on our own. Volvo management tried to entice us to spend tonight in Vegas, but but around 11:30 we blew past a city we both find—well, unnecessary. We were headed for the Lodge inside Bryce National Canyon National Park where we could sing Do, do, that hoodoo that you do to me. Hoodoo, for the uninitiated is a pinnacle of odd-shaped rock left standing by the forces of erosion. Second definition—to cast a spell and these rock formations have an upper hand there. In their sweep, their grandeur is imposing fascination.
I still get a kick out of signs written in giant letters that say EAT, especially when they are on top of buildings that are smaller than the sign, but we were happy to see the first leg of the trip disappear and melt into the natural beauty that is why we chose our route
Volvo has termed this the XC adventure—we’ll end up driving all three models—the XC60, XC70 and XC90--by the end of the trip. We get points for doing things they ask us to do so we headed first for the St. George Animal Shelter in St. George, Utah. We made it there around 5 just as they were closing. There was a rescued drama enacted on the spot when a young woman brought in a dog that had been hit by a car. I asked the shelter folks if I could see the dogs for rescue. The minute I walked in they all stopped barking and looked at me as if to say, Is today my lucky day? I photographed them but I did not rescue any of them. Each one posed and spoke not a woof. I have to say I wanted to pile them all in the XC60 and take them back to New York. We had some Chinese food and got back on the road.
Spending all day in a car—a good 11 hours straight—give you a very rounded picture of a vehicle. Volvo right-sized this vehicle. It’s perfect for four people who have a lot of stuff. Has the Swedish elegance and the safety. More later on Bryce Canyon and today’s drive.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mazda CX-9 Sport (Available in Touring & Grand Touring too)

The handling of this lovely crossover was the most surprising. That, and the fact that several car nuts fell hard for it. I gave a friend a ride home Saturday night and other than commenting on my it's-late-and-law-enforcement-has-gone-home, slightly over-confident driving style, he was so impressed with the ride and the appointments in the interior. I couldn't get my friend John to stop examining the interior. He was smitten. Isabelle drove back to New York with me. She loved how comfortable it is.

Seven passenger, fully appointed, 36 month, 36,000 mile warranty, power lift gate. I'd spring for the $2,265 moonroof package after seeing that moon on Saturday night. Probably would skip the navigation system. I think they're going away. Everyone's got everything on their phones now.

Really tight steering, fabulous pick up (Torque baby), handled beautifully in my twisty route. And there was room for my big purse.

Engine: 3.7-liter V6 with 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.
Drive Train: Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional on all trims. A six-speed automatic is the only available transmission.
Color and styling: Dolphin Gray Mica exterior, sand interior. Oooooo, nice. See photos. It looks like a crossover.

Comparos: Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse

MSRP $34,535, as equipped $39,800. Fuel 16 City, 22 Highway

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Scary Driving Scenario for Parents--Prom Night!

Once the family photos are taken and the corsages are pinned, parents must watch their son or daughter get behind the wheel for one of the biggest nights of their teen life. This is a night of nerves--the kids are anxious about their dates and parents worry about the potential for disaster on a night when teen tribal instincts swell.

Parents should not feel helpless. They play the most significant role in development of their child as a safe driver. In a survey commissioned by Ford and conducted by Kelton research, more than three quarters of the tweens and teens surveyed, said they relied heavily on their parents advice when they start driving and look to their parents as role models. The lesson here is that parents/adults have to be better drivers than they think they are. Why? Because they are being watched by the next generation of drivers.

Ninety-five percent of parents surveyed believe they are safe drivers. While 95% of young people rated their parents as generally safe drivers about 82% of teens report parents have been careless while driving. Eighty percent said they’ve seen their parents engaged in one or another of the following: eating, reading, texting, grooming or talking on the phone.

So, parents, it is time to face yourself in the mirror and ask yourself how good you really are.