Tue07072015

News

Effective today, library cards free again in Los Altos

Both Los Altos libraries should see a spike in use soon. After the elimination of an $80 annual card fee that had been in place since 2011, nonresidents will receive free library cards at local libraries, effective today.

Residents of Mountain View ...

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Schools

Almond fifth-graders set sail at Shoreline

Almond fifth-graders set sail at Shoreline


Courtesy of Corinne Finegan Machatzke
Fifth- graders at Almond School launched the boats they designed and built at Shoreline Lake last month.

Almond School fifth-graders boarded their handmade boats at Shoreline Lake in Mountain View last month to...

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Community

Taking it back to 'The Streets': Local filmmaker aims to revive 1970s series 'Streets of San Francisco'

Taking it back to 'The Streets': Local filmmaker aims to revive 1970s series 'Streets of San Francisco'


Courtesy of Charles Alley
Charles Alley’s filmmaking company may be based in Mountain View, but he knows all about “The Streets of San Francisco.” He’s rebooting the 1970s TV classic.

When people look for the next hit TV show, they often assume ...

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Sports

Enjoying the moment


Courtesy of Dick D’OlivA
Former Golden State Warriors trainer Dick D’Oliva, from left, wife Vi, former Warriors assistant coach Joe Roberts and wife Celia ride on a cable car in the victory parade.

Dick D’Oliva almost couldn’...

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Comment

The death knell of suburbia: A Piece of My Mind

The orchards are gone. The single-story ranch house is seen as a waste of valuable land and air space. An eight-lane freeway thunders past the bridle paths in Los Altos Hills. But nothing has signaled the death of suburbia more strongly than the ann...

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Special Sections

While competent & safe, MKC still can't catch European competitors

While competent & safe, MKC still can't catch European competitors


courtesy of Ford
The 2015 Lincoln MKC doesn’t overwhelm as far as overall performance goes, but it does offer comfortable ride quality.

Of all the auto companies with headquarters in the United States, only Ford managed to weather the great re...

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Business

Company installs EV charging stations at LAHS

Company installs EV charging stations at LAHS


Courtesy of Green Charge
Officials from Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District celebrate the installation of electric-vehicle charging stations at Los Altos High last week.

The Mountain View Los Alto...

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Books

People

HILDA CLAIRE FENTON

Hilda Claire Fenton, beloved wife and mom to 9, grandmother to 30 and great grandmother to 22, passed away June 20 following a long illness. She was 90.

Hilda was born Sept. 28, 1924, to Lois and Gus Farley then of Logan, W. Va. While she was still ...

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Travel

Venetian spa offers ways to de-stress

Venetian spa offers ways to de-stress


Courtesy of The VEnetian
The HydroSpa in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub at The Venetian in Las Vegas offers a muscle-relaxing bath and radiant lounge chairs.

Vegas cab drivers usually ask if you won or lost as soon as you get in their vehicles. They assum...

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Stepping Out

Cast carries 'Arcadia'

Cast carries 'Arcadia'


Courtesy of Pear Avenue Theatre
“Arcadia” stars Monica Ammerman and Robert Sean Campbell.

The intimate setting of Mountain View’s Pear Avenue Theatre proves the perfect place to stage “Arcadia,” allowing audience members to feel as though they a...

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Spiritual Life

Magazine

Living it up Older adults aim to age in place

Living it up Older adults aim to age in place


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Local enthusiasts flock to the Los Altos Senior Center to play bocce ball. The center hosts informal games four days a week and occasional tournaments.

As baby boomers in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View nose...

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Inside Mountain View

Carrying the torch

Carrying the torch


Members of the Mountain View Police Department carry the Special Olympics torch as they run along El Camino Real between Sunnyvale and Palo Alto June 18. Members of the department participate in the relay annually to show their support for Spec...

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Four fun(ny) little cars: They’re not for everyone, but these vehicles make a statement


Photo By: Photo courtesy of Volkswagen
Photo Photo Courtesy Of Volkswagen

The Volkswagen Beetle convertible boasts a gas-powered engine and automatic transmission.

One of our friends often wears a T-shirt that declares that “Life is too short to drive boring cars.” Over the past month, we’ve driven four cars that would never be considered boring.

Spanning several different definitions of fun, the group included the 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth and the Volvo C30 T5 R-Design Polestar, and two variations of the second-generation new Beetle from Volkswagen – the hardtop and the convertible.

None of these cars would be called all-purpose vehicles – they weren’t intended to meet the needs of a growing family that intersperses Saturday shopping expeditions with long road trips. Nor are they designed to be attractive to the average person – most people would consider the styling of these vehicles to be quirky and eye-catching, at best.

These cars are designed for an independent owner who wants to make a statement while getting from point A to point B.

Fiat 500 Abarth

Let’s start with the smallest of the bunch, the Fiat 500 Abarth. The only (legal) production cars smaller than the Abarth are single-purpose city cars like the Smart Car by Mercedes and its Asian clones.

Built in Italy and marketed through Chrysler as Fiat’s first U.S. market entry, the most striking feature of the Fiat 500 is its magical ability to be larger on the inside than on the outside. Although it looks like an urban runabout, the Fiat 500 is totally practical for long-distance journeys by two adults with luggage, or short trips into San Francisco or down to Big Sur with four passengers aboard.

Our test vehicle last month was the Abarth version of the 500 – Abarth is a well-known European high-performance tuning company – with a turbocharged version of the tiny (1.4-liter) turbocharged Fiat engine. The version we drove – with high-back leather-trimmed bucket seats; comfort, convenience and navigation upgrades; and styled wheels – was stickered at $27,100, including destination charges.

The little giant of an Abarth-tuned engine puts out an astonishing 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, powering the front wheels through a five-speed heavy-duty manual transmission and clutch. Given that the car weighs only 2,512 pounds, the performance is zippy.

The chassis is surprisingly stable even with the short wheelbase, so 80 mph on Interstate 280 feels completely stable, with no perceptible lean on tight off-ramps. And, even with this performance, the little buzz bomb is rated at 31 mpg overall (28 city, 34 highway).

But as any owner will tell you, the ultimate measure is smiles per mile – whether one is in the car or just watching it pass by – and here the car is a real winner.

Volvo C30 T5 R-Design Polestar

The 2013 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design Polestar (whew, that’s a mouthful) hails from Sweden and is a contrast in many ways – starting with the name. Taking the name apart, C30 means it has the three-door compact station-wagon body style, T5 is for the five-cylinder turbocharged engine, R-Design is for the sporty styling touches and suspension engineering that mark this as the high-performance version of the hatchback and Polestar is Volvo’s high-performance tuning partner.

Before putting its blue logo on the dashboard and rear deck, Polestar provided the reprogramming that iced this cake with 30 additional horsepower, taking the engine to an unbelievable 250 horsepower producing 273 pound-feet of torque. Even with this performance, fuel economy is still rated at 24 mpg overall (21 city, 29 highway).

All of this performance is controlled by a pleasant five-speed manual transmission that made each stoplight getaway a satisfying at-one-with-the-machine experience. The car goes from zero to 60 mph in under six seconds.

The R-design provides a balanced chassis with a nice compromise between ultra-stiff handling in high-speed turns and reasonably compliant behavior on bumpy stretches of pavement.

The C30’s large glass rear hatch and station-wagon side windows offer the best visibility we’ve experienced in any small car. The folding rear seats and hatchback actually put major shopping trips or overnight camping trips for two within the realm of possibility.

Although this car is built more for fun than practicality, we think owners will enjoy the range of possibilities inherent in it. Too bad the C30 design will be retired at the end of this model year, just when the competition in its market segment is starting to get interesting.

Volkswagen Beetle

With the two new Beetles we drove, we were offered all of the possible permutations of this new-generation riff on the original small-is-better VW we remember from childhood.

We drove the diesel-powered TDI hardtop with a manual transmission one week, and two weeks later tested the gasoline-powered convertible with automatic transmission.

Both of them, we are happy to note, could be driven off the dealer’s lot for approximately $25,000 fully equipped.

Either way, the design is iconic in the best and worst way – there’s no mistaking that single arc from front bumper to rear bumper for any other car on the road, but we don’t think there’s an automobile stylist in the world who would call the Beetle sleek or attractive.

On the other hand, the design does provide the longest front doors and highest entry space of nearly any car on the road. We’d echo the advice we’ve heard before: If the size label in your clothes has more than one X on it, you’ll find the VW Beetle to be the most comfortable car on the road.

For our money, choosing the right version is easy. We’re convinced that VW is building the best four-cylinder diesel engine on the market today, with fuel economy that makes some hybrids envious, coming in at 31 mpg overall (28 city, 41 highway). Even with the slight premium in this area for diesel fuel and the longer distances between the green-handled pumps, this is noteworthy. So we wouldn’t think twice about ticking the TDI box instead of the gasoline-engine box on a Beetle order form.

Manual versus automatic transmission is a more individual decision. For those who still enjoy the increasingly arcane art of manual gear ratio selection modulated by a third pedal underfoot, the six-speed stick shift is certainly above reproach. On the other hand, for those who have a stop-and-go commute twice each day, or who just can’t be bothered to divide their attention into an additional dimension, the six-speed automatic is smooth and reliable.

Even more idiosyncratic is the choice of convertible or hardtop. It might be enough to say that during the week we had the convertible, its top was down the entire time for the simple reason that the view behind us (via the rear-view mirror and direct sight) was limited to a small space between the two rear headrests. The hardtop, by contrast, had reasonable sight lines all the way around but didn’t offer anything for those days when sky, sun and scene demanded the widest possible access to the outdoors.

Is there any hands-down winner among these four? We certainly wouldn’t offer one. You just have to look at, sit in and drive a few miles in each of these and see which makes you feel happiest. None of them will do everything a motor vehicle might be called upon to do. But unless you always have more than four people with you or routinely haul cargo, any of these might be the kind of car you look forward to driving and look back at whenever you walk off after parking it.

Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.

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