Thu05282015

News

LASD opens registration for online strategy sessions

As the Los Altos School District plans how to spend its $150 million in Measure N bond funds, its initial goal is to broaden community input.

Following an April 22 meeting, the district is casting a wider net in the hopes of soliciting feedback from...

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Schools

Students discuss academic, social pressure in CHAC forum

Students discuss academic, social pressure in CHAC forum


Traci Newell/Town Crier
Community Health Awareness Council hosted a forum earlier this month where local students discussed the varied pressures they face.

Local students face enormous pressures in their lives, ranging from academic to social, but s...

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Community

Alan Alda discusses career, family and science at the Celebrity Forum

Alan Alda discusses career, family and science at the Celebrity Forum


Alda

Those who laughed along with Hawkeye Pierce on the long-running TV program “M*A*S*H*” would have enjoyed the recent Foothill College Celebrity Forum Speakers Series featuring actor Alan Alda.

Alda appeared May 13-15 at the Flint Center for...

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Sports

Eagles, Spartans advance

Eagles, Spartans advance


Town Crier file photo
Los Altos High’s Lizzy Beutter registered three hits in last week’s playoff win over Watsonville. She was also the winning pitcher.

Led by Lizzy Beutter, host Los Altos High whipped Watsonville 9-0 in the opening ro...

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Comment

Giving the thumb to what's done: Editorial

In the wake of recent Los Altos-area news events, we’re all thumbs.

Thumbs-down: To the Los Altos City Council’s decision to put the Walter Singer bust in storage. This is wrong on so many levels – even worse than the initial council decision to tra...

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Special Sections

Planting is possible despite drought

Planting is possible despite drought


Tanya Kucak/Special to the Town Crier
Wash the soilless mix off the root ball into the same container in which you have placed the clay soil from the planting hole. Remove at least an inch from the top and sides of the plant.

In this continuing dro...

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Business

Los Altos-based startup eyes digital makeup color-matching

Los Altos-based startup eyes digital makeup color-matching


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Kokko Inc. Makeup Director Meli Pennington, standing, tests different shades of foundation on Los Altos resident Karen Melchior.

Meli Pennington knows cosmetics.

She has painted faces for the pages of Vogue and Glamour,...

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Books

Horan's 'Loving Frank' offers fictionalized account of famed architect's illicit affair

Horan's 'Loving Frank' offers fictionalized account of famed architect's illicit affair


In the 1920s, two married people fall in love, leave their spouses and children and set about living and traveling together. Affairs of this sort were considered shocking at the time. But the scandal was heightened given that the man was Frank Lloy...

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People

GUY WILSON SHOUP

Guy Wilson Shoup, 80, died on April 28, 2015, at his Palo Alto apartment, after a long period of ill health. Born on November 22, 1934, to Margaret Owen Shoup and to Jack Wilson Shoup (the second son of Paul Shoup, widely considered the founder of Lo...

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Travel

Flying south for the winter: Antarctica trips are not just for the birds

Flying south for the winter: Antarctica trips are not just for the birds


Photos Courtesy of Dave Hadden
Los Altos residents Dave and Joan Hadden watched the scenery from the large boat and a smaller Zodiac.

Standing on the beach with hundreds of thousands of penguins is “the experience of a lifetime,” according to Ga...

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Stepping Out

LA Stage Co. goes to 'town'

LA Stage Co. goes to 'town'


courtesy of Los Altos Stage Company
The Los Altos Stage Company production of “Urinetown: The Musical” opens this weekend.

The Los Altos Stage Company caps its 19th season with the musical comedy “Urinetown: The Musical,” scheduled to preview Th...

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Spiritual Life

Mercifully in His grip: Exploring our true position in Christ

I recently read a wonderful analogy about our true position in Christ. It was shockingly contrary to the messages impressed upon me in church, but deeply rooted in the Bible. The analogy is that of child and a parent. If you have ever taken a small ...

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Magazine

Practice prudent pruning: Maintaining manzanita, ceanothus and toyon

Practice prudent pruning: Maintaining manzanita, ceanothus and toyon


tanya kucak/Special to the Town Crier
Shrub manzanitas are known for their sinuous mahogany trunks and branches. If the foliage hides the bark, prune selectively to open the center so that the bark is visible year-round. This Montara manzanita is ...

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Inside Mountain View

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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