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News

Council hosts study session on downtown parking garage

Council hosts study session on downtown parking garage


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Los Altos City Council continues to explore options to address parking constraints in the downtown triangle.

The Los Altos City Council last week held the first of two study sessions to discuss the potential construct...

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Schools

LAHS Science and Technology Week features medical examiner

LAHS Science and Technology Week features medical examiner


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
A Los Altos High School student learns how to use robotic surgical equipment at the school’s Science and Technology Week event last year. Students can also attend hands-on presentations at this year’s event, w...

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Community

Ahoy, matey: Pirate Manor ramps up Halloween display

Ahoy, matey: Pirate Manor ramps up Halloween display


Town Crier File Photo
Pirate Manor is once again scheduled to arrive in the front yard of Dane and Jill Glasgow’s home on Manor Way in Los Altos, just in time for Halloween.

Although not the Walking Dead, pirate skeletons have been brought to li...

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Sports

Lancers rule the pool against Spartans

Lancers rule the pool against Spartans


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Eric Reitmeir launches the ball over Mountain View High driver David Niehaus (2) and goalie Kenny Tang. The host Lancers won Friday’s non-league game 9-3.

There wasn’t a lot on the line Friday when ...

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Comment

Reeder, Fung for El Camino HCD: Editorial

The good news for the El Camino Healthcare District (formerly the El Camino Hospital District, for those still getting used to the new name) is that there is a contested election Nov. 4 for the district’s board of directors. Three candidates are runn...

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Special Sections

Plant-based diet offers benefits

Plant-based diet offers benefits


Photo by Ramya Krishna
Los Altos resident Nandini Krishna prepares a meat-free dish According to author Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., M.D., a plant-based diet can help prevent cancer.

Shirley Okita of Los Altos has found that adhering to a mostly plant...

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Business

New shop offers haute couture for girls

New shop offers haute couture for girls


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Girls @ Los Altos at 239 State St. offers clothing lines such as Nellystella as well as toys and other items for girls.

Cecilia Chen opened The Girls @ Los Altos as a tribute to the party dress. Whether it’s for...

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Books

Helping kids catch a few Zs: Local dental hygienist pens meditative bedtime book

Helping kids catch a few Zs: Local dental hygienist pens meditative bedtime book


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mimi Sommers, who works at a Los Altos dentist’s office, recently wrote a children’s book.

A local dental hygienist recently published a book that aims to ease parents and children during a sometimes anxious e...

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People

BARBARA DARLING MERIDETH

1946-2014

Born in Palo Alto, raised in Los Altos, retired in southern Oregon. Survived by Peter James Merideth, sons Matthew, Jacob and John Merideth, the loves of her life.

She was a housewife who took great pride in her home, her surroundings and...

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Travel

Falling leaves: Four places in California to see autumn colors

Falling leaves: Four places in California to see autumn colors


Courtesy of Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, above, boasts a beautiful setting for viewing fall’s colors – and sampling the vineyard’s wines.

Yes, Virginia, there is fall in California.

The colors pop out in...

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Stepping Out

'Sleepy Hollow' awakens at Bus Barn

'Sleepy Hollow' awakens at Bus Barn



Los Altos Youth Theatre’s production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a musical based on Washington Irving’s classic story, is set to run through Nov. 2 at Bus Barn Theater. The cast comprises 27 young actors, directed by Cindy Powell. Courtesy o...

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Spiritual Life

Magazine

Local events add color to autumn calendar

Local events add color to autumn calendar


Van Houtte/town crier Visitors make their way through the Children’s Alley.

As Los Altos’ signature Chinese Pistache trees exchange their summer green for vibrant hues of yellow, orange and red in the fall, an abundance of local events also ad...

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Cross-fits: Four crossover SUVs practical for families


Courtesy of Infiniti
The 2013 Infiniti FX37 ($55,800 as tested) gets 19 mpg combined (city/highway).

As much as we’d like to see the entire world driving diesel station wagons, we realized that it’s not going to happen. That’s because most consumers don’t want to buy them and manufacturers aren’t selling them in this country, despite the fact that diesel-powered station wagons are the most popular family vehicles in Europe.

When Americans aren’t buying pickup trucks and sedans – the two best-selling body styles in the country – they’re buying medium-sized, medium-priced sport-utility vehicles built on automobile chassis.

Practical transport

Over the past six weeks, we requested a sampling of four such vehicles, including the 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD ($30,640 as tested), the Kia Sorento SX FWD ($36,900), the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC 4Matic ($50,485) and the 2013 Infiniti FX37 rear-wheel drive ($55,800). Well, at least one of them had a diesel engine.

We concluded that all four vehicles are practical, all-around suburban family transportation modules. They all share attributes important to the female decision-maker in this market niche: a high seating position, good all-around visibility, ease of access to the second-row seats, good cargo capacity for big-box shopping expeditions and reasonable fuel efficiency.

In addition, when we think about the vehicles we’ve been testing for the past 10 years, what stands out is the behavior of these four and their many counterparts in freeway driving.

A decade ago, the price of driving a sport-utility vehicle was a rough ride at best, with unpredictable, even dangerous handling at worst, and limited acceleration to cope with traffic give-and-take. Now built on automobile chassis, equipped with electronic stability control and antilock braking, and powered by high-efficiency engines, these crossovers offer all the comfort of sedans with the space and visibility of the bigger, higher utility vehicles.

No, you can’t run the Rubicon Trail above Lake Tahoe or challenge the off-road tracks in Hollister Hills in these four new models, but all the surveys indicate that off-roading is the least likely thing you’ll want to do with your people and cargo hauler.

Beyond that, the choice of what to buy is pretty much going to depend on your eye for styling and your pocketbook. Three of the four vehicles have that rounded-off look that always makes us think that the stylists just inflated a standard SUV until it no longer had any sharp edges. The fourth, the Mercedes GLK, carries over from the first generation the functional SUV styling of its highly popular larger siblings.

Fuel for thought

Two other attributes are worth comment: First, the three Asian vehicles that we were given to test were all two-wheel drive, though each could be purchased with all-wheel drive for a few thousand dollars more.

We have no reservation recommending that anyone buying a sport-ute in California should opt for all-wheel drive; this configuration is more stable on wet pavement, and can get you past the chain controls for those winter ski trips up to the Sierra (provided you have winter tires).

Second, Mercedes is the only one of these four manufacturers offering a diesel version of its SUV. In the past two years, we’ve become great fans of the modern diesel engines now penetrating the U.S. model lineups of the European manufacturers. After a decade of development in response to European fuel taxes and pricing subsidies, these companies have solved both the noise and emissions problems Americans associate with diesels, while preserving the higher fuel efficiency, greater acceleration and towing power, and better longevity that are prime attributes of diesel engines.

As a measure of the power and efficiency of the diesel, only one other of these small SUVs, the Kia Sorento, would be up to towing a boat or horse trailer, and the Sorento’s V6 engine gives up 8 mpg in order to match the GLK250’s 3,500-pound towing rating.

On the subject of fuel efficiency, the four cars range from a low of 19 mpg in combined city and highway driving on the most expensive and most powerful car in the range, the Infiniti FX37, to the other extreme of 28 mpg combined for the Mercedes-Benz diesel. In between, the four-cylinder Mazda CX-5 delivers a nearly equivalent 27 mpg combined, while the V6 Kia Sorento comes in at a much lower 21 mpg.

However, the Sorento does have an advantage to counter its limited fuel efficiency: It’s the only one of the four that has a third row of seats and can carry seven passengers or 72.5 cubic feet of cargo with both rear rows of seats folded down.

For a family that doesn’t want to invest a lot of money in transportation but has frequent occasion to haul the soccer team to an away game or a boat or snowmobiles to the mountains, this is one of the few vehicles on the market that can do that for less than $40,000.

Interior styling

Of course, when it comes to interior appointments, you get what you pay for.

The Infinity FX37 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK250 both provide the satisfaction of driving a luxury marque – even when the interior is filled with kids and soccer balls. This is one area where Mercedes listened to criticisms about the first-generation GLKs and has adapted the interior look and feel of its more luxurious mid-range sedans.

This isn’t to criticize the Sorento or CX-5 for their interiors; in fact, you might even feel that if you’re buying a sport-ute, it should look, well, utilitarian. We’d probably opt for vinyl ourselves if we expected to use our crossover for serious work, rather than the leather that is available on the Mercedes and Infiniti. But at least there is much more quality and much less hard plastic in the two lower-priced vehicles than was the case when crossovers were first introduced.

The bottom line is that we are being won over to the idea that a mid-range crossover may actually be a practical choice for the busy family that needs extra space for weekend activities and prefers a sportiness not offered by minivans.

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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