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News

SPLAT targets data, outreach as airplane noise continues

SPLAT targets data, outreach as airplane noise continues


Graphic courtesy of Don Gardner
Activists claim that a new SFO flight path leaves a “sound shadow” that impacts Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

Sky Posse Los Altos Team – more simply known as SPLAT – seeks to squelch the noise...

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Schools

Los Altos High student-run charity plans '5 Gallon Gala'

Los Altos High student-run charity plans '5 Gallon Gala'


Courtesy of Lia Evard
Water by Youth members gave Egan students a chance to carry a 40-pound Jerry can, to see how difficult it is to obtain water in developing nations.

Water by Youth, a club at Los Altos High School, is making a splash by pla...

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Community

What would you do with a box of cookies? Local Girls Scouts help Tanzanian orphanage

What would you do with a box of cookies? Local Girls Scouts help Tanzanian orphanage


Courtesy of Alicia Madden
Sales of local Girl Scout cookies support service projects, such as funding an orphanage in the village of Mto wa Mbu in Tanzania.

Girl Scout cookies – whether you think of them as a treat, a tradition or a diet comp...

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Sports

Scoreless spells sink LA boys

Scoreless spells sink LA boys


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos High point guard Nolan Brennan attempts a shot in Friday’s game versus Palo Alto. He scored eight points in the loss.

There have been several games this season in which the Los Altos High boys basketball t...

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Comment

New 'York' values

New 'York' values


Hughes

 

As we have witnessed California suffer through one of its worst droughts in history over the past few years, all of us, I’m sure, have been keenly aware of our surroundings and have done a small part in trying to conserve wa...

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Special Sections

Getting a charge  out of the Volt

Getting a charge out of the Volt


Courtesy of Chevrolet
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt can be driven up to 50 miles on the power stored in its batteries.

Just five years ago, we wondered in this column what the power supply would be for the car of the future. Gasoline, diesel, electric ba...

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Business

Nearing V-Day: Shops stock sweets, treats

Nearing V-Day: Shops stock sweets, treats


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos resident Ella Roosakos, 11, with her mother, Gail, puzzles over which Gourmet Works sweets to buy as a valentine for Ella’s friend.

The gift-buying rush isn’t exclusive to Christmas. It may jump over...

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People

ALAN RODNEY MILLS

ALAN RODNEY MILLS

Alan Rodney Mills, PhD, 83, of Los Altos passed away peacefully on Saturday, January 30th, 2016. He was born in Rochdale, England in 1933 and came to California in 1962. He was a proud alumni of Manchester Grammar in England, University of Liverpoo...

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Stepping Out

PYT 'Gets Famous'

PYT 'Gets Famous'


Lyn Flaim Healy/Spotlight Moments Photography
Renee Vetter of Palo Alto, left, and Megan Foreman of Los Altos star in Peninsula Youth Theatre’s “Judy Moody Gets Famous.” Performances are scheduled Friday and Saturday.

Peninsula...

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Spiritual Life

A time to prepare: Fasting for Lent isn't limited to food

 

Today is Ash Wednesday, which in the Christian calendar marks the beginning of Lent – the 40 days of preparation for Resurrection Sunday, otherwise known as Easter.

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Inside Mountain View

New right-to-lease ordinance promises relief for renters

New right-to-lease ordinance promises relief for renters


Mountain View Tenants Coalition/Facebook
Residents gather in the fall to protest Mountain View’s rising rents. Rent relief is on the way in the form of a new ordinance.

A controversial Mountain View law requiring landlords to provide lease opt...

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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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