Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day and Automobiles

Ah, Memorial Day Weekend!

The Indy 500 on the tely, punctuated by pitches for holiday-themed sales on furniture, tires, apparel, and anything else remotely removed from the meaning of Memorial Day…and the traditional start of vacation season.

Memorial Day Weekend has become what its founders feared worst—a commercialized excuse for a day off in the workweek.

Regardless of what you’re planning, please take the time to acknowledge the sacrifices that have been, and continue to be made to insure our freedoms in this country.

Regardless of your political persuasion and position on the conflicts underway in the Middle East, the fact remains US military men and women are serving our country. We should honor their efforts, and respect the ultimate sacrifices that have already been made on our behalf.

As Memorial Day 2006 rolls past, gasoline in my neighborhood has dropped to $2.78/gal for unleaded regular, so the traditional Summer driving season has begun with a relatively painless price tag. Okay, so maybe it’s more like a dull toothache, but still not at the $3/gal that was being foretold by the doom-and-gloom crowd.

At The Clanton Hacienda, we like to celebrate the long weekend with family and friends, cooking out on the patio, or treating the Clanton women to hair cuts and shampoos and home made cookies. Hearth and home. That's a part of a memorable Memorial Day weekend.

The Clanton Family launched this driving season with a 2006 Lexus LX-470 lent to us by Toyota for the purposes of relaying to you how such a vehicle drives, handles, and impresses the neighbors…who by now, are so confused about who drives what at our house, we’re probably going to be turned in for operating a used car lot our of our driveway.

Would I spend $70,457 (window sticker price) for one of these, with gasoline flirting with $3/gal? Wrong question. If one can afford a $70K luxury SUV, the per-gallon price at the pump for fuel is not an issue.

Having had a mild fling with a couple of Hummers, and ongoing relationships with a few Jeeps, the Lexus is a delightful addition to this competitive field. If you’re a gadget freak, you will fall in love with this vehicle, with memory seating settings, and a robotic steering column that telescopes the wheel to greet you when the key is placed in the ignition.

Lexus' GPS Navigation system is also a nice feature, but the female voice prompts are a little devoid of emotion when advising to "turn here." My bride has mastered the art of navigational assistance, and my daughter is particularly adept at the skill, especially when practiced from the rear seating area. For 2007, might Lexus hire someone like Eva Longoria to provide the voice prompts to the maps?

"Turn here, baby."

There are suspension enhancements that allow the two and a half ton LX-470 to ride like a limo, and corner like a cat. All-wheel-drive coupled with 18-wheels is part of the combination, along with a hydraulic adjustable height control that lets you raise or lower the vehicle on the fly.

The coolest gadget on the LX 470 is the optional ($2,200) Night View System. A pair of infrared beams mounted on the front bumper project IR light ahead, which is picked up by a camera just above the center rear-view mirror. That image is translated by a computer and projected onto a heads-up display on the windshield, just above the dashboard. It actually works well, showing idiots on bicycles riding without headlights on a darkened road.

I call such people organ donors.

All of the amenities you’d want in a luxury coach are here in the Lexus LX-470. Leather seats, rear air and audio controls separate from the front units, and pop-down seating for extra passengers in the rear cargo area. The hydraulic height adjusters come in handy for this, lowering the rear deck to within hopping distance for the kiddo’s to easily climb aboard.

Nice way to start the Summer driving season.

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