August 2009

Toyota Venza: Pretty Practical

by The Car Family

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This new and very different Toyota has a place in the driveway for those who find the Highlander too tall, the Lexus RX too expensive, and the Sienna too vanny. For a starting price of $26,000 you can order a vehicle that is not only difficult to categorize, but one that is difficult to evaluate. The reason is simple, this is a very large crossover with a Lexus like feel and yet it is noisy and ponderous. Indeed, this was not our favorite Toyota. The huge tires created a steady hum, the very expensive luxury option package was overly complicated and the rear seats did not fold flat and you even had to remove the headrests to get them to fold at all.

The Venza feels big even though it is the same size as a Camry, abeit lower, and is the same width and about the same price as a Highlander. In other words, it is high, wide, and and weights nearly as much as the Highlander. Interestingly, it also has a larger turning radius with the Venza needing a vast 39 ft. to turn, which makes it difficult in tight parking garages. You really need that optional rear view screen when you buy the Venza due to the poor visibility to the back and sides.


There are two engine choices, the best being the 2.7-liter four-cylinder that provides an ample 182 horsepower with real world gas mileage about 23 mpg. The 3.5-liter V6 makes 268 hp and you can expect about 21 mpg, but if you order the all wheel drive model go with the larger engine. With the 17 plus gallon tank you can easily go over 400 miles on the highway with either engine.

Cargo space is 70 cubic feet while the Highlander gives you 95. What we are tying to say is that the Highlander is more car for the money, and you have the optional third row of seating. However, the Venza is sleeker, lower, and has a much better interior. We think it should appeal to those who find the Camry to common and the Highlander boring. We don’t think it is going to be a big seller, but its looks appealed to a lot of people and they may be enough to justify its success.

Mom’s view: I did not like the poor visibility and the large turning radius. This is not a car for city dwellers who don’t have their own parking spaces. You sit high, but you can’t see the Venza’s front end. The GPS is not the best and we found it difficult to use, and the stereo and the dual-zone HVAC controls require patience to master. The screen is easy to read, but the map symbols are too small and the whole thing is overly complicated.

Driving the Venza, even with the V6, is dull. The brakes are soft, the handling soft, and the acceleration is soft. The road noise from the 20 inch tires is tiring. Essentially, this is a Camry station wagon and yet the Camry is much more responsive. But the Venza interior, ah, the interior. It is lovely. There is a center console that provides for all types of storage and the shifter is high and easy to reach. However, there isn’t much feel to. You can easily carry five adults in comfort and the Venza is loaded with standard equipment. The base model includes 19-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power driver seat, 60/40 rear seat, auto-dimming rear view mirror, universal garage-door opener, cruise control, trip computer and a stereo with CD changer and auxiliary audio input.

Nevertheless, there is an abundance on options on the Venza that are mostly grouped into packages. I highly recommend the power tailgate and rear view camera. The HID headlamps are above average and the sound system may appeal to some with its 13-speakers and Bluetooth and satellite radio. Those who want to stupefy their children by having them stare at a movie while traveling can order the rear-seat DVD entertainment system.

Safety wise the Venza comes standard with four-wheel anti lock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and front-seat active head restraints.

The new Venza looks great, but it wasn’t my cup of tea due to its ponderous driving feel and lack of crispness. If you are coming from a SUV you will probably feel right at home.


Young working woman’s view: An interesting vehicle and one with appeal in its appearance and utility, the Venza, nevertheless there is a lot that needs more thought. For example, the optional 10.2 inch screen for the flip-down DVD player blocks the rear view mirror. The electric power steering feels disconnected and the Venza requires a very large turning radius. If you use the wireless DVD player the signal can interfere with the stereo radio volume. The middle rear seat needs more padding and the air conditioning/heating ducts are placed so that the steering wheel intercepts the flow. The center console has the transmission shifter mounted near the dash and this leaves lots of room for cupholders, iPods. There is even a special compartment for MP3 players and the like. Despite all the room for storage, there is no handy space for your purse as there was in the early model RX. Indeed, that model remains the best use of interior space of any vehicle we have ever tested.

The noise from the large side mirrors and large tires creates a din at highway speed and the seats aren’t that comfortable for me. I think larger people would enjoy them more. The Venza does not isolate you from the feel of the road although large bumps are clearly felt.

Finally, the Venza, despite its size, does not have a third row of seating. For that you need to go to the Highlander. The good news is that space can be put to good use for hauling practically anything this side of a sofa/chesterfield,couch,davenport and it even enables backseat passengers to recline their seats. There are 70 cubic feet of storage in back and the floor is level when the rear seats are folded down.

I would not buy the Venza for three reasons. First, it has large blind spots and is not easy to park. Secondly, the brakes and steering feel are too soft. Finally, it is attractive inside and out, but the pricing with the options I like push the cost way past that of a RAV 4, which holds more and gets similar fuel mileage.I also think that the speedometer font is too small.


Young working male’s view: I just didn’t find the stereo system up to snuff. The controls for the air conditioning and heating could easily be simplified, and you really need to remove the rear headrests and make sure the optional rear seat monitor is up or your limited rear mirror vision is even more limited. The wireless system works well, since I work making some of the lowest priced American open source computers and servers for I wonder why no computer input port?

The large tires look good, but they are going to cost a bundle to replace and they are not quiet riding. Here is my thumbnail about the Venza; stick with the basic model, engine, front wheel drive, skip the options except the automatic rear door closer and rear view camera and drive carefully. It is good looking, handy, and won’t cause you to lose any points off of your driver’s license.

Dad’s view: The Venza and the Saab are two of the few cars that cater to pets. You can order a rear hatch pet ramp for easy loading and unloading, a leash tether for securing pets in the vehicle, a pet booster seat with harness, a first/second row or cargo area pet barrier, pet seatbelt buckles and rear seat zip line-style harnesses as well as waterproof and removable hammock-style seat covers for this Toyota. That says it all about the Venza. A fine suburban commuter for family and man’s best friend. It won’t challenge or offend you. Sort of pretty, but certainly practical.


There are two engine choices, a new 2.7-liter, 182-horsepower inline-four and a 3.5-liter, 268 horsepower V-6. The base engine is adequate, except for those Venza’s with all wheel drive. For that model step-up to the V-6. Towing limits are 2500 pounds for the four-cylinder and 1000 more for the larger powerplant. In either case the six-speed automatic transmission is excellent.

The major drawback to driving the Venza is its handling. It is very vague and the use of large tires does little to improve it cornering, but harshens the ride. The brake feel is adequate, but I would like more action early on when depressing the pedal.

No doubt this is a great grocery getter and the high sitting position, wide doors, and easy entry and exit height make it a natural for both families with young children and older folks. In other words, for those usually not needing to push the speed limit. Other than that this is a great car/wagon/crossover/SUV.

Family conference: The Venza draws a fair amount of attention and is price well. Thus it has the earmarks of another success for Toyota. It does have shortcomings, the worst of which is the lack of visibility and the noise from the engine, tires, and side mirrors. By the way, we all loved the large size of those mirrors and were very willing to turn up the stereo a bit to cancel out the wind noise. The Venza may not be easy to classify, but for many it is going to offer the best combination of fuel mileage, cargo capacity, and reliability. You might also consider the Subaru Forester, the Nissan Murano, and the Ford Edge. Or, Toyota’s own RAV4.

2010 Jaguar XF R: Best Jaguar Sedan ever

by The Car Family

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Why anyone would spend over twice as much for a Bentley is beyond us. The Jaguar XFR is better in every dynamic way, expect top speed, and after 150 mph only your medical insurance carrier would care. The Jaguar XFR only falls short in two areas and that is its information center and lack of rear seat legroom. Someone at Jaguar needs to be punished for making the emergency brake control and the transmission selection knob of metal. Maybe it doesn’t get to be 100 degrees in England, but in the US you can burn yourself as we learned the hard way.


This Jaguar is so fast that for its $80,000 list price you are actually stealing the car. The Audi RS6, BMW M5, and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG are in the same category, but none of them combine the interior arrangements and exterior elegance of the Jaguar not to mention that it is quite capable of getting over 20 mph on the highway. Of course, the traction control is a bit of a nag, but all in all this is a Jaguar that truly bounds down the road in style and in a hurry. As much as we like the Mercedes E63’s grunt and go, the Jaguar is just more handsome and sporty. Sadly, very few people even knew it was a Jaguar and fewer yet that it was the supercharged version. Apparently, Jaguar needs a more aggressive advertising campaign.

The heart of this sleek sedan is a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 creating a very useable 510 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. The six-speed automatic transmission can be controlled with steering wheel mounted shift paddles, but there is so much torque it is easier just to press the joy peddle and hang on. Getting to 60 mph takes under five seconds without trying, although there is hesitation from the transmission when you floor the accelerator. Jaguar also offers an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. To give you some idea of how fast this Jaguar is you can keep abreast of most Porsche, Corvette, or Ferrari variants even with the family on-board and groceries in the trunk. The highly regarded BMW M5 must be driven perfectly to match this easy to launch Jaguar and the BMW is a pain to drive in traffic. The Jaguar is breathtaking and worth every penny if you love to drive and can afford about 19 mpg in mixed driving. However, that number is almost impossible to achieve as you are simply not going to be able to resist the urge to unleash this cat at every opportunity. And why not with the quarter mile arriving in under 13 seconds at 112 mph, and you are driving a 4300 pound luxury car.


The main competitor, in terms of performance, is the Cadillac CTS-V, but we doubt many people would cross shop these two despite the Cadillac’s price advantage. The Jaguar is much more the elegant of the two and has the looks that make it a classic. The Cadillac has crisper handling and a more sporty demur.

Mom’s view: What a sweetheart. In the right color, and blue is not its color, this sedan calls attention to itself in a way Amy Winehouse could only dream. It is subtle, yet striking in its proportions. The ride, thanks to the new Adaptive Dynamics suspension system, is sporty, but not abrupt. The extremely wide tires riding on 20 inch rims do create noise over roughened surfaces, but this is a car meant for those who like to drive and are willing to tolerate such intrusions for the extra grip.


There are some subtle differences between the supercharged XFR and its more placid non-supercharged brother such as hood louvers, twin-dual tailpipes, a rear spoiler and heavy mesh chromed grille. Inside the XFR has seats that are comfortable, but not accommodating for those looking at fat loss programs. The dark oak interior trim was nice, but the aluminum bits got very hot in the sun. I found plenty of safety features with the radar-based Blind Spot Monitor being especially valuable due to the blind spots created by the large C pillars on the sedan. The back-up camera was easy to use thanks to the lines that showed where the car was heading in much the same manner as the best one that Nissan has been offering for several years. The interior is an interesting arrangement of leather, aluminum and plastic that are much more modern looking than previous Jaguar sedans. It is modern and yet classic with the shades of charcoal gray cloth and leather providing an inviting place to spend time. Only Audi offers anything close to this elegant.

Safety wise the XKR offers anti lock brakes, depowered airbags, head and side airbags, and traction and stability control. The car crash test ratings have not been posted yet, but most Ford designed vehicles do well and that company is responsible for the engineering of this Jaguar.

Dad’s view: This is not a graceful car. It reminds me of a bodybuilder in an expensive suit. Nevertheless, it is a grand ride and the engine is inspirational. I miss the supercharger whine, but this is a luxury car not a boy racer. The twin vortex supercharger sits astride the V8’s aluminum heads and block and pushes the pressure through the DOHC motivated four valves per cylinder that enable the rather small 305 cubic inch mill to produce 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft. of torque. Two intercoolers densing the air and direct injection sweetening the deal. The engine’s redline is 6900 rpm, but what is stellar about this Jaguar is that the engine starts to produce thrust at only 2500 rpm.


When you are driving this rig you barely need to touch the accelerator pedal to keep pace with traffic. The slightest pressure and the engine responds immediately with a not so gentle forward thrust that can have you at immodest speeds in seconds. Self-control is mandatory when piloting the XFR. The transmission can be controlled by shift paddles or by just letting the six-speed automatic do the thinking for you. I never really bothered with using the sport mode to quicken the shifts. The electronic differential does it best to keep the car straight and those large tires help as well. You can stiffen the spring rates if you like to run the canyons, but the forte of this Jaguar is the way it effortless bounds down the highway listening to the 20-inch wheels sing their song and enough buttons to keep you occupied for hours with decisions about traction control, suspension, and even the treat of playing with the Dynamic Mode that holds the Jag in gears longer. The new ZF Six-Speed transmission also has a Winter Mode that softens the initial acceleration for better traction. The Adaptive Dynamics suspension monitors each wheel independently 100 times a second and all you have to do is make the payments.

Overall, this is a nice touring car, but it isn’t a sports car. It can easily keep up with any other vehicle in its realm on the road, but it isn’t the best cornering machine. Gas mileage was very good for so much power and I was able to get 21 mpg on one highway trip. That may have been my greatest driving exploit in years, though. Too much temptation only a toe tip away.


Young working woman’s view: Jaguar is now owned by Tata Motors of India and the first thing they have done is produced another version of the XF sedan called the Premium. This gives buyers three choices starting with the base, if you can call it that, model with a 4.2-liter V8 that produces 300 horsepower, the Premium with a larger 5.0-liter V8 with 385 horsepower, and our test vehicle, the XFR with 510 horsepower. I would estimate that you are going to get over 20 mpg with the base version and about 18 with the larger engined Jaguars. The night lighting the XFR was extraordinary. Only the big Infiniti comes anywhere near it. The interior lighting is too soft.

Getting into the sedan wearing a dress isn’t too much of a concern, but the bucket seats have fairly high bolsters, do getting out definitely requires an assist from the door arm rests. The monitor is small and it is best if you spend considerable time with this beast to learn its mannerism before partaking of its enthusiasm.

I would love to own the new Jaguar, but I would go with the non-supercharged version. The $20,000 or so additional cost of the technology showpiece isn’t really needed for around town travel and the speed camera adorned highways that mar the scenery. Very lovely, but I really don’t think having special rims that proclaim “supercharged” as well as an electronic assisted rear differential are necessary for my needs.

Young working male’s view: The speedometer font is way, way too small. And when you drive a vehicle with this much power you had better watch it as you are always challenging the posted limits. The sophisticated traction control makes wet weather traveling much easier considering the generous helping of torque the engine produces. The steering is quick and the huge vented disc brakes, nearly 15 inches in and 14.8 in back, are reassuring. The XFR never feels small or nimble, but it does feels boastful and understated at the same time. Oxymoronic perhaps, but with its sleek lines and brute force acceleration buyers might tend to overlook its areas of concern. First, the very wide, Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber, 255/35 in front and 285/30 in the rear are tiresome to hear groaning away on some grooved concrete roadways. Next, the rear seat does not have a lot of leg room if you are tall. Next, the

center touch display screen is just too irritating with all its menus and I just can’t comprehend why you need both a starting fob and a start button. The dial shifter takes a while to understand, but why not just a lever. The same goes for the rotating vents that move when the car is turned on and to what purpose. To me it is just something else that could go wrong. The info-entertainment system has a screen that is very small and you need to use it for such simply tasks as setting the radio stations all the way to the heat settings for the seats. The touch screen does have a useful back button, but it is still overly complicated. The Bowers and Wilkins audio system is above average with over 500 watts, but the radio reception is poor. It has a 17.7 cubic ft. of trunk space, but the opening is smallish and the lift over high.

On the plus side of the ledger is the XFR’s passing ability. It may not be the fastest sedan to 60 mph, but when it comes to passing a vehicle going that speed it sails by with plenty in reserve. The Jag weighs 4300 pounds, but feels heavier and you are going to be looking for a premium fuel station after about 320 miles.

The point here is two-fold. First, would I buy this car and secondly, is it worth 80 grand. Well, it is really too much car for me. I don’t have many opportunities to play with so much power. And, I can’t afford the insurance let alone the payments. Suffice to say that this car is not meant for my demographic group, but it might be. It certainly gets more eyes than the BMW and Audi and Cadillac and that counts for something.

Family conference: The entire family loved the XFR and clearly the breed is in good hands under its new ownership. This Jaguar is a great balance of good looks and performance while not forgetting that you should be able to take it grocery shopping with ease. The trunk opens perfectly, getting in and out isn’t a trial, and the quality makes this the best Jaguar ever and one with claws, even without it trademark Jaguar hood ornament.  As for waiting until Porsche brings out its Panamera, you probably are wasting your time. It is going to be more expensive, no doubt, but we would put my money on the XFR for full frontal power. As a negative, the “Jaguar Sense” glove box sensor isn’t worth it.

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Technology Resources and Grants

by Alan Haskvitz

With the reduction in available technology funding this might be a good time to take a look at what is out there for free of for very little cost. For example, I found a little company that provides open source computers and servers that are used by many larger institutions and has US based customer service. The company was, and I am sure there as others out there as well. The savings in software cost alone was significant and there wasn’t even any licensing costs.

Here is a list of resources that might be of value to educators and others:

Large link site that includes grants and lessons

General Technology links

More for knowledge techies.

The Association for Educational Communications and Technology is more for professionals interested in educational technology and its application to the learning process,

Ties magazine supports technology education and the integration of math, science and technology curriculum mainly in middle, junior and senior high schools.

Computer Using Educators

Really great conferences.

An active group that promotes hands on technology conferences.

Education with New Technologies is designed to help educators integrate new technologies. You need to register

Review of Staff Development topics and resources for technology

A Practical Guide to MultiMedia

An interesting site that provides a wide array of resources and current events.

Microsoft Educator site

Everything from best practices to help for parents

Useful Apple sites:


Macintosh resource with Software and hardware links and the Buyer’s

Guide make this potentially valuable.


Questions answered about problems with Macs

Latest information about Macs

Association of Macintosh Trainers

Federal Department of Education

Technology related articles

The Center for Democracy and Technology

A site about law and the future of the Internet and other new communications media

Technology software and other resources for special education

Large link site.

The International Forum of Educational Technology and Society

Technical Committee on Learning Technology

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) works to provide professional development, knowledge generation, advocacy, and leadership in the field.

Sites for information on technology funding and other help

Federal list of grants

A compilation of web pages and books of potential interest to nonprofit organizations seeking funding opportunities related to computer technology.


Find out what companies and individuals might be offering free technology help for your school.


Grants and other help from IBM

Directory of Technology Grants.

Virginia State Standards for technology

Practice tests for grades five and eight

National Cristina Foundation (NCF)

Provides computer technology and solutions to give people with disabilities, students at risk and economically disadvantaged persons the opportunity, through training, to lead more independent and productive lives.”

Good models of teaching with technology

World Wide Web for teachers

4Teachers works to help you integrate technology into the classroom by offering online resources.

Technology Tips

Acceptable use policy

A handbook and sample from Pennsylavina and Virginia.

White Papers on Technology Issues for Educators

456 Search Engines listed by Country

Teacher’s Guide to International Collaboration on the Internet

Listed by subject area.

Domain & Trademark issues for lawyers, consumers, and others