Fresh Ride: Lexus RX 450h

I was given the opportunity to drive the 2015 Lexus RX 450h a couple of weeks ago, and the two of us got comfortable right away. I toted that whip around the city, into the woods and back!

It's funny how a simple test drive can get you out of your comfort zone. As a city dweller, I probably never would find myself behind the wheel of an SUV otherwise - too big, nowhere to park it, etc. I wasn't sure I'd be into it, but was pleasantly surprised by how easily I could acclimate it to city life, and by all the little details that make it a standout drive.

It's really all about the little details with vehicles nowadays. Lexus always goes above and beyond the call of duty to create a luxury experience, and the latest RX is no different. I actually thought it had less gadgets and touch screen options than other types of cars - and I appreciated that. There's so much to look at, touch, talk to and otherwise be distracted by on the dashboards of new makes and models. Why not focus on making the actual driving experience an amazing one?

For an SUV, the Lexus RX is super quiet and drives so, so smoothly. Its hybrid engine purrs like a ninja cat, yet still has the horsepower you'd want and expect. Quiet horsepower was such a nice change from my normal ride (an '08 Civic hybrid!) 

Fresh Ride: Cadillac ELR

Back in February, I had what you might call a "Fleet Week" but with cars. The Chevy Volt team was kind enough to give me the Volt to tote around in for a few days, followed directly by a couple of days test driving the Cadillac ELR. If the Volt was more my every day style, I'd definitely consider the ELR my special occasion kinda hybrid.

The ELR is straight fancy. Bose speakers, top-of-the-line interiors (like cut & sewn accent leather, suede, chrome, wood & carbon fiber finishes), rearview camera, plush seats and heated steering columns & seats - like champagne wishes and caviar dreams, y'all. I've always been lowkey (read: nondescript) with the kinds of cars I drive, and I wasn't prepared to answer all the questions and comments about the ELR as I drove it around town!

The ELR is loaded with features - rearview camera, eight air bags, programmable battery charging schedule, safety alerts/warnings (forward collision, lane departure, side blind zone) as well as the Cadillac CUE Navigation system, which you can program almost every function and then some (including recognizing your voice!)

One of the biggest downfalls about hybrids is that power is often sacrificed in the name of efficiency. I was curious about the ELR's power, and decided to take it out on 90 for a jaunt out to Snoqualmie Falls. I'm happy to say both the ELR and the Falls had a lot of power that day!

Thank you Cadillac! Check out more details and pricing on the ELR here.

Fresh Ride: Chevy Volt

While my Toyota Highlander adventures brought me to central California, I also had the opportunity to experience the Chevy Volt right here at home for a few days. The Volt is right up my alley; as a current hybrid driver, I was curious to see how its battery power, low emissions and overall power improved on what I've already got. I drove it around during a typical week, to and from meetings, workouts, errands and special events.

The Volt definitely has some power in it! It drives electric-only for 38 miles then goes into hybrid mode from there, but the transition is seamless and while it's quiet, it doesn't feel like it's lacking speed or power.

The driver's console of this particular Volt is two-toned and really driver-friendly. There are USB ports in the middle console that allow you to charge your phone and access the car's bluetooth capability for music and more. The first thing I do when I get in the car is figure out what I'm going to listen to, so this was super-handy and simple; no fussing around with it while driving! The driver's panel was really straightforward for a newer hybrid; I say this because I feel like there's almost too many options and buttons in some of the newer models. The Volt's panel wasn't distracting or overwhelming at all - in fact, it's almost too easy to get settled and ready to go. I don't know if I'll ever get used to starting a car by pushing a button instead of putting the key into the steering column!

Majah Layzah

Probably my favorite part of the Volt was its excess of legroom and space. For a car that looks seemingly compact on the outside, there's a LOT of storage and room to move on the inside! Peep the backseat, whose middle console can clearly hold plenty, still stash your Big Gulps and leave way for the roomy trunk! I packed a lot of groceries in there and if he could've, my dog would have been bouncing all around back there (dogs not allowed in test drive loaner cars :))

Thanks for keeping me fly while driving through my city, Chevy Volt!

For details and pricing, visit the Chevy Volt site.

Ridin' Fresh in the Toyota Corolla 2014

Never in my life would I have guessed I'd be test-driving cars for a living. Okay, maybe not for a living, but I did get to take the new Toyota Corolla 2014 for a couple of weeks ago for my blog and that's almost the same thing. Toyota hosted a regional preview of the latest editions of the Corolla family here in Seattle, and I spent the better part of two days mingling with auto bloggers and media contacts, many of whom I would never have otherwise.

The Toyota team treated us to quite the Seattle experience, with an evening at the Chihuly Glass Museum and dinner at the Experience Music Project. At the EMP, Toyota pulled out all the stops for a full visual presentation of the new Corolla, highlighting all of the updates, revisions and additions to the S, L, LE and LE-Eco models. I learned more about the many pieces that make up the Corolla than I've probably ever learned about any car in my entire life.

Though it was borderline like a foreign language, it was clear Toyota pushed itself to improve and elevate the Corolla in every way possible. It could easily have just coasted by on Corolla's reputation as one of the most reliable, solid cars out there, but there was a lot of work to keep it at the head of the pack with its latest model. Improved fuel economy with its CVTi-S and Valvematic systems; the expanded and readjusted leg room and airbag configuration; the updated Entune app suite and connectivity with your iPod, Bluetooth, USB or auxiliary tunes are just a few of the updated features that stuck out to me.

What also stuck out to me was Toyota's shift in target demographic for the Corolla. While you and I have probably always thought of the Corolla as the decent car a family member or three owned, there's a clear effort to appeal now to the Gen Y / millenial market. I definitely heard the words "young entrepreneur" mentioned more than once. With all of your (stock) choices under $20k, this is definitely a reasonably affordable bang for your buck.

The first night was capped with a sweet dinner and viewing of the EMP's latest exhibits, "Women Who Rock" and "Hendrix in London." If you haven't been by recently, I highly suggest you do! I went home with a sweet swag bag that was all the way Seattle.

The next morning, I met the group at the Alexis Hotel for our test drives. Toyota had a fleet of the Corolla 2014 models.

Sue Frause, a fellow writer and cool lady who resides in Whidbey Island, was my traveling buddy for this driving excursion. I'm not gonna lie, I was super intimidated by the auto media who do this kinda thing all the time, so I was really happy to have Sue as my driving partner. She and I were super laidback about the whole experience. We started with the standard L model Corolla. I wove through the Seattle waterfront up through Magnolia and Discovery Park before Sue took the reins the rest of the way to Snoqualmie Falls

On the way back to the Alexis, I had the fortune to drive the Corolla LE-Eco, which was especially appealing to me (I drive a Civic Hybrid.) Both cars were such a smooth drive, but with the Eco I drove so much faster than I thought I would. It's got a lot of power for a hybrid vehicle, but with the quiet purr I'm used to from a hybrid. The technology in the dashboard might be a little overwhelming for someone who's not normally used to a lot of that, but I didn't find it too distracting, and the steering panel itself was mostly old-school anyway. 

My travel buddy! Photo via Sue Frause

All in all, I had a lot of fun after the initial anxiety of driving a car that isn't mine. The whole experience was a blast and I'm definitely looking forward to doing it again. Thanks Toyota and team!

If you're in the market for a new car, the new Corolla's base MSRP (stock models) range from $16,800 for the Corolla L to $19,000 for the Corolla S. There's a Toyota Corolla iPad app if you want to explore the new Corolla more, or you can visit the website for more information.