Category: Uncategorized

Auto Review: 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Man it has been a looong time since I was behind the wheel of a Toyota for an auto review.  I haven’t forgotten about Texas-based Toyota USA but maybe they forgot about me.  Either way I was not about to turn down a week-long ride in the company’s newest Highlander, one of the top-selling CUVs in the country.  And with gas prices creeping higher this summer, why not play with the Hybrid Platinum version?

The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes in four trims levels—LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum.  All are upgraded with a new 2.5-liter,  4-cylinder engine that pushed 186 horses.  The battery portion sports either two (FWD) or three (AWD) electric motor generators with power routed through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).  But enough with acronyms; how does it look and feel?

The outside is tweaked a bit this year and the first thing I noticed was the front grille.  Toyota added a shiny, horizontal bar near the top of the grille that gives off a Cheshire cat-like grin complete with a big, blue (hybrid) Toyota badge as its front tooth.  The roof slope line is sleek and the whole shape of the vehicle looks downright aerodynamic for a crossover.  But my first step inside the Highlander is what took me by surprise.  Toyota finally upgraded its infotainment system!

A 12.3″ touch display caught my eye and almost brought a tear to my eye.  Standard in its top trims now, Toyota seemed to take the hint from other manufacturers and utilize more of the dashboard real estate with a useful and interactive command and connectivity center.  It is easy to operate, quick to program your favorite radio stations, and connect to a phone.  The last time I played around in a Toyota I don’t think they had Apple CarPlay.  Not only is that included but Android Auto is in here along with Amazon Alexa compatibility and a wireless phone charger.  Welcome to the 21st century!  For even more technology-rich features, in-cabin WiFi and remote access can be added through the Connected Services app.

The fit up front is comfortable especially with the leather-trimmed, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat.  The second row captain’s chairs were easy to fold down and crawl back to the three-seat third row.  Adults or long-legged passengers will have a tight squeeze when sitting in that third row, though.  The Highlander can also be configured with a second row 60/40 split bench that allows for 8-passenger seating though that may be a little close for comfort even in this large CUV.  The interior capacity is decent with 16 cubic feet of space behind the third row but expands to a large 84.3 cubes when the second and third row seats are laid flat.

The basic LE can start just under $39,000 and escalate to over $50,000 on the Platinum with all the bells, whistles, speakers, and cameras.  Toyota estimates 36 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.  Looking at comparative vehicles such as the Ford Explorer, Subaru Ascent, Kia Telluride, and the Honda Pilot, the Highlander Hybrid is a bit pricier but many buyers will probably lean on Toyota’s solid brand name, reliability and safety features.

Hear my thoughts from my recent radio show heard across the country on iHeartRadio:


Time Warping To A Drive-In Theater In The 2020 Nissan Armada

I really didn’t want to see Trolls World Tour, the recent DreamWorks Animation release skewed more to my young cousins than this ornery auto journalist in his 50’s. But I wanted to do something a bit different for my review of the 2020 Nissan Armada. Since we can’t do a lot of road trips due to the COVID-19 quarantine, I decided to take the large SUV to a place I haven’t visited in probably four decades – a drive-in movie theater.

These outdoor screens are making a comeback of sorts due to the coronavirus as it is easy to social distance by sitting in your vehicle to enjoy a movie. Sadly, the Top Gun sequel was pushed back to a December 2020 opening and the only thing playing at the Showboat Drive-in in nearby Hockey, Texas, was this animated gem of a flick featuring a tribe of techno trolls.

I’ll skip the plot so I don’t spoil it for those who have yet to see it, but we did have a pleasant and comfy experience in the Armada.

I have spent time in Nissan’s largest SUV and have rated it near the top of my category list for large passenger vehicles.  The starting price of $47,100 is a good deal for an 8-passenger truck, especially if you tow or occasionally go off-road.

This model was the Platinum 4WD version which topped out just over $71,000.  Sure it is tough to find flaws in a vehicle with so many upgrades – though I found a few – but the Zero Gravity seats made watching Barb, King Peppy, and Poppy trolls a lot more bearable.

Nissan puts these seats in most all their products which can reduce muscle fatigue. Inspired by the weightlessness of space, they are built with 14 difference pressure points to put you in a neutral position. By the start of Act 3 I almost found myself falling asleep. Not sure if it was the comfy seats or the movie.

The last time I remember bring at a drive-in theater I swear my parents made me hide in the back seat so they wouldn’t have to pay for me and my sister to see Jaws. You also had to place a small, tin speaker on the driver’s window to hear the movie’s sound.  Technology caught up with the industry and now you simply tune your vehicle’s radio to an FM station for a low-powered signal to blare through the speakers.

13 Bose Premium speakers in this case. The squeaky voices of the candy-colored characters on screen did not do the Armada’s sound system justice, but the Sirius XM tunes on the drive up there sounded great.

The infotainment system could be larger for such a big SUV but the NissanConnect services and nav system were simple to control via buttons and touchscreen. At some point Nissan needs to add Android and Apple compatibility to fully bring the Armada into the 21st century.

At one point during the movie I wanted to sit in the second row and just pop a DVD into the Family Entertainment System complete with two 8” color displays and wireless headsets.

Passenger space is ample in the first two rows yet a little tight in row three. Cargo room is enormous especially when the third row is lowered. Should you need to haul more gear it can tow up to 8,500 pounds (imagine how many kids I could have snuck into the drive-in).

The strong 5.6-liter, V8 engine felt like a good amount of power transferred to the four wheels via a 7-speed automatic transmission. My ride had optional 22” wheels (a $2,250 upgrade) which made the SUV stand out even more, though I’m not sure they were necessary for a cost-vs-comfort situation.

Safety is not an issue with me when it comes to driving and riding in Nissan vehicles. The Armada comes standard with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a rear-seat reminder system. I usually suggest features like blind-spot monitors and parking sensors which can be added options here.

Nissan says the 2020 Armada can use regular unleaded fuel which is nice to know. The 4WD version gets a moderate 13/15/15 mpg so try to stick with the least-expensive gas.

Four versions are available starting with the SV then escalating up to the SL, Platinum and Platinum Reserve. They all share the same capable engine so if you are looking for value stay towards the lower end.

As the credits began to roll on the movie, I couldn’t tell you much about what happened on the screen other than Trolls World Tour seemed to hit its target audience due the loud laughs of sugared-up kids nearby. But the 2020 Armada made a lasting impression on me and still sits near the top of my favorites in the large SUV category.

Though I won’t be first in line at the next version of Trolls (trust me, there will be many), I do anticipate a longer trip and review opportunity in the comfort of the Armada. Hopefully to an air-conditioned movie theater that is showing the new Top Gun.

LISTEN to my thoughts on the 2020 Nissan Armada from my radio show heard on iHeartRadio:

Sea, Sand, and Golf – Puerta Cortes Offers It All In The Baja Peninsula

La Paz, Mexico – It’s a game I play when I play a round of golf at a new course. I call it, “Guess The Signature Hole.” Golf courses generally have one hole that is the most picturesque – or toughest to play – that players remember it by. And I like guessing which one it is.

As I made the turn at El Cortes Golf Club, the first Gary Player designed golf club in all of Mexico, I was debating on this course’s signature hole. Was it #7 with the spectacular 65-foot drop from the landing area to the green as you look out towards the Sea of Cortez (I birdied it, for the record)? Or perhaps the 167-yard, par 3 eighth hole requiring a moon drop landing over a lunar-sized pond (birdie again!)?

Those lush green layouts were breathtaking but I deemed Mr. Player’s evil-minded 14th tract as the spot that golfers will most remember here. For better or worse.

The South African hall-of-famer must laugh at duffers as they stand on the tee box looking out on this beautiful, nerve-racking view he presents. Scary is the best term I can use to describe before taking my driver out of the bag. It’s not the daunting 615 yards to the green – one of the longest holes in Mexico at sea level. But rather the 165-foot drop to the fairway below. Acrophobia be damned.

This hole plays top-to-bottom. Then right-to-left. But very much top-to-bottom starting from an elevated cliff. I would suggest having a spotter or two follow the ball flight to ensure the landing spot in the canyon below. Should it rest in or near the fairway consider this a hole a win.

The weather was magnificent this May morning with a slight breeze coming in from the marina, just beyond Puerta Cortes. Residents and guests of this resort destination have access to the par-72, 7,082-yard golf course via a short golf cart drive. Though not a large clubhouse, the view offers a panoramic shot of the deep blue water dotted with small islands in the distance.

Clubhouse personnel told me that only about two dozen golfers come through each day. That was probably the reason I enjoyed a brisk round in less than 3 hours. My kind of golf.

I can’t remember enjoying myself more on a course. The weather, the scenery and the solitude made for a perfect morning. My score could have been a bit lower but I can always blame the set of rental clubs I used due to my laziness of not schlepping my own sticks to Mexico.

But my Saturday was only just beginning. Lunch with my girlfriend was waiting at Blue Cortes, the signature beach club at Puerta Cortes. She had staked out a table on the white, sandy shore with two frothy, handmade margaritas glistening in the sun. She had spent her morning on a massage table in a nearby palapa with nothing on her mind other than the soothing sounds of the wind and water.

Between both our morning activities we did not need the margaritas to already be relaxed.
The next few hours found us in-and-out of the infinity pool, jacuzzi and the warm, Mexico sun. A fully-stocked bar was never more than a few yards away yet we found the poolside waitstaff was even a more convenient process of getting drinks throughout the day.

Our weekend stay was a fun escape albeit a quick one. The VistaMar condominiums offered a perfect and easy place to post up for a few days or even a few weeks. 60 oceanfront units are positioned to capture the views of the Sea of Cortez. These residences offer eight floorplan designs ranging from two bedrooms with two-and-a-half baths, up to three bedrooms plus studio, three-and-a-half baths, and two-floor penthouses. All of the units have large, marble-tiled terraces.

Most of these units are second or third residences owned by people around the world who come to La Paz to relax like we were doing. When these owners aren’t lounging here at the beach club or marina, many put their spaces in the vacation rental program. Square footage begins at 2,600 square feet ranging up to more than 5,000 square feet. Prices start at $500,000 up to $1,400,000.

For those who prefer scenery with a little less water, the Las Colinas Hillside comprises 72 contemporary, rustic architecture residences located in the middle of the golf course. Four styles are available ranging from two-bedroom plus den, two-bath floor plans, to three-bedroom plus den with whirlpool, three-bath arrangements.

Homeowners can choose to place their property in the vacation rental programs. Unit sizes begin at 2,000 square feet up to more than 3,300 square feet and prices start at $400,000 ranging to $750,000.

Though we could have stayed at Puerta Cortes the entire weekend with all the fun, food and entertainment to be had, I always enjoy exploring cities. Downtown La Paz is a quick 5-minute drive south of the resort. We grabbed a bite alongside the Malecon, the beachside street offering views of the palm tree-lined beach dotted with shops and restaurants.

The evening ended back on the resort property walking along Pueblito Marinero. Considered one of the best in the Americas, this marina has a capacity for 250 vessels. The moonlit area offered a nice photo opp for the docked fishing boats and mega yachts waiting to launch in the early morning hours.

I can imagine having a place here and opting for a boat instead of a car. After all, that deep blue water is inviting and you’ll never know what you will see in the Sea of Cortez. We just missed whale watching season (December through April) but sea lions could be heard barking from hundreds of yards away.

A 2-hour excursion led by Captain Mike of Go Baja Sailing brought us to within a few feet of the loud creatures lounging on a small rock formation. We also set our cameras to quick-focus in hopes of spotting the elusive flying mantas that randomly pop up and seemingly hover a few feet over the water.

As we drove out of the 24-hour secured gates of the large property to head back home, we passed the tee box of that signature hole #14 of El Cortes Golf Club. I tried to think of the signature moment of my stay at Puerta Cortes but couldn’t think of just one.

That signature moment may just be when I log online to make my next reservation to this beautiful place on the Baja Peninsula.                                                                                                                     -MG

HEAR about my Puerta Cortes experience via my syndicated radio show:

New Orleans Jazz Fest – Bringing Music, Food, and Heat

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival celebrates its silver anniversary, once again taking over the New Orleans Fairgrounds spanning the usual two weekends.  My second visit to this iconic festival will find me hopping from stage to stage watching music legends like Santana and Bonnie Raitt to local favorites such as Trombone Shorty and Better Than Ezra.

Anyone who’s paid a visit to this mid-Spring gathering knows that the genre tents, the colorful people and the flavoral, caloric food are a part of the festival as much as the magic.  Make sure to tune into my show this Saturday, April 27, at 11am CT, live from the Shell hospitality center.

UDPATE:  Photos below and broadcast replay below.




Safety Is Job 1 at Shell and Team Penske

6,000 ft above the Gulf of Mexico – Flying aboard a 16-person helicopter back to New Orleans I was still questioning why I spent an entire day sitting in a classroom and being dunked in a pool.  Upside down.  Harnessed to a helicopter simulator chair.  Shell explained it was all in the name of safety just in case there was an issue during the flights to and from its deep water oil and gas production facility in the Gulf we were headed to.  As we are about to land safely at the New Orleans airport there was nary an issue during the 100-minute flight but it was reassuring to have passed the Tropical Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) the day before.

I was a part of the crew invited to tour the Turritella, Shell’s Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) facility stationed 200 miles south of Louisiana.  The purpose of this trip was to demonstrate to media and members of Team Penske how safety and preparation are critical in the offshore environment and on the track.  Team Penske, of course, is a the professional stock car, open wheel and sports car racing team that currently competes in the IndyCar and NASCAR Cup Series, among other racing leagues.  Penske Corp. president Bud Denker led his team members on the trip – he was first in the training pool – which included 3-time Indy Car champ Helio Castroneves.

Day 1 of this 2-day event was spent at Shell’s training facility in Robert, Louisiana, about an hour north of New Orleans.  The 9-hour (yes, 9 hours!) training class taught us safety techniques and procedures of how to escape and survive a helicopter should it ditch in the water.  Teamwork was the theme as all participants learned how to work together to exit the aircraft should it land upright or upside down.  This is where fun came in.

The afternoon found us all in an Olympic-size pool that featured a full-scale replica of a helicopter attached to moving cables above.  After watching several demonstrations of how to enter and exit the chopper we were strapped to the 5-point harnessed seats several times in both upright and upside positions.  Notwithstanding unwanted water rushing up our noses we all passed with flying colors and were presented with HUET certificates we would need for the trip the next day.


A 6:00am hotel lobby rendezvous began our busy Day 2 with a bus ride to the airport.  After another safety briefing we were escorted to a helicopter that Shell contracts with PHI.  Liftoff was right on schedule and we were quickly soaring above the Gulf.  Several members of the Shell team briefed us on their Gulf of Mexico drilling and production facilities while we gazed at nothing but water as far as the eye could see.

Carlos Maurer, president of Shell Lubricants America, was quick to point out one of the final products that is produced in the water below us includes engine oil so many of us use everyday.  Helio made sure we all knew that his likeness appears on many of those oil cannisters sold at retail outlets and was the sole reason Shell continue to have record sales numbers.  Knowing that we needed to remain strapped to the seats during the flight no one was going to ague with the gregarious race car driver.



We approached the Turritella vessel which hovers over Shell’s Stones field in the Lower Tertiary geologic frontier in the Gulf.  Discovered in 2005, it is Shell’s second producing field in this region along with Perdido.



As we circled to get a good view we could see an oil tanker floating a few hundred yards behind the FPSO.  They were in the midst of off-loading millions of gallons of oil from the Turritella onto the tanker.  This process occurs several times each week.

We landed slowly onto the helipad located a the stern of the vessel.  After unstrapping ourselves we carefully walked down into a holding area where we were given more safety instructions and handed personal protective equipment.  Our tour began as we were clad in coveralls, protective eye wear, gloves and hard hats.  Over the next several hours we were led through the Turritella’s command center, bridge, engineering room, crew bunks and the cafeteria.

120 crew members were on board during our visit, most working the typical off-shore schedule of 14 days on, 14 days off.  The crew certainly eats well as we dined with them during a lunchtime shift.  Homemade hummus, salads, baked cod, pasta, potatoes and dessert was served by the trained cooks and kitchen crew.  The menus change daily which makes for a happy, well-fed crew.

At some point we needed to see the equipment and learn the process of how oil and gas – almost 10,000 feet below us – was being extracted from 27,000 feet below the earth’s surface onto the vessel on which we were standing.  The Turritella is a modified ship with one key feature – an extremely large turret is situated near the bow.  This structure rises several hundred feet above the main deck and extends through the vessel nearly 30 feet under sea level.  This feature allows the Turritella to circle around the stationary turret ensuring the vessel is constantly pointed into the Gulf’s waves to minimize rocking and swaying.

Deep inside the vessel at the bottom of the turret is an incredibly engineered system where a large buoy connects to the ship.  Underneath the buoy are a network of steel pipes that creep almost 2 miles down to the bottom of the Gulf.  Oil is pumped up through these pipes into the massive storage tanks aboard the Turritella where it is held until it is off-loaded onto tankers.

We were told this FPSO concept was created, in lieu of a stationary oil rig, for several reasons including safety, of course.  An FPSO can disconnect the buoy and float away from danger should a hurricane enter the Gulf.  The process of disconnecting the buoy – which floats about 200 ft below the water surface – and reconnecting it to the Turritella takes about 7 days.  To ensure a smooth operation should the vessel be in the path of a hurricane Shell goes through the drill once a year.  An estimated 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent (boe) per day is produced from Stones field.

Our visit ended with most of the Turritella’s crew listening to Helio and Team Penske members talk about teamwork and the importance of their work.  Helio made sure to let them know their efforts propel his team to race throughout the year and his checkered flag finishes could not happen without Team Shell.

Upon landing back at the airport we realized the HUET certification we received the previous day was but a small percentage of the measures Shell goes through to ensure its employees and equipment remain safe.




Everyone is All In on AI at CES 2018

One of my post-CES rituals is whittling down all the products and services I saw to figure out who “won” the trade show. I remember falling in love with thin HDTVs in the early 2000’s, fawning over Blu-Ray and HD-DVD players and yearning for every smartphone I saw on the convention center floor.  This year I was impressed with camera-filled refrigerators that can recommend recipes and TVs that can be rolled up as flat as yoga mats.

But the darling of this year’s CES was not a gadget but the growing amount of artificial intelligence software helping these products run.  The proliferation of companies showing off their products was mind boggling.  Robots ran – and climbed stairs – amok, car simulators showed how they can be driven without a driver, even coffee makers that let you know when a fresh pot was ready. Google and Amazon were everywhere.  Literally everywhere including hotel and tram signage along with booth workers wearing ubiquitous “Hey Google” outfits.  Almost every product seemingly sported the message that it could be controlled with some faction of AI.

To make some sense of why 2018 may be the year that our voice and touch will be the key factors to hit the market, I spoke with Jeremie Capron, Managing Director of Research at ROBO Global.  His company created the first benchmark index to track the global robotics and automation market bringing solutions to investors.

Our conversation:

A Pee-Controlled Video Game? Call It The “Wee Mote”

Thought I had seen most everything in all the years I’ve been doing this.  Nope.

Coca Cola Park, a minor league baseball stadium in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is installing a “Urinal Gaming System.”  Home to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, you will soon be able to play video games while taking care of business.  Or at least the guys can.

Minor league baseball teams love gimmicks, because they know that people find professional baseball too boring to even watch on TV, which means they’ll only go to a minor league baseball game if there’s a cool mascot or free footlongs or they can drink eight beers and then piss for two and a half minutes and beat everyone’s high score in Need For (Pissing) Speed 5™.

Here is the concept vid.  I know this will be at Coca Cola Park but me thinks finding a beer sponsor for this game would be a home run.

Review – Tagg Pet Tracker

Dogs and cats are important members of the family and keeping them safe is a top priority.  A new pet tracking gizmo on your pet’s collar can keep track of them on your mobile device.

The TAGG Pet Tracker uses GPS technology that allows you to see where your dog or cat is and receive a notification if it wanders off.  You use your computer to set up boundaries, in your yard or neighborhood.  If the pet strays beyond that area, you’re sent an alert, to both your computer and smartphone that gives you an electronic trail that leads you right to them.

It comes with a tracker, docking station, collar clip assembly, and power kit.  After you buy the transmitter and collar clip, Verizon Wireless service costs $7.95 a month.  Good for pet owning peace of mind.

$99 for starter kit

Father’s Day Live Broadcast

Come out to Walmart at I-10 at Silber in Houston this Saturday, June 16. We’ll be set up in the electronics department from 11a-2p with a live broadcast of “The High-Tech Texan Show” on The 9-5-0. We’ll play with some cool “toys” for last-minute suggestions for dad.

The promo team is bringing Huey Lewis/Joe Cocker concert tickets and McDonald’s new Berry Cherry Chiller free coupons.

Live from Consumer Electronics Show

Back at it…I am off to Las Vegas (again) for the huge/big/crazy/enormous/exhausting Consumer Electronics Show.   We will be broadcasting my radio show live (again) Tuesday through Friday from a prime location on the convention center floor.

My daily radio show on The 9-5-0 in Houston just switched time slots and now can be heard 12p-2p CT.  Perfect timing as I don’t have to get up as early as I used to when doing my shows from the left coast.

Tune in any way you can including iHeartRadio and log on right here to my website as I will have the live webcam working so everyone can see the gadgets I will be talking about.  I can only follow so much of the overflowing info so if you see or hear something interesting out there pop me a quick note and I will try to track it down.