New Acura TLX Won’t Get Your Heart Racing

This car in Honda's luxury line is long on comfort and room, but short on vroom.

The Acura TLX is a very nice car. The ride is nice, the sound system is nice, the seats are nice. All very nice.

There, I just damned the TLX with faint praise. This is a perfect entry-level luxury car for people who don’t really get excited about luxury cars, or perhaps cars in general. If you want a well-made piece of machinery that will cushion you, protect you, that will smooth out the bumps on the road and not ask much of you, then you are an Acura type.

By the same token, don’t ask that much of the car. For instance, the standard model comes with 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder, 206-horsepower engine. Perfectly adequate, for sure, with thrifty 28-miles-per-gallon efficiency, but this is not the kind of power plant to get your heart racing, never mind your TLX. And let’s not blame the four cylinders either; there are plenty of small, brutish 4-pot engines out there. But Honda, Acura’s owner, has chosen the same engine for the TLX, which starts at $32,000, that it uses for the Accord, which rings in at about $10,000 less. Taking the bigger engine offered with the TLX — a V-6, nine-speed automatic that generates 290 h.p. — will add about $4,000 to the price.

That’s why having a choice of four driving modes on the TLX seems like a bit of a tease. Yes, it has a dual-clutch, eight-speed transmission with a torque converter, which suggests seamless shifting as the car accelerates. But that doesn’t help much in Normal, Economy, or even Sport mode, because the Acura is hardly a burner. Actually, the TLX is one of the few cars I’ve driven that benefits from using the paddle shifters in Sport+ mode. The response is noticeably better. Yet it’s hard to believe that many TLX drivers would opt for this paddle mode.

Our TLX came with the Tech package that pushed the sticker to $35,000. The Tech trim includes a nifty three-way rear-view camera that allows you to look down to see if there’s anything directly under the car as well as giving you narrow and wide angles. But there were some quirks, too, including blind-spot warning lights that weren’t located in the mirrors but off to the side. The navigation system seemed confused and at one point had us driving east into the East River when we were heading north. The stacked, twin screens on the dashboard didn’t help the situation, nor did the fact that for some operations you pushed a button on the dash while others required a touchscreen, or a combination. Operating the seat heater, for instance, required the touch of a button and then the touchscreen. Annoying.

Still, you take what the Acura gives you, which is not to be sniffed at. There’s that ride, for one. The TLX can make New York City’s axle-breaking, shock-shaking streets feel a little more like suburban pavement. On the highway, it is a rolling library, quiet enough for you to converse at a whisper. The Acura has two steering and handling features: one called Motion-Adaptive Electronic Power Steering, the other called Precision All-Wheel Steer, or P-AWS in Acura-speak. The first, tuned electronic steering, isn’t unique to Acura. But it is a benefit, and uses feedback sensors to tune the steering wheel to your driving, taking conditions into account. The P-AWS part is interesting: It angles the rear wheels 1.8 degrees to improve handling and stability through turns. That proved helpful in some slick spots.

You aren’t ever going to confuse the TLX with a BMW in the way it feels or rides, and maybe that’s the point. The Acura substitutes roomy for vroomy and adds comfort in both the front and the back. It’s what you’d call a true passenger car, and I mean that in the nicest way.


New Subaru Outback Rides Smooth in Rough Conditions

The latest version of this popular five-passenger wagon offers comfort and safety for drivers drawn to rugged terrain.

The streets are slick with snow as I write this, which makes me a little peeved because I wanted to take the 2015 Subaru Outback on a little sleigh ride. The company and the car’s many fans love to tout the Outback’s all-wheel drive capability under lousy conditions. But the days we tested the Outback were just dull, dry and cold.

Nevertheless, the latest model of this popular five-passenger wagon brought us some cheer. This newest Outback is a little bigger, a little sleeker — the base of the windshield slopes 2 inches longer than previous models, for instance — and still very much a value play in the wagon/small SUV/crossover market. It’s yet another reason that Subaru is going to have another record sales year in the US. (It was the only car company whose sales didn’t drop during the Great Recession.)

Outback owners are active types. The Outback’s roof rack isn’t just for decoration; it’s going to be used a lot, for everything from skis to camping gear to kite boards. These folks like to play rough and get their Outbacks muddied. But one of the nice parts of the new Outback is that it doesn’t ride rough. Quite the opposite: This is a very comfy cruiser that is surprisingly quiet on the highway. When the road gets rockier, there’s also a Vehicle Dynamics Control system to keep you on the right track. There’s a switch called X-Mode, a traction control system that includes a setting to more or less optimize gearing and braking for controlling the vehicle on steep descents.

The Outback has some other interesting gadgets for the driver. A rear-view camera is standard, but there’s an option on some of the higher-priced trims called EyeSight: forward-facing cameras on either side of the rearview mirror that are part of a package of active safety devices including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and frontal collision warning. The car will brake for you if it senses that a collision is imminent. In terms of the more conventional stuff, the Outback’s dashboard is relatively simple and unfussy; its navigation and information systems, with a 6.2-inch screen, don’t require an advanced degree to master. It’s a dashboard not trying to impress you; it’s one that’s trying to help you, which is the point that I wish other manufacturers would get.

You can get into an Outback for about $25,000 for the basic model, the 2.5i. The larger, 6-cylinder, 3.6R model adds another $8,000 to the base price. There are three available trim packages on the 2.5i .

The Outback isn’t much of a powerpusher. The standard 2.5 liter Boxer four-cylinder engine throws out 175 horsepower delivered through a continuously variable transmission. The CVT — that means there are no fixed gears, unlike most car transmissions — helps deliver both power and efficiency: up to 33 miles per gallon on the highway, which used to matter way back in 2014. You are not going to be making high-speed passes in this car, but that’s not the point. The Outback is built for utility and comfort, not speed. Indeed, the car’s a little bigger this year, giving you a couple of extra inches of shoulder room up front. The rear seats are set back far enough to allow actual adults to sit in them comfortably. But if you are true a Outbacker, it’s the cargo room that makes you sit up, and in this model there’s more: 35.5 cubic feet in the back, which stretches to 73.3 cu. ft. with seats flat. Bring all your toys.

TIME politics

Sarah Palin Is Right: It’s a Blurry Line Between Edible and Pettable on the Frontier

Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Held In D.C.
Sarah Palin speaks during the 41st annual Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord International Hotel and Conference Center on March 8, 2014 in National Harbor, Md. T.J. Kirkpatrick—Getty Images

Bill Saporito is an assistant managing editor of TIME and directs the magazine's coverage of business, the economy, personal finance, and sports.

As an equal-opportunity omnivore living in Manhattan, I have to respect Palin’s point

Alaskans are very practical people. They have to be, living in such a brutal, if beautiful, environment. They love their dogs, like the rest of us, but by the same token, in a place as unforgiving as Alaska, any creature that walks, flies, swims or any combination thereof can be viewed as companion or, in a pinch, protein. It’s an undeniable part of Alaskan history. Dogs are friends and beasts of burden that are highly valued. But if you’re starving in the wild, your dogs are a resource. Jack London wrote about this in Call of the Wild in 1903—a long time before Walmart got to Anchorage.

This history is what Sarah Palin, Alaska’s governor before she quit, was hinting at in a tweet that got the animal-rights knights at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) all kinds of crazy. Palin had posted a photo of her son Trig using the family’s black Labrador retriever, named Jill, as a step stool to reach a kitchen counter to help his mom prepare some food. Trig is 6 and is a Down-syndrome kid, so using the dog as a booster was as innocent as it was instinctive. Jill wasn’t available for comment, but given the nature of family pets—and Labs in particular—she probably shrugged it off. Dogs seem to sense how to react to the indignities that kids can inflict on them. They are quite forgiving; sometimes I wish I had their patience.

PETA had no such patience. The organization excoriated Palin for posting the pet-as-pedestal pic, to which Palin, a known moose quarterer, replied, “Chill, at least Trig didn’t eat the dog.” PETA did not chill. Instead, the organization chided Palin, saying that she “knows PETA about as well as she knows geography.” You know that Palin was relishing this confrontation, given how much she loves to antagonize her political opposites.

MORE Sarah Palin Defends Her Son: ‘At Least Trig Didn’t Eat the Dog’

Yet if we are being honest about our food groups, Palin has a point. Dogs have been on the menu in North America for centuries. (So have horses, but that’s another passionate argument.) Native Americans long viewed dogs as friends and food. And in the fascinating diaries of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who left St. Louis in 1804 on the Corps of Discovery Expedition to chart the West for Thomas Jefferson, there are some very interesting dietary entries. The expedition lived off the land, of course, and found all kinds of fish, game, fruits and vegetables in the wild. But in April 1806, as they followed the Columbia River in what is now eastern Washington, the lads had eaten about all the dried salmon they could stomach. Lewis writes:

[T]he dog now constitutes a considerable part of our subsistence and with most of the party has become a favorite food; certain I am that it is a healthy strong diet, and from habit it has become by no means disagreeable to me, I prefer it to lean venison or Elk, and is very far superior to the horse in any state.

It all seems quite revolting, but those of us who are meat eaters better shut up about what’s considered edible and what’s considered pettable. When the Summer Olympics were staged in Seoul in 1988, the South Korean government prevailed on restaurants to remove dog from the menu so as to not look barbaric in the eyes of the West. American journalists couldn’t resist references to “spot roast.” Very amusing that, but at the same time, Westerners see Indians as a bit odd for their sacred cows, while some Christians think it strange that Jews and Muslims eschew pork. By the same token, a friend of mine who grew up on a farm in Iowa told me he had plenty of pet pigs that he liked very much. But at some point they became dinner.

MORE Inside Sarah Palin’s Truman Show

As an equal-opportunity omnivore, I have to respect Palin’s point. And living in Manhattan, I never have to shoot anything. All the meat I buy, including wild venison or salmon from Alaska, arrives nicely packaged or prepared and perfectly overpriced. As for dogs, well, with all of Manhattan’s precious designer Maltipoos and cockapoos prancing around my neighborhood, the thought of actually eating one of those little creatures seems quite unappetizing. Besides, there’s just not that much meat on them. I’m sure Sarah Palin would agree.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email

MONEY Travel

New Airline Brings Business-Class Comfort to the Back of the Plane

Courtesy of La Compagnie

Willing to pay a reasonable price premium over coach for a much better experience? This may be your new favorite airline.

Level 3 at Terminal B in Newark airport is nearly empty when I arrive at 7 p.m. for a 9:45 flight to Paris. Just a few of us are checking in at a new business-class-only airline called La Compagnie. At United’s Terminal C nearby, I know from previous experience it’s a zoo of anxious humanity—shuffling through the security lines, crowding the bars, bullying each other at the gate so they can stuff themselves onto coach seats only 17.3 in. wide in a 300-passenger jumbo jet for a seven-hour overnight trip. “Have a nice flight” is the emptiest phrase in the airline industry.

The only way around this mess is to fly up front, in business class. Alas, the difference between coach and business class fares—some $5,000 to $8,000 if you are flying from New York to Paris—makes the front of the plane affordable only to the 1% and corporate honchos. One and the same, more or less.

La Compagnie is the latest airline to try to bring a business-class experience to a new class of travelers: people who would be willing to pay a reasonable price premium over coach for a much better experience. La Compagnie runs 74-seat, all-business class, nonstop 757 service from Newark to Paris, but charges less than half that of the big carriers. Next spring it will add service between Newark and London. Fares to Paris range from $1,600 to $2,000 round trip, vs. $6,400 for a recent comparable United flight. In the U.S., JetBlue, once a one-class carrier, has added a value-priced business class, called Mint, on its transcontinental flights, threatening the lucrative premium transcon business of the majors.

How does La Compagnie compare with United’s or Delta’s transatlantic business class? As far as getting to the plane, the new outfit’s experience is superior. After checking in, I spent a quiet hour in the Art & Lounge—an independent airline lounge— where you can gaze at modern art installations while sipping a drink. Very civilized. We were then escorted to security screening, where there was no line and no hassle. One of the reasons things ran so smoothly is that perhaps 40 people were waiting to board our flight—at this point La Compagnie is running at 50% to 60% of capacity. There was no need to rush the gate to make sure you got to the overhead space. There’s plenty of it. (Given that most of the passengers were French, they rushed the gate anyway. The French never met any line they won’t cut.)

To get the price this affordable, La Compagnie has had to make some compromises, and so will you; and they are more than worth it. No one will hang up your coat for you, and drinks won’t be served before takeoff. Then again, because you are not waiting for 250 other people to load, there’s not much time for imbibing. The crew can just shut the door and go. And it’s a very pleasant and patient flight crew, because the flight attendants aren’t overwhelmed by having to deal with 300 screaming people.

La Compagnie’s single-aisle 757 is a refurbished, 14-year old aircraft bought from, and maintained by, Icelandic Air. The color scheme for crew and craft is a soft violet; the 74 seats are arranged in 19 rows in a 2×2 configuration. The pitch is 62 in. compared with the 31 in. that you get in a standard airline economy seat, meaning you can’t touch the seat in front of you with your feet. You can absolutely relax in this comfortable chair. There’s even a message function that works okay.

More importantly, flying to Europe is all about rest. La Compagnie’s seats recline 180 degrees, so you can sleep fully stretched out. One small hitch: the seats are angled slightly, so you will be fighting gravity a little bit, but at least you won’t be in contact with another human being, at least not involuntarily. The seat controls are a little balky, and the storage so-so—the majors offer a lot more in the way of cubbyholes to stash stuff. This is more seat than suite.

As for entertainment, La Compagnie has opted to include a Samsung Galaxy Pro tablet in each seatback rather than an integrated entertainment system. The tablet offers a reasonable amount of entertainment —a half dozen movies, a few TV shows, a smallish selection of music, plus some American and French newspapers and a couple of books. But it’s attached by a couple of wires to the seatback , which makes it a little clumsy. And the audio is not as clear as it could be. The amenities kit is basic but useful: eyeshade, toothbrush, moisturizer, etc.

As for food, La Compagnie touts Paris chef Christophe Langrée as the maître de cuisine. But my meal on the outbound flight—a “chic snack”— was basically an appetizer plus an uninspiring salad with chicken strips. (By contrast, United offers a five-course meal.) My inbound meal was much better— a beef tournedos dish that was nicely executed, something you’d expect from a French caterer. The snack served later in the flight was, in a word, awful. In either direction, you can have Piper Heidsieck champagne or a very nice French red or white, poured into tiny glasses. There’s nothing fancy—no tablecloth, no dessert trolley with an assortment of after-dinner drinks. But there’s a perfectly nice poire and a calvados for digestifs.

The question is, Do you think those service extras on the majors are worth an extra $4,000 in price? The answer will prove whether La Compagnie can make a go of it. To me, it’s an easy one: This is the way to fly. I’m more than willing to pay an extra $400 round trip to avoid the crowds in coach and the privilege of having my knees crushed by the reclining seat in front of me. As our 74-seat 757 taxied into the gate in Newark, we passed a 340-seat Virgin A340. I had a feeling of relief that I wasn’t on that widebody. My sense is that there are a lot more passengers like me out there. La Compagnie clearly thinks there are. I hope they’re right because we need more airlines like this. A bon voyage indeed.

TIME Soccer

Soccer’s Brightest American Star Chases a Title

Los Angeles Galaxy v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Final - Leg 2
Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy looks on during the match against the Seattle Sounders FC during the Western Conference Final at CenturyLink Field on Nov. 30, 2014 in Seattle. Otto Greule Jr—Getty Images

Closing time for Landon Donovan

Major League Soccer will get half of its dream matchup in the final of the MLS Cup on Sunday in Los Angeles. In a fitting sendoff, the most important American soccer player in history, Landon Donovan, will play his last game as a professional when his Los Angeles Galaxy team takes on the New England Revolution.

It’s not a stretch to say MLS wouldn’t be the success it is today without Donovan. Now 32, he became the first American soccer star, and the fact that he actually played most of his career in the U.S. was critical. MLS Commissioner Don Garber credits him with making the league a respectable option for pros. “He was the first guy who said: This is a league I want to get behind,” Garber says.

It would have been fitting if the best European player to ever play in MLS, Thierry Henry, was also in the final, but Henry’s New York Red Bulls got eliminated by the dogged Revs in the semi-final by a 4-3 aggregate score. You don’t get to the final because the script says it would a be nice script. Henry has won everywhere everything else—World Cup, European Cup, Champions League, English, French and Spanish championships—but he leaves U.S. empty handed. C’est la vie, Henry.

But there’s still a good European-American story, here. That would be Jermaine Jones, the driving force behind the resurgent Revs, who at one point posted an eight-game losing streak. Until Jones arrived. This son of an American father and a German mother was born and raised in Germany. After the bulk of his career in Germany’s Bundesliga, Jones, 33, was parceled out to New England this summer. “He is so smart tactically,” Revs coach Jay Heaps says. “He can see the game. There are times when we want him to be a little more aggressive attack wise, or times we need him to close a gap defensively. He understands that better than most.”

Jones’ brand of Teutonic tackling and never-say-die American attitude was one of the great stories of the U.S. National team’s World Cup run. This guy could play middle linebacker for Patriots and there are times on the pitch when he seems to confuse the two. But he is relentless, and a guy who will be critical if New England pulls this one off.

So will Lee Nguyen, the Revs attacking midfielder. A Texan who has played in Holland, Denmark, and Viet Nam, he’s become a fixture in New England. If Nguyen scores or gets an assist, the Revs have a good shot at winning.

That’s going to be difficult because L.A. is just reeking with class. Donovan is a proven pressure player, his last gasp goal against Algeria in the 2006 World Cup being one of the great ones in U.S. history. “We’ve done this before,” Donovan said of the MLS Cup. “We have experienced players and great leadership on the team. We know what it’s all about.”

One of Donovan’s strike partners is the2014 MLS MVP Robbie Keane. The Irishman has a wealth of big club experience (Liverpool, Leeds, Celtic, Tottenham), and is exactly the kind of striker made for games like this: Give him an inch and he’ll kill you. He’s scored more than 250 goals in a career that began in 1997. Unlike Donovan, the 34-year old Keane has no plans to hang up his boots, but he’ll probably miss Donovan. “It’s been one of the best partnerships I’ve had,” said Keane. “If anyone deserves to go out on a high note, it’s him.”

The big winner of the day will be MLS itself. This year, its 19th, the league made certain it would have a 20th and beyond with a $720 million television deal with Fox Sports, ESPN and Univision. Its television ratings took a big jump this season, no doubt helped by the exposure given the game by the World Cup. Franchise values have skyrocketed and two new teams, in New York City and Orlando, will join the league next year. Attendance is up to 19,000 a game on average and sellouts are not uncommon.

That’s a far cry from when Donovan started in MLS. “I could have never in a million years imagined playing against Thierry Henry in brand new stadiums,” he said. Or playing with stars like Keane, or David Beckham. “If you had said those things in 2001, I would have said ‘you’re absolutely crazy.’”

You’ve got to applaud Donovan for playing his part in that. The next task is to make the quality of the play world class, beyond a couple of marquee players. There’s still a lot of work to do on that count. But given the class of the players who will be on the field Sunday, expect a match that lives up to a title game.


Toyota Tries to Nudge the Camry Upscale

A test-drive of the new 2015 Camry shows how Toyota is using fancy trim and gadgetry in a bid to make a thoroughbred out of its workhorse.

Living in New York City, I am always amazed to see how many beat-up old Camrys prowl the streets.

A lot of them are missing fenders or sporting that two-tone, quarter-panel-from–the-junkyard look. Nobody here seems to buy a Camry to style around town. It’s a car you buy because you can beat the crap out of it, and 100,000 miles later you can let your kid beat the crap out of it or sell it to someone else who will do likewise.

Toyota redesigned the 2015 Camry to give its prized midsized mule a little bit more thoroughbred swagger and sheen — making it look like something you’d want to take care of, so that maybe when you’re backing into a tight parking spot you’ll be less inclined to tap bumpers. It’s got a rear backup camera, which will help. But this newest version is also sharper-elbowed and sharper-shouldered in its styling, and on some trims there’s a new front grill that‘s really trying to look angry. “Demands respect at every corner,” barks Toyota’s marketing department.

We hear you, Toyota, but in the wheelhouse there’s not much that’s new. The Camry’s engine choices haven’t changed. Long a paragon of four-pot pragmatism, Camry offers its standard four-cylinder, 2.5 liter engine on the 2015 models, which gets you to 178 horsepower and a combined 28 miles per gallon. The XSE model, which we drove, also offers a 3.5 liter, 236-hp V-6 engine to do the loud talking, with fuel economy at 25 mpg combined. There’s also a 200-hp (combined) hybrid electric engine available that gets about 40 mpg.

Things were going well in the XSE, with its blue-tinted entry lights on the bottom door sill, the broad moon roof bathing the car in light, the phone charging wirelessly on the clever Qi pad on the center console. The XSE also had $1,200 worth of safety options such as a blind-spot monitor, lane monitor, and pre-collision braking system — options that should become standard.

I was beginning to buy into the whole bold new Camry idea when the voice from the passenger seat T-boned into the sentences forming in my head. “This feels like a rental,” my wife said.

How brutal! No, no, no, she responded, as if the Camry might hear her; it wasn’t a putdown, just an observation. The Camry is a fine car indeed, she said.

I agree: Nice ride, decent noise and vibration levels. Pretty comfortable. Nothing too fussy on the dash despite its Entune premium audio/navigation technology. But nothing to raise the pulse rate too much, either, and we were driving a jazzed-up version that weighed in at $35,000, not some fleet meat from the Hertz lot. Ours had 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, and dual chrome tipped exhaust. The leather-trim seats seemed a little underwhelming given the rest of the package, but how much higher can you drive the price of this car anyway before drivers start balking?

That’s the point, isn’t it? You can drive out of a Toyota dealership with a perfectly nice Camry for $25,000 without having second thoughts. When you start pushing $35,000 for a midsized nice car, your thoughts start to wander to Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, the new Chrysler 200, maybe even an Audi A3 — smaller but more luxurious.

It isn’t easy being popular, so all credit to Toyota for trying to raise Camry’s game and hold off the mid-sized hordes. But maybe there’s a better way to do this than add chrome and glitz and a higher sticker price. I’m sure Toyota will figure that out.

In the meantime, I expect that in 10 years someone will still be driving that XSE in my neighborhood. And there will be some big dings in that restyled grill.

TIME Travel

How to Keep Your Cool Traveling With 41 Million People

If you have to travel this Thanksgiving

There are going to be some 41 million people in motion before and after Thanksgiving, unless they are stopped cold by the weather gods. Looking at the National Weather Service’s color-coded alert map, the glob of warning colors running from Washington D.C. to Maine might be described as Cancelation Red rather than a winter storm warning. It’s gonna be ugly, folks. And inside the crowded airports, lots of passengers who really don’t fly all that much—this is a weekend for amateurs—will be cluelessly waiting in line for the airlines that just canceled their flights to reroute them.

You don’t want to be one of these people. If you are standing on a line, it’s probably already too late to get re-accommodated quickly.

MORE: Inside the strange world of airline cancellations

No matter the forecast, you should always have a Plan B in mind when you travel. Even if you’re not a frequent flier, download the app for the airline you are taking so it can text you with updates. There are also apps such as Flight Aware that will send you alerts—and you can also see how well the entire system is performing. Increasingly, the airlines will rebook you automatically if you give them the opportunity. This happened to me last year while reporting on a story about cancelations—although that 3 a.m. phone call could have waited. Nevertheless, this automatic “reaccomm” as the carriers call it, can be really helpful.

But if the situation goes south when you’re at the airport, you need to figure out your options in advance. Flights are so full that in the event of a cancelation, rebooking the next direct flight might not be possible. Look for connections. Consider the mid-country hubs that might help get you where you are going: Houston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Chicago, one of them is bound to have decent weather.

MORE: Holiday travelers rejoice! Thanksgiving gas prices will be the lowest in years

You need to be proactive. When my flight from Tokyo to New York was canceled by a big, disruptive East Coast hurricane a couple of years ago, the carrier offered to fly me to Los Angeles—where I would be stuck for three days waiting for an available flight. I started to look to build unscheduled connections that could get me farther east. By going hub to hub to hub (LAX-ORD-DCA), I got close enough to home so that I could drive or take a train.

MORE: Download these 7 holiday travel apps to get home in time for turkey

Having lots of experience with airline calamity has taught me the scramble drill. You need to be armed with enough knowledge so that in the event you actually do have to deal with an airline agent, you can get what you want, not what they are offering. Be firm and insistent to make your point but don’t scream at airline employees; you can communicate your ire in a civil tone and get better results.

Here are a few other tips for peak travel weeks:

No, you can’t bring that on board

If you don’t travel much, go to TSA’s website to figure out exactly what you can or can’t bring through the security checkpoint. Hint: weapons are a no-no.

Know your rights ahead of time

Every carrier posts a Contract of Carriage (here’s Delta’s, for instance) that explains terms and obligations pertaining to your ticket. Pay particular attention to Rule 240 or its equivalent, which covers delays and cancelations. All the carriers have a Contingency Plan for Lengthy Tarmac Delays, too.

Consider checking a bag

It’s amazing to watch people trying to lug so much stuff onto chock full jets. You hate paying $25 to check a bag, as you should. But the fewer points of friction you create for yourself, the calmer you are going to be on board. And the more space you’ll have under your feet. Keep in mind that very few bags are mishandled.

Consider travel insurance, which can sometimes be purchased last minute

The airlines have now dumped all the travel risk on you: Your airfare is non-refundable, and if weather scratches your flight, you’re on your own if you need to find food and lodging. Travel insurance offsets those risks, but at a price, typically about 5% of the trip cost. The higher the cost, the better the case for insurance, which will pay off from everything from flight delays to emergency cancelations on your part. Seek independent, third party insurers rather than airlines or travel agencies.

Try to roll with it. Easier said than done, yes. People—both adults and kids—tend to lose it more quickly in airports, because we’re not in control of anything. It’s beyond frustrating. If you are traveling without kids, you might make some new friends at the bar—or at the increasing number of “private” lounges open to the public for a $35 fee. (Which includes drinks.) If you are traveling with kids, you might not. Just remember, somewhere in that airport somebody else’s kids are behaving worse than yours.

So if you are one of the 41 million, bon voyage.

As for me, I’m staying put. You have to be crazy to travel on Thanksgiving.

Read next: 5 Ways to Be an Airplane Aggravation


Audi A3 is Made for Millennials

The new entry-level Audi is elegant and understated. Plus, it will read incoming text messages out loud for you.

A number of years ago I met with Audi executives, who wanted to deliver a message: keep an eye on us. They told me that Audi is going to get better and better and then challenge Mercedes and BMW.

That kind of statement sticks with you, but the Audi guys made good on their promise. Audi has now racked up 45 consecutive months of record sales in the U.S. because it can offer a full lineup of elegantly engineered automobiles, from the wondrous R8 sports car to the latest new model, the entry-level A3. The company is banking on winning conquests from Asian makers — maybe Lexus or Acura drivers who want a little more panache — and clearly it wants to take on its German rivals head-to-head.

And in the A3, which starts at around $30,000, Audi has a good case. Let’s be clear, though: If you’re looking for whistles and bells, for over-the-top (as in Italian) styling, or for lots of ornaments on your auto, you probably should go elsewhere. The A3 is luxury defined as restrained elegance, with quality if quiet materials, and a ride that is powerful enough without calling too much attention to itself. You may buy an A3 to announce that you’ve moved up into the 90th percentile, but you’re not going to shout about it.

That was true even with the color of the car we tested. Yes, the Scuba Blue hue was an extra $550. But unlike, say, the cornflower blue of the BMW M3 we drove a couple of weeks before, which was screaming, “I’m TOH-tally cool blue,” this color projected strength. And so did the engine, where it really counts. We were running the bigger of the two power plants that Audi offers in the A3, a turbocharged, 2.0 liter, 220-horsepower, 4–cylinder engine and all-wheel drive that brings the price to $32,900. The 1.8 liter, 170-hp front-wheel drive version gets you in at $30,795, which means you’re giving up a lot of power and torque for two thou. Both versions are equipped with a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, and that’s not a small thing. It’s a lot of fun looking at the tachometer as you rev through the gears; although the needle races left to right and back again, the smooth transition up and down the gearbox is very impressive.

As for the ride, you can be comfortably aggressive however you like to drive, but the Audi, like lots of refined autos, offers you a couple of modes to tune your wheels. Choose the sport mode, and the electronic steering digs in a little harder and the pedal gets more jumpy, yet the feeling is calm and the interior is quiet enough to enjoy the sound system.

Inside, the A3 dashboard is like a German winter — cool and dark — with a couple of round aluminum AC ports to interrupt the rich leather panel. But it can be brightened by the MMI navigation package, which features a pop-up screen that rises out of the dash like a submarine periscope: Drive! Drive!

The center console is the control room with the commands dished out by a center dial and a four-corner touch panel to handle navigation, audio, and communication. The top of the dial also serves as a touchpad that allows you to write in the destination you want the navigation system to find. It all sounds a bit complex, but after two days I had a really good feel for it — something I can’t say for other vehicles with similar systems.

The only drawback to the interior is the back seat, which can hold three passengers, but only if you really don’t like the one stuck in the middle. Some reviewers have found it downright cramped, but this is what entry-level luxury means in a small sedan. Same thing with the trunk, which I found to be adequate, if just barely.

How can you make a German luxury car that sells for $30,000? Don’t build it in Germany. The A3 is assembled in Gyor, Hungary, and 35% of the parts are Hungarian-made. It’s actually a good deal: Hungary’s wages are lower than Germany’s, which helps keep the price down, yet at the same time it has a very skilled labor force.

But also keep in mind that $30,000 is bare and spare, with no rear-view camera or blind-spot mirrors. The nav and communications system adds $2,600, and the A3 Premium Plus model tacked on $2,550 for heated power front seats and mirrors and other goodies. Paddle shifter? That will be $600. The price for the total package we drove was $40,000 and change. So while the entry-level price is reasonable, the finishing price could boost the bill depending on your choices. That said, if you do choose the A3, you have chosen well.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser