Monday, December 2, 2013

2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC

Xenon headlights with LED strips in the bumper.This has been a long time in the making, but last Wednesday we picked up our custom factory ordered car — 2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC SUV. This is a lot of first for me — first non-american car, first SUV, first V6, first turbo engine, first diesel. All my previous cars were large American sedans with V8 motors in 5.7 and 5.8 litter sizes.

Big family car. No running boards.When Anyuta was about to arrive we decided to upgrade our family car. With a lot of SUVs out there we felt that our kids would be safer in a heavy SUV as well. When Arosha was our only child we put his car-seat into the middle spot of the rear seat — the safest place. But with two kids something had to change. So now they are sitting higher in a heavier car with a lot of state of the art safety features.

From the top. Just a standard roof.In addition to that we get all the utility of being able to transport a lot of kid gear with us, especially on long family trips. It already is nice to be able to load up Anyuta’s large stroller into the cargo area without having to take it apart. Then there is the utility of a diesel engine. The car has a driving range of over 700 miles on a single tank. The stated fuel economy is 20 MPG in the city and 28 MPG on highway. The engine also packs an amazing 455 pound of torque which makes this 5,000 pound truck feel much lighter than it really is.

Turbo diesel V6 engine with 455 pounds of torque.I’ve been keeping records of my expenses and MPG performance of our 300C since August. The car averaged out 21 MPG which is not bad at all for 5.7 V8. BlueTEC did 30 MPG on my drive to work today if the computer is to be trusted. Of course with mixed driving the number is going to be much lower, but I’m hoping it will not drop too low. For any kind of SUV those are impressive numbers. With my daily commute of 120 miles it really matters.

Diesel!After doing some initial research it was becoming clear that in order to get the car that we really wanted we needed to have it ordered from the factory. First of all BlueTEC (diesel) on its own was hard to find, but a car with options that we wanted and no options that we didn’t care about was not to be found. We found a place where we could do a test-drive of both version gasoline and diesel ones. Diesel definitely felt much more impressive and the MPG was really attractive to us, while the gas version fuel economy was lackluster to say the least.

Another side shot.I really wanted to do business with our local dealership for the convenience of being able to service the car near home and take advantage of loaners for the time that the car is in service. That was one of the most frustrating things for me with owning a Chrysler. Also having to do service every 10,000 miles was appealing as well.

The radar for Distronic is located in the star in the grill behind black glass. If a car has no Distronic the star is hollow.Initially we had a pretty bad experience with a sales rep. So bad that I didn’t want to go in there at all. However Alena insisted that we should try and to our surprise the rep that we talked before was no longer an employee — such good luck. Our new sales rep was great. She did everything we asked and gave us zero bullshit. That was a very pleasant yet somewhat unexpected experience.

From the rear.I did a LOT of research before placing an order. I knew what I could get price-wise realistically — a number that would make me happy. I was hoping to get the car for invoice which would be 7% under MSRP. I would’ve been really happy if it would be 7% and the registration fee of $388 included.

BlueTEC logo.I did not expect to get well under invoice without much bullshit, yet that’s exactly what happened. Not only that, but on the day when I was taking delivery of the car I managed to get another thousand knocked off the price, thus coming in at 10% under MSRP. That beat all my expectations. We also managed to get a pretty good finance APR of 2.29% after a little bit of negotiation. That also beat my expectations and almost half of what we had on our previous car. We are also planing to add a genuine MB extended warranty for about 30% under MSRP.

Interior. MB-Tex wrapped dash with Satin Ash wood.When we were placing our order we knew exactly what options we wanted. Our choice for exterior color was white — easy to keep clean and really makes the car look like a million bucks. We did not want any running boards — they made it actually harder for me and Alena to get in and out of the car. All the cars on dealer lots had those. I did not want Parktronic — I can park my own car without paying extra $1,200. I did want xenon lights and I did want Distronic and none of the cars had that.

Keyless-GO and MB-Tex wrapped dash stitching.For interior we were going to go for Almond Beige, but after seeing it in person we felt that black looked much richer. We were also planning to go with standard wood, but instead asked to see a satin non shiny finished wood and opted in for that special option. We also got a special order option of leather wrapped dash — really makes the interior high-end and one option that a lot of people are simply not aware of. The car came out looking great.

Harman Kardon sound system and dash stitching.So here is a full list of options that we picked:
  • Polar White exterior — clean and simple
  • Black MB-Tex (synthetic leather) interior — more durable than real leather, feels like real leather
  • MB-Tex wrapped dash — dash covered and stitched with leather
  • Satin Ash Wood trim — real not shiny wood, texture of which can be felt with the hand
  • Premium 1 Package — navigation, music controller — USB, SD, iPod, Bluetooth, hands-free phone, satellite radio, 14 way power driver seat with memory, auto-folding mirrors and many other goodies
  • Lighting Package — bi-xenon self leveling, self adjusting headlights
  • Driver Assistance Package — one of the rarer things — includes Distronic Plus (active cruise control among other things), active blind spot assist (will not let you change lanes into another car), active lane keeping assist (will not let your run off the road)
  • Harman Kardon Sound — 830 watts 13 speak system specifically designed for M-Class
  • Heated Steering Wheel — will be nice during those cold winter mornings
  • Keyless-GO — no need to take out the keys to open or close the doors, or start the car
  • Tons of standard features including 4 matic — all wheel drive

COMAND. Radio, navigation, iPod, hard-drive, SD, USB and everything else.The hardest part was the wait. We placed our order on September 14th with an expected delivery date of mid-December. However the car got built earlier than we expected and was delivered to the dealership in a week. I couldn’t resist coming over to take a look at it the next day after I found out and took the delivery a day after — November 27th. The car had 8 miles on the clock.

In-dash computer with some miles we put on it.I was initially thinking of selling 300C to CarMax, but in the ended just traded it in for $150 less than CarMax would’ve been. We decided that we didn’t want the hassle of a private sale. Somebody could’ve had a great deal on that car, but none of my friends needed a car. The last time I looked at odometer before handing over the keys it showed 95,003. That car has served me well with only one hiccup through all those miles and years.

Interior from the other side.Since we got our new car right before the long weekend of Thanksgiving we have put over 300 miles on it. I love it. COMAND — the system that controls the car computers — is great. After reading through many complains about it I thought it would be bad. I don’t know what all those people are talking about. Of course nothing is perfect, but compared to everything I had before it’s pretty awesome.

Fresh off the truck. 8 miles on the clock.At this point I think I’m getting used to the new car and I just hope it will serve us reliably and will keep us happy for the years to come. For the time being I have an uncontrollable urge to drive. We are going to plan a nice road trip for our little family for April all the way to Tennessee. At least that’s the plan.
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WTC (via Instagram)

WTC

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Anna — 2 Months

Annushka. 10 weeks. Tummy time.I rarely have a chance to even turn on computer nowadays, so I’ll be super brief.

Anyutka is doing very well. She started smiling and cooing a few weeks ago. She makes that funny sound resembling coughing, which is actually her way to laugh and show that she is happy. I find it oh so cute.

8 weeks.She discovered her hands and loves sucking on them when she happens to find them. She enjoys looking at pictures in books — she often smiles at them, and often her eyes get bigger and rounder if she finds something especially interesting. She also likes to stare at rattle toys and she enjoys her play-mat thingy.

Her sleep patterns have changed.

OK, it took me a while to get back to this post, so now I’m writing about a 10 week old Anechka.

6 weeks.So, her sleep patterns have changed. She sleeps much worse during day time, and worse during the night. In the last few nights she would wake up every two hours and then would not want to go to sleep for a while (up to two hours). She used to wake up twice during the night for feeding and then go back to sleep. It is pretty exhausting, but I know that everything with babies this young is temporary. So it’s a stage. Maybe she is growing fast. Maybe she learned something new. Maybe something physical is bothering her — tummy, teeth… I don’t know. There is no way to tell. I just try to be gentle and patient with her. And honestly, every day I think how lucky we are to have her, to hold her, to watch her grow.

Smile.We go for walks every day — usually we’re out for 2.5-3 hours. If the weather permits and I can feed her outside, we go for longer walks, but it’s already December, so days like that are rare.

Ароша. Мы бандито, знаменито...She’s getting better with her head control. I think she enjoys tummy time — not on the floor, but on my legs or on boppy pillow.

Anechka also enjoys her bath time. We do it daily, just before bed, and she swims in the large bathtub for 15-20 minutes. Aroshka loves bathing with her, but I don’t let him do it every day because it makes things more complicated for me in terms of making sure no-one gets injured or cold.

Happy. 10 weeks.A lot of people tell us that Anechka and Arosha look very similar. But to me they look quite different. Yes, you can tell that they’re siblings, but to my eyes there are a lot of things that are distinct about each one of them. I guess it’ll be easier to see when she gets older.

P.S. Annushka was 24 inches long and weighted 11lb and 8oz on her 2 months check-up visit.
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Sunday, December 8, 2013

C-Class in Manhattan

C-Class loaner.This is really two stories in one, yet both are about this weekend. First one starts with me not being able to make my music sound as it should on a high end Harman Kardon sound system in our new M-Class. Closer inspection revealed that the subwoofer in the rear of the car instead of playing low sounds makes everything around it vibrate. The outside fender of the car actually vibrates the most and creates the most noise.

I took the car to the dealer on Wednesday morning and after a service manager and a technician looked at it and admitted that that’s not even close to normal we went and tried the same MP3 file in another similarly configured M-Class. Sound was clean and crisp at much higher volumes too.

WTC 1.Long story short — they had no loaner car available on Wednesday, but they promised to come by my house, bring a loaner car and pick ours up at 10am on Friday. That’s exactly what they did. Of course for me there is a hassle of taking out kid car seats and moving them into another car, but as far as service goes at this point — nothing like Chrysler was — one of my main reasons of leaving American cars behind.

On Monday I’m going to find out what exactly the issue is and how long it will take them to fix it. Hopefully they’ll either install the speaker properly or replace it with a new one if the current one is blown. For the time being I’m stuck with a loaner C-Class. At first I didn’t really care, but it is anything but a family car. Tiny!

One of many sets of statues.Basically in order to get a Anechka’s rear-facing seat installed and to get it to fit we had to move the forward sit so close to the dashboard that Alena could not get in. After moving some things around and adjusting the seat we barely fit her into the car in rather an uncomfortable pose. Because of that on our way through Manhattan to a park on Palisades Parkway we decided to instead try to explore downtown Manhattan.

We got really luck and found a spot (with no meter even) within 2 blocks. Arosha has never walked around that part of Manhattan, but he always talks about the “highest skyscraper” around. So we took a good look at WTC 1 and walked through a nearby church and walked around a park by city-hall filled with all kinds of statues and had a nice lunch and a middle-eastern place — a good walk close to home essentially.

Enjoying art is his own way.So that was our Saturday. Hopefully our car gets fixed and we won’t have to use MB service anytime soon again. If we do, I’ll ask for something bigger than C-Class for a loaner. Otherwise it’s a pretty decent car with enough oomph in its engine. But it still did make me appreciate our choice even more — it’s noticeably more refined and definitely more roomy.
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Monday, December 9, 2013

Tennessee Road Trip

Road plan. Click for full map.After a bit of consideration and some research we have booked a new road trip that we’re planning to take in the beginning of April of next year. This is a rather ambitious undertaking on our part as we’re going to be taking a 1,500 mile road trip with our kids on our car. Just the four of us. Since we will not be doing any flying planning itself was easier than it usually is.

The idea is simple. We wanted to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park for quite some time and now we’re doing it. But since a straight drive all the way there is over 700 miles we tried to break up the trip into several portions to cut down on the amount of driving on any given day and visit a couple of our usual objectives along the way.

Our first destination of the trip is going to be Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. We’ve been there when Aroshka was only 3 months old and it was during late fall. Now we’re going to see how the park looks in the middle of spring. We’re going to spend 3 nights1 in Shenandoah, and therefore we’ll have 2 full days to explore the park.

After that we’re going head to a town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The town is located right on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We’re going to spend 5 nights2 here. Our hotel will be 2 miles away from the visitor center. I didn’t even think to look for a Hilton brand hotel initially, but that’s what was coming up on the searches on its own. Thus we get to enjoy the benefits of our Diamond VIP status. The hotel has a bunch of indoor pools with impressive looking water slides which Arosha should enjoy.

On our way back we’re going to spend one night3 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The town is located right next to Raleigh, North Carolina, which is the capital of North Carolina. On the day we leave Chapel Hill we will checkout the capitol complex of Raleigh and the capitol complex at Richmond, Virginia. This will bring us to our final destination of our vacation — Washington, DC.

We will spend 2 nights4 in Washington, DC. Here we picked a hotel on the outskirts of the city instead of the downtown as usual with the consideration that we’ll have to drive anyhow with small kids. Thus by saving a bit on the price of the hotel we’ll have that money to use on paid parking. We think Arosha should enjoy visiting some of the monuments and museums that the nation’s capital has to offer. And after our stay in Washington we’ll head back home.

Since this is the first vacation that we’ll be taking Arosha to without our parents also coming — hopefully we can deal with him and Annushka on our own. Here’s to hoping that it’s going to be a fun and — even though active — relaxing (as in stress-free) vacation.

  1. Skyland Resort, $397 for 3 nights with taxes included. []
  2. The Park Vista DoubleTree, $583 for 5 nights with taxes included. []
  3. Hampton Inn & Suites Chapel Hill, $171 for 1 night with taxes included. []
  4. Hilton Garden Inn Arlington, $320 for 2 nights with taxes included. []
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