Category Archives: Reviews

Mir Amin Palace Hotel: A Perfect Getaway

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The Chouf is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful areas in Lebanon. It boasts the biggest Cedars forest in Lebanon, historical palaces built by the Emirs of Lebanon, most notably the magnificent Beiteddine palace, as well as beautiful old Lebanese houses, monasteries and attractions. It’s the perfect getaway from the city, the noise and the pollution and the Mir Amin Palace Hotel is the ideal place to stay when you’re planning a weekend in the Chouf.

The Mir Amin Palace was once a residence of the last Emirs of Lebanon back in the 19th century, and has been restored and turned into a splendid five-star hotel overlooking the Chouf Mountains. I went there to spend the weekend in September and I was completely blown away by the beauty of this palace, its historic courtyards, its room and suites, its spacious terraces and its great food and ambiance.

It’s really hard to describe in words how awesome this place is, so I will let pictures speak for themselves and add small captions below them.

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The road from the highway to Mir Amin Palace is well paved and surrounded by trees and forests.

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Entrance road to the Mir Amin Palace Hotel

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Entrance to the Mir Amin Palace Hotel

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After you check in, you step out to see this beautiful terrace

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Mir Amin Palace’s spacious rooms decorated with antique beds and furniture

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Walk around the palace and check its beautiful courtyards

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An Arabic lounge outside the hotel’s suites

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Hall Arcades

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What was once the residence of a Lebanese Emir

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View of the Palace from the pool

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Beautiful pool and a breath-taking view

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The Outdoor terrace

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Great Lebanese food

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and entertainment

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Overlooking the Chouf mountains

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Sunset

Overlooking the spectacular mountain valley view’s to the sun kissed terraces and the shimmering Mediterranean below, Mir Amin Palace Hotel Beiteddine Lebanon welcomes you to experience a tangible sense of history escaping from life’s stresses in the city.

This is exactly what this hotel offers its guests and more. It’s a great escape during the summer and I can’t wait to spend a weekend there during the winter with all the snowy mountains around us.

You can check out more details on the hotel’s [website].

The Happy Prince – Mar Mikhael

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The Happy Prince is a pub-resto open in Mar Mikhael on Alexander Flemming Street (Right down the street from Internazionale). Even though it’s not a burger joint, I’ve been hearing a lot about its burgers so I decided to go check it out. I went the first time last Friday but the kitchen was closed (It closes between 3:30 and 7:30) and the place was empty so I left and thought I’d come back for lunch on Saturday. I got there around 2pm on Saturday and the place was packed this time but there were no more burgers (as per the manager). I thought it was pretty weird that a restaurant known for his burgers runs out of burgers so I just left again and was annoyed this time.

Yesterday, I had few errands to run in Beirut and I found myself next to the Happy Prince around 7:30 so I parked and walked in. The place was totally empty so we sat and asked for the menu. We ordered a grilled corn salad and two orders of “The Cheeseburger”, which is the only burger they serve and consists of “selected cuts of US Black Angus beef served with house made french fries”. I had a drink while waiting for the burger and asked them if they had any carrots or crackers or chip but they didn’t serve any which is pretty weird for a pub.

PS: Around 7:40 people start coming in and the place was full before 8.

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The salad came after 20 minutes and it was really good. I loved how they mixed avocado with the grilled corn. Some 20 minutes later, the two burgers were finally here. As you can see below, the platter consists of small crispy fries with a slice of tomato topped with two slices of onions, a bowl of ketchup and the burger. I ordered my patty medium rare and my friend ordered it well done. The seating was comfortable but the tables were very close to each other which annoyed me. In fact at some point, they decided to add a chair to a nearby table and the guy who sat was almost sitting right next to me.

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My burger was delicious. I loved the bun even though the bottom was too thin, the patty was juicy and tasty, not too salty or too greasy. It was one of the best burgers I’ve had in Lebanon. My friend’s burger was also good but the patty was too salty for some reason (I took a bite just to make sure). As far as the fries are concerned, the portion was big enough for one person and I loved them.

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All in all, I loved The Happy Prince’s burger and it’s definitely on my top 3 burger places in Lebanon but I didn’t quite enjoy the experience at that place. What I mean is that I had to go three times to actually taste their burger, I couldn’t reserve in advance even though the place is relatively small, there’s a limited number of burgers everyday, the kitchen has limited opening hours, it’s hard to find a parking lot around the place and the service is kind of slow.

Review: Ghadi The Movie

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[YouTube]

In a traditional neighborhood of a small Lebanese coastal town, Leba (Georges Khabbaz) is a music instructor. Social pressure leads him to get married and have children. To the dismay of his family, neighbors, and friends, he has a first girl and then a second one. His beloved wife Lara, a French literature teacher, is pregnant for the third time and yes, it’s a BOY! However, medical tests show that the boy will have special needs. Will Leba and Nay keep the baby? Will he become a burden on the family; or its pride and joy? Expect strange phenomenon to affect the behavior, and beliefs of that little town’s population. Written by Georges Khabbaz

Before saying anything, I must admit that I loved Ghadi even though I was never a Georges Khabbaz fan. I didn’t like the trailer much and thought it would be a disappointment but the movie exceeded all my expectations and I can easily say it’s one of the best Lebanese movies ever made!

Ghadi is the story of a music instructor called Leba who was pressured by society into getting marrying and having children. After his wife gave birth to two girls, he “finally” got a boy but medical tests showed the boy will be mentally ill. As the boy starts to grow up, the family begins to struggle as the town’s population becomes unaccepting of their special kid, and the father decides to resort to all sorts of means to keep Ghadi with his family. I will leave the rest of the plot for all of you to figure out once the movie comes out later on this week.

What I loved most about this movie is that it’s a very positive one, it’s highly entertaining and well-paced and it tackled brilliantly very sensitive topics in our Lebanese society, whether it’s abortion, religion, racism, mental illness etc. Ghadi shows how a family was able to turn their child’s disability into a blessing and how they were able to surpass all the obstacles, encourage town residents to accept each other and live happily in their community. Added to that, the setup in a traditional village was perfect, the cinematography is great, presenting the town as it really is, the actors were brilliant (Ghadi’s mother was my favorite) and you could easily connect with every character in the movie. There are few things I didn’t appreciate, specially some over-dramatized scenes with Khabbaz, but they are not worth the mention.

All in all, it’s a brilliant movie and definitely the best Lebanese movie I’ve seen since Nadine Labaki’s “Halla2 La Wen”. I give it an 8.5/10.

Marky’s Philly Joint

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Ever since Marky’s opened, I’ve been hearing mixed opinions about it, whereas some people hated it while others loved it and told me they’ve had the best burgers ever there (even though it’s a philly joint). Having said that, I ended up visiting Marky’s last week with a couple of friends and to be honest I wasn’t that impressed.

Marky’s is located in Sin el Fil on the road leading to the Mkalles roundabout. The joint is relatively small and fits around 20-25 people. There are two parking spots in front of the place but you can easily find a spot there.

Here’s what we ordered:
- 1 Chicken Caesar Salad
- 1 “The Philly” Steak
- 1 Oklahoma Burger
- 1 Cheese Burger
- 1 Cheese Hot Dog
- 2 orders of Poutine fries

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First of all, I got the salad in a plastic box with a plastic fork and knife which I didn’t appreciate. I understand that it’s a joint but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a proper table setting. Even the soft drinks came in plastic cups.

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Marky’s chef takes pride in his poutine fries, and on how they are prepared using fresh French fries, the traditional and secret poutine gravy and imported cheese curds from Canada. That’s the first time I ever taste Poutine fries, so I enjoyed them but I can’t really tell if they are authentic or not.

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As far as the Philly steaks and hot dogs are concerned, my friend told me the Philly steak wasn’t as good as the previous time and the hotdog wasn’t appealing at all. I mean you expect cheddar cheese, corn and tortilla chips on a hotdog not lettuce and tomatoes.

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Moving on to the burgers, the bun was great and the burger presentation was great but my friend and I didn’t like the patty, which is what the burger is all about. The meat was way too greasy and oily and had a weird taste and both of us forced ourselves to finish the burger. Of course it doesn’t mean the quality of the meat is bad as a burger is a matter of personal taste.

To sum it up, I didn’t expect to dislike the place specially after all the reviews I’ve read, which is why I am going to give Marky’s another try soon with a bunch of friends and see if it was a one-time accident.

Rikky’z New Location

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Rikky’s is now located in Faraya overlooking the Chabrouh dam

As some of you know or may not know, Rikky’s has moved to a new venue in Faraya 10 minutes away from the original one. The venue looks almost exactly like the old one but it is more spacious and better organized now. The venue fits twice as much as before, the bar is now inside and much bigger, the BBQ is in a small area far from the tables and the entrance fee is now 100,000 LBP, up 10,000 Liras from last year (including open drinks and buffet).

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The salads are still placed inside as well as the Pasta and Saj stations. You have to walk down few stairs to get to the BBQ area, which includes a Shawarma station, Steaks, Hotdogs and Burgers.

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The music and atmosphere are as great as before, but the seating is still not comfortable and the tables and chairs are very close to each other. I don’t know why they didn’t keep some space between them but it’s very annoying specially when you pick a table in the middle. Added to that, you still need 10 minutes (Unless you want an Almaza or a Buzz as they are put aside in large ice buckets) or more to get a drink even though the bar is bigger now. I barely had 3 drinks during the 3 hours I spent there. Same thing for the food when it gets crowded, even though food was much better than last year.

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The party starts around 2pm so it’s recommended to arrive around noon so you can have few drinks, grab a bite and get in the mood. Don’t forget to check in on Foursquare and pick up your free hats because the sun is a killer up there. I recommend you download their app too as it will help you find the new location if you get lost [Android] [iOS].

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All in all, I like the new Rikky’z better but I wish they made it more comfortable and started serving alcohol (Bottles) on the tables instead of making us wait forever on the bar. Nevertheless, it’s probably the best place up in the mountains to spend a Sunday afternoon with your friends, eating and drinking and dancing surrounded by breathtaking views.

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PS: If you look at the picture closely, the people sitting on the barriers surrounding the outside area could easily fall off and get seriously injured. I think Rikky’s should ban anyone from sitting there or build some safety net below them.

Review: Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport

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When Mercedes introduced the A-class back in 1998, I have to admit I wasn’t really impressed with the models released. The car wasn’t attractive at all (Not even the sports model) and you couldn’t tell if it’s a mini family car or a car for the younger generation, specially that it wasn’t affordable at all.

The original model was revamped and enhanced a few times since then but Mercedes realized a couple of years back that it needs to reshape the whole thing and the end product was a beauty and undeniably one of the hottest hatchbacks in the market at the moment.

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Design & Style

The most noticeable feature in the new A class is that the upright short body from the old model was dropped and replaced by a longer and wider one. The huge front headlights, with the red metallic inserts in the bottom middle, give the car an aggressive and sexy look and the central Mercedes star in the middle of a diamond-grille make things even better. In fact, it’s almost as good as the new SL Class front which is my favorite Mercedes series.

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The back is always a tricky part in a hatch and the A250′s rear goes along with the rest of the car in my opinion. The rear headlights, the contour lines on the sides give the car a dynamic shape. It should be noted here that the A250 model which I drove is equipped with an AMG exterior and interior sports package, and looks very different from the standard A200 model.

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The AMG package includes red accents in both bumpers, fire-red brake calipers, twin oval tailpipes, thick coupe-like C-pillars, a lower suspension and 5-spoke, 18-inch lightweight AMG alloy wheels shod with fat 235/40 R18 tires—all.

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Interior

The red accent gives the interior the sporty look the car needs, from the floor mats, the sports seats to to the red seat belts (loved those!), the circular air vents and the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The front seats are comfortable, but the back seats lack head room due to the panoramic sunroof and leg room.

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I didn’t appreciate though the LED display in the middle. It looks out of place and resembles old digital frames with the thick borders.

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On The Road

While the AMG sports package makes the A250 model look hotter and its drive a lot more fun, this is not a car you’d want to drive on a daily basis to work or use for long trips. The reason for that is that the rides are bumpy, specially with Lebanon’s roads, and the passengers as well as the driver might get a bit uncomfortable. Of course that’s the case for most sports car not just the Mercedes, so I would advise to go for the A200 model if you’re planning to use this car as your everyday car. If not, then you can either go for the A250 or wait for the A45 AMG to come out.

As far as the handling is concerned, the car feels great on the highway and turns, and the acceleration is quite impressive. If you want to have some more fun, you can always switch to Sports mode but watch out as the A250 in S mode is really quick and you could easily reach 160kph without noticing. For those who like a loud engine, don’t expect much from the A250.

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The gear box is located behind the wheel and I loved how it takes one click to switch to Park. However, I still can’t get used to the small Hand Brake Button that most new cars now have. The A250 has a 2.0 litres petrol engine with a 211 horsepower. You need 6.6 seconds to get from 0 100 kph.

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All in all, driving a Mercedes always feels different than other cars and the A250 is no exception. Of course it doesn’t come at a cheap price (Around 40,000$) but it is definitely much cheaper than more luxurious Mercedes models. In fact, it feels like they joined all the qualities of a bigger more expensive Mercedes into a compact car.

To sum it up, the A250 Sport is a beautiful, stylish and quick car that comes with everything that you’d expect from a German-Engineered vehicle. Add to that the AMG specs and you have one of the coolest hatchbacks today.

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Four Seasons Hotel – Beirut

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I was in Beirut over the weekend and on this trip I ended up staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Downtown Beirut. The hotel is located in what I think is one of the nicest looking towers in Beirut, right in front of the very popular Zaituna Bay and so I was really looking forward to staying there.

Right from the moment I stepped out of my rental I knew I was going to be enjoying my stay at the hotel. The customer service at the hotel was just better then any other I had previously stayed in before and I’ve stayed at many. The feeling I kept getting is that every single employee wanted to help make your stay better, and by every single employee I don’t mean just the reception staff or managers, I mean everyone from the valet guys, to the housekeepers to the waiters. I think its the words they use but you just get this feeling that you can ask them for whatever you want and they’d love to do it and that made me super comfortable in asking them for stuff which I tend not to do.

Other than the excellent service my room was also very comfortable. I had overpacked on this trip but there was more than enough closest space and drawers to accomodate all my stuff. The room wasn’t that big but the bathroom was with a large sink area, tub, shower room, toilet room and a makeup table. The room had a balcony that was big enough to fit a table and two chairs and finally there was free wifi in the room and the whole hotel. My favorite part of the hotel though would have to be the roof. During the day the roof is a cool place to swim and tan but at night it’s an open air lounge overlooking the Mediterranean sea and Beirut.

I do have two minor complaints though. The first issue the hotel really can’t do much about but the view from my room could have been better if there wasn’t a large sand lot right outside. I live in Kuwait so I would rather not see sand lots when I travel. Even though the hotel is right in front of Zaituna Bay, my room was more on the side and I could only see the marina if I was on the balcony looking left which was disappointing. The other issue I had was with their breakfast. It’s not a breakfast buffet and one of the things I look forward to the most in hotels is their breakfast buffets. At the Four Seasons they have a dried fruit, fresh fruit and cereal buffet but if you want any hot dishes you have to order them. The advantage obviously is your breakfast is made for you and so is fresh, but the disadvantage is it takes time to make and you also can’t just fill up your plate with whatever looks good like you would do at a regular buffet.

In the end though I had a really good time at the hotel. I generally don’t tend to spend much time at hotels but on this trip I was having all my friends come over so we could just chill out on the roof. The incredibly friendly service and the lounge on the roof made me really love my stay. I’d most likely stay there again once I’m done reviewing other hotels in Beirut. Here is the link to their [Website]

Quick Review: Samsung Galaxy S4

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Samsung Lebanon were kind enough to lend me the new Samsung Galaxy S4 to try it out for a couple of weeks and return it. Even though I only got it on Monday, I’ve been experimenting on my friend’s S4 for the last week or so and have few things to say about this latest addition to the Samsung’s popular S series.

First of all, let me just say that even though I’ve been an iPhone user for years, I decided to switch to Android and have been using the Samsung Note2 since Christmas without any regret (except for the camera maybe). The Samsung Galaxy S is getting more popular by the year and the S3 has been rivaled only by the iPhone last year, so there were very high expectations set for the new S4.

Design, Build & Screen

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The Samsung S4 is an improved version of the S3 whereas it fits a larger screen in a smaller, lighter and slimmer body. The handset feels almost as light as the iPhone 5, and doesn’t feel cheap at all. On the contrary, the S4 feels like a classy and sexy phone. What I don’t like though about Samsungs in general is the back cover as I feel I am going to break it every time I want to take it out. It seems we still have to wait a bit for them to switch to unibody.

The screen is one of the phone’s most impressive features as it is a 5-inch Full HD with quite an impressive resolution (1080 x 1920). I think it’s the best screen resolution and quality currently in the market. Added to that, the screen is so sensitive that you can swipe around it while wearing gloves.

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The three sensors and front-facing camera dots look randomly placed

Features

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When I first saw the Samsung S4 TV commercials, I was excited to try out the Air Gesture and Air View features as they looked pretty cool, as well as the eye-tracking tool but I knew for a fact that I wouldn’t use them that often. It’s fun to try them out the first few weeks and impress your friends but that’s about it. I tried using the eye tracking tool when reading an article online but it’s not as practical as it seems. In fact, you might look stupid moving your head to interact with a screen but then again that’s a software that will take some time to perfect so there’s no harm in having fun with it until then.

Here are some of the new features in the S4:
Group Play, Story Album, S Translator, Optical Reader, Samsung Smart Scroll, Samsung Smart Pause, Air Gesture, Air View, Samsung Hub, ChatON, Samsung WatchON, S Travel (Trip Advisor), S Voice Drive, S Health, Samsung Adapt Display, Samsung Adapt Sound, Auto adjust touch sensitivity (Glove friendly), Safety Assistance, Samsung Link, Screen Mirroring, Samsung KNOX (B2B only).

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You can search with the camera on Google which is pretty cool

As far as the quick access menu is concerned, there are over 20 different shortcuts which I think is a bit too much.

Camera
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Even though I am using the Note2 currently, I still prefer my iPhone 4′s camera. The S4 camera is a major improvement from the previous one and is 13 MP with Auto Focus, Flash and Zero Shutter Lag. I noticed some lag when taking pictures sometimes but I haven’t had the chance to experiment it properly and will do so in the upcoming days. I will also try to compare the S4 camera with the iPhone 5 and Lumia 920 cameras.

PS: I will be posting pictures taken with the S4 on my Instagram for those interested (Follow me @LeNajib).

All in all, the S4 is an enhanced version of the popular Samsung S3, with a larger screen, better quality and higher resolutions, a more powerful camera and tons of new features. It’s currently the best Android and Smartphone in the market in terms of performance and specs. The Galaxy S4 is being sold at 850$ in Lebanon (with CTC warranty card) which I believe is overpriced.

I personally wouldn’t buy it because I am addicted to my Note2′s huge screen and looking forward to the Note3.

2013 Volvo V40 T5 Review

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I know I promised to post the review a couple of weeks ago but things have been hectic lately and I couldn’t finalize it until tonight. It’s my first car review and it’s not as easy as I thought it would be specially when you only have one weekend to test drive.

I’ve never driven a Volvo before and the last Volvo I remember being in was a 1983 model that my friend had during my AUB years. I knew that Volvos were traditionally reputed for putting safety above style, but this perception started to change around 10 years ago with the introduction of the C,V and S series (My favorite was the S40).

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Style
Having said that, the new Volvo V40 is all about style and is one of the sexiest cars I’ve seen this year in its category that includes the Audi A3, the BMW 1 Series and the newest Mercedes A-Class. It’s been almost 20 years that Volvo hasn’t designed a five-door hatchback and I must say they’ve outdone themselves, specially with the V40 R-Design model which I looked up online but unfortunately wasn’t available at the dealership.

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The car looks great from the inside, the leather seats are very comfortable with plenty of adjustability in the driving position. Don’t expect the same comfort though if you go for the sports seats that usually come with the T5 R-Design. The steering wheel looks nice with buttons to control the radio stations and the volume on the right and the menu items on the left. What I didn’t appreciate though was the small scroll button on the right side in the middle used to change the radio frequency as I would hit it accidentally while flipping through radio stations.

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There’s a cool display screen in front of the driver that can be set to three different modes (Eco, Elegance and Performance). I loved how the speeds light up as you go faster. The LEDs light up the cabin at night but can reflect on the front windshield if the brightness is set to the highest level. The panoramic glass roof adds a good feel to driving the V40.

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On the Road
If you thought the V40 is a family car, think again as the T5 is equipped with a five-cylinder 2.5 litre engine producing over 250 hp. With this much power, the V40 is a beast on the road and I had a lot of fun driving it. It’s fast and responsive, with a quick acceleration and has a good grip to the road. I wasn’t really comfortable sometimes with the handling when speeding on turns as I felt a slight loss of balance but otherwise it was satisfying enough.

The T5 goes from 0 to 100 in around 6 seconds. It is mated to a six-speed Geartronic automatic with sports mode.

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The reverse mode is very practical as you get two cameras showing you on a seven-inch LCD display in the dash the proximity from the obstacles around you and behind you. The two right and left front mirrors are directed towards the floor to prevent you from hitting your car from the front while reversing. You could disable this option if you wish so.

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I tried backing the car into the sea and the sensors did not beep at all. I think it is the case for most cars but it would nice if they work on improving those sensors since we now have cameras and all.

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Screenshot from the video I took that I will not upload as it will take forever

Safety
The V40 “received a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP tests, with 98 per cent for adult occupant and 100 per cent for safety assist making it officially the safest car Euro NCAP has ever tested. Every V40 comes fitted with the firm’s City Safety system – which uses a laser to detect an imminent collision and automatically brake the car to prevent a low-speed accident – and a U-shaped pedestrian airbag that triggered by sensors in the bumper and pops out from under the bonnet to soften the impact. Volvo finished a solid 10th in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, proving that buyers still have faith in the ownership experience and reliability of the brand despite a few problems in recent years.” [Link]

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I think this excerpt from one of the V40 reviews I read says it all. Safety is a priority for Volvo and they make sure to let the driver know about that. There are plenty alerts and warnings that you can activate and de-activate to make your drive the safest possible. There’s also the impressive pedestrian airbag that pops out to minimize injury. Check out a demonstration [Here].

There’s one alert that surprised me the first time, which is the distance alert. It is triggered every time you are closing in on another car quickly in order to avoid collision, and makes a loud sound while lighting up the front windshield with a red alert. I turned it off eventually.

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Verdict
The V40 is a great hatchback that offers you quality, comfort, safety and performance. It’s a very nice-looking car with a price that starts at $39,900. That’s quite pricey but reasonable when compared to the Mercedes and Audi in its category. Having said that, it is hard for me to say that it’s my favorite hatchback as I haven’t tried any others but it’s definitely a cool car to have and most of the reviews seem to agree with me.

You can check out more details about the V40 [Here].

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Iron Man 3: Quick Review

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Iron Man 3 was definitely a major improvement from Iron Man 2 but the first Iron Man is still my favorite by far. In fact, IM3 was fun to watch with a lot of explosions, chases, a very menacing villain (at least at first) and Robert Downey Jr played his role to perfection, but there are few things I didn’t appreciate.

- The trailer built up a bad guy, The Mandarin, as terrifying as Batman’s Bane or Bond’s Javier Bardem but the way he gets caught and who he turns out to be were quite disappointing.

- I don’t think the little boy character was needed in the movie. This part disconnected us from the action and didn’t last long enough to draw us further into the story. To be honest, I thought the whole movie wasn’t very well paced.

- There’s a lot of humor in the movie, a bit too much in my opinion.

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Otherwise, Gwyneth Paltrow was great as always and Happy Hogan was hilarious and like I said previously, it’s a lot of fun and is a must-watch. What remains to be seen if it will be the last time we see Robert Downey Jr. as the Iron Man or not.

PS: The movie was in 3D, which I still think sucks in theaters.