The goal was to see a live timber wolf. You know, one with teeth snarling, tail quivering, lips curling, and hair raised--a blood-thirsting animal on the prowl. Bonus if we spotted other predatory animals, caught a few pristine canyon spires in a wooded vista, ate fresh pancakes for breakfast, and maybe took a quick trip to see the original Monuments Men.
That's right: I was taking my family to the Black Hills of South Dakota, a 1040-mile round-trip. And our car would be the 2014 Infiniti Q50S, which provides an amazing array of trip-planning features.
In our current age of the connected car, the first step with any family vacation is not to fill up with gas or check the oil. Instead, it's to sit down at a computer and fire up your browser. The Infiniti Connection service let me create a detailed itinerary.
The site is a bit wonky: You have to select your vehicle--you know, if you own more than one Infiniti--click Infiniti Connection, and browse to the trip-planning options. I already had a hunch about the wolf. I clicked on Destination Send-To-Vehicle and typed in Bear Country USA in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Boom, up came an address, phone, a web link, and a map. I clicked Send Destination Set. For fun, I looked up pancake houses, state parks, gas stations, and Mt. Rushmore, and sent those as destinations to the car as well.
There's a nifty Journey Planner that works only with exact addresses (no search functions) that let me set my home address as a starting point and the address of Custer State Park and my camper cabin as the final destination. Only 520 miles to go! I sent the Journey Planner to the car, and I even linked to my Google Calendar. I felt exceedingly prepared.
In my calendar, I scheduled the drive time (about nine hours), the morning visit to Bear Country, and various other stops, including the all-important Perkins visit. We were set.
Unfortunately, the trunk on the Q50S is roughly the size of two bear cubs. We had to stuff pillows behind the rear-seat headrests and fit pots and pans carefully into available nooks and crannies.
In my driveway, I went to Infiniti Connection on the car's touchscreen. The Q50S has two stacked screens: The top one is mostly for showing the navigation route, and the bottom screen is for running apps and controlling music. Up popped my Journey Planner route and the destinations I had sent.
After a rough night of sleep--wild buffalo moved through our campground, snorting like they were standing next to my mattress--we jumped back into the Q50S. I selected the Bear Country USA destination on the touchscreen.
Using my iPhone 5s, I fired up the Infiniti Connection app and looked for a few more hotspots, including the classic Elks Theater in Rapid City. (You can watch movies from a balcony and look at statues of all 43 past presidents on the sidewalk.) I sent these destinations to the car, and designated them as waypoints on my route for the day. The app also lets you lock and unlock the car remotely, get roadside help, and even chat with a live Personal Assistant about almost anything--including pancakes and wolves.
When we arrived at Bear Country, I was a little incredulous. There's a massive gate in front, and the loop winds around a wooded area for only two miles. We drove in and spotted black bears right away. We drove through an area filled with bighorn sheep, then came to another open gate. My wife gasped. A timber wolf appeared around the school bus in front of us and then stood in front of the Infiniti Q50S, almost daring us to enter.
We must have stared at that wolf for about 15 minutes. Eventually, it trotted away slowly down the road. We had our big vacation moment. It's rare to see wolves at Bear Country. Having one confront you head-on is even more memorable.
Infiniti Connection is a powerful ally for family vacations. I would've still found Bear Country USA and my camper cabin, but the browser, touchscreen and mobile apps all worked in conjunction to make my trip planning much easier.
In a few cases, especially out in the wilds of Custer State Park, the connection lagged a bit. When you select Infiniti Connection in the car, the service has to connect and download data, which can take a few minutes.
The Infiniti Connection service costs $179 per year after an included one-year free trial. You'll need at least the Q50 Premium trim level (starting at $40,000) and the Nav package (for $1,400). The Personal Assistant app is included for free as part of the service. We tested the sportier version called the Q50S, which costs $50,650 and includes Infiniti Connection.