Best new cars: 2006-2007

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We have spent the last several months evaluating vehicles from the major manufacturers to identify those that we feel are the best in their fleets. Since Masarati, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, and Rolls Royce don’t allow us to test we can only imagine that they are selling to the already sold. We should remind you that Bentley does furnish us test vehicles because they want our readers to know the truth. And, truth be told, the Bentley is easily the best super vehicle you can buy based on performance, room, and resale. It would take a professional driver to pull away from a Bentley in any situation and those vehicles wouldn’t have room for five and their golf bags.

This review is about those companies who have improved the most and are providing the best values. We start with our most improved product line and that goes to Nissan and Saturn. The new Nissan Versa is a flat out bargain with plenty of room, performance and fuel mileage all for under $14,000. For a few thousand more the Sentra is ready to perform for you and it is a winner. Plenty of spunk and a superior sound system make this new offering light generations better than the previous Sentra. Congratulations to Nissan.

The Aura is proof that the Saturn line does not have to fall into extinction, as did the Oldsmobile. By the way, if you get your hands on a early 2000 Oldsmobile Aurora you are going to have a car that is quite excellent except for its battery location under the rear seat and some power winder motor concerns. Saturn’s Aura is better than the current Accord and Camry in every way. It makes the previous model sedans from Saturn look ancient. Added to that is the new Saturn roadster, the Sky. Fun and frugal, and a looker, this model is worth a test drive. Saturn is offerings its Vue with a modified hybrid system that they call the Green Line. It gets good fuel mileage, about 25 on the highway for an SUV, but the new SUV from Saturn looks clearly better. Saturn is the most improved domestic line and that is without even testing the Saturn Outlook. And don’t forget a much trendier little Saturn is coming later this year. All of these are tremendous improvements over past products.

Acura MDX is much better than the previous model and is the best of the new offerings from this upscale marque. It is larger, more capable, and has more room and a better demeanor. Unfortunately, the price is above $40,000 too. The smaller RDX model has a turbocharged engine, needs premium, and lacks interior room.

Bentley’s Continental GTC is a bargain even with a price tag out the door just shy of $200,000. It has all wheel drive, over 500 horsepower, and a quiet ride with room for four. It is the best luxury convertible by far. You are going to pay far more for far less.

The 3 Series BMW has been restyled and has a more potent engine selection. Always a great performer, this is the best of the BMW products although it is tight on space. Drive all the 3 Series models before you buy. They have very distinctive personalities.

Chevrolet’s new Silverado pick-up truck is quite good, but from a family standpoint the reliable Chevrolet Impala is the best in its line up. Well priced, no surprises when you drive it, and capable of getting the best insurance rates and above average fuel economy.

Dodge’s Caliber is a true value leader. Great size and utility, a notable shape, room for five, and a combination of engines to suit every mood make this the best Dodge product. All of this for under $14,000. The new Avenger is new but lacks character outside of its appearance. Yes it is roomy and economical to operate, but the growl of its engine even at highway speeds gets annoying. We recommend the previously introduced Charger that isn’t that much more expensive and a better buy.

Ford’s Fusion and Edge are the best from this struggling manufacture. The Edge has a good look and is clearly more refined than previous similar models from Ford. The Fusion is exceptional. There is very little reason for someone looking for a sedan to look elsewhere. Sadly Ford needs a fresh subcompact vehicle and has none at this moment.

Honda’s Fit and CR-V are both worthwhile. We believe that the CR-V is a much better vehicle than the previous model, but still lacks enough power for our needs. However, the Honda Fit is a marvel. It is a combination fuel economy winner, sports car, and station wagon all priced under $14,000. It is small, but handy.

Hyundai’s Entourage, Santa Fe, and Veracruz are all very well priced and put together. However, the Entourage is clearly the best new product. This minivan is as good as the class leading Honda Odyssey and costs thousands less. The Kia products are so similar that it would difficult to separate outside of the nameplates. As such the Hyundai/Kia would be third on our list of most improved product lines after Nissan and Saturn. However, the Kia Rondo stands alone as the best of the Kia products. It is a smallish minivan with great interior space usage. Filling in the niche left by the forgettable Mazda MPV, the Kia is the queen of the Kia line.

Lexus has three new sedans that are notable in the LS, GS 450h, and the ES. Since Lexus products have been known to be price leaders in the past we couldn’t help notice that this was no longer the case. However, you get so much quality product and such high resale the line seems destined to become the “Cadillac” of the 2000s. As such the hybridish GS 450h is the best product. It offers scintillating performance while getting respectable fuel mileage. Even the non-hybrid version is excellent. The LS 460 is filled with electronic marvels, but it isn’t as vast as improvement over the previous models as the GS line.

Lincoln’s MXZ is a potent, luxurious sedan that harkens back to the old days when the nameplate spoke of quality and elegance. Although we like the Zephyr, the MXZ has more options and is a bargain starting under $30,000.

Mazda’s 3 is priced in the low $20,000 range and can be ordered for thrift or thrill. It is a new car so there is little to compare it to, but it figures to be a hit for those who want practice transportation with a hint of zoom. We have not tested the new line of Mazda SUVs at this time, but we did get a chance to play with the CX-7 and found it to be clearly a winner. For much less than a BMW or Acura you get a go-getter with cargo space and handling on a par with the best. Still, the Mazda 3 is the best value here.

Mercedes CLK is so refined and elegant in road manners and performance it is difficult to beat. Add the AMG package and you can take four people on a ride that borders on unbelievable. It would take a professional driver in a sports car to pull away from you. That aside, we do find the Mercedes E Class the most improved here. It is a return to quality and it so vastly improved over the previous model it is difficult to believe the same company built them. We also recommend you wait for the new C sedan which may make even larger quality strides over the previous model.

The Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder is bigger, badder, and better than the trouble prone previous model. It is fun to drive and has a serious side, too. We have not tested the Gallant, but it can’t help but be a better vehicle than the older model.

Pontiac’s G5 is new and priced under $15,000. However, we still have not been able to test it. We expect it to be of merit in price terms alone.

Suzuki’s XL-7 and SX4 are so much different than what Suzuki previously offered that it is difficult to believe they came from the same manufacture. The larger XL-7 has a nice ride, an abundance of room and seating for seven, and enough power to master most situations. However, what caught our attention was the cheerful SX4 with it French exterior design and utility and unheard of pricing starting at $15,000. Fun to drive, a little underpowered, the SX4 is certainly highly recommended by The Car Family. Suzuki would be fourth in our most improved manufacture competition.

Toyota’s Camry is the best new product from this all-winning company. However, the previous model was excellent too and so we found that outside of the exterior styling and some performance improvements Camry would simply be holding its own despite the hybrid option. We believe that Toyota is one of the most press friendly companies in the world and the results have paid off for it as they have rolled off winning product after winning product. The new Camry is no exception. The Yaris replaced the Echo and both suffer in terms of ride and performance. For the same money we much prefer the Scion line or recommend the terrific Corolla. Hard to lose with Toyota and our favorite is the RAV4. It a winner and clearly the best of the crossover SUVs at this point in time.

Volkswagen’s Rabbit is essentially the same as the previous model in many ways, but is a more refined vehicle. Despite this the Rabbit is expensive for what it offers and lacks both power and fuel mileage that the competition offers.

We have not tested any new Volvos and are waiting for the convertible at this moment. It has to be better than the older model.

Family conference: Although we need to test a few more models it is clear that Nissan and Saturn have produced some significant new models that should help them rebound in terms of sales. Other manufactures that have brought new vehicles to market that are much better than the previous ones are Kia/Hyundai and Suzuki. Regardless of which type of family oriented vehicle you are interested in, these represent the best we could find. With that in mind we highly recommend the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Saturn Aura, Suzuki SX4, Dodge Caliber, Hyundai Entourage, and the most notable.

For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click on business.

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