June 2010


by The Car Family

for more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/most-reliable-vehicles/

Holiday gift giving hails from Roman days when the Winter Solace was celebrated with an exchange of greenery and sweets. Over time this tradition has changed to reflect both religious overtones, friendship and to sway opinions. Regardless, it is a custom that has given us such classics as It’s a Wonderful Life and O Henry’s Gift of the Magi that reinforce the importance of being both frugal and caring. Which bring one to the question of which vehicle to purchase that share these noble traits. Two trendsetters fit the bill and they are from Ford. The duo we tested were the new Mercury Milan and the Ford Flex.

In the Milan, Mercury has developed a good sized sedan hybrid that easily betters 40 mpg. The reality is that the fuel frugal Milan hybrid can get you to downtown Los Angeles and back on a gallon of gas and you could even take along four of your friends. In other words, E pluribus unum. We aren’t just talking green here, we are talking forest green as this Mercury accelerators to just over 45 mph on electric power alone. That’s perfect for heavy beach going traffic. The instrumentation provides enough intrigue to keep even author Dan Brown researching the driver’s manual not to mention the 33 pounds of air in the tires. This Mercury comes with a SmartGauge and an EcoGuide that glows green the more tenderly you caress the accelerator and rewards you with animated leaves and branches (Not those types of leaves). There is also a radar based blind spot detection system that scans for oncoming vehicles as you back out from parking spaces. Other options include an upgraded stereo with real time traffic, a voice activated communications and entertainment package, moon roof, and eco-friendly cloth seating surfaces made from recycled materials.
Motivating this sedan is a combination of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors that move the hybrid to 60 in well under nine seconds. Look for a bladder challenging driving range of over 600 miles and your only sacrifice is a smaller trunk and possible marital bliss. The Milan is that rare combination of good value and performance and its clever gauge display communicates with the driver, something that O Henry’s Jim and Delia Young would approve.

Ford Flex

With a comfortable ride, interior arrangement, and an abundance of safety equipment that includes most everything including a tire pressure monitoring systems and LED tail lights, the Mercury hybrid is an ideal family rig, but for those who need more space to haul the family tree or to separate the children there is the long and lean, seven passenger Ford Flex. With its slab-sided retro look, the Flex looks like nothing else on the road. If the appearance isn’t enough individuality, there are a mind boggling number of options you can order depending on the largess of your government owned bank. Buyers may treat the gentle giant Flex to such gifts as a Trailer Sway Control, an Active Park Assist system that uses radar that enables the Flex to park itself, all wheel drive, a six-speaker CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, a Microsoft-developed Sync multimedia interface, DVD entertainment system, touchscreen navigation, back-up camera, Sirius real-time traffic, and a rear-console refrigerator.

The Flex is powered by a standard 3.5-liter V6 with 262 horsepower or you can order the EcoBoost turbocharger engine and over stimulate your senses with its 355 horsepower while still maintaining the same gas mileage as the base engine, about 19 mpg in mixed driving. Driving the Flex would make Santa Claus jealous with its fairly large cargo hold, very quiet ride, and soft handling. The seats are comfortable, perhaps a little to cushy for some tushies, and visibility is excellent in all directions.

Family conference: Two excellent vehicles from a fast improving Ford Motor Company; the Milan is family sized and yet delivers fuel mileage nearly comparable to the much smaller Japanese hybrids. The Flex is relaxing to drive and refreshingly different from other large SUVs. And even if you don’t need the seven passenger capacity it never hurts to be prepared. As Annie said in It’s A Wonderful Life,I been savin’ this money for a divorce, if ever I got a husband.”

For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/auto/index.html

Free version of Gift of the Magi: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/22440

Free version of It’s a Wonderful Life: http://www.moviesfoundonline.com/its_a_wonderful_life.php

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For a Few Dollars Less: Hybrid Vehicles

by The Car Family

http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/most-reliable-vehicles/

About ten years ago Honda brought an ungainly, impish vehicle to the market and became the first large manufacture to present 909 readers with a useable hybrid. Today, there are over a dozen sedans, light trucks, and even SUVs that carry hybrid status and that makes for some interesting choices for those wanting to spend a few dollars less on fuel costs. The latest data shows that the average person has about a 30 minutes commute to work and those in cities ofter spending an hour on the road. With cars and light trucks averaging under 17 mpg the purchase of a hybrid could pay for the additional cost over a similar non-hybrid in just a few years.

There are over 1.5 million hybrids on the road today ranging from the newest version of the Honda Insight priced under $20,000 to the $109,000 Lexus LS600hL. This year buyers are going to have a selection of nearly 40 hybrids to consider, including the highly anticipated Chevrolet Volt and sporty Honda CR-Z. In practical terms hybrids offer improved performance and fuel mileage. For example, the Ford Fusion hybrid can go 500 plus miles without having to be refilled. The use of electric motors also enables vehicles to use smaller engines and still deliver peppy performance.

The Car Family felt that an evaluation of the newer family oriented sedans would be in order and so we tested the Mercedes Benz S400 hybrid and the highly regarded Mercury Milan hybrid. Other significant available hybrids are the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima.

This six cylinder Mercedes is a truly intriguing vehicle for many reasons. First, it costs less and yet is just as powerful as the V8 S550 and delivers 30 percent better fuel mileage. Furthermore, this Mercedes is the first sedan to use the more powerful lithium-ion battery. Small in size, the battery powers a 20 horsepower motor attached to the torque converter. This makes the Mercedes a “mild” hybrid, meaning it can not run on battery power alone. The plus side is that using the small battery means Mercedes didn’t have to sacrifice cargo space. We averaged 24 mpg in mixed driving, but those with a lighter touch on the accelerator can push that figure higher with a range of 450 miles possible on premium fuel. The S400 has an understated exterior with only a couple of Hybrid badges marking its uniqueness. It has a plethora of safety features, and a designer quality interior. Overall, this is true luxury sedan that is enjoyable to drive and a desire to please.

The Mercury Milan, and its sister, the Ford Fusion hybrid, are priced under $30,000 and have an amassing range of over 600 miles before needing refueling on unleaded. Ford’s optional Sync system unites the sound, phone, and computer together and is a noteworthy option. The Mercury is frisky to drive, handles quite well and has a fairly tight 37.5 ft. turning radius. We averaged about 36 mpg in mixed driving. The combination of four cylinder engine and electric motor assist make onramp merges easy even on the the 91 freeway. Should you be in heavy traffic this Mercury can frequently go up to 30 mph without the gas engine needing to be started. One morning we were able to travel from 60/57 interchange to Chino without using any fuel.

There are viable alternatives to hybrids. For example, the amazing gas four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox gets better highway fuel mileage then the Ford Escape Hybrid and has significantly more interior space. And, the Volkswagen diesel Jetta sedan can achieve nearly identical mileage figures with the Toyota and Honda compact hybrid four-seaters. Recently, Nissan announced its Leaf, a battery powered vehicle with a range estimated at around 100 miles before charging adds yet another layer of decision making for the frugal buyer.

Family conference: There simply is no need to be afraid of purchasing a hybrid. We loved the Mercedes safety features, comfort and performance, and were surprised at the elegance and sportiness of the Mercury Milan as well. The only question is how much do you want to save?

For vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

Hyundai Blue: A Green Elantra

by The Car Family

for more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/most-reliable-vehicles/

for a list of all car manufacturers go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

Just when you thought you had to buy a hybrid or diesel to get good fuel mileage for your family vehicle along comes the bargain prices Hyundai Elantra Blue. With prices starting about $14,000 you can get yourself into a downright great car that is surprisingly fun to drive and has ample cargo space. Indeed the handling, braking, and ride quality are exemplary considering the price. The Blue is in effect a fairly basic Elantra with the emphasis on good fuel mileage. We always have liked the Elantra, especially the five door semi-station wagon touring models and so it wasn’t surprising that we quickly felt at home in this model. There were some exceptions such as a long throw on the five-speed standard transmission linkage and steering that was a too light. Otherwise this is good value especially considering the long warranty and such standard features as remote entry, electronic side mirrors, and a surprising good engine.

Mom’s view: The interior is bland, but useful. I would definitely go with the optional comfort package that includes an exceptional stereo. The gauge package is missing some engine data instrumentation and the seats could use a bit more padding, but overall, this is a bargain. However, be warned that the clutch takes a while to master with its high take-up point. The Blue can hold four adults in comfort and there it is easy to place an infant seat in back as well. There are plenty of little storage areas and the glove compartment is adequate. The cupholders are poorly placed and be careful when you are using the parking brake as your hand can easily hit any container placed in the cupholder. Despite this, considering the price and what the competition is offering, this is a best buy. It is no Mazda 3, but it is so much more comfortable to drive and gets better gas mileage.

Safety wise you get antilock disc brakes, active front head restraints, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags. The crash scores were good for front crashes, but side-impact scores were marginal. Overall, I liked this Hyundai and found it willing to perform its duties as a family vehicle at a far more competent level the price would suggest.

Dad’s view: The Blue is the low price leader for the Elantra series and it drives like anything but a low priced vehicle. Hyundai has fiddled with such items as reducing friction to get better mileage, but the real secret is that this front-wheel drive sedan isn’t slow. Using the five-speed manual transmission to keep the four-cylinder engine on task makes passing and mountain driving easy despite the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rating of 138 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque.

I was able to consistently get to 60 mph in under nine seconds with two on-board. All of this with a fuel economy rating of 36 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. The range is well over 400 highway miles. And as for the Blue being, green, the eager engine has an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle rating.

Young working woman’s view: Not much to look at, but I learned a long time ago not to judge by appearances. It is generic in every way except the blue interior night instrument lighting and sculpture dash. The headlights are good and the dome lighting acceptable. The rear seats have a 60/40 split fold down and there is a modest sized pass through into the trunk’s 14 cubic feet of storage. The Blue model really is too basic for me despite power windows, keyless entry, and a tilting steering wheel. I would go with the must have $1750 Comfort option and get air-conditioning, cruise control and a CD/MP3 player with a USB/auxiliary audio jack for iPods. You can also opt for the satellite radio, but regardless of your audio source, the six- speaker sound quality is excellent.

Young working male’s view: The Blue sort of grows on you. At first you notice the ultra quick steering, eager brakes and the smooth engine. It is very compliant and eager to please and quiet. Bumpy roads and tight corners didn’t raise a concern with the independent front and rear suspension, but this isn’t a Mazda 3 or Honda Civic so don’t get carried away. On the other hand, neither of those are as comfortable and roomy to drive on long trips. Of course, the 195/65/15 tires could be upgraded for better handling, but you would probably sacrifice fuel mileage and softer ride. It has a quiet ride, but with the terrific stereo it really won’t matter. Essentially, this is basic, reassuring transportation. Add that to the Hyundai warranty that offers 5-year/60,000 miles bumper to bumper coverage and roadside assistance and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain coverage and there is little not to like in this Blue considering its price. For open source software reviews go to http://www.eracks.com

Family conference: A bargain. Although the crash scores are not as high as we would like, this is nevertheless the best vehicle in this price range for a family. It isn’t exciting to look at, but when you add in the long warranty and gutsy engine you have a must test drive vehicle and we believe that the dealers just might be willing to negotiate on that must have Comfort package.