Cars of a Lesser God

by The Car Family

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Call it the WalMartization of the car industry, but the domination of Honda, Toyota, Ford and General Motors products has made it nearly impossible for another manufacture to do anything more than secure a niche in the marketplace. Too bad, because there are a lot of vehicles that just need to be given a test drive to remove the risk from risk taking for potential buyers.

To that end, here are two Mitsubishis, a Suzuki’s, and a Mazda and not one of them averaged less than 25 mpg on the highway and two, the Lancer and the Mazda easily bettered 30 mpg. But the the reason to look at these four diverse vehicles is their excellent driving dynamics and great deals.

We tested the Mitsubishi Lancer ES and the Outlander GT, the Suzuki Kizashi, and the Mazda6. Each had an exceptional characteristic. The Outlander was a skilled mountain climber, the Lancer was a fuel sipper, and Mazda and the Suzuki a canyon cutters with family touting capabilities. We aren’t providing specific MSRP for these vehicles because of the deals that are being offered on them for both new and used versions are significantly lower in almost every case.

Mazda6

The Mazda was loaded, but you can get a lesser equipped version for under $20,000 and we recommend you take your time driving both the four and six cylinder versions before deciding which model to buy. Either way, it is a handsome sedan with couple like styling.

Mazda’s 6 has top safety scores, an economical four-cylinder engine, and a passion for fun. You can also order the six cylinder or ā€œsā€ model, but it really isn’t needed for family applications. We like the i Touring model with 17-inch rims wheels, a trip computer, a power driver seat, an in-dash six-CD changer, and Bluetooth phone capability and more. The upscale models offer more features and might be better deals if you need the niceties.

The 2011 Mazda 6 i has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower and a slick shifting, six-speed manual transmission. You can also order a five-speed automatic with manual shift control. The six cylinder option uses a 3.7-liter V6 with a rambunctious 272 horsepower, but this engine only comes with a six-speed automatic. The four cylinder gets 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway and the V6 18/27 mpg. Safety features include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.

The interior is interesting with red electroluminescent gauges and a business like cockpit, but the base stereo is weak, reception tepid, and the seats don’t hold you well. However, if you aren’t pressing your luck on corners, they are comfortable. The huge trunk is a plus and the rear seats fold down adding to the usefulness of this sleek looking sedan.

Family conference: A good car, but the competition is keen in the family sedan segment and so look for a great deal to entice you to try this athletic family mover.

Mitsubishi Lancer

The Mitsubishi Lancer has never been a big seller, but it has always been good value if you are willing to find one at the right price. This is a sharp looking sedan that comes in several flavors from the bargain priced DE to the better equipped ES and finally the GTS and Ralliart. We recommend the ES, unless you like the styling and features of the upscale models. The base 2.0-liter engine and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) are adequate and its 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway ratings are above average, but this model isn’t fast.

The ES has air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, upgraded upholstery, a 60/40-split rear seat , ancillary steering-wheel audio controls and a better stereo. If you have the funds, the GTS provides a turbocharged engine and a better stereo and more electronics, but the Ralliart option is even more loaded with its 2.0-liter inline-4 producing 237 horsepower and and all wheel drive.

Safety features include front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, antilock brakes and stability control. The brake feel is good and handling equal to the Mazda, but it is a bit more stiff-legged. Crash scores are good. The interior is basic, the seats could use more padding, and the trunk is smallish, but the back seats are quite good and roomy.

Family conference: With pricing well under $20,000, real life gas mileage in the mid-20 mpg range, and a roomy interior, the Lancer is good basic transportation. If you want to dance with the devil there is always the more hasty Ralliart and the Evolution model that can terrorize most any canyon or Carrera, for that matter. Shop around.

Mitsubishi Outlander

The Mitsubishi Outlander was our biggest surprise. This is a fun SUV that provides the driver with the benefits of all wheel drive, handling and good fuel mileage. And there are options galore. If you really need a three rows of seating you should check out the Outlander’s carefully because it isn’t the best we have seen. The base ES model has a four-cylinder engine and several features, but we prefer the XLS with its 3.0-liter V6 and plenty of toys including an upscale stereo and more. All wheel drive and hill start assist are great for those who travel in hilly areas. There are more loaded versions and some of these are being offered at significant savings. Shop around.

Outlander’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 168 horsepower and the 3.0-liter V6 makes 230 horsepower. The four-cylinder version comes with a a continuously variable transmission and the larger engines transfers power with a six-speed automatic. Look for fuel mileage for the both engines to be in the 22-26 mpg range. Safety wise the Outlander has antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, and whiplash-reducing front head restraints and good crash scores.

The Outlander has a handy flip-down tailgate capable of supporting around 400 pounds and ample storage space for a vehicle in this class. The interior is a bit drab, but the real fun is in driving this eager to please SUV.

Family conference: If you can get a deal on one, buy it if you like to drive and really need a SUV. It is surprisingly enjoyable and obedient.

Suzuki Kizashi

The Suzuki Kizashi is a hoot. It can be yours for under $20,000 if you choose the base model, and even the upscale sedan is priced well. We always recommend spending a lot of time shopping around because Suzuki is a brand on the upswing and dealers are willing to deal.

Don’t let the name confuse you, this is one good vehicle that combines handling, fuel mileage, and looks with an exceptional warranty. The 2.4-liter provides a standard six-speed manual transmission that is easy to shift. You can also get a CVT as an option as well as all wheel drive. The engine offers 185 horsepower, but the real joy of this rig is its handling. There are very few cars in this price range that can come close to the cornering ability of the Kizashi. If Suzuki ever plants a V6 or a turbocharger, or both, under the hood this sedan is going to be the king of hot compact sedan class. There are a couple of versions from a base S, which is simply a price leader, to a Sport GTS , which we love. You can get the whole parts bin with the Sport SLS. Look for the best deals on the loaded models. Fuel mileage hovers near the 30 mpg range in mixed driving without all wheel drive.

Safety wise the Kizashis include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags, and good crash-testing scores. The interior is spacious and the seats comfortable.

Family conference: This Suzuki is a winner if you like to drive and don’t mind excellent brakes, handling, an exceptional warranty, and fuel mileage. You need to be close enough to a dealer to take advantage of the 100,000 mile powertrain warranty, but it should be worth it. The manual transmission is easy to live, but we recommend the CVT if you live where commuting is sluggish.

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