February 2015

Frugal Family Friendly Vehicles
The Car Family

Residents of the Pacific Palisades love their vehicles with over 70 percent owning two more more. Added to that is the fact that residence turnover rate is very low and you have a well established community, but one that still has over 3000 households with children under 18, according to Census data. With that in mind, and the 30 minute average commute time, we found a variety of family friendly vehicles that are capable of 30 mpg and are priced under $30,000. In other words, you don’t have to be rich to afford these fuel frugal vehicles.

If you are looking for something different, the revised Mitsubishi Outlander has enough electronics to make an eight-year-old happy. Everything from dual 12 volt outlets to a 6.1 inch touch sensitive monitor help keep you in touch and the all-wheel drive capabilities provide some security when heavy rains occur, if memory serves us. The high seating position offers a view of the traffic jams ahead and the optional Rockford-Fosgate 710 Watt stereo can help win the decibel battle with motorcycles and pother motorists who desperately want to share their music with you. Prices start around $28,000.

As large as the Impala is the Kia Rio isn’t, and that goes for the price, which is about $17,000. for the SX. The best things about the Rio is that it is easy to park, maneuver, and you can get over 35 mpg with the manual transmission and a light foot. Despite the price, the Rio has an abundance of safety features including the usual array of airbags, traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes and hill assist control, which is ideal given the step grades in some sections of town. The Kia Rio has a controlled ride and the engine is potent enough for legal speeds. There is an plethora of standard equipment including Bluetooth. Go with the hatchback version over the sedan and you can carry even more cargo. Highly rated with a pleasing look, the shapely Rio is worthy of the keep the Palisades beautiful motto.

In nearly the same price bracket of the Kia is Nissan’s popular Sentra SR. It can provide up to an estimated 39 mpg on the highway, but realistically you are looking at around 34. The continuous variable transmission and four-cylinder engine are refined and there is room for four adults, but its
real trumps card are its looks, interior treatments, spacious trunk and rear seat room and easy to master optional navigation and stereo controls.

Another worthy SUV is the Hyundai Santa Fe LTD AWD, which carries a $34,850 list price and that includes an enormous number of standard features that would be extra cost options on the competition. The Santa Fe has three rows of seats and a powerful engine that can be nursed enough to get an average of 25 mpg in mixed driving. A soothing ride, an interior that makes getting into the third row of seats somewhat easier, and user friendly electronics make the Santa Fe attractive to those who like to the idea of a SUV.

Mazda has two 5’s that are remarkably the same in terms of utility, but vastly different in style. Choosing between the two is as difficult as deciding what flavor as the much lamented Baskin-Robbins. The Mazda 5 is a minivan with the emphasis on mini. Yet, it provides all the utility of its larger competition and is much easier to park and maneuver. It is fun to drive, handy, and the EPA-estimated its gas mileage at 22/28. This is an exceptional handling minivan that has a small turning radius and easy to enter side doors. Older people well appreciate the ease of entry as you don’t have to step-up to gain access. The second row of seats are captain’s chairs and there is a small third row of seats as well. Truly a small jewel and fun to drive.

Mazda also offers the CX-5, and as most Mazdas, is pleasurable to drive. This affordable SUV offer Mazdas excellent Skyactive Technology that yields class leading fuel mileage and enough power rank it at the top of the small SUV category. The CX-5 offers standard keyless entry, steering ancillary controls and available with the Smart City Brake Support feature that can automatically brake the CX-5 in emergency cases at up to 19 mph.

Nissan Pathfinder: Affable and Affordable
The Car Family
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Sometimes a car simply amazes you and that is the way it was with the new Pathfinder. Nissan has made this seven passenger SUV into a well mannered, fun, and versatile vehicle capable of handling most any terrain and with enough options to satisfy any taste. Perhaps, best of all, the Pathfinder starts around $30,000 (US). In other words Nissan has priced the this gentle giant under the cost of many mid-sized sedans.

The Pathfinder is a radical departure from older generations and provides ample evidence that Nissan knows how to produce a seven passenger SUV that can match luxury brands in quality and performance. The unibody constructed Pathfinder offers ample cargo space, an upscale interior, and spry performance. Indeed, this Nissan is a joy to drive. It has excellent acceleration, good braking, is easy to park and offers superior value. The Pathfinder is very nimble.

Visibility in all directions is among the best ever in a large SUV and the 260-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 gave us over 23 mpg in mixed driving and 25 on the highway. That is impressive considering its towing capacity is 5000 pounds. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) in our test vehicle was unobtrusive, quick to react and kept the engine on task. A hybrid Pathfinder is also available.
2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Mom’s view: What a surprise. This is a big SUV that drivers like a small one. It has a turning radius that enables you to quickly maneuver into tight mall parking spaces. Safetywise, Pathfinder models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags, traction and stability control systems and a tire pressure monitoring system. Options include a voice-activated navigation system, a 13-speaker Bose stereo and the best Around View system in the business providing a clear, 360-degree overhead view of nearby obstacles. A blind-spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert are available on SL and up models. You can also order all wheel drive, but we found the front wheel drive enough to power through the recent snowfall without slippage.

The interior has plenty of storage spaces, but the real plus was the usefulness of the second row seats that have over five inches of travel and help make access to the third row of seats easier. I was impressed on how easy the seats folded flat enabling us to haul a six foot table with room to spare. A great place to put those bargains. The Pathfinder is available in S, SV, SL and Limited trim levels. Even the base model is well equipped with tri-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo system, and 18-inch alloy wheels and more. Nissan has created a value oriented SUV for families that has a 19.5 fuel tank making 500 miles trips possible without refueling.

Working woman’s view: I reommend the SL version with its leather interior, power liftgate, remote start, heated front and rear seats, an electric-adjustable front passenger seat, and a digital compass as well as a 120V outlet. The center armrest is equipped with jacks for just about any devise. I would also add the Tech Package with its 13-speaker Bose stereo and a navigation system, eight-inch touchscreen, NavTraffic and NavWeather, and an around-view monitor that provides a 360-degree birds-eye view of the surrounding area. The interior is understated and quite funcitonal. I believe the information center was the easiest to use of any I have tested and the large touch screen was quick to accept inputs. There is also a DVD Family Entertainment Package that shows images on 7.0-inch screens located in the back of the front seat headrests.

Dad’s view: This is not a performance vehicle and is tuned more for economy. The results are very good, but its real pride is in its handling and ride. If you haven’t driven a vehicle with a continuously variable transmission it might take you a short time to adjust. The braking is good for its class and the government crash test scores were all above average. The seats are very comfortable and the optional heating element works quickly. I highly recommend you look into the Pathfinder hybrid which, unlike the Toyota Highlander hybrid, can be purchased in models with a minimum of extras and thus starts around $35,000. Since Nissan also produces the best selling all-electric car, the Leaf, that technology certainly helps when they created the Pathfinder hybrid and were able to package the batteries with a minimum loss of cargo space. Essentially, the Pathfinder is a family vehicle for drivers who don’t like minivans. I found this Nissan refreshing and it showed quality throughout. I kept it in front wheel drive for better fuel mileage, but the recent bad weather gave me the opportunity to try it on slick roads and it never faltered. This is the type of one-size fits all households. It is easy enough to go grocery shopping, take a weekend trip, or commute with equal aplomb.

Family conference: This is an excellent choice for 909 readers looking for a large, family oriented SUV that is enjoyable to drive, has great visibility, and an abundance of features. Clearly, Nissan has done its homework and the Pathfinder gets our most improved SUV award. It certainly deserves a test drive. As always, we highly recommend you buy from a reliable dealer.