Using vehicles to create student interest in math and Language Arts
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz

Using vehicles is an excellent way to motivate students and to help ready them for real life buying decisions. The following links deal with the various manufactures where students can write for information, obtain pricing information and to harvest compare and contrast data for Common Core related essays.

A listing of all DMV offices.
Finding the office that deals with your state and others can provide information on how old one needs to be to drive as well as the various license fee data that could be used for Common Core math problems. I have used driver manuals to motivate students to read.

Data on fuel economy
This federal site would enable students to select a variety of vehicles and there fuel mileage. This could be used for math as well as to provide statistics for an essay on the best or worst type of vehicles in terms of fuel costs.

A link site to manufacturers who sell cars in America

A listing of vehicle websites worldwide

National Motorists Association
A great source of information on driving and the law.

A listing of car value prices
A good place to find statistics for math problems about the prices of cars and motorcycles.

Where cars are made by location
Great way to teach geography.

Ski Sedans

By The Car Family

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(General Motors does not allow us to test its vehicles and thus they could not be evaluated for this article.)

Ski season is finally here and with it the challenges of driving through snow covered roads where having a vehicle with good traction is a must. But does such a trip require a SUV? Hardly, unless you are traveling in remote areas where snowplows don’t tend to the side roads and need the additional ground clearance. Nope, just your family sedan well do, if properly equipped.

Ski lodge parking lots are filling with all wheel drive family sedans that provide the extra safety features that SUVs don’t offer, such as a low center of gravity, and superior fuel economy.

So which are the better all wheel drive for cold weather fun? Well, there are nearly 75 different sedans available with all wheel drive from the cute $15,000 Suzuki SX4 to OPEC’s best friend, the Veyron from Bugatti for $1.3 million plus. However, the vast majority of all wheel drive sedans are priced in the $30,000 range with the all wheel drive option typically adding $1500 to the cost.

Before buying one of these practical ski mobiles the potential consumer must make some important decisions.First, is there room in the interior for skis? Most sedans now have fold down rear seats that open into the trunk or a ski pass through that can accommodate at least two pairs of skis. It is wise to take your ski’s length measurement to see if they fit. Otherwise you must opt for the roof rack mount, which is time consuming, reduces fuel mileage, and is not as theft-proof.

Subaru Ski Space

Small sedans can have large ski carrying areas

Next, consider headlight washers, traction control, and seat warmers for your option list. For driving at night on winter roads the xenon headlights do a better job, especially in areas that are remote and have little roadside lighting. You should note if the vehicle has a place to plug in your cell phone and other electronics for recharging. This should be located in or near the center console.

The heating and front and rear glass defrosters must work promptly. If there is an optional side mirror defroster so much the better. Some sedans even have a heated steering wheel, which is sometimes overlooked as an option by Valley residents.

The turning radius of the vehicle is frequently ovelooked as a safety feature. When you are on an unplowed two-lane road and have to turn around it is much safer to make a U turn in a sedan that can make a three point turn without leaving the plowed surface. Volvos have an excellent turning radius.

Finally, see how much legroom is back seat and trunk for suitcases, boots, and additional clothing. Most sedans have plenty of room for four adults and their luggage, with the Ford Taurus being absolutely cavernous.

After extensive testing by price category five all wheel drive sedans emerged as the most interesting. First, the large and surprising efficient Ford Taurus. We took this big sedan into the Colorado mountain resorts and found it was not only comfortable, but we averaged nearly 24 mpg on the highway. And the pricing was $27,000 pleasingly loaded.

Ford's All Wheel Drive Ski Car

Ford’s all wheel drive Taurus sedan is a winner

Next was the Dodge Charger, priced close to the Taurus, but far zestier in appearance and with more poke under its bonnet. The Suzuki SX4 Sport is a compact sedan that is a bundle of fun to drive, costs about $16,000, and delivers over 28 mpg. It is not as large as the other sedans, nevertheless, this is an practical car for parking in tight mall spots or trips to the snow. Plus Suzuki offers a 100,000-mile/7 year limited warranty.

Lexus, Lincoln, Infiniti, Mercedes, BMW, Toyota, Volvo, and Audi all offer all wheel drive options on their vehicles too. There is an interesting feature on the Acura RL and TL and that is what Honda calls a super handling all-wheel drive system that is very impressive. It continuously varies power among all four wheels to aid in poor traction conditions.

Before you consider driving one of these more expensive vehicles into the snow make sure that there is enough room between the tire and fender for chains to be mounted. Remember that wide tires that are designed to enhance handling on dry roads don’t always perform well on slick surfaces.

Of course, the Subaru is a perhaps the people’s choice for winter driving and the much larger Impreza is clearly the best of all worlds. It has a good ground clearance, can get nearly 28 mpg on the highway, comes with a proven all wheel drive system, and you can get one nicely optioned for under $20,000.

Safety tips

When driving in winter always carry chains, extra clothing, food and water, and a charged cell phone. Another rule to remember when driving an all wheel drive vehicle is that its superior traction does not mean shorter braking. In fact, the added weight of the all wheel drive system may require a longer distance to stop. Secondly, check your windshield washer fluid level before you go. The bright sun shinning on slush-covered windshield makes visibility haphazard at best and the fluid and a good set of wiper blades can make it safer to drive.

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2009s Best New Cars and the Worst

by The Car Family

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This year is perhaps the dullest for new models in a decade with the overarching concerns being the economy and fuel mileage. Despite this reality there are a few bright spots as manufactures struggle to put a less expensive new face on their products while still looking at less dramatic sales and profits. The results are a mixed bag as most of the sparkling new vehicles are probably at least a year away.

Here are the best of 2009’s models. Notice there aren’t any Bentleys, Porsche SUVs or Masarati’s listed because they are not only environmentally unfriendly, they are tremendously expensive to insure and maintain. Besides, you can take a Nissan GR-X and pretty much destroy the ego of any of these sports cars for far less money. And, as for the big sedans from Maserati and Bentley, let’s be honest. These heavyweights gulp gas and scream conspicuous consumption at a time when foreclosures, unemployment, and financial institutions woes create a citizenry that may no longer see these imported titans as status symbols, but as an in your face salute to the privileged class. The Porsche SUV is fast, handles well, and defies logic unless you want to help the German economy. So unless your ego is so small you can’t do with adoration from well-tipped valet parking lads, there are a lot of less costly vehicles to tempt your credit.

Best of 2009

First, our choices for the best cars for 2009. The Hyundai Genesis is a winner if for nothing else its pricing and features starting about $34,000. If you need a full size sedan at not much more than a Toyota Avalon this is the car to drive. The Lexus of the 21st Century.

Toyota’s Venza is the best SUV due to it combination of interior room and fuel mileage and its starts about $25,000. In other words, this is a Lexus at a Toyota price. However, since Toyota does not call it an SUV the Forester takes that honor, but only with the optional turbocharged engine and that starts at $26,000.


The best value in a family sedan is the Kia Optima and the best small car value is the Honda Fit. The former is a steal priced under $19,000 and the latter gives you ten cupholders and a lot of fun for $15,000.

The best American car is the Lincoln MKS and the best American SUV is the Ford Flex or Chevrolet Traverse. The Lincoln runs around $40,000 and is as good as the Lexus ES while offering a bit more luxury. The Ford Flex is a large station wagon that doesn’t do anything untowardly and holds a bunch. Easy to enter and exit and great for kids with a price under $30,000. The Chevrolet is priced nearly identical, but has a more typical SUV stance. Both vehicles are family friendly.

Jaguar’s XF is the best new luxury car for its rare combination of grace, performance, handling, and interior all for about $50,000.


The tight cornering Acura TL and TSX and its controversial exterior have a variety of improvements including its all wheel drive option that improves handling and the availability of a V6 with 305 horsepower. Larger then the previous model with an interior that is not to be missed. The base engine is plenty good enough with the 2.4-liter inline 4 producing 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque while yielding about 24 mpg in mixed, fast, driving. The steering and suspension are all set for canyon country.


Audi’s A4 is larger and a better drive than the previous model. Now available with a 265 horsepower 3.2 liter V6 and the possibility of diesel power, we still would prefer the turbo four cylinder engine that has been redone with fuel efficient in mind. These fast selling cars are very roomy and a delight to drive. New this year is the Audi Q5. Just what the world needs, another SUV. The good news is that it is much easier to live with then it huge, gas hoggish brother, the Q8. It is equipped with a 270-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 and Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The TT has grown and is more comfortable and more powerful. Loaded with racy features, this is a fun car that is quickly becoming an expensive sports car. A lot of fun and easy to drive but avoid the sporty options unless you want a rough ride on untidy highways.


The X6 is best left to those who can understand its appeal. A strange looking dude with a diverse array of options form all wheel drive to a 3.0 liter twin-turbo inline six or a X6 xDrive50i with a V8 producing over 400 horsepower.


Fast and sporty, the CTS-V from Cadillac has a whopping 550 horsepower V8 that makes it one of the world’s fastest sedans. We have no idea why this is appealing to buyers, but you can certainly create wonderment at the senior home by having the fastest car there. And, no doubt, you can run a lot of BMWs to ground with this throwback to the muscle car era.


The Traverse is a SUV that is well priced and has good fuel mileage. It is on the same chassis as the excellent GMC Arcadia and Saturn Outlook, but costs less. The 3.6-liter V6 and 6-speed automatic transmission work well together. The Camaro is due out soon, but don’t expect to find one of these sharp looking coupes at list price anytime soon. On the other hand, for the more daring the ultimate Corvette is just $100,000 or more from your grasp. With a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and its 620 or so horsepower that you can enjoy getting to 60 mph in less than four seconds. A future collectible if there is enough fuel left in the world.


It is all about the Dodge Challenger this year as this model joins the Camaro as these struggling companies look to the past to save their futures. The Challenger is a big vehicle with a huge variety of drive trains. We like the 375 horsepower 5.7 liter HEMI V8 and choice of 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmissions, but the base 250 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 and 4-speed automatic transmission are better values and more economical to operate. Oh, heck, go for the V8 and recover more at resale. If you really want to plunder the world’s resources put the Challenger SRT8 touts a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter V8 on your insurance policy. Just make sure there aren’t any teenage driver’s in the family. More family friendly is the Dodge Journey that is a combination mini-van, SUV, and sedan. Chrysler has the best interior features of any manufacturer. The Journey has room, sort of, for seven and is not much longer than the tidy Dodge Avenger. Stay with the 2.4-liter engine produces 173 horsepower and be rewarded with 19-city/25-highway mpg.


Ferrari is offering its California to those patient and rich enough to afford its 460 horsepower. Prices are said to be just a tad over $200,000. We expect that tad to be whatever the best offer is at the dealership as they go down the waiting list. Pay the man, resale is going to be terrific and who doesn’t want to own one of the few vehicles on earth that gets worse mileage then a Hummer H2.


Ford is struggling with a top-heavy line-up of SUVs and not much in the way of alternative fuel vehicles or gas sippers to tempt buyers. So Ford produces, yep, another SUV. The Flex is a station wagonish vehicle that is long and wide and boxy and attractive inside and out. The interior is very unique for a Ford and there is also the Microsoft-developed Sync multimedia interface and huge sunroof that extends well into the rear seating area. The Flex seats seven and even offers an optional refrigerator inside the rear console. The best feature may be the EasyFuel capless fuel filler that means an end to lost or improper tightened gas caps. The engine is the 3.5-liter V6 with 262 horsepower. Safety features include ABS, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.



Look for a bevy of honors for the big Genesis sedan from Hyundai. This is a terrific car that can easily compete with the foreign competition and beat it by thousands in price. If you need a luxury sedan this may be the one for those that don’t have the noises in the air. You can order the Genesis with a 375-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 or two V6 engines that we recommend. The 264-horsepower has enough power for daily needs, but the 3.3-liter or a 290-horsepower 3.8-liter is better for those who traveling with a family onboard. Standard are dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, a power sunroof, power heated side mirrors, heated leather seats, and a seven-speaker sound system.

A smooth six-speed automatic transmission makes everything happen. Loaded with features that make it the bargain of the year and its fast, too. Safety features include ABS, stability and traction control, active head restraints, front- and rear-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags. Hyundai is also offering its bargain priced Elantra as a Touring model and a five door wagon version.



Now owned by Tata of India, Jaguar has an all-new XF sport sedan that has a most un-Jaguar look. The interior is stunning, the ride a bit to sporty for our tastes, but the engine purrs with either a 300-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 or a supercharged version with 420 horsepower. A very attractive alternative to the Lexus, Audi, and BMW and it starts around $50,000.


The MKS is Lincoln’s new flagship and it is surprisingly pleasant to drive. The base 3.7-liter 270-horsepower V6 engine and its 6-speed automatic transmission and all wheel drive feature makes it quite pleasant and competent without the usual Lincoln bigger is better attitude. The MKS offers include the voice-activated SYNC in-car communication system and the really neat capless fuel-filling feature.


Easily the best bargain in a family sedan, the new Optima come with a 175-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine or a 190-hp 2.7-liter V6. Go with the optional 5-speed automatic and get 22/32 mpg. Bland, perhaps, but starting under $19,000, loaded with safety features such as available ABS, traction control, antiskid system, front side airbags, curtain side airbags and a active head restraints and you have a family special.


While Lincoln gets smaller Mazda goes larger with the redesigned Mazda6 sedan. Power from a new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and the 3.7-liter V6 are more then enough, but the real treat is the fact that there is finally enough room in this Mazda for a family. Good handling, too, and the biggest trunk in its class and easy to load.


Diesel engines for the new GLK Class SUV and the super E320 sedan are the news at Mercedes. Oh, and if you really want to suck the earth dry of fossil fuel there is going to be a limited, thank goodness, supply of the SL65 AMG Black Series with its lightened body and twin-turbocharged V12 engine producing a 650 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes quality is improving and the Bluetec diesels are world class with fuel excellent fuel mileage and reliability.


Struggling to find a niche for itself, Mitsubishi has brought fourth the Lancer Ralliart with a new 235-horsepower 2.0-liter DOHC turbocharged engine that is manipulated by a paddle-shifted Twin Clutch-SST gearbox. There is also all wheel drive and a variety of interior and exterior pieces that mark it a Mitsubishi. The problem with Mitsubishi is that its products don’t have the quality feel of the competition. For example, the jack on the Lancer is nearly impossible to use and why bother with a keyless entry system when more attention should be placed on ride quality. If you can get one at a good price the responsive engine, superior warranty, and fun factor might ease your pain at resale.


Just try and get one; Nissan’s very hot GT-R is a coupe is the wunderkind of those with the need for speed with its 480-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 ready to get you down the road faster than anything else in the $70,000 price range. A super car, but since there are under 2000 planned for the North American market be patient and beware the mark-up.


Redone and much better, the Pontiac Vibe is more user friendly, larger, and just as handy as before. If you want to make a bigger impression the Pontiac G8 GXP is fast, has good interior space, and can even be ordered with a 6-speed manual transmission. With the improved Pontiac, better Saturn line-up, a Chevrolet Malibu that is well priced, and a new look at Cadillac how can the stock be so cheap? Maybe too much spent on the Corvette and Hummer line-up.


A new hybrid version of the Saturn Vue will use General Motors’ new 2-mode hybrid system with a pair of 55-kW electric motors powered by a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack to help the 3.6-liter V6. Look for fuel mileage of 25/32 with a range of nearly 500 miles. Saturn is quickly becoming a shinning star for General Motors with a much improved line-up. Now if it can just keep the pricing competitive and keep them in the dealerships. We visited several dealerships and they hadn’t one in stock.


Bigger, but not necessarily better, the Subaru Forester is softer. larger, and more upscale then ever before. In fact it starts to press its stalemate, the Tribeca, in size and character. You can order the 170-horsepower version or the optional 224-horsepower turbocharged one. If you carry a family get the turbocharged version as the lesser unit is taxed when loaded on mountain roads. The Impreza was recently redone and it follows the other Subarus in being larger. The Forester is an outstanding SUV, but only with the turbocharged engine under the hood.


One of our favorite small cars, Honda’s Fit has been enlarged and improved with little additional cost. The backseats fold flat, the car loves to run, and the gas mileage is always over 30 mpg. A winner for $15,000. If you spend more consider the Toyota Matrix or Pontiac Vibe.


Easily one of the most useful cars made, especially for those who like good fuel economy and cargo room. The Matrix comes with an ample 1.8-liter engine, but we much prefer the XRS with the 2.4-liter engine and 158 horsepower. The problem here is it that much better than the less expensive Honda Fit?

Toyota’s Venza is the best news out of Toyota since the Prius. A little front heavy in appearance, nevertheless, this is the car to own if you have a family and don’t want the burden of a minivan. Lots of option and the possibility later in its life of being a hybrid, this Toyota is going to make buying a Lexus RX a questionable purchase. The Venza’s base engine will be the one to buy as it provides gas mileage of 19/26 and can even be ordered with all wheel drive. The best of the new *SUVs for gas mileage and useful interior room, but Toyota says it isn’t a SUV. Either way it would be our first choice. *Toyota does not call it a SUV.


We have owned Volvos in the past and found them long lasting, but extremely expensive to maintain and parts were dear. As such the arrival of the crossover XC60, a five seat SUV, with a bundle of safety features that includes a package that pre-charges the brakes for sudden stops and much more is of interest.  However, it leaves us wary of the cost of maintaining such a electronically enhanced vehicle. The XC60 will be available with a 285-horsepower 6-cylinder turbocharged T6 engine that isn’t fuel frugal.

Volkswagen Passat CC

The sleekest Volkswagen ever, the Passat CC is a coupe like sedan with an optional all wheel drive system, six speed automatic transmission, and a standard 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder or a 3.6-liter V6 with horsepower. There is the availability of such features as an electronic chassis control system, a large sunroof and a unique system that actually corrects the car’s steering to keep it on track. Lots of features and certainly well worth a look if not just to use the touch screen and see if that new look doesn’t tug at your credit limit.


The VW Jetta SportWagen is going to be a winner when equipped with the diesel engine. It is the sharpest looking, excuse the expression, station wagon, you can buy for the money and the fuel mileage is going to rival hybrids. It rides well, has a very friendly interior, and exceptional visibility. The best station wagon for the money replacing the reigning champ, the Subaru, and the gas mileage is 21/30 for the 2.5 engine, which is better than the Subie.

Volkswagen Tiguan

This crossover SUV has all the usual Volkswagen features such as a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a tidy shape, a comfortable ride and a price tag that makes it difficult to justify for those who just buy a small utility vehicle for commuting. Frisky and fun loving with gas mileage of about 23 mpg in mixed driving. Interior space isn’t great, but the seating is excellent.  A spirited vehicle at a premium price.

Volkswagen Routan

Sadly, this is the minivan Volkswagen decided to bring to the market. The base is the very competent and excellent riding Chrysler and that includes the 3.8-liter V6 with its 197 horsepower. Why they didn’t bring the ones they have in Germany here is probably due to the declining dollar and safety issues. Drive the Dodge/Chrysler version and than the Routan before you decide.

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Most Reliable Vehicles

By The Car Family


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Gas mileage drastically improves if you are being towed. Other than that there is very little to recommend a vehicle that gets great fuel figures but costs you money at resale due to buyer worries about reliability. Add to that fact that just one problem could erase all the savings in gas over the lifetime of the car. Thus Consumer Reports has supplied their list of the most dependable vehicles. I have never been a fan of Consumer Reports since we followed their ratings for buying several household appliances only to have them require sufficient work. That might not be the fault of Consumer Reports. What might be the problem is that once a company gets a high rating and sales increase they start cutting corners on the tested products.

Here are Consumer Reports top picks and our assessment based on models up to 2007.

Mercedes continues to battle with quality problems in some models as their M Class ranks as the most unreliable vehicle. We find that the best Mercedes product is the E Class, especially with the diesel or Bluetec engine. We also feel that they have made considerable progress the last two years.

Price appears to have little relevance to quality and old myths are shattered when you look at the data that reveals that the Lincoln Zephyr was nearly as reliable as the always reliable ES 350. In fact, if you want to buy a good used car a 1995 Lexus ES is the one to have. Outstanding gas mileage and exceptional reliability. They have oil leaks and thin leather seats but for under $3000 you are probably going to get 300,000 miles.

Ford continues to improve with good rankings for its Fusion and Milan. Indeed, these vehicles performed at the same level as the pricier Camry and Accord. General Motors also did well with good rating for its Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS.

One of our frequent best vehicles is the Subaru line and Consumer Reports agreed. All their models did well, but we don’t recommend the racy WRX STi due to its hot rod engine and stiff legged ride. A great car, just not a family car. Outside of the Versa and Sentra we don’t really feel that Nissan has that many quality products and some, such as their large SUVs, gets astonishing low gas mileage and quality marks.

Porsche continues to suffer, according to owners

Porsche continues to have reliability issues. Since this is the only company that refuses to allow us to test its vehicles we have no reason to disagree with the Consumer Reports information. If you buy a Porsche you are buying a possible source of problems that the company’s short warranty may not help you cover.

The Porsche 911 and Carrera, Pontiac Solstice, Mercedes SL and CLK, and V6 powered Ford Mustang all did poorly and the Porsche is easily the most expensive of this list. We feel Mercedes is improving and that the Solstice is very new and probably going through growing pains. The Mustang is priced under $20,000 and we don’t feel its quality is as good as it should be. As for the Porsche, how could a company that has been building essentially the same car for decades continue to have problems? We feel it is the fact that they are profitable and have a loyal following even though there are several cars that costs tens of thousands of dollars less that can perform equally.

Small Cars

As expected the best small cars are the Honda Fit and Civic Hybrid as well as the Toyota Corolla. What we didn’t expect was the high rating of the Toyota Yaris, which we did not like and found very uncomfortable and lacking a quality feel. However, we love the Fit and the Corolla. In this category the Chevrolet Cobalt and Aveo, Nissan Sentra, and Volkswagen Jetta did poorly. The Sentra has been redone and is much better. The Cobalt’s rating surprised us as we found it was a great compact with a spirited ride and spacious interior. Volkswagens continue to be suspect, although we have placed an order for the new Jetta wagon and have our fingers crossed.

The important family sedan segment had the Accord, Fusion, Milan, and Toyota Prius in the top positions. The Accord four cylinder was our choice. We have no idea why anyone orders the V6 version when the four is so frugal and energetic. The Volkswagen Passat didn’t fare well and we don’t recommend it either.

As noted the Lexus ES does well, as did the Zephyr. Add to that the surprising Hyundai Azera and the Acura TSX and TL and you have some great vehicles although the Azera is very softly sprung. However, it is loaded with equipment and looks far more expensive than the Lexus. The Jaguar X Type, Chrysler 300 V8 and Saab 9-3 rated at the bottom. Our experience with the Saab is that the older ones do better than the new ones. After 2002 they seemed to lose their composure. Still, they handle, accelerate, and feel as solid as any sporty sedan. We like them. The large Chrysler has visibility issues and the V8 isn’t needed as the large six does just as well for the family. The Jaguar is an old design and isn’t going to age well anyhow. Nice looking, though.

Luxury Cars

In the luxury field the older Cadillac STS, Mercedes S and CLS and E and the BMW 7 Series and Jaguar S should be avoided. The new models of these are far better, but we always have doubt about BMW products outside of the 3 Series due to the complexity of their electronics and poor fuel mileage. The Jaguar S is another old design and the new Jaguar FX promises to be much better. Winners include the always terrific Lexus LS and Infiniti M. We noticed tire wear problems with the big Infiniti, but the Lexus is perhaps the best luxury family sedan ever made. We bought one of the first ones brought to the US in 1989 and it was a dream. They still are, but beware of the costly prices to replace such items as oxygen sensors. You pay for the Lexus name. We actually bought the same anti-freeze solution at the Toyota dealership for nearly 30 percent less than the Lexus dealer wanted.

If you want sportiness the Lexus SC isn’t the answer, but it has exceptional reliability as does the Toyota Solara. We found the chassis on the Solara was too flexible, especially in the convertible, but that was the previous model. The Subaru Impreza WRX is fun and highly rated as is the Honda S2000, the Mitsubishi Eclipse, and the fun MINI Cooper. There is quite a price range here, but if you don’t need the room the MINI is excellent with gas mileage over 30 mpg. Get the Clubman if you have a family for the extra cargo space. The Subaru is the most fun for the buck, though, just make sure it has been maintained. Subarus are expensive to buy parts for and we don’t like their automatic transmission.

In terms of people movers the Nissan Quest fared poorly as did the General Motors trio of the Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, and Saturn Relay. We were shocked at the General Motors listings as we tested them and found them tight and well made. Perhaps it was too much to try and make a SUV look like a minivan. On the plus side the gas sipping Pontiac Vibe/ Toyota Matrix were superb and so was the Toyota Sienna. A used Sienna is worth considering. We got great gas mileage. The Honda Odyssey van, everyone’s first choice, finished in the middle. The complex engine management program may have been the problem. If you need less room, the cute Scion xB finished among the elite, too. Very economical and a hoot to drive.

SUV Rankings

Crossover SUVs did well as a group with only the very inexpensive Kia Sportage reporting poor ratings. It was also among the least costly in this grouping. Favored crossovers were the Toyota FJ Cruiser and RAV4 as well as the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outland, and versatile Subaru Forester. The FJ has so little side and rear visibility and poor fuel mileage we can’t recommend it. The Outlander is okay, but not the best choice. The RAV4’s gas mileage when tested was over 25 mpg and the all-new Honda CR-V had a great interior. We like the RAV4 and the Subaru Forester. In fact, we like the old Forester better than the new one. They get the best fuel mileage of any all wheel drive family crossover.

Good scores for large SUVs was dominated by the Japanese automakers with the Toyota Highlander, 4Runner, Lexus RX 400 h, Acura MDX, and Honda Pilot all ranking on top. The Lexus is much more expensive than the others and we would recommend the RX 350 instead and save thousands. The Highlander and Pilot are both very good. The fuel mileage on the MDX causes us to place it much lower, although it handles better than the others.

As expected the worst of the SUVs are some of the vehicles we never recommend such as the Land Rover LR3 with the V8, the horrible Hummer H3—all Hummer models are horrible, the lumbering Volkswagen Touareg, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes R and M Class, Volvo XC 90, Ford Explorer, and Mercury Mountaineer. If there ever was a grouping of vehicles to avoid as lacking any quality traits this is it. Why anyone would consider one is beyond our grasp as they get stinky fuel mileage, handle poorly, and every one has a better choice from the same manufacture.

Hummer Owners Rank them Lowest

Large SUVs, and why anyone in their right mind would need one of these top-heavy burdens on renewable resources escapes us, are lead by the Toyota Land Cruiser, Sequoia, Lexus LX, Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon. The god-awful Hummer H2 performed as expected, at the bottom of the list. We don’t’ think it would matter to a perspective buyer anyhow. Buying one of these Hummers, which are illegal to drive on most residential roads as they exceed the three-ton limit, is for those who need attention and are willing to pay for it. The same can be said for the Ford Excursion and Lincoln Navigator. The Lincoln only beat the Hummer in the race to the bottom of the reliability chart. Of course with all that weight going to the bottom is easy. Think 10 to 12 miles per gallon and a resale value that rivals current presidential approval ratings when you buy in this segment.

Consumer Reports final ratings were for pick-up trucks. These are the cash cows of the industry and their success is important. The Subaru Baja, which is really too small to carry much more than a six foot long rope, the Toyota’s Tundra and Tacoma were joined by the Nissan Frontier V6 as having superior quality ratings. The Baja is handy, but clearly does not belong in this group. The worst were the Nissan Titan, horrible gas mileage, too, and the Ford F-250 diesel, Dodge Dakota, and the wallowing Cadillac Escalade EXT. The latter model drives like a boat with little road feel and a tendency to absorb gasoline faster than the Saudis can produce it.

Two elements emerge from the Consumer Reports study. First, only Toyota has a vehicle line-up that excels in quality and Honda is close behind. Thus the higher resale for these two brands. Secondly, the cost of the vehicle is not indicative of its quality. The Ford Fusion is about $20,000 and does well while the Porsche and Hummer H2 are complained about by their owners who shelled out those big bucks the most per dollar.

Family conference: Our favorites by category are the Honda Fit and Toyota Corolla in the compact class; family sedan class winners are the Toyota Prius, Accord and Ford Fusion; larger sedans would find the Lexus LS in our garage; the MINI Clubman would be our fun to drive vehicle; the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe would be the handiest to own; and the Lexus 400h and Subaru Forester can carry our family anytime. We don’t recommend large SUVs and feel that pick-ups are not family vehicles and can be very unsafe.

Acura RDX: Putting the Sport in SUV

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For many years we have scoffed at the acronym SUV as almost without exception such a designation has been given an overweight, underpowered, gas swilling insult to the environment and common sense. Indeed SUV was an oxymoron. How could a utility vehicle, one meant for hauling heavy loads, going off-road, and still be able to carry a family be sporty? They weren’t. Of course, there was the ultra expensive and troubled Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5, which had little interior space that were fast and handled well. But for $50,000 and up who is really going to take these insurance agent’s dream comes true anywhere but the local mall.

Along comes the $34,000 Acura RDX and changes the equation in terms of sportiness, although still lacking in interior room. It is a corner clinger and can get to 60 mph in about seven seconds. It is a tidy ride with a lot more hot rod than luxury vehicle feel. The wide tires generate a lot of interior noise and the turbocharged 2.3 engine that divulges 240 horsepower has a raspy note, but all this is forgiven when the RDX is pushed. The 260 pound-feet of torque are ready to play most anywhere on the RPM dial and the five-speed automatic can be manipulated with steering wheel paddles to keep everything on boil. In other words, this is truly a sporty utility vehicle if you are willing to put up with a smaller cargo capacity and gas mileage in the 18-mpg range on premium.

Mom’s view: Good brakes, small and easy to maneuver in traffic and crowded parking lots, the Acura RDX is a nice combination for a small family with a husband who was forced to give up his sports car.  There are some expensive options that can push the price into the $38,000 range, but might be worth it if this is your only car. Otherwise you get a leather trimmed interior, heated seats, satellite radio, alloy wheels, xenon headlights, ABS, heated front seats, ABS, and stability control as standard. There are also six airbags. Not my favorite, but at least it is more fun to drive than the BMW SUVs and those from the Japanese competition. However, that Subaru Forester isn’t a slouch.

Dad’s view: It takes more courage than I have to get the most out of the RDX. It is capable of outstanding skidpad times, but the nature of all SUVs is one of being top heavy and it is difficult to rid your mind of this when entering any corner. After a while the competence of this Acura starts to win you over and you become less intimidated by the past and more inclined to stretch this SUVs sidewalls. I really liked the RDX in many regards such as build quality, braking, and of course handling. The engine needs to be kept busy to get the most out as, although small, the RDX weights 3900 pounds. The only element that gave me pause was the gas usage. The best I could manage was 20 mpg and the more powerful, but not nearly as fun six cylinder Toyota RAV4 got 25 on regular fuel.

Driving the RDX is a study in restraint. It is ever so tempting to crush the turbo boast gauge only to see what is left in the 18 gallon fuel tank quickly disappear. In heavy traffic too much accelerator input can fool the automatic transmission, but this really isn’t a car for daily crowded commutes. This is a car for those who love to drive and don’t mind a bit of turbo lag. A perfect skimobile, this Acura has a driving feel that is nearly identical to the TL sedan, albeit a bit less refined.

Young working woman’s view: The seats are comfortable, the interior easy to master, the GPS workable, but the rear cargo area was quite small and the second row of seats doesn’t have a lot of foot room. I cute SUV with plenty of character and very willing to please, this is one SUV that I wouldn’t mind owning if it got better gas mileage.

College going male’s view: Easily the sexist of the SUVs, the Acura RDX is capable of being whatever you want it to be. The 18-inch alloy rims look good and the grip is outstanding. You have Acura’s all wheel drive system that can send torque to the front or back or right or left side and clings to every type of surface better than any SUV I have ever tested. Very appealing, but the price is too dear for those of my ilk. If you need less sport and more room try the Acura MDX which supplies 300 horsepower, an optional third row of seats, and gets nearly the same fuel mileage.

Family conference: The only SUV that we have tested that is sporty. The downsides are its initial cost, poor fuel economy on premium, and interior cargo space. It is clearly capable of playing tag with the BMW and Porsche and is much easier to live with for a small family.

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