BMW X1 vs Lexus NX Hybrid
by The Car Family
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Family oriented compact utility vehicles are the hottest segment of the industry now with the emphasis on compact. The BMW X1 xDrive 28i and Lexus NX hybrid fit this description well with both falling in the $40,000 plus range when well equipped and offering seating for five. The main difference between the two in terms of driving is that the X1 has a sports car feel to it and the Lexus offers a more cushy ride. The NX gets superior fuel mileage the BMW offers more fun for those miles. One caveat and that the theses two are not as spacious as their big brothers, the BMW X3 and Lexus RX, but cost thousands less.


As vehicle manufactures move to find better ways to meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), four-cylinder are becoming more popular as they offer more efficiency with nearly the same performance. Both of these vehicles have these engines although our Lexus NX was a hybrid with additional electric power that adds nearly $5000 to the price, but has more features as well as averaging nearly 32 miles per gallon in daily driving. What sets them apart is everything else. The Lexus is more refined, quieter, and has a more upscale interior. The BMW is sportier, friskier, and handles better.

Mother’s view: The BMW X1 xDrive28i was more rough and ready. The interior noise was significant with the optional run-flat tires, but it was quite agile and simple to park. The Lexus was a bit more portly, but the interior was nicer. Both cars have nearly identical interior space with the X1 getting a slight nod for room. The BMW X1 comes standard with stability and traction control, airbags nearly everywhere, an emergency communication system and more. Make sure to order such options as frontal collision warning and lane departure warnings among other life saving devises. The Lexus offers similar safety features and has excellent crash safety ratings. My choice would be the NX for its nicer interior although the BMW’s navigation and axillary controls were easier for me to master.

Dad’s view: The BMW X1 comes with a turbocharged, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated at 228 horsepower and uses an eight-speed automatic transmission with a standard all-wheel-drive system. The engine is noisy, but productive and I could get 30 mpg in highway driving. The Lexus hybrid gets even better mileage from its 2.5 liter engine with hybrid boost. There are enough option packages for both vehicles to muddle the differences between wants and needs. I would strongly suggest you do your homework once you have narrowed down your choice as options can quickly add $10,000 to the bottom line. My selection would be the Lexus NX hybrid for daily use, but if you enjoy a vehicle that handles the BMW ranks just below a Porsche in fun per mile.

Working woman’s view: The BMW has some nice standard features such as a power liftgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats, driver memory settings, BMW’s iDrive interface with a touchpad controller, 6.5-inch screen, navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, HD radio, CD player and a USB input. The Premium package adds keyless ignition and entry, hands-free control for the power liftgate, adaptive LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, power-folding mirrors, four-way power lumbar for the front seats and interior ambient lighting. The Technology package offers BMW’s integrated smartphone apps, navigation and an upgraded 8.8-inch display screen. The NX has similar standard features with a larger display screen and a rearview camera. Lexus options include wireless phone charging, navigation with a touchpad controller, voice recognition, a 10-speaker audio system, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning. You can also add the Lexus Enform Remote that allows you to control certain vehicle functions from your smartphone. My choice is the Lexus NX, but not the hybrid version. I don’t drive enough to justify the additional cost of the hybrid. One kudo for the BMW was its smaller turning radius making it easier to maneuver, a larger cargo area and its maintenance free four years or 50,000 mile program.

Young working man’s view: Both vehicles are loaded with electronic goodies such as the BMW iDrive with an integrated touchpad on the main control that lets you draw number inputs and has to be experienced. Lexus Enform remote is handy. The Lexus is fairly quick off the line when its two electric motors kick-in. Both the BMW’s and NX engines shut down at stop lights or when stuck in traffic to save fuel. The NX’s regenerative brakes can be a bit abrupt whereas the X1’s were excellent. The Lexus NX is very car and handles well and is comfortable. The BMW is just plain fun all the time.

Family conference: These two vehicles offer buyers an interesting choice based on their driving habits. The BMW is athletic and never lets you forget that. The optional run-flat tires provoke a lot of road noise and the energetic engine can be raucous. On the other hand the X1 gets excellent fuel mileage and has superior handling and braking. The NX has a distinctive exterior that may be off-putting and gets exceptional gas mileage and provides a cushy ride. With the new Porsche four-cylinder Macan coming to market priced nearly identical this is going to be an even tougher choice.

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.

BMW Diesel Sport Wagon: The Family Bimmer
By The Car Family

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There is something for everyone in the BMW 328 all-wheel drive diesel wagon. For the family there is room for five and a dog or two. For the enthusiast there is the typical excellent BMW handling, suspension, and brakes. For the frugal there is the 30 plus mpg highway mileage and the reliability of a diesel engine. And for the adventurous that all-wheel drive makes light off-roading an enjoyable task. Of course, all these ingredients come at a cost and the wagon’s base price is just north of $40, 000 BMW.

2014 BMW 328d Sedan and xDrive Sports Wagon.

The real story is the BMW diesel engine which has a unique feature that turns off the powerplant at stoplights to save fuel. It starts immediately when you remove your foot from the brake or push the accelerator pedal. BMW’s diesel starts quickly, even in colder weather, with very little chatter normal associated with such robust engines. Matted to an eight speed automatic transmission the wagon does not have to be refueled for about 500 miles.

Mom’s view: A nice combination of practicality and sexy, this BMW even comes in an M Sport package and enough electronic programming features to keep a teenager happy for weeks. There is the iDrive infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity, and a host of other features that make your life easier… You can even program the suspension. I left the wagon on the Comfort setting and was quite happy with the result, but I could have chosen Eco, Sport and Sport Plus. My advice is to do your homework first as the option list is extensive with an abundance of features for safety, handling, and entertainment. If you aren’t judicious with your choices the price can touch the $60,000 mark, but for that you get a car capable of most everything but driving itself. Oh, it does have an automatic parking feature if you must.

2014 BMW 328d Sedan and xDrive Sports Wagon.

Dad’s view: An interesting choice, this wagon demands attention from those looking for the utility of a SUV and the benefits of a low center of gravity and the ability to easily achieve over 40 mpg on the highway. The ride is impressive with very little noise and the understated interior has superior fit and finish. Interestingly, BMW has equipped the family station wagon with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters to provide control freaks a bit of fun in maximizing the diesel engine’s 280 pounds-feet of torque whenever the need arises. The acceleration is very linear with surprising initial acceleration. Using the Eco mode does give you better fuel mileage, but dulls the driving dynamics. The Eco mode is best used on long stretches of divided highway. The xDrive drivetrain is very seamless and is reassuring, especially when the weather is inclement, however, going off road is really limited due to the wagon’s low clearance level. If you want to play in the dirt BMW’s SUVs are more suitable. You do pay a small premium for the diesel package, but this difference can be made up in about 30 months of normal driving due to the diesel’s better fuel economy, especially considering that most BMWs require premium fuel. Look for good resale too, as this is a fairly rare model. It is an oxymoron to label a car both sporty and frugal, but this BMW is just that. I would get the upgraded interior and have a one car does it all vehicle capable of everything from ski trips to driving on Pismo beach to kidney challenging eight hour journeys without refueling.

Young working male’s view: The 328d diesel wagon requires a special additive called AdBlue that helps with emissions and needs to be replenished at normal oil change times. And don’t forget that because the diesel won’t start if it is not supplied. Essentially, that’s all that is required to enjoy the benefits of this diesel wagon. BMW’s iDrive system has a significant learning curve, but a good salesperson can provide you with some worthy tips to make the benefits easier to utilize. The display is easy to see, as it is the driver’s line of sight, and the SiriusXM is very worthwhile. Interestingly, the iDrive even has a feature that enables you to draw letters and numbers with your fingers and confirms such requests by voice or visually. Interesting, but not as valuable as the optional head-up display as it is difficult to keep this vehicle at legal speed limits. The large panoramic sunroof is nice and the safety net is a lifesaver in emergencies. My thoughts are that the BMW buyer must decide between this and the BMW X3 or X1, which offer increased ride height and useful cargo space, but lack the handling, lower load height, and economy of the wagon.

Working woman’s view: There is adequate cargo space and the 40/20/40-split folding backseat add more useable room as the wagon lives up to its name. As usual, BMW has a variety of option packages. I would certain opt for the Driver Assistance Package Plus with its backup camera, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, side and top-view cameras and proximity sensors as well as collision warning. BMW has a reputation of being well built with excellent handling, superior braking, and performance all the while providing good fuel mileage. The wagon fits and adds the unique factor. I found it compelling, but the rear visibility is limited.

Family conference: If you are looking for something albeit tidier than the ubiquitous SUV, this BMW might be just the tool. The diesel engine is well worth considering, but do your research when ordering options.

BMW X1: Putting the Sport in SUV


The Car Family

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The term sports utility vehicle has been overused and abused to label everything from ponderous, freight-car sized vehicles to big wheeled subcompacts The reality is that there are very few sports utility vehicles that live up to that title combining exciting driving characteristics with the utility of off-roading. Fortunately, that definition personifies the BMW X1 and into that mix throw in good fuel mileage and a handy interior layout and you have a vehicle for all seasons. Indeed, BMW has coined a new term for the Xi calling is a SAV for Sports Activity Vehicle and it is a fitting description.


The angular looks of the X1fits is sporty ride and rugged individualism purpose. Although the interior has room for five, it is better suited to four adults as fitting its subcompact ratings. Despite this there is about 50 feet of cargo room with the second-row’s 40/20/40 seats folded and nearly 13 with them upright. The visibility is excellent and the seats are comfortable. All told, this is an adventuresome SAV with an adaptability that should make it suitable for one vehicle households as well as those who need a commuter car that won’t be worrisome during inclement weather. If you want to add options the list is lengthy with leather, navigation, an upgraded sound system, and panoramic roof available as well as an app to help access Internet sites such as Twitter. Extra safety features such as a distance control with a rearview camera and a collision-warning system are also options. The suspension is supportive enough, but there is an optional handling option for those wanting to test their G Force limits.

Mom’s view: We tested the 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder version and it returned a very unlike SUV fuel mileage of 27 mpg in mixed driving thanks to a variety of gas saving features such as an automatic start/stop engine management system  that automatically shuts off the engine when the BMW is stopped. To restart the engine you simply step on the accelerator to rekindle the motor.  It isn’t as smooth as some manufacturer’s versions, but you quickly get used to the slight shutter. This isn’t an overly expensive vehicle unless you decide to pile on the options. I personally liked the no frills version, especially for those who use it to carry dogs, kids, and yard sale finds. We are not talking a luxury car feel or look as  it is very business like inside. The talking points for the X1 are its handling, gas mileage and ease of driving. If you want luxury add a dozen thousand dollars more and get a Lexus, but you would sacrifice the driving feel and quick reactions of the BMW. 


Dad’s view:  You have your choice between the base turbocharged four-cylinder and a six-cylinder unit with the former providing an adequate 240 horsepower and the larger engine 300 horsepower. If you order all wheel drive, get the stronger engine, but be prepared to take a nick when refueling with premium as the more potent powerplant gets nearly seven miles per gallon less in mixed driving. The eight-speed automatic transmission makes the standard engine a good choice with quicker reactions. Driving the X1 is a pleasure with excellent brakes and handling, a BMW forte. Yes, the BMW looks awkward and it is essentially a tall station wagon, but its superior suspension, economy, and the manner in which it goes about its job are strong endorsements for those seeking fun and frugality.


Young working male’s view: If you think a Mazda 3 is small, you are going to be blown away at the X1’s dimensions that are just 176.5 inches long, 70.8 inches wide and 60.8 inches tall. That won’t mean much until you realize that this makes it smaller than the Mazda 3 and about as tall as Ford Taurus. It make the 3 series seem gigantic and the reality is that although there is a limited amount of cargo space, it is very well laid out and useful. The X1’s iDrive infotainment system offers audio, smartphone and navigation functions. The standard features also include Bluetooth, a USB port, and an eight-speaker audio system. Notable options are an 11-speaker Harman/Kardon surround-sound system, a rearview camera and GPS.

Young married woman’s view: Roomy isn’t in the cards with the X1, but that does not mean the front seats are not comfortable. Those riding in the back might feel a bit tight, but there is enough space to easily accommodate two adults. You can get an optional sporty seating, but they really aren’t needed.  The cargo space is limited, but the plus side is that the X1 is extremely easy to park and is a marvel to maneuver in tight places. The liftover is fairly low and so getting in and out when wearing a dress is not a risk when the paparazzi are stalking you. An interesting, fairly affordable, and useful BMW where the beauty is in its utility.

Family conference: For a BMW, this is a bargain. You get the positive driving experience plus a more utilitarian vehicle that is economical to operate and fun to take most anywhere. The X1 truly lives up the SUV branding, or, as BMW calls it, a sports activity vehicle.

Notable 2013 Cars

With an improving economy and the desire for many to own more fuel efficient vehicles a schism is between the practical and the look at me crowd is emerging. The result is more sophistication and a more difficult choice for buyers. It is no longer simple to buy a vehicle of your dreams without doing significant research. That is why sites such as this are so valuable in helping you winnow out the wheat from the chaff. Here are some of the most significant new cars at this point.

Acura ILX

The ILX is a more refined Honda Civic with upgrades nearly everywhere from the suspension to the interior to the engine. You can also get it as a hybrid or a hot rod version with 201-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual. Look for prices to go into the mid $30,000 range and start ten grand less.

Acura RDX

Small families in a hurry will like the RDX with a 3.5-liter V-6 creating 273 hp that uses a six-speed automatic. There is an available all-wheel-drive system. Priced between $35,000 and $41,000.

Acura RLX

For around $50,000 you can own all all new RLX that come with front wheel drive or as a hybrid with all drive. Lots of technology and fairly good fuel mileage as well. Pricing will most likely be around $50,000.

Audi Allroad

Audi Q5

Back again and this time a bit tame compared to the previous version. A tough looking little wagon with a turbocharged four cylinder engine. Figure $40,000, but not nearly as rugged as its older brother.

Audi RS5
The RS5 coupe has a V8 that makes 450 hp and is mated to a even-speed transmission and all wheel drive. This slippery two door is going to make friends quickly with the highway patrol as the rear spoiler deploys automatically at 75 mph. Perhaps a performance bargain at $80,000 or so.

Audi S6
Now with a twin-turbo V-8, eight-speed automatic transmission and a plethora of high end goodies, this Audi combines both performance and luxury.

Audi S7

Similar in nearly every way to the S6, except it costs more and is a hatchback.

Audi S8
The S8 is a big, fast sedan with power from a twin-turbo V-8 trumps and an abundance of technology and performance features. Oh, this 520 horsepower version is going to cost you well over $100,000.

Bentley Continental GT V8

We thought the GT was a bargain at $150,000 when it came out ten years ago. It now $177,000 and up, and you are reduced to just eight cylinders. Oh, you still have 500 horsepower and are driving one of the world’s most expensive gas hogs.
BMW 640i Gran Coupe

It is all about looks with this sort of new model with previous mechanics and a sculptured four door design. If you like it and have close to $80,000 you won’t have to worry about some of the impractical elements such as a small trunk and reduced visibility, You also need to control your impulses when deciding on options. but you are going to be seem in one of the all time family friendly babe magnets.
Seriously expense with a turbocharged V-8 places 560 hp at your disposal. For about $107,000 this is a very fast machine that handles well. Best advise, pay an extra seven grand and get the convertible. Rich speed demons will love it.



A small SUV with the BMW character for those with over $30,000, this model looks a lot like its sister, the X3 with the same engines, all wheel drive availability, the availability of a M Sports package. A plethora of options, but most important was the fact that this just might be the most useful and “inexpensive” BMW you can buy.

Buick Encore

A small Buck, who would have thought. Nevertheless, GMC is on a roll and this is one luxury placed small car, but far from tiny. The 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder has plenty of pep and the interior r is very upscale, Look for pricing I the $20,000 plus range. Going to be interesting to see if this model brings the younger fold to the dance.

Buick Verano Turbo

The news this year is the turbo and, honest, you can order this Buick with a manual transmission. Add the usual Buick reliability and interior treatments and you have a fun, fast, family vehicle for about $30,000.
Cadillac ATS

The American BMW, this line of Cadillacs has a vast array of options from turbocharged four and six cylinders power plants to a manual transmission to all wheel drive and sophisticated suspensions. Starting prices around $34,000.
Cadillac XTS

This bigger cad is big and filled with luxury features as those of olden days. A 300 hp plus engine makes it a highway cruiser. With options the $45,000 price sprints to nearly $60,000 for this front wheel drive model. The Cue system takes voice cues and runs the information and entertainment controls. Huge touch screen. A lot of car for the money.

Chevrolet Corvette 427 convertible

Convertible, that is all you need to know. Over 500 horsepower and the wind in your hair for $77.000 or so.


Chevrolet Impala
A fresh face, underpinnings, and a 2.5-liter engine, a 2.4-liter hybrid and a 3.6-liter V-6 with 303 hp to keep face with the competition. Priced well under $30,000. Much more youthful looking then Ford. I family oriented winner.

Chevrolet Malibu

A couple of engine options including a form of hybrid for his well priced and equipped model.
Don’t pay more for the competition until you check it out. Prices starting around $22,000.

Chevrolet Sonic RS

A sporty compact, this sleek model has upgraded appearance and suspension and brakes. . The turbo engine creates excitement and at $20,100 it does that.

Chevrolet Spark
This is a price leader with great fuel mileage and room for four adults. Prices too low to mention here. Just kidding. About $13,000.

Dodge Dart
Built on a sporty Alfa Romeo platform and sharp looking, the Dart is a a low priced, well finished car that should draw people back to the dealerships who are looking for value and looks. Starts under $17,000.

Fiat 500L

Bigger may be better. We love the Fiat for what it is, fun-to-drive and cute. The new version is bigger and more expensive. If you need four doors this Fiat may be just right.

Ford C-Max
The C-Max hybrid can be ordered as a standard hybrid or a plug-in. We tend to wait a while before buying new vehicles laden with technology.

Ford Escape

Ditto, the Escape is all new in design and look for prices to be higher as well. A lot of competition in this segment and the trick rear hatch that opens by detecting your foot passing under the rear part of the vehicle is interesting, but what about just hitting the remote keyfob?

Ford Fusion

Well, it sure looks different and comes with a variety of power train configurations. Look for competitive pricing, but check out Ford’s quality ratings first. The are now 23rd, according to J.D. Powers.

GMC Terrain Denali

More is the operative word here. More safety features, comfort and good fuel economy with the base engine. If you must have a SUV, this one is highly recommended with great fuel economy and interior room. Priced in the mid $20,000 range for the base version.

Honda Accord
Honda does not let us test their vehicles. As such all we can say is that there is a lot of competition in this category and we highly recommend you drive them all before making a decision. Do your homework first, because there are a lot of options. As for hybrids, Honda has lagged behind Toyota in this regard for years after getting a headstart with its terrific, but small, Insight. If you are considering this type of power train take the time to see the price of replacement battery packs, too. We can recommend three Honda models based on past experience. First, the expensive Odyssey van. Next the CRV crossover. Finally, the Fit with the latter being the best value overall.
Hyundai Elantra GT

Elantra GT

Elantra GT

An exceptional combination of sporty, fuel frugal, and family friendly features makes this bargain priced Hyundai a great choice for those on a budget or who just like to have fun. Prices under $19,000 to start. Remember, if you don’t want the sporty model the base Elantra is a winner, too. Hyundai is clearly providing good looking vehicles with superior gas mileage and warranty. If you have a dealership near check out the line.

Hyundai Santa Fe

With room for seven in some versions, the Hyundai is loaded with features and priced right starting at $23,000. Expect gas mileage to be in the low 20 mpg range. The Sport model has two rows of seats. If you choice to go with front wheel drive and the smaller engine your mileage could easily be 30 percent better.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

Looks and features are the reason for the Veloster. Good fuel economy, reasonable performance and interesting options for about $23,000.

Infiniti JX35

A three row SUV, this well equipped luxury model is an extensive list of safety items and enough goodies to entertain the family as well. Prices start at $41,000.

Lexus ES
The bread and butter car of the Lexus line-up along with the RX, the new ES is longer and better and improved in every regard. Excellent fuel mileage and performance make this a dominate player in this market segment. Also available as a hybrid and you can average nearly 40 mpg in mixed driving with this option.

Lincoln MKZ

Interesting looking and using a variety of engine combinations that are shared with the Ford Fusion, the MKZ can be ordered with all wheel drive and as a hybrid. Prices around $36,000. A direct competitor to the Lexus ES so check resale values, too.

Mazda CX-5


A tremendous value in base form, this SUVish hauler gets a class leading 25 to 31 mpg and plenty of technology and standard features. There isn’t much downside on this model, and it even is available with all wheel drive. Prices start in the low $20,000 range, but don’t expect luxury, expect a useful people mover that will probably be invisible to the highway patrol.

Mercedes-Benz GL
The GL can be order with a Bluetec’s turbo-diesel, a V-6 a V8, a 4.7-liter turbo, or an AMG 5.5-liter twin turbo V-8 so be prepared to spend some time test driving a variety before buying. The new model can hold seven passengers. Prices start around the mid-$60,000 range and escalate to well over $100,000 depending on your need for speed.

Mercedes-Benz GLK250 Bluetec

It is here, a diesel SUV, and with prices below $40,000 and fuel mileage in the 22 mpg range it might make sense, but be aware the higher diesel fuel costs must be considered in comparison to the premium fuel recommended for gas engined versions.

Mini Paceman

Interesting looks is what this Mini offers. Priced around the mid $20,000 depending on options.

Nissan Altima

Believe it or not this Nissan is catching on with those who like value, performance and features. Only the Toyota Camry sold more in this market segments. It is fun to drive and if you are easy on throttle with the base engine you can easily get 35 mpg. A best value if you are looking for a family car that doesn’t take away driving enjoyment.

Nissan Pathfinder

Now a crossover, the Pathfinder gets better fuel-economy, a better ride, and treats inhabitants better. Priced in the $30,000 area, the model has a lockable all wheel drive option and third row seating. It also has the great Nissan’s Around View monitor that must be seen to be believed. That alone is worth a drive to the Nissan dealership.

Porsche Boxster

All new and sharper looking and more expensive, this Porsche is no longer the poor man’s 911, but now stands alone as a top performing sports car. The S model is the one to have, but the extra horsepower will cost you over $10,000 more. Base price is about $50,000.

Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ


The Scion is less expensive, but both sporty cars are back to basics funmobiles. The reason we compared them together is that they were developed together. In a way, they are the new Mazda Miata with a starting price in the mid $20,000, a long list of extra cost options, and Subaru’s four cylinder, 200-hp boxer engine. As close to a thrill ride is you are going to get for this price and and it has a 25 combined mpg to justify the purchase.

SRT Viper

Priced about $90,000 and with enough horsepower to challenge most anything this side of a drag strip, the modernized Viper is no longer so touchy to drive with electronics to help control the power.

Subaru XV Crosstrek

The XV Crosstrek is a more outdoor friendly Impreza. Cute, gets exceptional gas mileage for an all wheel drive vehicle, and with a starting price around $20,000 well equipped, this crossover might have the right combination to attract more buyers the same way the Outback did for the Legacy.

Tesla Model S

Tesla is a sporty electric motor powered sedan that is sexy and handles well. Driving range between charges depends on speed and the use of other features such as air-conditioning. The best thing about this model is that it is available. A tribute to tenacity. If you have the money this is a car you want to be seen driving.

Toyota Avalon

Bigger, no. Better, yes. This is a far sportier, more fun to drive, and still roomy sedan. Same engine options as the Camry. A great family sedan starting above $30,000 and more eager to please. Passengers will never know it isn’t a Lexus.

Volkswagen Beetle Convertible


Sleeker, but retaining its charm, the new Beetle has the same engines as its hard-top VW sisters. Prices should hoover around the $30,000 range. And wait till you see the option packages that date from previous decades. Cool. You just have to go.

Family conference: Our favorites are the new Audi sedans with diesel powerplants, the BMW X1, Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ, Buick Encore, and Elantra. We think Buick, Subaru, Nissan, Audi, Toyota, and Kia/Hyundai are on winning streaks.

2012 BMW 335i: A Family Sporty Car

by The Car Family

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 For decades the BMW 3 Series has been one of our first choices for a fun to drive vehicle that delivers exceptional fuel economy and performance. The problem was that it was more sport than sporty with a tight interior and a stern ride over unkept roads. And now, for better or worse, comes the larger, more family friendly 2012 model that tends to those woes and adds such unique features as an engine that turns off at long stops, a plethora of options, and a turbocharged six cylinder powerplant that yields an impressive 30 mpg on the highway while offering 300 horsepower on premium fuel.

At a $45,100 base price the 335i is fairly dear, but you you can acquire some sophisticated equipment with a color Head-Up Display, a unique bird’s eye view of the car and its surroundings that must be seen, and must have safety features such as lane change warnings. You also get to show off that BMW key fob and resale remains solid.

 The new Bimmer sedan still looks sexy even though is it more full figured, being wider and longer for 2012. The larger build allows the rear seat to be more hospitable for adults and the trunk becomes more luggage friendly. The additional exterior sheet metal also makes the car look more elegant.

 Mom’s view: Let’s face it, no one needs a BWM, but a great many want it and the reason is simple; it really loves to be driven. The new 3 Series takes a little edge off that feeling, but nevertheless provides the owner with one of the best handling and stopping sedans you can buy. Add in that exceptional fuel mileage and the turbine-like response of the engine and you have a sedan that is a treat to drive. Our test vehicle had the six-speed manual, but we highly recommend the eight-speed automatic.

 On the downside is the location of the start/stop button hidden from view by the steering wheel and another button, located just above it. The latter allows you to disable the automatic engine shut-off when the car is paused at stop lights or in heavy traffic. It saves fuel, but with the manual transmission it was not as smooth as with the automatic. You also may select your suspension control level when you start the car depending on the driving you intend to do. The interior is still quite spartan and storage space is at a premium despite the enlarged interior. The trunk lid opens wide and should be a model for all cars. Overall, the 335i is still worth driving, but not as crispy as before.

Dad’s view: The accelerator pedal is too sensitive to small inputs making it difficult to modulate, especially with the manual transmission. You can choice between Eco Pro, Comfort, and Sport with each option altering accelerator pressure and ride. You can use the iDrive system to modify the car’s abilities even further. I liked the Comfort setting as the EcoPro dulled every attribute of the sedan except fuel mileage. The Sport setting would be good for a trip to the mountains, but was too jarring for daily driving. There is an electromechanical steering assist that takes a little edge off of the handling, but delivers a better daily drive feel. Personally, this is the model to own as the back seat, although still a bit tight, can at least be used for adults. The power makes passing safe and the brakes are world class. The interior isn’t flashy, but with the right options you can make it so. Of course, with BMW those options are pricey. Don’t overlook the 328i model with an engine that makes 240 horsepower, is rated at 33 mpg highway and lists for over seven thousand dollars less. I prefer the six cylinder and can probably capture some of the added cost at resale.

Young working male’s view: I found the stereo above average, but the reception below average. The sound of the engine is quite pleasing and the adaptive xenon headlamps, are excellent. BMW still has the black and white gauges and the font is small so I like the Heads Up display, although it is washed out when wearing some types of sun glasses. Standard features include iPod/USB and Bluetooth, a 6.5-inch screen, and a iDrive system, with numerous programmable buttons. The iDrive menus are easier to navigate. If you use BMW Apps integration you can get music streaming from such sources as Pandora, but, you need to order a special phone holder and it may not work with all smart phones.

Regardless of all the electronics and aesthetics, the 335i is about styling and driving and the new model provides both. Fast, fun and practical are no longer mutually exclusive terms.

Young working woman’s view: With my wedding just a few weeks away this would be a great gift, but the reality is that I no longer need the attention. I’m just saying. With a dependent, or am I the dependent, the safety of the BMW is of major importance. It comes with stability control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, eight airbags and good crash scores. You can’t help but like the larger look which seems to justify the fact that bigger can be beautiful if the proportions are right. A nice sedan, but since my future husband is a CPA the car’s bottom line may need more justification than fun to drive and seats five.

Family conference: Not as trim or precise as previous models, but more liveable and certainly more family oriented. If you can live with the four-cylinder 328i you can save several thousand dollars. Both are well worth a test drive and either model can make you feel special and ease the pain of those payments.

$100,000 Hybrids: Lexus vs. BMW

by The Car Family

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 In an age when conspicuous consumption seems to be an art, along comes two gloriously expensive sedans that do their best to be inconspicuous. The Lexus LS 600hL and the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 Series and a strange brew of technology, luxury, and performance, with just a touch of frugality thrown in to attract the green set.

We drove them both and they are remarkable in every technological way, and fast, but they are pushing the limits of driver patience with an endless array of buttons and settings. You can forget the simple temperature control knob or push buttons to select a radio station. These hybrids are multi-tasking machines that not only talk to you, but scold you as well. Leaving your lane, they’ll let you know. If there is a car in your blind spot they’ll flash you a sign, and in the case of the BMW, they will even make sure the door is snug. My advise is not to leave the dealership without a tutorial.

The good news is that they are quiet, fast and the gas mileage isn’t that bad considering these are hefty sedans. We averaged around 22 mpg with both vehicles, but be warned it is down right difficult to avoid unleasing the combination gas-electric forces under the hood, ah, trunk, ah, whatever. Indeed, the BMW is one of the fastest cars on the planet once it gets moving, and we mean moving. If your kids won’t quiet down, just floor this sedan and the g forces should pretty much leave them breathless until the police pull you over and ask for your pilot’s license. This BMW can reach 60 mph in well under five seconds and it probably won’t take much longer to reach orbit. The Lexus is slower, but not by much.

 We didn’t have a favorite. The BMW was the most fun, no doubt. But the complicated electronics kept us from enjoying its exemplary handling, stopping, and acceleration traits. The Lexus was smooth, quiet, and, well, a bit boring. In either case, the 22 gallon fuel tanks made 400 mile trips a possibility and with all the electronics to play with it is always entertaining.

 Mom’s view: I love the BMW 3 Series. Quick, responsive, and fuel efficent. The Seven Series hybrid has some of the same DNQ with excellent stopping power and handling, but that’s it outside of the look of the grill. The ActiveHybrid It is much smother and just as fast as the sexier looking supercharged Jaguar and, surprisingly, the interior is as nice as the British sedan. The Lexus has the better look for me, as the fit and finish were exceptional. It isn’t any secret that Lexus frequently finishes at the top of the consumer quality reports.

 Cost wise, they both are around $105,000. For that BMW gives you a combination of lithium ion batteries, turbocharging, and a 4.4-liter engine that yield 455 horsepower. The Lexus uses its hybrid with a larger, non-turbocharged, 5-liter V8 engine in combination and two electric motors to provide 430 horsepower.

 Driving the Lexus is easier. Both have engines that shut down when the car is stopped, but the Lexus is much more seamless when it comes time to starting. The cars have fairly good views in all directions and the seats are so adjustable that finding a fanny friendly position isn’t difficult. Of course these expensive sedans have steering wheels that power adjustments for those of us with short torsos and shorter arms and have to share with longer-legged relatives. The trunk space on the BMW does not give up as much room for the extra batteries that drive the hybrid as the Lexus. I liked the Lexus better. It was less fussy and plenty fast. Besides, for the MSRP I want to be coddled.

 Dad’s view: The BMW has an eight speed automatic transmission while the Lexus as a continuous variable unit that makes constant adjustments to maximize performance and efficiency. The Lexus is smoother. The BMW does offer a sportier suspension and that includes a self-leveling rear suspension and all sorts of safety equipment such as Driving Dynamics Control, Dynamic Stability Control, and Servotronic steering assist. Overall, I just liked driving the BMW better. The Lexus was more comfortable, easier to master, and to park. But it had no spark. The bottom line is that this a lot of money to be green.

Young working woman’s view: These are very big sedans. The turning radius for the BMW is over 42 feet, and the Lexus does it in 40. In other words, if you are looking for a parking space in a crowded mall prepare to spend time docking. Rear and front seat head and leg room is spacious in both cars, but the Lexus only has ten cubic feet of trunk space as the hybrid batteries take up a lot of room. The BMW has 14 cu.ft.

The Lexus dash is easier to navigate and the instrument panel continues to be exemplary. The cars have readouts for everything from tire pressure to gas mileage for the last few minutes. I really liked the extra cost feature that tells you when there is a slow traffic ahead and how many miles it lasts. The BMW has its owners manual located in the hard drive so you can read it using the car’s monitor. This is an interesting development. Not to be outdone, the Hyundai Equus goes one better by placing an iPad 2 in the glove compartment with the information on a file. The Lexus uses the old fashioned Lexus Library type of owner’s manual with several hundred pages of information. Somehow, I prefer this and I am supposed to be technological inclined.

Both vehicles are technological showcases with LED projector headlights, keyless ignition and entry, power door closers, parking assist with a back-up camera, a hard-drive-based navigation system, high-output stereo systems, and the Lexus will even park itself. Be warned that you are going to have to get out of that parking place on your own. The BMW is a tad longer, but weighs less. They both have whopping gas tanks that hold about 22 gallons of fuel. In other words, 400 mile trips are non-stoppers if you want to challenge your kidneys. I don’t have a choice between these two. Neither appealed to my sense of treading softly on the Earth and both were too big and too conspicuous. I would much prefer the Lexus RX hybrid, which we have tested, or the frisky BMW 3 Series to place under my covered parking space.

Family conference: The choice between these two is essentially based on how you drive. If you are into performance go with the BMW, if you want luxury and quiet pay the Lexus dealer. If you have children the BMW’s larger trunk will be of significant value.

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