Chevrolet Silverado Midnight Edition: Perfect for El Nino
by The Car Family

With El Nino’s inclement weather predicted for the area one can never be too well prepared, and that is where Chevrolet’s Silverado 1500 4WD LTZ Crew Z71 Midnight Edition could well come in very handy. This all black beauty, and we man all black, is ready for bad weather with the Z71 off-road package, 4WD, locking rear differential, hill decent control, locking rear differential, skid plates, tow hooks, trailering package. Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac all-terrain tires, spray-in bedliner, rear park assist, and heated, power adjusted outside rear-view mirrors all could come in handy and there is plenty of room for a family with the cavernous cabin.

Chevrolet priced the Midnight Edition package for $1300 and is limiting this model to a production run of 5000. The truck is named for its paint package that includes black 18-inch rims, side moldings, drill, bumper, headlight bezels, tow hoods and fog lamps. Our fully loaded test vehicle came with the potent 6.2 liter Ecotec3 engine and eight speed transmission. Other options included a power sunroof, driver alert package, headed and cooled seats, Bose stereo system, Chevrolet’s Mylink Audio System, and a few smaller options adding about ten thousand dollars to the base $46,200 price.

Mom’s view: Thank goodness for the side tubular assist steps that made it easy to enter and leave. The Crew Cab option provided ample room for four adults, but limited the cargo bed to 5’8” meaning that hauling plywood sheets would require leaving the tail gate down. By the way, the tailgate is extremely easy to lower and raise. I found it difficult to get used to parking the Silverado due to its length, but eventually got mastered it. On the other hand, I found that people tended to give me the right of way when they saw this large pick-up approaching. When I drive a small car I frequently find drivers feel that your lane is their land. Not so with the Silverado. It also has such safety features as six air bags including a curtain side air bags, rear-vision camera, stability control, rollover mitigation, trailer sway control, and we had the option that vibrated the seat when the Chevrolet detected a car approaching as you were backing up. Chevrolet calls it the safety alert seat. There was also front and rear park assist, lane departure warning, and forward collision alert, among others. If you drive a pick-up you will find this Silverado easy to master. I liked the elevated ride height, reassuring feel of the Silverado in the rain, and the steps in the rear bumper that made it possible to climb into the bed without embarrassing myself.

Dad’s view: The large 6.2 liter engine provided exceptional torque and made freeway merging easy. The brake pedal feel, steering and ride are all above average, but the real treat for me was how enjoyable it was to drive in all situations. The interior is truly well done for work or play. The seats are power adjustable and the heating element works well. The large monitor is easy to master and you can change the instrument panel layout to suit your needs. The ride is smooth, but speed bumps and rough roads were a different story. The transmission works well and the Silverado wasn’t difficult to maneuver despite it size. A lot of pick-up owners commented favorably about the Midnight’s unique tire and rim package and exterior look. Overall, this is an excellent pick-up truck that provides a secure feeling whether going to work, taking the family on an outing or stopping El Nino in its tracks.

Young working woman’s view: This isn’t a sports truck and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to keep clean, but it was easy to use even for me. I could see it being the only vehicle for a family with two kids and a dog in the rear seats and the latest garage sale items in the bed. The interior has two glove compartment, and abundance of storage areas in the doors and a center console that can swallow up the largest purse or laptop. Visibility is excellent in all directions and the power sunroof and rear window are convenient and simply to master. However, living in the city finding a parking place for the Silverado wouldn’t be easy. I would much prefer the smaller and niftier Colorado.

Young working male’s view: There are power outlets everywhere. The center console is the size of a small desk, and you have OnStar, 4G LTE Wi-Fi and an above average stereo. The Silverado also offers a Bose audio system, Chevrolet MyLink audio system, a very clear 8-inch touch and navigation monitor, and even USB ports, LED lighting, and an option I found very rare in a truck, a power sunroof. This is a truck that is well suited to tow a trailer, take the family skiing, or just drive on the beach sand with equal aplomb. It is a tough truck and the all black of the Midnight edition suits it well.

Family conference: An excellent family truck with a great many special features that make it handy. The 17 mpg average is fairly typical for all wheel drive trucks, but the 26 gallon fuel tanks means a range of over 400 miles and on the highway it could go to over 500 miles with an EPA 21 mpg average. This isn’t your average pick-up truck. It is loaded with features and offers buyers to have an extremely popular and handy vehicle that would be ideal for the El Nino season ahead. inclement weather ahead.

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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.

Best 2013 SUVs for Gas Mileage

by The Car Family

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 First, SUVs by their nature are not fuel frugal. They are heavy and have a significant wind drag. Some manufacturers have even gone so far as to put larger gas tanks in them to provide the illusion that you are getting better mileage because the fuel gauge is slower to move. However, fuel weighs 8.6 pounds per gallon and thus the added weight diminishes mileage as well.

 Furthermore, SUVs are not as safe as minivans in most cases due to their height. Indeed SUVs are involved in more single vehicle accidents. That being said, If you really need a SUV there are some that get reasonable mileage.

 Our strongest recommendation is for what is called a crossover, which means it was built on a passenger car frame. Next, unless you travel frequently in inclement weather, two wheel drive provides better mileage and less maintenance. If you may need to carry six or eight passengers the three row SUVs are obviously your choice, but take the time to see how difficult it is to get into that third row.

 Combining price, mileage and family friendlessness we have come up with our top 15. This is the list of the best SUVs under $50,000 and almost all of them run on regular fuel.

 BMW X1 is a good handling, handy sized SUV that gets 24 mpg city / 33 mpg hwy and has a MSRP of $30,650. If it fits, a best buy for those who want a bit of fun in their daily treks.

 The Buick Encore is a good value, with lots of standard features, this Buick is a quiet ride, very sedate, and offers a rating of 25 mpg city / 33 mpg hwy for a MSRP: $25,010.

The Chevrolet Equinox/ GMC Terrain have excellent cargo space and a host of available safety features. Plenty of poke for a MSRP: $25,800 and 22 mpg city / 32 mpg hwy.

Redone for 2013, the Escape is listed with a MSRP: $22,470 and rated at 22 mpg city / 31 mpg hwy. Ford does not allow us to tests it vehicles so we can’t offer insights into its family usefulness. For the same money or less you can get a none hybrid SUV with better fuel figures.

Basically the same as last year, the 21 mpg city /30 mpg hwy rated Ford Edge is listed at a MSRP: $34,940 and is closely related to the Lincoln MKX. Again, Ford does not allow us to test its vehicles so we can’t offer any opinion. The pricing puts it in the near luxury category. Check Ford’s reliability record first.

The 2013 Honda CR-V has a MSRP: $24,795 and its four-cylinder engine yields a 23 mpg city / 31 mpg hwy average. Sadly, Honda, as Ford, does not allow us to test its products and so we can’t comment on this SUVs usefulness. However, in the past it has been a good value. We do know that the Toyota RAV has been redone and gets the same or better fuel mileage at a slightely lower suggested price.

 We love Hyundai vehicles for their value, warranty, and features and the Tucson is no exception. There are well thought out design ideas everywhere and the base price is $20,245. Be warned that you must come to the dealer having done your homework because there are several models and numerous features. Gas mileage ratings of 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy

The 2013 Kia Sorento is being built in the USA and is a big seller. Why? Lots of interior room, features, and a MSRP: $26,950 are some, but the 21 mpg city / 30 mpg hwy is just as important.

 Kia’s Sportage has a list price under $20,000 and a 20 mpg city / 27 mpg hwy rating. If you order the turbocharged engine expect less.

Here is a winner with a starting price in the low $20,000 range and the Mazda CX-5 compact crossover segment is rated between 31 – 35 mpg, bettering the hybrids. Lots of options so do your homework and don’t expect V8 performance or towing capability.

 We like the well priced Mitsubishi Outlander Sport with its 25 mpg city / 31 mpg hwy averages and a base price in the law $20,000s. This is an outstanding handling SUV and should be on your consideration list if there is a dealer in your area. Surprisingly nimble.

 Ford’s Escape Hybrid used to be among our favorites, but it is has a totally different feel and pricing from $30,570. For that you get a top ten fuel efficient SUV with a city average of up to 34 mpg and a highway rating about 31. There are a lot of non-hybrids that get have the same mileage rating and have a lower starting price. The Escape is bigger in every way.

 Lexus RX 450 is expensive, but worth it with high resale, excellent reliability and a tremendous number of luxury features for the $46,310 to $47,710 listed price. You can achieve about 32 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. Easily the best luxury SUV for gas mileage, features, and user ratings. If you want something less costly and with fewere fringes try the Toyota Highland Hybrid with an overall 28 mpg rating and a price range that starts around $39,000. Both of these SUVs come with less expensive non-hybrid versions that average about 22 mpg.

The Mini Countryman isn’t really a SUV in the traditional sense. It is smaller, lighter on its feed, and a lot more fun to drive and park. Prices range from $20,000 to $34,850 and you can easily achieve 30 mpg and more if you can restrain yourself. Yes, all wheel drive is available.
The Nissan Juke is a sporty crossover that looks a bit strange, but that is its charm. As well as a 29 mpg average and a starting price just under $20,000. Very fun to drive and no slouch in terms of performance.

Mazda’s CX-5 lists from $20,995 to $28,595 and you can average 30 mpg in mixed driving without much effort. A good handling machine, as are most Mazdas, this Mazda costs less, handles better and gets superior gas mileage to the Ford Escape hybrid. It does not have the same cargo space. If you are serious about gas mileage, this is the one.

Don’t underestimate the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and its that can get around 27 mpg in mixed driving. This SUV is both fuel efficient, enjoyable to drive, and a bargain with a starting price under $19,000. Great deals abound.

Also among the most efficient SUVs and another bargain, the Hyundai Tucson with its base engine and starting price of just over $19,000 can get you government gas mileage ratings of 23 City/31 Hwy. A tough crossover, this Hyundai has an excellent warranty and has plenty of features.

Subaru XV Crosstrek lists for $21,995–$24,495 and offers all wheel drive while still getting government ratings of 23 to 33 in city and highway driving. If you want more room and have a can spend a little more money try the Subaru Outback with a combined 26 mpg.

Toyota RAV4 24 miles per gallon city, and 31 mpg on the highway cycle with front-wheel-drive models and a starting price about $24,000. This is an all new vehicle and it is undercuts the Honda CR-V on pricing and beats it on gas mileage. If you don’t test these two back to back you are making a big mistake if you are in the market for a name brand crossover.

There you have it. Our recommendations are simple. The Chevrolet offers the best fuel mileage and interior room for the price. The Mazda products are fun and get excellent gas mileage, and the Lexus RX 450 is the Queen of this list. As for the new BMW X1, it could be your best bet if you watch your options and don’t need the interior space of the larger vehicles on this list. If you need all wheel drive the Subarus are a great choice.

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The Low Down on Hybrids

by The Car Family

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There are over 35 hybrids on the market from the new Toyota Prius C for under $20,000 to the Lexus and BMW hybrids at over $100,000. Gas mileage varies all hybrid models can vary from  over 50 to 21 mpg depending on the size of the vehicle and its use of the electric motors. What they promise is more power for less petroleum dollar. They aren’t offering a free lunch, but a healthier one. Most of these vehicles are capable of a 500 round-trip without even looking at the gas gauge. In town they are even more fuel friendly in daily commutes with 40 mpg and up figures common.

As usual, there is a trade-off and that is the fact the battery packs wear out and can be expensive to replace. Toyota charges about $2500 plus installation, but that expense could go down over time. Kia and Hyundai have announced a limited life time warranty on its’ batteries. Regardless, with gas around $4 a gallon and high resale values on used hybrids, it is financially well worth your time to consider a hybrid.

Kia’s Optima and Hyundai’s Sonata hybrids combine a 2.4-liter engine with a six-speed automatic transmission, a 30-kw electric motor and lightweight lithium polymer batteries to provide 206 horsepower and 35 city /40 highway and 37 mpg combined figures. Both have lots of features but the trunk space is limited.

If you need a tough SUV, Volkswagen’s new Touareg hybrid is an option worth considering. It is expensive, but very fast, especially considering it is rated at 20 mpg city and 24 highway and has a 7700 pound towing rating.

Toyota’s gas savers are the Prius and the plug-in Prius. Both are gas misers with 50 mpg ratings. We were able to get over 60 mpg with the new plug-in version. Easy to love, but if you need more room the Prius V is a larger version with a station wagon design. It will cost you ten miles per gallon, but may be worth it for those who need to haul those Mastiffs to the vet.

The Chevrolet Malibu Eco assist has 25/27/37 ratings. The Malibu is am excellent family sedan and the interior and ride are exception for a vehicle priced around $26,000. General Motors calls this a soft hybrid because the battery pack alone cannot power the sedan. The interior is grand and the ride exceptional. This is perhaps the best family sedan Chevrolet has ever made for the price.

At the other end of the family hauler hybrid category is the Infiniti M35h Hybrid with a MSRP north of $50,000 and fuel economy ratings of 27/29/32 mpg city/highway. The rear wheel drive Infiniti is another very fast hybrid and can use its battery power for long periods of time in traffic. It handles well and the leather-wrapped interior is very smart. Perhaps the best of the luxury hybrid sedans and certainly one of the fastest ever with 0 to 60 times in a little over five seconds. Wow. And we got 32 mpg in mixed driving. A wonder car.

Mom:s view: With all new Toyota Camry hybrid raises the bar for family hybrids with a starting price around $26,000 and room for five adults. It clearly is better than the Ford products at this moment. I didn’t like the Kia or Hyundai as much as the Prius plug-in and the Chevrolet. If I just wanted to save on gas I would get the Prius, if I wanted more comfort the Chevrolet would be my choice.The Kia and Hyundai are good looking, easy to use, but not as smooth as the others. No doubt the non-hybrid versions are nearly as frugal and less expensive.

Dad’s view: The Touareg was a wonder. It is very powerful and handles any conditions you can throw at it with ease. This Volkswagen is loaded with special features that makes it ideas for those with homes in the the mountains or who like off-roading. It has a very large fuel tank which can make most weekend trips fill-up free. However, my favorite was the Toyota Prius plug-in. If you stick with the base model it is $33,000, but you lose your spare tire as the extra battery pack goes there. We drove one to Santa Barbara and back and had over 100 miles left and the gas tank only holds 10.6 gallons.

Young working woman’s view: Call me stuffy, but I love the Infiniti and its glorious interior and peppy ride. This car is luxurious with just the right touch of dignity and economy to justify the expense. The reality is that the Kia or Hyundai are more in my price range. I really like the Hyundai best in looks and feel. The transmission was a bit hesitant at times, but the exterior, ride, and cost make it well worth the payments. If I had a family the Chevrolet would easily be my choice. It is the only one that really makes it easy to put in a car seat outside of the mundane Camry and expensive Infiniti. However, if I had the means the glorious interior and jet like performance of the Infiniti would be in under my car port and a lucky girl I would be.

Infiniti Interior

Young working male’s view: I like the look of the Kia, but the handy nature of the Chevrolet makes it my choice in terms of pricing, mileage and interior space. Before you go car hunting I would spend some time getting a fix on what options you want because these hybrids are pretty well loaded and so spending extra may not be necessary.

Family conference: The average commute for readers is over 40 miles and with weekend trips to the beach putting 20,000 miles a year on a vehicle is not uncommon. If that is the case these hybrids could save you a couple of thousand dollars a year on fuel.

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Two Sedans to Charge Your Drive

by The Car Family

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Even after spending weeks in these two vehicles it isn’t easy to tell you which one is best because there isn’t a best. It just depends. If you travel 50 miles or less on a regular basis the Volt is the one to own. It is a great drive and comfortable at speed. If you travel 12 miles of less the Prius is the one to own. The difference is what happens after you travel your electric-only distance in each car. At that time the Chevrolet Volt’s engine returns 34 mpg while the Prius tops 50 with ease. As for cost, the Volt is priced around $40,000 and Toyota has yet to price its plug-in version of the Prius. Regardless, it will come in under the Chevrolet due to the fact that uses many of the same parts as the existing Prius while Chevrolet’s Volt is new and uses far more expensive batteries to achieve its longer electric-only mileage.

Just in, the plug in version will be priced from $32,000 to nearly $40, depending on the amount of electronic goodies you want. Look for better range for the added battery pack and the government has an incentive that could take off a couple of grand from the total.  Meanwhile. Chevrolet has lowered the price of the Volt.

In our case, the Prius is the better fit and with the new models said to have the ability to control when that 13 miles of electric only extra battery pack will come into use it makes it even more desirable. Why? Because when you are at freeway speeds that Prius gives you 50 miles per gallon and when you hit traffic you simple hit the electric power only button and you aren’t going to use any fuel for over ten miles. Indeed, on our recent 200 mile venture the Prius gave us 62.3 mpg. The Volt does not have that feature, but does offer superior interior design and better highway ride.

Driving each vehicle is easy and hassle free. At night, when electric rates go down, you plug them into a 110 outlet. It takes three hours for the Prius and about eight or nine for the Volt as it has a far larger battery pack. Both cars have the ability to charge more quickly with a special 220/240 volt outlet connection.

If you like to drive fast the Volt is very responsive and highly underrated as a handling car. The weight of the large battery pack that sits low in the frame makes cornering a breeze. The Prius has its extra battery pack in the area below the rear hatch. This location means that the car does not have a spare tire. We would buy a space saver and sacrifice the trunk space if we were traveling away from services. The Prius and Volt both brake well and you hardly notice when the gas engines turn start. The Volt is the better performer overall. However, when you hit the power button on the Prius you are going to find yourself pleased with the added acceleration. It can become addicting.

There is one variable here that needs to be addressed and that is whether or not the extra cost of the additional battery pack in the Prius is going to be worth the few extra miles per gallon over the standard Prius. After all, the plug in version only gets you a few extra miles of electric only travel and it may costs several thousand dollars more. In our case it would be worth the extra. If we remembered to plug it in after six when the electric rates were lower and unplug it three hours later we would not have to buy any gas for months. This did not prove a problem for us.  We also didn’t have to worry about range anxiety in either of thee vehicles because if you want to take a longer trip the gas engines fire up. Finally, there is another consideration and that is the fact the Volt is made in America and the Prius in Japan. We are not being xenophobic here, but with the recent nuclear power plant problems in Japan and its impact on both parts and vehicles one might consider availability for granted. On the other hand, we have noted a few Chevrolet dealers were asking a premium price for the Volt.

Mom’s view: The Volt is a better family sedan. It is easier to get in and out of and has the features that we have been accustomed to over the years such as more passing power and passenger comfort. That being said, I like the maneuverability of the Prius more, although it takes a longer time to get used to its handling and braking characteristics whereas the Volt felt more handy. I would note here, that if you drive more than 50 miles a day and take frequent long trips the Chevrolet Cruze may be a better choice. It is a refined sedan with a huge trunk, priced at half of the Volt’s cost, and gets 40 miles per gallon on the highway. I found the Cruze the best compact car Chevrolet has ever built and well worth a test drive.

Chevrolet's new Cruze

In terms of design, the Volt is a winner, Everything is very well thought out with easy to read gauges and comfortable seating. The Prius is more basic. The rear seats offer less room and there is less useful cargo space. The dash layouts on both are simple, but the Prius offers more information once you learn to manipulate the screen buttons. Neither car has a good GPS with the Toyota locking you out when the car is in motion and the Volt’s being difficult to navigate. The Volt also has a center stack that is difficult to read and requires a longer learning curve.

Safety wise the Prius has driver and front passenger Advanced Airbag System, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, driver knee airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags. Toyota’s Star Safety System features Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock Brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist. Crash tests for the regular model have been good. Since we were testing a prototype we can only surmise that the same scores would apply to the 2012 version. We always recommend ordering all the extra safety equipment which includes a Pre-collision System and Lane Keep Assist. The Volt gets nearly identical crash scores and such features as a StabiliTrak electronic stability control system, front, side, and knee air bags in addition to a roof-mounted head-curtain air bags. Our test Volt had the optional rearview camera and it worked well. Overall, I liked the Volt best except for the center stack and visibility concerns.

Dad’s view: So alike and yet so different, these two plug-in sedans are the future for those who can abide by their restrictions. For example, batteries don’t do well in extreme cold weather and there isn’t a lot of cargo room in these two. But for the majority of people, they are a perfect fit. Research has shown that the average commute is 16 miles. Now that means that half of the people travel less, which would make the Prius an excellent fit. And for the other half, the Volt would be ideal. Add to that the fact that many commutes are in heavy traffic. In that case, both are ideal because the engines shut down when traffic is stopped.

Engine wise, the Prius has a 1.8 liter engine that easily produces 98 horsepower and with the regular battery pack you can expect even more power, especially since the electric motors offer immediate torque. The Chevrolet Volt has a smaller engine with is its 1.4 liter seeking premium fuel, and with help from the battery powered motors provides a similar thrust, but with less engine noise. The Volt feels faster and reacts quicker to inputs. Advantage here to the Volt. As for my choice, I would go with Prius for two reasons. It is well proven and will undoubtably cost less.

Young working woman’s view: Of note is the recharge time for these two. Since the Volt has a larger battery pack it uses more household electricity. You do go further with that charge, but it takes longer. Special fast charging stations that use a 220/240-volt set-up are going to cost you a reported $2000 more. To me that isn’t worth it. However, if I had such a devise at work and could plug in my hybrid there it would be a real plus. The battery packs are said to last for at least a decade, but that really does not seem to be an issue as many Prius models have never had a battery failure in hundreds of thousands of miles.

For appeal it is all Volt. It comes standard with a lot of features such as 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, remote ignition, cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth, a limited free OnStar subscription, a touchscreen navigation system, voice controls and a six-speaker Bose stereo with CD/DVD player, audio jack, iPod/USB interface and more. There is also a Premium Trim package and The Rear Camera and Park Assist package adds a rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors. I recommend the latter as the visibility outside the Volt is more restricted than the Prius. So Volt is the winner for me even though I much prefer the maneuverability of the Prius. It is just more trendy and up to date.

Young working male’s view: The Prius PHV is interesting in that you need to control your demand for forward thrust or else the gasoline engine fires up. I learned to feather the throttle is for no other reason than to avoid listening to the groan of the 1.8 engine. The Volt also has an exhaust note that isn’t very pleasing, but you don’t have to be so gentle with the accelerator pedal. The reason that some people complain about getting gas mileage in the 40s with the Prius is that they drive it like a gasoline or diesel only powered vehicle. These vehicles require a different driving style. Momentum is everything and taking advantage of there high mileage tires and the vehicles low rolling resistance is a must. You can easily pick-up speed going down the smallest incline in these sedans without having to use an throttle input. In mountain driving both cars have a lower gear to use to help slow the vehicle as they can pick up speed quickly on steep grades.

I had a difficult time trying to tell the Prius PHV from the its trimmer, unplugged sister. The only clue was the cutout in the left front fender that houses the electric input adapter. There were extensive decals annoucning that this was the new plug in, but basically that was it. I was somewhat concerned that the small door that covers the Toyota’s plug in connection does not lock with the central locking system. The Volt’s does. The Prius and the Volt both come with a kit that enables you to plug it into any 110 outlet. Toyota provides 22 feet of cord and be well warned that you must not use any other extension. The same goes for the Volt. I felt that Toyota should have followed the Volt in having the Prius receptacle lighted for night use. I also thought that the Volt had a better system of tracking the time left for a complete charge. It should be noted that we were in a prototype and that Toyota retail version will surely have many tweaks that will make it more user friendly.

The PHV’s cargo floor is a bit higher than in the regular Prius to allow for the added battery pack. The Prius PHV battery pack is a potent lithium-ion pack. Since I work making open software computers and servers at I am familiar with these and find them reliable. The Prius uses a parallel-hybrid powertrain that is seamless and when you use the power button, almost frisky. I did say , almost. The 15-inch wheels are not nearly as nice as the Volt’s and the brakes and steering are vague and unfeeling. For my use the Volt would be the choice. Sexier and not so bland.

Family conference: No clear winner, but the one the fits our needs best is the Prius. The plug in model should be ready by 2012 and we have placed our name on the waiting list. Why? Simple, it is going to have a proven track record of reliability, high resale, and fits our driving needs. We dearly loved the Volt, but the pricing and fuel mileage once the batteries are depleted are a concern. If your daily driving needs are more aligned with the Volt it is worth the price, but if you drive further the Chevrolet Cruze is a strong consideration. The Cruze is our pick for the best of the compact gasoline powered vehicles at this time.

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Chevrolet’s Fuel Sippers: Volt, Cruze, Equinox

by The Car Family

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Chevrolet, General Motors’ price leading brand, has brought to the increasingly fuel efficiency conscious American consumer three vehicles that are impressive in their diversity and mpg ratings. The Chevrolet Volt, Equinox, and Cruze Eco have rushed to the top of the coveted gas mileage rating guides in dramatic fashion. What is especially appealing is that the each model shows that Chevrolet is moving closer to future in terms of providing family oriented vehicles with frugal family economy.

Chevrolet Volt

The vehicle attracting the most media attention is the Volt. It is a hybrid sedan that offers the versatility of a lithium-ion battery pack and a four-cylinder engine. We found that if you plug it in at night you can go 50 miles at highway speed before the gas engine takes up the challenge. Thus is is very difficult to provide mile per gallon information. If you don’t travel more than 50 miles per day and plug it in daily, you simple don’t need to use the gas engine. If you are only using the gas engine you get about 34 mpg. So the Volt is one vehicle where there really isn’t a miles per gallon rating that is accurate for everyone. The Volt costs slightly over $40,000 and that does not include the $7,500 federal tax credit. Add to that the fact that if you want a faster charge you need to buy a special unit that enables the batteries to get a bigger does of your electric bill. We figure it costs us about a dollar a day, but rates vary signifcantly. We doubt that if you travel 50 miles you are going to spend much more than a buck for the charge. Using the same yardstick, even with the very efficient Chevrolet Cruze, you would spend over four dollars at today’s fuel costs.

With seating for four, a lot of standard equipment including automatic climate control, cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, a Bluetooth, OnStar, a navigation system with touchscreen, voice controls and real-time traffic, and a Bose stereo with CD/DVD player with auxiliary audio jack, iPod/USB capabilities there isn’t much more you need in the Volt. However, we always recommend the rear camera and park assist package as visibility to the back is hindered by the high trunk. The Volt also has a steeply raked front hood that makes it difficult to know how close you are to an obstruction in front and large A and B pillars that can compromise visibility to the sides. Safety wise you get ABS, stability control, front side and knee airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Braking is good.

We like the Volt and its driveability. It was quick off the mark and kept pace with traffic with ease. The dash and readouts are easy to master, but the modernist layout takes a while to master, especially with the bright, white plastic that covered the center stack on our test vehicle.  The Volt comes with a cell phone application that enables you to work with the vehicle and more. The battery pack is placed low in the vehicle for better handling and when you raise the hood you are going to  know for certain that tinkering is not in the cards.

The electric motor and 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine work seamlessly and are the best we have tested. The engine does sound strained at times, but one look at the miles per gallon read-out is a balm for those occasions. However, the engine does seek premium fuel. The Volt holds four adults and, although the doors shut with a reassuring solid sound, there are signs that some sacrifices were made in the interest of a weight reduction with the lack of power seats and a maller back seat. The trunk is useful in size and the rear seats fold down to help when caring longer packages.

Handling is surprisingly good and the brakes don’t have that numb feel that some hybrids possess. In a nutshell, the Volt is a playful, practical, and pretty sedan and well worth a drive if you can afford the price and can benefit from its electric only range. If those attributes don’t meet your needs , climb aboard the Chevrolet Cruze Eco which provides 36 mpg in mixed driving and costs under $20,000.

Chevrolet Cruze Eco

Finally, a smaller Chevrolet that is downright zippy, gets excellent gas mileage, and has enough room for the average family. The problem is that the Eco, with its six speed manual transmission, is so frisky people are going to think you are just practical,when the reality is that the Eco is a hoot to drive. The inline-4 engine is perky, a bit playful, and quiet enough so that you have to train yourself to shift into its overdrive sixth gear because if feels and sounds so right in fifth.

There is an abundance of airbags front, side, knee and rear, and the Eco has stability and traction control, ABS, daytime running lights, OnStar, and more. Crash test scores are excellent. Chevrolet went all out on this model and it gives the competition a real run for money. And, if you order the Cruze with the larger engine it is even more invigorating. Of course the competition is significant especially with the new Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus, but neither are as fun to drive. There are a plethoraof models and options in the Cruze catalog, but our Eco was probably the best choice with the connectivity and cruise package for $525.

The Eco’s turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 generates 138 horsepower and is good for slightly sub ten second runs to 60 mph. Initial acceleration really isn’t its forte. Itt comes alive when you need a little zip to pass. Just downshift a gear or two and let the turbocharger perk things up. Fuel economy ratings for the six speed model are 28 mpg city/42 mpg highway a couple of miles per gallon less with the automatic. If you commute a lot, the automatic is probably the better choice.

Interior design is modern and comfortable, but rear seat leg room is a bit tight, as it is for most cars in its class. The dash is covered in a material that isn’t easy to clean and the interior’s overall look is trim, not fancy. The trunk is very large and the entire car is larger on the inside than it looks from the outside. Easy to shift, fun to drive, and excellent fuel mileage make this a must test drive vehicle for those who feel that the Asian competitors build the best compacts. We think you are going to be surprised, and there are some great deals being made.

Chevrolet Equinox

We liked the early model Equinox better because it was smaller and more nimble. But this plus-sized new one isn’t that hard to love if you like practicality and are willing to live with its reduced visibility to the sides.

The good news here is that the Equinox and its standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque is powerful enough to handle most daily tasks in the front wheel drive model and delivers great economy. Moving to the 3.0-liter V6 and its 264 horsepower and six-speed automatic isn’t necessary, unless towing or with the all wheel drive option. There are several models from the basic LS to the upscale LTZ and all are well-equipped, with power front seat adjustments, a sliding and reclining backseat, and optional equipment extends from audio goodies to a power lift gate. However, third row seating is not offered. The Car Family feels that if you need seating for six or more on a regular basis a minivan is safer.

The range and fuel economy with the base engine is outstanding. We averaged over 26 mpg in mixed driving and the driving range before refueling can reach well into the 400 miles category. The EPA gives the Equinox a top notch 32-mpg EPA highway rating.

A nice feature of the Equinox are large side view mirrors, which as very handy as visibility to the sides is restricted due to the large A and B pillars. There is ample room inside and the seats are fairly comfortable. The cargo space, center console are quite spacious and the various storage bins are numerous.

The ride is what you would expect of a SUV and the acceleration acceptable. But what sets the Equinox apart is its combination of economy, room, and attention to details such as the ability to program the height the power tailgate reaches. This makes it ideal for shorter owners. Overall, a well thought out SUV that provides good family values.

Family conference: If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger and General Motors recent battle with bankruptcy has indeed resulted in some better models. No longer lingering are the Bob Lutz Hummer H2 and the stink of ignoring the American buyer’s interest. These three are all worth a long look and, perhaps, a return to the USA for family vehicle buyers.

New for 2011 and Notable

by The Car Family

For more reviews go to

There are a lot of changes for , but most involve tidying up existing models and a shot of adrenaline here and there to get a tinkle from the buying public. However, there are a few that might create a rash on your credit limit with great fuel mileage, family oriented designs and speed limit challengers.. As always, with The Car Family, we disclose what we own so as not to hide any bias. In the fleet are an Oldsmobile, Saab, Lexus, and Mercedes.

Acura TSX Sport Wagon is a glamourized Honda Accord wagon with a 2.4-liter 204-horsepower 4-cylinder engine. A good choice for the family that doesn’t want the stigma of driving a mini-van.

Aston Martin Cygnet is difficult to portray. It has a very upgraded interior, trademark front and rear treatments, and a smallish engine producing just enough thrust to make it a little fun. Priced in the near luxury range. Sort of cute.

Aston Martin V12 Vantage has a gas hoggish 6.0-liter V12 engine with 510 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, and costs around $120,000. Aston Martin also is offering a four door sedan. The Rapide is expensive, fuel swilling, and beautiful. They won’t let family oriented writers test it so we can’t offer any opinion on its real life virtues.

Audi is on a hot streak. They have a good product and treat the family press fairly meaning that aren’t afraid of you learning the truth. That said, the Audi A7 Sportback is coming and it should redefine the segment. The stunning RS5 is already being sold elsewhere and could be an instant classic. The Audi A8 gets a new look, but for families we much prefer the Q5. We recently tested the A4 and felt it was the equal to the 3 Series BMW, but better looking. Great fuel mileage, too.

Bentley has become arrogant with their dealings with family oriented reviewers. In the past they were bargains, but lately they just added more horsepower, a few tidbits to attract conspicuous consumption crowd. The sedan is family friendly, but the gas mileage isn’t. If you can afford the, payments, insurance and fuel, the sedan is a good used vehicle to consider as they depreciated quickly. The Mulsanne is new and can be yours for $300,000. The Continental GTC Supersports Convertible has 621 horsepower and is very fast. If you have the $300,000 this might be the convertible to own and express your support of the British worker and German owner.

BMW X1 is a small SUV built on the 3-Series platform. s should be in the mid $30,000 range. How different it will be from the X3 remains to be seen, but it could be more nimble and quicker.

BMW ActiveHybrid 7 combines a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 engine and an electric motor for excellent performance while getting about 20 mpg in a very large car. To save on gas you must first pony up over $100,000

We always liked the Buick Regal. It was comfortable, rode well, and gave us good economy and reliability. It wasn’t fun, but it was ready when you were. Buick has brought back the Regal and gave it some European DNA from its Opel line. The power is probably going to be the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 184 horsepower and GM’s excellent 6-speed automatic transmission. Note, fans of the lamented Grand Nationals, the the lightweight Regal might make an excellent fit for a turbocharged engine. The base model is probably going to be in the low-$20,000 range.

The CTS Coupe could be the flagship for Cadillac. It looks good and there is no reason to believe that it isn’t going to be available with engines from mild to wild. Prices should start under $40,000.

Far more practical, and if well marketed it could be a surprise hit for Chevrolet, is the Cruze with a price in the mid-teens. Chevrolet is going to plant a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine in this price leader with an optional higher output unit available. Look for gas mileage in the 30 mpg range in daily driving.

Chevrolet Camaro Convertible is a reinforced version of the Camaro now on sale. With pricing expected to be in the area of $30,000 this could ignite the pony car war between Ford and Chevrolet again. Power for the Camaro should be the potent 3.6-liter 304-horsepower V6 and the gas 19 mpg, 6.2-liter 426 horsepower V8.

Chevrolet Volt has oozed press for two years so it better be good or else. This extended-range hybrid is said to be capable of going 40 miles on just battery power and uses a small internal combustion engine to recharge the batteries and additional power. Look for tax incentives to help build interest for this $40,000 White Knight.

 Chrysler 200 is the new Sebring, which could be a good thing. The new look sedan would include a variety of powerplants and a sharper image. Engine choices should be fairly conservative with a four cylinder and V6 as the motivators. Prices probably be in the low $20,000 arena.

 Chrysler’s 300 is a big seller and the company has cleaned up the previous models Bentley like stance and snow plow front end with a much sleeker style. The possibility of a V6 with nearly 300 horsepower would make sense, but there is still the Hemi to consider. Look for prices in the mid-$20,000 range.


Dodge Charger is slightly tidied up both outside and in with the “Pentastar” 3.6-liter engine the main force. The 5.7-liter HEMI V8 will return with cylinder deactivation technology available. All wheel drive is also offered with prices in the mid-$25,000 ballpark.

 Dodge Durango is an old fashioned big, heavy SUV. Look for a price around $30,000 and a large interior with three rows of seating. Probably not good on fuel and probably not swift with the base 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine. If you want to haul order the 5.7-liter HEMI V8 engine.

 Ferrari’s 599 GTO is priced at $460,000 and up. For that you get 6.0-liter V12 front mounted engine driving the rear-wheels with a top speed over 200 mph. You also get a happy car insurance sales person.

We have never liked the crude ride and problematic of the Ford Explorer and we hope this nearly $30,000 new version well erase those images from our mindset with better its fuel economy and sharper handling. Since we think highly of the newish Ford Flex and Edge we know Ford is up to the task. The Explorer is going to be powered by the same engines as the others with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder a possibility.

Ford Fiesta. This is probably the best small car Ford has ever produced. It is youth oriented with colors and interior treatments that appeal to young drivers. A 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with 120 horsepower should enable the lightweight Fiesta to earn 38 mpg credentials. Not bad for about $14,000.

Honda CR-Z Hybrid is a sporty coupe with gas mileage figures of 39 mpg. We would have loved this car with just a gas engine, but Honda has brought into this world an interesting alternative. The problem is that the extra weight takes away some of the fun. Still, this is a car for those who love to drive and are frugal. The 1.5-liter 122-horsepower gasoline engine coupled to Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist is enjoyable for $19,000

The Honda Odyssey has been recognized as a superior minivan for years, but it never had the utility of the Dodge and Chrysler vans. This all new version is sporty looking inside and out and the engine has even better gas mileage squeezed out of it. The 3.5-liter V6 engine comes with 248 horsepower and is rated at 28 mpg on the road. That is awesome, considering its size. Look for a base version with a 5-speed automatic to start around $28,000 and the shinier model, with a 6-speed automatic, to push well into the $30,000 range with any sort of options. All new look should draw customers.

The Equus is a truly big gamble from Hyundai as it moves this Korean manufacture into the luxury car segment by offering a $50,000 plus sedan with a potent 385horsepower V8 engine and features aplenty. Is this the right car at the right time remains a question, but there is no question that Hyundai is on a winning streak.

 Hyundai Elantra is a very economical vehicle that has good looks, good gas mileage, and a good warranty. It is probably the biggest sleeper in the under $15,000 segment, and if you want they are even offering a base model for less. The car’s fuel mileage rating of 38 mpg comes from its 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower. A well priced commuter car, family car, second car, and go to college car.

The Hyundai Sonata is priced under $20,000 and for that you get one of the better equipped cars in this market segment that is usually dominated by cars from Ford and Japan. The Sonata is sharp looking and its 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine makes an outstanding 198 horsepower. You can also order a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine or hybrid, but the base engine is our favorite.

 Infiniti IPL G Coupe is a vehicle that frankly surprises us. Not so much its performance, which should be good with a 348 horsepower 3.7-liter V6 engine, a stern suspension and better brakes, but why pay more when the G Coupe is nearly as good in all ways? Anyway, Infiniti is now bringing a performance based niche vehicle to market for about $45,000 and that should appeal to early adopters eager to test the performance of Infiniti’s IPL arm.

 The Infiniti G25 is an attempt by Infiniti to expand its market to those who love the handling and interior appointments of the more expensive G37, but don’t need the extra horsepower or cost. Call it the base Infiniti as it is priced about $30,000. Gas mileage figures to average around 24 mpg on premium fuel for the 2.5-liter V6 with 218 horsepower powerplant.

Well now, Infiniti has redone its powerful M sedan and made it slicker and a bit nasty with an available 3.7-liter V6 engine creating 330 horsepower or a ground pounding 5.6-liter V8 with 420 horsepower. Even with a new 7-speed automatic transmission both versions will be hard pressed to get 20 mpg in mixed driving. Prices should be in the mid-$40,000 range. The luxury car field has never been more compelling.

And there is the Jaguar XJ with its slick exterior and interior and two potent engines to tempt your driver’s license points. The 5.0-liter V8 engine has 385 horsepower and the supercharged version produces about 510 horsepower if you go with the Supersport option. Why not. Priced just south of $70,000.

Jeep Grand Cherokee is a big gamble for Chrysler. This is a core product in its line-up and one that must be good to keep the company from doing Yugo. The interior is sharp, the drivetrain includes a strong 3 .6-liter V6 engine making 290 horsepower, a goodly amount of cargo room, and much improve ergonomics. Everything has been improved including a “Selec-Terrain” feature that allows drivers to choose from five pre-programmed settings depending on road conditions. The optional 5.7-liter V8 ups the towing capacity to 7,400 pounds. Easily the best Grand Cherokee ever and priced around $30,000.

For ten grand less you can order the new Jeep Wrangler with a much improved interior and ride. Everything is better, but the design is still unique so not to disappoint the clientele.

The Kia Optima is a looker, no kidding. This sub-$20,000 sedan is loaded with standard features and comes with two new and interesting powerplants this year. A turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and a hybrid option could make Civic owners a little shy.

Kia has also upgraded its Forte by offering a 5-Door. You can order this sharp looking, well under $20,000 bargain with a a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine producing 156 horsepower or a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 176 horsepower and more motor choices are possible.

 Kia’s Compact SUV is the Sportage and this year it sharper all around. The
2.4-liter 176-horsepower 4-cylinder engine is economical and frisky and its priced just over $18,000.

For a couple of grant more you can order the new Kia Sorento with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine or the 276-horsepower 3.5-liter V6.

We loved the Toyota Supra, but the Lexus LFA is no Supra, especially priced at $375,000. Of course, the LFA is other worldly when in comes to Toyota as the car has carbon-fiber bodywork, a V10 engine with 552 horsepower, and you can only lease them.

 Lexus CT 200h is an interesting consideration. The hybrid hatchback uses a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder hybrid engine mated to a continuously variable transmission. Look at it as a sporty Prius. Priced under $30,000.

The Lincoln MKX is a crossover that uses a potent 3.7-liter V6 with 305 horsepower and improved suspension and a plethora of luxury items to entice SUV buyers. Priced just under $40.000.

Lincoln’s MKZ Hybrid is really worthwhile with a staggering fuel mileage estimate of over 40 mpg in town and 36 on the road. The engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder hybrid and is combined with an electric motor to create 191 horsepower. This could easily be the car of the year for about $34,000.

Lotus Elise is the ultimate niche vehicle trying to emerge from that niche. They are offering a wider range of engines, including a supercharged version and there are hints the company might be experimenting with more environmentally friendly versions of this lightweight flyer which would be a good idea because these are not high mpg vehicles despite their size. The SC is the fastest version with 0 to 60 times under five seconds. Of course, handling well be outstanding and a new ABS promises superior braking.

Lotus Evora is new with a 2+2 passenger cabin that offers more room without sacrifising zip. Lotus is planning on bringing out five models this year all great handling, sleek, and fast.

What, an even smaller Mazda? Yep, the Mazda2 is a basic economy car with a 1.5-liter 100-horsepower 4-cylinder engine with fuel economy in the 32 mpg range. Priced under $14,000.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet is a four-seat convertible with a well insulated power soft-top and either a 5.5-liter V8 engine with 382 horsepower or a 3.5-liter V6 with 268 horsepower. Priced under $60,000. Not much completion in this price range for a topless touring car.

Gullwing doors are back and the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG has them as well as our favorite bad boy engine, the 6.3-liter V8 with its 563 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque. If you can afford
$185,000 or so, this might even be looked at as an investment.

 A Big MINI, the Countryman is a sort of cute utility vehicle with all wheel drive and room for five, sort of. Could be a good value, but at $30,000 it might be a rare sight on the road. Engine choices probably the same as the MINI.

Another all electric vehicle is coming in the form of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. This car has been for sale elsewhere and so should be well proven. It can go 80 mph but that will probably cut down on its expected range between charging of 80 to 100 miles. A long charging time may slow sales of this $30,000 sedan.

 Mitsubishi’s Outlander Sport comes with front-wheel drive or all wheel drive and can be ordered with a continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters. The upscale SE comes with automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated front seats, cruise control, upgrade stereo, and a keyless entry system. The base engine is a four cylinder making 148 horsepower for about $19,000.

 Nissan Leaf is electric, in case you haven’t heard. The 80 kilowatt electric motor can push this sedan to 90 mph, although the expected range of 100 miles well be diminished. As with all electric passenger vehicles, look for a federal tax credit to help defray the cost and that could be worth $7,500 on the $33,000 early adapter.

Its no Juke, Nissan is bringing to market yet another SUV. This one is smaller and unique in its styling. It rides high, has five doors, and should be rambunctious with a 180-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. Priced under $20,000.

 The Quest minivan from Nissan is going to challenge the Honda Odyssey for looks, attitude, and performance. Look for a sharp exterior, the potent 3.7 V6 engine and power everything. It will probably handle better, but not have as many family friendly features as the Chrysler.

Saab is back, thankfully. This is a great name in the industry and deserves a fresh look. The
9-5 has a chopped like top, and looks very modern. Engines should continue to be the same with a fuel sipping and plenty fast turbocharged four cylinder with 180 horsepower and a 2.8-liter V6 with 300 horsepower. Pricing is just under $50,000. This could be another cult car just as the older 9-3 hatchback and the 2006 anniversary edition convertible.

Scion iQ is a small car that Toyota is bringing to market to do battle with those interested in fuel mileage and basic transportation with a flair. The 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine is attached to a continuously variable transmission. Look for fuel mileage in the 40 mpg plus range and prices to start well under $14,000.

smart fortwo is adding to its offerings with an all-electric model and a fortwo+2 with a rear seat and four doors. Prices should be under $15,000 and that’s a lot of cute for the money.

 Suzuki Kizashi Sport has a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and a sport-tuned suspension and it is sharp handling. With 185 horsepower and a manual transmission this could be fun for under $24,000

 As always, the Toyota Avalon is simply a Lexus in disguise. It looks sharper now and is more streamlined. The 3.5-liter V6 engine with 268 horsepower is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission tuned for obedience and not free spirits. Should be priced under $33,000 so not to step on the toes of the Lexus ES 350.

 All new, sort of, the Toyota Sienna looks like the previous version that has gone through a frugal modernization. We like the look and the many trim levels that enables a family to select the model that suits their needs. There is still an all wheel drive option. The base engine is fine if you don’t load it up and head for the mountains as its 2.7-liter 187-horsepower 4-cylinder is stout. The 3.5-liter 266-horsepower V6 is an option. Prices start around $25,000.

 Volkswagen’s Jetta is a bargain at under $17,000. A bit larger, but with the some of the same engine selections as the current Jetta, this model seems aimed at the family on a budget. The more you pay for the Jetta the larger the engine. Expect the fuel-economy to be in the mid-26 mpg range for most powerplants.

Volkswagen Beetle is new. In fact so new that we can only surmise it well be larger, quicker, and hopefully, quirkier. It should be priced well under $20,000 unless you want a hotter version. Worth the wait if this is your meat.

 Volkswagen Touareg is a real off road SUV. This model can be ordered with a hybrid drivetrain that can create 375 horsepower while still delivering over 23 mpg in mixed driving. In reality, this is a superior vehicle to the Porsche Cayenne and costs less.

 Volvo is now owned by a Chinese company, but they would be foolish to change the safety image that this marque has nurtured over the years. The S60 is a good looker and can be ordered with a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline 6 making 300 horsepower. Pricing should be well below $40,000, but the safety features make it well worth it for a family. Volvo is a class leader when it comes to pedestrian safety as well and some models actually stop the car when a person is detected in front of the vehicle.

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