dodge


Using vehicles to create student interest in math and Language Arts
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.
http://www.dmv.org/

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.
http://www.fueleconomy.gov/

A link site to manufacturers who sell cars in America
http://search.ezilon.com/united_states/business/automotive/auto_manufacturers/

A listing of vehicle websites worldwide
http://autopedia.com/html/MfgSites.html

National Motorists Association
A great source of information on driving and the law.
http://www.motorists.org/

A listing of car value prices
A good place to find statistics for math problems about the prices of cars and motorcycles.
http://www.nadaguides.com/

Where cars are made by location
Great way to teach geography.
http://www.caranddriver.com/features/a-graphic-representation-of-whats-really-made-in-america-feature

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Dodge Grand Caravan SXT: Family Friendly and TV Too

by The Car Family

for more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/

It isn’t difficult to find reviewers who want to cast stones at the Dodge minivan, but we didn’t find any from families. Here are the facts. The Dodge has the most family-friendly interior of all vans. Secondly, it has good crash scores. Finally, these vans are built with kids in mind even to a built in child’s seat.

The Dodge Grand Caravan comes in three trims of which only the SE and SXT are for a family and we highly recommend the latter. The smaller, 3.3 engine has flex-fuel capability and can run on E85 if you can find it. We don’t recommend this engine as it does not have enough power for a family traveling in the mountains or even pulling a small trailer. There is word that the 2011 version is going to have a sharper interior and more potent engines and with a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, it might pay to look into the new model. Of course, that also means there are going to be some bargains on the 2010 model.

Mom’s view: As soon as you drive this Dodge it gets smaller. It is fairly nimble, has good visibility in all directions except the rear, and the optional 4.0-liter V6 engine and a six speed automatic can get about 22 mpg in mixed driving. The Caravan has active front-seat headrests, antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, full-length side curtain airbags and you can order an integrated child booster seats with Swivel ‘n Go, rear parking sensors, a blind-spot monitoring system and Rear Cross Path. The latter is a must. When you are backing up it warns you of traffic coming. Great for crowded malls when you are parked beside gas hoggish, large SUVs that block your view. You also need to always consider the optional rearview camera when ordering any family vehicle. The crash test scores were excellent.

The interior is a bit drab, but with the stereo controls mounted high and the sliding door buttons also within reach. It is easy to get used to driving this Dodge. I especially like the optional seating choices. The standard Stow ‘n Go setup has two second row captain’s chairs that fold into the floor. The bench third row seat also folds flat into the floor. That leaves a very large, flat cargo bay. The optional Swivel ‘n Go seats turn so you can face the other passengers. A pole-mounted table can be moved between each row of seats, although I found it a bit wobbly. The center console has a hole near the bottom that makes a good place to place a purse, which is always nice. But make sure it is won’t roll into the pedal area. By the way, some models have adjustable pedals.

The interior is rugged, but really needs some upgrading in materials. However, this isn’t a show vehicle and so durability is my concern. The van we tested had 10,000 rough miles on it and there was no sign of wear on the seats or anywhere for that matter. A few rattles, but nothing that a screaming child can’t drown out.

The standard three-zone manual climate control works well, but has its fans full when the outside temperature gets into triple digits. Do get darkened windows. The optional Swivel ‘n Go rear captain’s chairs allow passengers to face each, which is fun for playing games, and there is a table available on some models to facilitate this. A rear entertainment center is available as well as Sirius Satellite TV. Yep, you can get television delivered to the back seaters.

The less expensive SE comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, three-zone climate control, cruise control, a tilt steering column, Stow ‘n Go second-row seats, a flip-down kiddie mirror and stereo/CD. The SXT model adds a larger engine, a power driver seat and remote-operated sliding side doors, and third-row power vent-style windows among other items. The optional SXT model features a4.0-liter V6, the SXT and a sport-tuned suspension. This is the van to order as it makes the Dodge more playful to drive and still retains its practicality.

Dad’s view: The optional 4.0-liter V6 option and six speed transmission are as good as anyone’s. Don’t get any other version if you travel or tow as the 251 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque makes this one quick minivan. Driving the Grand Caravan was relaxing with good seats and a quiet ride. It is, dare I say, fast and the handling is okay, but not up to that of the more expensive models from Honda. The steering is light and the brakes feel overboosted, The handling was a surprise because it does corner well considering its mass. I liked this rig and wouldn’t mind owning one even for commuting.

Young working man’s view: Not yet. The upgraded sound package is worthwhile, but not first rate. The high-mounted audio controls are easy to reach and the television reception is fairly good in metropolitan areas even though you are limited to children stations. Driving a minivan is always interesting at first. You keep thinking someone is following you, but this Dodge is fairly responsive and easy to park. The low liftover makes loading simple and the interior lighting is adequate. The headlights are barely average. Overall, this is too much vehicle for my needs. I also felt that the interior needed to be refreshed and the option packages appealed to those kid prone. By the way, I am now engaged and am off the market, so to speak, in case you were interesting. So maybe in the coming years this Dodge may move up my desirability list.

Young working woman’s view: As usual with Dodge, the option packages are numerous and a buyer needs to spend time researching the packages before shopping. For example, you can order a 30GB hard drive for digital music storage, touchscreen controls, satellite radio and a rearview parking camera. Or you can opt for a rear DVD entertainment system with a nine-inch flip-down screen, remote control, two headphones and a 115-volt outlet. There are also a flashlight and a driver-side umbrella holder.

All of these are nice touches, but unless you have children or/and dogs, a minivan isn’t the best choice. A good sedan can do most things just as well and get better fuel mileage. But they don’t offer the variety of options that this Dodge does, especially for youngsters. For example, the Family Value Group adds second- and third-row sunshades, a sliding center console and remote engine start that help heat or cool the vehicle before you get enter. You can also get GPS, heated seats for the front and second row, and real time traffic. The Premium Group adds rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, a power-folding third-row seat, Bluetooth with an iPod interface, and nine speakers.

Buying this minivan reminds me of buying a house before it is built. You can have it anyway you want, but almost everything is an upgrade and adds to the cost. Keep it simple and you still have a house, but nothing to show-off to the family. The same goes for the Dodge. In basic form it is transportation, but with a few packages it can be an entertainment center or fun driver. And, Dodge is dealing.

Family conference: Quality statistics on the Dodge are a consideration, but we feel with the long warranty and the fact that Dodge has to do its best to keep every customer for leaving the fold well result in better ratings in 2011. The Volkswagen Routan is nearly identical to the Dodge, but has a better interior design and superior handling.

For a list of vehicle websites go to: http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/auto/index.html

New for 2011 and Notable

by The Car Family

For more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/most-reliable-vehicles/

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.

Small Relief for Gas Pain: Economy Car Champs

For more reviews to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/family-hybrid-review-shoot-out/

For free educational materials for children and parents go to http://wwwreacheverychild.com

Let’s face it, large SUVs are dead and deserve to be buried due to their dangerous handling and gas guzzling addiction. Long live the real kings of the road, the rediscovered compact car. Maybe sanity will return to the highways of America when these full sized SUVs are relegated to the back lots of car dealers where they belong.

For years The Car Family has been touting gas mileage and safety as defining traits of a desirable family transportation. It is simple to make a vehicle go fast or stop quickly when compared to the problems that must be overcome and the complexity of dealing with the fact that light weight improves fuel mileage, but unless well engineered, can create low crash scores. In the past few years this problem has been conquered as both side and front airbags have become standard equipment in many vehicles. Just as importantly, manufacturers have used antilock brakes and stability control as incentives for safer driving. But the real secret is unseen by the pubic and that the use of different types of steel that absorb the energy of a crash to before it reaches the occupants. Of course, that adds weight, but with more refined and electronically controlled engine management systems a 3000-pound car can provide the same fuel mileage as a 2000 pounder from two decades ago. And, 3000 pounds is a good weight for safety and high fuel mileage. However, many of the best gas sippers come in slightly under that weight and so ordering all the airbags available is good insurance in this day of cell talking SUV drivers.

Before you buy any car look at what its resale it going to be like should gas prices top $5, which they have in many places. Chrysler is offering a three-year cap of $2.99 per gallon for three years after purchase with mileage restrictions. Once that vehicle is past that what is the value going to be? In the world of the future vehicles that are not getting an average of at least 30 mpg are going to be slow sellers, but more importantly, may be the subject of negative attention in a world where conspicuous consumption is becoming less well received to a declining middle class. And we are not even mentioning the avoidable harm to the environment.

The Very Best Gas Mileage Compact and Sub Compact Cars

Before we start with our choices we have made several restrictions to what is considered. First of all, we don’t select any vehicle that required premium fuel, which is more expensive. This removed some terrific cars from this gas mileage oriented review such as the great Audi A4 sedan that gas us 38 mpg on the highway (story) going the actual 65 mph speed limit and we survived. And, the new Volvos, the Saabs, and the BMW and Acura vehicles. All of these are excellent performers, but are pricier to run than the non-premium fuel using compacts. However, if you don’t mind paying the difference the MINI and MINI Clubman are the champs at 19/26. The top sporty car is the Audi TT at 23/31 and its turbocharged engine is very responsive. The best convertible is the Volkswagen Eos, and with its hardtop with a glass sunroof no less, this is a funky friend to the sun worshipers and 21/30 is darn good.

Finally, we did not select any hybrids. They are unique vehicles and we have reviewed those separately. Beware that the battery pack is going to have to be replaced and the cost could well be a couple of thousand dollars. Add to that the fact that battery technology is moving into Lithium and you may have bought yourself a car that gets great gas mileage, but may need to be retrofitted with better batteries. Indeed, some companies are offering products that make the Prius run on battery power only until the electricity available falls below a certain level and the gas engine starts. This means that if you travel under 45 miles per hour your entire trip may not use any gas at all depending on the length of your journey.

The reviews are posted here:

http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/family-hybrid-review-shoot-out/

Interesting Findings

This list has six remarkable listings. First, the efficiency of the Suzuki and the Subaru all wheel drive models. We have tested these and found that 22/26 gas mileage was the norm. If you feel you need all wheel drive, and remember this feature adds weight to the car and does nothing to help it stop or in dry weather. All wheel drive is also more expensive to maintain. But, if you must have a family vehicle with this type of traction these are the models to buy. Don’t forget the 100,000-mile warranty on the Suzuki or the higher residual value of the Subaru. Our recommendation is the SR4 is for a couple and a child and the Subarus for a family. Stay away from the turbocharged Subarus if you want good mileage on regular fuel. Although they are a hoot to drive.

Secondly, the American manufactures are offering very efficient vehicles that shouldn’t be ignored. The Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G, Chrysler PT Cruiser, and Ford Focus are well worth a test drive. Don’t let an old bias against American products prevent you from getting a great deal on a gas sipper.

Thirdly, large cars such as the Ford Tarsus are nearly as fuel efficient if you travel on the road a great deal. This spacious vehicle gets 19/28 and it has a strong V6, too. And, the new Saturn Aura/Chevrolet Malibu offers 22/30 mileage. Other large cars in this fuel economy range include the Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Toyota Avalon, and Chevrolet Impala. Surprisingly, these large sedans don’t necessarily cost more than the compact cars with some starting under $20,000. If you travel on the highway extensively a larger vehicle well provide excellent fuel economy driven at the speed limit. Their larger engines don’t need to work as hard as they can use higher gearing.

Fourth, these cars are fun to drive and funky looking. They are cars for creative people. The xD Scion is a toaster on wheels and the Nissan Versa is a throwback to the French Citroen. Toyota’s Yaris looks like a shrunken Camry, and the Volkswagen Beetle and Chevrolet Aveo are as different in appearance at could be. And what can be said about the Toyota Solara that looks big, but has a small interior and yet delivers sterling gas mileage while looking good.

Sixth, look what Volkswagen has done to gain back market share. They have more fuel efficient vehicles in this category than any other if you consider those that run on premium fuel such as the Eos and GTI (22/29).

Finally, these cars perform. For the most part they handle well, are a breeze to park, and have a lot of response when the engines are on task. They give their all and don’t charge much for the effort. Some such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are legendary leaders in resale value. But with the apparently unstoppable climb of fuel prices the resale rates of lesser vehicles such as the Suzuki and the Cobalt are bound to rise as people struggle to find economical transportation.

The top picks

If you drive a lot on the open road the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, a new diesel that is coming to dealers this fall, is tremendous. It is easy to get nearly 50 mpg on the road, but in the city the mileage “falls” to about 35. Plus there is less maintenance with the Jetta than the hybrids. And yes, higher diesel fuel costs and the fact that not as many stations carry it means that you better do your homework before you buy this highway flyer. The station wagon is especially handy and once underway you don’t know you are driving a diesel. It is the best car for fuel mileage and cargo space you can buy. Hopefully, Volkswagen’s quality is top notch, too. This is our top pick.

Ford’s much refined Focus is a good value at $15,000 and really does deliver a 35-mpg average in mixed driving. With its low initial cost it is a strong consideration if you watch your options. Don’t look for the strong resale of the Volkswagen or the hybrids either. We like the Focus and find it is a value leader, especially with the great lease deals Ford is now offering with monthly payments well under $200. The Focus is so vastly improved over previous models that it difficult to compare them. They are underrated and spacious considering their size. You are not going to find a better bargain in this segment.

The Smart For Two averages about 40 mpg and has very little storage room, although the driver and passenger feel comfy thanks to offset seats. The three-cylinder engine has to work awfully hard, but if you can get a base model at about $12,000 you might be okay. However, be warned that build quality and resale have not been tested. Our advice is to avoid the Smart Car. Unless you drive exclusively in the city this is not a good choice. They also don’t let all journalists test these cars, which is worrisome, as we can’t provide our readers with an accurate description of what they are like for a family. Realistically, if you live where there is strong winds, and inclement weather go elsewhere. Cute, but not a bargain when order any of the option packages. A city slicker, not a family vehicle.

The Honda Fit is very frisky with a useful cargo area and enough power to make it fun and frugal. Look for a two-wheel drive model to get you over 30 mpg in mixed driving. We love its versatility, however, Honda has served notice that it is going to bring out a bigger Fit next year. If they follow the same pattern as they did with the Accord and Civic it is going to be larger, but not necessarily better. Unless, of course, they do what they should have done years ago and that is make the Fit a hybrid or make available a small diesel powerplant. The Fit is a first rate handler with a very useful rear cargo area and a tiny price. Highly recommended.

Mom’s view: The Jetta wagon is so handy, easy to maneuver, and a delight to drive on the highway. Besides, it is a great way to meet truck drivers when you stop for diesel fuel. I don’t have a second choice. A woman knows what she wants.

Dad’s view: The Nissan Versa is versatile, quirky looking, and they are dealing on these models. It has a big car feeling inside and is spunky. Get the hatchback, even though it looks a bit unfinished. The Jetta diesel wagon would be my second choice. Just a great car. I hope the quality holds up.

Young nearly working woman’s view: The Suzuki Sx4 is as cute as a bug (whatever that means) and you have a great seating position and a warranty that covers just about everything for a decade or 100,000 or until I get a full time job, which every comes first. The Saturn Astra would be my second choice based on good looks and sporty handling.

Young male college graduate’s view: Any Subaru. They have a lot of cargo room, go anywhere, and are built to take the hard life of college parking lots. Easy to drive and always ready for skiing season. Second place would be the Honda Civic. A bit tame, but you can’t argue with its resale and fuel mileage. No, make my second choice the Mazda 3. Better cargo area and better handling.

Compact and Subcompact Gas Mileage Chart

Volkswagen Jetta Diesel 30/41

Toyota Yaris 29/355.7

Honda Fit 28/34

Toyota Corolla 27/35

Scion xD 27/33

Nissan Versa 27/33

Hyundai Accent/Kia Rio 27/32

Honda Civic 26/34


Pontiac G3
25/35

Pontiac G5 25/35

Chevrolet Aveo 6 25/34

Nissan Sentra 25/33

Chevrolet Cobalt 24/33

Honda Civic CNG 24/36

Ford Focus/Mazda 3/ Saturn Astra 24/35

Suzuki SX4/ Toyota Solara 23/31

Honda Accord 22/31

Pontiac G6 22/30

Volkswagen Jetta/Rabbit 22/29

Mitsubishi Lancer 22/30

Toyota Solara 21/31

Scion tC 21/29

Chrysler PT Cruiser 21/26

Suzuki Forenza/ Reno/ VW Beetle 20/28

Subaru Impreza 20/28

Subaru Legacy 20/27

Subaru Legacy AWD 20/26

Larger Car Mileage Chart for Comparison Purposes

Hyundai Sonata 21/31

Toyota Camry 21/31

Kia Optima 21/31

Honda Accord 21/31

Dodge Avenger/Chrysler Sebring 21/30

Mazda 6 21/29

Volkswagen Passat 20/29

Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan 20/28

Pontiac G6 18/29

Saturn Aura/Chevrolet Malibu 18/29

Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable 18/28

Pontiac Grand Prix 18/28

Hyundai Azera 18/26

Reviews

A review of all sedans

https://carfamily.wordpress.com/2008/03/21/304/

Chevrolet Cobalt review:

https://carfamily.wordpress.com/2007/04/04/chevrolet-cobalt-glows/

Dodge Nitro review:

http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/dodge-nitro-looks-are-everything/

Honda Accord review:

https://carfamily.wordpress.com/2008/01/28/2009-honda-accord-review-bigger-but-better/

Mitsubishi reviews:

http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/mitsubishi-galant-lancer-review/

Rabbit review:

http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/vw-rabbit-all-new-but-not-noticeable/

Saturn Astra review:

https://carfamily.wordpress.com/2008/06/08/review-saturn-astra-looks-are-nearly-everything/

Saturn Aura review:

http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/saturn-aura-reincarnated-oldsmobile-aurora-best-saturn-ever/

Scion reviews:

http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/scions-xd-and-xb-bigger-and-bolder/

Toyota reviews:

https://carfamily.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/toyotas-gas-champs-camry-hybrid-rav-yaris-sienna/

Toyota Corolla review:

https://carfamily.wordpress.com/2008/01/15/2009-toyota-corolla-review/

2008 Convertibles

by

The Car Family

For more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/

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For a list of all car websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

Make your garage happy this holiday season, put something under the roof that will make the neighbors feel old and nothing says that better than a shiny new toy whether it is a Bentley, Mercedes, Audi, or for the self-actualized, a Pontiac convertible. Regardless of what model you choose two things are assured. First, you are going to make your insurance agent very happy and secondly, a relative could have gotten it for you cheaper.

With the most major arteries clogged what you are seen driving is just as important as how fast it goes. So the ideal holiday car is one that articulates style while waiting for the (circle all those that apply) rockslide, floodwaters, movie star gawkers, accident, fire engines, out of state RVs, undressing surfers, and/or crashed Ferraris to be cleared.

Only a couple of decades ago the car industry had written off convertibles as too dangerous due to potential deaths and injuries due to rollovers. Imagine if they had that same safety interest when they started tossing top heavy SUVs on the public which are so unsafe that the government, always slow acting, is forcing manufactures to offer some sort of stability control. That being said, there are now a terrific, entertaining, and fabulous group of convertibles available, including those with retractable hardtops. Here is a review of almost every convertible with the exception of the Ferrari—who wants to pay $100,000 over list, the Porsche, you can’t test our cars because you wrote they weren’t so good, and the restyled Mitsubishi. Pretty much all the others have felt the weight of our rears in their seats.

For the size doesn’t matter buyer the Mazda MX-5 (nee Miata) now comes with as a hardtop convertible that tucks into the briefcase sized trunk. You get room for two and your bottle of STF 50 sun block and not much else. On the other hand that’s all you need. With Mazda’s $22,000 flingable flyer the sky’s the limit for this young at heart tanning machine.

Want something even minier? Try the MINI Cooper convertible. You can order yours with a turbocharger if you fancy playing tag with the big dogs. Either way its Bulldog stance, retro interior, and road-hugging ride make the MINI both frugal and exciting. A perfect car for that tight parking space, too, and you don’t have to challenge your credit limit with a starting price around $22,700 for the fuel sipping 115 horsepower Brit.

Larger five passenger convertibles from Chrysler and Ford are best sellers due to their pricing, relaxed fit comfort levels, and easy egress. No surprises and plenty of standard features make the new 235 horsepower Sebring and 210 horsepower six cylinder Mustang practical driveway decorations for those who like their vehicles traditional while coveting that topless lust. Priced around $30,000 and $24, 000 respectively and ideal for those who just want to get there with a little style and ruffled hair. The Mustang is the nosier of the two with its rough and ready exhaust and a V8 that promises the joy of acceleration. However, it is deer unless you go with the base model. Our test GT was priced over $30,000, well over. It is good looking and can be equipped to your taste, but overall this Ford is going to have its hands full when the competition from Chrysler and General Motors enters into the fray in a few years. Get the base model, the very good six-cylinder engine, and drive a bargain. The Sebring is very large and has a fair amount of cowl shake on tax deprived roads. It is ideal for a large family or those who need room for four adults. Much better than the previous Sebring, the new ones is for those who like to cruise.

Hard top convertibles are hot and the Pontiac GT is one of the best sellers. But be prepared to pay $30,000 for the privilege of watching the metal top fold gently into the trunk to reveal its solar appeal. The 217 horsepower engine gets over 27 mpg. Cute, but the trunk space is Speedo sized. Until a new Firebird emerges, this is the best open Pontiac you can buy and can be well worth it in the long run. Don’t look for a hot rod or canyon cutter, though.

A bit more expensive, but hey, it’s the holidays, are hard top convertibles from Volkswagen and Volvo. We especially liked the Volkswagen Eos, as it not only had the metal top folding option, but a glass sunroof as well. So cool and priced well at about $30,000. The 200 horsepower engine is responsive, gets about 26 mpg, and likes to play. It is easy to see that the Eos is going to be a good seller for Volkswagen and resale promises to be high.

The Volvo was another matter. It was bigger and pricier at $43,000. Competent and eager to please the typical driver, the 227 horsepower Volvo has also been rated one of the safest convertibles you can buy. Spacious and well equipped, the C70 returned 18 mpg for this hardtop convertible with a glued to the road ride. When you compare the ride and handling of the Volvo to the Sebring in terms of performance, handling, and room there is no question they are very similar. So where does the extra $12,000 for the Volvo go? Probably into the abundance of safety features and a more elegant interior as well as that retractable hardtop. The Volvo won’t offend anyone and makes you feel good, but don’t race any Saabs. Speaking of which, the $39,000 Saab is one of our favorites, though it does not have a retractable hardtop. Sharp handling, able to attract attention especially in Electric Blue, this is an underrated driving experience with its turbocharged 210 horsepower engine. Great seats and a responsive engine help offset the 9-3’s large turning radius and dependence on premium fuel. Best of all, its still a bit quirky.

Covet moving to the head of the class? Try the $82, 000 BMW 6 Series convertible. This understated yet elegant convertible is stunning inside and out. Its 360 horsepower may not be as fast as Santa’s reindeer, but he doesn’t have Real Time Traffic information that suggests alternative routes around holiday traffic. And, I’m sure the view out of the BMW’s windshield is better. Fast fun for those who like to drive and don’t mind 19 mpg on high-test fuel.

If you willing to deal with the slow shifted SMG seven speed transmission BMW has put into the M6 convertible, you can count on 500 horsepower, a multitude of transmission, engine output, and ride settings, and a swift power soft top. We highly recommend that you drive this stunning four-passenger convertible and see if you can live with the iDrive and the shifting of the SMG. If you can this is one super fun ride that can get you to 60 mph in less than five seconds. The cost, over $105,000 and that doesn’t count the $3000 gas-guzzler tax. We got 14 mpg, but enjoyed every ounce. However, we never could master the transmission and the way it takes over for you by blipping the throttle for downshifts and being slow to upshift at times. Hopefully, this lovely engine will find happiness with a manual transmission shortly.

What says love more than his and her Mercedes convertibles? In this case the so fast $90.000 6.3 CLK AMG and the stunning retractable hardtop equipped SL 550 roadster. The SL550 has a new seven-speed automatic, a $94,800 price tag, and a 382 horsepower engine. A study in chic understatement, this convertible has everything from stability control to deployable rollover hoops. A great choice for the well kept. In the other corner of the garage is the “What has god wrought?” CLK AMG with 495 horsepower to propel this four-seat convertible to 60 mph fewer than five seconds while looking so innocent. Gas mileage, well better then we expected at 22 mpg in mixed driving.

The only Porsche we can recommend is the 911. The Boxter and the rest are very pricey and don’t offer the performance of other vehicles in their price range. You are paying a lot for the Porsche name at the dealer and at the service bay so why not get one of the truly great Porsche’s and buy the Cabriolet? It is solid, swift, and actually not too bad on fuel consumption. If you can afford the $137,000 get the turbo version and never have to use your rear view mirror again. Those flashing red lights are for you.

Last, and easily the most sexsational holiday vision for your driveway is the Bentley convertible. No need to decorate your dwelling, simply park this beauty out front and watch the traffic slow to view the true spirit of giving. Yep, it is expensive at $190.000, but you had 12 months to save, which is the real reason the holiday season is at the end of the year. The Bentley is a study in outrageous numbers. Two turbochargers, four wheel drive, six speed transmission, a dozen pistons being rammed into action by enough exploding hydrocarbons to make Exxon stockholder’s shout in glee, 15 mpg, 552 horsepower, and I didn’t’ even mention the gas guzzler tax. Whether it is humiliating the Highway Patrol helicopter, or just maxing out your gas credit card, this is the vehicle for those who aspire to show their true love of consumption in this season of giving.

Family conference: There are a few convertibles we couldn’t get for testing and that includes the updated Jaguar, Honda 2000, and the Mitsubishi Eclipse Sypder. The Volkswagen Beatle, Lexus, Toyota Solara, and PT Cruiser are all long in the tooth and don’t have much new to offer even though they are good value with the base engine. That being said our test revealed that buying a convertible no longer has to be considered a summer only decision. Much better top construction and a more solid chassis make the decision to own a convertible as ease as for a sedan or coupe. We especially like the hard top convertibles that blur the distinction between coupe and convertible and offer both glamour and practicality.

The convertibles can be grouped into four main areas. First, the bang for the buck category. This is where the Mustang convertible reins supreme. Not as smooth as the others, it nevertheless is fast fun. Second is the price is no object classification. The BMW M6 is quick and elegant, the Mercedes CLK AMG is a bargain, and the Mercedes SL and Bentley convertibles make those insurance payments feel almost worth it. Of these the quick CLG 6.3 AMG is the best combination of go fast and look good. The final category is based on friskiness. These cars are just plain fun to drive fast or slow. The Mazda MX-5 is the best here with the Volkswagen Eos surprisingly almost as fun. The last area is for those convertibles that are essentially for touring. The Chrysler Sebring, Volvo, and even the Saab fit here. The former two have plenty of room, but the Saab is just too cute to ignore.

Regardless of which classification fits, this is a great time to buy a convertible. And, they hold their value better than most other models. The only cavet is that they have reduced side visibility and are nosier than their hard top cousins. But hey, that’s what a high output stereo is for. Pass the sun block.

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Dodge Avenger: Something different

 The Car Family

For more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/new/carreviews/index.html

If ever a car was misnamed it is the Dodge Avenger. By definition avenger implies inflicting pain or harm to retaliate for real or fancied wrongs. There is nothing in this passive sedan that can come anywhere close to inflicting pain or righting a wrong. It is a calm, relaxing, vehicle that just wants to do your bidding without an assault on anyone or anything, least of all your wallet. In essence it is easy going. Priced at $19.000 and similar under the skin to its less aggressive looking sister, the Chrysler Sebring, this is clearly a model dedicated to those who are looking for an attractive and all American alternative to the Toyota Camry/Honda Accord/Ford Fusion/ Nissan Altima buyers.

What is most noteworthy about the Avenger, outside of its bargain pricing and roomy interior, is the Chill Zone. This is literally a beverage cooler in the area around the glove compartment that can hold several containers and works well. There is also the

MyGig option which is a hard drive and audio, navigation, and entertainment center that enables you to download music and even photos. No one else comes close to offering these distinct features in a vehicle in this price range.

Mom’s view: The standard 2.4-liter four lets you know it is hard at work and is noisy at all speeds. On the other hand it moves the vehicle fast enough to not be a burden on the onramp and also returns over 26 mpg. The four-speed automatic does its best to keep the engine on task, but there is no doubt that a larger engine would make it a “newer” vehicle. Personally, it they could get that Hemi engine in this chassis they would have the rebirth of the muscle car.

Of note are the seat coverings. They don’t look trendy, but are said to be soil repellant and be made of a fabric that protects from stains, orders, and is antic-micobialic. You can also get heated seats, which I always like. The heater takes a while to get going in the Avenger and the air conditioner is equally slow to respond to urgent requests. Once underway the heating and air work fine. The Avenger has LED interior lighting and it is directional, which is very useful when you drop your keys between the seats or have trouble reading a road map.

The dash and instrument are a little difficult to read with their fine fonts, but the night lighting is good. I always would like it if the side view mirror controls were lighted, too. The layout is simple and everything is easy to reach. The seats could use more padding and the color selections are a bit dark for my tastes. We didn’t get a vehicle with the My GIG audio system combined with the navigation unit, but it shouldn’t be difficult to figure out if you have done your homework. 

The rear seat is fine for two adults, tight for more and is really best for youngsters. The head restraints can’t be moved which does impact on rear visibility, especially with the small mirror and high trunk. You can fold down the rear seats to expand the relatively small, 13.4-cubic-foot trunk. The seats have a 60/40-split. You can also fold down the passenger seat should you need to haul a long item.

Safetywise you have multi-stage front air bags, full side-curtain air bags, a tire pressure monitor, front-seat-mounted side air bags and optional ABS, and a stability program that works with brake assist and traction control. This feature is very worthwhile in any vehicle and a must in any family car. This feature is standard on the more expensive Avenger models.

Stopping the Dodge relies on a front disc/rear drum brakes in the base models and all discs for the upscale SXT models with the V6 and all R/T models. Our test car didn’t have great brake pedal feel, but it wasn’t offensive. I like a progressive feel and the Avenger was more of a softer initial reaction followed by an aggressive braking action.

The ride is smooth and there are plenty of interesting options to make any trip more interesting. However, the bottom line is that the interesting exterior, exceptionally roomy interior, and great fuel mileage are offset by a smallish trunk, rather inexpensive feeling seat fabrics, and soft brake feel. Is it better than the Status it replaces? No question about it, but for a little more I would go with the Dodge Charger. As it now stands, the Avenger could appeal to a young family that wants a functional sedan with a little style.

Dad’s view: I really wanted to like the Dodge Avenger more and after a week with it I began to appreciate it more. The front wheel drive sedan is rated as a midsize and comes with a four or six cylinder. I didn’t like the noisy four-cylinder engine, but I would still go with it unless I felt the need for speed.  The 173-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder just takes a while to get up to speed, but once you are there the satisfaction of over 30 mpg on the highway offsets any negatives you might have. A flex-fuel 2.7-liter V-6 engine and an available 3.5-liter V-6 engine mated to a new six-speed automatic transaxle with Auto Stick are options. Chrysler is one of the few manufacturers offering flex fuel vehicles.

The Avenger R/T model has a more potent engine and better handling, but it costs several thousand dollars more. The choice buyers are going to have to make is whether or not to consider the Avenger a bargain priced sedan or a sporty one. It certainly looks sporty, but you need to drive both to make your decision, as the handling on the R/T is very different than the other models. I think the braking wasn’t up to the looks of the car, but is adequate for a car in this price range.

Overall, the Avenger is the best Dodge sedan of this size ever. It can be ordered in a variety of disguises and gives you a fair return on your investment. I happen to like the Dodge Caliber and Dodge Charger a lot more, but they are far different than the Avenger.

College going males’ view: The Avenger has the most unique electronic components of any car. It is a must see. First, it has a rear-seat entertainment system, which is very unusual for a car in this price range. The Saturn sedan was the only one I remember that had a similar set up. This system allows Dodge Avenger’s rear-seat passengers to watch movies listen to music or play video games using the 7-inch screen. It plays DVDs, WMAs, MP3s and audio and video CDs. Additionally, auxiliary input jacks on the faceplate show video directly from a video camera, so Avenger’s rear-seat passengers can play games from a video-game console or listen to music directly from a portable MP3 player. This is truly state of the automotive electronic art. And, when the entertainment system is not in video mode it can display information in a split screen format, with two channels. The headphones enable listeners to tap into either channel by use of the switch located on the right ear cup. And, if that isn’t enough, this feature could enable the rear seat crowd to listen to two audio casts at the same time. Don’t ask who thought of that feature and be heard through the Avenger’s stereo. The headphones are wireless.

There is also a  Harman Kardon navigation system and audio unit with a built in 20GB hard drive that is truly a novelty. The MyGIG combines an entertainment and navigation audio system with a 6.5-inch display touch display panel. Combined with satellite radio you can get traffic rerouting, There are also bird’s eye and regular map viewing modes and the display panel can be turned 180 degrees to make it easier to read and reduce glare.

The system is voice activated, too, and recognizes 100,000 words and can be taught new ones. Really interesting and worth a trip to the dealership just to see it in action. This is easily the most unique audiovisual piece of equipment in any car I have tested. Where else can you see a display panel that is supposed to give you 65,000 colors? 

You can also order a satellite radio connection and get a stereo that has a MP3 connection as well as holding six CD or DVD discs. The USB is based on the MP3’s connectivity and puts WMA, MP3, and JPEGs into the unit’s hard drive. The Avenger also offers Gracenote with its song, composer, and artist displays, a play list creator, voice memo recording with a microphone that it tucked into the rearview mirror. The Gracenote music file management program can hold up to 1600 songs should you plan a 100-hour trip and not want to repeat the same music.

The front radio screen can even play videos when the car is in Park, which essentially makes every lover’s lookout a drive-in theater.

As well, there is an Uconnect Hands-free Communication System that has the phone buttons in the radio control panel. This devise can hold 128 phone numbers, has call transfer, can be programmed in English, French, and Spanish, has a mute and microphone, and recognizes up to seven phones as it uses Bluetooth.

All of this is terrific to play with and enjoy, but the Avenger just didn’t light my fire. Perhaps it was the base engine’s moan at practically all speeds, but I wanted a tad more grunt and glamour. Perhaps with the more expensive optional packages such as the R/T I would have been smitten. But to me the base vehicle just wasn’t a fun place to be. As it is the Avenger is basic transportation in a nice dress and she doesn’t ask you to take her to expensive places such as gas stations very often. Fun, but not playful.

Young working woman’s view: The seating position is quite high for a sedan and the low hood gives exceptional front visibility. The high trunk and small rear view mirror make that view a little more difficult. The interior has generous room capable of even handling even an old “bee hive” hair do, but the trunk is a tad small with just over 13 cubic feet.

We always question the need for an all wheel drive system with a vehicle that does not have an abundance of power or ground clearance, but it is going to be an option for those who feel it would be of benefit.  The Dodge system sends power to the front wheels until the computers detect slippage and transfer power at that time to the rear wheels. It is not a viscous-coupling system and is thus less demanding of the engine and more economical to operate.

The Avenger was also meant to be fun to drive. Unfortunately, unless you order the larger engine this car is not fun on the road. It is a good driver, but lacks the spirit under the hood. Of course, with a starting price under $19,00 and with a lot of standard features, it is certainly priced right. You even get power windows, doors and locks, an electroluminescent cluster with outside temperature display, sport steering wheel, tilt/telescoping steering column, driver seat with lumbar with manual height adjuster, AM/FM/CD radio with MP3 connectivity and play capability, an upper and lower bin in the center console, 60/40 folding rear-seat with center arm rest, rear door map pockets with bottle holders and driver’s side front-seat-back map pocket, remote keyless illuminated entry, Sentry Key® Engine Immobilizer and theft alarm with the base model, according to Dodge.

No question that the Avenger has a cute look and the pricing isn’t bad either. It certainly is better to look at than the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, but it still lacks that special flavor that would push it ahead of the competition. Designed for the 30-45-years-old, married couple it was meant to be both youthful and a lifestyle vehicle. Something that is unique, well priced, and stylish.

Family conference: There is a great value, but you get what you pay for. The electronic options are marvelous, the standard features a bargain, but you have to decide whether or not you want basic transportation or a fun ride. The difference is over $5000. Either way, it is much better priced than the competition and far more interesting to look at. We recommend the bigger Dodge Charger, or our favorite, the remarkable Dodge Caliber. For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

The Best Cars Under $15,000: Mileage and Room

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Okay, we let a few cars in that were a tad more than $15,000 but the reality is that with some good bargaining you can get all of these cars under MSRP. On the other hand the new Toyota Corolla is due out next year and is the 800-pound gorilla in the room and cannot be ignored. Indeed, even the existing version would have done very well in our battle at the bottom of the suggest retail price ladder.

We tried to make this a test of the newer vehicles and so the Ford Focus, PT Cruiser, Chevrolet Cobalt, the Scions, and others of that ilk were left out. All of these are good vehicles, well priced, and offering a great many family amenities, but we wanted to limit ourselves to the newest kinders on the block.

Thus we tested both the Nissan Versa hatchback and sedan with manual transmission and automatic respectively. Add to that the Dodge Caliber, the Suzuki SX4, Chevrolet Aveo, the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Kia Spectra, and the Hyundai Accent. The Pontiac G5 was not available for the testing. The Jeep Compass would have made our test, but the only vehicle available was priced at $21,000 even though this rough and ready SUV base price is just under $15,000. The Mitsubishi Lancer was also unavailable.

Where to start? Well, the Nissan Sentra was sensational with the CVT, but the price as tested pushed it close to $19,000. Is it a great car with excellent brakes, above average handling, superior gas mileage, and plenty of storage room? But you just can’t compare it to the huddled hatchbacks that make up the bulk of the under $15,000 crowd. So out it went.

Next up was the controversial Suzuki SX4 starting at $15,000 with all wheel drive. It was a great ride, but the all wheel drive unit sapped its power and fuel mileage. However, we decided to leave it in anyway because it shows how much technology you can get for the price of four-year-old Toyota Camry XLE. Besides, that Suzuki warranty is very family friendly extending to 100,000 miles.

We liked the handling of the Volkswagen Rabbit, but if you option it with anything it is over the price range. Besides, the fuel mileage and performance just weren’t up to the others even though the quality and handling were excellent. We think that Rabbit is a good car, but the pricing of our test model put it at $19,000 well loaded. As such we dropped it from the test where it would have finished mid-pack based since our emphasis was on operating economy, cargo space, and value. If we wanted to run a road race we would take the Rabbit. As for fit and finish, the Rabbit would place well there, too.

Exceptional

For versatility and price the Nissan Versa is an easy winner. It gets well over 30 mpg, costs under $14,000 and never feels small. On the downside it does not handle well and the seats catch every bit of hair and hold on to it tenaciously. The seat covers look like velour and grab like a drunken sailor. By the way, the seats are very comfortable. We must warn you not to judge this car by its looks. This is easily the car of the year for the frugal but its looks don’t have curb appeal.

Tied for best value was the Hyundai Elantra. Although you must be careful of what options you order, you can buy this spacious, good handling, and quite attractive Hyundai under $15,000 and still get the great warranty. We wouldn’t mind owning either of these cars, but if you want to drive the Elantra is the better gomobile.

Next was the well-heralded Honda Civic. It is fun to drive, has a fold down rear seat and gives excellent fuel mileage. It ranks up there with the Mazda 3 for handling, but its manual transmission isn’t as good as the Mazda’s. It is more expensive than the Versa and you never forget you are in a small car while driving one with its low seating position and reduced side visibility. It is much improved over earlier models.

Dodge’s Caliber has a vast and trendy interior, but the large blind spots and in your face interior was a bit much. Fun is fun, but an interior with bright red and white upholstering accented with very shiny painted metal require a more youthful slant. That being said, you aren’t going to get more car for less money. It is the best Dodge product at this time outside of their minivans and can be ordered with an array of options that can escalate the price well above $20,000.

Honda Fit is a smaller, more economical, less distinctive version of the Caliber. However, it is much more fun with a fine combination of handling, economy, room, and spirit. It does feel small and rough roads aren’t’ its forte. It costs considerable less than the Civic, but is less of a car. If Honda would just put their hybrid unit in the Fit it would be the best such vehicle made. As it is this is a terrific vehicle, but too closely priced to the base Civic.

The Mazda 3 is next in line for appreciation. Along with the Volkswagen Rabbit it is the best handler of the group and quite enjoyable to romp with. However, its fuel mileage isn’t up to snuff and you don’t get as much with the base model as others moves. We feel it is going to appeal to young male’s the most, which isn’t to say the 3 isn’t a family friendly car. However, its forte is it rompability. This Mazda loves to play tag with the apex of corners as much as sip fuel. Be warned that the torque steer can get your attention in a hurry. Easily a better vehicle than the much more pricey Audi 3. The best choice on our list if you really like to drive.

Good

A nasty spat occurred with the Suzuki SX4 based around the unfairness of comparing an all wheel drive vehicle with front wheel drive economy cars. Anyway, the result was a high finish for the nicely prepared and versatile SX4. Its busy engine and aforementioned just adequate fuel mileage relegated it to this placement. If Suzuki would make this an all wheel drive model and cut the cost it would be a much stouter competitor. As it stands, it is the low cost all wheel drive champion. The Yaris is the weakest of all Toyota products. It is fuel-efficient and does look cute, but outside of that the competition has it covered. We didn’t like the way it handled, the blind spots to the side, the low driving position, or the way it corners. A new Corolla is well worth the extra and gets nearly the same gas mileage and is a terrific handler. With the Corolla being redone this year look for some terrific deals. In fact, the Corolla is one of the best cars you can buy regardless of price. And, if you want to sit lower, the soon to be redone Scions are all superior gas misers with a large fun factor.

Price Vehicles

The Kia Spectra, Hyundai Accent, and Chevrolet Aveo just aren’t as much car as the others. We also believe that the resale may not be as strong. Thus these are price cars that deliver good fuel mileage and adequate interior room, but they don’t make you feel special or offer anything other than a compact ride and feel. If you are a good shopper you can get the vastly better Chevrolet Cobalt that is eager to please, gives nearly as good fuel mileage and with some good bargaining can be only slightly more than the smaller Chevrolet Aveo. We find the Cobalt very worthwhile. As for the Spectra, the same could be said, as the larger and more powerful Kia Optima is a superior car with some exceptional lease deals being offered. Like the Cobalt it offers the same excellent fuel economy as it smaller sister, the Spectra is more spacious and family oriented for just a few dollars more a week. And there is no doubt that the excellent Hyundai Elantra is worth the additional cost over the Accent.

Family values

Mom’s view: I like a small car that doesn’t feel like a small car. So, it’s the Versa all the way. It just does what you ask, holds plenty of everything, and if you opt for the CVT you get exceptional drivability that can easily surpass 32 mpg. I wouldn’t get the manual transmission simply because it was so difficult to shift in a hurry and the high clutch take up made it difficult to modulate wearing shoes with just one inch heels. The interior fabric is a bit grabby and difficult to clean and the stereo volume control is a bear to operate with fingernails that haven’t been bitten down. Overall a great bargain of the car. Forget the sedan and get the hatchback even with its gawky looks. The head and legroom is remarkable and the 122 horsepower 1.8 liter engine is much more potent than one would think. Get the optional CVT and relax with the welcoming seats, good visibility and plenty of standard features. Unfortunately, the low price tag means common sense items such as anti lock brakes are options.

I liked the Suzuki, too. It was cute and comfortable. But, its 2.0 liter four cylinder engine provides just 143 horsepower to move the 2800 pounder around. Although it is eager to please and can be frisky with the five speed manual you have to work that transmission hard to get to 60 miles an hour in under ten seconds. The interior isn’t badly done and there were a number of useful storage areas, but I found it rather bland. Mind you this is a very nice car and one that would have been my first choice if it was a tad less costly and didn’t have the all wheel drive unit to hamper performance. As it now stands this is an underrated vehicle that has plenty of visual appeal and a lot of useable storage area. Quite good and certainly a strong consideration if you drive where inclement weather is a concern, the SX4 carries a warranty that is as good as it gets.

Of the others, the Honda Fit didn’t fit me, the Mazda was just too boy racer, the Dodge was too stiff legged, and the Aveo didn’t have enough perkiness. The Yaris was a disappointment from every aspect except visual appeal. Too low and too slow. Give me that Corolla. The Hyundai Elantra was extremely nice and returned excellent fuel mileage and a good ride. However, it was too difficult for me to get in and out of due to its low height and I felt cramped in the rear seats.

Dad’s view: I liked the Civic, but the Honda Fit grabbed my attention. It was so easy to maneuver and the fold flat rear hatch area was simple and honest in its operation. Both vehicles offer the good fuel mileage with 32-mpg easy to obtain with a manual transmission. If I had long distances to commute my backside would tire of the bumpy ride due to the short wheelbase of the Fit and I would buy the more relaxed fit of the Civic. Either way these are good value.

Call it a manly compact, but the Caliber is a whole lot of vehicle for the money. Keep to the standard 148 horsepower 1.8 liter four cylinder engine and the CVT and you are going to get 25 mpg. If you want to throw out the $15,000 or so mandate, order more powerful engines and get yourself a wild and wicked wagon. The versatility of the Caliber is everything as the handling isn’t really up to its husky stance. If you like the look of the interior with its body colored plastic and loud color pallet, this is a very worthy buy. However, the Fit and the Versa felt more connected to the road. A good family car with a high seating position and lots of funky features such as fold down rear speakers the Caliber is fun, but not frisky.

I don’t like to kick a company when its down, but the Chevrolet Aveo isn’t the best General Motors can do. The Cobalt is much better and not that much more money. The Aveo gets good fuel mileage with about 28 mpg with the automatic, but it always feels underpowered. The 1.6 liter four cylinder has but 107 horsepower and getting to 60 miles per hour is going to take you about 11 seconds. If you have a family onboard it takes much longer. Obviously, this is a commuter car and does that job well. It looks nice, has plenty of storage spaces, and getting in and out is easy. The brakes are not up to the competition and the car is a bit noisy on the road. If you just need basic transportation consider the Aveo, if you want a car that handles and is generally better in every way pay a bit more and get the very good Chevrolet Cobalt.

Let me make this as simple to understand as possible. The Yaris isn’t what Toyota is about. We were unimpressed. It was small inside, the 1.5-liter engine and its 106 horsepower weren’t enough, and the whole car felt cheap. The only plus was the exceptional fuel mileage of 35 mpg in mixed driving. Buy a Scion or wait for the all-new Corolla pricing before getting involved with this Camryish looking sedan.

Working woman’s view: The Mazda has snap even though it costs you at the fuel pump. Indeed the all wheel drive Suzuki nearly returned the same fuel mileage as the Mazda with 24 for the SX4 and the Mazda giving us 25 mpg. The Mazda has handling, looks, and personality and it won me over. Although a bit youthful for my tastes, the interior was well done and the engine always on call. The Mazda 3 is a lot of car for under $15,000 and the equal to the much more expensive Audi 3.

College going male’s view: The brakes on the Chevrolet Aveo were weak and the pedal feedback was soft and not reassuring. Perhaps that was because this was a very new model, but I just couldn’t help but feeling that it could have been improved. The feel of the interior controls and the way the seat backs fold down also weren’t as good as I wanted. There is no question that the Aveo is a price leader and there is also no question you get what you pay for. If you want an economical car that returns over 30 miles per gallon with the manual transmission and costs about $13,000 the Aveo is your best answer. But for me the Chevrolet Cobalt is much better. I think it is one of Chevrolet’s best vehicles. As for the Honda Fit, it just was too small for me. The Civic was terrific, but it with options it can cost more than the larger Honda Accord. My favorite was the Dodge Caliber. It had everything and was a huge bargain. There was plenty of room, great interior design, and enough engine to provide good fuel efficiency and not intrude on acceleration and performance. However, you need to get the standard transmission with the base engine. If you want an automatic get the six-cylinder engine. You’ll need it as the Caliber’s energy is drained dramatically with a family onboard.

Second would be the Mazda 3, but only because I felt the ride was too sporty for those who use their vehicles mainly for commuting on crowded roads. It was edgy and fun in the open spaces, but in town it was tiring to drive.

Family conference: This category of family friendly vehicles that is expanding second only to that of the sales of crossover SUVs. As such every car is worth considering and it is a good idea to seriously shop only you have driven each one on a rough road, in heavy traffic where visibility can be a problem, and at night. Sadly, some of these vehicles have less than terrific night lighting with low cost headlights and only a small dome light for the interior. None of these models even came close to our lighting standards set by the big Cadillac. Don’t just take these for a zip around the block. At highway speeds the engine noise can be a distraction and you need to do at least one fast lane change and emergency braking test where it is safe. Since these vehicles are new they have not gone through the government safety-testing program. Thus it is best to order as many safety features as you can afford on these vehicles.  And, should you be wiling to accept a vehicle long in the tooth, the Toyota Corolla is just as good as the best of these.    For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

Here are some statistics to help you decide for yourself. We did not cite any cargo capacity figures due to the fact that they are highly misleading. A taller vehicle may have nearly double the capacity of a shorter one, but does how high you stack items count as much as leg room.

Base price (rounded up) Fuel tank                     horsepower                       mpg highway                            max. range

Mazda $14,000                  14.5                                  148                                           35                                             400

Spectra $15,000                14                                     138                                           33                                              370

Versa $13,500                    13.2                                 122                                          34                                              390

Aveo $11,800                      11                                     103                                          37                                                300

Accent $10,500                   11.9                                110                                          35                                                 350

Civic $15,000                      13.9                                 140                                         38                                                400

SX4 $15,000                          11                                    143                                        30                                                 280

Fit $14,000                            10.8                               109                                         38                                                 400

Yaris $11,500                         11.1                              106                                         40                                                 440

Caliber $14,000                     13.6                             148                                         32                                                  360

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