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

For more reviews go to

 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.

For a list of all vehicle websites go to

Battle of the Family Sedans: Avalon vs. Taurus

by The Car Family

For more reviews go to

The new large Ford sedan shouldn’t really be called a Taurus because it is so totally different in every way. The fact that is is a much better looking, handling, and performing than the previous model also adds weight to our recommendation. To top off this dramatic change, the five passenger Taurus delivers excellent fuel economy and significant safety ratings while undercutting the price of some of the competition. In other words, forget the past, this is the Ford of the future as the company has left behind its legacy of stodgy vehicles. Indeed, only the slightly more fuel efficient Toyota Avalon can challenge it in the full size affordable family sedan field. And, we use the word affordability with caution because the Avalon breaches the $30,000 mark while the Ford can be nicely equipped for five grand less while offering more electronic options from communications to music.

Not to that the Avalon is a slouch. It is a great highway cruiser and holds the the edge in real world performance and utility. The Toyota comes in essentially one flavor with a 268 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The Toyota’s fuel economy ratings is at the top of its class with 20/29 mpg. The Ford is nearly as powerful, but gets about a mile per gallon less. If you are feeling deprived the Taurus SHO model is turbocharged and produces 365 horsepower. We tested the standard model and averaged nearly 25 mpg in mixed driving. But what was more impressive with the Ford were the standard features. The base Taurus SE come with a six speaker stereo and CD player with MP3 playback and an auxiliary audio port, a fully adjustable steering wheel, alloy rims, and power locks, windows and mirrors. If you want more the SEL offers leather and satellite radio and a more sophisticated climate control system. You can also get a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and the Sync electronics interface system with Bluetooth and an iPod interface.

In real world driving the Taurus is more eager to be frisky off the line, but the Avalon is more powerful when passing. Both vehicles have large fuel tanks that can easily make 400 mile trips without refueling.


The Ford design team gave the driver a high seating position and added a large trunk and also offered available all wheel drive. In other words, this sedan is as close in feeling to driving a SUV as they could make it. This is a trend for most larger sedans, however, it does create some headroom issues for those who are long waisted and drive these four doors equipped with a sun or moon roof.

In terms of interior room the Toyota does not sacrifice as much as the Ford do its exterior styling limitations. The Taurus rear passenger space has more restricted head and leg room. You can also order the Avalon with seating for six by offering a bench front seat.

On the road the Avalon is a bit noisier than we expected and the handling was set for comfort whereas the Taurus was quite impressive for a large sedan. The electronic steering provides good feedback and the suspension does not have the floaty feel of the previous generation. Brake pedal feel is still a bit to soft compared to the Avalon. For long hauls the Toyota wins.

The front seats of both cars are spacious and provide sofa like comfort. The Ford is a little more cramped as its new dash layout and center console are quite wide. The Avalon looks more dated. Both cars have an abundance of readouts and displays, and buttons, and switches, and stalks. In other words, don’t leave the dealership without a thorough walk-through.

We always recommend you order any new car with every safety option. That said, the Taurus has good safety crash-test scores and you can order a collision warning system and adaptive cruise control, the highly desirable Blind Spot Information and Cross Traffic Alert systems, and air bags just about everywhere. The Avalon offers the more traditional options, although the rear view camera mounted in the rear view mirror on cars with navigation is interesting.

Mom’s view: Believe it or not I found the Avalon a tad old in styling, interior, and driving manners. When we tested the previous generation it very much reminded us of a Lexus and was one of our favorite vehicles for long trips. This time it reminded me more of a large Camry, which essentially. Make that a very large Camry as it is nearly eight inches longer. I thoroughly enjoyed the engine’s performance. When you nudged the accelerator pedal is was like waking a sleeping giant. Eager to please and the transmission was world class. I liked the Ford better, but its rear view mirrors were too small and the view to the sides and back were limited by the high trunk. Nevertheless, this is the best Ford Taurus ever.

Dad’s view: These aren’t spirited drivers, although the SHO version might be well worth the price if you need a little fun doing your daily chores. The Avalon was typical Toyota and that manufacture has remained consistent with its design, quality build, and frugal strategies. However, there are some excellent alternatives in this market segment now including new models from Chevrolet and Chrysler clawing at the buyer’s wallets as well as Ford, Kia, Hyundai, and, of course, the Honda Accord. I liked the Ford, but I wouldn’t kick the Avalon out of my garage for long distance traveling.

Young working woman’s view: Both of these are far more nimble than their size would indicate. However, the Avalon appealed to me more. The Taurus was more interesting to look at, but the Toyota felt more comfortable.

Young working male’s view: Since I work daily with technology at building American made open source computes and servers I favor the Taurus because it is loaded with electronic features that place it at the forefront of the industry with a plethora of options that the Toyota did not offer. I also liked the large trunk and the Ford styling was more intriguing.

Family conference: In reality, the Toyota Avalon has stayed remarkably consistent as a larger version of the Camry. Today, the performance, handling, and interior room are still the same high quality, but the completion from Ford, Buick, Kia, Hyundai, Chrysler, and Chevrolet have been nipping at its heels. The result is that the Avalon is a superior family sedan that can hold six in comfort and offer a sedate ride with admirable fuel mileage. The Ford is more modern in looks and has more updated options. It is not as roomy inside, but the trunk is huge. It does have restricted vision to the back and sides, but offers drivers a more involving feel. Both are at the top of the large family sedan class.

For a list of all vehicle websites go to:

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.

Ford Transit: Love it or Load it

by The Car Family

for more reviews go to

for a list of vehicle websites go to

By first reaction was one of dread. The huge front window made me fell like I was in a fish bowl. The interior was cheap, the radio impossible to master, the bare metal sidepanels got very hot, and the cupholders were awful. The seats were thinnly padded, the side mirrors way too small, the center console way too small, and there were no tie-downs in the large rear cargo area. So why do I love it? Well, it is an absolute joy to drive. It corners like a sports car, the engine loves to be pushed to its limit, the four speed automatic transmission has too few gears to matter, and you can find it in a parking lot.

I loved this vehicle so much I called Ford and wanted to buy it if it had a diesel version. The answer was no, they are going to keep that engine in Europe. What a shame. On the other hand, if Ford does bring out a smallish mini-van making the Transit too family friendly might cut into potential sales. That being said, I think that this is a great second family vehicle for those that don’t mind the interior noise and enjoy not having to stay in the fast lane.

Mom’s view: Not in my lifetime. It is very user friendly and the cargo bay is fun to fill, but there is something called image and the Transit isn’t it. Of course, it doesn’t matter because Ford is selling it to the handyman crowd, thankfully. There might be a few men out there who to would try and sneak this bad-boy into the garage under the guise of a dog hauler, or family recreational vehicle, or grocery getting. Don’t be fooled. The interior is stark and the radio so complicated it belongs in a German sedan. The seats have barely enough padding for long trips and it has a general unfinished feel, which it is as the owner is supposed to see it as a blank canvas. Safety wise there are antilock brakes and airbags.

Dad’s view: Great in black, some good interior quirks to share with the guys such as storage area above the front window, and the interior plastics aren’t bad. The rear storage area needs tie-downs as everything rolls around the barish floor. I found the seats comfortable enough with the side mirrors being too small as my only concern. The optional laptop Work Solutions system keeps track of your tools and other items, but the best part of the Connect is how remarkably fun this rig is. The 2.0L Duratec I-4 and four speed automatic transmission are out-dated, but they are willing to give their all when you need it, within reason. This is a small engine in a very unaerodynamic vehicle so passing at high speeds need some planning ahead. The 138 horsepower engine pushes the Transit to 60 mph in under 13 seconds, but it sure feels faster.

The Transit has a sturdy body-on-frame and unibody construction. The result is a low center of gravity and a low towing rate. We tested the family version with a second row of seats that makes it easy to haul four adults somewhat comfortably. The base Transit is quite basic. You get 15-inch steel wheels, gray air-conditioning, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel, loth upholstery and a simple stereo with an auxiliary audio jack. The Wagon XL adds a two-person bench seat and the XLT bumps up the Transit with heated mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, a 12-volt power point and a CD player. The Wagon XLT was the one we tested and it had a split-folding 60/40 three-passenger second-row bench seat. We recommend you avoid the base model because the keyless entry alone is worth the extra cost because of the strange key the Transit uses.. Major options include an in-dash computer, rear parking sensors, widerer opening rear doors, Bluetooth and remote ignition.

I loved it and only wish Ford would bring it to the US with a diesel, but I assume that passing smog regulations for such a limited production vehicle won’t make it a good money call. Too bad.

Young woman’s view: At first I was panicked. What would the neighbors say. Yes, it would be perfect for my three rescue dogs, and the optional rear doors opened widely and stayed in place. The

135 cubic feet of cargo space isn’t as large as it seems because you would have to pile items very high to use all the footage. You can even walk into the Transit should that be a selling point. The Transit Connect is available with a variety of models, but basically you get a van or a wagon, with the wagon having side glass, the does not roll down, a second row of seats, and dual sliding side doors.

Young working male’s view: If my company,, that makes open sources servers and computers, ever buys a delivery vehicle this is the one I would want. The radio isn’t all that much, and the hood opener is strange, but the key is even stranger. Don’t lose this key because it is like no other and probably costly. The Transit is nimble and gets nearly 24 mpg if you stay within highway speed limits. The radio is also an in-dash computer that uses a Microsoft operating system, as well as a wireless mouse and keyboard, a navigation system and even available Internet access. Our model had the Work Solutions which tracks the vehicle’s location, and Tool Link, which tracks your tool inventory via radio frequency. It is very high tech for such a low tech truck/van/station wagon.

The ride over roughed up roads is a bit rough as the rear suspension is set up more to haul loads and not so much people. It actually rides better when full. The turning radius is about 39 feet and that makes parking very easy, but visibility is rather limited. The interior is noisy so it is worth considering some soundproofing. The huge windshield is cleared nicely by what has to be the world’s largest wipers. However, good luck finding replacement blades at your local auto store. I liked it, but only if there is enough left in the kitty to make it your own with some personal upgrades like a better stereo system, sound deadening materials, and a little more cushion for my tush.

Family conference: The Transit Connect has no competition. Its size makes it handy and fairly frugal. It also can be made family friendly, but we doubt many women would fall for that idea. It needs larger rear view mirrors for sure. A better interior lighting system is a must, and more tie downs, softer seats, and a more normal hood opening operation would be appreciated. In fact, Ford should abandon the Transit key as it snags on your pocket, purse, or anything else it can reach. If the Transit Connect had a diesel engine it would be a terrific second car. As it is this Ford is a terrific utility vehicle and we highly recommend you don’t judge it by appearances.

by The Car Family

for more reviews go to

Holiday gift giving hails from Roman days when the Winter Solace was celebrated with an exchange of greenery and sweets. Over time this tradition has changed to reflect both religious overtones, friendship and to sway opinions. Regardless, it is a custom that has given us such classics as It’s a Wonderful Life and O Henry’s Gift of the Magi that reinforce the importance of being both frugal and caring. Which bring one to the question of which vehicle to purchase that share these noble traits. Two trendsetters fit the bill and they are from Ford. The duo we tested were the new Mercury Milan and the Ford Flex.

In the Milan, Mercury has developed a good sized sedan hybrid that easily betters 40 mpg. The reality is that the fuel frugal Milan hybrid can get you to downtown Los Angeles and back on a gallon of gas and you could even take along four of your friends. In other words, E pluribus unum. We aren’t just talking green here, we are talking forest green as this Mercury accelerators to just over 45 mph on electric power alone. That’s perfect for heavy beach going traffic. The instrumentation provides enough intrigue to keep even author Dan Brown researching the driver’s manual not to mention the 33 pounds of air in the tires. This Mercury comes with a SmartGauge and an EcoGuide that glows green the more tenderly you caress the accelerator and rewards you with animated leaves and branches (Not those types of leaves). There is also a radar based blind spot detection system that scans for oncoming vehicles as you back out from parking spaces. Other options include an upgraded stereo with real time traffic, a voice activated communications and entertainment package, moon roof, and eco-friendly cloth seating surfaces made from recycled materials.
Motivating this sedan is a combination of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors that move the hybrid to 60 in well under nine seconds. Look for a bladder challenging driving range of over 600 miles and your only sacrifice is a smaller trunk and possible marital bliss. The Milan is that rare combination of good value and performance and its clever gauge display communicates with the driver, something that O Henry’s Jim and Delia Young would approve.

Ford Flex

With a comfortable ride, interior arrangement, and an abundance of safety equipment that includes most everything including a tire pressure monitoring systems and LED tail lights, the Mercury hybrid is an ideal family rig, but for those who need more space to haul the family tree or to separate the children there is the long and lean, seven passenger Ford Flex. With its slab-sided retro look, the Flex looks like nothing else on the road. If the appearance isn’t enough individuality, there are a mind boggling number of options you can order depending on the largess of your government owned bank. Buyers may treat the gentle giant Flex to such gifts as a Trailer Sway Control, an Active Park Assist system that uses radar that enables the Flex to park itself, all wheel drive, a six-speaker CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, a Microsoft-developed Sync multimedia interface, DVD entertainment system, touchscreen navigation, back-up camera, Sirius real-time traffic, and a rear-console refrigerator.

The Flex is powered by a standard 3.5-liter V6 with 262 horsepower or you can order the EcoBoost turbocharger engine and over stimulate your senses with its 355 horsepower while still maintaining the same gas mileage as the base engine, about 19 mpg in mixed driving. Driving the Flex would make Santa Claus jealous with its fairly large cargo hold, very quiet ride, and soft handling. The seats are comfortable, perhaps a little to cushy for some tushies, and visibility is excellent in all directions.

Family conference: Two excellent vehicles from a fast improving Ford Motor Company; the Milan is family sized and yet delivers fuel mileage nearly comparable to the much smaller Japanese hybrids. The Flex is relaxing to drive and refreshingly different from other large SUVs. And even if you don’t need the seven passenger capacity it never hurts to be prepared. As Annie said in It’s A Wonderful Life,I been savin’ this money for a divorce, if ever I got a husband.”

For a list of all vehicle websites go to

Free version of Gift of the Magi:

Free version of It’s a Wonderful Life:

For a Few Dollars Less: Hybrid Vehicles

by The Car Family

About ten years ago Honda brought an ungainly, impish vehicle to the market and became the first large manufacture to present 909 readers with a useable hybrid. Today, there are over a dozen sedans, light trucks, and even SUVs that carry hybrid status and that makes for some interesting choices for those wanting to spend a few dollars less on fuel costs. The latest data shows that the average person has about a 30 minutes commute to work and those in cities ofter spending an hour on the road. With cars and light trucks averaging under 17 mpg the purchase of a hybrid could pay for the additional cost over a similar non-hybrid in just a few years.

There are over 1.5 million hybrids on the road today ranging from the newest version of the Honda Insight priced under $20,000 to the $109,000 Lexus LS600hL. This year buyers are going to have a selection of nearly 40 hybrids to consider, including the highly anticipated Chevrolet Volt and sporty Honda CR-Z. In practical terms hybrids offer improved performance and fuel mileage. For example, the Ford Fusion hybrid can go 500 plus miles without having to be refilled. The use of electric motors also enables vehicles to use smaller engines and still deliver peppy performance.

The Car Family felt that an evaluation of the newer family oriented sedans would be in order and so we tested the Mercedes Benz S400 hybrid and the highly regarded Mercury Milan hybrid. Other significant available hybrids are the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima.

This six cylinder Mercedes is a truly intriguing vehicle for many reasons. First, it costs less and yet is just as powerful as the V8 S550 and delivers 30 percent better fuel mileage. Furthermore, this Mercedes is the first sedan to use the more powerful lithium-ion battery. Small in size, the battery powers a 20 horsepower motor attached to the torque converter. This makes the Mercedes a “mild” hybrid, meaning it can not run on battery power alone. The plus side is that using the small battery means Mercedes didn’t have to sacrifice cargo space. We averaged 24 mpg in mixed driving, but those with a lighter touch on the accelerator can push that figure higher with a range of 450 miles possible on premium fuel. The S400 has an understated exterior with only a couple of Hybrid badges marking its uniqueness. It has a plethora of safety features, and a designer quality interior. Overall, this is true luxury sedan that is enjoyable to drive and a desire to please.

The Mercury Milan, and its sister, the Ford Fusion hybrid, are priced under $30,000 and have an amassing range of over 600 miles before needing refueling on unleaded. Ford’s optional Sync system unites the sound, phone, and computer together and is a noteworthy option. The Mercury is frisky to drive, handles quite well and has a fairly tight 37.5 ft. turning radius. We averaged about 36 mpg in mixed driving. The combination of four cylinder engine and electric motor assist make onramp merges easy even on the the 91 freeway. Should you be in heavy traffic this Mercury can frequently go up to 30 mph without the gas engine needing to be started. One morning we were able to travel from 60/57 interchange to Chino without using any fuel.

There are viable alternatives to hybrids. For example, the amazing gas four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox gets better highway fuel mileage then the Ford Escape Hybrid and has significantly more interior space. And, the Volkswagen diesel Jetta sedan can achieve nearly identical mileage figures with the Toyota and Honda compact hybrid four-seaters. Recently, Nissan announced its Leaf, a battery powered vehicle with a range estimated at around 100 miles before charging adds yet another layer of decision making for the frugal buyer.

Family conference: There simply is no need to be afraid of purchasing a hybrid. We loved the Mercedes safety features, comfort and performance, and were surprised at the elegance and sportiness of the Mercury Milan as well. The only question is how much do you want to save?

For vehicle websites go to

Next Page »