Best Family Bargains Under $20,000 for the New Year

By The Car Family

For more reviews go to

A good family vehicle for under $20,000 isn’t difficult to find, especially if you can control your option urges. That isn’t to say that these inexpensive cars aren’t well equipped, especially in the safety category. However, the only three real reasons to buy a new car in this price range rather than purchasing a used vehicle is having it your way with longer warranty better financing rates, and that new car smell.

All things being equal, you can probably get a new car for less money than a one or two-year-old model used if you have a minimum payment and good credit. On the other hand your license fee and insurance rates could be higher on the new model. We highly recommend that you don’t fall in love with any car until you have done your homework.

Here is our list from based on our extensive testing and a vehicle’s usability. We aren’t interested in how fast they go or how well they corner at these prices. One important warning is that General Motors does not allow us to test any of its vehicles and so we cannot comment on them. All other manufacturers do allow us extended testing time. We used the manufacturer’s suggested retail price knowing that you can probably get a better deal locally. Indeed, we have seen the excellent Dodge Caravan offered for under $20,000 and that is one of the very best family vehicles you can buy.

Mom’s favorite: The Kia Rondo is the perfect family vehicle and I really liked it, but the Rondo could use more power even at the cost of another mile per gallon. It is easy to enter and exit, has a nice sized steering wheel for those of us with small hands, has an abundance of storage places and cupholders, and the seats are comfortable. I would have liked a power rear gate, but for well under $20,000 this is plenty of car. Besides the objective points of excellent fuel mileage, good brakes and handling, and even room for seven, the Kia scores with me on subjective grounds as it looks unique. I also liked the Mazda 5, which is better handling and a snap to load and unload, but its looks put me off. Maybe if I were younger I could appreciate it more. Right now, for the price the Kia Rondo is a winner and for nearly the same price you can get the new Kia Optima. Talk about a sedan with everything, but it is just another sedan to me despite its ample safety features, superior warranty, and pricing.

Dad’s favorite: Ford’s Fusion is my favorite family vehicle, but I would go for the Suzuki SX4 or the MINI Cooper if I were younger. The Ford has a nice ride, enough energy even with the base engine, but I would recommend the V6 optional unit. Fusions are for sale in a variety of trim models for under $19,000. The Fusion was overlooked by most of the major car magazines from the start because it wasn’t fast, but they frequently feel that handling and acceleration are the keys to a good car. We believe that reliability, safety, and usability come first and this Ford has all of them. Indeed, with the promise of a new Ford Focus replacement or supplement, Ford looks like the American car company most likely to do well in the coming years until the other firms catch their breath. Although I liked the Chevrolet Malibu/Saturn Aura General Motors no longer allows us to test its products and so I have no comment to make. My second choice is the very fun to drive MINI. It is easy to park, gets gas mileage in the 30 mpg range if you take it easy, and now with larger Clubman version there is enough cargo space to put a week’s worth of fiddles. The MINI is very good car for those flexible enough to get in and out without harming themselves. Excellent resale, too, but the MINI is really only for a young family due to a lack of interior space.

Young working woman’s view: I find it difficult in these times to select a vehicle other then one made in America such as the Dodge Caliber or the Ford Focus, or the Chevrolet Caliber. But the standout to me is the Mazda 3, which is owned in part by Ford so I’m going with the hatchback version of this dandy as my first choice. The ride is a bit choppy, and the car sits low, but once inside it just feels fun. There are cubby holes everywhere, the outside visibility is good, and it can easily carry four adults in comfort and still have luggage space in back. The handling and brakes are excellent, but it is the Mazda’s ease of parking and loading that make it a great family vehicle. Gas mileage seldom drops below 23 mpg even with hard driving. It is not particularly babyseat friendly, though. My second selection would be the Ford Focus. I know it has been around a long time, but it is much larger inside then one would think, has a fairly youthful look to it, and the engine and transmission work well together with fuel economy consistently over 30 mpg. I have seen these advertised for under $15,000 and that is less than a Scion and it is much easier to drive then those Toyota products with more visibility and a less quirky interior treatment.

Young working man’s view: I make computers and open software servers at a low cost firm and find it convenient to have a vehicle that gets good fuel mileage and has plenty of space inside to move components and units. Although I like the look of the Dodge Avenger and its better then expected ride, the three that appeal to me the most are the Volkswagen Jetta wagon, the Ford Escape, and the Nissan Rogue. The Rogue has a fine feel and always attains over 23 mpg. It is simple to park with a tight turning radius and is priced less than the other Japanese products with similar features. The tried and proven Ford Escape is priced under $20,000 as well, but what is attractive to me is how inexpensive it is to insure and maintain. If you get the front wheel drive model with the base model you are going to get 24 mpg and be invisible to the authorities, should that be a concern. It is still the best SUV that Ford produces. But my favorite is the Jetta wagon. Not just because it gets better mileage than the Escape or Rogue, but becomes it is much easier to live with a lower liftover for heavy loads, a more comfortable interior, and less road noise. Women seem to be drawn to is good looks, which is always a good sign for me, but most of all it feels much more expensive then its pricing. Family shoppers should note that SUVs don’t have to meet the same safety requirements as passenger cars. That is why large passenger car such as the underrated Ford Taurus always are rated the safest. Also keep in mind that the higher the center of gravity of a vehicle, how tall it is, and the more likely it is to rollover. Go to for the statistics.


Family conference: Sadly, but typically, there is no consensus from The Car Family about the best family oriented vehicle under $20,000. Perhaps the only unanimous conclusion is that a sharp buyer in today’s market can get a lot of car for under $20,000 and nearly all of them are quite capable of getter over 20 mpg with ease. No one selected the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe or the gas sipping Honda Fit. Also missed was the Nissan Sentra with its excellent fuel mileage. All of these are excellent vehicles, but when you put a family onboard the handling dynamics change, as does the performance of a vehicle. That is why it is strongly recommended that you take the entire family with you when road testing to get a family view. That is what we do and that is why our reviews make recommendations often at odds with the major magazines and websites. And please keep in mind that larger SUVs are not safer for families.


The Chrysler PT Cruiser is an older design based on a retro theme. Since it has been around so long there is an abundance of used ones for sale. The PT is a very utilitarian vehicle with lots of interior space and enough power to make highway passing possible even with a load onboard. This could be the last year for this model so good deals should abound. The base engine is a 150 horsepower four-cylinder engine. You can also opt for the turbocharged version with 180 horsepower but we try to avoid recommending turbocharged family transportation due to their higher maintenance costs and the manufacturer’s premium fuel requirement. We recommend the base engine. Our rating C.

The Sebring sedan has an interesting exterior, but the chassis is too soft for us. The car is fuel-efficient and the optional 189-horsepower 2.7L V-6 engine is recommended even over the 3.5L V6 version and its 235 horsepower. Lots of electronic gadgets make your driving more entertaining, but for the money there is a lot of competition such as the Dodge sedans. The interior has an abundance of cargo space and the trunk is easy to use. Very good crash scores. Our grade C.


The Dodge Avenger is a good car if you can get by its boy racer exterior. This mid-size sedan can even be ordered with all wheel drive, but for a family go with the SE model and the 2.4 engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Safety features include dual front airbags, and front and rear side impact airbags and good crash scores. The Avenger does have limited rear view visibility due to its styling, but the seats are comfortable and the pricing is attractive. The interior is a bit loud and the rear seat entry is tight. Our grade C+

The Dodge Caliber is a good buy if you can tolerate its distinctive interior and exterior. A lot of headroom and an easy to load cargo bay make this a good choice for families in the under $20,000 range. A 172 horsepower 2.4L in-line four-cylinder engine is the best choice, but don’t expect this vehicle to handle much more power, as it isn’t meant to be a canyon runner. Go with the CVT automatic transmission. We like the Dodge Caliber, but most of the other reviewers didn’t. That is probably because we feel it is a compact station wagon and not a racecar. The engine to have is the 172 horsepower 2.4L in-line four-cylinder and if you want better fuel mileage get the five-speed manual transmission or a CVT automatic transmission. The Caliber doesn’t get good press, but it is a bargain and frequently goes for under $15,000. For that you get an abundance of room, a vehicle with some character, an interior that is, ah, different, with fuel economy in the low 20 mpg arena. Our rating C+


Scraping under the $20,000 barrier, the Ford Escape XLS 2WD is long in the tooth, but a good value if you can forgo the all wheel drive version. A proven value and satisfying even with the base 2.3 four-cylinder engine with its 153 horsepower. The optional 3.0 V6 engine is a better choice if you travel with a load the majority of time as its 200 horsepower, but not really necessary for most travels. A tried and proven vehicle, but the high stance does make it more difficult to enter and leave for smaller children. Grade B

Just as dated, but with a fresh facelift and some other major surgery, the Ford Focus is a steal at $15,000. It gets terrific gas mileage, has an upscale interior, and plenty of cargo space. Available as coupe or sedan, the Focus has enough poke with the 136-horsepower 2.0

engine and a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic transmission to keep pace with traffic even with four adults onboard. Ford is really dealing on these models, but resale may prove soft as a new compact is scheduled to arrive in 2011 that is much spiffier. Grade B


Our favorite Ford is the Fusion. Priced less then $20,000, and we have seen them selling under $19,000, the Fusion is simply an underappreciated sedan with as good as handling, fuel mileage, and cargo space as the much more expensive Japanese models. The Fusion is powered by a 2.3L 160-horsepower engine and that really isn’t strong enough for such a large car. Pay extra and order the 3.0L 221-horsepower V6 engine. It has such safety features as a tire pressure monitor, dual front airbags, front and rear head curtain airbags, and side-impact airbags. Crash scores were excellent. If you need solid family transportation this is the one to consider. And, if you really want a family friendly vehicle wait for the hybrid version that should put the more expensive Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry versions on notice that their days of domination are done. Grade A-


From the start the quirky looking Element has been a sleeper, even to Honda. What was essentially a youth-oriented vehicle with its clamshell opening rear doors, washable style interior, and easy to accessorize looks has become a stalwart of the older crowd who adore its utility and easy to enter rear compartment. Perfect for dog lovers and those that carry large containers, the Element’s only weakness is a engine that is hard pressed to push its large box shape over hills without numerous downshifts and significant moaning. Gas mileage in the 20-mpg range is the norm and resale is proving to be good for this Honda. As a family vehicle is does well, but the fact that the rear seats set-up is not as good for baby seats as we like and there are large blind spots due to the large rear pillars. The only engine is the 166 horsepower 2.4-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine that comes with a standard five-speed manual. We recommend the five-speed automatic instead. Safety equipment is typical of all Hondas with airbags nearly everywhere. Overall, this really isn’t a family vehicle as much as a handy one for those who need it special features. Our grade C+

Unfortunately, the low height of the Civic makes if difficult to get in and out of and the interior is more playful then the competition. There are so many versions of the Civic that it is essential you do your homework before venturing out. We like the LX model as it combines some luxury, but isn’t so fancy that it stretches your credit ceiling. The gas saving 140-horsepower 1.8L I-4 engine works hard and provides exceptional fuel mileage in the range of 30 mpg with ease. Standard safety equipment includes side curtain airbags, daytime running lights, and ABS brakes. The Civic is a terrific sedan for those who can live with its few limitations such as having to reach very low to bring out a baby from a rear facing baby seat. The trunk is a fair size, but the biggest plum is the high resale. Our Grade B=

Honda hit a homerun when they brought the smallish Fit to the marketplace. We immediately fell for its sharp handling, 33-mpg average on unleaded, and extremely useful rear cargo hold. Add to that a price of $15,000 and you can understand why the Fit is among the most difficult vehicles to find on dealer’s lots today despite an economic downturn. The hatchback has a 1.5-liter 117-horsepower VTEC engine that must work hard at all times, but seems to enjoy the task. The low height makes it difficult to place a babyseat. All sorts of safety equipment are standard and the crash scores are good, but not great for rear seat passengers. A good commuter, but not a great family vehicle. Our grade B-.


The Hyundai Tucson/Kia Sportage can be purchased for under $20,000, but it just doesn’t offer enough incentive to draw us away from its average fuel economy and noisy ride. You do get Hyundai’s/Kia’s good warranty and its improving quality, but essentially there is simply too much competition in this price category to recommend it for anything else despite the handy Drop and Fold rear seating system and a passenger seat that can fold flat to help carry longer items. Standard equipment includes ABS brakes, traction control, and six airbags. For the same money Hyundai offers a good Sonata sedan that can easily crack 30 mpg, has a kinder ride and a large trunk. If you look you can find Sonata’s for under $20,000 well equipped and they offer an easier babyseat installation. We like the Sonata greatly, but the Tucson isn’t our top choice especially with the base 140 horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. You need the optional 173 horsepower 2.7L V6 engine. Our grade C-


For $20,000 or less the Jeep Compass could be in your driveway with a 172- horsepower 2.4-liter engine working either a five-speed manual transmission or CVT automatic transmission. Not a smooth or quiet vehicle, but one that seems perfect for the life of a winter grocery getter, the Compass has a number of features in most models such as a vehicle information center, keyless entry, and heated seats. Front and read head curtain airbags are just a few of the safety items, but for nearly the same amount of money consider the more traditional looking Jeep Patriot. Why Chrysler is offering both of these is a decision that must have been interesting. The Compass gets slightly better fuel mileage, but the Patriot has more hauling capacity. They both can be parked in small mall spaces and offer fairly good visibility. Essentially, the main difference is looks with the Patriot being square and the Compass living up to its name and more rounded. We don’t like the Jeep brand for a family. Chrysler makes many products that can do a better job is you can live without the high center of gravity and basic suspension. Our grade C.


Kia’s $17,000 Rondo is a winner with the larger 173 horsepower 2.7L V6 engine. Safety equipment such as dual front airbags, head and curtain airbags, and front side impact airbags come standard. Crash scores were well above average. The interior is a touch basic, but very utilitarian and important items such as controls and gauges are easy to read and use, if a bit small. Unique looks, a nice ride, and only the need for less road noise renders it less then perfect. If you don’t need a more expensive minivan and its additional space the Rondo is for you. It also has a high seating position and is a snap to park. Our grade A-.

$17,500. That is correct for a good sized, well-powered, amply equipped sedan with a great warranty and plenty of safety equipment. New this year and just about the best bargain in the automobile industry, this sedan comes with a variety of option packages, but be picky and stay with the standard 2.4L 162-horsepower engine and you can probably drive off the dealer’s lot for under $18,000. The optional engine is a must if you drive in the mountains or heavily loaded as its V6 as 185-horsepower. Standard features are an alarm system, heated mirrors, and keyless entry. But the safety arena is where this Kia shines and makes it so family friendly. The Optima comes with a tire pressure monitor, dual front airbags, front and rear head curtain airbags, and front side impact airbags. And check the safety head rests, too. Kia also makes a Rio and a Spectra, but we recommend you pay a bit more and get the Optima as its is much better for a family in terms of safety features and size although the Rio is priced less then $14,000. Our grade B+.


The Mazda3 is available in sedan and hatchback bodystyles with the latter being our favorite because of the ease of loading everything from groceries to yard sale bargains. The 148-horsepower 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine or larger 156 horsepower 2.3 liter version are very kind to the environment and gas mileage is about 25 mpg in mixed driving. A terrific handling vehicle that is simple to park, has proven to be quite reliable, and is both zippy and zoomy. The low stance does make entry and exiting the Mazda a bit more difficult for those that aren’t supple. The interior is dark and a bit on the teenager side, but it works well with enough storage and legroom to suffice. Grade B+

Priced under $19,000, the Mazda 5 is a true minivan with fuel mileage in the 24 mpg range and a 2.3 liter engine with a five speed automatic transmission that makes driving, well, zoom zoom considering the limitations of a 153 horsepower engine in such a blocky vehicle. One of the interesting standard features is a fold out table. You can order fancier options, but stick to the sport model with a manual transmission and have as frisky a minivan as they make. This is a perfect vehicle for the family with one or two children and can only be matched by the Kia Rondo. Our grade B


Fun to drive, a miser when it comes to gas mileage, the MINI Cooper gets an astonishing 30-mpg even when pushed and has among the highest resale values. We highly recommend you spend a few dollars more and get the much roomier Clubman version. The base engine is the BMW derived 120-horsepower 1.6 liter four cylinder engine. Equipped with either a six-speed manual transmission or automatic transmission this is a hoot to drive, park, and corner with, but its small size limits it family value even with excellent crash scores. Safety equipment includes ABS brakes, stability control, six standard airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system and run-flat equipped tires. Fun, but not family. Our Grade C+


All new and much better then the previous model the Lancer is priced under $16,000, has good fuel economy of about 24 mpg, and stout crash scores. The interior is spacious, the exterior has a unique appeal, and only its resale and quality prevent it from us giving it an A grade. Order the optional 2.4-liter, 168-horsepower four-cylinder engine as the base engine doesn’t give any better gas mileage and this vehicle is too large for anything less. The optional continuously variable transmission isn’t worth it at this time. There is an abundance of standard equipment but you can still feel that the quality isn’t up to the competition. Then again, the price isn’t as high either. You get what you pay for and in this case the Lancer is a bargain with room for a family, a good-sized trunk, and an easy to install baby seat area. Our grade B-



It is puzzlement. The Sentra and the Versa are among the most gas frugal vehicles you can buy and both have large interiors for their size and come with a lot of standard equipment. The problem is that they are priced nearly the same. The fancy Versa SL is just a coupe of hundred dollars less then the base Sentra, and the base Sentra has a larger engine and gets better gas mileage. Interestingly, the Versa actually has more useable space then the Sentra, especially as a hatchback. Of course, the Versa has that quirky French styling, but both are good family vehicles. The Sentra has a 2.0 liter engine with about 20 more horsepower then the 1.8 liter in the Versa’s 122. Safety features on both models include tire dual front airbags, front and rear head curtain airbags, and front side impact airbags. The Sentra handles better, but Versa feels more stable in high winds. We would go with the Sentra and its higher safety ratings, but both Nissans are underrated and are great values. Sentra Grade A-; Versa grade B.

The Nissan Rogue is an excellent handling crossover SUV that is priced quite well starting under $20,000, but be careful with your option selection or the cost could push it much higher. The 170horsepower 2.5-liter engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission work well together. Nissan does a great job with the CVT unit, perhaps better then any other manufacturer. Safety features include electronic stability control (a must on all SUVs), ABS brakes, dual front row and side-impact airbags, with head curtain airbags for both rows, and excellent crash scores. The Foldable Rear Cargo Organizer is handy for shopping and the ride is a combination of sporty and soft. It is one of the better handling crossover SUVs, but not as quick as the Acura or the Mazda crossovers. Visibility to the rear is restricted by the roof pillars. Gas mileage is fairly good for such a vehicle with 23 mpg easy to reach. The interior is dark and a bit snug, but it is easy to install a baby seat and the Rogue is a snap to park in small spaces. Our grade B+

Scion xB and xD

The prices are nearly identical so you can expect to spend a touch over $15,000 for either model. The xB has a 2.4L DOHC four-cylinder engine with Variable Valve Timing with intelligence that provides 158 horsepower and you can order either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic with sequential shifting. Scions are meant to be designed by the new owner so be prepared to spend countless nights with a checklist of options. If you can stick with basics you are going to have good resale. Standard equipment includes a 160-watt Pioneer audio system with iPod connectivity, keyless entry, and tire pressure mentor. The Scion xB has limited visibility to the sides and back, but it is extremely easy to maneuver and park. It is easy to load and has a cavernous cargo capacity. Very youthful, but with gas mileage over 30 mpg this would be a great commuter and dog hauler. The interior takes a while to get used to and if it becomes too much of a burden check the new xD. This is based on the Yaris platform, but is a much better handling machine. We very much dislike the Yaris and for a few dollars more a month get the Corolla or the Scions. The xD has a smaller engine, price tag, and must be driven to be appreciated. The 1.8L four-cylinder engine offers 128 horsepower and comes with the same transmission choices of the xB. Standard equipment is essentially the same. Lots of options, but the most difficult choice is whether or not to buy the xD or xB. And don’t forget the new Nissan Cube and Kia Soul which have the same box shape as the Scions. Our rating B+


Small, handy, and an eye-catcher, the Smart fortwo is a minicompact convertible or hatchback. Priced under $15,000 it is too small for a family, but worth considering if you live in the city and want a funky ride. The transmission is difficult to modulate, but the fuel mileage, as you would expect, is nearly 40 mpg in steady driving. Grade Incomplete


For just under $18,000 Subaru has a dandy sedan and wagon in its Impreza line. They aren’t the prettiest Subarus, but they are the best deals. You can get one with a turbocharged engine with 224 horsepower, but we recommend the standard 170 horsepower and save on the purchase price. However, if you travel in the mountains or frequently travel with a family onboard the turbo is very much worth the extra cost. Turbo equipped vehicles usually cost more to insure, maintain, and use more expensive fuel so drive both versions to make sure this Impreza suits your needs. Subaru has all wheel drive and consistently gets fuel mileage in the low 20-mpg range in mixed driving. Although they are a good deal, the Suzuki SX4 is less expensive and just a tad smaller while offering all wheel drive. The Suzuki has a better warranty. We have found Subaru repairs very dear and have owned several. They were good, but not great, but we used them as commuter cars and didn’t need the famed traction the Subaru offers. Our rating B-

For about $20,000 you can buy the redone Subaru Forester base model with a 173-horsepower 2.5-liter engine and a vastly improved interior with more room and tidier layout then previous models. Standard all wheel drive makes it excellent in winter, but even with this feature the Forester gets about 20 mpg in mixed driving. This is among the best in vehicles of this size with four-wheel drive. Unfortunately, the base engine really struggles with the larger Forester, especially in the mountains and in passing situations when the car is fully loaded. Your option is the frisky turbo version, but that puts the cost well over the $20,000 limit. We recommend you stick with the small Impreza model that has enough interior room for most families. Grade C+


For about $16,000 the Suzuki SX4 is a surprisingly fun vehicle available as a wagon or sedan. You can get them with all wheel drive or front wheel drive, but the difference in price is quite small. We are fond of the Suzuki because the company just seems to want to please the customer with a terrific warranty and an integrated Garmin type navigation system as standard. This feature usually costs a couple thousand dollars of other vehicles and it makes the Suzuki an even better buy. But note that this isn’t as deluxe as those that come on more upscale vehicles with their larger screens. Nevertheless, it is essentially free. The system has Bluetooth capability and even real-time traffic reports. The engine is sufficient with 143 horsepower and a four speed automatic transmission and you can easily get 25 mpg. Our grade B-

Suzuki’s Grand Vitara is sized well for a family with a 2.7-liter 185-horsepower V6 engine and is loaded with safety features such as dual front airbags, front and rear head curtain airbags, and front side impact airbags. Crash scores are good, but for the money there is just too many other good crossover type SUVs priced just under $20,000 to make this a first choice unless there are some good deals. A good warranty is offset by low resale values. Unless you need the extra room in the rear seats the Suzuki SX4 is a better deal. Look for gas mileage of 22 mpg for the Grand Vitara. Our Grade C.


An ideal family vehicle, albeit a little small, this exceptional sedan costs less than $17,000 and gets fantastic mileage well over 30 mpg in mixed driving with the 1.8-liter 16-valve, DOHC four-cylinder engine and its 132 horsepower. You can also order the 2.4-liter engine that produces 158 horsepower, but it isn’t necessary. Stick with the automatic transmission as there is very little loss in fuel economy and the Corolla is never going to be mistaken for a performance car so the five-speed manual is only going to reduce its value at resale. Standard features are varied from a XM satellite ready stereo with a CD/MP3 player to front seat-mounted side impact and head curtain airbags. Very are plenty of small storage areas, a good-sized console and glove compartment, and excellent visibility in the Corolla. The only problem is that the options can quickly drive the price over that of the base Camry and a smallish 13.2-gallon tank. We like the Corolla’s ride and maneuverability, but it doesn’t touch our soul. It is more an appliance then practically any car we have tested. That doesn’t make it a poor choice for a family. Our grade A-.

You can order a Camry in a variety of forms from hybrid to V6 power to four cylinder versions and all of them are competent, capable performers. Safety features abound with

dual front airbags, front and rear head curtain airbags, knee airbags, and front side impact airbags and you can get them for under $19,000. Fuel mileage is in the 22-mpg arena. You really don’t get much more in the Camry in terms of passenger space then the Corolla, although the former’s trunk is three cubic feet larger. It is much easier to place a baby seat in the Corolla, too, as it stands just a bit taller and is a couple of inches thinner. In other words, the Camry is a heftier, slightly larger, and more comfortable car then the Corolla, but we prefer the smaller turning radius and better visibility of the smaller car. The Camry’s grade is a B+

Restyled, but its difficult to tell, the Matrix is an exceptional combination of utility, fuel efficiency, and cargo carrying capacity. Outside of the world’s worst jack, this is a $17,000 vehicle with terrific resale and reliability as well. The standard engine is a 132 horsepower 1.8L four-cylinder engine. while a 2.4L four-cylinder engine with 158 horsepower is a highly recommended option. Standard features include daytime running lights, side and head curtain air bags, and don’t forget to check out the S model with cruise control, keyless entry, AM/FM/CD with MP3 capability and more for a couple thousand more. Available with all wheel drive or front wheel drive, it is difficult to find more for less. Our grade A-


We much admire Volkswagen’s Beetle for its good crash scores economy, and cute looks. Unfortunately, it only comes with two doors and that makes it unacceptable as a family vehicle, especially with a baby seat that needs installation. Stick with the $18,500 Jetta instead and you can get it as a sedan or a nice wagon. The 23 mpg average was with the 170 horsepower 2.5 liter five-cylinder engine is peppy and you can get it with a 6 Speed Shiftable Automatic. Good visibility, good safety scores, and in a tidy and easy to park package make this an excellent family vehicle. Safety equipment includes side impact and head curtain airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, ABS disc brakes, traction and stability control and the must have child seat anchors. There is a lot to like here and when you add keyless remote entry, cruise control, and smaller, but important features such as a split folding rear seat to expand the cargo area you have a winner. Especially with the wagon. Our grade A.

Rules for Family Safety

Keep your chest at least ten inches away from the airbag cover. Never place a rear facing infants seat in the front of an air bag seat unless the air bag switch is in the off position. Children under 14 should sit in the back seat and use seat belts, or a child safety seat. If you have a medical condition that might result in an injury due to the use of an airbag consult your doctor on whether or not you should use one and carry that permission in the vehicle at all times. Driving without a seatbelt is against the law. Extra large people may wish to ask the dealer for a safety belt extension. Check the air pressure in your vehicle monthly. If an air pressure monitor is an option on a vehicle buy it. Correct air pressure also saves on fuel consumption. Also buy every safety feature you can afford. You can’t be too safe.

Safety seat inspection center:

Types of baby and booster seats:

Child Seat Ease of Use Ratings:

Automotive Safety Issues for Persons With Disabilities

Free traffic safety materials and catalogs.

Safety ratings of all vehicles

For a list of all vehicle websites go to

Ski Sedans

By The Car Family

For more reviews go to

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

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

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

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

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

Subaru Ski Space

Small sedans can have large ski carrying areas

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

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

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

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

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

Ford's All Wheel Drive Ski Car

Ford’s all wheel drive Taurus sedan is a winner

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

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

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

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

Safety tips

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

For a list of all websites go to

2009s Best New Cars and the Worst

by The Car Family

for more reviews go to

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

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

Best of 2009

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

Volkswagen Passat CC

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


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

Volkswagen Tiguan

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

Volkswagen Routan

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

For a list of all vehicle manufacture websites go to

Most Reliable Vehicles

By The Car Family


For more reviews go to

For free educational materials go to

For a list of all vehicle websites go to

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porsche continues to suffer, according to owners

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

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

Small Cars

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

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

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

Luxury Cars

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

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

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

SUV Rankings

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

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

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

Hummer Owners Rank them Lowest

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

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

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

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

What are the best selling vehicles?

By The Car Family

For more reviews go to

According to SEMA and Ward’s Auto articles, vehicle sales continued to drop for most companies. Chrysler id has a ten percent increase in sales led by the minivan and Jeep sections.

 General Motors found that the nicely done
Acadia and Outlook pushed sales upward in that segment. Both vehicles are far superior to the Hummer except for deep off-roading. The terrific Chevrolet Impala is finally getting recognition and increased sales were recorded for this front wheel drive vehicle, too. Unexpectedly, small cars did not sell well even though the Cobalt is one of the best ones around.
Equally unexpected was Ford’s sales figures that showed that the top heavy and gas hoggish Expedition increased in sales. The much superior Lincoln MKX and Ford Edge also improved, but Ford sales continue to fall as they lack new products. All that money paid for the Ford GT so that a few rich dealers and their friends could drive around in something unique hasn’t improved Ford’s image or sales.

Tundras and the Lexus line kept
Toyota in the driver’s set as far as sales were concerned. The large and gas guzzling large SUVs did not do well. The best car
Toyota offers in terms of a SUV is the RX which gets over 23 mpg. The others are very fuel inefficient.
Toyota’s reputation as producing gas sippers does not extend to its SUVs.

Light truck sales, that very lucrative market were companies can swell their bank balances, is still going strong with over 50 percent of the market being in this category. General Motors is tops with Ford and
Toyota following. Chrysler lags.

In terms of best selling vehicles the Camry was first, the Accord, second, and the Corolla/Matrix next. Chevrolet’s Impala was fifth. The Civic, Altima, Cobalt, Focus, Prius, and Ford Fusion rounded out the top ten. As for trucks it was the Ford 150, Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram in the top three spots.

The future looks especially dim for Ford as their new products are few and far between. The advertising and public relations dollars spent to push Mustang sales is all fine and good but only a small portion of the country is interested in these sedans regardless of how puffy you make the engines. General Motors has an abundance of new vehicles coming online, especially the revitalized Saturn line.
Toyota has a new Corolla and redone Scion ready and waiting and, as usually, perfectly timed with fuel price hitting record levels.

Experts have indicated that if people just cut back two percent the fuel prices could drop over a dollar. Or, if they would just not buy vehicles that averaged less than 20 mpg the price would go down even more.

Ford Fusion: Fordable.

By The Car Family

For more reviews go to

For free educational materials and a list of all vehicle websites go to and click on business.

Price, appearance, and utility make the Ford Fusion a potent new player in the compact car field where powerhouses in the form of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have frolicked unchallenged for a decade. And, if your order the Fusion V6 model, you are also going to also have a price advantage over competing models from Volkswagen, Mazda, and Nissan when comparable equipped. In other words, this affordable Ford offers amply rewards for the price, but beware, you get what you pay for.

Call us crazy, but we liked the Ford 500 even with its limited output engine. It was comfortable, compliant, and well priced. Available as an all wheel drive vehicle, it provided a family friendly vehicle that could be used year round with plenty of room for everyone and everything. Of course, we also think that the Ford Crown Victoria is a sleeper and a bargain of first-rate magnitude if you want more power. So when Ford presented us with its Fusion we were eager to test its merits. We weren’t disappointed. In fact, if Honda had not brought out its zippy Civic the Fusion would be our car of the year.

Clearly, this isn’t your father’s Taurus as it is more eager to please, not nearly as bean shaped, and quite capable of cornering without drama. It is, in fact, a combination of Mazda 6 and Honda Accord for well under $20,000 (US). And, if you are a good shopper, you can have one for far less.

Of course, there is some need for improvement starting with the very large turning circle that is nearly 40 feet. That means tight parking sports are best left for patient drivers. Secondly, the engine is noisy at full throttle and the interior is not as quiet as its rivals over unkept roads. The furnishing in the cabin are in need of enhancement and so if you desire a little more attitude try the Fusions more upscale sisters, the Lincoln Zephyr and the Mercury Milan. We highly recommend you drive all of these models because although they are similar under the skin, they have distinct personalities. We actually like the Milan better.

Mom’s view: An attractive new model moved into our neighborhood and I was a bit smitten by him. The fact that he looked different, not strange in a Taurus way, but dignified and different made me eager to test his merits. I quickly realized he was frugal, averaging 23-mpg average in mixed driving and offered very good insurance rates. Yep, this Fusion is a player alright.

Inside, the seats were fairly comfortable and easy to adjust, and I sat higher than in many sedans. A tilt/telescope steering wheel was easy to grip, but it could have used a better quality leather cover. Unfortunately, the interior materials looked and felt dated and the storage compartment on the top of the dash was very hard to open. The steering wheel controls were difficult to find without taking your eyes off the road, the windshield wiper stalk settings were too sensitive, and the turn signal lever takes getting used to. The key remote worked well, but not at great distances, and the trunk popped up enough to get your hand under, but not without getting it dirty. Ford really needs to get a woman designer to help with its ignition key as it snags on most everything in your purse.

Storage room is very good with a two tiered center console, good-sized cupholders, ample, but shallow door bins, and an easy to access rear trunk with nearly 16 cubic feet of room. The backseats are easy to fold flat and more than double the cargo area. Unfortunately, the trunk does not allow for big boxes due to its height which is why a station wagon would be so nice.

I never could get the Fusion to accelerate from a stop smoothly as it was way too playful. Once underway it behaved better, but the automatic transmission took too long to make up its mind when climbing small grades with the family onboard. Otherwise, driving the Fusion was a pleasure. I never felt like the 3300 pound Ford wasn’t eager to please and with a better tire choice would be good in the snow. I wouldn’t call it a sporty car compared to the Mazda, with sportish being a more applicable name for this new Ford.

In the future look for a hybrid model and also an all wheel driver version. Unfortunately, the side crash test scores weren’t that good, but Ford has asked to have the model retested with the optional airbags. I would never buy a vehicle without this option anyway, so I await the new testing results with more optimism. Other crash test scores were good. Personally, I really don’t get V6 engines in cars in this size and weight category. The four cylinder model with its 160 horsepower engine has plenty of poke and I found that the V6’s 221 horsepower wasn’t that remarkable different in real life driving. You also get about ten percent better fuel economy with the four cylinder.

Dad’s view: If you want to go fast go elsewhere. Even with the 221 horsepower rated V6 the acceleration isn’t up to the competition and most of that is caused by a lack of low-end grunt. The plus side is fairly good fuel mileage ratings on regular. Since I don’t consider the Fusion as anything but a family sedan, I would opt for the four-cylinder engine and save money and gas. The Fusion does handle smartly considering its mission in life, and comes with very good four-wheel disc brakes. The optional ABS, a must for snow driving, is a little to touchy for my tastes, but once you make clear you want action there is no mistaking that this Ford knows when to hold-em.

You can figure on getting to 100 km in under nine seconds, but if this is intended to be a sporty sedan there needs to be an autostick feature to help the six speed automatic make up its mind. The 17-inch rims and tires look sharp and help control the tall Fusion. I would try to Lincoln and Mercury models if you really want to see the difference suspension makes to basically the same car.

Essentially, this is a winner for Ford. It offers more than the Japanese and German competition at a better price point and only lacks some refinement to make it a class leader. Clearly, Ford made some trade-offs in its decisions such as going with a 3.0-liter engine V6 versus the 3.5 liters others offer. But as a whole this is good value.

College going male’s view: Poor radio reception negates a potent audio system in the Fusion. The stereo unit offers plenty of power and offers MP3 versatility and an available 6-disc changer and 8 speakers with its Audophile system. I like the urgency of the sound, but I would shop around to upgrade.

Always on the lookout for new cars priced under $20,000, I found the Fusion tempting with a base two grand under that MSRP and Ford dealers very willing to deal even for those of us with low 600 credit scores (don’t ask). Of course, you can drive that price up by selecting the SEL model and its V6 with six-way power driver’s seat, upgraded speakers, steering wheel cruise and audio controls, trip computer, fog lights, leather steering wheel, automatic climate control, 6-disc CD, and 17-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust, and antilock brakes standard. Options are the extra airbags plus an alarm, antilock brakes, traction control, moonroof, leather seats and seat Audiophile stereo, alloy wheels, and the Premium Package of heated mirrors with puddle lights, auto-dimming mirror, compass, and automatic headlights. The pricing of these is quite good so it would be hard for me to resist any of them.

Now, would I want one? Yes, indeed. In black and with the SE features. Cheap to insure, good gas mileage, and distinctive enough to show my individuality.

Young working woman’s view: You can’t help but like the look of the Fusion, but the interior was too bland and the ride too oh hum. I want to make a statement with what I drive and this Ford is too mainstream. However, for a working family, young couple, or as a daily commuter it works well. Regardless, it is fair value and I only hope that those with Toyota/Honda hideboundness are willing to give it a drive.

Family conference: A new vehicle well timed and well needed by Ford, the Fusion only lacks some additional models such as a station wagon, all wheel drive, and planned hybrid to make it a staple of the North American driveway. For a complete list of vehicle websites go to and click on business.

« Previous Page