Audi A7 vs. Lexus LS 460
by The Car Family
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Two expensive luxury vehicles with quiet energy, amply girth, and the newest in electronic aids offer buyers a radically different choice in sedans in the upper $70,000 range. For as much as the basics are the same, the manufacturers clearly have two different buyers in mind. The Lexus LS is lush with comfort and effortless performance in mind. The Audi A7 is ready to play and offers passengers a stunning interior and an exterior that are contemporary and eye-catching. The Audi is sleek with substance and style the Lexus LS is conservative with comfort and solitude in mind. So we have two exceedingly contrasting tacts on luxury sedans that offer consumers a rich choice.

Lexus LS

Lexus LS

Audi A7

We tested the Audi A7’s 333 horsepower, supercharged, V6 engine and it was very responsive, nearly turbine like in feel. The Audi came with with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed transmission. Acceleration to 60 mph came in under six seconds and delivered well over 25 mpg in mixed driving. Our rear-drive Lexus LS was powered by a 4.6-liter V8 engine that produced 386 horsepower, although all-wheel drive is an option. An eight-speed transmission is standard. The Lexus is a little slower and gets about 21 mpg in mixed driving. Both engines are serene and smooth. Advantage Audi 7 based on its better fuel mileage and quicker performance.

Audi has a knack for creating beautiful interiors and its infotainment system is easy to master with
a dash-mounted pop-up screen as well as knob and buttons on the center console and a touchpad that enables you to use handwriting. Not the easiest system, but works quickly. Audi Connect offers mobile WiFi for several devices. The best feature is a navigation system that uses Google Earth data. The GPS is fairly easy to operate. The slope of the sedan’s roof does limit rear headroom some, but legroom is generous. The trunk is large and the rear seats fold down. There are lots of storage areas and the interior is understated and useful without being garish. Audi has standard quad-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof, Bluetooth, a 10-speaker audio system, satellite radio, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, an 8-inch display screen, navigation, and two USB ports. The Lexus is quietly elegant with exceptional materials and fit. A computer mouselike devise controls a variety of functions displayed on the giant 12.3-inch monitor. It is a little complicated, but can be mastered easily with practice. Trunk space is a bit shy of the Audi’s but quite ample. The Lexus rear seats do not fold down. Advantage Lexus based on monitor size and improved electronics.
Safety features
We always recommend getting every safety feature you can afford and the Audi offers a plethora of items including adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, a night vision camera, a corner-view camera, forward collision warning with automatic braking, antilock disc brakes, stability control, a blind-spot warning system, front and rear parking sensors, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front knee airbags, rear side airbags, and a Pre-Sense Plus system that can tighten the seatbelts and apply the brakes in an impending crash. Good brakes just add to the secure feeling the A7 offers. Not to be outdone, the Lexus LS offers nearly identical safety features with rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control which can also prepare the vehicle for potential crashes. Good brakes and crash scores and even top scores for rear passenger whiplash protection are Lexus attributes Advantage: tie.
The Audi is very much a driver’s car with your choose of Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual settings. The A7 has a great feel to it, handles well, and has enough grunt to make passing less stressful. Add to this its exceptional fuel mileage, ample trunk, and good looks makes it a top luxury car sedan pick. The Lexus LS is quiet, reassuring, and has an huge centrally located monitor. It isn’t as quick as the Audi, but plenty fast overall. The build quality, exceptional customer reviews and top ranking for Lexus owners make it a safe bet. If you want more “feel” just use the Drive Mode Select knob that can alter engine, suspension and steering settings to your mood or you can opt for the F model which offers a sportier feel. Advantage Audi.
Family conference: Comparing the Lexus to the Audi put us in a quandary because they are so different and yet appeal to the same socioeconomic luxury sedan buyer. The Lexus is quiet, spacious, and gentle. You want to sit back and relax during your travels, the LS can do that with ease. And with dealer service ratings at the top of the grid, it means ownership can be even more relaxing. If you want a bit more attention and a bit more sport in your daily drives, the Audi A7 can provide that dish and throw in some great gas mileage as well. Some notable differences are that the Lexus has a tidier turning radius making parking easier in tight situations. Audi has a shorter powertrain warranty, 50,000/4years to the Lexus 70,000/6years and the fuel tank is larger. The Audi’s hatchback design makes it easier to haul larger items and the variety of engines the A7 comes with can also alter its personality with your mood from the base 333 V6 to the optional Audi RS 7 that generates upwards of 560 horsepower, but that’s another story. Bottom line: The Audi A7 is trendy, exciting, and tempting. The Lexus LS 460 is old school, but not old. It does everything well and doesn’t make a fuss. Advantage consumer.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Using vehicles to create student interest in math and Language Arts
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz

Using vehicles is an excellent way to motivate students and to help ready them for real life buying decisions. The following links deal with the various manufactures where students can write for information, obtain pricing information and to harvest compare and contrast data for Common Core related essays.

A listing of all DMV offices.
Finding the office that deals with your state and others can provide information on how old one needs to be to drive as well as the various license fee data that could be used for Common Core math problems. I have used driver manuals to motivate students to read.

Data on fuel economy
This federal site would enable students to select a variety of vehicles and there fuel mileage. This could be used for math as well as to provide statistics for an essay on the best or worst type of vehicles in terms of fuel costs.

A link site to manufacturers who sell cars in America

A listing of vehicle websites worldwide

National Motorists Association
A great source of information on driving and the law.

A listing of car value prices
A good place to find statistics for math problems about the prices of cars and motorcycles.

Where cars are made by location
Great way to teach geography.

Lexus CT 200h: Thrifty, Nimble, and Stylish
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An inexpensive Lexus might sound like an oxymoron, but that is what the Lexus CT 200 h is and with it comes the attributes the marque has brought to buyers including vehicle quality and buyer satisfaction ratings that top the charts, as well as a frugality usually associated with the ubiquitous Toyota Prius. Of course, there are some caveats with this Lexus and they are in it diminutive size and it performance. Nevertheless, if you want a good looking hatchback that can get you a combined 42 mpg with the Lexus treatment the CT is your only choice. Helping make it an interesting choice is the utility of its four-door hatchback body style that make it an ideal choice for commuting, runs to the vet, or a weekend escape. 2014_Lexus_CT_200h_020

The CT 200h is very athletic and trim making it capable of being piloted through crowded mall parking lots as well as canyon runs with equal aplomb. Don’t expect exuberant response because the 134 horsepower engine is designed with economy in mind. The good news is that the pricing of this Lexus is exceptional. Indeed, you can acquire this Lexus for less money a well equipped Prius, although the latter may have more interior space and better fuel ratings. The Lexus comes standard with alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors and puddle lamps, a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, split-folding rear seats, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Siri Eyes Free technology that connects to select smartphones and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface. Options include a Seat Comfort, and Premium, Leather, Navigation package features a rearview camera, voice-controlled navigation system, Display Audio and F Sport package for those who want the go fast look.

Mom’s view: The CT is an interesting four passenger hatchback that has a cool, almost retro look. Very intuitive and its hybrid feature makes commuting effortless. Although the ride height is quite low, the visibility is good and the turning radius tight enough to make U-turns effortless. Safetywise, the Lexus has antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, and airbags everywhere. Lexus’ telematics system automatically provides collision notification, stolen-vehicle location and emergency assistance. Most importantly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the CT 200h its highest rating of “Good” in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength, and for whiplash protection. Overall, you get a Lexus that does most everything well at a bargain price.

Dad’s view: Power for the 2015 Lexus CT 200h hybrid isn’t overwhelming, but when the electric motors and gasoline engine are united freeway merging and passing aren’t a concern. The CVT is excellent and keeps the 98-horsepower 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine on task. Handling is a good as most hybrids, especially the good feel of the steering and brakes. Very competent for what it is. The ride is compliant, but don’t expect the same level of quietness that is in the more expensive Lexus models. Still, it is enjoyable to drive and grows on you. The CT is like a secret that more people should know about as it provides a fun ride with frugality, exceptional suspension, comfort and quality of the Lexus brand without the big bottom line.

Young working woman’s view: The controls are fairly easy to master, but the control for the info-entertainment entries takes a while to learn as it uses a unique mouse-like interface and a joystick to move the cursor on the screen. It provides excellent feel, though. Interestingly, despite its size, the backseat has an amazing amount of leg and head room. The doors, however, are a bit slim so entry wearing a dress requires some practice. The glovebox and door pockets are diminutive, but the backseats can be folded down to provide access to nearly 35 cubic feet of cargo area. I really liked the smoothness of the CT as it switched between electric and gas modes and auto stop-start functions smoothly. BMW and Porsche could learn from Lexus in this regard. You can select three different driving modes from normal for day to day outings, Eco for crowded commuting, and Sport for a more aggressive feel.

Young married man’s view: Finally got hitched and this would make a fine addition to the family. The CT has several features I admire such where Lexus claimed to use bamboo speaker frames and trim items made from plant materials. Although it looks small, once inside it does not feel that way. With the requirement that all news cars have backup cameras next year I was surprised that this was still part of an option package on the CT. That aside, I found the optional voice-command HDD tilt-screen navigation system with remote controller, the Enform emergency notification system, NavTraffic to be easy to use and quick to respond. The joystick control actually provides feel as you move it about. Very cool.

Family conference: The 2015 Lexus CT 200h is the most affordable Lexus with a starting around $33,000 and we have seen some models well loaded for this price. For that you get a handy little rig that enjoys pleasing its owner whether it is sipping fuel, parking in the smallest of spaces, or just making you proud every time you enjoy the many luxury features. A great way to reduce your carbon footprint, too.

Lexus: The NX Best Thing
by The Car Family
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Angular, modern, and stuffed with electronics, Lexus has brought into the world a crossover utility vehicle that is designed for the modern family. An exclusive extended test of this newest Lexus was enough for us to note that this all new model is comforting, quiet riding, and sharp looking, both literally and figuratively. Smitten, you bet. And reinforcing that glowing feeling was the fact that the NX is probably going to be priced well under $40,000 and the hybrid about three grand more. Look for the Luxury package and shipping to add another five thousand to the total. Look for exceptional residual values.

The NX’s forte is not acceleration, although the F Sport model is a temptress within limits. The NX also lacks the cargo capacity of some competitors in its niche. What it does offer is exceptional fuel mileage, a plethora of safety features, room for five, and an interior and electronics that are worldclass.

Our evaluation was with the NX 300h, a hybrid that provided an overall fuel rating of nearly 29 mpg while running at freeway speeds and the air-conditioning working to neutralize the record heat. There are other versions as well including a turbocharged, 235 horsepower, four cylinder NX200t, a NX200t F Sport for those who need the need for more performance. The NX can be equipped with all wheel or front wheel drive depending on your needs with the six speed transmission


Mom’s view: The crossover segment is crowded with some attractive competition from the BMW X3, Audi Q5, and Mercedes-Benz GLK, but in reality the NX pricing, unique attributes, and legacy are going to make it difficult to ignore for those shoppers looking for the next best thing. It does lack the interior space of some competitors. For example, the new model hasn’t much room for a purse as the center console is given over to some crafty new electronics. As in the older RX, the rear seats still recline, but the cargo space is smallish. Standard safety features include eight airbags, a backup camera, anti lock brakes and an electronic stability system. Optional parking sensors, blind spot, lane departure, and collision warning systems. The latter that can be ordered with adaptive cruise control that apply the brakes automatically in dangerous situations. If you like the exterior styling and enjoy a utility vehicle that is fun to drive safely, get in line at your Lexus dealer. This is a winner and a looker in red.

Dad’s view: The NX isn’t for those who lust after 0 to 60 mph times. This is a vehicle for those who want to brag about resale value, gas mileage, and electronics. The driver can select from Eco, Normal and Sport modes that control the acceleration of the NX. You are going to love the Sport mode as it makes the Lexus must more responsive. The NX may not be the fastest, but the fuel efficiency numbers are going to sooth those wounds with an overall average of 28 mpg for the new four cylinder turbocharged engine on premium and perhaps 30 for the hybrid, with 33 mpg a possibility in town driving. The 2.5-liter gasoline engine is paired with an electric motor to make a reported 194-hp in the hybrid. It is the slowest NX, but the most efficient. The F Sport being the stop light braggart and includes a tighter suspension and is ideal for those who drive in the mountains. We were testing the prototype and so there might be some changes, but the look and feel of the car are solid. You can expect to see these crowding the shopping malls starting later this year.

Young unemployed male’s view: So much for a degree in computers, anyway, the NX offers some trick technology that includes a touch interface that enables you to control several vehicle features including driver information, station and selection read-outs, and even traffic updates. However, the GPS map wasn’t very clear on the prototype and you can’t enter a destination when the car is in motion. The HD stereo with AM/FM, satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, and cleverly hidden USB/iPod connections among a host of other gadgets that provide clean sound. The cream is the optional wireless smartphone charger and the Enform information. With some models there are extra speakers, including a subwoofer, and streaming apps. The stereo is quite good and you can always download my music to lighten up your day at The NX is a real bargain, but the option packages might push the price above the larger RX model so shop carefully.

Young working woman’s view: This is a dramatically different Lexus designed to appeal to young families. It rides smoothly and yet is alert to critical situations and can even act for you. The interior is understated and draws raves for its quality materials. The seats are comfortable and the instruments well placed. The downside was the smallish monitor, about six inches, and poor graphics. I doubt that weakness will be on the finished model. The cabin is a bit dark and visibility to the rear is limited so the back-up camera is a strong consideration. The NX is easy to get into and provides a stellar view of the road. Mom’s right, gorgeous in red.

Family conference:
You can bet the farm that Lexus has another hit on its hands with this handier sized RX. It is very pleasant to drive, provides good visibility and safety features, and provides the owner with a sense of pride. Look for early adopters to line-up Apple Store style for this next best product.

Notable 2013 Cars

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

Acura ILX

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

Acura RDX

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

Acura RLX

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

Audi Allroad

Audi Q5

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

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

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

Audi S7

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

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

Bentley Continental GT V8

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

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



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

Buick Encore

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

Buick Verano Turbo

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

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

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

Chevrolet Corvette 427 convertible

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


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

Chevrolet Malibu

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

Chevrolet Sonic RS

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

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

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

Fiat 500L

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

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

Ford Escape

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

Ford Fusion

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

GMC Terrain Denali

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

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

Elantra GT

Elantra GT

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

Hyundai Santa Fe

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

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

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

Infiniti JX35

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

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

Lincoln MKZ

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

Mazda CX-5


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

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

Mercedes-Benz GLK250 Bluetec

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

Mini Paceman

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

Nissan Altima

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

Nissan Pathfinder

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

Porsche Boxster

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

Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ


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

SRT Viper

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

Subaru XV Crosstrek

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

Tesla Model S

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

Toyota Avalon

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

Volkswagen Beetle Convertible


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

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

Lexus RX 450h or RX 350: Queens of the Road

by The Car Family

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We think the Lexus RX 450 hybrid is the “Queen of the SUVs” based on its command of the road, ability to care for its citizens, and the price you have to pay for its attentions. Priced around $50,000 (US) this Lexus is the first luxury SUV hybrid on the market and it is going to be difficult to compete against. It is that good. As for the gas only version of the Lexus, labeled the RX 350 and about $10,000 less, it too is the gold standard of luxury SUVs and easily the most refined of its ilk. However, it doesn’t provide the gusto of some competitors and is not so inclined to venture up inclines or tolerate hard cornering. If you insist on using your SUV as a sports car leave Lexus land for the world of BMW and Acura.

We tested both Lexus RX models in all types of situations and they never became uncivil despite heavy traffic, rain, Hummer drivers who have not yet realized they are not on the battlefield. It was a lady at all times, but what made it more remarkable was the little things that sold us such as the best interior night lighting ever. The Lexus has illuminated sill plates, door handles. foot wells, the ignition ring, glove box, center console box, and front cup holders not to mention the map and cargo area maps.

Added to this mix are an easy to activate power hatch, rear seat backs that are adjustable for rake, and a flawless reputation for quality and thus high resale. The turning radius is much better than previous models and you can easily park it. Unfortunately, the rear vision is impaired and so we highly tout the video camera that places a live image of what is happening in back of the RX on the center display monitor. Very trick and very useful. In fact the only real option is the rear entertainment center and, perhaps, GPS.

Both models come with power rear hatch openers, programmable garage door openers, electric steering, heated outside mirrors that automatically dim, and so many other features it can overwhelm your objectivity. We can’t image what fixing some of the complex electrical components is going to cost after the warranty expires. Since we own four Lexus products we can attest to the good relations most dealers offer.

The problem we were trying to solve is whether the expensive hybrid version was worth the extra thousands of dollars even given the high price of fuel. Since the hybrid only comes well loaded it can cost nearly $10,000 more than the base RX. However, if you equip your base RX with similar options such as leather and all wheel drive the price differential is about $5,000 additional for the hybrid. And since the gas hybrid consistently gets 22 mpg and the hybrid only about 30 percent better in real world driving does it pay to buy the expensive 450h even when some government agencies offer a tax credit for hybrid owners?

To cover ourselves we’ll just say, “depends.” If you drive on open highways at speed stick with the RX 350. It is a faithful companion, although not one that caters to tracking down BMWs. If you do over half of your driving in town the 450h is your best bet. In bumper-to-bumper traffic you can drive up to 30 mph just on battery power and you could easily cover 500 miles on a tank of gas. The electric motors combined with the gas engine provide 268 horsepower instantly without much ado from the continuously variable transmission. Even the 450’s handling is better than that of the 350 RX model. Getting 24 or 25 miles to the gallon is not difficult in mixed driving, but even at that unless you drive well over 25,000 miles a year and gas is priced at $3,50 a gallon it would take you years to justify paying extra for the hybrid. Regardless the really good news for 2012 is that the hybrid uses regular fuel and this is a real money saver.

Resale is going to be stout regardless of which model you select as it has one of the best resale values of any vehicle. On the other hand the Audi Q5 gets nearly the same gas mileage as the 450h, costs a bit less, and only lacks some interior size to make it compatible. Drive the Audi and both the 350 and 450 to make the best decision. If you just want gas mileage, the Chevrolet Equinox does exceptionally well.

We are sure though, that the hybrid version of the RX is going to command top dollar for many a year for three reasons. It is responsive, responsible, and realistic. It does not feign to be something it isn’t. Yes it can go off road and do well, but why spend that much money to rough up a vehicle? Secondly, safety first is embedded everywhere from airbags to braking to preventive tipping measures. Finally, it can realistically hold five adults. It does not pretend to hold seven as some SUVS do, two of whom may have to crawl over seats, people, and luggage to find their perches just inches away from the rear hatch and potential danger should there be an accident. Speaking of which the crash scores are very good.

Mom’s view: This is what it must be like to have twins; so alike and yet so different. The 350 RX is blissful to drive, a little overly protective in the way it deals with road imperfections, and has just enough acceleration so you have to keep a vigil on the speedometer. The 450h is another matter. The larger tires and rims, aggressive suspension, hefty weight, and the instant torque provided by the electric motors turn this into more of a fighter. Both would be delightful children, but I think most mothers wouldn’t mind boasting of the 450h’s ability to excel even though it may require a higher tuition.

Whether you are driving the hybrid or the RX 350 the seats are both supportive and comfortable. This is a rare combination and worthy of exaltation. Getting into the hybrid requires added leg lift because it rides a tad higher, but once inside you have excellent vision to the sides and front. Unlike the unique Toyota Prius hybrid, there is very little different about these two Lexi outside of some minor trim pieces. Even the interior is akin except for the information center and a readout that shows which energy source you are using. That is not to say it does not have appeal as its abundance of storage space, good cupholders, and even a place for a purse make it very accommodating. The leather, switchgear, and plastics are well done and, if you choose carefully, nicely color coordinated. Add to this the solid basic structure and you have a SUV that gets above average fuel mileage in either hybrid or gas only versions, and you have the reasons that this is the best selling Lexus ever.                                                                                                                                    RX 450h

Dad’s view: The Lexus is stealth like and nearly impossible to identify from a distance over its more traditionally powered clone. This quickly changes once you check out the drivetrain. The hybrid 450h carries 300 pounds of extra weight, but this is offset when the two electric motors and the gas engine work together to provide instant acceleration. In our test car one electric motor helps to drive the front wheels and one the back. A continuous variable transmission on the hybrid does its work efficiently. The hybrid also has been trained to shut down at long stops. It starts instantly once you remove your foot from the brake and touch the gas pedal. In case you are wondering the stereo, air conditioning, and lights all continue to operate even with the engine paused, but the engine may restart after when the draw becomes worrisome for the software.

You can easily feel the extra power the hybrid brings when you demand full acceleration. This hybrid can move out in a hurry and we think it could easily reach 60 mph in under seven seconds, or about a half second faster than the RX350. One thing that does not move faster is the fuel gauge. If you drive careful you can reach 30 mpg on the highway and more in town. Realistically, figure 25 to 26 in mixed driving. The RX 350 returns a real world 22 to 23 miles per gallon. Both cars can go well over 400 miles on a tank of unleaded. You should note that hybrids have additional maintenance costs and that the battery packs, which have a lengthy warranty, can cost several thousand dollars to replace.

RX 350

I am not a huge fan of SUVs because of their handling, gas hoggish nature, and visibility concerns on the side and back. The RX sisters are no exceptions, but Lexus has compensated for these conditions by an outstanding array of safety and performance features. It is no wonder they have such high safety ratings. Both cars ride as well as some luxury sedans over highways and certainly much better than such gas hogs as the Bentley Continental. Be warned, though, that this is not a nimble vehicle and the steering can feel slow to react when the road requires frequent corrections. Visibility to the side is excellent with the best mirrors in the SUV business. It is clear that the Lexus engineers designed this for more cruising than bruising, even though the 7.1 inch ride height is adequate and the all wheel drive system with the electric motors very peppy on inclines.

Braking is quite impressive with very little front dip, but we would strongly recommend you don’t overestimate the stopping distance because this is a two-ton vehicle when loaded. On the RX 450h the braking process helps regenerate the battery pack and thus the brakes feel is a tad bit harsh, but it is easy to master. The attention to detail, ability to park in tight places, power, and notable quality and features are unmatched. Add to that its high resale, award winning customer service, and the only decision is to justify the cost of the hybrid version. Personally, it is the one to own if nothing else for its performance.

Young working woman’s view: What can you say to a queen who has everything? There is little to add here. I didn’t like the way the fuel light went on with so little fanfare, I thought that the alloy rims were unworthy and needed to be rethought as they are just not right, and I would have preferred if the power tailgate would open with less fanfare as it sounds like a truck is backing up. Starting the hybrid is eerie to say the least. You turn on the ignition; wait for the light in the gauge cluster to read “Ready,” and you just touch the accelerator. No fuss, no muss, and if you are careful you can even drive several miles without using the gas engine at all.

Both RX models have significant safety features that include front side airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags and a driver knee airbag. A control system that uses the Electronically Controlled Brake system with Anti-Lock Brakes and Electronic Brake force Distribution creates a Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system to help prevent the vehicle from becoming unstable. In other words, this queen has built a sturdy safety castle around her charges. Although the RX is based on a Camry platform, it is definitely off-roadable. However, who would want to take one of these into the boondocks and scratch that deep paint ironically on the same vegetation that these hybrids were born to protect.

There are a lot of look alike buttons in the center of the dash that must be learned because reading them is difficult in bright sunlight. The GPS monitor is large and the joy stick that controls the many features of the loaded RX 450 h didn’t take long to master. The bottom line is that this is not the car for me based on its pricing and features. Although I appreciate the luxury and the fuel consumption, the Lexus IS series is trimmer, easier to maneuver, and more my style for less money. There is a Lexus CT 200h that costs less and gets is pretty cool looking in a different way that returns close to 40 mpg that is also appealing.

Young working male’s view: The back seats were very comfortable with handy cupholders, ample headroom, and foot space. Make sure you adjust the rear backrests before you get into the RX because they are really hard to adjust when you are sitting in them. You can fold the rear seats down in three sections, but they don’t fold real flat. You also have extra storage space in the rear cargo area on both sides and under the cover. And, there is a standard 115-volt 2-prong outlet to plug in that new computer. I like the models with open software feature. Works well in the Lexus and is quiet, too.

The Lexus optional sound system is well worth investigating. You might just want to check it out listening to my latest songs at What really interested me was how Lexus engineers were able to organize all the features using a very user friendly operating system. If you have the need for more seats, the Toyota Highlander hybrid may be a consideration as it has three rows of seating. The bottom line for me is that the hybrid only makes sense if you spend a considerable time in town. Otherwise, get the base RX and enjoy the ride.

Family conference: Call it a tall station wagon, try to humiliate it by claiming its an overpriced Toyota, make fun of its turtle shell appearance, or just point out you can get an SUV the same size and power for $10,000 less and you still are not going to convince buyers that this isn’t the cat’s meow of luxury SUVs. While the Acura MDX handles a bit better, the BMW is faster, and Mercedes more off roadable, and the Infiniti sportier, the Lexus is all alone when it comes to providing buyers with what the majority want, and that is a luxury vehicle that is both practical an elegant and the 450 h is the queen. Long live the queen.

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