Odyssey


New for 2011 and Notable

by The Car Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honda Odyssey Review 

By The Car Family

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

For free educational materials go to http://www.reacheverychild.com

Honda’s Odyssey was one of our choices as best ten cars in the nation when it first came out a few years ago. It had the new fold into the floor rear seat, a powerful engine, and handled like the Accord sedan it was based on. That was then, this is now. With competition from the all new models out today including the lovely Chrysler van pulling at a consumer’s pocketbook, the Honda appears older in every regard except its superior handling and power.You still get a highly competent van, but the Odyssey lacks the features found in the competition and the useful interior design is drab. For example, the second row passengers still do not have windows that lower and there is not a power option to lift the rear tailgate.Another matter of concern for us was that our test vehicle had over 10,000 miles on it and there was a rattle here and signs of wear there.The engine only got 18 mpg in mixed driving and we never were able to crack the EPA’s 25 mpg estimate for highway driving even with the 3.5-liter, V6, 240-horsepower engine using the standard five-speed automatic transmission with overdrive.On our last test, with a less powerful engine and four-speed automatic transmission, we average nearly 25 in mixed driving so there may be a trade off here with the new powerplant requiring more unleaded to provide more poke.New this year is the availability of leather-upholstery in some models. Although we don’t know why a family van filled with dogs, sharp objects, and kids with pens in their rear pockets would want the leather option. However, the seats are comfortable once you spend the time to get the adjustments correct. Also standard on our EX test van are the antilock 4-wheel disc brakes, traction control, and front side airbags, dual sliding side doors. The van also has available in the EX-L model a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with ceiling-mounted LCD screen, remote control, and wireless headsets. Another option was the GPS system of which Honda has one of the very best. You can’t get this when you order the entertainment centre, though.Mom’s view: We think that the Toyotas’ are more family oriented than the Odyssey, and that the Chrysler has the best ride. Nissan has not made a van available to us.Anyway you slice it, Honda dealers are going to have to try a lot harder to sell the Odyssey than in the past when mark-ups were common. The Car Family does not like mark-ups because, we feel, in the end it hurts customer relations. For example, Subaru dealers used to ask a few thousand over list hot selling WRX sedan. Our daughter wanted one, but she passed because of the mark-up. Instead she got a great deal on a Saab 9-3. Now she is a firm Saab believer and would never think of going back to Subaru. Those dealers lost a potential young, long term customer for a couple of thousand dollars.Getting back to the Odyssey, the bottom line for me is that the Honda, listed for A$49,850 in base form for the more upscale EX, is a significant value. You get air conditioning, antilock brakes, traction control, cruise control, adjustable steering column, power windows, mirrors and door locks, power sliding side doors, automatic climate control, upgraded sound system with a CD player, a keyless remote entry and security system, and alloy wheels. Unfortunately, you need to order leather seats to get the DVD entertainment centre, which I found difficult to understand since they appear mutually exclusive since children are tough on leather.Safety wise, the Honda is a leader in many regards. You have dual front airbags, side-impact airbags, and a three-point seatbelt/shoulder harness for each of the seven seating positions. There are child safety seat anchors for the second and third-row seats. Best of all, the government gave the Odyssey its best ratings for frontal collisions. You also have good visibility to the front and side with your rear vision restricted by the high back window, head rests (which are removable if no one is riding there) and the wide stance of the Honda.But the main reason you buy a mini van is to move people and products. To this end, the Honda is well equipped. The third-row seat folds into the floor, a feature that has been copied by most other companies outside of Chrysler. The best news for me is that when the seat is up you have a handy storage well for groceries and other objects that could tip and roll under seats on other vans. Honda also offers hooks for plastic bags and small cargo nets.The trade off for the floor hidden rear seat is that the spare tire has been placed under the second row passenger seats and is a space saver. The other trade off is that even if you use the provided rear seat pull-up strap to remove the third seat from the floor it requires more leverage and strength a person may have. Please check this out if before you buy because it is not an easy task for some.Loading the van was swift. The low lift-over height is excellent. The power sliding doors are easy to operate and you can close them either with the key or very well placed buttons on the dash.Unlike some vans, the doors stop immediately when they hit an obstruction.I would never order a van without these power doors.I also would have liked it more if Honda had offered a powered rear hatch such as Chrysler does, but as we said at the beginning, Honda’s van lacks many offerings the competition considers important. After driving two cars with this feature, the Chrysler and the Lexus 330 RX, I can tell you from a woman’s point of view that once you get used to power rear deck lids they are irreplaceable.Dad’s view: There was significant wind and tire noise in our test model and I noted that the tires squealed excessively when cornering at average speeds. Thus, the first thing I would do after buying this Odyssey is upgrade the tires. Next, I would spend considerable time learning how to use the column-mounted shifter. If you like to shift for yourself, the strange path that is required by the shift linkage to move it from gear to gear is not intuitive.Driving is pain free. The engine is clearly world class, except for the gas mileage which fell to 16 mpg in town and seldom got to 20 mpg even on the highway. Of course, this is a 4400-pound vehicle with 240 smooth horsepower and so I didn’t expect miracles. Regardless, this is the best handling minivan we have tested. It gets to 100 km (62 mph) in about 8 seconds and can keep pace with the fastest traffic. I would have liked to shift the Honda into fourth gear and leave it there for mountain driving, but this option is not on the shifter.Although in all likelihood Honda is going to put an even more powerful engine in the next version of the Odyssey, the 240 horsepower, 242 pounds of torque that this V6 provides is quite ample, especially once you are moving.Working college aged male’s view: I found that the sound quality from the upscale stereo was inferior as was the radio reception. The unit needs to be replaced if you are into music at all.There was ample backseat cargo and foot room and the seats were reasonably comfortable. The rear bench is too stiff for my liking, and I doubt you could get more than two adults back there without complaint.I did like the idea that you could adjust the rake on the rear seat. The second row buckets also have rake controls and you get your own temperature and fan settings. The rear windows don’t roll down and the small third row windows push out about an inch to provide some air movement.The second row seats can be removed, but they aren’t light so get a buddy. When we had to haul a four by eight foot wood lattice, we just folded the second row seats down and crawled home in cramped comfort.The second-row bucket seats are adjustable fore and aft, allowing optimum comfort for six passengers.Adjustable shoulder belts for the front and second-rows reduce the irritation caused by inflexible mounts that some manufactures offer that ride could choke a small fry, cut into the necks of others, and make pregnant women uncomfortable.Young working woman’s view: It has a nice tight turning radius, holds 20 gallons of fuel, and is easy on the eyes. Yet, my best advise on the Odyssey is to wait. Next year a more potent version well most likely be brought online with substantially more features to keep it competitive. Another advantage of waiting is to see what Ford and Volkswagen are going to offer. Meanwhile, the Odyssey remains the BMW of vans with its sporty combination of handling and performance, although the disc brakes have their pads full when trying to stop this Honda in a hurry.I liked the idea of a fold-up table between the two front seats, but when you stop fast everything slides off. I liked the Chrysler movable centre console better. There is good space in the second row where two-bucket seats can be moved around to make access to the third row of seats easier. The interior is rather plain and certainly not up to the competition’s standards.Would I buy a Honda Odyssey van? Not now. When the need does arise, I would certainly consider this model based on its drivability, but although I like it pricing and value in class, the interior rattles bothered me, as did the tire noise.Family conference: This is a good van with above average reliability and performance. If you can get a good deal, go for it. If not, wait, because this next model year there is going to be plenty of attractive offerings from other manufactures and Honda knows this well. Look for a vastly improved model to arrive and move the bar even higher in the expanding mini-van market. One thing we hope Honda does not change is its value pricing. For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click on business.

Best new cars: 2006-2007

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

We have spent the last several months evaluating vehicles from the major manufacturers to identify those that we feel are the best in their fleets. Since Masarati, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, and Rolls Royce don’t allow us to test we can only imagine that they are selling to the already sold. We should remind you that Bentley does furnish us test vehicles because they want our readers to know the truth. And, truth be told, the Bentley is easily the best super vehicle you can buy based on performance, room, and resale. It would take a professional driver to pull away from a Bentley in any situation and those vehicles wouldn’t have room for five and their golf bags.

This review is about those companies who have improved the most and are providing the best values. We start with our most improved product line and that goes to Nissan and Saturn. The new Nissan Versa is a flat out bargain with plenty of room, performance and fuel mileage all for under $14,000. For a few thousand more the Sentra is ready to perform for you and it is a winner. Plenty of spunk and a superior sound system make this new offering light generations better than the previous Sentra. Congratulations to Nissan.

The Aura is proof that the Saturn line does not have to fall into extinction, as did the Oldsmobile. By the way, if you get your hands on a early 2000 Oldsmobile Aurora you are going to have a car that is quite excellent except for its battery location under the rear seat and some power winder motor concerns. Saturn’s Aura is better than the current Accord and Camry in every way. It makes the previous model sedans from Saturn look ancient. Added to that is the new Saturn roadster, the Sky. Fun and frugal, and a looker, this model is worth a test drive. Saturn is offerings its Vue with a modified hybrid system that they call the Green Line. It gets good fuel mileage, about 25 on the highway for an SUV, but the new SUV from Saturn looks clearly better. Saturn is the most improved domestic line and that is without even testing the Saturn Outlook. And don’t forget a much trendier little Saturn is coming later this year. All of these are tremendous improvements over past products.

Acura MDX is much better than the previous model and is the best of the new offerings from this upscale marque. It is larger, more capable, and has more room and a better demeanor. Unfortunately, the price is above $40,000 too. The smaller RDX model has a turbocharged engine, needs premium, and lacks interior room.

Bentley’s Continental GTC is a bargain even with a price tag out the door just shy of $200,000. It has all wheel drive, over 500 horsepower, and a quiet ride with room for four. It is the best luxury convertible by far. You are going to pay far more for far less.

The 3 Series BMW has been restyled and has a more potent engine selection. Always a great performer, this is the best of the BMW products although it is tight on space. Drive all the 3 Series models before you buy. They have very distinctive personalities.

Chevrolet’s new Silverado pick-up truck is quite good, but from a family standpoint the reliable Chevrolet Impala is the best in its line up. Well priced, no surprises when you drive it, and capable of getting the best insurance rates and above average fuel economy.

Dodge’s Caliber is a true value leader. Great size and utility, a notable shape, room for five, and a combination of engines to suit every mood make this the best Dodge product. All of this for under $14,000. The new Avenger is new but lacks character outside of its appearance. Yes it is roomy and economical to operate, but the growl of its engine even at highway speeds gets annoying. We recommend the previously introduced Charger that isn’t that much more expensive and a better buy.

Ford’s Fusion and Edge are the best from this struggling manufacture. The Edge has a good look and is clearly more refined than previous similar models from Ford. The Fusion is exceptional. There is very little reason for someone looking for a sedan to look elsewhere. Sadly Ford needs a fresh subcompact vehicle and has none at this moment.

Honda’s Fit and CR-V are both worthwhile. We believe that the CR-V is a much better vehicle than the previous model, but still lacks enough power for our needs. However, the Honda Fit is a marvel. It is a combination fuel economy winner, sports car, and station wagon all priced under $14,000. It is small, but handy.

Hyundai’s Entourage, Santa Fe, and Veracruz are all very well priced and put together. However, the Entourage is clearly the best new product. This minivan is as good as the class leading Honda Odyssey and costs thousands less. The Kia products are so similar that it would difficult to separate outside of the nameplates. As such the Hyundai/Kia would be third on our list of most improved product lines after Nissan and Saturn. However, the Kia Rondo stands alone as the best of the Kia products. It is a smallish minivan with great interior space usage. Filling in the niche left by the forgettable Mazda MPV, the Kia is the queen of the Kia line.

Lexus has three new sedans that are notable in the LS, GS 450h, and the ES. Since Lexus products have been known to be price leaders in the past we couldn’t help notice that this was no longer the case. However, you get so much quality product and such high resale the line seems destined to become the “Cadillac” of the 2000s. As such the hybridish GS 450h is the best product. It offers scintillating performance while getting respectable fuel mileage. Even the non-hybrid version is excellent. The LS 460 is filled with electronic marvels, but it isn’t as vast as improvement over the previous models as the GS line.

Lincoln’s MXZ is a potent, luxurious sedan that harkens back to the old days when the nameplate spoke of quality and elegance. Although we like the Zephyr, the MXZ has more options and is a bargain starting under $30,000.

Mazda’s 3 is priced in the low $20,000 range and can be ordered for thrift or thrill. It is a new car so there is little to compare it to, but it figures to be a hit for those who want practice transportation with a hint of zoom. We have not tested the new line of Mazda SUVs at this time, but we did get a chance to play with the CX-7 and found it to be clearly a winner. For much less than a BMW or Acura you get a go-getter with cargo space and handling on a par with the best. Still, the Mazda 3 is the best value here.

Mercedes CLK is so refined and elegant in road manners and performance it is difficult to beat. Add the AMG package and you can take four people on a ride that borders on unbelievable. It would take a professional driver in a sports car to pull away from you. That aside, we do find the Mercedes E Class the most improved here. It is a return to quality and it so vastly improved over the previous model it is difficult to believe the same company built them. We also recommend you wait for the new C sedan which may make even larger quality strides over the previous model.

The Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder is bigger, badder, and better than the trouble prone previous model. It is fun to drive and has a serious side, too. We have not tested the Gallant, but it can’t help but be a better vehicle than the older model.

Pontiac’s G5 is new and priced under $15,000. However, we still have not been able to test it. We expect it to be of merit in price terms alone.

Suzuki’s XL-7 and SX4 are so much different than what Suzuki previously offered that it is difficult to believe they came from the same manufacture. The larger XL-7 has a nice ride, an abundance of room and seating for seven, and enough power to master most situations. However, what caught our attention was the cheerful SX4 with it French exterior design and utility and unheard of pricing starting at $15,000. Fun to drive, a little underpowered, the SX4 is certainly highly recommended by The Car Family. Suzuki would be fourth in our most improved manufacture competition.

Toyota’s Camry is the best new product from this all-winning company. However, the previous model was excellent too and so we found that outside of the exterior styling and some performance improvements Camry would simply be holding its own despite the hybrid option. We believe that Toyota is one of the most press friendly companies in the world and the results have paid off for it as they have rolled off winning product after winning product. The new Camry is no exception. The Yaris replaced the Echo and both suffer in terms of ride and performance. For the same money we much prefer the Scion line or recommend the terrific Corolla. Hard to lose with Toyota and our favorite is the RAV4. It a winner and clearly the best of the crossover SUVs at this point in time.

Volkswagen’s Rabbit is essentially the same as the previous model in many ways, but is a more refined vehicle. Despite this the Rabbit is expensive for what it offers and lacks both power and fuel mileage that the competition offers.

We have not tested any new Volvos and are waiting for the convertible at this moment. It has to be better than the older model.

Family conference: Although we need to test a few more models it is clear that Nissan and Saturn have produced some significant new models that should help them rebound in terms of sales. Other manufactures that have brought new vehicles to market that are much better than the previous ones are Kia/Hyundai and Suzuki. Regardless of which type of family oriented vehicle you are interested in, these represent the best we could find. With that in mind we highly recommend the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Saturn Aura, Suzuki SX4, Dodge Caliber, Hyundai Entourage, and the most notable.

For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click on business.

Mini Van Shoot Out: Town and Country, Quest, Sedona, Odyssey, Sienna
By The Car Family

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We like minivans. We like their safety, fuel economy, utility, and ability to transform themselves from school bus to work van within minutes. And despite the fact that they have virtually indistinguishable exteriors and starting prices around $25,000 they are quite distinctive in real world use. Thus more than any other vehicle it is important to test-drive a minivan with the family onboard and that is what we did.

With that in mind we came up with some startlingly differences between otherwise similar minivans. For example, if you have infants and young children the Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan with the Stow and Go option is your best bet. If you like a bargain and a long warranty the Kia Sedona is unbeatable and if you like something a bit fancier in the same format the Hyundai Entourage is a terrific buy. If you like handling the Honda Odyssey is the winner. If you need a lot of room and zoom and an optional stereo that is the best we have ever heard in a vehicle the Nissan Quest is your answer. If you like all wheel drive capabilities with reasonable fuel mileage the Toyota Sienna is your choice.

Testing Recommendations
Here are some recommendations to consider before shopping for your van. First, make sure you separate your needs from wants. It is nice to have an expensive leather interior in a van, but a dog or cat’s nails can make short work of them. Likewise, an expensive entertainment center might be a great way to pacify the children, but is that what you really want for them? In addition, the loss of those remote headsets isn’t inexpensive and they aren’t tethered to anything making misplacing them a reality. What we do highly recommend are power side doors and rear hatch if you have children. It makes the van easier to load and, if properly used, safer. It is a must that you test the power doors to make sure they stop when they close after contacting an obstacle. Stand next to the minivan with a small piece of wood and hit the close button. As the door slides you should be able to stop it at any point with just slight pressure from the wood. The next thing to check is the height of your garage’s ceiling and the tailgate’s height when open. Using the remote to open the rear hatch while it is the garage when there is a possibility of hitting the ceiling doesn’t bode well for either. Finally, sit in the third row of seats and check the ease of which the seatbelts fit and if there are head rests to help resist whiplash. Because keeping the correct tire pressure is absolutely vital to minivans to protect against rollovers and reduced fuel mileage an optional air pressure monitoring devise is worthwhile. Since rollovers are one of the leading causes of injury in SUVs and minivans it is important to consider the government ratings. According to www.safercar.gov for 2005 models (the latest available) all of the vans we tested were classified as “no tip.” Based on statistical data the percentage of possibility of rollovers for the vans was 12 percent for the Nissan Quest; 14 percent for the Honda; 15 percent for the Kia and Sienna; and 17 percent for the Town and Country. To give you an idea of how much safer these vans are than most SUVs here are some rollover percentages for some popular sports utility models: Ford Explorer Sport Trac, 34 percent; Chevrolet Tahoe, 28 percent, Jeep Liberty, 24 percent, Cadillac Escalade, 24 percent, Hyundai Santa Fe, 20 percent; Honda CRV, 19 percent. Almost without exception a minivan is safer than a SUV.

Once on the road there are four tests you need to perform. First, see how well you can park it in a tight space such as at a shopping center. Next, what can you see when backing up? If you have a large blind spot consider the optional rear camera offered on some models. Thirdly, check to make sure it accelerates well enough for you with the family onboard. These vans can be spunky with a light load, but they’re engines are down on torque and so when loaded they tend to waddle. Finally, see how well they stop. Do you like the feel of the brake pedal? Does the van stop straight?

Finally, make sure that the adults in the family are capable of removing and/or folding the rear seats should it be required. The second row seats can be very heavy and difficult to take out and the reach to fold the back seat into the floor may be too much for some. Vehicles like the Town and Country make this procedure easier than others, but all of them require more strength than expected due to the fact that the seats have to be pulled up and out of the van. Some of these weigh well over 30 pounds.

The Findings
We weighed our findings more heavily toward price, real world fuel mileage, interior usability, maneuverability in tight parking situations, safety, and stopping and handling. As such the surprise winner was the Kia Sedona, which not only has a superior warranty than the competition, but does everything as well or nearly as well as the more costly competition. As for close, the Hyundai Entourage was next. It is a twin sister of the Kia, but with more chrome and substance. Although the male dominated magazines and websites select the faster and better handling Honda Odyssey, that model costs considerable more and offers little the Kia does not, although you could save $200 a year on fuel for the average driver in the Odyssey due to its sophisticated valve technology.

Toyota Sienna
Toyota’s Sienna is in need of a makeover. It is still a quality vehicle with a lot of positive attributes, but the interior is the most difficult to live with for those in the back seats and it simply does not excel in any one area except ease of parking. It has a goodly amount of cargo room, very good fuel mileage, and has an easy to operate third row seat. The ride is very luxury sedan like and comes with all wheel drive. Standard safety equipment does include front side-impact airbags and three-row head-protecting side curtain airbags. Lots of options from tire monitoring to ports for additional audio components. This is a good van that might be available for a good price now that it is near its model run. You also need to know that we didn’t test the new V6 engine in the Sienna which is considerable more powerful and responsive. However, it still does not solve the Sienna’s interior shortcomings. Overall, Toyota’s van won’t disappoint you and a safe choice.

Honda Odyssey
Honda’s Odyssey is very expensive if you don’t watch your options. And, if you order the Touring model, you get run flat tires without a spare so beware of the cost of these tires if you want this feature. The Honda’s ride is the most sport sedan like of any minivan and the engine is both powerful and frugal on fuel due to the fact that the Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system shuts down three of its six cylinders while cruising to increase fuel efficiency. In town the Honda is plenty spunky and quiet with an Active Noise Cancellation system that keeps the cabin subdued. There are a lot of positive things about the Honda such as standard curtain side airbags for all three rows of seats, room for eight, a fold down rear seat, antilock brakes, passenger airbag, head airbags, side airbags, stability control, and traction control. Crash test scores are excellent.

Thus the Odyssey is our second place choice based on the fact we couldn’t justify its extra cost over the Kia, which offers nearly the same interior space and utility. The Kia even gets nearly identical gas mileage and is even more powerful than Honda’s 3.5-liter V6 engine. Since resale of the Sedona has not been established we could not compare it to the excellent used prices the Honda brings, but we found that most families buy a minivan for a long period of time negating the importance of resale within the first three to five years that are normally used for comparisons of vehicles. With the longer Kia warranty The Car Family believes that resale might be much stronger than expected, especially if Kia can get people to test its van.

Chrysler Town and Country
We love the Stow and Go option that enables the middle two seats to easily fold into the floor. The sliding optional DVD entertainment center is also well designed, but expensive. The ride is soft and seldom ruffled by unpleasant pavement. The problem is that the van needs to be freshened in terms of the dash where most have the air-conditioning and stereo readouts are unreadable at night due to their small font. The rear seats fold into the floor, but require a long reach. The engine is down on power compared to the competition and the transmission is not as eager to please as the Kia’s and Odyssey’s. If you want to save money you might consider the Dodge Caravan, which is less expensive, but has a much-reduced content. We feel that the handiness of the Stow and Go option, the accommodating interior, and the good natured attitude of this Chrysler makes it a third place choice for real family use. Make sure you get stability control. Crash scores are good. A friendly vehicle for those not in a hurry. Well priced and well featured.

Kia Sedona/Hyundai Entourage
We found the Kia and Hyundai Entourage the most unremarkable minivans in appearance. If you purchase these in white or gray you have an invisible vehicle. If there were another Gumball Rally where people see how fast they can drive from New York to Los Angeles this would be our choice. No one looks at it twice. And, with its potent new 3.8 liter engine, this is plenty perky with 242 horsepower and 251 ft-lbs. @ 3500 rpm. This means the Kia/Hyundai makes more power sooner and it feels that way, especially when loaded. If you were blindfolded and riding in the Sedona you would think it was a Honda. However, the Honda does turn and stop better and has more responsive steering inputs. The Kia has the best warranty that covers you up to five-year or 60,000 miles overall and ten-years or 100,000-miles on the powertrain. The third row seat folds into the floor, but is difficult to pull out and the second row seats are heavy to remove. The Kia and Hyundai have side airbags and ABS as well as traction control and stability control. In other words, this is a good van bargain priced, well warranted, with ample storage space. When driving the Kia it feels much smaller than it is and it is only when you park the Sedona that its girth becomes apparent. The Hyundai feels a bit more sluggish and I bit more polished. If you want to save money stick with the Kia. It has a much too large turning radius at nearly 40 feet. Overall, a great value with real life features and usability that makes it the equal of the competition. If you are daring enough to gamble on this recently redone model you might be the happiest minivan owner at the mall.

Nissan’s Quest is distinctive looking, has a great interior, an engine that provides a lot of propulsion, and a quirky interior layout that works well, but takes a while to master. The quickest of all minivans, the 3.5-liter V6 with its 240 horsepower works to make this the sports car of vans. The wide doors are the best of any and make loading and unloading very easy. The full-length glass roof takes a while to figure out and the view to the back is very limited. Check into Nissan’s excellent rear view camera with this model. The Quest is longer than the other vans and yet still feels nimble. As the Kia, the turning radius is large, 40 feet, which makes parking the Quest an acquired skill. Overall, this is a minivan for the iconoclastic who enjoys driving and loves the individuality that this Nissan offers. Whatever, make sure you listen to the optional stereo system while driving the Quest. It is exceptional.

Mom’s view:
I find driving a minivan a mixed blessing. Although it offers a lot of uses, the soccer mom image it sends is not one that is flattering. Perhaps that is the reason why so many otherwise practical families went over to SUVs despite their horrible gas mileage, tipsy ride, and garage filling girth. Anyway, the Toyota Sienna was my choice. It quickly made me forget I was driving a van, offered a ride that I felt comfortable with, and was easy to operate. The Kia and Honda were nearly identical in ease of use, but felt too large, as did the Quest. The Town and Country’s dash and lighting were sub par, although if I had children if would be my first choice due to the Stow and Go option. Give my vote to Toyota with Kia second.

Dad’s view:
The Honda was terrific. It was fun to drive and the interior was both spacious and easy to use. The Kia was difficult to fault, although it might have helped if it had a personality. The Quest is big and felt that way. The engine was always ready, but the lack of side and rear visibility always made me a bit nervous. The Chrysler needs more grunt and the Sienna, which was once my favorite, has not kept up with the competition. Make my score for the fun to drive Odyssey (is that an oxymoron), the Kia, and the Town and Country in that order.

Workingwoman’s view:
I am too young for a minivan, but the Kia almost made me forget that. It is such a bargain. Imagine a V6 minivan for the price of four cylinder Camry. The Chrysler had a nice looking interior, but lacked the sparkle. The Nissan’s appearance and interior put me off and it was just too big for me. I found the Honda quite easy to master, but I couldn’t see spending so much extra for nearly the same ingredients as the Kia. I wouldn’t say I felt this shoot-out was an eye opener, but I would say that it really opens your eyes when you see how similar these five vans are in daily use until there is a family onboard when their character changes dramatically. Whatever you do, check those options carefully. They can totally change the usability of these vans far more than a sedan or SUV, of which the latter is a curse on the earth unless you live where you must have the added ground clearance for winter driving or to reach abandoned calves on your ranch.

Young working male’s view:
Give me a break. When does a single guy need a minivan? That was my thinking before the arrival of my rescued dog, my career as a budding rap artist and the realization that I had three hours to kill between classes after work and needed a place to work/sleep. With that in mind I wanted a lot of room and so the Nissan Quest was my favorite. It had big side doors, a terrific sound system, and a forceful power plant and there were plenty of good deals out there. The Kia was also a bargain and very useful. The Honda was fun to drive and economical to operate. The Town and Country just didn’t do much for me and the Sienna was boring. I did note that the Honda was the only van with room for eight people, and six airbags. It was pretty fast. The Kia felt fast, too. By the way, don’t even consider the Kia’s short wheelbase model that is shy on cargo space. The Quest is quite stylish, but still has the quirkiness I like. Toyota’s Sienna now has a larger engine, with 268 horsepower, that should make it much more responsive. However, we didn’t test this engine. Add that option to the all wheel drive system and you have a minivan for all weather conditions, however, the interior is still dated. The Town and Country needs the optional large engine and comes very well equipped. Give me the Quest and don’t tell my friends.

Family conference:
If money is no object the Honda is a good van, but since being frugal is a virtue the Kia is the better deal with nearly identical features and performance. The other vans all have their strong points, but can’t match the performance and/or the versatility of these two. For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click on business.

Of note is that we didn’t test Mazda’s vans due to their smaller size and we didn’t test the very expensive Mercedes R because we doubt many families would be interested in this vehicle for daily transportation given its 16/21 fuel mileage rating and starting price well above $40,000. Ford’s product is slated for renewal next year and so we passed on the FreeStar/Mercury Monterey. The Ford Edge was not available for testing. We have previously tested the Chevrolet Upland/Saturn Relay/Buick Terraza. They are a cross between a SUV and a minivan, but in this field they can really only offer a price advantage. The Car Family found them useful and well priced, but not as nifty or as powerful handy as the more traditional minivans. Check out our review here.

Government rollover rate information, here.