Hyundai Genesis: Glitz and Glamour
by The Car Family
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Hyundai threw everything at their disposal at the Genesis from LED running lights to HID headlights in an effort to attract upscale buyers. The result is a large, smooth, and very quick sedan with a variety of features that are unique and useful. For example, when you enter the vehicle at night the ground outside of front passenger doors is illuminated with a light that reads, “Genesis” and prepares you for what is inside. And what’s inside is plenty good. A multimedia control system, eight-inch touch-screen with an optional 9.2-inch touch-screen, a multifunction display and, thankfully, real knobs that can be used to control functions. There is also a head-up reveal that offers drivers a variety of important data including your speed, a Blue Link communications system that has a voice-recognition program, and even an optional remote start feature.

2016 Genesis

2016 Genesis

With a plethora of features the Genesis is designed to attract buyers who enjoy the idea of a large sedan with the latest in electronics and don’t want to pay for the more expensive competition and not nearly as spacious competition. The downside is that the V6 version only gets 16 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Handling is best when the Hyundai Sports Mode is activated. If you would rather have a more relaxed ride try Normal, and when stuck in commuter traffic selecting Eco can help ease your pain.

Young male’s view: Working on my degree in cybersecurity and its challenges is not unlike the challenges of the Genesis electronics. Optional systems such as Apple Siri integration that can be used for a variety of internet audio options such as Pandora, the latest traffic information, fuel prices, traffic data and more are nice, but there is also Bluetooth wireless connectivity, satellite radio, a USB, audio jacks, and the list goes on. For example, there is the Smart Trunk feature that automatically opens the trunk when you stand near it with the proximity key in your possession for a few seconds, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, and a multi-speaker Lexicon audio system available. There is even a rear window power sunshade and heated steering wheel available. The option packages are the Ultimate, Signature and Technology packages and they can add over $10,000 to the base price to the $38,950 base price. Personally, I would get them all as they add considerably to the joy of owning a premium sedan.

2016 Genesis

2016 Genesis

Dad’s view: We had the 3.8-liter, V6 engine with 311 hp, but you can order the 5.0-liter V8 rated at 420 horsepower and is very fast. There is also an all-wheel-drive option with a V-6. Our rear wheel drive 3.8 test car averaged around 20 mpg in mixed driving a 22 on long trips unburdened by heavy traffic. The EPA has estimates on the highway up to 29 mpg. It could happen. The ride can be best described as lush with little road feel and steering that was vague. The Genesis can be best described as a relaxed sedan that wants to coddle you.

2016 Genesis

2016 Genesis

Mom’s view: The 5.0 Genesis is more expensive, but I would opt for the 3.8. It has as much power as most people need and even in base trim you get heated and power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, real-time traffic alerts, and more. Add to that the tight turning radius at about 38 feet that makes parking very easy and you have an upscale sedan with some remarkable features. For example there are nine air bags most everywhere, including overhead, and a Blue Link crash notification system that provides automatic emergency contact information to those selected by the owner. So very reassuring. The Genesis also has excellent crash scores with a forward-collision warning and autonomous braking set-up systems. Standard featured such as Electronic Stability Control, energy-absorbing front seats, anti-lock disc brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Distribution. Other safety options include blind spot warning, with an enhancement called Lane Change Assist that helps detect vehicles approaching towards its rear side at high speeds. The Genesis offers a Land Departure Warning that activates, the vibrates the steering wheel as well as warning lights when the transmission is noted. The Genesis is a sedan you can build to your needs with a strong emphasis on family safety.

Young working woman’s view: A large trunk with a low and wide lift over, a grocery bad holder that folds down, and there is an abundance of storage areas in the cabin and the seats can be heated. The doors are hefty and shut with a reassuring, bank vault sound. Parking is greatly eased with the rearview camera and warnings that abound. This car is a little too much car for me. I prefer the very nice Elantra. I have noticed that Hyundai is offering some excellent lease deals and, as usual, the warranties are exceptional with 10 years or 100,000 on the drivetrain and five years of free roadside assistance.

Family conference: When you think of a premium sedan Hyundai’s Genesis probably does not come to mind, but perhaps it should. It has plenty of pep, enough features to keep a pre-teen busy, and a comfortable and accommodating interior.

By The Car Family
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Hyundai’s Santa Fe is a pleasant surprise with excellent interior components, a host of technology helpers, the availability of a third row of seats, and low long term costs making this an ideal family vehicle. The CUV category of vehicles is one of the most competitive in the industry as companies as diverse as Porsche and Fiat offer alternatives to tempt consumers. Hyundai has done well in this segment and the new Santa Fe is extremely competitive in both price and features. Indeed, it has been rated very highly in head to head competitions with only more expensive models rated higher.



Dad’s view: The base four-cylinder engine is adequate, but we much prefer the turbocharged four-cylinder engine’s acceleration, although the gas mileage isn’t stellar with 20 mpg in mixed driving being our average. The six-speed automatic transmission is standard and is excellent. The ride is compliant, steering feel is quite good and the brakes have a satisfying feel. Scores for Korean made cars have improved dramatically in recent owner quality reviews and the significant warranty provides comfort for those who have been reluctant to try this marque’s offerings. This model is going to be a concern for the competition with exceptional pricing and value. With it performance and equipment it is nearly unbeatable save for the humdrum fuel mileage. Even with the abundance of players in the crossover utility class (CUV), the Santa Fe is a standout and the turbochared 265-hp, 2.0-liter inline-four is quite capable. The 3.3-liter V6 engine that produces 290 horsepower is a worthwhile consideration for those that use the 5000 pound towing package. All wheel drive is an option. This Hyundai is compelling choice as it offers the ability to travel to the mountains, seashore, desert or just go shopping in quiet luxury that one does not expect in a vehicle with a starting price in the mid-$20,000 range. Adding to that allure is that way it easily handles chores whether it be dropping of the kids at school, bringing home do-it-yourself items, or going out to dinner.

Mom’s view: An impressive interior with easy to decipher controls, good forward visibility, and comfortable seats make the Santa Fe very user friendly. The position of the sideview mirrors, however, can block your view of pedestrians. The second row seats are ample, but the third row is quite small as it is for most SUVs in this class. Cargo space is limited and so it is good that the Santa Fe’s seats are easy to fold down to carry larger items. I would highly recommend the rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring and navigation with an eight-inch touch screen. You can open the power liftgate with the key fob making it much easier to use as part of the must have Premium package that even includes lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and rear window shades among other goodies. Safety wise you the Santa Fe standard equipment includes a vehicle stability system, traction control, seven airbags including a driver’s knee airbag, four-wheel disc brakes and ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, hill-start assist control, downhill brake control and a tire pressure monitoring system. Crash scores were very good, but from a mommy standpoint the Santa Fe is a vehicle I would want to carry my family as it does not shortchange safety.

Young woman’s view: You must order the $4,350 Ultimate with heated and cooled front seats, parking sensors, memory seats, and a larger touchscreen display screen. The center stack is well organized and the ride is much improved over previous models. However, this isn’t a canyon runner. There are faster compact utility vehicles, but none really have offer the combination of ride, performance, and value. It is quiet, conventional looking, and doesn’t attract unwanted attention. Getting in and out when wearing a dress is not a problem and the controls are easy to reach and activate even if you have longer fingernails. The rear liftover is a bit high for me, but the automatic rear hatch negates any problem related to reach.

Young man’s view: Bluetooth and a USB port are standard as well as a very clear rearview camera. Other standard features include alloy wheels, foglights, a windshield wiper de-icers, cruise control, heated front seats, a 40/20/40-split sliding and reclining second-row seat and a 50/50-split flat-folding third-row seat. Also standard are Hyundai’s telematics system and a six-speaker audio system with CD player, satellite radio, HD radio, USB/iPod integration and a 4.3-inch touchscreen display. I would recommend a close look at the many technology options available on the Santa Fe including the really nice 12-speaker Infinity audio system. This vehicle is surprisingly interesting even if it isn’t the sexiest CUE on the block.

Family conference: If you are looking for a lot of car for the money, the Santa Fe and smaller Santa Fe Sport are must drives. The cabin is very nice, almost elegant, and the menus and functions are intuitive and fast reacting. Putting these traits together in a price range that is thousands under most competitors makes for a persuasive argument. No doubt Hyundai has put safety first with its Santa Fe models.

Mazda 3 Hatchback: A Fountain of Youth
by The Car Family

Highly rated, eager to please, and with an abundance of perkiness, the Mazda 3 hatchback is a hoot to drive. In other words, this Mazda is a mobile fountain of youth where even a short journey can be entertaining. What this funmobile offers is a chance to relive your youth when money was tight and a good bike could get you most anywhere. And, just as your first bicycle, it handles well, is great for short trips or longer adventures, and is easy to maneuver. In other words, Mazda has another hit on its hands using the basic principle of providing enjoyable transportation at an attractive price point. As for the Mazda 3 hatchback, you get all of that plus versatility and there is even room for your bike in the cargo bay.

The Mazda has a starting price well under $20,000, but you can expect a loaded version to push close to $30,000. For that price you get an 184-hp 2.5-liter engine with a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic, the Mazda Connect infotainment system with a touchscreen 7-inch monitor, a technology package and more. Just as importantly, owners are going to be able to enjoy a vehicle that is nimble with excellent driving dynamics, and an engaging character. The hatchback also gives exceptional fuel mileage that can reach nearly 40 mpg on the highway, and good resale value.
Mazda 3 Touring Hatchback

Mom’s view: Youthful, you bet, but the Mazda also comes with a reminder of the costs of exuberance with a bit of torque steer, a ride that can be noisy over unkempt roads, and some instrumentation that takes a while to master starting with the start/stop button hidden beneath the wiper stalk. Regardless, get the Skyactiv engine and chassis. They are well worth the additional cost with superior performance that brings the Mazda 3 alive. The interior is fairly luxurious, subdued and roomy with comfortable seats in front and 60/40-split folding rear seats. Safetywise our test vehicle had anti-lock disc brakes, stability and traction control, active front head restraints, front side and curtain airbags as well as a rearview camera and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts. Crash test scores were excellent, a rarity in the compact segment. Mazda has made finding the fountain of youth as close as your Apple wallet.

Dad’s view: The 6-speed manual in our test car was among the best of shifting of any vehicle The clutch was forgiving, and the extra 29 more horsepower of the Skyactiva over the standard 2.0 was well worth the two miles per gallon penalty at the pump. Visibility is excellent, but the available blind-spot monitoring is a must. Mazda also offers an option that stops the vehicle to prevent low speed frontal crashes. Our loaded test vehicle was totally enjoyable with gas mileage hovering around 30 mpg in largely urban driving. Although the 3 is more engaging with a standard transmission, I would recommend the automatic transmission with its Sport” mode if you face a daily commute and the heads-up speedometer display was a blessing keeping as the gauges are a bit small.

Young working man’s view: Don’t leave the dealership without a thorough understanding of how the rotary selection knob between the front seats works. It isn’t complicated, but it takes practice. The standard four speaker stereo is acceptable, but not exceptional. Mazda also has USB and auxiliary inputs. Carefully consider the many optional features such as Bluetooth, cruise control, navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, a sweet nine-speaker Bose sound upgrade, a moonroof, and a rearview camera to individualize your Mazda. I quite liked the idea of the hatchback and with interest rates so low it is possible to possess one for under ten bucks a day. That is my price point.
Young working woman’s view: There are six models, but my recommendation is to go with the Touring models. If you can afford it, the premium Grand Touring models have Mazda’s regenerative-braking system to improve fuel mileage, the Smart City Brake Support, a radar-based cruise control, and lane-departure warning. There was even active grill shutters. Regardless, this Mazda is always entertaining and ready for whatever challenge comes your way, whether it is a canyon run, daily commute, or vacation trip.. I liked the little, but the low height made it a bit difficult to enter and exit while wearing a dress. The 3 hatchback has a clean, uncluttered look with the variety of options and forms making it easy to individualize to your taste. I can see why it is top choice in the compact category.

Family conference: Recapturing your youth or just in the market for a well rounded, comfortable family vehicle, the Mazda four door hatchback delivers. Mazda offers less expensive versions of the 3 that might make a better choice if you don’t need the extra room of the hatchback. Our recommendations is that if you love to drive and still need room for the dog the 3 is for you. An amusing vehicle that brings out the youth in its owners. Add high resale, good gas mileage, and you have a practical time machine.

Subaru XV Crosstrek: Athletic, Adorable, and Affordable
by The Car Family
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The Subaru XV Crosstrek is a CUE mighty mite of a vehicle with a plethora of useful features that make it both handy and fun. The hatchback offers all wheel drive, over eight inches of ground clearance, an EyeSight active safety option that uses cameras and sensors to provide active cruise control, lane-departure warnings, and pre-collision braking. Essentially, what Subaru created a mini Forester. The smaller Crosstrek cost less, starting at $22,000 and gets an estimated 34 highway mpg. This handy CUE opens up access to the desert, beach, and mountains while still retaining its creature comforts. Want to test your endurance, with good driving habits you could make a 400 mile round trip without refueling. The Subaru has the ability to go off-road, handle inclement weather (it could happen) and still park in the smallest space. It is both affordable and athletic. Adding to that appeal are a variety of features for those who enjoy the outdoors with bike and ski racks, roof-mounted cargo carriers, electric outlets and handy dog hauling options.


Mom’s view: An interesting offering, the Crosstrek is ideal for the young at heart in terms of cost and utility. The ride is very compliant and stable with a nice heft to the steering. The engine creates 148-horsepower and Subaru uses a continuously variable automatic transmission to maximize the powerplant’s potential. A five speed manual is also offered. Although smooth and economical to operate, the four cylinder engine isn’t designed with high speed driving in mind. Safetywise, Subaru offers its EyeSight safety package with adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning and more. Very worthwhile. Overall, a very cute, comfortable and capable CUV for the young at heart. Well priced and cute.


Dad’s view: Subaru’s Symmetrical all-wheel drive provides reassuring grip at all times with very little fuel cost. The body makes no apologizes to it big brother, the Forester, even copying the lower body panels that help protect the exterior when traversing unpaved roads. There are three Crosstrek versions; the base, Premium, and Limited. Each model each adds a little more to the mix. Subaru offers two versions of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive in the XV Crosstrek. With the 5-speed manual transmission, the AWD system uses a viscous-coupling locking center differential to distribute torque. The Crosstrek is very car-like to drive and is quick on its feet thanks to an aggressive accelerator pedal.. The electric steering is responsive, headroom quite good, and the overall impression is one of being in a very comfortable and capable vehicle with excellent visibility. It may not be fast, but using the paddle shifters to keep the engine on boil is entertaining.

Young working male’s view: The Starlink infomainment is user friendly and makes the Subaru the equal to others in its class. New this year is the STARLINK Multimedia system that provide an array of music and information sources and a seven inch touch screen display. Sound, phone, and information are all handled with this application. If you live in the mountains or frequent colder climates, I would order the All Weather Package that includes heated seats and outside mirrors, plus a windshield de-icer. Other options worth considering are the safety laden EyeSight program, a moonroof, touch-screen navigation, and keyless entry and start. Since I haul a lot of equipment I would opt for the Crosstrek’s big brother, the Forester.

Young working woman’s view: A low entry height is appreciated when wearing a dress and the seats are quite comfortable. The Crosstrek can hold four adults and, when the rear 60/40-split rear seatbacks are folded, the Subaru yields a flat load floor with nearly 52 cubic feet of cargo space. There are some clever storage compartments that can hold a variety of small items, including a cell phone, and the rear hatch opens easily. Entry and exit are a little tight due to the size of the door openings, but once inside there is room to stretch out. The tilt/telescoping steering makes it easy to find a good driving posit ion. Subaru even has door pockets designed to hold drink bottles. The Crosstrek received good crash test scores and wraps you in a cushioned cocoon with a driver’s knee airbag, standard front side pelvis/torso airbags and side curtain airbags that offer front and rear outboard seat coverage. The airbags have sensors to determine front air bag deployment strength as well. Subaru claims that the roof is strong enough to hold at least four times the vehicle’s own weight should that be worth a bar bet. Interestingly, the Crosstrek has a brake assist system that detects how quickly the driver has pressed the pedal, and if pedal velocity exceeds a certain threshold, it applies pressure to increase braking effectiveness. Subaru even offers a system that cuts engine power when the brake and accelerator are pressed simultaneously. The Crosstek is for the young at heart.

Family conference: We have recommend Subaru products for several years for many reasons. First, the cost is very reasonable for all wheel drive vehicle. Secondly, the hatchback design makes it easy to load and very dog friendly with a low hop-in height. Thirdly, the gas mileage is excellent compared to similar vehicles. Finally, it is ideally suited to so many outdoor activities while still being a comfortable and frugal daily driver with an adorable, love me look.

Mazda 6: Sporty Family Sedan


The Car Family

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Mazda makes some of the best driving vehicles of any manufacture this side of BMW and they are well priced. The Mazda Miata is the best small sports convertible, the Mazda 3 the best compact sedan, and Mazda 5 and 7 are the best handling small minivan and crossover SUV. With all that wonderfulness the company decided to update its family sized Mazda 6 sedan. The result is a sensational looking sedan that is bigger and better in every way from the previous model. The downside is pricing that puts it squarely against established competitors from the US and Asia as well as some reported quality lapses. We found our test vehicle very tight with only a slight hesitation from the transmission when going uphill to mar a great week.

Engine wise we strongly recommend the 2.5-liter four-cylinder with its170 horsepower over the potent 3.7-liter V6 rated at 272 horsepower. The four has a five-speed automatic or six speed manual transmission while the V6 has a six-speed automatic. The four is plenty potent for most non-mountain driving and you can get an honest 23 mpg in mixed driving. The V6 is a bit gruff, but certainly offers more poke, but it is only rate at 20 mpg in similar driving situations as well as costing more to maintain.

Although the 6 now only comes as a sedan, there are a plethora of packages that can drive the price up over $10,000. The major decision to make with this Mazda is which of the seven trim levels to order plus other options from xenon headlights, to dual-zone automatic climate control and a must have blind-spot monitoring system. The satellite radio packages is terrific. During one stormy sessions we could even look at the weather radar for the area we were in as well as get weather warnings and traffic updates. If you live where inclement weather is a concern this option is worth it.

Mom’s view: Attractive, but at a price. Those in the backseat are going to complain about the sun hitting them at certain times of the day. This is one car that begs for after market window shadings. The side pockets on the door are too shallow, the cupholders aren’t snug enough, and the larger tire and rim combination can create a great deal of noise over some surfaces. The athletic ride is fun, but can be tiring on unkempt roads and I believe the sedan relies too much on its tires for its cornering meaning that it is important to test drive models with a variety of tires and rim sizes to make sure you get the right combination.

The low step in height of the Mazda makes it easy to enter, but leaving is a bit of a problem if you are wearing a skirt or aren’t as supple as you once were. The large trunk is a plus and the back seat splits and folds. Safety wise the Mazda comes with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, airbags in front and along the sides of the sedan and this helps with the excellent crash scores.

Complicated best describes the look of the interior, although the packages isn’t unattractive. The gauges have red back lighting and there is good legroom for all passengers. The interior trim is not up to my standards.

Safety wise the Mazda has a some noteworthy devises such as a stopper that keeps the brake pedal from moving rearward in case of an accident, a well isolated fuel tank, six airbags with side-curtain bags cover all the front and rear door glass and a very important rear seatbelt brace to resist cargo shifting in accidents. I have seen cars where a heavy item in the trunk came into the passenger area and caused considerable damage. Mazda’s system helps prevent such a tragedy.

Driving the Mazda constantly reminds you of it sporty intentions. Only the Nissan Altima with its sports packages can keep close, but that models does not have the attractive exterior the 6 promotes. The bottom line for me is that this model is the segment leader in looks and handling, but suffers from a pricing strategy that needs to be challenged by interested buyers. It is not as fuel friendly as the competition, but it certainly is more entertaining to drive.

Dad’s view: An interesting combination of looks and ride, the Mazda 6 clearly is hoping that performance and fun make it a sales success against the bland, and I mean bland, competition. The five-seater is comfortable to drive and ride in, but the real cachet of this model is its ability to be so many different vehicles based on the trim packages ordered. From the rather sedate acceleration of the base four cylinder engine to the rumble of the powerpacked V6 the buyer has the ability to create everything from a true sporty car to a luxury sedan to a gas sipper based on the option packages. This range also makes selecting one version over another a difficult choice and so test driving this Mazda a must. There are some concerns about Mazda’s reliability, but since that also applies to Toyota and Honda we would just make sure that the three-year or 36,000-mile limited warranty with roadside assistance is in the glove box.

Two notes worth considering with this Mazda is the absolute importance of considering the blind-spot detection option that offers both visual and audio warnings if you are turning into an occupied lane. The second option is the streaming audio. I liked the Mazda’s looks, but for a family I would go with the Mazda 5 minivan. It is really fun to drive and is easier to get in and out of, but, of course, offers none of the stunning looks of the 6.

On the road the Mazda is peppy and a bit noisy with the larger tires. The steering has a light feel with very little feel to it. Understeer is appropriate for a family sedan and the chassis is tight and responsive to sharp inputs. The brakes are acceptable, but what this Mazda stand out isn’t really the handling, but its distinctive look. You are going to feel a sense of pride every time you click the remote entry key fob knowing this beauty is yours.

Working woman’s view: The engines and transmissions are average. Nothing dramatic, nothing exceptional, and not really pushing the technology envelope, especially in terms of fuel economy. With that in mind you would think that the pricing would be a little more enticing, but it isn’t. In other words, when you shop for this Mazda bring a sharp pencil because I have noted some terrific deals. I liked the Mazda, except for the stop, start button that is a bit to trendy for me. I would strongly consider this model, but the Mazda 5 and 7 are priced in the same range and offer me the utility I need, despite not having the looks.

Young working male’s view: Sales are picking up at my open software based and so I might eventually be able to afford something has sharp looking as this Mazda 6. The stock sound system does okay considering it only uses a handful of speakers and I couldn’t find a subwoofer. The ride was decent and the trunk absolutely a joy to use with a low liftover and lots of room. Our test version did not have the newest audio features, although there is Bluetooth available. The steering wheel is loaded with buttons and the night lighting is good, but the interior still could use some more illumination. One of the most interesting items that literally catches the eye are the blue and read backlighting for the readouts. Generally, this is a good Mazda that offers a very distinct change from the others who have dominated these segment of auto sales. If you like its handling, ride and looks this is the car for you. If fuel efficiency the latest in electronics, and don’t want to make a statement with what you drive, look elsewhere.

Family conference: The Mazda 6 is what it always have been and that is a family sports sedan that appeals to those who hear that different drummer. For a list of all vehicle websites go to For links to all major manufacturers go

Box Cars: Perfect for Hauling Coal for Stockings

by The Car Family

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Looking for the best vehicle to haul that coal for the undeserving one’s stocking this holiday season? Well it might not be that simple since there are five main types of coal. Of these, Anthracite, which is an environmentalist nightmare, has significant carbon content, but high heating value. Bituminous, the most common, is used mainly for generating electricity and casts a large carbon footprint, too. There is also Subbituminous, which gives less heat, but also has less carbon, and Lignite, a younger coal with less potential.

So which coal to buy is the question, but equally of note is which box car to tote home the combustible sedimentary rock? Fortunately, this holiday season there are three fairly newly minted vehicles that provide good fuel mileage, room for four adults as well as a few bags of coal within their squared off exteriors. The box cars are the Scion xB the Kia Soul, and the Nissan Cube and they are as different as Bituminous is from Lignite despite their similar Lego-like looks.

Mom’s view: The most conservative of the trio is the fairly “spacious” Scion xB with nearly 70 cubic feet of interior space and a lengthy list of options from stereo upgrades to an integrated navigation system. There is an abundance of standard features, especially considering the mid-$15,000 price range. Acceleration is PCH brisk, which means it can get you to 40 mph in a hurry, but after that no rush. The engine is eager to please while still yielding above 30 mpg in mixed driving. The interior is quaint, but legroom is tight. Safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front active head restraints. Crash scores have been above average. Overall, this is a handy rig, but the bus driver type seat and steering wheel angle were obviously designed for a younger dudette.

Dad’s view: If you are into a bit more sport and a whole lot more fun the Kia Soul is worth a tug at your purse strings. Starting under $14,000, this cool coal hauler has a great seating position, good handling, although it can be harsh on tax deprived roads, and offers 53 cubic feet of cargo space or about room for 40 bushels. Besides its looks, the Soul has such standard features as a four-speaker stereo with CD/MP3 player, satellite radio, and auxiliary input jacks, as well as 12-volt power outlets. An enormous number of options can help give the Soul more soul, but definitely check out the glowing upholstery options and get the larger engine. The base engine and local canyons don’t make a good mix. Safety features include antilock brakes. stability control and front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A bit noisy, but with the excellent stereo it really doesn’t matter. Overall, a worthy utility machine that is loaded with value. However, a safety reminder is in order. Never, ever start the Soul after a member of the younger generation has driven it without first turning off the stereo first. You heard me, didn’t you?

Young guilty male driver’s view: Priced around $15,000, the Nissan Cube is an oxymoron, a round box. Every inch of this vessel has been exposed to the French curve and the result is, well, French like. Perhaps this is owing to the fact that Renault has controlling shares. Nevertheless, this is a compelling machine and practical, too. It has just over 58 cubic feet of cargo space and the rear hatch can be accessed through the side-hinged door. The interior is interesting, especially with the optional 20-color interior lighting and distinctive instrument panel. The easiest to park and maneuver, the Cube is full of fascinating features and doesn’t short change the buyer on safety equipment as front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, stability control and antilock brakes are standard. Cool, but the stereo is n’t as sick as the Soul.

Family conference: All of these diamonds in the rough are great coal haulers, but after the season is over they are also ideal for driving the kids to the therapist and still have room in back for the peace making dog in the process. And if you are into positive reinforcement and don’t cater to the Sicilian tradition of coal in the stocking, or perhaps want to substitute Carbone Dolce, these three boxcars are great fun and attract more attention than a Maria Shriver with a cell phone.

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Piaggio MP3 400: Not just a third wheel

By The Car Family

Call it a case of love at first site, but this is the coolest scooter ever. That feeling was reinforced with our inital ride as this $8700 trike is built with safety in mind featuring a range of technology that assuages one’s fears of driving a 540-pound vehicle in traffic thanks to Piaggio’s innovative use of two small front wheels instead of one to increase stability and braking.

The MP3’s 400 cc engine has liquid cooling with electronic injection that pushes out 34 horsepower, but isn’t quick to accelerate. If you want more scoot you should order the 500 cc model. If you want to save money the 250 cc is ideal, although freeway driving stretches its horsepower limit. We would stick to the 400 for most users as it makes sustained highway driving possible. For those who ride with a partner or in the mountains the 500 is a strong recommendation especially since it only costs about $300 more, but you must add an optional luggage carrier as there is very little storage room.


The MP3 400

Riding the MP3 takes a while to master as it handles differently than two wheeled bikes. It resists quick moves more and when cornering over rough surfaces there is a secondary bump as the second front tire hits the impediment. This impact tends to straighten out the bike, but it is easily compensated for and would only be a problem in competitive racing. For the street this Piaggio is pretty near perfect and safe.

While riding in the mountains I entered a high-speed corner and encountered gravel that had slipped onto the roadway. Normally this would be an invitation to disaster, but the Piaggio’s two front wheels, acting almost like a locking differential in a car, were able to find secure footing and the corner passed effortlessly. When one wheel slipped, the other found traction. Very reassuring.

Despite this noble handling trait, the most wondrous feature of the MP3 is that this scooter can balance itself. It is a marvel. When you come to a stoplight all you do is activate the leveling switch and the scooter remains upright. As you accelerate when the light changes the stability control automatically turns off. Even though there is a kickstand you can use the stabilizing system when you park your MP3, too. Just make sure the parking brake has been activated.

I found myself trying to rationalize the $8700 price for the 400 and it didn’t take too much to convince me that this is one trike that the whole family could enjoy. Perhaps not the whole family as Piaggio has clearly labeled the storage area as not for pets so there goes that idea.

Under the MP3’s seat is a large and easily accessible storage area that can hold two helmets and more. There is also a rear hatch that is pops open when you activate the key fob in much the same fashion as a car trunk. Very trick. Please note that the 500 does not have the optional rear “trunk.” On the other hand, opening the larger storage area under the driver’s seat takes practice, as you have to reach under the cushion and pull it up afer unlocking it by using the key fob or .pushing in the ignition switch. The latter takes practice. Regardless, there is more storage space here than on any scooter we have tested to date and when you add such other features as not having a clutch, foot brake, transmission gear selector, or kick-starter the MP3 easily ranks as the simplest scooter to operate.

Very Large MP3 Cargo Bay

There are some negatives. The windshield is a bit too low and so a great deal of wind buffets you at speeds over 40 mph. Since you sit upright there is no escaping the wind stream, as it is very difficult to lean forward due to the short driver’s seat. A taller shield is advisable for high-speed use, but would undoubtedly cut down on the scooter’s estimated 92-mph top speed. The turn signals don’t cancel. This is a major annoyance as a small flashing green light in the console is all that reminds you that they are activated. As well, the glass covering the gauges is at an angle that does little to prevent glare and makes reading the information difficult with polarized lenses and/or bright sunlight. The MP3’s “mode” button is unneeded as all of its functions, temperature and trip odometer could be placed where the speedometer is and a large, digital speedometer could occupy its niche in the center of the console. Placing the turn signal switch where the mode button is would make it much easier to activate than its current position low on the left hand part of the handle bar. A grab handle to pull the seat up to gain access to the storage bin underneath would also be appreciated. The night lighting is adequate with good side illumination, but there is a dark shadow in the center that is disconcerting.

Very Limited MP3 500 Storage Space

Other concerns are smallish rearview mirrors, indicator lights that should be LEDs, a lack of a good seal on the rear storage area, and not enough leg room for taller riders. Of these the latter is my only real complaint about the MP3. The passenger did not have these complaints, but did note that under braking the seat surface was a bit slippery.

On the plus side the gas cap is hidden under a cover and is controlled by pushing the key into the ignition switch and turning it. The cover is centered between the two foot rests and is ideally located. If you spill any gas it does not ruin the finish of the bike and there is even an overflow pipe that directs the precision fluid to the ground. Very nice touch as is the light in the cargo area. There is also a clock and a lockable helmet flange on this very deluxe scooter.

Under the unique bodywork is a single cylinder, liquid cooled, powerplant that uses electronic port injection to squirt unleaded fuel through the four valves and move the hefty scooter along at a steady rate through a drive shaft. It is not fast, but the 400 keeps up with traffic thanks to Piaggio’s CVT unit that distributes the power to the 14-inch rear wheel. A nice feature of the MP3’s design is that the air pressure in all the wheels can be checked without removing any body parts. Braking, which is very good, is handled by disc brakes on both front wheels and a third disc for the drive wheel.

MP3 500: Not Just Another Pretty Face. Notice black windscreen


Not a Pretty Face

The real story here is the front suspension. The front wheels are synchronized to provide stability thanks to the cast aluminum arms and hinges attached to the central tube with suspension pins and ball bearings. Forget the explanation, it works is all that is important.

Driving this scooter requires the ability to relax. The MP3 likes to go straight and even tries to ignore your initial attempt to turn it if you treat it timidly. In skilled hands this Piaggio is terrific fun and you can lean it into a turn far more than any scooter that I have ever tested. The MP3 would be great in a trick rider’s hands as its extra stopping power makes it possible to lift the rear end off the ground and its balance and stability make any type of extreme riding simpler. I can even envision some dishonest cad disabling the five-mile per hour limit on the upright stabilizing mechanism and doing endless tricks while it politely goes straight down the track. Of course, that would be very wrong.

The MP3 gets the looks from all ages. Unfortunately, some people judge by appearances and they find the Piaggio’s Darth Vadarish front look strange instead of futuristic. Too bad that they don’t understand that beauty is more than skin deep. This is a scooter for those who like the idea of driving a safe vehicle with better braking, handling, and storage than more traditional bikes.

Family conference: The MP3 comes in a variety of colors, but looks most fearsome in black. The seats are also black and quite comfortable, albeit they could be longer for taller riders. The muffler is too low and can scrape if you lean into turns aggressively, and the three-gallon tank could be enlarged for longer tours. The awkward ergonomics become less of a problem as you grow familiar with this motor trike.

The bottom line is that we would buy this scooter it is that good even if we don’t know about build quality, resale, service costs, or what futuristic scooter Honda has waiting in the wings. We also realize the declining dollar might make parts expensive, but for us this is the most comfortable, easy to drive, and easy to love scooter made. The fact we got nearly 70 miles per gallon just adds to the fun. Now, if we can just learn to live knowing we can’t smuggle a cat into the enclosed storage bin.

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