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

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

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

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

A link site to manufacturers who sell cars in America

A listing of vehicle websites worldwide

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

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

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

Toyota Venza: Pretty Practical

by The Car Family

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This new and very different Toyota has a place in the driveway for those who find the Highlander too tall, the Lexus RX too expensive, and the Sienna too vanny. For a starting price of $26,000 you can order a vehicle that is not only difficult to categorize, but one that is difficult to evaluate. The reason is simple, this is a very large crossover with a Lexus like feel and yet it is noisy and ponderous. Indeed, this was not our favorite Toyota. The huge tires created a steady hum, the very expensive luxury option package was overly complicated and the rear seats did not fold flat and you even had to remove the headrests to get them to fold at all.

The Venza feels big even though it is the same size as a Camry, abeit lower, and is the same width and about the same price as a Highlander. In other words, it is high, wide, and and weights nearly as much as the Highlander. Interestingly, it also has a larger turning radius with the Venza needing a vast 39 ft. to turn, which makes it difficult in tight parking garages. You really need that optional rear view screen when you buy the Venza due to the poor visibility to the back and sides.


There are two engine choices, the best being the 2.7-liter four-cylinder that provides an ample 182 horsepower with real world gas mileage about 23 mpg. The 3.5-liter V6 makes 268 hp and you can expect about 21 mpg, but if you order the all wheel drive model go with the larger engine. With the 17 plus gallon tank you can easily go over 400 miles on the highway with either engine.

Cargo space is 70 cubic feet while the Highlander gives you 95. What we are tying to say is that the Highlander is more car for the money, and you have the optional third row of seating. However, the Venza is sleeker, lower, and has a much better interior. We think it should appeal to those who find the Camry to common and the Highlander boring. We don’t think it is going to be a big seller, but its looks appealed to a lot of people and they may be enough to justify its success.

Mom’s view: I did not like the poor visibility and the large turning radius. This is not a car for city dwellers who don’t have their own parking spaces. You sit high, but you can’t see the Venza’s front end. The GPS is not the best and we found it difficult to use, and the stereo and the dual-zone HVAC controls require patience to master. The screen is easy to read, but the map symbols are too small and the whole thing is overly complicated.

Driving the Venza, even with the V6, is dull. The brakes are soft, the handling soft, and the acceleration is soft. The road noise from the 20 inch tires is tiring. Essentially, this is a Camry station wagon and yet the Camry is much more responsive. But the Venza interior, ah, the interior. It is lovely. There is a center console that provides for all types of storage and the shifter is high and easy to reach. However, there isn’t much feel to. You can easily carry five adults in comfort and the Venza is loaded with standard equipment. The base model includes 19-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power driver seat, 60/40 rear seat, auto-dimming rear view mirror, universal garage-door opener, cruise control, trip computer and a stereo with CD changer and auxiliary audio input.

Nevertheless, there is an abundance on options on the Venza that are mostly grouped into packages. I highly recommend the power tailgate and rear view camera. The HID headlamps are above average and the sound system may appeal to some with its 13-speakers and Bluetooth and satellite radio. Those who want to stupefy their children by having them stare at a movie while traveling can order the rear-seat DVD entertainment system.

Safety wise the Venza comes standard with four-wheel anti lock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and front-seat active head restraints.

The new Venza looks great, but it wasn’t my cup of tea due to its ponderous driving feel and lack of crispness. If you are coming from a SUV you will probably feel right at home.


Young working woman’s view: An interesting vehicle and one with appeal in its appearance and utility, the Venza, nevertheless there is a lot that needs more thought. For example, the optional 10.2 inch screen for the flip-down DVD player blocks the rear view mirror. The electric power steering feels disconnected and the Venza requires a very large turning radius. If you use the wireless DVD player the signal can interfere with the stereo radio volume. The middle rear seat needs more padding and the air conditioning/heating ducts are placed so that the steering wheel intercepts the flow. The center console has the transmission shifter mounted near the dash and this leaves lots of room for cupholders, iPods. There is even a special compartment for MP3 players and the like. Despite all the room for storage, there is no handy space for your purse as there was in the early model RX. Indeed, that model remains the best use of interior space of any vehicle we have ever tested.

The noise from the large side mirrors and large tires creates a din at highway speed and the seats aren’t that comfortable for me. I think larger people would enjoy them more. The Venza does not isolate you from the feel of the road although large bumps are clearly felt.

Finally, the Venza, despite its size, does not have a third row of seating. For that you need to go to the Highlander. The good news is that space can be put to good use for hauling practically anything this side of a sofa/chesterfield,couch,davenport and it even enables backseat passengers to recline their seats. There are 70 cubic feet of storage in back and the floor is level when the rear seats are folded down.

I would not buy the Venza for three reasons. First, it has large blind spots and is not easy to park. Secondly, the brakes and steering feel are too soft. Finally, it is attractive inside and out, but the pricing with the options I like push the cost way past that of a RAV 4, which holds more and gets similar fuel mileage.I also think that the speedometer font is too small.


Young working male’s view: I just didn’t find the stereo system up to snuff. The controls for the air conditioning and heating could easily be simplified, and you really need to remove the rear headrests and make sure the optional rear seat monitor is up or your limited rear mirror vision is even more limited. The wireless system works well, since I work making some of the lowest priced American open source computers and servers for I wonder why no computer input port?

The large tires look good, but they are going to cost a bundle to replace and they are not quiet riding. Here is my thumbnail about the Venza; stick with the basic model, engine, front wheel drive, skip the options except the automatic rear door closer and rear view camera and drive carefully. It is good looking, handy, and won’t cause you to lose any points off of your driver’s license.

Dad’s view: The Venza and the Saab are two of the few cars that cater to pets. You can order a rear hatch pet ramp for easy loading and unloading, a leash tether for securing pets in the vehicle, a pet booster seat with harness, a first/second row or cargo area pet barrier, pet seatbelt buckles and rear seat zip line-style harnesses as well as waterproof and removable hammock-style seat covers for this Toyota. That says it all about the Venza. A fine suburban commuter for family and man’s best friend. It won’t challenge or offend you. Sort of pretty, but certainly practical.


There are two engine choices, a new 2.7-liter, 182-horsepower inline-four and a 3.5-liter, 268 horsepower V-6. The base engine is adequate, except for those Venza’s with all wheel drive. For that model step-up to the V-6. Towing limits are 2500 pounds for the four-cylinder and 1000 more for the larger powerplant. In either case the six-speed automatic transmission is excellent.

The major drawback to driving the Venza is its handling. It is very vague and the use of large tires does little to improve it cornering, but harshens the ride. The brake feel is adequate, but I would like more action early on when depressing the pedal.

No doubt this is a great grocery getter and the high sitting position, wide doors, and easy entry and exit height make it a natural for both families with young children and older folks. In other words, for those usually not needing to push the speed limit. Other than that this is a great car/wagon/crossover/SUV.

Family conference: The Venza draws a fair amount of attention and is price well. Thus it has the earmarks of another success for Toyota. It does have shortcomings, the worst of which is the lack of visibility and the noise from the engine, tires, and side mirrors. By the way, we all loved the large size of those mirrors and were very willing to turn up the stereo a bit to cancel out the wind noise. The Venza may not be easy to classify, but for many it is going to offer the best combination of fuel mileage, cargo capacity, and reliability. You might also consider the Subaru Forester, the Nissan Murano, and the Ford Edge. Or, Toyota’s own RAV4.

Most Reliable Vehicles

By The Car Family


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

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

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

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

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

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

Porsche continues to suffer, according to owners

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

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

Small Cars

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

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

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

Luxury Cars

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

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

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

SUV Rankings

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

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

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

Hummer Owners Rank them Lowest

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

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

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

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

Live Healthier: Buy a Safer Vehicle

The Car Family

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Want to live longer? Don’t buy a large SUV or pick-up truck or used vehicle without a full compliment of safety features. Buy a new family sedan which weighs at least 3000 pounds. You don’t have to shy away from high performance machinery, but at the very least take a professional driving course with it. Finally, do your homework. In other words, this article could be the most important reading you do short of a pre-nuptial agreement or that Nigerian email offering to share the wealth.

The crash statistics are overwhelming. In 2005 there were nearly 45,000 people killed in vehicle accidents or about one every 12 minutes in 2005. The majority of these accidents occurred within ten miles of the home and driver negligence was the cause. The most dangerous accident is a side impact one, which is the most common cause of injury. Side airbags are a must. You might try to lobby for all vehicles to have bumpers the same height so in side crashes the bumper does not override the steel beams in the door. Data reveals that driving while using a cell phone is more dangerous than driving drunk so get a hands free unit. In addition, remember that large Hummers, Lincoln Navigators, and Ford Excursions all weigh over 6000 pounds and are illegal to drive on many residential streets and some older highways so owning one could be safer because they might not legally be able to leave the owner’s garage.

So what is the safest vehicle? There are four factors to consider. First, understand that the larger the vehicle that more difficult it is to control. Large SUVs and pick-up trucks may be safer in an accident with a smaller vehicle, but are much more likely to be involved in a single vehicle accident due to loss of control. SUVs and pickups have more than double the chance of rolling over, according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, and have a higher fatality rate than cars in the same weight category. While large SUVs and pickups may be at an advantage in multi-vehicle accidents, they are involved in over 40 percent of all fatal single vehicle accidents. Putting an inexperienced driver in large SUV is an act of faith rather than logic.

Next, do your homework. There are crash test scores generated by the government and insurance industry that must be checked and are readily available online. Following that buy every safety related option. Saab and Volvos, for example, come with whiplash protection systems. Cadillac, for one, offers lane departure warnings and a system that warns the driver when a vehicle is in the vehicle’s blind spot. Mercedes and others offer knee airbags and several manufacturers offer side air bags for rear passengers. And make certain you order the electronic stability control that helps prevent rollovers.

Finally, look for the vehicle’s ability to avoid accidents. Good handling, braking, and visibility are vital. The latter should not be neglected as the rise in ownership of SUVs has resulted in over 2400 cases of children being run over or backed over.

With all that in mind here is a list of vehicles that offer excellent safety features, have good crash scores and good handling. Be advised that not all the 2007 vehicles have been evaluated and so this data is based on earlier models. Our recommendation for the “healthiest” cars in the large car category are the Acura RL Audi A6, Buick Lucerne, Chrysler 300 C/Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus, Lexus ES 300, Lincoln Town Car and LS, and the Volvo S80, wagons and convertibles. The Lexus would be our choice here, but the Ford is a very good family vehicle. The Volvo wagons are ideal replacements for SUVs and are loaded with safety features.

For midsized cars the Audi again is a good choice as well as the Acura TL, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Element, Subaru Legacy and the underrated Saab 9-3. The Saab convertible is as safe a drop top as they make. Subaru’s Impreza is also a good small car. Subaru’s Forester and Honda’s CR-V were also cited. The Volkswagen Passat, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima also had high scores. Of these we like the Saab best with its perky performance and handling, but the gas mileage and roomy interior of the 2008 Accord make it attractive and the Malibu is a bargain.

Minivans from Honda, Kia, Toyota, Mazda, and Hyundai have earned top honors and there are a lot of midsized SUVs to consider. Those from Acura, BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes, Saturn, Subaru, Toyota, and Volvo are rated well. We always like the way the small BMW X3 handles, but the new Saturn and Ford Edge are excellent values and Kia minvan is a bargain. The Lexus RX would be the top pick in the SUV category.

Other vehicles that are worth a look are the Lexus IS, Volkswagen Jetta, Passat, and Rabbit/Golf, and the Honda Civic. The Honda is good, but if you can afford the IS go for it. On the other hand, we are thinking of ordering the Jetta diesel wagon for our fleet next year.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published its list of death rates by vehicles collected over four years. The safest were the Chevrolet Astro, Infiniti G35, BMW 7 Series, Toyota 4Runner, Audi A4, Mercedes E and M-Class, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Lexus ES 330, Lexus RX 330, Toyota Sequoia, Honda Pilot, and BMW X5. The highest death rates were recorded for those in a Chevrolet Blazer, Acura RSX, Nissan 350Z, Kia Spectra, Pontiac Sunfire, Kia Rio, Chevrolet Cavalier, and Mitsubishi Eclipse, among others. Note that all the latter models have been replaced or redone since this data was published.

Family conference: The top choices from The Car Family in selecting a safe family car would be the small Saab, large Volvo sedan and wagon, BMW, Chevrolet Malibu, Subaru, Lexus RX and ES, Audi sedans, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry. We have high hopes that the new Volkswagens will soon be added to this mix.

A healthier life style could be as simple as exercising your credit line.

Insurance Institute for Traffic Safety

National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration

Convertible or Station Wagon: Two Good Saabs

The Saab SportCombi and convertible are both safe bets. They don’t throw much new your way this year and they don’t scrimp on the safety features either. In other words if you like Saabs you are going to like the new models. If you don’t like Saabs you don’t what you are missing in terms of solid transportation and prideful production standards. We have owned Saabs in the past and found them ideal in every way from exceptional fuel mileage to a ready to play attitude. What we didn’t like about them was the expensive maintenance costs for parts.

Outside of a few new colors the on the SportCombi 4-dr wagon and convertible there are few changes. You can order the base model and get a turbocharged, 210-hp 4-cylinder engine or upgrade to the Aero with a

250-hp V6. You can get an automatic or stick shift and we recommend the latter if you want any performance. The smooth shifted automatic smothers the performance of the base engine.

Standard safety features include ABS and traction, antiskid control, front side airbags and curtain side airbags, active head restraints, four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and a solid chassis. The convertible has front side airbags. The convertible also has a pop up rollover bar. The past crash testing has revealed outstanding scores.

Mom’s view: I love the convertible. I have never had so many people make positive comments about a vehicle. Perhaps it was the light blue color with a tan top, but every woman gave this Saab the “I wish I owned one” look. It is different and it is cute and doesn’t suffer the same old look syndrome. This is the one to own.

The SportCombi just didn’t have enough room, but it was a great handling wagon with just enough poke to make it playful. The front wheel drive does not have any torque steer with the automatic, but you have to prod the slush box to convince it you’re serious about acceleration. It is an excellent transmission for the mild mannered. Since General Motors owns Saab it shares a few chassis components with the Chevrolet Malibu, Pontiac G6, and Saturn Aura.

The power fabric top works well and has a nice large rear window to help with the continual problem that all convertibles have and that is impeded vision to the side due to the large C pillars. To this end the Saab could have larger rear view mirrors. The Saab has a reported 0.28 coefficient of drag which is exceptional and helps with fuel mileage in the 25 mpg on premium range.

You can get five people into the wagon, but four is all that the convertible is willing to hold and those in the rear seat aren’t going to have much toe room. The seats on the wagon fold down with a 60/40-split and you get a level storage area when you do.

The interior is dark, but highly user friendly. It curves around the driver and has such unique features as a night panel button that turns off all the interior dash lights except the important ones to reduce eyestrain when traveling at night. The gauges are green and are easy to read. The ignition key is in the center console area and is typical Saab meaning that it is difficult to use, but they have a safety reason for placing it there. (It won’t hit your knee in an accident as dash and steering column units might.) As well, a cupholder that folds out of the dash is still a unique feature, but at least this one is useful, but terribly fragile. Leather seats are standard in the convertible, although we much prefer cloth in open car tops due to the issue of sun damage to the cowhides and the pain of sitting down on sun burnt leather while wearing shorts. I have learned over the years to always fold the front seats forward when leaving any convertible on a sunny day to avoid this searing experience.

Driving wise the Saab convertible is as solid as a Porsche and much more reliable. The top is well insulated and the cornering and stopping are first rate. The SportCombi is a bit more stable and the ride is quieter due to the solid roof. Both models have the adequate 210-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that provides 221 pounds-feet of torque. The optional engine features a 250-hp, turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 that produces 258 pounds-feet of torque. I prefer the four cylinder, but if you like performance the V-6 is a must drive. The turning circle is a bit large. Handling wise the Saabs can easily stay with the competition from Audi and BWM, but alas, it does not have the nice steering feel or brake feel of those two.

The convertible Saab used what they call a “Ring of Steel” to reinforce the chassis and body to compensate for the lack of a hard top. The result is a very stiff chassis, but more importantly it offers additional safety. Even the seat belts are attached to the seat frames for more crash worthiness. You can also order the optional OnStar that I recommend highly to all women drivers as it provides access to help at all times.

The SportCombi is not supposed to be called a station wagon, but a hatchback. You might want to note that the old version of the 9-3 produced until 2002 still generates new car money because of the hatch back design and its great utility, performance, and fuel mileage. The SportCombi gets LED-lit tail lamps and an integrated roof spoiler. As in the convertible there is some turbo lag and this is magnified with the automatic transmission. Nevertheless this is a great car on the highway. There is a modicum of noise, but you feel like you are in total control at all times. If you can wait a split second for the turbo to come online you will never need to use the manual shifting features. The SportCombi can easily do what a SUV can without the inherit ant dangers of these high riding vehicles.

Overall these are two great cars with a rare combination of practically, safety, exclusivity, and a fun to drive factor. Make mine the convertible anniversary blue with a tan top and let the sun shine.

College going male’s view: Nice looking, easy to park, and unique are what I liked about the Saab convertible. The rear seat room in both is limited with a tall floor hump taking up legroom. I still don’t know why this is occurring in a front wheel drive vehicle. The only thing that would prevent me from owning one is a lack of dealerships and poor resale. However, I have noticed that most Saab owners don’t sell them anyway, and the lease rates are so good that it is almost impossible to ignore.

The suspension has struts, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar in front with a multilink set up in back aided by coils and an anti-roll bar, too. Saab claims that its convertible is three times stiffer than the previous model and it feels that way. Nothing seems to shake it and the only a slight quiver through the steering wheel lets you know you have hit a significant pot hole or other road irregularity.

The stereo isn’t very good in either car and reception is only adequate. The head unit is difficult to work in a hurry and the fact that both AM and FM stations can be co-mingled makes it even more confusing. You get a CD player and an auxiliary audio input as well as a very good information center to keep track of issues such as miles to empty. If you opt for the optional stereo and information units you can get an in dash six disc CD changer and a GPS nit with a good sized 6.5 inch monitor. The Bose stereo is significantly better than the base model.

The side view mirrors on the convertible are too small for a vehicle with such large C pillars and the car always seems to be a tad slow to respond to accelerator inputs. However, the automatic soft top is really good. It looks great up or down and the road noise is far less than would be expected. Of note is the fact that the Saab is actually longer than the Toyota Solara and most other convertibles in the class giving the 9-3 a smooth highway ride. Unfortunately, rear seat room is still quite limited. The trunk has about 12 cubic feet of room, but the lowered top takes up about 4 cubic feet when it is lowered.

Even when driving at speed the wind isn’t that much of a problem and all the while you are averaging over 25 mpg on the highway using the cruise control. Options are a better stereo for $900, OnStar for $700 plus a monthly fee, and not much else short of the larger engine package. The $42,000 list price is probably too high considering the competition, but Saab is famous for the best lease deals in the business and I would recommend that. I can only conclude that the Saab convertible and station wagon are quality vehicles, albeit on the pricey side, with plenty to offer those that are looking for quality and fun in a safe vehicle. And, if you decide on the 9-3 Aero with its V6 turbocharged engine you are going to have a very fast vehicle indeed. Look for 0 to 60 mpg times in the low six-second range. As a single guy I can’t say enough about the babe magnet the Saab convertible is so be warned.

Working woman’s view: I love Saabs and these two only added luster to that belief. They are invigorating to drive even with an automatic transmission, get nearly 25 mpg on the highway on premium, and have a taut suspension that is very reassuring. I won’t consider the sportier and faster and more expensive Aero. One factor I felt good about was that Saab had cured the vehicles of the tremendous torque steer that had infected them for several years, especially the Aero version.

Driving the Saab you are immediately greeted with a feeling that someone took his or her time putting this vehicle together. Except for the stalks for the turn signals and windshield wipers everything else had a hefty feel. The Saab feels much more sporty than the Volvo and more eager to please. The seats are very supportive and a lever enables you to move them forward easily in the convertible for access to the rear seats. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, but not enough in my case. I like to sit high in a car and the steering wheel just doesn’t move far enough for me to see the gauges and still feel comfortable. I think tall people will have to make some compromises.

Both Saabs have very large glove boxes, but the center consoles are too small due to the placement of the ignition key. There is another problem with the Saabs that I have personally observed in my Saab ownership and that is the high cost of routine maintenance. Although I truly felt that my Saab was the most versatile and fuel frugal vehicle available, every time I took it to the dealer I was shocked at the price charged. If you want to buy a Saab, and everyone should at least test drive one, check out the prices at the dealership for maintenance and ask about specials.

Family conference: Two good Saabs, in fact, probably the best ones from the standpoint of ride quality, but they still must compete in a field dominated by all wheel and rear wheel drive vehicles that offer better handling. Despite this we highly recommend the Saab convertible as a must drive and the SportCombi as a great value if you can get the price point down a bit. We truly enjoyed these vehicles and only wish that more people could take the time to drive them. For a list of all vehicle websites go the and click on business.

Subaru Legacy, Saab SportCombi, SS Chevrolet

Cobalt: S Cars that Go

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Saab’s proven 9-5 SportCombi wagon, the hotted up Chevrolet Cobalt SS coupe, and the no longer just for winter Sabaru Legacy have two things in common. First, they have good crash tests scores, and secondly they have either a supercharger or a turbocharger that make them potent go machines,  abeit at increased price in fuel usage and cost. The loaded Saab lists for $40,000, the Sabaru reside near the middle of the $35,000 range, and even the well equipped Cobalt goes for  $23,000 with most options. All three of these cars averaged between 20 and 23 mpg on premium.

So why would anyone consider and of these S cars? Well, that is why The Car Family spent a week with each of them and, as usual, the family bickering was on high. First, we enjoyed driving these models and were quite amazed at how well they handled in daily driving as well as spirited sprees. What we argued about, on the main, was the pricing. We have owned both Saabs and Subarus and enjoued them despite high part costs. However, we had our reservations about the sticker prices. The Saab 9-5 in the current form has been around for years and even with a reported 1367 changes to the 2006 model it is difficult to justify a price tag of $40,000 even fully ladden with leather, power front seats, seat heaters for every seat, a 240-watt Harman Kardon audio system with an in-dash CD changer and satellite radio, and a  2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 260 horsepower with a five speed automatic or manul transmission handling the 258 pounds of torque. Saab also has attractive 17-inch wheels and lots of trim pieces.

Chevrolet’s Cobalt SS coupe was enjoyable, but at $23,000 with a supercharger that makes the 205 horsepower four cylinder engine lively, but not as fast as one would think, it is considerably more than the more base version. We were surprised at the quality and drivability of the Cobabt, expecpt for its large turning radius and shortage of interior storage, but we would more highly recommend that non-supercharged version of the SS with its 171 horsepower and save many thousand dollars as well as getting better fuel economy. The Cobabt has superior crash test scores.

Subaru, the legendary lion of winter, has gone upsacle with the newest Legacy wagon and sedan and so has the pricing in the mid $30,000 range. It  makes one question about there use in heavy winter conditions where Subaru’s superior all wheel drive system shines, but where salt, skidding drivers, hurried snow plows, and sanded roads can easily damage its shinny coat. We believe that the new Subaru is going to make inroads for those who want a quality vehicle regardless of where they live and who appreciate its uniqueness and good work habits. However, we believe that the non-turbo version is better. If you want to go fast and still spend less and catch yourself the mischeviously swift 300 horsepower STi Subaru sedan and delete the rear wing. We love it.

Mom’s view: These three remind me of suitors in my younger days. The Chevrolet Cobalt is the athletic little guy who was competitive and friendly, but not as polished as I would have liked. Call him JC Penny. The Subaru Legacy is the all around fun date who could surprise you with his manners, take you places you never visited before, a good worker, and wasn’t afraid to go out in the rain without a coat. Call him Lowes. The Saab is more sauve. It has good looks, but what makes him attractive is his uniqueness. He knows how to treat a lady and never fails to impress, but alas, he has expensive tastes. Call him Saks Fifth Avenue. My choice is the Saab 9-5. It is dramatic looking, unique and upsacle, comfortable to drive, entertainin, and gives you plenty of poke when passing. The Subaru is quite snazzy with a lot of features, but the automatic transmisison took the edge of the engine’s abuntant energy. As for the Cobalt, I can make that simple. It has a suprisingly good ride, but I see no need for the supercharged version. We tested the sedan with the 171 horsepower engine and were more than satisfied. If you are looking for a car that can give you a lot for your money think basic Cobalt.  On the negative side, I could learn to live with the Saab’s quirkly key placement between the front seats, but the upside down power window controls in the center armrest are another thing.

Dad’s view: The Subaru with a standard transmission and the turbocharged engine is awesome, friendly, and has a vast cargo hold that is easy to load. However, with the automatic transmisison the Subaru becomes more muted. It is still the class of all wagons and easily the best buy if you can forgo the turbocharged version and live with the quite satisfying non-turbo version. The standard all wheel drive makes it ideal for life where such features make life easier. The Legacy looks great, takes less filling, and has a fine ride. The Saab is just too expensive and they suffer when it comes to resale. Again, we would opt for the base Saab 9-5 and still have a safe, good handling, wagon that can move a family with ease. We still pine for our 1999 Saab 9-3 hatchback, which, of course, has developed fantastic resale value once we sold ours.

Young working woman’s view: The Saab is my selection. It is stunning, has exclusivity, and runs like a deer. You can make a mockery of the BMW set if you lower yourself to such macho actions, and it has a vast cargo area that is easy to load. Yes, it has questionable placement of most everything in the cockpit area, but that is part of its charm. Drive one. The Subaru is more of a work horse. It goes about its work without undue alarm, has a restful look, and eats up potholes and gravel roads with ease. If I didn’t live in a metropolitian area the Subaru wagon would be an instrucment of transporation and enjoyment.  As for the Cobalt SS coupe, it really isn’t that fast and the interior lacks sharpness. I found the Cobabt sedan a fine vehicle and underrated. The base car is good value and I think this is one of Chevrolet’s finest efforts.

Young college going male’s view: Only another year and I’ll be unemployed with a B.A. degree rather than being unemployed without one. As for my choice it is simple, the Cobabt SS with the supercharger is fun to drive, easy to shift, has adequate room for four and is easy to maintain. I didn’t find favor with the large turning radius and the rear wing constantly bothered my rear view, but we’re talking looks here. The Saab was nice, but a bit to prissy for my taste. The Subaru was most excellent with a sinister look and a sexy interior, but it just isn’t as much fun.

Family conference:  All of these S cars that go are much more expensive than the base versions and, although we understand forced induction enables manufactures to get more power out of less cubic inches, they do require premium fuel so be warned. Interestinly, all of these cars averaged about 23 mpg and all had above average crash test scores.That aside, each of these is a joy to drive. The family had no clear cut winner, but there certainly was an interesting bias as the women heavily favored the Saab and the men the other two. Overall, these are exceptional family vehicles, if you get the Cobalt sedan, and decidedly a must drive for families willing to leave the cocoon of mainstream driving.  For a list of websites go to and click on business.