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Most Reliable Vehicles

By The Car Family

 

For more reviews go to

http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/best-new-cars-for-2008/

For free educational materials go to

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/index.html

For a list of all vehicle websites go to

 http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

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.

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Coupons for teachers

By Alan Haskvitz

http://www.reacheverychild.com/alan.html

There are several sites that offer free coupons and other significant items for parents and/or teachers. Of course, many large stores offer coupons in the local newspaper, but many educators don’t realize that these same companies offer special online promotions. Simply do a web search for the company involved and its website can quickly be viewed for savings. This does include airlines and vacation related companies, too.

Remember that to use some sites you may need to register. I recommend you create an email address just for such online registrations. It makes it easier to check and separates your personal mail from other mail.

There are two types of coupons. The direct link site takes you to the manufacturer’s coupons and the coupon code site where you go through a “third party” to get the coupon. Some coupons are printable and some can be mailed to you. As always read the regulations carefully and take care before entering into any transaction.

History of coupons and related statistics

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Boxtops for education

You need to check this site every so often to see if a manufacturer is paying schools for box tops.

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This is a great site that features a variety of ways to search for coupons.

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You need to register, but this site has wide variety of coupons

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For groceries

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Pfizerch

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French

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Unilever

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Pillsbury

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Betty Crocker

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Nestle Site

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Coupons by zip code

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also use the site’s search engine to fine more free resources.

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Scion xB

For more reviews go to

http://www.motorists.org/new/carreviews/index.html

For educational resources go to

http://www.reacheverychild.com

You smile when you see a Volkswagen Beetle, you grin at a Chrysler PT Cruiser, but you openly laugh when you see the new Toyota Scion xB because, in a word, it looks like a Tonka toy. There is no question you are either going to love or hate this station wagon, but regardless, it is going to sell well. The reason is simple, it is priced well and has a very useful design and most people are going to take pleasure in the attention.

If you watch you option list you can be driving this Scion for $14,200 and get over 30 mpg and we strongly believe, excellent resale. In other words, Toyota has another winner in its stable, and this one is going to delight the all-new Scion dealer network because this little rig is a blank canvas waiting for some creative options. For example, Toyota lists as options some of the most unconventional items we have ever seen. You can load you Scion with illuminated cupholders, LED interior lights, bazooka tube subwoofer, satellite radio, carbon-fiber fuel door cover, special shift knob, cargo tote, sport pedal covers, mud guards, door sill enhancement B-pillar appliqué, and a rear spoiler to mention just a few. Add essentials such as curtain side airbags and front side airbags, remote keyless entry, and alloy wheels and you can pretty much be assured you are going to own an exclusive looking mass produced vehicle. Of course, if you order all those the list price is going to be at $20,000 so be judicious. All told there are about 40 options for the xB and Scion is said have a no haggle policy so what you read it what you pay. Some cavets when ordering the optional big subwoofer, it takes up a lot of storage room. In addition, the stereo reception is poor unless you get the satellite option, which is worth it.

Mom’s view: We tested the automatic transmission xB and found it plenty spunky at first thanks to the small tires and light weight. However, once the Scion is over 4000 rpm the acceleration ends and the engine groans and its time to think seriously about visiting your local tuner shop. We stopped at Autolinks Motorworks, 4961 Santa Anita Blvd, in San Gabriel, Calif. and were told even the more normal looking xA has drawn a barrage of customizers.

Despite the options, what I liked were the standard features. The xB comes with ABS; air conditioning; power windows, locks, mirrors and steering; a six-speaker Pioneer stereo with a CD player; a 60/40-split folding and removable rear seat; keyless entry; a rear wiper; rear defroster; a tachometer; and a ground effects kit as well as airbags.

What I didn’t like was its size. It is ten inches shorter than a Toyota Echo and people feel that since the Scion is small they can just shove you around in traffic. I used the horn extensively to no avail. I would pay extra for a louder horn. In fact, an air horn mounted on the roof would probably look great and give the bullies a clear message that they don’t own the road. Luckily, the Scion handles and stops quite well. And it comes well-equipped with active safety features: antilock brakes (ABS) with Brake Assist (which increases braking pressure in emergency situations) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (which apportions braking force to the tires with the most traction); Vehicle Stability Control (which attempts to restrain a vehicle from spinning out of control by adjusting the application of throttle and brakes); and traction control.

There were a variety of storage areas inside, including the usual glove box, and map pockets, and trays under the dash. What bothered me the most was the lack of good rear interior lighting when you were searching for dark items you dropped. Maybe this car is designed for younger eyes, but a more powerful interior lighting system wouldn’t hurt.

Overall, I liked the Scion and would recommend it to those who find its styling attractive. For a few dollars a month more I would prefer a more modest looking station wagon from Subaru or Volkswagen, but I would miss the attention the Toyota brings. A real plus is that I never felt I was driving a small car.

Dad’s view: I am way too old for this vehicle, and the Scion is selling well to those who are the proper age, 20 to 30. The reason is obvious, I don’t need the attention. However, every time I climbed inside I felt comfortable at home and eagerly tested the Scion with zeal. But, when I walked to the car I was always meet with the same look by those in attendance. You could read their eyes. They said, “What did your kid do wrong that caused you to take his car away?”

The Scion needs more power if it is equipped with an automatic transmission. The 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine has variable valve timing, but runs out of gusto after 4000 rpm.  It’s the same engine used in the Toyota Echo and creates 108 horsepower which is fine in city driving, but when passing or accelerating you need to plan ahead even thought the Scion weighs just 2340 and has 105 foot pounds of torque.

You can drive this Scion hard. It rides smoothly and is effortless to drive with good brakes. It’s no hot rod, however, so shifting into lower gears is needed for quick acceleration. Inside, it’s roomy and has a nice interior with controls that are easy to operate. The driver and passengers sit upright in chair-like seats and benefit from excellent visibility. As its looks suggest, the xB offers better cargo capacity than your average compact car.

Young working female’s view: This is a tall fellow. Its over 64 inches tall and offers an extremely roomy interior. It is uncomplicated to fit in a baby seat, don’t worry dad, and if you fold the rear seats down you have yourself 43 cubic feet of room. Forget the subwoofer if you want to haul things because it is placed right in the middle of the rear storage area.

In terms of appearance, there is little question this is a price leader. The interior is youthful and I found it very difficult to read the center-mounted gauges because of the poor lighting and the small numbers for the tach and fuel indicator. With an 11.9-gallon gas tank, you can go 300 miles, but we won’t try any more. I averaged about 28 mpg in mixed driving.

You can order the Scion with either an automatic-transmission or manual transmission, expect 0 to 60 mph speeds around ten seconds. However, with the gas pedal rigged to provide a lot of acceleration initially you feel you are moving faster. It does not take long to figure out that the feeling of speed quickly evaporates after 30 mph. Still, this is excellent for commuting, but not so hot for high speed passing.

There is no way that I would consider the Scion. Although the price is attractive, I would rather have the new Toyota Solara and drive a car that exhibits the appearance I want to display for the driving public.

Young working male’s view: I hope you got a chance to hear me at the House of Blues. Anyway, this is not my type of vehicle for only one reason, it is too trendy. I do appreciate what you get for the money. The car runs great and, except for the usual short wheelbase roughness over banged up pavement and low bidder highway potholes, the chassis does its job exceptionally well. If you want his car to handle better, the tires and rims need to be changed. I enjoyed driving the car and listening to CDs with the optional stereo and elaborate speaker system. But the radio reception was sub par except for the satellite stations which are worth the $10 a month extra fee.

Big trucks and side winds definitely alter your driving style as the square sides and lightweight conspire to make you well aware that you are piloting a small car. The good news here is that the Scion’s narrow stance leaves plenty of extra room in the lane so the gusts are unproblematic to compensate for.

The steering was very good; the brakes more than up to the task, and the interior surprisingly quiet. You have the feeling you are sitting high in seats that are a bit thin in the padding department. Visibility was well above average and driving in heavy traffic was only a problem when some large SUV was tailgating. I learned not to worry and just turned up the stereo and admired Toyota’s creativity.

Family conference: Scion plans on bringing out a coupe and perhaps a sedan later, but in the meantime, if the xB appeals to your sense of aesthetics we recommend you drive and buy soon because this is going to be a hit in some areas. What it is going to be like driving in the snow is another matter with its small tires and low ride height. Perhaps, in a few years, the Scion will come out with all wheel drive and it might appeal more to the snowbound. Regardless, this is a good vehicle, and a valuable one at the suggested base price. We would like to see the crash test results first, but we are sure that  Toyota has we spent a bundle to make sure the Scion is tough since a poor scores would be the only element that would hinder sales.  On the other hand you might want to wait until next year when a new, not so squared off version arrives. For all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click on business.

Buick LaCrosse

by The Car Family

For more reviews go to

http://www.motorists.org/new/carreviews/index.html

 Buick has made a better, ah, Buick. Nothing more, and nothing less. If you like Buicks, this is the best one. If you don’t like them this model isn’t going to get many consumers to leave their Toyotas, Fords, and Chryslers unless they appreciate its understated looks and familiar accommodations.

The good news is that there aren’t many flaws with this car. However, it isn’t going to create much envy with the competition for three main reasons. First, the engine is not fuel efficient despite its ratings. If you get 20 mpg you are probably doing well. Secondly, the room in the backseat both in terms of legroom and headroom are not generous. Finally, the lack of some features that we feel should be standard such as side airbags, are extra cost options.

Buick is a big seller for General Motors and it now firmly holds the ground between the Cadillac and the Pontiac. It does so resolutely with a fine record of build quality and customer service. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Buick model line has not resonated well with the younger buyers. Indeed, the average Buick owner is well past 65-years-old. Thus the LaCrosse has being designed to appeal to younger buyers and it just may with a sportier feel and energetic engine. Perhaps what might most make it most attractive to the youthful customer are a streamlined roofline and more shapely shape. Unfortunately, that makes maneuvering in and out of the front seats an exercise that requires a supple body, as you have to lower your body and duck your head at the same time. It is not a difficult move to master, but it definitely is not for those who are not flexible. For them we recommend our favorite Buick, the Park Avenue or, if you need even better value, the Rendezvous van.

Buick has made the LaCrosse in three trim levels, the CX, the more sporty CXS, and the luxury oriented CXL.  The CX is the price leader and comes with the 200-horsepower, 3.8-liter (3800) V6, a power driver’s seat, a stereo/CD, and OnStar. If you upgrade to the CXL you find yourself sitting on leather, looking at a more luxurious trim level, and riding on alloy wheels. The CXS offers Buick’s new 3.6 liter V6 that produces 240 horsepower and is definitely more youthful in ride quality. It has a bigger set of wheels and sportier suspension. For those who dread the thought of getting into a frigid car in winter, Buick adds an interesting option in the form of a remote starter. All you need to do is point it at the frost covered LaCrosse and it jumps to life with its very fast acting heater and defroster preparing the interior for your highness’s entry. There is even a good- sized cupholder for the required early morning coffee cup.

Mom’s view: I am always interested in anything new from Buick since it has an outstanding reputation for build quality, resale (http://www.nada.com) and reliability. So when the all-new LaCrosse was announced we pounced on the opportunity to test it out. It is certainly a better Buick, but whether it has enough going for it to capture sales from the competition is uncertain.

Someone at Buick should find out a way to shut the trunk lid without getting his or her hands dirty. There is no handle. In addition, when you use the remote to unlock the rear deck lid it does not pop open high enough. I also found the glare from the chrome strip that runs the width of the dash annoying as it is reflected in the side window where you constantly see it when checking the mirror. There is more that I found needed to be explained by Buick designers. The combination of small side view mirrors, and large doorframes create blind spot on both sides of car. The seats have a manual rake

adjustment, although the fore and aft controls are electrical, and the lever is awkward to reach, as it is located far back on the side of the bottom cushion. I also have no idea whose idea it was to make the interior trunk release so bothersome. You have to have the car in park and depress the door lock for a couple of seconds to open the trunk lid. This caused me much angst at the airport where I was cited by the police for blocking the pick-up lane since I had the car in park in a no stopping zone. Yes, I am fighting the ticket.

Getting in and out of the front seats wasn’t as easy as it was on one of my favorites, the Buick Park Avenue. The A pillar cuts into the entry space. Once inside the layout is clearly not cutting edge, but old world in appearance. You can order three across front seat seating so the LaCrosse can carry six, but it would be tight. The plastic wood trim is not badly done but it is so dark and brooding that it looks out of place with the gray interior of the test car.

The instruments were easy to read, but I had a major complaint about the windshield wipers. It rained a great deal on our test and even at the highest speed they could not keep up with heavy rainfall. I am not talking about torrential, just above average, and it struggled.

My greatest disappointment with the LaCrosse was its poor gas mileage. On a trip with the family onboard and the cruise control set at 75 through the desert we averaged less than 20 mpg. This same trip with the more expensive Toyota Avalon saw 27 mpg.  The new V6 engine in our test vehicle has ample scamper power, but I never felt its 240 horsepower was as enjoyable as the old 3.8 with the optional supercharger providing the poke.

Safety wise the Buick had front dual-stage airbags and OnStar. The problem for me was that unless you order the more expensive CXS model the ABS is an option and even on that model stability control system extra, as are full-length side curtain airbags and a reverse-sensing system. I would like to see all these types of safety features as standard equipment on a passenger vehicle. If family genes are indication though, this should be a very safe vehicle as its sister, the Buick LeSabre, was listed as one of the safest cars of all time.

The driver’s information center came with current weather, gas consumption, fuel range, and time on the road readouts that we were easy to understand. I was surprised to see a steering wheel that both tilted and telescoped and I liked the size of the wheel and how it felt. Other items I liked about the LaCrosse were the OnStar, the ease of which you could change the stereo controls and cruise control features. The heater was superior and the heated seats had two settings. Satellite radio is also available and highly recommended if you travel a great deal.

On the road I noticed that the rear view mirrors needed to be slightly larger to improve side visibility and that the ride of the car was quite solid and, should I say, a little BMWish in feel. The engine was strong in this front wheel drive model, but I didn’t notice any torque steer. The transmission works well, although I would have liked to see an overdrive gear to get that gas mileage where it belongs on long trips.

Overall, for the price of nearly $34,000 (US) I felt like the LaCrosse should provide me with a more exceptional interior and exterior appearance. I am a fan of the understated look, but for that type of money I would like a little more bling.

Dad’s view: The real news here is the double-overhead-cam 3.6 aluminum V-6 with variable valve timing that creates 240 hp and 225 lbs. ft. of torque nearly everywhere along it rev range above 3000 rpm. It is quiet, has good pick-up, and appears ready to take its place under the hoods of the new Buick line-up. However, as all The Car Family stated, the gas mileage wasn’t very good.

I was frankly surprised at the handling the LaCrosse provided. This Buick uses an electric Magnasteer system for its power steering that provided fairly good feedback and is easily the most responsive vehicle in the Buick line-up as it takes the steering angle and vehicle speed into account before adjusting the power assist. A fully independent suspension with front strut and a rear tri-link suspension give it a well-dampened effect, but nothing Buick owners would find objectionable. The ride is fairly quiet and the aluminum engine cradle helps keep the weight down to 3500 pounds. You can tow 1000 pounds, according to Buick.

The gas throttle has an electronic control that takes a while to get used to, as it tends to respond to initial inputs more dramatically than other Buicks. The acceleration is good to 60 mph, look for a time around eight seconds, and it has enough energy to easily conquer hills with a full family onboard. The four speed automatic transmission is an excellent unit, but it does need that extra fifth gear to enable the engine to loaf more at speed and increase fuel mileage.

Clearly, the LaCrosse is a step in the right direction for Buick and should quickly make aficionados forget the Century and the LaSabre.

Young working woman’s view: This is clearly a Buick in both looks and treatments. Buick has improved the silence in the interior with its “Quiet Tuning.”  This was accomplished by using more sound-deadening materials and a special Sandwich-construction steel panels that is said to reduce noise, and thicker carpeting. It works, but don’t do a back-to-back drive with a Toyota Avalon or you are going to be disappointed.  The interior look is an acquired taste, but there is nothing that would detract a potential buyer except for the dreaded chrome strip alluded to by my mother. It is not only a distraction, but out of place in this understated vehicle.

Driving the LaCrosse is quite easy. It responds well, gives you enough road feel, and the car has more than enough speed. The brakes are reassuring with little dive under emergency stopping. I found it easy to park and roomy inside. It would not be my first choice, but owning this Buick owning one would not be embarrassing either and I think that is a credit for Buick in its quest to reach the younger buying demographic.

Young working male’s view: My singing career is starting to bud. Just sold 200 CDs to Finland. Who says the Europeans don’t know good tunes. Anyway, this Buick is just not in my field of vision and so I give my time to my Grandfather.

Grandfather’s, not working and not interesting in working view: Didn’t like it. Looked like a new old car. There wasn’t enough room in back and getting in and out of the front seats had me holding on to the top of the car so I wouldn’t hit my head. It wasn’t all that quiet inside compared to the Toyota Avalon we just tested, but it was cheaper. You get what you pay for. I expect you read that before. The trunk lid was hard for me to close. My hand kept slipping off the freshly waxed paint and there wasn’t any other place to grab it. I liked the Park Avenue much better. It even looked slinkier.

I really enjoyed the XM Satellite radio. I was singing along to all the top bands from the 30’s and 40’s much to the chagrin of my protégé, Mr. Simple Thoughts. Sort of interesting that I learned electronics by building a crystal radio set and now you get hundreds of stations without any static. Just pay the money. Being a veteran of these tests, this is my second thanks to my hip-hop rapping grandson, I prefer the Sirius satellite offerings more.

Since I have owned a number of Buicks in the past, can you say Roadmaster, I think that this one is quite good for the younger folks. I just felt out of place in it. Maybe progress isn’t what I thought it would be.

Family conference:  Although we liked the more expensive CXS with its many extra features, we encourage you to look at the less expensive CXS model with it proven 200-horsepower, 3.8-liter (3800) V6 that meets the stringent Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) standards if you don’t mind the floaty ride. However, if you want the well-optioned CXS prepare to see a sticker price of $33,750 (US) for the heated seats, traction control, side-curtain airbags and XM satellite radio. Either way you get a much-improved Buick, but be prepared to battle that chrome strip reflection and learn to duck your head. For all manufacture websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/auto/index.html


Lexus RX 330 Review: The Best of Both Worlds

By The Car Family

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

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We own a Lexus RX 330 and are biased toward this product. That being said, this is perhaps the best SUV in its price range for handling, acceleration, and attention to detail. Being a crossover it uses the best features of the Lexus 330 sedan it is based on and the higher stance and utlity of a SUV. It makes our 1998 model appear almost ancient since the new model is improved in the three areas the earlier Lexus lacked and that was handling, acceleration, and cargo room. On the other hand, the earlier model has better front seat storage. Both get the same gas mileage, about 20 mpg in mixed driving and both offer pleasant and versatile driving experiences. Notable new standard features include a 40/20/40 split rear seat with slide and recline adjustments, a tire-pressure monitor, and 17-inch wheels. All of these are welcome additions and certainly worth the base price for the front wheel drive model and more for the all wheel drive set-up. We have never needed the all wheel drive option and question its value to those who don’t live in areas with notable inclement weather.

The new model’s major changes are the 3.3 liters engine, a smooth 5-speed automatic and about six inches of length mostly in the rear cargo area. You also get 140 more pounds to haul around. The options include front headlights that turn with the wheel and a multipanel sunroof with a larger opening than the regular sunroof that gives the RX a dinosaur like image. In addition, you can order 18-inch wheels, xenon headlamps, self-leveling air suspension with driver-selected height settings, laser cruise control designed to maintain a set following distance, a handy power liftgate, power tilt/telescopic steering column, rear DVD entertainment, rearview TV camera, voice-control navigation, and Lexus Link.Mom’s view: Always a pleasure to drive a product that feels so solid and responsive. I liked the range of safety features that included front side airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags and a driver knee airbag. Strangely, this model doesn’t seem to give the tipsy feeling the early models did when cornering. This may be attributed to the larger tires or, more likely, a tighter suspension setting. Regardless, the RX 330 is a better driving SUV.

That important issue out of the way, I would say that the new RX’s only notable competition is from the Honda MDX, and the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. The Lexus is nicer to drive than these models, but is not as off-roadable. We also liked the fact that Lexus has stated that they are going to bringing a hybrid version out in 2005 making this the first available luxury vehicle with this option. We compliment Lexus on this decision especially if it is as good as the Toyota Prius.

Although the RX is based on a Camry platform, it is definitely off-roadable. However, who would want to take one of these into the bash and bruise outback is beyond me as the Lexus has some of the best paint I have ever seen on any vehicle.

I also want to compliment Lexus on not placing its RX options into large and expensive packages as they did on the LS. On the RX you get more modest priced choices, abeit some have a strange combination of options. You can order the Premium Package that includes leather, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, roof rack, and moonroof. The Premium Plus Package adds a power liftgate, HID headlamps and a wood and leather steering wheel. The Performance Package includes all of the items in the Premium Package, plus 18-inch plated aluminum alloy wheels, air suspension, sequential shifting transmission, power rear door, HID headlamps that turn, and rain-sensing wipers. There’s also a multi-panel moonroof available that’s larger than the standard moonroof that is part of a option package and a navigation system that includes a rear-view camera. There is also optionals like laser cruise control and a rear-seat entertainment system. You can easily take your base model RX 330 and drive it’s price high up.Although our test car was far from loaded, I can recommend the laser cruise control if you travel the highways a great deal and appreciated the power lift gate and the great headlights. They made daily life with this Lexus much easier as did the tight turning radius that was a major problem with the older model.

The cabin is full of wonderful things to touch. The optional leather and wood steering wheel is easy to hold, the cruise control, light, and windshield stalks don’t require you to lift your hand and the dashboard lighting is the best. The GPS is easy to understand, although we had a problem when we just wanted directions to a city and didn’t have a specific address. This is one of the easiest systems to use and worth considering. There are a lot of look alike buttons in the center of the dash that must be learned because reading them is difficult in bright sunlight.

Of all the lovely things in this RX, perhaps the most appealing was the small touches that made you feel special. At night, the Lexus name on the doorstep plate lights up and the door panel storage areas have covers that pull out making it easy to get the smallest of items. The only item I found out of place was a gas warning light that was way too small to spot, especially at night.

Dad’s view: Lexus claims the RX 330 can get to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds from the 230 horsepower, 242 foot pounds of torque, 3.3 liter V6. Whatever, it is still a fairly fast vehicle for its class while still getting over 22 mpg on premium during highway cruising, The engine should be good for over 200,000 miles if the past record is any indication.

Basically, I am not a huge fan of SUVs because of their handling, gas hoggish nature, and limited side and back visibility. I am proud to say that the RX 330 has none of these traits. In fact, it rides as well as some luxury sedans over highways. Be warned, though, that this is not a nimble vehicle and the steering can feel slow to react when the road requires your frequent corrections. Visibility to the side is excellent with the best mirrors in the SUV business. The rear view is okay, but the small window hinders your vision immediately in back of the Lexus. It is clear that the Lexus engineers designed this for more cruising than bruising.
Braking is quite impressive with very little front dip, but we would strongly recommend you don’t overestimate the stopping distance because this is a two-ton vehicle when loaded. The RX we own gets about 20,000 miles between brake pad replacements due to the freewheeling nature of the transmission. We anticipate the new model to get close to that figure, although the new five speed automatic let us feel like we had more control over the RX 330.
College going male: Finally got a part-time job. I am working in public relations building up a client list for a famous brand of women’s wear. Sure beats pushing audio books for $6.50 an hour. Anyway, I really liked this Lexus. It rode very well and my only complaint was the noise level when you put the rear windows down at speed. It boomed and so the only way to cool the cab was by opening the huge optional large moon roof or turning on the air conditioning.

The back seats were very comfortable with handy cupholders, ample room, and ample headroom and foot space. Make sure you adjust the rear backrests before you get into the RX because they are really hard to adjust when you are sitting in them. You can fold the rear seats down in three sections, but they don’t fold flat. You also have extra storage space in the rear cargo area on both sides and under the cover. And, there is a standard 115-volt 2-prong outlet behind rear seat. The rear tailgate is easy to open, but I recommend the power option because it is so cool to watch and so handy. I wish Lexus would include a standard cargo net, though.

Young working woman’s view: An excellent buy, but why not get the Toyota Prado instead? It has the same engine, the possibility of seating for more, and costs less. To me, the answer isn’t one of practicality. I love the Lexus service, the Lexus extras, and the pride it brings. Does it make financial success? Not really, even through the resale is slightly higher for the Lexus.Driving it is without fuss. It never bores you or bothers you with problems. It has a smooth, quiet, ride and has an excellent cruising range of over 300 miles, something that our older model couldn’t do because of a gas tank that was about two gallons smaller.

If you are into SUVs, and I am not, this is about as good as it gets for the price. But, be warned, if Lexus does bring out a hybrid model and my job remains secure, I am sorely tempted to abandon my sports car phase and go directly to the SUV stage.

Family conference: Call it a tall station wagon, try to humiliate it by claiming its an overpriced Toyota, make fun of its turtle shell appearance, or just point out you can get an SUV the same size and power for less money and you still are not going to convince buyers that this isn’t the cat’s meow of luxury SUVs. While the Honda MDX handles a bit better, the BMW is faster, and Mercedes more off roadable, and the Infiniti more sporty, the Lexus is all alone when it comes to providing buyers with what the majority want, and that is a luxury vehicle that is both practical an elegant. For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click on business.

Sports Wagon: Expensive, but it’s a BMW

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BMW calls it a Sports Wagon, but it is neither sporty nor very roomy for a wagon. It has all wheel drive, but rides too low to clear even modest speed bumps and hasn’t enough power to make this feature useful for vigorous driving. It has a six speed manual transmission, but the high clutch release and the lack of a telescoping steering wheel make it difficult to get comfortable. Well equipped it costs $40,000 (US) and that makes it seriously more expensive than faster four-wheel drive wagons from Subaru, Volvo and Audi. You have to rev the engine well beyond 3500 rpm to pry out the 215 horsepower and until that point in time acceleration is leisurely. The brakes are very good, but they want to stop you right now. The ride is sturdy when unloaded, but put the family onboard and it is more slovenly. The steering wheel is very thick and the car reacts instantly to input and yet, unless you are willing to shift the notchy manual transmission enough to keep the engine on boil, heated runs are best left to its more accommodating 330i counterpart. The gauges are difficult to read with sunglasses on and the stereo is only adequate, even with the expensive MP-3 option. Make sure you consider the Sirius satellite radio option because land based reception is underwhelming.

You get the idea. This is our least favorite BMW. We adore the 330i, love the family friendly 5 Series, and hope to someday be trusted with a 6 Series. Although we dismiss SUVs as unnecessary to humanity, we would recommend the BMW X3 for nearly the same price. Make no mistake about it; BMW produces some of the finest driving cars in existence. But, in this case, we think that you must spend a great deal of time thinking about whether or not you need an all wheel drive wagon.

Mom’s view:
I stalled this BMW more than I would like to admit and I have driven some mighty touchy racecars. The seats were tight, but comfortable, the gauges easy to master, and the rear seats simple to lower. The hatch was hefty, but not a problem. There is room for four adults and their luggage in the wagon. Overall, this BMW just does not light my fire. It has no passion under the pedals and the optional handling package makes the front-end way to low for winter driving. Give me my 6 Series convertible.

Dad’s view:
Good fuel mileage, even if it liked premium petrol the most. I got 25 mpg around town and more on the highway thanks to the overdrive 6th gear. The turning radius is quite large and the feel of the steering is indicative of a much heavier vehicle. I can’t help wondering if potential buyers are going to ignore the lack of acceleration when compared to the hotted up all wheel drive Subaru Legacy and Audi wagons. Even Jaguar’s X wagon is less expensive and just as fast. There can be no doubt that the power of the Bimmer legacy may be enough to drive sales for this model, but only for those who can ignore the presence of the similar priced and much more useful BMW X3.

Young working woman’s view:
There is something special about driving a BMW. It has a significant advantage over other vehicles in its road feel and smooth engine. The warranty that covers everything is also reassuring. However, I don’t like to beat cars and I don’t like to wait for them to accelerate. This wagon was just too slow unless you spent a significant part of your journey shifting. Now, if it had the automatic transmission I would have liked it much better. Furthermore, I would gladly give up the handling option, as it had no place on this wagon for me. Finally, I just didn’t see why the price was $40,000 even with the large sunroof and other options. In the long run people who need a wagon and like BMW are going to have little choice, but for me the sedan and coupes are more responsive and just as useful.

Young college going male’s view:
Technically speaking, this car is loaded. The suspension has been improved; the engine features a variable life valve train and valve timing. The xDrive system, panoramic roof, and available sport package are state of the art. You have a possible 61 cubic feet of cargo room, and can go over 300 miles before refueling. Okay, now for the synergy. All of these features yield a sporty station wagon that is much more fun to drive than the competition, albeit not as fast. It looks good, rides comfortable, and just wants someone who loves to drive to occupy its tidy interior. The 325 ix is not for toads. This is a vehicle for those who enjoy taking control when they are on the road and need the extra room of a wagon. If you were looking for a BMW I would expect that the price tag wouldn’t be off putting. Make mine black and I’ll buy a bag for my snow board so not to smug the leather. Check my tunes at www.simple-thoughts.net

Family conference:
BMW has updated this wagon with a host of goodies, but the all wheel drive option, low stance, and lack of acceleration make it an oxymoron when it is called a sports wagon. Consider the 330i sedan, coupe or BMW X3 SUV that are priced similarly. For a listing of all vehicle manufacture websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click on business.

Toyota’s gas sippers: Camry, Hyrid, RAV, Yaris, and Sienna
By The Car Family

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

For free teaching links for parents and students go to http://www.reacheverychild.com

Toyota continues to impress us with its ability to build vehicles that are highly serviceable, handy, and excel at extracting extra mileage from every liter of fuel. Since we have tested the Prius several times we can safely say it is the best vehicle of its kind to provide economic transport for a family, but this review isn’t about that hybrid leader. What we wanted to know is how well Toyota was doing with its more mainstream offerings. We tested the new RAV-4, the base Sienna van, the new Yaris three door, and both the hybrid Camry and base LE. And, in the end, we were absolutely shocked that our favorite was the RAV-4. But more about that later.

First, we need to explain what we tested. There was the Yaris, Toyota’s new price leader that is replacing the Echo. The problem is that in those areas where the Scion is available the Yaris offers little that is different in terms of economy and cargo. In addition, the small Yaris doesn’t even get better gas mileage than the soon to be replaced Corolla.

Secondly, we took the new Camry hybrid for a week of mixed driving and compared it to the four-cylinder LE Camry. The difference in price was significant, but the hybrid is the future even if The Car Family would pass on it for their personal use. We averaged 20 percent better fuel economy with the hybrid. You can figure it would take about five years to make up the difference between the hybrid and the LE, but high resale values for the hybrid could well reduce that estimate.

The Sienna van is excellent at being a transport vehicle that enjoys going a long way on a gallon of fuel. It was spacious, parked in tight spaces, and was well priced.

Finally, we got a fairly well loaded RAV-4 with all wheel drive. At first we felt it was noisy with seats that needed more padding, and it had that rear tire hanging off the tailgate that we dislike. However, we were surprised when the very powerful V6 engine gave us some of the best gas mileage figures we have ever recorded for any SUV, let alone an all wheel version.

Before we get into the personal choices one area where Toyota does not lead is in interior design and stereo quality. Each of the vehicles looked like they were done not to be offensive. Even Toyota’s show piece, the hybrid, was conservative in style with only a few small chrome emblems indicating its nature.

Mom’s view:
The Toyota Sienna was the most enjoyable to drive. It had a lot of wind noise, though, and the placement of the transmission shifter took a while to get used to as it resides at the bottom of the dash. The excellent blue lighting of the gauges made it the easiest to read of all the cars and it was just relaxing to drive with its amazingly maneuverability. The 21-gallon tank made for 400-500 mile journeys possible without filling up. A downside is that some Sienna vans had a problem with the struts holding up the back hatch. So we recommend the electric opening option, as the new struts are very difficult to pull down if you are less than 5’3”. The Yaris just didn’t have enough storage areas and the base model wasn’t any less expensive than well-loaded coupes and sedans from the competition. I like the Corolla much better. The RAV-4 was awesome. It did everything well, had a very low liftover height and a handy cargo net that was anchored above the cargo bay floor. Great fuel mileage, too, but it had the spare tire mounted on the rear making it difficult to open and close on hills and its exposed location could add additional expenses should the RAV get hit in back. The Camry was nice, is priced above the competition. The hybrid was very well loaded, but I liked the Prius so much better I would go that route and save at least a few thousand.

Dad’s view:
The Sienna is getting long in the tooth and the new Kia van is nearly as competent at less cost. The Camry was very good. We had the base model and it performed well with excellent fuel mileage and a fairly comfortable ride. The Yaris just didn’t have what I liked is a small car and that is great handling and exceptional fuel mileage. The hybrid was $30,000 (US) and some dealers were asking for more than the MSRP. After driving it we wonder why. Certainly, it is the best combination of in town and highway gas mileage and cargo space, but at its best it only gets about 20 percent better fuel mileage than the base Camry and costs thousands more. Unless you drive over 20,000 miles a year you may want to think about it some more. My favorite was the RAV-4 and I hate most SUVs. What won me over was its ease of operation, magnificent visibility, and great engine. The V6 had plenty of poke and only cost a few hundred extra a year over the base Camry. It handled fairly well, and outside of the Subaru Forester turbo it can pretty much dominate the stoplight scene for SUVs, especially considering that it costs under $30,000 (US).

Possibly employed young male’s view:
I loved the Camry hybrid. It was so fun watching the readouts of the fuel mileage and even being able to ease over 40 mile per gallon on the highway. In town my only concern was the high seat backs and trunk that hindered visibility, especially if you are short. I also wonder about the cost of a replacement battery pack when the eight years of expected life passes. Thus, I would lease this car if I could get a realistic payment. The base Camry was okay, but the Hyundai Sonata is just as good if not better in terms of handling. The RAV-4 would be my second choice because it did everything well, but don’t expect anyone to ride long in the alleged third row of seating. It is also fairly expensive considering the competition and the fact Honda CR-V is going to be all new next year. Parking was a breeze in the RAV and the higher seating gave me a clear view of the road. The Sienna, once my most admired van, has not done well with age. Although the rear storage compartments are useful, there really isn’t anything exceptional here and, when fully loaded, these vans can cost over $40,000 (US). The Yaris was my last selection and it could have moved higher if we had the sedan version. The two-door coupe was very plain and the handling not up to the Honda Fit.

Family conference: Putting into place cost, maintenance, insurance, resale, usable room, crash test results, and fuel mileage the leader is the Camry hybrid, but not by much. The RAV-4 and the LE Camry also did very well. If the Yaris offered more living room or better fuel mileage it would be a consideration. Finally, the Sienna van, one of our past favorites, didn’t do nearly as well this year as previously. In the end it appears that Toyota’s pricing is edging up making it a less attractive bargain than before and we know this well as our grandparents bought one of the first Toyota station wagons in the nation. However, Toyota’s quality reputation, good resale, and non-offensive styling keep sales above average as well as its gas sipping offerings. If you are interested in good gas mileage you might also consider the new Corolla due next year or a good deal on this year’s model. For a full list of vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click business.

Yearly

Gas Mileage Fuel cost(US) max.range cargo room (cu.ft.)

Carmy hybrid average 37 $1200 600 10

Camry four-cylinder average 26 $1700 650 15.5

RAV-4 six cylinder 24 $1900 450 37

Sienna van average 21 $2200 450 43

Yaris automatic average 32 $1270 400 12

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