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.

The Best Cars Under $15,000: Mileage and Room

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Okay, we let a few cars in that were a tad more than $15,000 but the reality is that with some good bargaining you can get all of these cars under MSRP. On the other hand the new Toyota Corolla is due out next year and is the 800-pound gorilla in the room and cannot be ignored. Indeed, even the existing version would have done very well in our battle at the bottom of the suggest retail price ladder.

We tried to make this a test of the newer vehicles and so the Ford Focus, PT Cruiser, Chevrolet Cobalt, the Scions, and others of that ilk were left out. All of these are good vehicles, well priced, and offering a great many family amenities, but we wanted to limit ourselves to the newest kinders on the block.

Thus we tested both the Nissan Versa hatchback and sedan with manual transmission and automatic respectively. Add to that the Dodge Caliber, the Suzuki SX4, Chevrolet Aveo, the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Kia Spectra, and the Hyundai Accent. The Pontiac G5 was not available for the testing. The Jeep Compass would have made our test, but the only vehicle available was priced at $21,000 even though this rough and ready SUV base price is just under $15,000. The Mitsubishi Lancer was also unavailable.

Where to start? Well, the Nissan Sentra was sensational with the CVT, but the price as tested pushed it close to $19,000. Is it a great car with excellent brakes, above average handling, superior gas mileage, and plenty of storage room? But you just can’t compare it to the huddled hatchbacks that make up the bulk of the under $15,000 crowd. So out it went.

Next up was the controversial Suzuki SX4 starting at $15,000 with all wheel drive. It was a great ride, but the all wheel drive unit sapped its power and fuel mileage. However, we decided to leave it in anyway because it shows how much technology you can get for the price of four-year-old Toyota Camry XLE. Besides, that Suzuki warranty is very family friendly extending to 100,000 miles.

We liked the handling of the Volkswagen Rabbit, but if you option it with anything it is over the price range. Besides, the fuel mileage and performance just weren’t up to the others even though the quality and handling were excellent. We think that Rabbit is a good car, but the pricing of our test model put it at $19,000 well loaded. As such we dropped it from the test where it would have finished mid-pack based since our emphasis was on operating economy, cargo space, and value. If we wanted to run a road race we would take the Rabbit. As for fit and finish, the Rabbit would place well there, too.


For versatility and price the Nissan Versa is an easy winner. It gets well over 30 mpg, costs under $14,000 and never feels small. On the downside it does not handle well and the seats catch every bit of hair and hold on to it tenaciously. The seat covers look like velour and grab like a drunken sailor. By the way, the seats are very comfortable. We must warn you not to judge this car by its looks. This is easily the car of the year for the frugal but its looks don’t have curb appeal.

Tied for best value was the Hyundai Elantra. Although you must be careful of what options you order, you can buy this spacious, good handling, and quite attractive Hyundai under $15,000 and still get the great warranty. We wouldn’t mind owning either of these cars, but if you want to drive the Elantra is the better gomobile.

Next was the well-heralded Honda Civic. It is fun to drive, has a fold down rear seat and gives excellent fuel mileage. It ranks up there with the Mazda 3 for handling, but its manual transmission isn’t as good as the Mazda’s. It is more expensive than the Versa and you never forget you are in a small car while driving one with its low seating position and reduced side visibility. It is much improved over earlier models.

Dodge’s Caliber has a vast and trendy interior, but the large blind spots and in your face interior was a bit much. Fun is fun, but an interior with bright red and white upholstering accented with very shiny painted metal require a more youthful slant. That being said, you aren’t going to get more car for less money. It is the best Dodge product at this time outside of their minivans and can be ordered with an array of options that can escalate the price well above $20,000.

Honda Fit is a smaller, more economical, less distinctive version of the Caliber. However, it is much more fun with a fine combination of handling, economy, room, and spirit. It does feel small and rough roads aren’t’ its forte. It costs considerable less than the Civic, but is less of a car. If Honda would just put their hybrid unit in the Fit it would be the best such vehicle made. As it is this is a terrific vehicle, but too closely priced to the base Civic.

The Mazda 3 is next in line for appreciation. Along with the Volkswagen Rabbit it is the best handler of the group and quite enjoyable to romp with. However, its fuel mileage isn’t up to snuff and you don’t get as much with the base model as others moves. We feel it is going to appeal to young male’s the most, which isn’t to say the 3 isn’t a family friendly car. However, its forte is it rompability. This Mazda loves to play tag with the apex of corners as much as sip fuel. Be warned that the torque steer can get your attention in a hurry. Easily a better vehicle than the much more pricey Audi 3. The best choice on our list if you really like to drive.


A nasty spat occurred with the Suzuki SX4 based around the unfairness of comparing an all wheel drive vehicle with front wheel drive economy cars. Anyway, the result was a high finish for the nicely prepared and versatile SX4. Its busy engine and aforementioned just adequate fuel mileage relegated it to this placement. If Suzuki would make this an all wheel drive model and cut the cost it would be a much stouter competitor. As it stands, it is the low cost all wheel drive champion. The Yaris is the weakest of all Toyota products. It is fuel-efficient and does look cute, but outside of that the competition has it covered. We didn’t like the way it handled, the blind spots to the side, the low driving position, or the way it corners. A new Corolla is well worth the extra and gets nearly the same gas mileage and is a terrific handler. With the Corolla being redone this year look for some terrific deals. In fact, the Corolla is one of the best cars you can buy regardless of price. And, if you want to sit lower, the soon to be redone Scions are all superior gas misers with a large fun factor.

Price Vehicles

The Kia Spectra, Hyundai Accent, and Chevrolet Aveo just aren’t as much car as the others. We also believe that the resale may not be as strong. Thus these are price cars that deliver good fuel mileage and adequate interior room, but they don’t make you feel special or offer anything other than a compact ride and feel. If you are a good shopper you can get the vastly better Chevrolet Cobalt that is eager to please, gives nearly as good fuel mileage and with some good bargaining can be only slightly more than the smaller Chevrolet Aveo. We find the Cobalt very worthwhile. As for the Spectra, the same could be said, as the larger and more powerful Kia Optima is a superior car with some exceptional lease deals being offered. Like the Cobalt it offers the same excellent fuel economy as it smaller sister, the Spectra is more spacious and family oriented for just a few dollars more a week. And there is no doubt that the excellent Hyundai Elantra is worth the additional cost over the Accent.

Family values

Mom’s view: I like a small car that doesn’t feel like a small car. So, it’s the Versa all the way. It just does what you ask, holds plenty of everything, and if you opt for the CVT you get exceptional drivability that can easily surpass 32 mpg. I wouldn’t get the manual transmission simply because it was so difficult to shift in a hurry and the high clutch take up made it difficult to modulate wearing shoes with just one inch heels. The interior fabric is a bit grabby and difficult to clean and the stereo volume control is a bear to operate with fingernails that haven’t been bitten down. Overall a great bargain of the car. Forget the sedan and get the hatchback even with its gawky looks. The head and legroom is remarkable and the 122 horsepower 1.8 liter engine is much more potent than one would think. Get the optional CVT and relax with the welcoming seats, good visibility and plenty of standard features. Unfortunately, the low price tag means common sense items such as anti lock brakes are options.

I liked the Suzuki, too. It was cute and comfortable. But, its 2.0 liter four cylinder engine provides just 143 horsepower to move the 2800 pounder around. Although it is eager to please and can be frisky with the five speed manual you have to work that transmission hard to get to 60 miles an hour in under ten seconds. The interior isn’t badly done and there were a number of useful storage areas, but I found it rather bland. Mind you this is a very nice car and one that would have been my first choice if it was a tad less costly and didn’t have the all wheel drive unit to hamper performance. As it now stands this is an underrated vehicle that has plenty of visual appeal and a lot of useable storage area. Quite good and certainly a strong consideration if you drive where inclement weather is a concern, the SX4 carries a warranty that is as good as it gets.

Of the others, the Honda Fit didn’t fit me, the Mazda was just too boy racer, the Dodge was too stiff legged, and the Aveo didn’t have enough perkiness. The Yaris was a disappointment from every aspect except visual appeal. Too low and too slow. Give me that Corolla. The Hyundai Elantra was extremely nice and returned excellent fuel mileage and a good ride. However, it was too difficult for me to get in and out of due to its low height and I felt cramped in the rear seats.

Dad’s view: I liked the Civic, but the Honda Fit grabbed my attention. It was so easy to maneuver and the fold flat rear hatch area was simple and honest in its operation. Both vehicles offer the good fuel mileage with 32-mpg easy to obtain with a manual transmission. If I had long distances to commute my backside would tire of the bumpy ride due to the short wheelbase of the Fit and I would buy the more relaxed fit of the Civic. Either way these are good value.

Call it a manly compact, but the Caliber is a whole lot of vehicle for the money. Keep to the standard 148 horsepower 1.8 liter four cylinder engine and the CVT and you are going to get 25 mpg. If you want to throw out the $15,000 or so mandate, order more powerful engines and get yourself a wild and wicked wagon. The versatility of the Caliber is everything as the handling isn’t really up to its husky stance. If you like the look of the interior with its body colored plastic and loud color pallet, this is a very worthy buy. However, the Fit and the Versa felt more connected to the road. A good family car with a high seating position and lots of funky features such as fold down rear speakers the Caliber is fun, but not frisky.

I don’t like to kick a company when its down, but the Chevrolet Aveo isn’t the best General Motors can do. The Cobalt is much better and not that much more money. The Aveo gets good fuel mileage with about 28 mpg with the automatic, but it always feels underpowered. The 1.6 liter four cylinder has but 107 horsepower and getting to 60 miles per hour is going to take you about 11 seconds. If you have a family onboard it takes much longer. Obviously, this is a commuter car and does that job well. It looks nice, has plenty of storage spaces, and getting in and out is easy. The brakes are not up to the competition and the car is a bit noisy on the road. If you just need basic transportation consider the Aveo, if you want a car that handles and is generally better in every way pay a bit more and get the very good Chevrolet Cobalt.

Let me make this as simple to understand as possible. The Yaris isn’t what Toyota is about. We were unimpressed. It was small inside, the 1.5-liter engine and its 106 horsepower weren’t enough, and the whole car felt cheap. The only plus was the exceptional fuel mileage of 35 mpg in mixed driving. Buy a Scion or wait for the all-new Corolla pricing before getting involved with this Camryish looking sedan.

Working woman’s view: The Mazda has snap even though it costs you at the fuel pump. Indeed the all wheel drive Suzuki nearly returned the same fuel mileage as the Mazda with 24 for the SX4 and the Mazda giving us 25 mpg. The Mazda has handling, looks, and personality and it won me over. Although a bit youthful for my tastes, the interior was well done and the engine always on call. The Mazda 3 is a lot of car for under $15,000 and the equal to the much more expensive Audi 3.

College going male’s view: The brakes on the Chevrolet Aveo were weak and the pedal feedback was soft and not reassuring. Perhaps that was because this was a very new model, but I just couldn’t help but feeling that it could have been improved. The feel of the interior controls and the way the seat backs fold down also weren’t as good as I wanted. There is no question that the Aveo is a price leader and there is also no question you get what you pay for. If you want an economical car that returns over 30 miles per gallon with the manual transmission and costs about $13,000 the Aveo is your best answer. But for me the Chevrolet Cobalt is much better. I think it is one of Chevrolet’s best vehicles. As for the Honda Fit, it just was too small for me. The Civic was terrific, but it with options it can cost more than the larger Honda Accord. My favorite was the Dodge Caliber. It had everything and was a huge bargain. There was plenty of room, great interior design, and enough engine to provide good fuel efficiency and not intrude on acceleration and performance. However, you need to get the standard transmission with the base engine. If you want an automatic get the six-cylinder engine. You’ll need it as the Caliber’s energy is drained dramatically with a family onboard.

Second would be the Mazda 3, but only because I felt the ride was too sporty for those who use their vehicles mainly for commuting on crowded roads. It was edgy and fun in the open spaces, but in town it was tiring to drive.

Family conference: This category of family friendly vehicles that is expanding second only to that of the sales of crossover SUVs. As such every car is worth considering and it is a good idea to seriously shop only you have driven each one on a rough road, in heavy traffic where visibility can be a problem, and at night. Sadly, some of these vehicles have less than terrific night lighting with low cost headlights and only a small dome light for the interior. None of these models even came close to our lighting standards set by the big Cadillac. Don’t just take these for a zip around the block. At highway speeds the engine noise can be a distraction and you need to do at least one fast lane change and emergency braking test where it is safe. Since these vehicles are new they have not gone through the government safety-testing program. Thus it is best to order as many safety features as you can afford on these vehicles.  And, should you be wiling to accept a vehicle long in the tooth, the Toyota Corolla is just as good as the best of these.    For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

Here are some statistics to help you decide for yourself. We did not cite any cargo capacity figures due to the fact that they are highly misleading. A taller vehicle may have nearly double the capacity of a shorter one, but does how high you stack items count as much as leg room.

Base price (rounded up) Fuel tank                     horsepower                       mpg highway                            max. range

Mazda $14,000                  14.5                                  148                                           35                                             400

Spectra $15,000                14                                     138                                           33                                              370

Versa $13,500                    13.2                                 122                                          34                                              390

Aveo $11,800                      11                                     103                                          37                                                300

Accent $10,500                   11.9                                110                                          35                                                 350

Civic $15,000                      13.9                                 140                                         38                                                400

SX4 $15,000                          11                                    143                                        30                                                 280

Fit $14,000                            10.8                               109                                         38                                                 400

Yaris $11,500                         11.1                              106                                         40                                                 440

Caliber $14,000                     13.6                             148                                         32                                                  360

Best new cars: 2006-2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.


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