Under the consumer radar | SierraSun.com

Under the consumer radar

Courtesy of Volkswagen

With more than 350 models available, most of us purchase a car based on driving needs, price, recommendations and image. With so many options out there, it’s easy to pass over a few models. Often auto manufacturers decide not to advertise one model and promote other more popular models. Most Tahoe-Truckee locals are looking for vehicles that vary from national market trends.

In the last year, I’ve had opportunity to either drive or research more than 50 new AWD cars. There are a few excellent models cruising under the local radar screen. All of these cars are worth taking considering before you consider purchasing your next vehicle.

The VW Touareg might be the most misunderstood vehicle of the group – mostly because of the name. Sales would be double if the car was called a VW Sierra, Alpine, or XR 90. The Touareg defines a Tahoe vehicle with its great driving feel, superb off-road capabilities, and ability to climb steep and icy streets while other SUVs leave you “slip sliding away.” It also has a luxury car interior and handling of a quality sedan instead of “truck-like” SUVs.

The Touareg uses a torsion box body for vibration-free driving. The car also has a very quiet drive because of the design and solid door and window seals. Unlike most SUVs, you can really take this one off-road because VW targeted the car at the Mercedes and Range Rover off-road vehicles. Engine options include a 240 horsepower V-6 rated at 21 mpg highway or a powerful 310 horsepower V-8 used in the Audi A-8. Put some wider tires on the car, pay an extra $20,000, change the exterior logos and you can call it a Porsche Cayenne; except the Touareg is actually designed to go off-road.

The Touareg directly competes with the Volvo XC 90, BMW X5 and the Mercedes ML 350 for road comfort and drivability, and holds its own against the Range Rovers in off-road pursuits. When driving in nasty winter conditions, you can use the locking center differential to get home with ease.

Safety features include front airbags, side-impact airbags, and curtain airbags, and a rigid roof for rollover protection. The Touareg has a government five-star rating in side-impact tests (common in major crashes), and during an accident, the doors automatically unlock, the battery disconnects and the warning flashers turn on ” making safety-conscious Volvo owners jealous.

Driving the car feels as comfortable as most luxury SUVs. Order the adjustable air-suspension and you have a world-class vehicle. The Touareg has so many features, it would fill-up a page of the Sierra Sun to mention them all.

OK, the mini van has a soccer mom reputation, yet the Sienna has all the features of a SUV and the drivability surpassing many SUV’s. The Sienna is comfortable to drive and does everything well. The vast interior area has more cargo space than a full-size Sequoia SUV and the car costs $10,000 less. The Sienna has power sliding doors, power lift-gate and an optional rear-view camera. Because of the lower center of gravity than SUVs, the van offers a comfortable ride, responsive handling, and strong acceleration. Its 230-horsepower V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission deliver good fuel economy.

The Sienna is available in seven- and eight-passenger interiors. The van includes 10 cup holders, four bottle holders and high solar energy-absorbing glass to reduce interior temperature. The van is available in AWD in the LE, XLE, and XLE Limited as upgrades. The XLE includes dual power sliding doors, tri-zone climate control, 360 watt stereo, heated power mirrors and much more. The XLE-AWD Limited includes leather seats, Laser Cruise control, heated seats, and significant safety upgrades including more airbags, front-rear parking sonar and all-season run-flat tires.

Reviewing the benefits of the Sienna over an SUV one more time: There is more interior space, better fuel economy, better road handling in both winter and summer conditions, and significant purchase price savings. Just put some cool wheels and stickers on the car and your friends may just think you are starting a new trend.

OK, call me a sports car purist. I still believe a true sports car needs to be a convertible, have nimble steering, a manual transmission where quick wrist flicks help you stay in the right RPM range, and a light responsive engine with a nice torque band, combined with good non-fade brakes. Maybe it is because I first fell in love with roadsters during the golden era with the likes of the Triumph TR-4, MGB, Austin Healy 3000, Fiat 124 Spyder, Alfa Romeo Spider (looks just as stylish today as it did in the mid 60’s), 356 Porsche, Lotus Elan and the 289 Ford Cobra.

The Honda S2000 takes the classic roadster and embellishes on the design. Using the expertise from years of Formula One and Indy Car racing, the features and price are real winners to me. A new S2000 will set you back for a reasonable $32,000.

The 2.2 liter 240 horsepower four-cylinder, delivers top torque at 6500 rpm with a strong power band. And yes, you can wind this engine up to the 8,200 rpm redline. The newer models have a stiffer frame and suspension, yet designed to be softer in the rear allowing you to slide around those imperfect alpine corners. (The old Triumph’s and MG’s rear ends used to ‘hop’ around the corners)

The six-speed gearbox includes a short-throw shifter and many auto experts consider it to be the best manual transmission offered at any price. The S2000 offers big 11.8-inch vented front brakes. This car was designed to be driven with enthusiasm, matching the high-winding engine, transmission, brakes and precise handling into one fun package. The S2000 is perfect for somebody who wants the quickness and precision-handling of an expensive exotic sports car, but needs the affordability and dependability of a Honda.

Mark Lowenstern is the owner of Cross Roads Car Wash in Truckee and an auto broker with Truckee Auto Mall. Send comments to: mlsnowstorm@yahoo.com.

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