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A dozen for the road

Here are 12 new vehicles that offer something for just about every motoring taste, from roomy sedans to hybrids to tough off-roaders.

March 19, 2003|Jim Mateja | Chicago Tribune

Below are capsule reviews of current models of cars, pickup truck and sport utility vehicles.

Buick LeSabre Celebration Edition

Base price: $30,650. Engine: 3.8-liter, 205-horsepower V-6. Fuel economy: 20 miles per gallon city/29 mpg highway.

Styling is conservative. Two-tone seats and chrome-plated wheels do little to liven up the look. But the importance of this car is function over flash. Big, roomy, comfortable and quiet. Front- and rear-seat room is cavernous, as is the trunk. Smooth ride and precise handling, the latter a surprise benefit considering this is a full-size sedan.

Pluses: StabiliTrak control system to prevent lateral wandering, and a mileage rating you would expect from a smaller car. Next generation coming for '05.

*

Cadillac CTS Sedan

Base price: $29,350. Engine: 3.2-liter, 220-horsepower V-6. Fuel economy: 18 mpg city/20 mpg highway.

Not a Chevy in disguise but rather an all-new rear-wheel-drive, entry-level luxury sedan with dynamic styling to be shared with models coming out in the next 18 months.

Beefed-up V-6 teamed with a five-speed manual as standard, in part to keep the base price less than $30,000. With options, however, such as $1,200 for automatic transmission, expect to spend about $35,000.

Four-wheel anti-lock brakes and all-speed traction control are standard. StabiliTrak is optional, with the sport package recommended for serious drivers. Side air bag curtains also are standard. Styling, performance, room, comfort and luxury amenities to win over younger buyers.

*

Chrysler PT Cruiser Turbo

Base price: $22,365. Engine: 2.4-liter, 215-horsepower turbo four-cylinder. Fuel economy: 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway.

This is the high-performance rendition of the retro sedan with 65 more horsepower. Suspension and steering tweaks for improved handling to make it a little more limber. No perceptible turbo lag, and thanks to special acoustic dampeners on the turbo's intake system, there's no whine either. The turbo gives it the muscle that critics have been begging for.

Offered only with automatic initially; a five-speed manual will come later this year. But the automatic comes with Autostick for manual shifting without bothering with a clutch.

*

Honda Accord EX V-6

Base price: $25,800. Engine: 3-liter, 240-horsepower V-6. Fuel economy: 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway.

This is a total redesign as '03 Gen VII, though only a trained eye will be able to distinguish it from a VI.

Major re-engineering results in more potent yet whisper-quiet V-6. Retuned suspension minimizes unnecessary body motion; beefed-up brakes and quicker-response steering.

*

Honda Civic Hybrid

Base price: $19,550. Power: 1.3-liter, 85-horsepower gasoline engine and 13-horsepower electric motor. Fuel economy: 48 mpg city and highway.

A gas-electric hybrid that doesn't look or act differently from the gas-only model. Very consumer-friendly and a well-recognized name, which should help give hybrids consumer acceptance.

With the combination of gas and electric, your driving range isn't limited, because the batteries recharge as you drive. No need to stop for a lengthy recharge as with battery-power only. Superb mileage and reduced emissions. Nice car to have whether gas is $1 or $2 a gallon.

*

Honda Element 4WD EX

Base price: $20,850. Engine: 2.4-liter, 160-horsepower four-cylinder. Fuel economy: 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway.

A combination of SUV, wagon, van and truck, a multipurpose machine with a host of functions but a love-it-or-hate-it design featuring lots of plastic cladding. Targeted at youth on a budget. Rear seats fold flat against the sidewalls to open the cargo compartment but block side-window visibility.

Fairly peppy but hardly quiet. Suspension tuned for, well, youth on a budget. Neat features: removable glass skylight; wide-open front and rear doors, with rear doors that swing back "suicide" style; waterproof seat fabric; and water-resistant cargo floor. A new alternative to having to settle for Dad's hand-me-down Crown Victoria.

*

Honda Pilot EX

Base price: $29,270. Engine: 3.5-liter, 240-horsepower V-6. Fuel economy: 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway.

Rides and handles more like a sedan than a sport ute. Absorbs bumps in the road and sits flat in tight corners. Same 3.5-liter V-6 with five-speed automatic as the Acura MDX from which it is derived. Smooth, commotion-free acceleration but not overly energetic, a concession to mileage over muscle. All-wheel drive.

Three rows of seats, but the third row is for munchkins. Nine cup holders, four power plugs, four pop-down grocery bag holders and four cargo net holders are standard, but a power sunroof is not even an option.

*

Infiniti G35 Sedan

Base price: $28,950. Engine: 3.5-liter, 260-horsepower, 24-valve V-6. Fuel economy: 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway.

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