Cars tastes, needs and wants are as unique and subject to change as personal relationships: You outgrow some models the way you fall away from some people during your life.
Having unbiased insider knowledge on where to put your hard-earned money on this sizable purchase is currency in itself, and necessary given the robust used car market and newer dual hybrid and electric battery engines that don’t have track records to gauge their long-term worth.
Cars depreciate precipitously upon purchase and the drive to your home. Some retain a decent resale; others are akin to flushing fat wads of hundred dollar bills down a toilet. It’s nice to know what brand has legs, and when the best time to purchase a vehicle is.
Growing up in Greater Boston, cars were looked upon as a burden (Massachusetts excise taxes were awful) and you couldn’t find parking anywhere in the city. Add to that the claustrophobic daily dreaded parking lot jam in the yellow glow of the Sumner tunnel, where I was convinced a rare earthquake would cause Boston Harbor to pour in, cracking through the ceiling any minute killing us all in that 'dirty water' that lay above our heads. I was a paranoid kid.
The wealthiest blue-blooded Brahmins in my neighborhood drove dinged up old Volvos, Karmann Ghias and well-worn vintage Citroëns or Subarus. Only the head of the Patriarca crime family, who lived in my North Shore town, drove a shiny new Caddy every year. Everyone else drove a respectable beater like my old man. It was considered in the poorest of taste to flaunt money; you let your alma mater and seaside real estate do that talking.
My earliest memories of cars were my mother's white 1962 Covair, and my grandfather's flaming red 1966 Mustang. Later, my dad bought his first new car in a showroom, a Ford Pinto - the exploding one - from Carl Yastrzemski, a newly retired Boston Red Sox baseball legend who opened a Ford dealership on the Lynnway.
My parents drove my brother and me to Miami in it, not realizing our lives were at stake. I firmly believe the only reason he bought that car was to get a 1967 Pennant race baseball he had caught in Fenway Park signed by Yaz.
Later, dad bought me my first car, a Chevy Monza 2+2, the one you had to jack up the engine to change a spark plug. One day I was driving on a freeway in Houston and the car kept accelerating despite the fact I had two feet jamming the brakes. I had to pull up the emergency brake and run the car into a grassy feeder road ditch near South Post Oak. Fire ensued.
Then, I inherited my mom's 1975 Camaro, and that car was a blast until the starter acted up; my dad gave me a hammer and showed me where to whack the solenoid underneath the engine block (laying on the ground!) to get it to turn over.
Since those Halcyon days, I've had a total of three Camaros, a Buick Regal and a GMC Jimmy (worst SUV ever). I cursed Chevy and lost all hope with American cars - buying myself a 1995 Toyota Camry LE, nothing fancy, and today, with 179,000 miles, that car is still running like a champ for my oldest son.
My next car was a 2000 Camry LE with 43,000 miles, bought for $5000, and then in 2004 I bought a pristine 1985 Mercedes 190 E at an estate sale for $2200, the owner was being put into a nursing home. The car has the classic Benz body, no dents or rust and had barely any miles.
Why do I tell you all of this?
Because neither my dad nor I knew of AutoWeek, or had any reliable friends with good Intel, the Internet or www.shopautoweek.com to do the investigative work and report on cars from a wide swath of perspective.
One of the reasons I could never read Car and Driver, Motor Trend or any of the old school car magazines was A) I wasn't about to buy a new car, because car payments just aren't done in my family and B) I have no idea what the hell they were talking about half the time; I don't drive a stick and words like torque and suspension meant nothing to me.
AutoWeek gets that not all of us out there are car connoisseurs or performance gearheads. Many of us simply want affordable, respectable and dependable cars to get from 'A' to 'B'.
A few weeks back I was fortunate to be invited to Detroit to participate with other online writers from diverse backgrounds, all of us to experience some of the best 2012 models with AutoWeek editors as our wingmen (and women) and drive as many cars in one cold day as we could.
The capper was a pit stop at the Union Woodshop restaurant in Clarkston where Kid Rock and other famous Michigan types ate obscenely delicious pulled pork, custom hand-tossed pizzas, epic old school macaroni and cheese and a decadent butterscotch pudding spiked with a bit of whisky and finished with a topping of sea salt and fresh whipped cream - perfect fuel on a cold grey day.
AutoWeek magazine has a long storied history, and was snapped up in 1978 by the Crain publishing company, and is now overseen by Vice President and Publisher KC Crain. KC has a new vision for the magazine and has blown it out in grand style online - www.shopautoweek.com, where many voices (Geeked-out gearheads to mom bloggers) unite with a shared passion: Take a new car, live with it, drive it, shake it upside down and tell the consumer truthfully what's a steal, a deal or something that needs to go back to the drawing board.
Essentially, KC and the AutoWeek Gang took a used-Camry loving, tight-fisted Masshole and turned her into an American car enthusiast once again. I now comb the columns of my new favorite auto bloggers seeing what's new and doable in the wide world of cars. The site also allows me to add content from other websites and create and store virtual dossiers on models I am interested in.
In one chilly, snow dusted Detroit day, I drove the 2012 Fiat 500C Lounge, 2012 Toyota Camry XLE, 2012 Audi A6 Premium Plus, 2012, Chevrolet Cruze LTZ, 2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 Bluetec 4Matic, 2012 Ford Focus SEL and the 2012 Chevy Volt.
The commentary below represents my novice musings, completely unqualified on any scientific or engineering level, proffered with an average, middle-class female (whose sons are now grown) commuter perspective.
I liked some of these cars very much; I disliked several, and in the end - if a cash windfall happens my way - I would pop for the new sport sedan 2012 Audi A6 in a heartbeat.
After driving the new Camry (not my favorite) and a giant six-figure Mercedes, I realized I was a true minimalist when it came to cars and that luxury features, though impressive on paper, in reality annoyed and distracted me on some level.
The Mercedes had so much stuff in the center console and door that even my AutoWeek wingwoman Sherrice Gilsbach could not determine where the radio was to turn on. Mercedes’ seats hug you when you take a turn, and that freaked us both out; we had no warning of this feature.
I don't want my car hugging me; my core muscles can handle a right turn. That particular feature made me feel like I had aged 75 years sitting in that overly fussy cockpit.
I also hated the rear end; if you took off the Benz emblem, it would have passed for a Japanese sedan.
The Chevy Volt has a nice seat heater (not a standard feature); this was a new experience. That would be a major lure for me in a climate like Detroit. The models all had prominent navigation systems, most of which were a pain in the ass to use.
The Audi and Mercedes navi systems were too hard to decipher for my brief test drive - exception being the Ford Focus and the Chevy Cruze - both winning hands down for intuitive programming for those of us who still don’t know what ¾ of the buttons on the DirecTV wand are for.
The combined meetings with the AutoWeek team, massive GM headquarters, home to the C.I.A.-like super secure ‘OnStar’ command center, Ford's sprawling collegiate feeling research campus and the extremely cool demo of their self-parallel parking feature restored my faith in American ingenuity, inventiveness and the magic of properly pulled pig meat.
OnStar doesn’t play. The dark hushed control center was something out of a Mission Impossible film and required a security check and badge assignment that was not a casual affair. The core management staff was on command behind thick glass, taking shifts like air controllers, and had pristine desks with no food or drinks anywhere.
There were remote OnStar operators placed all over the world taking calls in shifts as well. In front of them were huge illuminated screens of our country, and dots representing accidents and calls all over – densely lit up for rush hour Eastern Standard Time, and while we were there, the lights began popping up in the Midwest as the time changed.
This lucrative, successful American company is 15 years old with a worldwide reach, and they are now selling an after-market smart mirror for anyone to get the basic OnStar features for a $199 initial investment, with an added monthly fee.
The award laden walls of OnStar were filled with thank you letters and photos of the people they saved and their staff who starred in commercials and helped many people through every kind of emergency imaginable. I had a newfound appreciation for something I never gave much thought to before this.
Props to the hard working Americans in the auto industry who have hung in there and made it through really bleak economic stretches, as our ability to make damn fine automobiles and create a successful worldwide behemoth like OnStar in beautiful greater Detroit, set ablaze in all the colors of late fall, restored my pride in our auto industry.
This was my first trip to Detroit, my mental images of this city shaped by Bob Seger, the films ‘8 Mile’ and ‘The Blues Brothers.’ It was nice to be pleasantly surprised.
The Yang, powerful chromed-out, sexy beast American muscle cars from the days of yore have yielded to the Yin, smart technology, ergonomics and fuel economy.
Clever has replaced swagger, and I am okay with this trend.
For my debt-averse pocketbook, the Ford Focus topped my must-own list, the Chevy Cruze came in second. If I were comfortable carrying a car note, the Chevy Volt would be the first place winner.
The luxurious Mercedes was like an ornate Fabergé egg on four wheels, way too much car for me. The Audi was hot, but the MSRP price range is out of my league. The Fiat was too loud, small and trendy for me. I would have loved the Fiat when I was 16 way more than that deathtrap Monza 2+2.
Seriously, Chevrolet should offer me a pain-and-suffering new car discount for actually owning a Monza 2+2 and three bitchin' Camaros, two with chronic starter issues.
The new Camry felt like home, but for the money I truly was impressed by the Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze models, as both offered a lot more bang for the buck and were loads of fun to drive.
For those who wish to review these cars by price and more detailed features, visit www.shopautoweek.com
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2012 Ford Focus SEL
MPG 28 City / 38 HWY
Engine 2.0L I-4
Power 160 @ 6,500 rpm
Transmission 6-spd auto-shift man w/OD
0-60 8.1 seconds
Seating - 5 passengers
Cargo 13.2 cu.ft.
Warranty is 36 months/36,000 miles
The 2012 Ford Focus was my overall favorite and will most likely be my next car (unless the aforementioned windfall occurs, then that Audi will be mine)..
The navi system was my favorite and the dashboard was also clean and not trendy cute like the Fiat, or ridiculously distracting like the Mercedes. It makes its claim as the technology and fuel-mileage leader in the compact car class, a competitive field full of good cars with base prices in the $16,000-$17,000 range: Volkswagen Jetta, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Mitsubishi Lancer and Kia Forte.
2012 Chevy Volt
EPA MPG Equivalent - City (Electric) 95
EPA MPG Equivalent - Hwy (Electric) 93
EPA Est. Fuel Economy City (Gas) 35 MPG
EPA Est. Fuel Economy Highway (Gas) 40 MPG
Plus, there is a $7500 tax rebate offered for buying one of these cars but beware of scam artist dealerships: LINK
Standard features include
Electric drive unit 149 hp, 273 lb.-ft. of torque.
On-board generator/engine 1.4L internal combustion engine with 83 hp; requires premium fuel.
Brakes- 4-wheel antilock, 4-wheel disc electro-hydraulic power system with StabiliTrak. StabiliTrak Electronic Stability Control System- Includes brake assist, Traction Control and a regenerative system on front brakes
Tire Pressure Monitor and Power outlets, Three auxiliary 12-volt outlets including one in the front center console, one in the rear console and one in the upper instrument panel storage bin.
Power adjustable mirrors
Heated, body-color mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators.
17" 5-spoke forged-painted aluminum wheels
Touch-sensitive center controls - Includes Driver Mode Control switch and 7" (diagonal) LCD touch screen.
SiriusXM Satellite Radio2 with three trial months programming and more from coast-to-coast.
XM NavTraffic3 standard for three months
Bluetooth®4 wireless technology for select phones - Offers hands-free calling capability. Cruise control - USB port 5
Six speaker system
Color Touch Radio- AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 playback
Air conditioning. - Air bags6 - Dual-stage frontal, side-impact and driver's knee air bags, plus roof-rail side-impact bags for front and rear outboard seating positions. Includes Passenger Sensing System.
Premium Cloth seating - Keyless Access- Passive unlock and lock on all doors including liftgate - Power door locks and windows
OnStar®3 with three years of service with Directions & Connections® Plan including Turn-by-Turn Navigation.The unmatched lifesaving technology of OnStar to help keep you safe.
Remote vehicle starter system. - Pedestrian-friendly alert, Driver-activated horn chirp using turn signal lever button.
Charge control- Programmable time-of-day charging with indicator light.
110-volt charge cord - Tire inflator kit
Fuel Tank Capacity (Approx.) 9.3 gal
Battery Range (Electric) 35 mi
Cruising Range - City (Gas) 325.50 mi
Cruising Range - Hwy (Gas) 372.00 mi
Total Range 407.00 mi
2012 Fiat 500C Lounge
MSRP from $17,500+
MPG: 30 city/38 hwy
1.4L 4-cyl. engine
Manual or automatic transmission
MP3 Player (Optional)
Satellite radio (Optional)
2012 Toyota Camry XLE
MSRP from $22000+
MPG: 25 city/35 hwy
Standard equipment includes
60/40 split fold-down rear seat
USB  port with iPod®  connectivity
BLU Logic®  Hands Free System
Bored me to tears compared to the Ford and Chevy models.
2012 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ
MSRP around $17000.
Fuel economy: 25 city/36 hwy mpg
Standard equipment includes
Power Door Locks Operated Via Remote and Internal Switch
Child Safety Door Locks Located On Rear Doors
Vehicle Anti-Theft Via Alarm and Engine Immobilizer
OnStar(R) Remote Ignition Block
OnStar(R) Stolen Vehicle Assistance With Vehicle Slowdown
2012 Audi A6 Premium Plus
MSRP begins around $47000+
EPA mileage est. (city/hwy): 25/33 mpg
2.0L 4-cyl. engine
Continuously variable transmission
Up to 25 city/33 hwy mpg
Navigation System (Optional) Audi MMI® touch handwriting recognition - Groundbreaking Audi MMI® touch includes a revolutionary touchpad that interprets handwritten inputs, while dedicated radio preset buttons can be programmed for commonly used stations.
Audi connect turns your Audi into a WiFi hotspot, allowing passengers to retrieve information on the internet conveniently and securely. Users can search and import addresses and points of interest directly into the navigation system with voice input, while weather forecasts and up-to-date news and travel information are displayed with clear information graphics and maps.
Additionally, the Google Earth™ displays 3D topographical maps and satellite imagery for a dynamic driving experience.
Parking system plus with front and rear sensors - Front and rear acoustic sensors use ultrasound waves to sense your position and warn when approaching nearby objects.
2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 Bluetec 4Matic
MSRP MSRP: $93,000 - $210,900
PRICE AS TESTED $123,115
MPG Range: 19 - 31 mpg
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 3.0L/240-hp/455-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4961 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 124.6 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 206.5 x 73.7 x 58.0 in
0-60 MPH 7.0 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.4 sec @ 88.6 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 111 ft