HOUSTON VOICE www.houston voice.com
APRIL 11, 2003 17
autOS JOE PHILLIPS
How to play the numbers on
affordable but cool cars
and come out a winner
Five under 25
SUCH A MAGICAL NUMBER, 25. A
silver anniversary The sum of the first five
odd numbers (1,3,5,7,9). And five years to the
big three-O. Ah, -the lure of Botox injections.
It's also the limit (at $25,000) that many
gay guy or gal needs to go cruisin' — in a
car, that is.
Whatever the criteria — practical, fun,
cutting-edge, stylish, versatile — there's no
need to spend a penny, or a quarter, more.
Ford Taurus sedan • $19,415-$23,730
Tired of the club scene? Need something
sensible to offset your party-animal aura?
Then look no further than the stable Taurus.
For 18 years, consumers have been
bullish on Ford's bread-and-butter sedan.
Practical. Roomy. And loaded as in standard features, not the sobriety status of
your last circuit party playmate.
Thanks to high crash-test scores, it's
also safe and secure. If only that were true
of some blind dates, as well. But we digress.
Side air bags and antilock brakes are
optional. Best of all, automaker rebates and
dealer incentives mean thousands off the
sticker. All the better to jet off on a cruise.
A possible downside: Such rebates/
incentives may mean a poor resale price
later. All the better to stay home and watch
"Will & Grace" reruns instead.
Mazda 6 sport sedan • $19050-$21,620
If macho is more your style; then jump in
the athletic Mazda 6. Available in manual or
automatic transmission, the V6 engine easily outruns the base model's pokey 4 cylinder.
The ride is firm yet smooth. The handling is taut but compliant. Fit and finish
are highjy toned with sleek trim inside
and a muscular, head-turning body
Damn, it's one of the few cars that force
you to the gym so you can look as buff as it
does. A tight rear — not a good thing in this
case — means lots of knee-knocking for backseat passengers. But the 60/40 split folding
rear seat expands an already generous trunk.
Anti-whiplash front seats are a plus, as are
optional side and head-curtain airbags. And
as if there weren't enough creature comforts
throughout, lighted audio/cruise-control
switches are available on the steering wheel.
A10 for looks. Ditto for driving pleasure.
Toyota Echo compact coupe/sedan • $10,105-$10,695
Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. With Toyota's Echo, it easy
to have fun either way Nutty details include
the speedometer, which is in the top center
of the dash (instead of on the left, in front
of the steering wheel). Then there's the
funky, egg-shaped body — for high driving
position, easy access, and, oops, some sway
when cornering. But think of this as another way of groovin' to the music.
More traditional features include tons
of storage nooks. A spirited four-cylinder
— in either manual or automatic — gets
an impressive 38 mpg. And inside, it's as
quiet as the live audience dozing through
Bette Midler's failed sitcom.
Perhaps the only sour note: Most features
aren't standard, they're options — even the
clock. Still, even at $19,500 with all bells*and
whistles included, this automotive bit of
whimsy is way below our $25,000 limit.
Pontiac Vibe sport wagon • $16,435-19,735 * MPG: 26
Lord knows many gays can't see themselves in a station wagon. But a gas-guzzling
SUV seems so politically incorrect these
days. And last time I checked, minivans were
strictly for breeders and FTD deliveries.
But back to the point: How to get the usefulness of a wagon/SUV/minivan without
sacrificing every hip tip Martha taught us
before that nasty stock-manipulation scandal?
Just check out Pontiac's all-new sport
wagon, which blends the usefulness of a 5-
door hatchback with the handling and comfort of a small sedan. Based on the popular
Toyota Matrix, the Vibe is boxy-chic, nimble
and spacious — no small feat considering it's
slightly shorter than the Honda Civic sedan.
Backseats fold down for a large, flat
floor. Power comes from a so-so 4-cylinder
or a peppy V6. Side airbags and ABS are
options on some models. And at 26 mpg.
this trendy car makes both a fashion and
Subaru forester SUV • $20,545-22,895
Introduced five years ago, Subaru's
Forester was fully redesigned for 2003. It's
fresher, larger and has an all-new body for
better handling. Best of all, the "Martina-
mobile" is full of standard features, including power windows, locks and mirrors,
cruise control, tilt steering, AM/FM/weath-
erband/CD audio, side airbags, ABS. daytime
running lights and remote keyless entry.
Other plusses include better brakes,
high crash-test results and two option packages. It still offers high, firm seating, a carlike ride and full-time/ all-wheel drive. So
Forester still retains all the original qualities that made it appealing in the first place.
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