Joe asks Jody Victor: 10 Best Values In Used Cars, 2012, Part II

When you start looking for a car, used or new, it helps to get some ideas about value, reliability, and safety. Here’s Jody Victor® with the second half taken from an article by Jessica Anderson of Kiplinger and msn.com.

Jody Victor®: Hey Joe, you are absolutely right! Having some info to go on gets you started and helps you make an informed decision when it comes to buying a new or used vehicle. Here’s the rest of the article.

2008 Subaru Outback 2.5i

Price when new: $25,240 (automatic)
Dealer used price: $15,218
Private-party price: $14,068
Certified used price: $16,256
MPG (city/hwy): 20/26

The Outback offers the best of both worlds: car-like construction to aid in maneuverability and fuel economy, plus the utility of all-wheel drive, copious amounts of cargo room (34 cubic feet) and a higher stance that improves visibility. Six airbags are standard, and it was an IIHS Top Safety Pick, too.

2009 Ford Taurus Limited

Price when new: $31,495
Dealer used price: $16,634
Private-party price: $15,271
Certified used price: $17,653
MPG (city/hwy): 18/28

Just a year after Ford revived the Taurus nameplate, it added standard stability control and earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Limited trim comes with Ford’s voice-activated SYNC system, which allows you to connect music devices with USB and phones via Bluetooth, making them easier to use safely.

2008 Mazda CX-9 Sport

Price when new: $30,035
Dealer used price: $18,315
Private-party price: $16,689
Certified used price: $20,424
MPG (city/hwy): 16/22

It seats seven and has 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind its third-row seats (48 cubic feet with the third row folded down), which helped the CX-9 win Kiplinger’s Best in Class award for this model year. Safety bragging rights include an optional blind-spot monitoring system — which will alert you if there’s something in your blind spot when you attempt to change lanes — and standard stability control.

2009 Toyota Sienna LE

Price when new: $26,865 (7-passenger)
Dealer used price: $18,463
Private-party price: $16,692
Certified used price: $19,882
MPG (city/hwy): 17/23

Multiple seating configurations make this minivan family- and cargo-friendly. In the seven-passenger Sienna, the removable second row captain’s chairs can be spaced out to give your brood elbow room, or arranged as a bench for easier access to the third row. The third row is split 60/40, and the sections fold over or completely flat. Even the front passenger seat folds down, should you have serious cargo needs.

2009 Infiniti G37x AWD

Price when new: $36,615
Dealer used price: $23,889
Private-party price: $22,308
Certified used price: $26,174
MPG (city/hwy): 18/25

The G Sedan gives German sedans like the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 a run for their money, but it costs thousands less. The 2009 model got a larger, 3.7-liter V6 engine that puts out 328 horsepower, as well as a seven-speed automatic transmission — plus, it packs in essential safety features, such as head and side airbags and stability control.

 Thanks, Jody! We’ll be sure to check them out!

Joe Victor

Joe asks Jody Victor®: 6 Racing Tips to Make You a Better Road Driver

 Racetracks have a way of removing all common sense and our understanding of physics. I asked Jody Victor  to tell us how to get it all back.

Jody Victor: Okay, here it comes, Joe, from an article by Clifford Atiyeh of msn.com  in two parts.

Pretending, as Eric Clapton once sang, means “you’re never who you used to think you are.” In college, I was quite good at it, whether I was “paying” for laundry with a quarter tied to a string of Scotch tape or talking to girls in a British accent. Behind the wheel, I’m about as fake as they come, with my out-of-state license plates and new test vehicles that match neither my age nor income.

Don’t clench the steering wheel

By keeping your thumbs upright on the wheel, you’ll be less likely to close them into a fist, where you’re then even more likely to become tense and make heavy-handed motions. Aside from staying calm, Pechnik says a lighter hand also lets you feel more of the road feedback in the steering, key to taking a tight turn with confidence.

Look far, far ahead

This one everyone tells you, but when you’re blitzing a straight at 120 mph and then have to brake hard to approach a corkscrew turn, your mind drifts to other things. Things such as holy-crap-I’m-going-so-fast-there’s-a-turn-oh-wow-I-almost-lost-it. Racing forces you to speed up your brain’s processing power. You can’t be looking a few dozen feet ahead or else you’ll be mesmerized by the blur. Look ahead where you want to go, and everything slows down so you can complete the turn and react without sweating bullets. On the road, with its billions of objects you could potentially hit, it’s critical.

Be patient in turns

Patience? In a car with 545 horsepower? It’s thin at best. That said, the key to driving fast is knowing where and how long to drive slow, Pechnik says. Go into a corner too fast or exit too early on the throttle and you’ll swing too wide or slide, which will detract from your rhythm and add time. That means not being a moron around entrance and exit ramps that are wide open.

Thanks, Jody! More next time!

Joe Victor

Joe asks Jody Victor®: 10 Most Useless Car Technologies II

Do we really need all those silly gadgets attached to our cars, now? I asked Jody Victor to tell us more about it from an article by the Editors of Popular Mechanics and msn.com.

Jody Victor: I’ve often wondered that myself. Some gadgets are helpful but others are just there and never get used. Here’s the second part.

Motorized Rearview Mirror

When Mercedes introduced this feature in the 1994 SL500, we found a great use for it: If a driver is following you with high beams at night, you can aim the mirror to reflect the light back into his eyes without reaching up. As Mercedes explains, the feature is meant to work with the memory system for seat positions, exterior mirrors, and other controls. We think, however, that it’s a good practice to adjust the mirror manually with your right hand after you get in any car, and this vital habit isn’t so inconvenient that you need the extra weight in a servo motor and wiring to allow you to unlearn it.

Motorized Seatbelts

Back in the 1980s, before airbags became common, automakers used motorized seatbelts to satisfy the passive-safety requirements (the rules for what a car needed to have to protect occupants during a crash). But for most, the only passive part was the shoulder belt and you still had to buckle a separate lap belt. Plus, the tracks were prone to getting gummed up slowing the belt to a crawl. Epic fail.

Proximity Warning Systems

In these systems, sensors detect an object close to a car and trigger alerts to warn a driver — sounds very handy. In practice, though, the alerts are not common between different cars (like vehicle horns), and they offer no easily viewed direction as to where the alerts are coming from: front, rear, or side. Often the alerts sound distractingly similar to other warning chimes, such as those intended to warn you about unbuckled seatbelts, open doors, and even low-fuel alerts.

Electronic Parking Brake

Junior Johnson of Nascar fame perfected the “bootleg” turn, a method of reversing the direction of a car at speed on a narrow road, sometimes with the help of a parking brake. Latter-day handbrake users employ the parking brake to slow down in speed traps without alerting the speed-trap operators by flashing brake lights, and still more mechanical-handbrake fans use the brake lever regularly to turn into sharp driveways covered in snow. Electronic parking brakes in Jaguars, Mercedes, BMWs, Audis, and Bentleys won’t allow any of this driver control.

Chevrolet Volt Capacitive Touch Controls

Now that we’ve all learned the ins and outs of touchscreens, we also know they’re nearly impossible to use accurately while we’re walking or jogging, riding a bike, or riding in a car. And even though we all balked at the first mass-produced touchscreen in a car, featured in the 1986 Buick Regal, those pressure-touch screens are much easier to use on the move than the Volt’s sensitive capacitive-touch screen. Plus, the Volt touchscreen, just like an iPhone screen, doesn’t work if you’re wearing gloves unless they’re made of specially designed conductive threads.

Thanks, Jody! We appreciate the info!

Joe Victor

Joe asks Jody Victor®: 10 Most Useless Car Technologies

Do you ever wonder, “What were they thinking!” when you use some of the gadgets in your car? I asked Jody Victor  to tell us about some of the more questionable ones. 

Jody Victor: These car technologies deserve to be called out for being underwhelming, frustrating, or just plain pointless. Here’s a list of ten from the Editors of Popular Mechanics and msn.com in two parts.

Paddle Shifters for Automatic Transmissions

In theory, the ability to manually shift an automatic with nice, prominent steering-wheel paddles makes some sense. Many of us don’t want the inconvenience of a manual transmission during the daily grind, but who doesn’t want to manually change gears once in a while? On some cars, like the AMG Mercedes with the seven-speed auto box, the paddles work fairly well. But we’ve often found that that the computer-controlled transmissions are far too reluctant to respond to driver inputs. As just one example, we’ve tried on multiple occasions to actuate the paddle shifters in the five-speed automatic in Acura’s nimble new TSX about eight times before one corresponding upshift occurs. Unless the paddle shifters are calibrated properly, they’re just another pointless feature.

Interlocked Seatbelts and Starter

This one’s a bit of a throwback, but it might be the most famous market failure here. Interlocked seatbelts and starters, which would prevent drivers from starting the car unless they were wearing their seatbelts, became law in 1973. But Minnesotans, for just one example, laughed it out of their market. No matter how well they were tuned, the carbureted cars of the period required owner finesse to start at minus 30 F. Why buckle up before you determine your car will start? So many Minnesotans would just buckle the belts in the fall and sit on them through the winter. Congress soon quickly rescinded this misguided rule.

Automatically Steering Headlights

For our money, we’ll take good headlights with broad beam spread and light output that covers the road evenly over these systems, which were designed to help drivers see around corners by turning the beams when the car’s steering wheel reached a preset angle. This feature is normally found only on luxury cars; we’ve tried them all and were never impressed.

Automatic Moisture-Sensing Wipers

This feature is just like the automatic spelling-correction that interferes when you type on a word processor or a smartphone: You spend more time defeating the system when it screws up than you’d spend using the system manually. We feel an easy-to-reach switch for wipers remains the best way to clear an intermittently misting windshield. Automatic rain-detecting wipers fall under the category of trying to read Mother Nature’s mind — hundreds of meteorologists say it can’t be done. The reason automatically adjusting wipers were invented in the first place is because customers complained of poorly designed and placed wiper switches. Carmakers should have adopted a slightly simpler solution: easier-to-reach switches.

Map Lights

What’s a map? Oh right, that stack of papers we used to carry around. The Mercury Capri of 1971 arrived standard with an articulating small spotlight (made by Hella for rally drivers) that would fold down from behind the rearview mirror and aim directly at the driver’s or passenger’s laps, illuminating a map without blinding the driver. It migrated to some Mustangs, but similar effective lighting wasn’t available in the U.S. until the early 1990s, though without the precise intensity of the Capri’s unit. By the late 1990s, map lights were finally common — just in time for the slow obsolescence of paper maps.

Thanks, Jody! More next time.

Joe Victor

Joe asks Jody Victor®: What Vehicle Is Best for Your City? II

Cities are cities, right? Not necessarily! While there are many similarities, the differences are what makes certain vehicles more useful to one area than another. I asked Jody Victor  to continue with the second part of the article by Erik Sofge of MSN Autos and msn.com.

Jody Victor: Hey, Joe, here they are, the rest of the vehicles best suited for cities around this great country of ours.

City: Phoenix | Vehicle: Dodge Challenger SRT8 392

The criterion for a vehicle in a desert city is pretty simple: heat-bouncing, lighter-hued interiors. There’s nowhere to tow your personal watercraft, no sane reason to go camping and no weather to sully the long stretches of blacktop carving through the dunes. So you can drive whatever boring thing you want, or you can channel your inner Mad Max with the Challenger SRT8. It’s pure, vintage muscle on 20-inch, 5-spoke aluminum wheels. Its only shortcoming is that the 6.4-liter 470-horsepower Hemi V8 engine doesn’t punch right through the racer-striped hood.

City: Jacksonville, Fla. | Vehicle: Jeep Wrangler

Miami might get the attention, but Jacksonville is the bigger city (with more than 800,000 residents, more than double Miami’s population), and it is surrounded by more diverse day or weekend destinations. So, for transitioning from open-air highway driving to powering through swampy conditions to rolling right onto the beach, the venerable Jeep Wrangler just makes sense. It’s the only 4×4 convertible, becomes the ultimate beachcomber with the doors fully removed, and it can ford up to 30 inches of water. But remember, this is gator country — don’t go fording with the doors and roof off.

City: Boston | Vehicle: Subaru Outback

The unpredictability of New England weather is so bad that it’s long been a point of pride for local residents. It’s also why Subaru, and the Outback, specifically, have always been so ubiquitous in the area. And so it goes for Boston, where the Outback and its symmetrical all-wheel drive is as adept at gripping rain-clogged streets as it is at forging through mud-spattered New Hampshire trails and snow-swept Maine roads. The 3.6R, with its 256-horsepower boxer engine, isn’t a necessary upgrade, but the rumors are true: Whether in rain, sleet or snow, Boston drivers go fast.

City: Seattle | Vehicle: Volkswagen Tiguan

For rainy Seattle, we could have just as easily picked the Subaru Outback again for its proven performance on wet roads, but the Volkswagen Tiguan is a capable all-weather traveler. VW’s power-juggling 4Motion all-wheel drive, and an off-road drive mode that’s exclusive to this model, provide more precise torque control, improved braking on loose surfaces and automatic speed adjustments during hill climbs and descents. The Tiguan has room to spare for outdoor gear, but it’s also a relatively luxe ride, with built-in iPod connectivity, leather two-toned interiors and a hipper overall look than its competition at Subaru.

City: Denver | Vehicle: Range Rover Evoque

The Evoque is a renaissance Range Rover, equally at home charging up and down the Rockies as it is cruising through downtown Denver’s LoDo neighborhood. This crossover won’t even ruffle the feathers of the famously environmentally active locals, with a fuel economy that is a rather commendable 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway. It’s not the rugged outdoors vehicle that other Range Rovers are, but it’s a snowy-weather road warrior, and the most stylish SUV on the market.

Thanks, Jody! We’ll be sure to check these great vehicles out!

Joe Victor

Joe asks Jody Victor®: Best Vehicles For Your City

Around the world, the city car is having a moment. Small, moderately peppy and easy-to-park models such as the Fiat 500 and Scion iQ would seem to be natural choices for the planet’s growing population of urban dwellers. I asked Jody Victor to tell us more about it from an article by Erik Sofge of MSN Autos and msn.com.

Jody Victor: The United States isn’t the rest of the world, and its city drivers tend to see their cars as more than daily transportation. Instead, they’re seen as ready-to-launch escape pods, with features as useful for extreme-weather commuting as for a day trip through the local wilderness. Here are the msn.com picks for the vehicles best suited to conquering America’s biggest urban jungles, and parts thereabouts, in two parts.

City: New York | Vehicle: MINI Cooper

Don’t worry, most of our choices aren’t as obvious as this classic city car. But for the most densely packed of U.S. cities, the MINI is the inevitable choice. It’s the appropriate size for parking and for squeezing past herds of double-parked offenders, but without being golf-cart small. What it lacks in cargo space (most New Yorkers aren’t hauling around lawn fertilizer and sheets of plywood), it makes up for in retro style. Since performance is wasted on the Big Apple’s cab-choked streets and cramped highways, stick to the base 1.6-liter 121-horsepower 4-cylinder trim, possibly in a hatchback for those biennial trips to IKEA or the beach out east.

City: Los Angeles | Vehicle: Nissan Leaf SL

There are a lot of places where the Leaf isn’t worth the cost, or the hassle of finding public car-charging stations, or the stigma of driving something that makes a Prius look sexy. In L.A., none of the above apply. In a city defined by standstill traffic, the all-electric Leaf qualifies for the prized HOV sticker (standard hybrids no longer do). Finding chargers within the Leaf’s 100-mile range is easy, and the SL trim can be fast-charged, cutting refuel time exponentially. In a city brimming with sports cars, this Poindexter of a compact is sort of sexy.

City: Chicago | Vehicle: Honda CR-V

The Windy City’s drivers don’t care about a stiff breeze. Rather, the nemesis of all car-owning Chicagoans is the cratered, moonscape condition of its potholed roads, among the worst in America. This compact SUV can handle snow and slick roads, and survive year-round abuse from below. Honda’s CR-V has the all-wheel drive to handle wintry commutes, enough elevation to clear the deeper chasms and, in one of the only comprehensive studies on pothole damage, Hondas came out on top. So what if the study was based in the U.K.? Any hope is better than none.

City: Houston | Vehicle: GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

There’s nothing particularly punishing about Houston’s weather or roads — a Camry would do. But Texas is truck country, where well-appointed 4-door pickups were born to roam. The Sierra doesn’t have the towing capacity of a Ford F-150, but it’s able to pull 9,600 pounds with its 6.2-liter V8 engine, more than enough to trailer a boat down to Trinity Bay. And it’s the classiest cargo-hauler in the business, with standard Bose speakers, heated and cooled leather seats, a remote starter and other features almost too fancy for any self-respecting truck.

City: Philadelphia | Vehicle: Ford Fiesta

Warmer and less cluttered than New York, but more quintessentially American in its history, Philly deserves a city car that’s more than a little patriotic. The Ford Fiesta is our pick, a car from the one Detroit automaker that didn’t ask for federal charity, and whose financial resurgence has a lot to do with its bold new designs, including the Fiesta. The critically acclaimed compact now gets up to 40 mpg on the highway with the more aerodynamic Super Fuel Economy package and, despite its entry-level sticker price, it comes standard with a voice-activated SYNC system.

Thanks, Jody! More next time!

Joe Victor

 

Joe asks Jody Victor® – 8 Convertibles You Can Buy for Less Than $30,000

Spring has sprung. The flowers are blooming, and the weather has gone from cold and gray to warm and sunshiny nearly overnight. That means it’s time to put away the all-wheel-drive SUV you relied on to survive winter and get into something that will allow you to enjoy the season better, something less practical, more revealing. I asked Jody Victor® to tell us about 8 convertibles we can afford now.

Jody Victor®: These cool vehicles are from an article by James Tate on msn.com. Here they are, Joe, in 2 parts.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Even if the faithful Miata were an additional $5,000 over its starting price of $23,470, it’d still be the no-brainer of this list. A tight and playful chassis combines with a fuel-efficient inline-4 engine (167 horsepower, 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway), nearly 50/50 weight distribution for great handling, and rear-wheel drive to keep alive the classic British sports-car recipe cooked up so many years ago. It’s great whether your intention is to have the wind blowing through your hair on the way to the supermarket or to do some amateur racing. If you have some extra change, the power hardtop is an excellent option. Mazda managed to squeeze the whole operation in without a sacrifice in trunk space and a weight gain of less than 80 pounds.

Ford Mustang Convertible

If you haven’t looked at the Ford Mustang in awhile, you really should. For $27,310, you can have a 3.7-liter 305-horsepower V6 engine that returns 31 mpg highway, which is something of a miracle — never mind that the roof comes off. For that price, you even get selectable power-steering assist, too. Change the feel from sporty to comfortable at the touch of a button. Jam in three of your closest friends and there’s no better way to do some beach cruising.

MINI Cooper S Roadster

We chose the MINI Cooper Roadster over the MINI Cooper convertible to be a little different, but really there’s a notable sacrifice in both price and practicality. That said, the Cooper S Roadster is faster than its convertible counterpart. In the Roadster S, the 1.6-liter engine benefits from turbocharging to produce 181 horsepower. We’d opt for the quick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission. The combination makes for a car that is more than quick enough, hitting 60 mph in 6.7 seconds and muscling its little self on to a top speed of 141 mph. Oh, and you’ll see 35 mpg highway, too, with 27 mpg city. Prices start at an admittedly lofty $27,350.

Fiat 500C

While we’re on the topic of small cars, we should note that Fiats once again are available in the United States, and the company has been kind enough to bring its successful 500 to our shores. For just $19,500, you can drive one with a retractable top. The car, which can only be described as cute, sports a 1.4-liter engine that churns out just over 100 horsepower and offers a choice of either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic. The story here isn’t in the power, of course, but rather the fuel economy. When equipped with a manual transmission, the little Fiat returns 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway. That makes for a lot of shopping before a refuel.

Thanks, Jody! More next time!

Joe Victor

Joe asks Jody Victor®: 12 Best in Class Car Values For 2012

Based on performance, value and safety — plus driving impressions from road tests, these Best in Class winners rom Kiplingers will “Wow” you. I asked Jody Victor to explain.

Jody Victor: Well, Joe, here they are, 12 vehicles that should keep you happy no matter what, by Jessica Anderson of Kiplinger, from msn.com , in 3 parts.

CARS UNDER $20,000: CHEVROLET CRUZE

Sticker price: $19,995 (Eco, manual)
Invoice price: $19,225
TrueCar national average price: $19,889
3-year resale value: 57%, 5-year: 40%
City mpg: 28, Hwy: 42

Introduced last year to replace the Cobalt, the Cruze quickly shot to best-seller status. It’s wallet-friendly on many fronts, blending a low price with impressive fuel efficiency and high resale values. Its stylish and nearly silent interior, plus solid handling, push it to the front of the compact pack.

CARS $20,000-$25,000: VOLKSWAGEN JETTA TDI

Invoice price: $23,451
TrueCar national average price: $23,619
3-year resale value: 62%, 5-year: 46%
City mpg: 30, Hwy: 42

The Jetta offers German engineering at a budget price but without a budget feel. It’s as spacious inside as compacts come, and as nimble, whether you’re parallel parking or navigating city traffic. The diesel version gets top honors for its powerful, fuel-efficient engine and stellar resale values.

CARS $25,000-$30,000: KIA OPTIMA

Sticker price: $25,850 (2.0T EX)
Invoice price: $24,205
TrueCar national average price: $25,205
3-year resale value: 52%, 5-year: 36%
City mpg: 22, Hwy: 34

The Optima’s redesign last year shook off the bland styling, adding sharp creases and an aggressive front end complete with fog lights and wraparound headlamps; it also won Kiplinger’s Best New Car award for its category. The turbo-boosted four-cylinder engine puts out more horsepower (274) than most in its class, a difference you’ll feel on the road. Add value pricing and a five-year warranty and you’ve got serious swagger.

CARS $30,000-$40,000: FORD TAURUS

Sticker price: $38,950 (SHO)
Invoice price: $35,820
TrueCar national average price: $35,005
3-year resale value: 54%, 5-year: 39%
City mpg: 17, Hwy: 25

A Kiplinger’s top pick since its 2009 reintroduction, the Taurus earns its plaudits with a mix of fuel efficiency and power. The V6 EcoBoost engine gives it the power of a V8 without guzzling gas. The Super High Output (SHO) badge means it gets a sport-tuned suspension, bigger brakes and paddle shifters.

Thanks, Jody! More next time!

Joe Victor

 

Joe asks Jody Victor®: More Great Commuter Cars

Well, if that last bunch didn’t trip your trigger, try this next lineup. Here’s our own Jody Victor  with more info from the article by Evan Griffey of msn.com.

Jody Victor: Hey Joe, I know that last group was great but, here goes with the rest of the great commuter vehicles.

Kia Sportage – Price: $18,500 – The Sportage fills the commuting needs of SUV fans. You get that high-and-mighty seating position, plenty of room and a slew of standard amenities in a stylish package. It costs $3,800 to add all-wheel drive to the equation, but we’d recommend it if you regularly face bad weather. The Kia is a great call when you need a double-duty vehicle that can both commute and support an active lifestyle outside the office. Fuel efficiency: 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway.

Scion iQ – Price: $15,995 – There are all kinds of engineering tricks that explain how the iQ looks small on the outside, yet is relatively big inside. But that’s not why it appeals to us in this context; the asymmetrical dash and staggered seating are the standouts here. This arrangement, in which the front passenger sits farther forward in the cabin than the driver, gives three commuters regular, no-compromise room. The iQ’s impressive 37 mpg combined city and highway mileage is the best among the strictly gas-burners on this list.

Subaru Legacy – Price: $19,995 – The Legacy is the all-wheel-drive alternative on the list. As part of its 2009 redesign, Subaru’s midsized sedan got a more expansive, ergonomic interior that makes better use of the space. It is offered in seven model trims with three engine choices and numerous interior and connectivity features, so there is a flavor for every palate. The base 2.5i trim features a 170-horsepower engine and continuously variable transmission and generates the best mileage figures: 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway.

Toyota Prius V – Price: $26,400 – There is a lot to like in the versatile all-new-for-2012 Prius V. The traditional gas-electric hybrid has more of a minivan profile than other Prius offerings. Its bigger packaging means more room for the commute and more cargo potential for weekend getaways, all while enjoying hybrid-spec fuel efficiency at 44 mpg city/42 mpg highway. The Prius V comes in three trims; only the top trim offers access to the commuter-friendly, high-end technology option packages.

VW Jetta Diesel – Price: $22,525 – Diesels have been known for their high-mileage figures for decades; this one gets 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway. But many still perceive them as being loud, smoky and crude. Get a clue: Modern diesels are quiet and clean-burning and offer a refined ride and drive. They make an excellent commuter car. Diesels produce big torque; the Jetta’s 236 lb-ft of torque doubles that of the first four cars on our list, giving it more pep from a stoplight. VW’s 2.0-liter TDI drivetrain can be had in sedan or SportWagen versions of the Jetta, making it more flexible for post-commute activities.

Thanks, Jody! We’ll be sure to check ’em out.

Joe Victor

Joe asks Jody Victor®: 10 Great Commuter Cars

I’m sure you are interested in anything that could make that morning commute any easier or more economical. I asked Jody Victor  to tell us about the best vehicles to do just that from and article by Evan Griffey of msn.com.

Jody Victor: Hey Joe, I don’thave to make that commute anymore but I certainly remember the frustrations. Here’s the first half of the article.

Chevrolet Volt  –  Price: $39,145 – The Volt is not a hybrid, but we understand why people think it is one. A conventional hybrid is a gasoline-powered machine that gets a boost from an electric motor to improve fuel economy. The Volt is an electric car with a gasoline assist. The gas-powered component isn’t part of the drivetrain at all, but rather acts as a generator, recharging the Volt’s batteries when necessary. The Volt can drive about 35 miles on an electric charge before the 83-horsepower gasoline engine kicks in. This configuration allows the Volt to roam as far as any other car on the road, something no other electric vehicle can claim. Plus, it is roomy and has all of the right amenities.

Fiat 500 – Price: $15,500 – The tiniest roller skate on our list, the Fiat 500, adds a little Italian flair to the morning drive. There are three regular trims — Pop, Sport and Lounge — two convertible offerings and two limited-edition 500s. The all-conquering turbocharged Abarth performance model will hit the scene in 2012. The 500 is only new to America; it has been a success overseas and won World Car Design of the Year honors in 2009. Nimble and chic, the 500 has all the attributes to please even the most image-conscious commuters. It gets 30 mpg city/38 mpg on the highway. Sure, it’s a little tight, but it offers plenty of style and comfort for a sole commuter.

Ford Fiesta SE – Price: $15,670 – The under-$14,000 Fiesta S is a miserly sedan that’s perfect for those who commute alone. But we chose the SE hatchback instead, because it is just as miserly — with a fuel-economy rating of 29 mpg city/39 mpg highway — and it better serves commuter and cargo needs. No matter which one you choose, however, you’ll own one of the best-connected rides on the road. Ford’s Sync system enables hands-free calling and texting when paired with your smartphone, and with Sync AppLink you can also access a nearly limitless amount of music via Pandora and other media outlets. And if you’re car pooling, you can use it as a wireless hub, so passengers can get a jump on the day while you chauffeur them to work.

Honda Odyssey – Price: $28,225 – The Honda Odyssey is not your typical go-to player in the commuter realm. It’s the people mover for larger car pools and can also serve as a family truckster for long-haul road trips. It’s pricey for a commuter, too, and the only V6 among these 4-cylinder fuel-sippers. But the van has plenty of space, and advantages such as seating for up to eight and an available rear-seat DVD system. And it’s efficient for its size: 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

Hyundai Veloster – Price: $17,300 – The Veloster is a new 2012 model. It looks more like a Honda CR-Z than a traditional hatchback. But we like the 2-door coupe’s style and the convenience of a stealthy third door that Hyundai added to ease rear-seat access. The Veloster is also well-equipped, featuring a lot of high-tech connectivity. However, we recommend anyone commuting with more than two people to test drive the rear seat of this vehicle carefully; the slope of the rear window may be a problem for passengers taller than 6 feet. Fuel efficiency is good, with a rating of 28 mpg city/40 mpg highway.

Thanks, Jody! More commuter vehicles next time.

Joe Victor