Don't pretend you don't know why your micro-mobile gets passed in the carpool lane. Whether it's a conscious choice or not, where we live plays a factor in the cars we choose to drive -- or at least it should. In case you're clueless as to what works best for where you live, here are a few cars to keep in mind.
|If You Live...||Then Consider...|
|In the city||Smart Fortwo, Volkswagen GTI|
|In the country||Chevy Silverado, Toyota Tacoma|
|In the suburbs||Toyota Camry Hybrid, Audi A3|
|In a warm climate||Mazda MX-5 Miata, Jeep Wrangler|
|In a cold climate||Subaru Forester, Legacy or Impreza|
|In a retirement spot||Honda Fit, Ford Mustang|
Cars for the City
Driving in the city can try your patience. Luckily, the Smart Fortwo is so small that it's destined to cut down the time you spend looking for a parking space. At approximately 106 inches long, the Fortwo "does do things no other car we've driven can do, namely make U-turns on some pretty narrow streets, and fit into parking spaces that would keep even a MINI, with its 12 feet of overall length, rolling past," says The Family Car. Not only does this vehicle take up half the space, but several New York City parking lots will allow you to park your Smart for half the price until Dec. 31, 2008.
The Volkswagen GTI can't squeeze into the micro-slots the Fortwo can manage, but it does offer turbocharged power and driving thrills the puny Fortwo couldn't even dream about. And while smooth shifting is the Fortwo's Achille's heel, the GTI's seamless Direct Shift Gearbox transmission is perfect for an urban setting. According to Kelley Blue Book, the electronically-controlled shift is "a smooth-shifting automatic transmission" in stop-and-go traffic, and "on our favorite road or track it's a quick-shifting, no-pedal manual." Autobytel says the GTI also does a good job isolating riders from the road, and notes "the ride is compliant, comfortable and freakishly quiet, with bumps and potholes silenced and handled with no effect on the passengers."
Cars for the Country
A small car's perks become problems in a rural setting, but a truck's utility could be a major plus. Auto writers say the Chevy Silverado is one of the more fuel-efficient full-size pickups, with a smoother ride than many others in its class. According to the Kansas City Star, Silverados "are nicely appointed and as comfortable to drive as SUVs." If you need more of a workhorse, the Silverado HD can tow up to 13,000 pounds or haul up to 11,400 pounds when properly configured.
Some compact pickups can also handle light towing and hauling. The Toyota Tacoma is practical for work, but it's the truck's comfortable cab and impressive safety that make it a reviewer favorite. Kelley Blue Book says the seats "are designed with pleasant bolstering and adjustability to fit most body types and sizes," and the New York Times finds a steering wheel that "both tilts and telescopes, a welcome and unexpected feature in a truck like this." In addition, Car and Driver says the Tacoma is "plenty of truck for 95 percent of truck buyers, everyone who isn't hauling plywood or pulling 40-foot goosenecks."
Cars for the Suburbs
The perfect suburban car gets good gas mileage for your work commute, has a reasonable amount of space for people and things, and sports a sleek enough design to keep you feeling young. Given those qualifications, a hybrid sedan like the Toyota Camry Hybrid is ideal because it "may be the only car on earth to satisfy performance junkies and ecoconservatives," as Motor Trend says, in addition to being a "well-equipped sedan that holds big people in comfort," as the Chicago Tribune writes.
The Audi A3 also has good suburban credentials thanks to its seductive styling, smooth moves and abundant cargo space. According to About.com, "the A3 dares to offer high-end amenities and German cachet in a package that is fuel-efficient, space-efficient, and family friendly." Car and Driver finds, "Overall, the A3 is one of those special terrier-like cars that are always eager to go."
Cars for the Heat
There's no better symbol of sun and fun than a convertible. Auto writers say the Mazda MX-5 Miata "is essentially without peer," according to the Orlando Sentinel. The Miata comes with either a hard or soft top, but New Car Test Drive says the soft top is "the best yet, and one of the best in sportscardom," later adding, "it looks neatly finished when it's down, with no additional effort...You'll never wish for power assistance."
The Jeep Wrangler's retractable tops also give plenty of exposure to the beach air -- and the opportunity for serious off-roading once you abandon the beach for the trail. According to Edmunds, "if the Wrangler can't get you there, you're going to need a Sherpa or a helicopter."
Cars for the Cold
For the cold weather, the Subaru Forester's full-time all-wheel drive gets attention for its composure on a variety of surfaces. AutoWeek reports, "Up and down steep and rutted dirt roads normally closed off to all but cloven-hooved bison, the Forester clawed its way, standard symmetrical all-wheel drive pulling and pushing as grade and grip dictated, almost never faltering."
If you like the idea of a Subaru but don't want a SUV, consider the Subaru Impreza or Legacy. Both sedans were selected as "Top Safety Picks" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for their ability to navigate slick, steep and dirt roads, and MSN found the Legacy "tracked confidently around curves at good speeds and even managed an emergency maneuver around debris without fuss."
Cars for Retirement Spots
A U.S. News' special report finds the best places to retire do not sway toward a type of climate or rural or urban setting, but rather have a population above 15,000 along with access to the best medical care and enough job options for those who still want to work. So overall, the best cars for your new home and days of leisure are those with good value and all-around appeal.
The Honda Fit proves a fixed income doesn't require you do away with quality. Popular Mechanics says the redesigned 2009 model "is still, by far, the most engaging drive" of the small car class. "And all of Honda's careful engineering comes at a bargain price starting at $14,550," they report. Others note the Fit can handle the sprawling twists of a more suburban setting or the sharp turns required in a city. Plus the Fit's combined 30 mpg rating holds up well whether you're enjoying your retirement in a bustling city or a sleepy locale.
With a starting price that's less than $20,000, the Ford Mustang will also agree with your simplified lifestyle and appeal to your nostalgia. MSN says the car "grabs people -- baby boomers who remember the first Mustangs from their youth and young people who weren't even born in the '60s but who likely recall a Mustang or two featured on the silver screen." In addition, the Mustang comes as a coupe or convertible, so you can be a rebel in warm or brisker weather.