My Ideal Safe Fun Car

Short version (the things that seem hardest to find together): A vehicle with

(What is the cheapest car that satisfies these requirements? Oddly, I think it is the BMW 3-series at the moment, which isn't exactly known for being cheap. The Audi A4 is the cheapest with all the safety features but hasn't been IIHS tested or given a CR reliability rating yet. The VW Jetta GLI due out in May 2002 should have all the features, and be cheaper than either, and right now the Jetta has a "good" IIHS rating and an "average" CR reliability rating. If only there were an AWD Jetta.)

If I could spec it out myself fully, this is what I'd like. I'll try to be reasonable both in the sense of physics and economics.

My personal basic requirements: 4 door, 5+ passenger, manual transmission.

Safety related features and specs (this is also an order-of-importance list of the specs and features I consider important for safety):

  1. construction type: unibody (car or car-like SUV), as opposed to body-on-frame
  2. weight: 4000lbs (or 3750-4500lbs)
  3. crash test scores: top marks from IIHS, EuroNCAP, and NHTSA-NCAP
  4. seatbelts: 3-point seatbelts for the rear outboard seats (all seats a bonus); pretensioners, load limiters, and height adjustability for front occupants (rear outboard would be a bonus, all seats a double bonus)
  5. antilock brakes (ABS): with 4 channels and 4 sensors, 4 disc brakes
  6. front airbags: 3rd generation variable deployment power (at least dual threshold, continuously variable would be a bonus) with crash severity, passenger weight, and seatbelt use sensors
  7. side torso and side head airbags: seat-mounted for front passengers so they deploy away from occupant, with individual sensors to not deploy if occupant is in deployment path (rear side airbags a bonus, but only if they have deployment path sensors and shut-off switches)
  8. headrest design: active whiplash protection system (ala Saab or Volvo)
  9. handling: handling as good as or better than a good family sedan (eg Passat) or a good road-oriented SUV like the BMW X5 or Subaru Forester, which means roughly a skidpad roadholding index of 0.75g or better and comparable slalom scores or scores in Consumer Reports emergency avoidance maneuvers
  10. braking performance: braking as good as or better than a good family sedan (eg Passat) or good road-oriented SUV like the BMW X5, which means roughly a 60-0 figure of 140ft or less
  11. acceleration: non-sluggish acceleration (0-60 in 8sec or less)
  12. good visibility
  13. rollover risk: low rollover risk, but not sure what objective standard this needs to be better than (at least as good as the X5)
  14. stability control (electronic skid correction)
  15. full-time all-wheel-drive (traction control implicitly)
  16. On-Star or equivalent telematics system
  17. tires: run-flat tires and a tire pressure monitoring system (can be added aftermarket)
  18. good reliability (above average ratings in Consumer Reports and JD Powers initial quality survey)
  19. brake assist (full-power braking on emergency braking detection)
  20. variable height suspension
  21. xenon (HID) headlights
  22. audible speed warning alert
  23. voice recognition for phone and NAV system
  24. steering wheel controls for cruise control, sound system
  25. sonar or radar based sensing system like BMW's PDC system for detecting hard-to see objects (especially behind the car while backing up, can be added aftermarket)
  26. cruise control (bonus if it is adaptive with detectors for distance to car in front)
  27. daytime running lights
  28. self-dimming review mirrors (including side mirrors, can be added after market, but not the side mirrors as easily)
  29. collapsable steering column
  30. cargo tie-downs (for wagon, SUV, or hatchback styles)
  31. (not safety related but part of my ideal vehicle:) price: $30,000 or less (up-front no-haggle price such as or buying agent, that includes everything but taxes, title, plates)
  32. (not safety related but part of my ideal vehicle:) gas mileage: 18/23 or better, with a ULEV rating or better
  33. (not safety related but part of my ideal vehicle:) warranty: 4yr/50,000mi or better

Miscellaneous personal requirements that should be easy to satisfy: air conditioning, folding rear seat, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry.

Form factor or vehicle class: Ideally, SUV, and if not then 4-door hatchback, wagon, or sedan (not sure). But I'd be happy with any vehicle that met these requirements. Just about any major manufacturer could build such a vehicle for this price. Hopefully one will.

More information about automobile safety.

Other health and safety related consumer info that I've collected.

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Karl Pfleger
August, 2001