This page lists my personal car shopping requirements and desires and my personal picks for vehicles in different price ranges. You might have different priorities than me. If so, you might want to check out my collection of new car research and buying links, which includes all the sites I looked at in making these web pages. It's not just a list, but is organized into a rough sequence of research stages.

Hard requirements:

Soft requirements, strongly desired features, and other properties to remember to optimize:


For under $15k, you start to sacrify safety features so I haven't even looked at figuring out what is best. For $15-20k, the safest vehicles are the Ford Focus with All-Trac and side airbags, VW Jetta or nearly identical Golf (in one of the sub-$20k trims), or the Honda Civic EX (need the EX to get the ABS).


In the $20-25k price range, I like the VW Passat GLS (I'd go with base trim, no options) or the Subaru Forrester S (I'd go with the high trim level to get the side torso airbags). The Passat has the side head airbags and provides a sportier engine and probably handling. The Forrester gives you AWD (the AWD Passat's are more expensive and so are mentioned below). Both have excellent crash test scores, though it would be nice if the new redesigned (refreshed) Pasast would be crash tested more extensively since so many parts have changed (they say very little is still the same).


I'm leaning towards an AWD Audi A4 in this price range, but it's a real pain that neither the 2001 nor 2002 has been IIHS off-set crash tested. It's a real shame that the Toyota Highlander isn't available with a manual transmission because it seems like a clear winner at this price range and would seem to be safer than the A4. A Subaru Outback just doesn't have enough of the improtant safety features at this price range (side head airbags, stability control, brake assist). The AWD Passat is also not available with a manual and doesn't have all the features nor the off-roading ability AWD, and height of the Highlander. Having AWD options like these at this price range pretty much eliminates the 2WD versions of the BMW 325 and the 2WD Volvo S60. The AWD 325xi is expensive enough to jump into the $30-35k range so isn't really a direct competitor for the same money here.


The BMW 325xi is all I would consider here, but I'm not really sure it is worth the extra money over an A4, so I'd probably lean towards stepping down to that and saving some money or financing an X5 (see below) rather than spending in this category at the moment. On the other hand, in a two vehicle situation, the 325xi would be an ideal driver's sedan if you had access to a wagon or SUV for the times when you needed to haul stuff.

$35,000 and up

The BMW X5 3.0i is all I would consider once I had $39k to spend. With xenon headlights park distance control (PDC) and adjustable ride height you can keep the price around $40k at the moment. With some more you can get the cell phone and Mayday system (like On-star with automatic airbag deployment alerting authorities automatically).

More information about automobile safety.

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

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Karl Pfleger
November, 2001