All vehicles on the list are available as 2003 models in configurations that have manual transmissions, 4 doors, side torso airbags, side head airbags, ABS, traction control, and stability control. If a vehicle is not available with all of these together, it is not included (e.g., the Lexus IS300 is available with a manual transmission or stability control, but not both together). It is a shame that advanced safety features like head airbags and stability control have not trickled down into a larger number of more affordable vehicles yet, but it is happening slowly. While it wasn't required to make the list, all vehicles on the list also have seat belt pretensioners and load limiters for the front seat occupants.
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|specs||other safety features||crash tests and injury stats ||reliability||price (on 11/30/02)|
|vehicle ||weight (lbs.)||height (inches)||ground clearance (inches)||drive wheels||EBD||brake assist||telematics (accident alert)||active head restraints||IIHS head (1-4)||IIHS front (1-4) (cm) ||EU front (1-100)||NHTSA front (1-5) (HIC,g) ||EU side (1-100)||NHTSA side (1-5) (TTI,g) ||NHTSA rollover resistance (SSF) (1-5)||IIHS injury claim rates||JD Power initial mech quality (1-5)||JD Power midterm mech reliability (1-5)||CR reliability||Edmunds TMV ($)||CD price ($)||configuration (for prices and weight)|
|BMW X5 3.0i||4533||67.5 (or 66.1 to 68.5 ||7.1 (or 5.7 to 8.1 )||AWD||yes||yes||expensive ||no||3||4 BP (41) ||81%||n/a||100% ||n/a ||n/a ||58%||4||2||-100%||43,317||42,395||sport, PDC, xenons, Oxford green|
|Audi A4 1.8T avant||3516||56.2||4.2||AWD||yes||yes||On-star||no||n/a||4 BP (58)||75%||n/a (coming soon)||100%||5 (39,40)||4 (1.42)||n/a||3||n/a||-40%||32,077 ||31,651 ||sport, xenons, On-star, prem, Atlas grey|
|Volvo S60 R ||3571||56.2||n/a||AWD||yes||no||no||yes||4||4 (102)||63%||4 (502, 52), 4 (399, 47)||100%||5 (49,67)||n/a||58%||3||n/a||+19% ||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Volvo V70 R ||3757||58.7||n/a||AWD||yes||yes||no||yes||n/a ||n/a ||42%||3||2||+1% ||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|BMW 325xi wagon||3594||56.3||n/a||AWD||yes||yes||expensive ||no||3||4 BP (107)||63%||4 (505, 44), 5 (241, 44)||83%||n/a||4 (1.41)||73%||4||2||-23%||33,877||32,669||xenons, full spare, steel gray|
|Saab 9-3 Linear||3250||56.8||n/a||FWD||yes||yes||On-star||yes||n/a ||n/a||81% ||n/a||100% ||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||26,948||27,225||sport, dolphin grey|
|Saab 9-5 Linear||3470||57||n/a||FWD||yes||no||On-star||yes||4||4 BP (108)||81%||5 (332, 42), 5 (348, 45)||100%||n/a||n/a||53%||3||2||+33%||33,456||29,137||no options, steel grey|
|VW Passat||3212||57.6||5.8||FWD||no||no||no||no||2||4 BP (139)||75%||5 (377, 44), 5 (318, 41)||89%||4 (66,87)||n/a||80%||3||3||+10%||21,720||21,254||ESP, silverstone gray|
|BMW 525i||3450||56.5||n/a||RWD||yes||yes||expensive ||no||4||4 BP (103)||75%||n/a||78%||n/a||n/a||68%||5||3||+12%||38,180||37,768||xenons, topaz blue|
|VW Jetta GL-1.8T||2974||56.7||5.2||FWD||yes||only on GLI||no||no||2 or 3||4 (160)||n/a||5 (373, 42), 5 (306, 42)||n/a||4 (59,63)||4 (1.37)||102%||3||2||-59%||18,930||19,019||ESP, galactic blue|
Some models are not included because other vehicles on the list are similar enough and superior enough to be clearly preferrable:
Note, I plan to update this page at some point to include handling and other performance information.
More detailed discussions about each promising model:
Bottom line: The X5 seems to be the only SUV with stability control, head airbags, and a manual transmission (if you don't count the Audi allroad as an SUV, or the only one with all those things and good crash test scores even if you do count the allroad). Even if you don't care about a manual transmission, there is no other vehicle that is as heavy or as tall (for visibility) but that nonetheless handles and brakes as well as the X5, though the Cayenne may change that (for twice the price). If you don't care about a manual transmission, there are several vehicles coming out to compete with the lower-priced-end of the X5 range soon that will have a full complement of safety features, including the VW Touareg and Volvo XC90, but it may be a while before they also have established crash test scores.
Bottom line: Top car AWD choice. Cheapest manual transmission AWD vehicle with head airbags and stability control that also has good crash test scores. Basically, it has every major safety feature that is available today on a wide variety of vehicles, lacking only very new things like night vision, or not-widely-available things like Volvo and Saab's active head restraints. The only current vehicles with better directly-comparable crash test scores available in the US are the Saab 9-5 and 9-3 and the Mercedes-Benz C-class and E-class. The 9-5 doesn't handle as well as the A4. The E-class isn't available with a manual tranny at all. The C-class is worthy if you don't want AWD, but has just as much of a reliability problem as the A4. To get a manual transmission SUV that is as safe, you have to go up to the X5 (for a lot more money, and a lot worse gas mileage and slightly worse handling).
Bottom line: Much better reliability than the Golf/Jetta, plus it's heavier than those vehicles. Best choice for around $20k.
There seems to be a real difficulty getting good handling, good reliability, and good safety features and crash test scores all into the same vehicle, especially in an SUV or if you also ask for a manual transmission. I'd really like to see a small or mid-sized SUV for under $40k with:
Since the Cayenne, Touareg, and XC90 are all coming to the US only with automatic transmissions, the two best contenders to first meet this modest set of requirements would seem to be the upcoming BMW X3, if it can pull off better reliability than its big brother the X5, or the Subaru Forester once it gets Subaru's stability control system (the only thing that kept it out of this list). Perhaps next year when it is rumored to also get a turbo engine like the WRX?
Other health and safety related consumer info that I've collected. In particular, see the disclaimer.