auto

10 best steals among new cars

 

Where there are wheels, there are deals, and some deals are steals.

Which are the 10 best cars for the money? To start, obviously, they're not the most expensive. And, they're not necessarily the cheapest. They are, by definition, the 10 best values for your hard-earned cash.

Here are the best steals on the new-car market today:

Family sedan: Volkswagen Passat
Lots of attention to interior details, amazing ride and ergonomics, impressive body styling. Upcoming later in 2004: minor changes in the Passat line, including a turbo-diesel engine. It comes in four-, six- or eight-cylinder engines. The top of the line is a 4-liter, eight-cylinder machine with all-wheel drive and anti-skid. The base model offers a 1.8-liter engine and five-speed with manual-shift capacity. Price range: $22,000 - $40,000.

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Minivan: Toyota Sienna
Great features and style, it's a Toyota with lots of upscale, Lexus features. You get electronic navigation, a leather and wood interior, laser-controlled cruise, even backseat DVD entertainment. It's high-end compared to other makes, but when you see what you get, it's a shoo-in! The car is all new for 2004, it's roomier, about $1,000 cheaper thanlast year and has a bigger engine.Price range: $23,000 - $37,000.

SUV: Volkswagen Touareg
Amazing styling options, great engine choices and a solid ride. The car can tow a 7,700-pound load with its 220-horsepower V6 or 310-horse V8 power mill. It's got six-speed all-wheel drive and a four-corner adjustable-suspension system. VW boasts of its intelligent crash-response system, triple-fold door seals, anti-theft and navigation systems and a 12-year corrosion warranty. Approximate price: $35,000

Most Fun Motor Car: Mini Cooper S
It's got an amazing fun-to-drive quotient. There are 163 horses hidden in a four-cylinder engine, matched to a six-speed manual gearbox in a crisp-handling car that's just supercharged, pure fun. The interior shines, with several color choices for door and dash, so it's customizable at the dealer at no extra cost. The fun mobile gets more points for the huge sunroof -- almost a convertible. Loaded with sport, leather and performance packages, it comes in more than $1,000 less than its nearest unloaded rival, the VW convertible turbo.Approximate price: $24,000

Full size truck: Ford F-150 Lariat Styleside
The interior is luxurious, with great instrumentation, cruise, tach, power everything and privacy. The seats -- or optional captain's chairs -- are leather, with a split bench. There's good door and armrest storage; a two- or four-door crew cab and options from lighted steps to a camper package. The Lariat is powered by a 24-valve, 5.4-liter V8 gasoline engine that carries a 2,748-pound payload.Approximate price: $33,000.

Sports car: Corvette and Dodge Viper
There are two winners here. Both are steals when you consider what you get for the money. Either a Corvette or a Dodge Viper. Both have big engines, big horsepower, big tires and small two-seater bodies, plus a small MSRP when you compare them to their rivals. The 'vette is a muscular street car that you can drive comfortably, the Viper is a raw, 190-mile per hour performance machine driven by a 500-horsepower mill that takes you to 100 miles an hour inside 13 seconds.Approximate prices: Corvette: $45,000; Viper: $80,000.

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Luxury Sedan: Lexus LS430
It costs less than a Mercedes S class or even a BMW 7 Series, yet gives you great reliability, smoothness, isolation and durability. For 2004 the flagship of the fleet has some redesigns, six-speed transmission, upgrades to shocks, brakes and steering and LED tail lights. Inside, knee airbags and rear A/C are added. And there's even an optional backup camera!Approximate price: $55,000.

Exotic coupe: Mercedes CL65
Six hundred horsepower in a super-quiet, smooth, luxurious Mercedes body lined with the finest leather and wood. Add active, ventilated multicontour seats, adaptive cruise control, electronic trunk closer and a car that's also available as a one-touch, top-down cabrio and you have a dream steal of a deal package. Approximate price: $180,000.

Ultra Exotic: Maybach 62
The only vehicle in the United States you commission like a yacht, custom-built for the owner. Unparalleled luxury and power, and a magic carpet ride.

Under the hood there's a James Bond-smooth V12 with 550 horsepower to make you go, while electrohydraulic brakes bring you to a gentle stop.

The sleek sedan has voice-controlled systems, and electronically controlled air suspension. In the cab, there's a four-zone climate control, all automatically adjusted by an invisible butler and hundreds of options, down to your choice of exotic leathers and woods to finish the trim, plus fully reclining back seats with integrated foot rests. Need more comforts? A fridge, two flat-screen TVs, DVDs and independent 600-watt sound system for each passenger keep you entertained while someone else enjoys the driving. Approximate price: $335,000.

Paul Bannister is a freelance writer based in Oregon.

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