Car Buyer's Guide

by Dan Dascalescu - 2008-May

So you want a buy a car... welcome to the world of options.

If you're looking for a car that leaves others in the dust at the red light, this guide is not for you. I don't care about showing off in a car or roasting tires. I do care about staying alive if one of those who do show off, hits my car.

I wrote the guide below for myself, while I was shopping for a new car. I hope it helps you too.

Criteria, in order of priority

  1. Safety
  2. Reliability
  3. Ergonomics
  4. Cost of ownership

Sources for safety ratings

  • InformedForLife.org - SCORE
  • IIHS
  • NHTSA - the star-rating brochures, or if you're a maniac, the raw reports. Note that NHTSA's "4-STARS is typically 3x risk vs. 5-STARS" (according to Informed for LIFE).
  • Germany's ADAC - mostly European cars (e.g. no Lexus). All information seems to show up in EuroNCAP as well, but without mention of model years, AND with slight differences (see EuroNCAP below). [why didn't ADAC use English so the whole world can benefit from this, literally, life-saving information?]
  • EuroNCAP - see ADAC above for model years. For example, EuroNCAP's Audi A4 2001 represents ADAC's Audi A4 2002-2004, but note the slight difference in protection for the driver, possibly due to steering wheel placement (right vs. left side). Doesn't test for whiplash injuries.
  • Australian New Car Assessment Program - doesn't test rear impact (whiplash injury)
  • Japan's National Agency for Automotive Safety and Victims' Aid - only Japanese cars; bad user interface; star ratings from 1 to 6
  • Folksam Insurance, Sweden - aggregates EuroNCAP and includes "the results of two independent car seat tests carried out by Folksam/National Road Administration and IIWPG (an international association in the insurance sector)"

Sources for reliability

  • Consumer Reports (CR) - subscription required
  • JDPower
  • MSN Auto - uninformative (almost all vehicles have 5/5 ratings)

The following are the cars from InformedForLife's SCORE ranking list for 2008 that ranked 65 points or under (the safest level). Any vehicle that had a 'Marginal' or worse ratings by IIHS or EuroNCAP, in any of the front, side or rear crash tests has been removed.

Approved vehicles

Audi A4, mfg. after 2005 Nov

Safety

  • IIHS rear: 2006 (mfg after Nov. 2005): A, A, G; 2007 (mfg. before Aug 2006): A, A, A; 2007-2008 (mfg. after July 2006): G, G, G
  • IIHS front: G; side: G, A cage
  • NHTSA 2006-2008: 4,4, 5,4, 4
  • EuroNCAP 2001: marginal driver chest, pelvis, Good rest; Good side
  • Folksam: whiplash protection "approved", 2001-2007

Reliability

  • CR: Audi A4, 4-cylinder: apparently very good, but for some reason the "used car" prediction is average
  • JDPower predicted reliability: 2/5; quality: around 3/5

Ergonomics

  • extremely responsive brakes; brakes too much when lightly pushing the brakes
  • rear seats fold nicely; can almost take a nap in the resulting trunk
  • good room in the back seat
  • + no ancient wood-trim
  • - ride less smooth than Lexus
  • - less quiet than Lexus
  • - no aux audio input
  • + good ergonomics for mirror adjustment (from driver's position)
  • - mediocre/ugly instrument panel lighting
  • CR's road test

Cost

Audi A6 - 2007 sedan

Safety

  • SCORE: 2007,2008 sedan: 57; 2006 sedan: 58; 2005 sedan: 57; 2004 sedan and 2007 wagon: medium risk (78, 72)
  • IIHS: all G but 'A' legs, perfect side
  • IIHS rear:
    • 2007-2008 (mfg. after Nov 2006): G, G, G; power leather seats
    • 2005-2007 (mfg. before Dec 2006): A, A, G; "all seats (AHR)"
  • Folksam 2005-: whiplash protection approved
  • EuroNCAP: 2004: G/A driver, G side. No other years available. One of the rare cars with 'A' chest
  • NHTSA: N/A 2006-2008
  • Australian NCAP: 5/5

Reliability

  • CR: 2007 (almost perfect, except "very good" audio), average: 2006, 2005; really bad for older models

Ergonomics

Cost

BMW 3 series sedan 2006-2008, mfg. after Feb 2006

Safety

  • IIHS rear: 2006-2008: A, A, G
  • Folksam 2005-: whiplash protection not approved
  • IIHS front: all G. Side: A torso, pelvis, safety cage
  • NHTSA: 4,4, 5,5, 4,4
  • EuroNCAP 2005: surprisingly G
  • SCORE: 63

Reliability

  • CR 4/5: BMW 325i, 328i (RWD) 2006-07, 4/5 BMW 330i, 335i (RWD, non-turbo, 2006, discontinued); others (including 2 AWDs): average

Ergonomics

Cost

Lexus IS250 AWD 2006-2008

Safety

  • IIHS rear: 2006-2008: A, A, G; 2005: M, M, G
  • Folksam 2006-: whiplash protection not approved
  • IIHS: 2006-2008: perfect G all over
  • SCORE: 2008: 57; 2006, 2007: 65
  • NHTSA: 2006-2007: N/A. 2008: front 4, 4; side: 5, 4; rollover 5
  • EuroNCAP 2006: front G, A; side G
  • Australian NCAP 2006: 5/5
  • Japan's NASVA: 6/6
  • Japan braking distance test: 2nd place in pack: 40.1m (1st place 39.9m)

Reliability

  • CR: 2007 best; RWD better than AWD
  • JDPower: 2006 best, 5/5; 2007: 4.5/5, quality 4/5

Ergonomics

  • - rear seats don't fold, but skis can be placed in the trunk through open/close hatch in the middle of the back seat
  • - bad ergonomics for mirror adjustment (driver needs long hands, or must lean forward)
  • - side mirrors are too short
  • - oversized console between front seats
  • "The rear seating area is very cramped; rear seat does not fold"
  • cramped back seat confirmed by Edmunds consumer rating: 9.2, 108 reviews
  • annoying "ladder" shifter
  • dual-exhaust pipe
  • + aux audio input
  • + nice instrument panel lighting

Cost

Volvo S80, 5-cylinder

Safety

  • SCORE: 61
  • IIHS front/side/rear: G almost all over. No side tests 2006 or prior
  • NHTSA 2006: 5,5, 5,5, 5; not tested 2007, 2008
  • EuroNCAP 2000: marginal chest
  • Folksam 1998-2006: whiplash protection "approved"

Reliability

Ergonomics

Cost

Rejected vehicles, safe

Cadillac CTS 2008

Standard features include [...] OnStar. OnStar can be used for remote surveillance; see also the Wikipedia section on OnStar privacy issues.

Safety

  • SCORE: 48; any older model has medium risk
  • IIHS rear, front, side: perfect G all over
  • NHTSA: front N/A, side 5, rollover 4

Reliability

Cost

Saab 9-5 2006-08

!! OnStar is standard

Safety

  • IIHS rear: 2005-2008 A, A, G
  • IIHS side: A pelvis, M cage
  • IIHS front: A feet
  • NHTSA w/ or w/out wagon: 5,5, 5,4, 4
  • EuroNCAP 2003: side G, front M right pelvis

Reliability

  • CR: 2006 good; newer no data; older average or worse
  • JDPower: no ratings 2005 or later. 2004: 2.5/5

Cost

Misc

Rejected vehicles, unsafe

Acura RL

Safety

  • SCORE: 2005 or later (2004 had bad NHTSA safety score). SCORE: 46, best
  • NHTSA: 5* all over the place.
  • IIHS: front: G; side: G but A for safety cage structure
  • IIHS rear: M, M, A

Reliability

  • ConsumerReports: best 2007, 2006, 2005
  • JDPower: 2004 has 19/20 dependability, but is unsafe
  • MSN: 2005: 5/5

Quality

Doesn't really matter, since a (certified) used car should've had its initial quality problems fixed.

Acura TL - 2006 = $26k

Safety

Side protection: 4 out of 5 star by both NHTSA and IIHS

  • SCORE: 2004 or later: 55
  • NHTSA: 5*, except 4 on front side and rollover
  • IIHS: all G, except A for side rib fracture and cage
  • IIHS rear: M, M, G. TL is better than RL

Reliability

  • CR: 2004-2007: best reliability=2006, 2005, 2007, 2004
  • JDPower: 2004 sucks
  • MSN Autos: 2004-2005 all 5/5

Quality:

  • JDPower: best 2006, 2005, 2007, 2004

Audi A4, 2005 Nov - 2008

Safety

  • SCORE: 62
  • EuroNCAP 2001: marginal chest, pelvis
  • IIHS front, side: G
  • IIHS rear: after Nov 2005: A, G 2007 A4 12k mi Quattro $30k; non-Quattro $29 12k mi

Cadillac DTS

Safety

Cadillac STS

Safety

Hyundai Azera

Safety

Hyundai Sonata

Safety

  • NHTSA: 2006-2008 5* all, 4* rollover
  • IIHS: 2006-2008: unsatisfactory: A front head, Poor driver pelvis side, M cage
  • IIHS rear: 2006-2008: G, G, G
  • EuroNCAP 2006: marginal

Infinity G35 2007-2008

Safety

  • SCORE: 58
  • IIHS front: G; side: G, cage A
  • IIHS rear: M, M, G

Infinity M35/45

Safety

  • !! IIHS rear: P, P, A

Lexus ES350

Safety

  • SCORE: 54: 2007, 2008
  • NHTSA: 5*, 4* rear occupant side, 4* rollover
  • IIHS: G all over the board.
  • !! IIHS rear: M, M, G.
  • EuroNCAP: N/A

Lexus GS

Safety

  • IIHS rear: M, M, A/G
  • SCORE: 2008, GS 350/460: 64; 2007 350/430: 64; 2006 300/430: 63; 2003-5 avoid
  • EuroNCAP 2005: G/A; "Its body proved to be extremely strong"

Lexus LS460/460L 4-DR

Safety

Lexus LS600hL 4-DR

Safety

Mercedes C class

Safety

Mercedes-Benz E-Class 4-DR, 2007-2008

Safety

Saab 9-3 convertible

Convertible rollover is extra unsafe

Safety

Saab 9-3 4-DR

Safety

  • IIHS all: G all over except 'A' side cage
  • NHTSA 2008 w/ or w/out wagon: 4,4, 5,4, 4; no earlier tests

Reliability

Saturn Aura

Safety

Toyota Prius

Safety

Volkswagen Passat 2006

Safety

  • IIHS rear: 2006 only passes: A, A, G; 2007 M, M, G
  • IIHS front, side: all G
  • EuroNCAP 2005: surprisingly good; only car w/ green driver chest
  • NHTSA: 4,4,5,4, 4 rollover; all safety features standard; out-of-position side test

Reliability

Volvo C70 convertible, 2006-2008

Convertible rollover is extra unsafe

Safety

Volvo S40

Safety

Volvo S60

Safety

Thanks!

Buy me a coffee to sponsor more cool posts like this!

My tags:
 
Popular tags: