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Safest Cars Under 30000 Dollars

May 31, 2008
Before you slap down your plastic for a car with anti-lock brakes, rear parking sensors and active head restraints, you'd better make sure it comes with electronic stability control.

Just like seat belts and air bags, ESC is a revolutionary safety feature. But instead of minimizing a driver's impact during a crash, ESC helps avoid it in the first place. It improves handling by detecting skids, then uses the car's braking system to realign errant wheels.

It's so important that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) required a vehicle to come equipped with ESC in order to be considered a 2008 Top Safety Pick. Among the under-$30,000 vehicles named this year: the Honda Accord EX-L Coupe, Kia Sedona EX, Hyundai Santa Fe GLS and the 2009 Subaru Forrester 2.5X.

"We've seen ESC reduce fatalities by as much as half in some instances," said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Virginia-based IIHS. "ESC is especially great at reducing the fatalities for single-car crashes."

The organization's picks were chosen from 2008 cars, minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks. Each vehicle underwent front-, side- and rear-crash tests, and injuries were measured on dummies in the driver's and back seats.

Front-impact crashes are the most commonly fatal accidents, followed by side-impact crashes. While mandatory to be an IIHS Top Pick, side air bags are a standard feature on 65% of vehicles. Rear-impact crash tests generally happen at much lower speeds, resulting in more fender benders than fatalities. Collisions at slow speeds can still be a pain in the neck, though. These accidents are notorious for causing whiplash and a host of other back problems.

Designed to mimic real-world crash conditions, the IIHS front-crash tests run at 40 miles per hour, side-impact tests at 31 miles per hour and rear-crash tests at 20 miles an hour. Tests are graded with either a good, acceptable, marginal or poor rating.

"Crashes don't really happen at 60 or 70 miles per hour," Rader says. "Usually there's just enough reaction time to slow down, but not much."

This year, 34 models made the list, most offering ESC as a standard feature. While luxury makers like BMW, Audi and Mercedes dominate 2008's Top Safety Picks, several ESC-equipped cars under $30,000 joined them.

In compiling our list, we chose cars in each of five classes--large, midsize, minivans, midsize SUVs and small SUVs. The IIHS measures eight classes, but only these five had cars with a manufacturer's suggested retail price under $30,000.

In addition to ESC, the $28,465 Ford Taurus X SEL, a midsize SUV, comes with four-wheel anti-lock brakes, de-powered airbags, passenger airbags, head airbags and side airbags.

The Nissan Murano S, another midsize SUV, offers more. It's got auto-dimming rear view mirrors; side, front and head air bags; rear seat head restraints; dynamic head restraints; trunk release; auto crash notify; and a tire pressure monitor.

While SUVs dominate the IIHS's list (20 vehicles out of 34 are SUVs), Rader warns that they aren't necessarily safer than smaller cars.

"Top Safety Picks recognize the top in their class, but it's hard to compare," he says. "You should, however, avoid vehicles that perform less than 'good' in any test."

Nissan maxima is a car that has lost a significant amount of Jazz over the last three years. The 2007 "major facelift" if you will has corrected a number of issues brought on by the 2004 Maxima. For starters, the overall look remains the same but the lines and details are cleaner.

The interior has been thoroughly revised and includes a new dash layout, seats and materials. The changes have made the Max more attractive inside and out however the fact that only a CVT transmission is offered bothers me and points to the fact that it is no longer attracting sport-sedan buyers.

The VQ35 255 hp V6 is still a reference point when it comes to performance and refinement but the problem is that it has 15 fewer hp than the Altima. This CVT has not received the same programming as the Sentra and Altima have.

This means that the engine rpm wine to the top and stay there as long as you hold the gas pedal down. Generally speaking, the Maxima is still a very competent cruiser as steering, brakes and handling remains in the top tier of the segment.

The new Amanti does not look new but it is. The body has received a new of changes that do more to bring the look up to date as opposed. The cabin has been re-appointed but preserves much of the original Amanti's styling. The level of equipment and comfort features is greater in the Amanti than in any other car of same or mildly higher pricing.

The powerful V6 is almost ridiculously smooth. Borrowed from the Sedona, it actually makes the Amanti feel quick. The ride is quiet and comfortable. If there is one thing the Amanti is not is sporty. Weight transfers through curves are lengthy and laborious. On a highway, the car seems to float over the tarmac. Although the car has been revisited for 2007, it still behaves much like a Cadillac from the 80s.
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