Friday, December 15, 2006

BMW’s Sauber F1 Team has a new supercomputer called ‘Albert2’.

By Alex Zaharov-Reutt

BMW’s Sauber F1 Team has a new ally in the battle to win F1 races – a supercomputer called ‘Albert2’.

So, what can Albert2 do? Is he alive like Number 5? Well… a supercomputer he may be, but there’s no sign of sentient thought just yet.

Albert2 is designed to do ‘computational fluid dynamics’ or CFD, and he does it three times faster than his predecessor Albert. Of course we’re assuming that Albert2 is a fellow, because there aren’t many female computers around, and none of them are called Albert, although we are sure there must be an Alberta or two around somewhere.

Launched on Thursday to the world press, it’s the fastest supercomputer in the industry, it has been designed to help with the car’s aerodynamics, and is BMW Sauber’s attempt at focusing on computing power, rather than building a second physical wind tunnel as other teams are doing.

According to BMW Motorsport Director Mario Thissen: "Aerodynamics has a crucial influence on the performance of modern Formula 1 cars, with experimental work in the wind tunnel and computational fluid dynamics complementing each other. The launch of Albert2 means a decisive reinforcement of our CFD capacity”.

"Unlike other teams, we are not planning to build a second wind tunnel but will continue to bank on the consistently expanding potential in this area. For the new season, we have set the goal of further reducing the gap to the top. Our new supercomputer based on Intel technology is an important tool supporting us in this effort."

Albert2 is using the latest dual core Intel Xeon processors in a cluster, with the move to multi-core credited with being able to meet BMW Sauber’s computing power needs now and into the future.

There are 256 nodes with two Intel Xeon 5160 processors each, for a total of 1024 cores. Over 2000 gigabytes of memory (2048 to be exact) is installed, giving a maximum computing power of 12.288 teraflops.

While Albert2 is on average 3 times faster than the predecessor Albert using a program known as ‘Fluent’, a ‘Linpack’ Benchmark clocks the system at 5.5 faster.

Source here

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Top 10 Features Every Minivan Should Have

By editors at

When you've got a family and an active lifestyle, nothing's more practical than a minivan. But some vans are more practical than others. To help out with your decision-making process, we've put together a list of the 10 features we consider the most important to have in these family-centered vehicles, plus some bonus goodies. We've eliminated basics like rear air-conditioning controls and dual sliding doors that are standard fare on most, if not all, modern-day minivans, and concentrated on more recent innovations that you won't find in every van on the market. The features are arranged in no particular order. We've listed the minivans that are available with each feature — either as standard equipment or as a factory option.

Adjustable pedals or telescoping steering wheel: People come in all sizes, and in order to be a sane parent, you've got to be able to find a safe, comfortable position behind the wheel. Adjustable pedals are a big help for those of shorter stature, as they allow you to bring the pedals closer without having to move the entire seat forward. A telescoping steering wheel performs much the same function (you're moving the wheel closer or farther from your body), but even taller adults will find that it allows them to tailor a driving position to their liking. In an ideal world, minivans would include both features, but for now, several models offer one or the other.

Minivans with adjustable pedals:
Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest

Minivans with a telescoping steering wheel:
Mazda 5, Toyota Sienna

In-floor storage: When you need a place to store groceries to keep them from baking in the sun or rolling around the rear cargo area, or extra storage space for children's toys, you can simply lift the cover on an in-floor storage cubby and place the items inside. This keeps items from being strewn around or lost, frees up precious floor space, and makes for a safer riding environment. If you need a large flat space for carrying cargo, simply open the storage cubbies and fold the second- and third-row seats into them. Simple, easy and effective!

Minivans that have it:
Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey

Conversation mirror: This politely named overhead convex mirror is actually a parental spyglass that allows the driver to see what's going on in every seating position in the van. Without turning around and looking away from the road, a flustered parent can discover exactly who is instigating border warfare in the third row, or can accurately aim a swat into the second row without swiveling her head.

Minivans that have it:
Ford Freestar, Kia Sedona, Hyundai Entourage, Mercury Monterey, Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey

Fold-flat third-row seat: Do you like the idea of having to remove heavy third-row seats and cart them into your garage every time you need some extra cargo space? Neither do we. Fortunately, most, if not all, manufacturers offer a third-row seat that folds neatly into the floor, providing a flat load surface. Many offer a 60/40-split design for their seat, which provides additional flexibility for larger families: Someone can sit on one section of the seat, while the other has been dropped into the floor to accommodate cargo.

Minivans with a single-piece fold-flat third-row seat:
Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Ford Freestar, Mazda 5, Mazda MPV, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest, Pontiac Montana SV6, Saturn Relay

Minivans with a 60/40-split fold-flat third-row seat:
Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Toyota Sienna

Tire-pressure warning system: Your tires provide the only connection between your minivan and the road. If they're not properly inflated, your minivan won't handle as well and your ability to steer around potential accident situations will be reduced. Additionally, underinflated tires are more susceptible to blowouts should they pick up a nail. When you're taking care of small children, checking the tire pressure may not be the first thing on your mind. However, if your van has a tire-pressure warning system, you'll be alerted if the tire pressure falls too far below the factory specification.

Additionally, some minivans are fitted with run-flat tires, whose stiffer sidewalls allow them to support the vehicle's weight, even after a tire has lost most or all of its pressure. This comes in handy in remote areas, as a minivan can be driven up to 50 miles (at up to 55 mph) in the event of a blowout. Of note is the Michelin PAX run-flat tire system used on Honda's Odyssey and Nissan's Quest. This system requires specially sized wheels and a rubber donut inside the tire, and is often far more hassle if a tire needs replacing, due to added cost and complexity. The Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey offer a lower-cost alternative to run-flats — self-sealing tires. Self-sealing tires have an extra lining coated with a puncture sealant that can permanently seal small punctures from nails and bolts without any human intervention.

Minivans with tire-pressure warning systems:
Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna

Minivans with self-sealing tires:
Ford Freestar, Mercury Monterey

Minivans with run-flat tires:
Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna

Reconfigurable second-row seats: Even if you've got a van with a fold-flat third-row seat, there are times when you may want to reposition the second-row captain's chairs to form a bench seat or make way for bulky cargo. Reconfigurable second-row seats are fore/aft-adjustable, so you can decide how to divide up the legroom between the second and third rows. Honda's Odyssey offers a pop-up center seat for the second row as well as full adjustability, making the second row capable of seating three instead of only two. Toyota's Sienna also offers fully adjustable second-row seats, but in practice, its seats aren't as easy to reconfigure into a bench (fortunately, Toyota offers an eight-passenger model for those who truly need a bench in the second row). An interesting system of note is the Stow 'n Go system for the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country. This offers covered spaces in the floor to fold the second- and third-row seats into. When not in use, these cubbies can be used for storage.

Minivans with seats that adjust side to side and fore/aft:
Honda Odyssey, Mazda MPV, Toyota Sienna

Minivans with seats that adjust fore/aft only:
Ford Freestar, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest, Chrysler Town and Country

Reverse-sensing system or rearview camera: Backing out of the driveway or a parking space is no easy feat in a large vehicle, particularly when rear passengers' heads are obstructing your rearward view. Reverse-sensing systems, also called Park Assist, employ bumper-mounted sensors that use sonar to locate objects, pets and people from three up to six feet from the vehicle. Audible beeps of varying intensity let the driver know how close he/she is to an object before it's too late. These sensors also prove their worth when you're attempting to parallel park in a tight space. Radar-based back-up systems have a significantly longer range, sensing up to 16 feet behind the vehicle, and are currently found on the aftermarket.

Although reverse-sensing systems are quite effective, they're still no substitute for actually being able to see what's behind you. Some manufacturers have a solution to this problem: Equip a minivan with a navigation system, and a tiny bumper-mounted camera will project an image of what's behind you onto the nav screen when the van is in reverse. Though costly, this is a neat feature that quickly becomes hard to live without. You can also find parking sensors (for both the front and rear) and rearview cameras on the aftermarket.

Minivans with a reverse-sensing system:
Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Freestar, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest, Pontiac Montana SV6, Saturn Relay

Minivans with a rearview camera:
Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna

Side curtain airbags for all three rows: Side curtain airbags protect occupants' heads in the event of a side-impact collision or rollover. Although they're fairly common among today's new passenger cars, full-length coverage (for all three rows of seating) is a recent development among minivans and large-capacity SUVs. If you're the type of parent who requires maximum peace of mind, you'll want to make sure you get a minivan with this feature.

Minivans that have it:
Chrysler Town & Country, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Mazda 5, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna

Traction and stability control: Traction control is a simple feature that allows for more confident low-speed maneuvers on slippery roads or in muddy parking lots at the soccer field. When one of the tires begins to spin and lose traction, the system intervenes by applying the brakes and/or reducing engine power to that wheel and smoothly redirecting it to the wheel(s) that have grip. Stability control goes beyond traction control and helps in higher-speed situations by employing sensors to monitor how closely your vehicle's path matches your intended path based on steering, throttle and brake inputs. When appropriate, such a system can apply braking forces to individual wheels and/or reduce engine power to prevent dangerous skids. It's especially useful on slippery roads.

Minivans that have traction control:
Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Mazda MPV, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest, Pontiac Montana SV6, Saturn Relay, Toyota Sienna

Minivans that have stability control:
Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest, Pontiac Montana SV6, Saturn Relay, Toyota Sienna

Side window sunshades: This feature is just starting to creep into minivans after being offered for years in many luxury sedans. These power sunshades open and close at the touch of a button, offering occupants protection from the sun, especially useful for infants and younger children. Without this option, most parents resort to suction cup devices that don't work as well and look cheap. If your child rides in a car seat in the second row, this is an especially handy feature to have.

Minivans that have it:
Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna

Bonus features
So we've told you the features we think are essential for every minivan, but what if you have a flexible budget that enables you to create the ultimate minivan? Well, here are some features that we don't consider necessities but are nonetheless enjoyable additions to a family vehicle.

115-volt power outlet: Don't let the voltage rating throw you off — we're talking about a standard two-prong household outlet. That means you can plug in the PlayStation 3 or the portable camp stove without using an adapter (the kind you'd need for the usual 12-volt power points). It doesn't get any more convenient than this.

Minivans that have it:
Buick Terraza, Saturn Relay

Power-down rear side windows:
Even with all the room to spread out, life in the back of a minivan can become uncomfortably warm at times. In the past, sliding side doors mandated fixed glass in the second row, leaving the "ventable" third-row windows as the only source of fresh air. Some manufacturers, however, have broken free of this limitation. They offer power-down side windows in the second row of their minivans, allowing passengers to enjoy a fresh breeze.

Minivans that have it:
Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Mazda MPV, Toyota Sienna

Power rear liftgate:
What at first sounds like an extravagance turns out to be very convenient, especially when you approach the van with groceries in one arm and a child in the other. Simply press a button on the remote or yank on the exterior handle, and a power-operated liftgate will open under its own strength. Stow the groceries in the cargo bay, hit the button again, and go about your business. Like we said, very convenient.

Minivans that have it:
Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna

Rear DVD entertainment system: Although there's plenty to be said for spending quality time together during a road trip, those hours can get mighty long, even for the closest of families. Having the option to pop in a cartoon for the kids or a movie for everyone to enjoy (except the driver, of course) can make long-distance adventures much more relaxing. And since these systems come with wireless headphones, the kids can watch the movie while the adults listen to the radio.

Minivans that have it:
Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Mazda 5, Mazda MPV, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest, Pontiac Montana SV6, Saturn Relay, Toyota Sienna

Center folding storage tray: This simple feature is nothing more than a tray with cupholders that fits between the front captain's chairs, but the parents on the staff love it. Why? Simply put, it can easily accommodate the spoils of a trip through the drive-thru, or provide the perfect resting place for a bag or a purse. In the event that you need to get to the rear seats to comfort a baby or break up a territorial dispute, simply fold down the tray and walk through to the back. Some manufacturers try to increase storage capacity by offering a larger, removable center console unit in this space, but these typically require two hands and some elbow grease to remove, so you'll find yourself having to climb over them when you're in a hurry — and that isn't very convenient.

Minivans that have it:
Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Toyota Sienna

Navigation system: Writing down directions or printing them off the Internet seems simple enough, but when you have a lot to carry or are in a rush, those directions can easily become misplaced. Also, written or printed directions can distract you from your driving by forcing you to check the paper and then look for the corresponding street signs. A navigation system helps avoid undue stress caused by complicated or misplaced directions. It also keeps you focused on your driving by telling you where and when to turn.

Minivans that have it:
Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Mazda 5, Nissan Quest, Saturn Relay, Toyota Sienna

DVD changer: Most vehicles today offer the option of an in-dash, six-CD changer to cut down on the frequency with which the driver has to change a CD. Now, the option of a dual six-CD/DVD changer is being offered in some minivans. This allows parents to load DVDs into the changer and not worry about switching discs while driving, and risk hearing, "Are we there yet?" from the children in the backseat.

Minivans that have it:
Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan, Dodge Grand Caravan, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona

Onboard hard drive: Like cassettes and CDs when they first appeared, MP3s are emerging as the favored music format of today. GM was thinking of this when it introduced the option of a 40-gigabyte removable hard drive for its line of minivans, called the PhatNoise system. With this feature, you can store thousands of music MP3 files and several dozen movie files to the hard drive, and have them all accessible and searchable from inside your minivan. This feature eliminates the need to constantly switch CDs or DVDs, allowing you to concentrate on driving and keeping things hassle-free for the entire family at the same time. Worth noting is the addition of auxiliary inputs to the stereo in many new minivans. This feature allows an external hard drive, such as an MP3 player, to be connected to the stereo, allowing for much the same hassle-free use as an onboard hard drive.

Minivans with onboard hard drives:
Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6, Saturn Relay

Minivans with auxiliary inputs:
Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Nissan Quest, Saturn Relay, Toyota Sienna

Top 10 2006 4WD Vehicles for Off-Highway Use

By Brent Romans

To access some of the most enjoyable outdoor activities America has to offer, one sometimes has to travel into remote areas of state or national parks. Frequently, these areas can be reached only by traveling on rock-strewn trails that wind steeply up hills or mountains. In cases like this, it's important to have a vehicle that doesn't get jittery at the first sight of dirt. To help consumers choose, we selected a diverse group of 2006 model-year pickups and SUVs that we feel are the most capable over rough terrain and made recommendations as to how to equip them for maximum performance. Please note that the order of this list is alphabetical and does not represent an editorial preference of any one vehicle over another.

1. Dodge Ram 2500:
On its own, the Dodge Ram doesn't possess many inherent qualities that make it more capable than its competitors like the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Nissan Titan or Toyota Tundra. However, there is a version of the Ram, the Power Wagon, that allows the Ram to make our list. The Power Wagon is a Ram 2500 with plenty of special off-roading hardware, including front and rear differential locks, an electronically disconnecting front stabilizer bar, 33-inch off-road tires, Bilstein shocks and a 12,000-pound winch.

2. Hummer H1 Alpha:
The Hummer H1 Alpha is a pretty lousy vehicle by most measures. It's heavy, unwieldy and slow. Want to carry stuff? More cargo volume can be found in a Chevrolet Equinox. Price? If you have to ask, you can't afford it. Where the H1 is unmatched, however, is in its ability to neutralize obstacles in wide-open terrain. Featuring massive ground clearance, big tires and a stout drivetrain, the H1 Alpha can crawl over or ford its way through just about anything. Order the Off-Road Adventure and Tire packages for top performance.

3. Hummer H2:
Welcome to Hummer Lite. The Hummer H2 isn't as big or as heavy as the Hummer H1, nor does it have as much off-road capability. But the H2's smaller size makes it much more realistic to use in urban environments, and it still has more than enough tough-truck attitude to take on the majority of off-road trails. Either the regular H2 or the H2 SUT (which features an open cargo bed) will do. Order the optional rear air-suspension feature to slightly improve the H2's capabilities.

4. Jeep Grand Cherokee:
For overall versatility, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is an outstanding choice. This midsize SUV deftly offers plenty of off-road capability without sacrificing too much on-road comfort. In terms of size, the Grand Cherokee is just about right: It's big enough to provide adequate cargo room but still compact enough to make off-road navigation easy. The best performing Grand Cherokee of the range is one with the 5.7-liter V8 engine and the Quadra-Drive four-wheel-drive system.

5. Jeep Wrangler:
This classic American SUV has earned a loyal following because of its rugged capabilities, compact size and iconic styling. Of course, it's not very civilized and is a poor choice for an urban commuter car. But for the ultimate in rock crawling and trail maneuverability, the Jeep Wrangler can't be beat. Our choice for 2006 is the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, which has, among other items, stronger axles, front and rear differential locks, a 4:1 low-range transfer case and off-road tires.

6. Kia Sorento:
Compared to the Hummer H1 Alpha, which is just as likely to squash an obstacle rather than go over it, the Kia Sorento might seem a bit outclassed for this list. But for the money, this midsize SUV is an attractive package. It has enough truck DNA in it, including a body-on-frame design, a standard V6 engine, a solid rear axle and sufficiently meaty tires, to make it decently capable when the pavement ends. Best of all, a four-wheel-drive Sorento can be had for a tad over $20,000.

7. Land Rover Range Rover:
Like the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Land Rover Range Rover has a rich heritage relating to off-road adventure. One could argue that the Range Rover has become overly posh in recent years. Indeed, it's unlikely that many owners will be thrashing their new 2006 Range Rovers over boulder-strewn trails. But there's no denying that the Range Rover, given its long list of off-road-oriented technology features, is still one of the most capable SUVs available for taking on nature's muck and grime.

8. Nissan Xterra:
In the six years since its introduction, the Nissan Xterra has lived up to its marketing tagline of "Everything you need, nothing you don't." Rugged construction, a powerful V6 and plenty of versatility are in the Xterra's repertoire. Common automotive frills, like leather seating or GPS navigation, are not. For maximum off-road capability, go with the Off-Road trim level, which equips the Xterra with a rear differential lock, specialized tires, Bilstein performance shocks and hill descent control.

9. Toyota Land Cruiser:
The Toyota Land Cruiser has rightfully earned its place as one of the world's premier go-anywhere vehicles. Used in just about every rugged environment on Earth, the Land Cruiser has a strong reputation for durability, versatility and comfort. It's a do-all SUV that's equally at home on city streets or unimproved mountain roads. Most of the Land Cruiser's off-road-oriented equipment comes standard, though there is an optional four-wheel height control system that can improve off-road performance.

10. Toyota Tacoma:
Though old, beat-up American full-size pickups are still the weapon of choice for most hard-core off-roading enthusiasts, Toyota pickups have earned a measure of respect because of their capability and durability. The midsize Toyota Tacoma, now in its second generation, continues the trend. For off-road use, the Tacoma can be equipped with a package that includes a tuned off-road suspension, Bilstein shocks, special tires, a rear differential lock and an underbody skid plate.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Top 10 Cheap Cool Cars for Teens for 2006

By Warren Clarke

You're ready to transition from teen to teen with wheels, but you're finding the journey from bus rider to car driver bumpier than you'd thought.

Why? Well, you want a new, not a used car. You've made up your mind; it's not open for debate. But you're discovering that the coolest new cars are priced way beyond your budget. The ones that you are able to afford are, well, a lot less cool than you'd hoped.

Or are they? "Affordable" doesn't have to be just another word for "lame." These days, automakers are targeting the youth market (that means you) with accessibly priced vehicles that offer most or all of the things smart young buyers crave: stylish looks, sporty handling, great fuel economy, abundant safety features and a first-rate sound system.

Each of our 10 recommendations may be purchased for under $20,000. And most importantly, you won't be embarrassed to be seen pulling up in any of these rides at school.

2006 Honda Civic— MSRP: $14,360-$21,940.
Best All-Rounder: Available as a sedan or coupe, the Civic is an all-rounder like no other; it's good-looking, fun to drive and reliable, with a lengthy list of standard safety features, including antilock brakes and full-length side curtain airbags. The Civic also offers a range of four-cylinder engines designed to satisfy everyone from the enthusiast (bake some donuts with the 197-horsepower Si) to the tree-hugger (save the planet with the Civic Hybrid).

2006 Mazda 3 — MSRP: $13,710-$19,165.
Best Handling for the Buck: Mazda's 3 looks sporty and it's got the goods to back it up, thanks to nimble handling and two peppy, refined engines — a 150-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 160-hp, 2.3-liter four (bear in mind that fuel economy suffers with the 2.3). You'll also dig its upscale interior, which offers stellar materials quality and outstanding design. Side-impact and full-length side curtain airbags are available. The 3 may be purchased either as a sedan or as a four-door hatchback offering up to 17.1 cubic feet of storage behind its rear seat.

2006 Scion tC — MSRP: $16,300-$17,100.
Roomiest (Pseudo) Coupe: Scions offer no-haggle pricing and all the reliability you'd expect from a company that's a Toyota spin-off. The tC boasts a roomy cabin, brisk handling, ample power from an eager 160-hp inline four, a standard sunroof and 17-inch alloy wheels and a host of standard safety features. You also get a sweet Pioneer sound system with available iPod connectivity. Side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are optional. This Scion looks like a coupe, but it's actually a cargo-friendly three-door hatchback; fold down its rear seats and cargo capacity swells to 60 cubic feet.

2006 Scion xB — MSRP: $14,030-$14,830.
Best Ride for You and Four Friends: Want to make a statement? Get yourself an xB; its distinctive styling (it looks sort of like a mini-ambulance — we mean that in a good way) is a real head-turner. Its boxy looks are functional, too; the xB boasts abundant head- and legroom (enough to seat five in total comfort) while offering up to 43 cubic feet of cargo space. Motivated by a 103-hp, 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, the xB is light on horsepower, but the upside to that is fuel economy in the 30-mpg range. One negative: Side airbags are not available.

2007 Honda Fit — MSRP: $13,850-$15,970.
Best Value: A five-door hatchback, the Fit offers a long list of standard equipment; included are side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and an audio system that works with iPod players. Its interior allows for an incredible amount of utility, with ample storage nooks and over 21 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the second-row seats. Fuel economy is over 30 mpg; the trade-off is a somewhat slight 109-hp engine.

2006 Ford Mustang — MSRP: $19,115-$26,320.
Best High-Performance Thrill Ride: You want cool? It doesn't get much cooler than the Ford Mustang coupe, a car whose retro styling invites you to slide on in and pretend you're on That '70s Show. In true muscle-car fashion, this rear-wheel-drive coupe is a scream on the road, whether powered by the 210-hp V6 or the 300-hp V8. Oh, and the Mustang earned great scores in both front- and side-impact crash testing, so it'll get you there quickly as well as safely. Side-impact airbags for front occupants are optional, but full-length head curtain airbags are not available.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta — MSRP: $17,900-$24,865.
Most Upscale: The Jetta sedan offers polished lines and premium cabin materials. You also get tons of standard safety features (like full-length head curtain airbags) and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the Jetta earned top marks in frontal- and side-impact crash testing. Available with a host of engines (including a diesel that gets up to 42 mpg), the Jetta is fun to drive, with crisp handling and brisk acceleration.

2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse — MSRP: $19,399-$24,599.
Sexiest Sport Coupe: Sexy little sport coupes don't get much sexier than the Eclipse — not in this price bracket, anyway. Blessed with supple lines and a handsome cabin, it's a blast on twisty roads. Buyers have the choice of two engines: a 162-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 263-hp V6. Side-impact and head curtain airbags are standard. Audiophiles will love this Mitsubishi's available 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system, which offers class-leading sound.

2007 Nissan Versa — MSRP: Approximately $12,000-$16,000.
Best Value, Part Two: The Versa five-door hatchback goes on sale in June 2006; look for a sedan version to hit dealerships six months later. The car boasts a spiffy interior with lots of passenger room, and the hatchback offers 16.9 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats. Sound junkies will crave the crisp sonics of the car's available Rockford-Fosgate stereo system. Motivated by a potent-for-its-class 120-hp engine, the Versa is available with a six-speed manual, a four-speed automatic or a continuously variable transmission (CVT); when equipped with a CVT, mileage is in the high 30s. Front-seat side airbags are standard and full-length side curtain airbags are optional.

2006 Pontiac Vibe — MSRP: $15,260-$19,250.
Most Versatile: Handling is modest on the Vibe, but Pontiac's compact wagon offers a smooth, comfy ride. Side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are optional, and the Vibe earned solid scores in government crash tests. This Pontiac is available in front-wheel and all-wheel-drive models; front-wheel-drive models may be had with either a 130- or 170-hp engine, while all-wheel-drive versions offer 118 hp. The car's versatile interior offers fold-flat rear seating, which boosts cargo capacity to just over 54 cubic feet. Better yet, the cargo area offers a wipe-clean plastic surface (for muddy stuff) and adjustable cargo tracks (so you can tie down bulky stuff).

Top 10 Most Fuel-Efficient Cars for 2006

By Warren Clarke

With gas prices steep as a Himalayan slope, fuel-efficiency is a prime consideration for an ever increasing number of car buyers. For all you smart souls with an eye on the pump, we've compiled a list of the 10 most fuel-efficient cars currently sold in the U.S.

Rankings are based on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) miles-per-gallon ratings for city and highway travel. More specifically, we used the EPA's combined fuel economy formula: 55 percent of city mpg rating plus 45 percent of highway mpg rating. The rating for each vehicle below is expressed in mpg as a city/highway ratio. All ratings apply to base models equipped with a manual transmission, except where indicated otherwise with an asterisk.

Each model was allowed only one appearance on the list. The sole exception is the Honda Civic, which appears twice as a result of being available in both gas-electric hybrid and regular gasoline versions.

Honda Insight — 60/66
Toyota Prius — 60/51*
Honda Civic Hybrid — 49/51*
Volkswagen Golf TDI — 37/44
Volkswagen New Beetle TDI — 37/44
Volkswagen Jetta TDI — 36/41
Toyota Corolla — 32/41
Scion xA — 32/37
Hyundai Accent — 32/35
Kia Rio — 32/35
Honda Civic — 30/40*
Pontiac Vibe — 30/36
Toyota Matrix — 30/36

Top 10 Luxury Cars Under $35,000

By Steve Siler

What's the most luxury you can buy for less than $35,000? Below are the 10 luxury-brand cars that give you the best bang for the buck in this price bracket. They also communicate prestige to colleagues and friends. Sure, non-premium nameplates like the Nissan Maxima and Volkswagen Passat provide much the same amenities, but neither says "I've arrived" with the same authority as an Audi or BMW.

1. Acura TL: Sharp handling, a sweet V6, top-grade materials and a 5.1 surround system all in one midsize sedan? The midsize TL is a compelling answer to anyone who's ever questioned the pricey options on the A4 and 3 Series.

2. Acura TSX: The compact TSX offers most of the TL's virtues in a smaller, less expensive package. The fact that it costs less than similarly equipped European sedans and has a larger backseat makes this Acura one of the best value stories on this list.

3. Audi A4: Available as a sedan, wagon or convertible, with either a turbo four or V6 engine and front- or all-wheel drive, the A4 is Audi's jack-of-all-trades. Driving dynamics strike a superb balance between comfort and handling, while the interior continues to set the bar for style and opulence at this price point.

4. BMW 3 Series: Although an all-new model is in the works, the 3 Series is still attractive, and feels as sprightly today as it ever has. With just a few options, its price jumps way ahead of the pack, but all is justified by a scintillating driving experience that has yet to be matched by its competitors.

5. BMW Z4: The charismatic Z4 roadster blends luxury and fun like no other in this group. With just two seats and a small trunk, the Z4 offers no shred of practicality, but it more than makes up for that in sheer thrills and style, style, style.

6. Chrysler 300C: Hemi V8 power, luxurious accommodations and son-of-Bentley looks catapulted this car into stardom in 2005, earning it award after award from the automotive press. But don't let the throwback styling fool you: modern Mercedes-Benz mechanicals ensure the big sedan has the moves to match its mug.

7. Infiniti G35: Whether you choose the intimate coupe or the spacious sedan, the Infiniti G35 is a real blast to drive — not surprising, considering how much it shares under the skin with the Nissan 350Z sports car. Furthermore, the G35 heaps on the luxury without breaking the bank the way its German competitors can.

8. Lexus ES 330: While not the sportiest car in this bunch, the ES 330 is, perhaps, the easiest to drive. Indeed, if your definition of luxury includes a pillowlike ride and complete isolation from the elements, the ES 330 is your car.

9. Volvo S40 and V50: With a base price that is comparatively low for this group, the super-safe and suddenly sexy S40 sedan and its wagon counterpart, the V50, can be loaded with options like a Dolby ProLogic surround sound stereo, slick wheels and even all-wheel drive while keeping the bottom line within reach.

10. Volvo S60 and V70: If you find the sassy new Volvo S40/V50 models a touch too tight, perhaps you'll find the one-size-larger S60 and V70 just right. New head- and taillights and minor interior updates keep them looking sharp for '05, while Volvo's emphasis on providing class-leading safety hasn't changed a bit.

Top 10 Car Rental Tips

By Warren Clarke

Remember when people rented cars mainly for the purpose of vacation transportation? These days, things have changed. The car rental industry has grown by leaps and bounds; the most current estimates available (for 2004) put annual car rental revenue at a whopping $17.6 billion. Airport rentals have historically been the main revenue driver, but that segment has remained virtually flat over the past decade and a half; the industry's growth is due almost entirely to the explosion of the "home-city" rental market — renting from a neighborhood location — which has snowballed from $2.5 billion in 1991 to today's $9.5 billion. Auto Rental News, the industry's leading trade publication, estimates that for the first time in the history of the industry, home-city rental captured the lion's share of the market in 2004, with 54 percent of total revenue.

Those renting from neighborhood locations do so for a host of reasons. Some need an extra-large truck for that move across town. Some need a comfy hauler for a cross-country family road trip or a weekend of furniture shopping. And others crave a glamorous high-end cruiser for a fun-filled night out.

Whether you're an airport renter or a home-city renter, we've got a list of tips designed to help make your car-rental experience as pain-free as possible for your bank account.

Surf the Net. As is the case with many purchases, you'll usually find the best rates on the Internet. Shop around. Buying online will afford you the luxury of seeing what rates look like on any vehicle your heart desires, without the inconvenience of having a salesperson breathing down your neck. Also, many companies offer special discounts to people who rent online. Rates will obviously vary from company to company, depending on vehicle availability, location and other factors. But rates aren't the only variable to consider. Consider hours of operation, for example; some companies may close earlier on weekends. Depending on your schedule, this might be a crucial issue for you.

Go weekend. Rates are typically cheaper on weekends. At one company we surveyed, you could rent a subcompact on a weekday for $64.99. When we opted for a weekend rental, the figure plummeted to a far more reasonable $22.99. If you've got some flexibility with your rental arrangements, opt for weekend rental. Your pocketbook will be eternally grateful.

Weekly does it. Weekend rates are great, but weekly rates are usually the best of all. At one company we surveyed, a subcompact went for a weekday rate of $56.99. That same car could be rented on a weekly basis for just $252.99, a savings of more than 30 percent if you used the vehicle for all seven days, and more than 10 percent if you returned it after five days. If you plan on using the vehicle for five days or more, choose the weekly rate.

Think twice about insurance. When renting a car, you'll be offered a collision damage waiver (CDW) and a loss damage waiver (LDW). The first covers you in the event of a collision, while the second covers any loss to the rental company. Both kinds of coverage are a good idea, but not if they duplicate coverage already included in your own insurance policy. Most insurance policies offer liability coverage to protect you if you injure someone in an accident; some also cover rental-car damage via comprehensive and collision coverage. Check your policy or call your insurance agent to verify coverage before signing up for a vehicle. If you're renting the car with a credit card, your card provider may pay for vehicle damages associated with an accident. Check with your card company ahead of time to make sure.

There's one caveat. The collision damage waiver covers "loss of use," the charge levied by the rental car company to cover its lost income when the vehicle is out of service. In most states, auto insurance policies don't cover this loss, so if you have an accident, you may wind up having to pay this charge out of your own pocket. The states in which loss of use is covered in car insurance policies are: Alaska, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Texas. Unless you live in one of these states, the waiver may be a good idea.

Book early. It's not just a cliché; the early bird really does get the worm, and he usually gets it much cheaper than everyone else. Rates depend on how many vehicles the company has on the lot at the time the rental is made, so sooner is better. Reserve your car at least a week in advance.

Think twice about prepaid gas. Typically, renters have two choices when it comes to fuel: You can pay for a full tank of gas in advance and bring the vehicle back empty (or less than full), or you can opt to refuel it yourself just before returning it. Rental car companies suggest that paying in advance will add convenience and that the low rates offered will save you money. Well, they're right on the first part but wrong on the second. Paying in advance is an added convenience; if you want to save yourself the hassle of a trip to the gas station or avoid a last-minute rush when you're trying to make a plane, pay away. But unless you plan on using the entire tank of gas, prepaying will cause you to pay for more fuel than you've actually consumed. From a financial standpoint, prepaying is a bad idea unless you're absolutely certain that you'll use the full tank.

Be careful of upgrades to larger vehicles. Sometimes, rental car companies will offer free upgrades to larger vehicles. They do this mainly because compacts tend to be in high demand. This sort of upgrade may seem like a great deal for you, the renter. If having a larger vehicle will genuinely enhance your rental experience, then take the upgrade. But if you have no real need for the extra space, it's cheaper to decline. Larger vehicles burn more gas, so that "free" upgrade isn't really free — you'll wind up paying for it at the pump.

Steer clear of airport pickups. Picking up a rental car at the airport can be more expensive due to taxes and fees. Try looking at nearby neighborhood locations to save money. A recent Travelocity study showed that renting at an airport costs more than 11.5 percent more on average than renting at a neighborhood location. Texas airports were the chief offenders, but airports in states like Arizona, Ohio, Maryland, Missouri and New Mexico also cost renters more in taxes and fees.

Got kids? Seat 'em yourself. If you're traveling with a little one, you can save yourself some coin by bringing your own child safety seat. One rental company we surveyed charged almost $10 per day for child safety seat rental. Obviously, this can tack a significant amount onto your car rental expenses, so if you're able to, bring your own child safety seat. If you're renting a minivan, though, know that some rental minivans include integrated child safety seats at no extra cost.

Join the club. Many of the larger companies offer club membership in which members pay a yearly fee in exchange for certain perks and privileges. These clubs can save you money with benefits like free rental days and airline miles, but you'll likely only see savings if you're a frequent renter. If you fall into this category and use rental vehicles more than occasionally, go clubbing.

Top 10 Best Car Movies

By Drew Hardin and Tori Tellem

From American Graffiti to The Fast and the Furious, why we think these are must-see car movies

"How could you leave off Bullitt?!" "Where is Duel?" "Do Elvis and Viva Las Vegas mean nothing?"

We must have started with at least 30 solid candidates and whittled it down via heated exchanges and fisticuffs. That meant horror films such as Christine and The Car ended up losing the fight, as did favorites, including Two-Lane Blacktop and Smokey and the Bandit.

But where's the iconic '68 Ford Mustang Fastback? Bullitt's simply not that great of a movie. And to see the famous car-chase action, you need to weed through about two-thirds of inaction. Which brings us to another controversy: Where's Ronin? The Bourne Identity? The Italian Job? Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry? If this was Top 10 Best Car Chases, they'd be here.

Duel and The California Kid were made for TV but we opted to focus on theatrical releases. And sorry — Viva Las Vegas and Spinout seemed more like Elvis musicals that happened to have cars than car movies that happened to have Elvis.

Here are our picks for all-around good car flicks, listed in no particular order. Plus, we've included our favorite catchphrases. These DVDs are available for purchase on (with the exception of Cars, which has not yet been released on DVD).

American Graffiti (1973)
Stars: Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford
Star cars: 1932 Ford coupe, 1955 Chevy, 1958 Chevy Impala, 1951 Mercury coupe, 1956 Ford Thunderbird
The story: A memorable last night of cruising for a group of high school friends.
Why it works: Milner's coupe. Falfa's '55. The Pharaoh's '51 Merc. A cop car leaving its rear end on the street. That ghostly white T-Bird with Suzanne Somers. Plus we like the lesson: When faced with life's big questions, hit the road.
Quote: "I'll love and protect this car until death do us part."

The Blues Brothers (1980)
Stars: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd
Star car: The Bluesmobile — 1974 Dodge Monaco
The story: The Brothers raise money to save their childhood orphanage and put their old rhythm-and-blues band back together. Why? They're on a mission from God.
Why it works: Is there any other movie with as much vehicular carnage? Maybe over-the-top stunts go on too long, but you've been talking about them driving through that mall for years, haven't you? And the music isn't bad either.
Quote: "It's got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant; it's got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It's a model made before catalytic converters so it'll run good on regular gas. What do you say — is it the new Bluesmobile or what?"

Cars (2006)
Stars: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Richard Petty
Star car: Porsche Carrera, Hudson Hornet, Willys MB, Ford Model T, Volkswagen microbus
The story: Racecar hotshot finds himself off the beaten track and learning life lessons from a bunch of small-towners. Did we mention they're all cars?
Why it works: Tire crumbs flying and roof flaps opening prove this was animated by gearheads. Sharp-eared viewers will dig the insider cameos.
Quote: "Turn right to go left! Guess what? I tried it, and you know what, this crazy thing happened. I went right!"

The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Stars: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel
Star cars: Mitsubishi Eclipse, Toyota Supra, Honda Civic, Mazda RX-7, Dodge Charger R/T, Volkswagen Jetta
The story: Cop goes undercover in L.A.'s import street-race scene to bust a ring of electronics thieves.
Why it works: It pushed the burgeoning import car culture into the mainstream. The cars were a little cartoonish but earned street cred for having been built by actual import tuners. It's best during bumpin' nighttime street races, even though we've never seen as much neon at a real import show. As unbelievable as the race and chase sequences are, they're still pretty cool.
Quote: "I live my life a quarter-mile at a time."

Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Stars: H.B. (Toby) Halicki
Star cars: Many, including a certain Ford Mustang Fastback named Eleanor.
The story: Car thief has to boost 48 cars in a week. Mayhem ensues.
Why it works: The first half is probably studied in film school as how not to write, cast and act in a movie. But the cars on the thieves' hit list are super-fine, and the final 40 minutes have to be seen to be believed. Yes, Halicki hurt himself hitting that light pole. How could he not?
Quote: "I bet five more cars have been stolen in just the time I've been here."

Grand Prix (1966)
Stars: James Garner, Eva Marie Saint
Star cars: 1960s Formula 1 racecars
The story: The Euro-cool world of open-wheel racing.
Why it works: A throwback to when men actually drove Formula 1 cars (without computer controls) and stunts were with actual vehicles (without computer controls). The race footage, especially the in-car stuff, is still awesome. Racing purists may think Steve McQueen's Le Mans is more deserving, but this film's storyline is more engaging, soap opera or not.
Quote: "There is no terrible way to win. There is only winning."

The Gumball Rally (1976)
Stars: Michael Sarrazin, Gary Busey, Raul Julia
Star cars: Shelby 427 Cobra, Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona, Porsche 911 Targa, Camaro Z/28, Dodge Polara
The story: Fictionalized account of Brock Yates' highly illegal cross-country Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.
Why it works: For starters, it features two of the flat-out sexiest cars ever built — the 427 Cobra and Ferrari Daytona — duking it out at high speeds in Manhattan, the L.A. River, and everywhere in between. It's far more car-centered than the ridiculous Cannonball Run.
Quote: "And now my friend, the first rule of Italian driving: What's behind me is not important."

Mad Max (1979)
Star: Mel Gibson
Star car: Australian Ford Falcon
The story: Super Cop Max takes on a motorcycle gang in the near future — a tale of revenge driven by post-apocalyptic cars and crotch rockets.
Why it works: Drama, suspense, violence, dark humor, and that wicked, supercharged Falcon screaming across Australia's empty vastness. It's simple, low budget and gritty.
Quote: "Look, any longer out on that road and I'm one of them, a terminal psychotic — except that I've got this bronze badge that says that I'm one of the good guys."

Thunder Road (1958)
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Gene Barry
Star cars: 1950 Ford coupe, 1957 Ford Fairlane
The story: Noir-ish cops versus moonshiners melodrama.
Why it works: Cheesy dialogue, karate chops, wooden acting make it good-bad, but there's some jaw-dropping stunt driving. And lots of cars blowing up. One of the best speed traps ever: gasoline on spike strips so the car will careen out of control, flip over and crash — into a nearby power station. And blow up.
Quote: "That hard-headed hillbilly has caused us enough trouble already. Now tonight we're going to take him out. And I mean really out."

Vanishing Point (1971)
Stars: Barry Newman, Cleavon Little
Star car: 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T
The story: Antihero, with help from a blind DJ, tries to deliver a car in record time.
Why it works: It's an antiestablishment fable dripping with the Vietnam era's distrust of authority. A man versus The Man battle waged over a tasty big-block-powered car. Government distrust is still a pretty hot topic. So is the Challenger.
Quote: "And there goes the Challenger, being chased by the blue, blue meanies on wheels."

Top 10 Best-Selling Hybrids of 2006

Hybrid cars are like the little engine that could. When the technology was first introduced to the U.S. market (fittingly, mass-produced hybrids made their debut on American shores at the dawn of the new millennium), buyers had the choice of, well, one vehicle: the cramped, eccentric Honda Insight. Sales figures reflected this narrow range, as well as the public's initial cautiousness regarding this new technology. In 2000, only 9,350 hybrid cars were sold.

Six years later, the picture has changed dramatically. Automakers have gotten on board. The selection of hybrids on the market currently numbers in the double digits, with manufacturers like Ford, Honda, Lexus and Toyota each offering a take on the increasingly popular green machines. There are hybrid coupes and sedans, and even hybrid SUVs.

Consumers have gotten on board as well. Hybrid sales have increased steadily since 2000, and by 2005, the segment had grown a whopping 2,200 percent since the technology's debut; 205,749 of the eco-friendly fuel-sippers made it off the lot last year. This trend doesn't seem likely to lose steam anytime soon. Hybrid vehicle sales figures for the first six months of 2006 have been robust, and stand at just over 116,000 units. Currently, hybrids constitute just over 1 percent of total vehicle sales, but some predict a much stronger market presence in the years ahead.

So which vehicles are at the forefront of this hybrid revolution? Here are the 10 that topped the sales chart for the first six months of 2006.
Toyota Prius — 48,156 units
The second oldest hybrid on the market, the Prius is also the most widely known, and it shows. The sedan is far and away the market leader, with sales that account for nearly 50 percent of the hybrid segment.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid — 18,127 units
Introduced in June 2005 for the 2006 model year, the Highlander Hybrid is new, but that hasn't stopped it from shoring up an impressive fan base. Toyota's second hybrid outsold older hybrid SUVs like the Ford Escape to cruise into the No. 2 spot.

Honda Civic Hybrid — 15,755 units
The prudent Civic has an even more prudent sibling: the Civic Hybrid. It was the second best-selling hybrid in the nation last year, but thus far, 2006 finds it taking the bronze.

Lexus RX 400h — 11,193 units
Based on the popular RX 330, the RX 400h was the first luxury hybrid SUV. Luxury clearly has its supporters. The ute was the third best-selling hybrid last year, and this year it maintains its foothold in the upper reaches of the sales chart.

Ford Escape Hybrid — 10,190 units
Ford proved that SUVs can be green, too, when it introduced the Escape Hybrid, the nation's first hybrid SUV, back in 2001. Five years later, the compact ute continues to rack up impressive sales.

Toyota Camry Hybrid — 7,386 units
Toyota continues its domination of the hybrid segment with the Camry Hybrid. The sedan has only been on the market since May, but it's off to an exceptional start. Sales figures for May and June are second only to those of the Prius.

Honda Accord Hybrid — 3,245 units
Equipped with a V6, the Accord Hybrid was the first hybrid built with driving enthusiasts in mind. Fuel economy suffers, though; the car gets about the same mileage as a four-cylinder Accord. Perhaps that's why sales have been somewhat disappointing.

Mercury Mariner Hybrid — 1,461 units
Introduced for model-year 2006, the Mariner Hybrid shares the Escape Hybrid's basic structure, platform and powertrain, but seeks to offer a more upscale driving experience via a more stylish exterior and a luxurious cabin. Thus far, it hasn't been nearly as successful as its twin.

Lexus GS 450h — 525 units
Introduced just a couple of months ago, the GS 450h is the nation's first luxury/sport sedan hybrid. Its powertrain offers V8 power paired with the fuel economy of a small V6.

Honda Insight — 489 units
The Insight is the hybrid that launched the segment; it's also the one that gets the best mileage. Sadly, its tight quarters and less-than-brisk horsepower prevented it from finding mainstream success. The Insight was discontinued in September 2006; Honda plans to introduce a new hybrid-specific model in 2009.

Sources: Electric Drive Transportation Association, and Ford Motor Company

Top 10 Car Gadgets You Won't Want To Live Without

By Warren Clarke and Brian Moody

That juggernaut called technology ensures that we always have a lot to choose from when it comes to gadgets and gizmos for our new vehicles. The choices can be overwhelming. Which features are worth checking off on your potential new ride's options list? We've weighed the alternatives, separated the wheat from the chaff, and come up with our picks for the 10 car gadgets you won't want to live without.

Bluetooth is simply a wireless signal that allows phones to connect to Bluetooth-enabled cars without the need for a hard connection. An excellent example is Chrysler's UConnect system, which allows users to make and receive calls without ever physically holding a phone. A phone book feature that allows names and numbers to be added verbally also makes it possible to make multiple calls without the driver ever taking his or her eyes off the road. Other brands that have this technology include BMW, Nissan and Toyota.

In-Car Media Storage Device
The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and Mercedes-Benz S-Class have the option of an in-car hard drive that can be used to store music and pictures. Connecting to these devices via USB is also an emerging car technology trend that will make transferring music and other files to your car much easier.

Real-Time Traffic Information
Acura cars equipped with AcuraLink have the ability to display real-time traffic information directly on the nav screen (in select cities), thereby allowing the driver to pick a different route or at least know what to expect on the ride home. Many BMWs for the 2007 model year will have a similar feature thanks to Clear Channel Communications' "Total Traffic Network"; Europeans have had this feature for a few years. The next step? A nav system that calculates alternative routes and picks the best way home, taking into account accidents, road/lane closures and traffic volume.

Lane Departure Warning System
This device uses a small camera and speed sensors to determine when the car deviates from its lane and alerts the driver using a buzzer, seat vibrator or a visual cue. Using the turn signals prevents the system from kicking in. French automaker Citroën has had it for a few years and the technology is also available in some Infiniti cars and trucks.

Premium-Branded Stereo
When you can get an Infinity sound system in a Kia minivan, you know it's a widespread trend. Brands such as Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Harman Kardon, JBL, Mark Levinson and Panasonic all have reputations for producing great-sounding home stereo components — now they make in-car systems as well, and some of them sound stunning. And they're not just for luxury brands either. Toyota and Mazda are just two affordable makes that have the option of high-end, name-brand audio systems.

iPod Connection
A generic mini-jack for connecting all kinds of handheld MP3 players is becoming a given in many sedans and SUVs, but the added control of an iPod-specific connection is a huge leap forward for the technology. With an iPod-specific connection you can navigate through tracks using the car's audio system controls. In many cases this means using steering-wheel-mounted buttons and never having to take your eyes off the road. Ford, GM and Mazda have recently announced that they will have iPod connectors in their upcoming cars, joining the ranks of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Scion.

Rear Parking Camera
Rear parking sensors that simply beep when you approach an object have already become fairly common; the next evolution of this safety technology is a rear-mounted parking camera. The Chevrolet Tahoe, Honda Odyssey, Lexus ES 350, Toyota Sienna and others have an optional rear-mounted camera that displays a live video picture on the dash-mounted navigation screen. When the vehicle is shifted into Reverse, the driver can see exactly what's behind him, significantly lessening the chance of running over something or someone.

Self-Parking Capability
The Lexus LS 460 and European versions of the Toyota Prius have a self-parking feature that essentially allows the car to park itself. The driver simply enters a few parameters through a touchscreen and the car maneuvers itself into a parallel spot or back into a traditional parking space.

Heated and/or Cooled Cupholders
The Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum edition offers heated and cooled cupholders so your morning latte remains nice and toasty during the winter and your iced mocha can stay chilly. Similar technology can be found in the much less expensive Dodge Caliber. The Caliber's "Chill Zone" keeps drinks stored in the glovebox cool when the air-conditioner is running. Other vehicles like the Range Rover Sport offer a small cooler that keeps drinks or food cold independent of the A/C system.

Remote Start
This is probably one of the most overlooked technologies in new cars today, and it can be had even on budget-priced cars like the Chevy Malibu. Simply press a button on the key fob and the car starts itself, allowing you to warm up or cool down the interior from outside the car as it idles. The system automatically locks the doors, steering wheel and transmission so theft isn't likely.

Top 10 High-Tech Car Safety Technologies

By Tori Tellem

It's just a fact of life — we are living longer. And it's not just because of tofu, sunscreen and medical breakthroughs. Automakers are to thank (or curse) for this as much as doctors, since they are competitively blending performance and creature comforts with cutting-edge safety technology that tries to stay one step ahead of you — and everyone else on the road.

While pedestrian-friendly bumpers and cars that can drive themselves may seem like the faraway future of automotive safety, so did many of the features that are now industry standards for 2006-'07 models. It makes us wonder if the Jeep Grand Cherokee Concierge concept from 2002 — with an integrated heart defibrillator — might catch on as part of the next wave of safety.

Below are our top 10 choices for safety technologies, complete with a list of the automakers that offer them and their estimated costs.

Tire-pressure monitoring
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has required that all U.S. passenger vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less be equipped with a tire-pressure monitoring system by the 2008 model year. But it's already a safety feature in most new autos. (For example, BMW will have it as standard equipment on all of its models by the end of 2006.) Sensors at the wheels are able to alert you if the air pressure is too low by an audible warning, a light on the instrument panel, or both. You may also see more cars with run-flat tires (the Corvette, among the current offerings), which allow a vehicle to continue to run at a relatively high rate of speed for 50-plus miles.

Available from: Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ferrari, Ford, GMC, Honda, Hummer, Hyundai, Infiniti, Isuzu, Jaguar, Jeep, Kia, Lexus, Lincoln, Mazda, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury, Mini, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Pontiac, Porsche, Range Rover, Rolls-Royce, Scion, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.

As an option, it typically costs less than $100.
Adaptive cruise control/collision mitigation
Modern cruise control goes beyond just maintaining a constant speed. Thanks to sensors and the use of radar, cruise control can now adjust the throttle and brakes to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you if there are changes in traffic speed or if a slowpoke cuts in. If the system senses a potential collision, it typically will brake hard and tighten the seatbelts. Once it knows the lane is clear or traffic has sped up, it will return your car to its original cruising speed, all without your input. Of course, you may override the system by touching the brakes. The Mercedes-Benz and Maybach systems go by a less obvious name: Distronic.

Available from: Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Jaguar, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Range Rover, Toyota and Volvo.

As an option, it should cost $600-$3,100, but could be more if it's part of a package. (The Lexus LS 430 Ultra Luxury Selection package includes Dynamic Radar Cruise Control for $13,570, for example.)
Blind-spot detection/side assist/collision warning
This technology is designed to alert you to cars or objects in your blind spot during driving or parking, or both. Usually it will respond when you put on your turn signal; if it detects something in the way, it may flash a light in your mirror, cause the seat or steering wheel to vibrate, or sound an alarm. This is more of a short-range detection system.

Available from: Audi and Volvo.

As a stand-alone option on the Audi, it's $500; Volvo is TBA.
Lane-departure warning/wake-you-up safety
This is similar to blind-spot/side-assist technology but with more range. It judges an approaching vehicle's speed and distance to warn you of potential danger if you change lanes. However, because it doesn't necessarily require the turn signal, it can also warn if it determines your car is wandering out of the lane, such as if you are distracted. This could come in the form of a vibration through the seat or steering wheel, or an alarm. Down the road expect lane-departure warning to even be able to monitor body posture, head position and eye activity to decide if the driver is falling asleep and the vehicle is behaving erratically. At that point, the system may even be capable of slowing the car down and engaging stability control. Just in case.

Available from: Infiniti.

As an option, packages run $3,600-$10,500.
Rollover prevention/mitigation
Most automakers offer an electronic stability control system, and some offer a preparation system (seatbelts tighten, rollbars extend). However, what we're talking about is more intelligent than that. If the system senses a potential rollover (such as if you whip around a corner too fast or swerve sharply), it will apply the brakes and modulate throttle as needed to help you maintain control. DaimlerChrysler calls it Electronic Roll Mitigation, Ford named it Roll Stability Control, and GM's is Proactive Roll Avoidance. Range Rover's is Active Roll Mitigation, while Volvo's is called Roll-Over Protection System. But they all have the same goal.

Available with stability control systems from: Acura, Audi, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Jeep, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mercury, Range Rover and Volvo.
Occupant-sensitive/dual-stage airbags
All humans are not created equal, and airbags are evolving to compensate in the form of low-risk, multistage and occupant-sensitive deployment. Technology can now sense the different sizes and weights of occupants as well as seatbelt usage, abnormal seating position (such as reaching for the radio or bending to pick something off the floor), rear-facing child seats and even vehicle speed. While driver, passenger and side curtain airbags are nothing new, sensing airbags are popping up (so to speak) everywhere.

Available from: Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jeep, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mazda, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury, Nissan, Pontiac, Rolls-Royce, Saab, Saturn, Scion, Volkswagen and Volvo.
Emergency brake assist/collision mitigation
This brake technology is different from an antilock braking system or electronic brakeforce distribution, in that it recognizes when the driver makes a panic stop (a quick shift from gas to brake pedal) and will apply additional brake pressure to help shorten the stopping distance. It may also work in conjunction with the smart cruise control or stability control system in some vehicles if it senses a potential collision. It is often called brake assist, although BMW, for example, refers to it as Dynamic Brake Control.

Available from: Acura, Audi, Aston Martin, BMW, Honda, Infiniti, Jaguar, Kia, Land Rover, Lexus, Mazda, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Saab, Scion, Subaru, Toyota, Volvo and Volkswagen.
Adaptive headlights and/or night-vision assist
Night vision can be executed in different forms, such as infrared headlamps or thermal-imaging cameras. But no matter the science, the goal is the same: to help you see farther down the road and to spot animals, people or trees in the path — even at nearly 1,000 feet away. An image is generated through a cockpit display, brightening the objects that are hard to see with the naked eye. Adaptive headlights follow the direction of the vehicle (bending the light as you go around corners). They may also be speed-sensitive (changing beam length or height), or compensate for ambient light.

Available from: Acura, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Cadillac, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Volkswagen and Volvo.
As an option: Prices vary; it's $700 as a stand-alone option on the Mercedes-Benz S550 but $6,550 for part of the car's Premium III package. The cost for most night-vision systems falls between those figures.

Rearview camera
Rearview cameras not only protect your car, but also protect children and animals from accidental back-overs. Backing up your car has graduated from side mirrors tilting down or causing chirps and beeps to real-time viewing. New-school tech involves a camera that works with the navigation system to provide a wide-open shot of what's happening behind you to help with parking or hooking up a trailer.

Available from: Acura, Audi, Land Rover, Lexus, Mazda, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen.

As an option: Expect to pay anywhere from $750 to $1,000 — or more, if part of a package.

Emergency response
There are a variety of ways vehicles now and in the future will handle an emergency situation. For example, DaimlerChrysler's Enhanced Accident Response System (EARS) turns on interior lighting, unlocks doors and shuts off fuel when airbags deploy, while Volkswagen's also switches on the hazards and disconnects the battery terminal from the alternator. In addition, GM's OnStar and BMW Assist both alert their respective response centers of the accident and make crash details available to emergency personnel.

Available from: Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, GMC, Hummer, Jeep, Land Rover, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Volvo.

Optional: Some services may require a monthly fee, but provide additional capabilities beyond emergencies.