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Motoring: Practical cars

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | October 17th, 2011

Last week, we looked at new cars that cost under $20,000. This week, we will look at some more cars that cost just under $30,000. All these cars we are talking about today are family cars, so if you're looking for something practical, read on.

2012 Honda Civic Si
We have looked at the Honda Civic Si many times over the years and have always liked it. Since for 2012 it has been heavily revised, we decided to revisit it again to see if the magic is still there.

From a styling point of view, it still looks good. Available as either a coupe or sedan, this model will still catch the attention of those who know their cars. Personally, I prefer the rear lights of the previous generation model.

Inside, things look pretty much the same. While the dashboard has gained a few toys, especially the VTEC indicator, elsewhere the car seems to be put together by using cheaper plastics, which is not a good thing. Even when you open the trunk, the lining looks cheaper, suggesting Honda is trying to save money or they just need a better supplier.

Like all Civic Sis before, it's the bit under the hood that most enthusiasts are interested in. For 2012, the engine has grown from a 2.0 to a 2.4 litre. Horsepower is up slightly, so now it produces 201 hp and 170 lb/ft of torque. It is still only available with a six-speed manual gearbox and powers the front wheels.

The driving feel is what most Si owners will complain about. Whereas the last car was sharp and loved to rev to 8,000 rpm, the new one would rather that you don't rush and it only revs to 7,000 rpm. Plus that familiar VTEC kick is no longer felt.

The rather heavy flywheel holds the revs for too long — not what an enthusiast wants from their motor — and the suspension set up on my test sedan suggested this car is tuned for the highway rather than back roads.

In short, the new Civic Si is not as much fun to drive as the old one. But if you still want a new one, prices for this model start at $25,990.

2012 Chrysler 200
The old Chrysler Sebring sedan was just about the blandest, most boring car on the planet. Thankfully, the 200 is a big improvement on that, and it starts with the styling.

Styled under the creative eye of Ralph Gilles, the 200 bears a family resemblance to the 300 sedan, which is a step in the right direction. I particularly like the LEDstyle light beam that runs over the headlamps, which gives this car a much more up-class look.

The interior is similarly improved. While it is still obvious that the 200 is based on the old Sebring, at least the fit and finish and the quality of the materials look to be improved.

What you and your passengers will enjoy the most will be its spacious interior and excellent ride. If you're looking for a practical vehicle that rides like it's suspended from air, this would be the car.

If you want a car that is fun to drive, this isn't for you. The 2012 Sebring comes with either a 2.4- litre, four-cylinder motor that produces 173 hp, or a 3.6-litre V6 that produces 283 hp. The base motor comes with a four-speed automatic, while the upgraded motor gets a six-speed automatic. My test car was a V6 model.

Despite the power figure, this car is slow and feels slow. This is not for anyone who enjoys the act of driving. However, if you want something comfortable with lots of space for occupants and their luggage, then this is the car for you. Prices for the 2.4 start at $19,995, while the 3.6 starts at $27,995.

2012 Toyota Camry
The last two generations of the Toyota Camry were just about the dullest vehicles ever produced, so I am happy to report that the 2012 version of the Camry is a big step forward in dynamics and interior quality, even though the styling is not revolutionary enough.

The new Camry that was just launched is an evolution of the old car, rather than a revolution. However, Toyota engineers point out that this car is pretty much all new. I just ask, if it is all new, why did they make it look so similar to the old one?

Thankfully, things improve a lot when you step inside. The interior layout and the quality of the materials have improved vastly. Plus, now you get new toys like a touchscreen infotainment system (optional), which is also your navigation screen. I also like the design touches like the stitching on the dashboard, which gives it a much more upscale look.

As always, there is plenty of room inside for five passengers, and a trunk big enough to carry all of their luggage.

Powering the new Camry are three new engines. The base motor is a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder motor that produces 179 hp. The upgrade motor is a 3.5-litre V6 that produces 268 hp, and the third engine option is the hybrid motor, which is paired to the 2.5-litre motor. Toyota's literature did not include any power rating for the hybrid, but at the event it was suggested to be around 200 hp. Also worth noting, the new hybrid is still using a nickel-metal hydride battery and not lithium-ion, and in EV mode can only carry the car for a 2 km distance.

Also worth noting is that none of the Camry models come with a manual gearbox option — even the sporty SE-model, which comes with a six-speed automatic and steering wheel-mounted pedal shifters. The other Camry models get the same transmission but without the pedals.

At the recent press event for the Camry, I got to drive all the different models of the new Camry, on the road and even the track. I have to say, this vehicle is impressive for a family car. It might not be the prettiest sedan on the market, and its certainly not the most fun you can have — even in its category — but it is comfortable, quiet, spacious, efficient and affordable, and that is what most people want. Pricing for the new Camry starts at $23,700 for a 2.5 LE model, while the base V6 SE is yours from $29,900. No prices for the hybrid have been announced yet.
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