PGN gets behind the wheels

PGN gets behind the wheels

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We’re going to let you in on a little secret: We hate car shopping.

To be clear and fair, we love driving new cars. We really, really, REALLY love driving new cars. But then we look at the sticker price, calculate the car payments and descend into total despair as we realize how poor we are, and will always be, as we head back to our trusty decade-plus-old clunkers and pray hard that we can squeeze another two years out of them before we have to purchase yet another used — but newer than the last — clunker.

Luckily for us, because it’s the auto issue, we got to drive a few new cars and fantasize that we have the means and the resources to take one home. And if it wasn’t Arctic-level frigid outside, we might have been seen with our heads hanging out the windows, tongues flapping in the wind as we test-drove a handful of exciting new rides through the streets.

But alas ...

Anyway, here’s a rundown of the tires we kicked and whips we sniffed around this year.

2011 Saab 9-5

Redesigned from the ground up and hoping to help reestablish Saab as a visible force on the crowded luxury auto market, the Saab 9-5 oozes comfort and sophistication. There’s something womb-like about the fit of the leather seats, the relative isolation from the outside world and the solid yet powerful way the 9-5 drives.

All that comfort and refinement comes at a price, literally and figuratively. While sleek and somewhat forward-leaning in its design, the 9-5 doesn’t have much of an edgy cool factor, but we get the feeling that’s the point. This sedan is just the kind of safe but affluent piece of European automotive engineering that looks good when you pull into your office parking space, but won’t raise eyebrows to the point where your coworkers think you get paid way too much.

That said, there are some really cool features to the 9-5, like the smart headlights that swivel the beam for better visibility, and the U-rail cargo track that keeps smaller items in the truck from moving around. Also, the 9-5s with Areo trim feature all-wheel drive. Other peace-of-mind features include front and rear park assist as well as an optional navigation radio package with an 8-inch touch screen and hard disk space for maps and 10GB worth of music (that’s a lot of Sting and Journey albums).

The new Saab 9-5 may not be the sizzling hotness of a sports car, but as far as luxury sedans go, it’s just right.

Price: $40,000-$60,000+ Mileage: 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway (4 cylinder), 16/26 (6 cylinder) Where to get a closer look: Armen Saab of Ardmore, 205 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore; 610-726-1502.

2011 MINI Cooper Countryman

Part of the excitement of the new MINI Cooper Countryman is being able to find one to test drive. Since debuting in 2008, the Countryman has become a sensation in Europe and only just became available in the U.S.

The big question is if the Countryman lives up to the buzz surrounding it.

We believe so.

The Countryman seems to be the answer to anyone who has ever been skeptical about the MINI Cooper brand or those who just see it as a novelty car. The new four-door model is roomier and more powerful than expected and is only slightly bigger than the Mini Cooper Hardtop or Clubman. It has a surprising amount of legroom both in the front and back seats. The interior console combines European styling with Star Trek-like futuristic utility, thanks to a large touch-screen interface. Equally impressive are the Countryman’s 17-inch wheels, fuel economy (an average of 31 mpg) and four pilot seats. The two rear seats can be swapped out for a bench seat for drivers who need to accommodate five passengers. While the trunk space is average for a car this size, the rear seats fold down to add more room.

Overall, the Countryman is a fun, sporty, head-turning drive that should appeal to city-dwellers and suburbanites alike.

Price: $25,000-$30,000 Mileage: 28 mpg city/35 mpg highway Where to get a closer look: MINI of the Main Line, 130 Montgomery Ave., Bala Cynwyd; 877-209-9298.

2011 Kia Soul

Love or hate the ad campaign with the anthropomorphic gerbils, the Kia Soul is an impressive addition to the crossover market. With a look that is more appealing than its boxier cousins such as the cumbersome Scion xB or the abstract Nissan Cube, not to mention a price range and attitude geared toward younger drivers, the Korean-made Kia strikes a solid balance between utility and edginess.

While it doesn’t have the same level of touch-screen accoutrements in the dashboard that higher-priced models flaunt, there’s enough space for drivers to plug in electronic devices and enough customization options for drivers to put their stamps on their model.

Inside the Soul, there are plenty of surprises. There’s plenty of headroom and legroom in the front seats and the rear seat space is respectable. Rear storage space, while not plentiful, is enough for the basics, and the rear seats fold down for more room.

On the highway, the Soul also handles better than expected, with enough horsepower to keep up with the flow of traffic but not enough to get into street races for pink slips. The road noise might be an issue for those who aren’t accustomed to it, but most people shopping for cars in this range usually are.

With reasonable pricing, hip style and versatility, the Soul is definitely worth checking out.

Price: $13,300-$17,900 Mileage: 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway Where to get a closer look: Kia of West Chester, 326 Westtown Road, West Chester; 610-429-3500.

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