Finding the Right Car for You

No two drivers are the same, which is why we decided to get down to the nitty-gritty of shopping for a new car. Short legs? Long arms? Tight budget? We've all got needs; here are a few 2006 models to get your brainstorming session off to a good start.

Cars for Shorter Drivers
Many vehicles offer options that make the lives of shorter drivers easier. If you fall into that category, the most important features to look for are height-adjustable seats, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, adjustable pedals and a low dashboard. You won't necessarily find all these features on your dream car, so pick and choose what works for you. Here are a few choices.
Chevrolet Malibu (and Malibu Maxx)This sedan and wagon team from Chevrolet is as good as it gets when it comes to features that fit a wide range of statures.

Not only do the Malibu cousins come with standard height adjustment for the driver's seat and height-adjustable front seat belts, but they also feature a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and multistage airbags, which mean less danger of injuries from deployment.

Add in standard adjustable pedals in LTZ and SS models (they're optional in the LT trim), and you've got a car that will safely and comfortably fit just about any driver.
Ford Five HundredFord's newest sedan is noted for its roomy interior, but what's also significant is that the front seat cushion is placed 4 inches higher than the average midsize sedan's, increasing the driver's ride height.

That kind of prime road view could come at the expense of reaching the pedals for more petite drivers, which is where power-adjustable pedals come in handy; the SEL and Limited models offer these as an option.

The Five Hundred also comes with standard dual-stage airbags and height-adjustable driver's seat and seat belts.
Mazda Mazda3 sThis compact sedan and hatchback duo from Mazda features standard driver's seat height adjustment in the s trim level, along with standard height-adjustable seat belts and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. But what sets these cars apart is airbag technology designed to cater specifically to whomever is behind the wheel.

Front airbags in the Mazda3 feature an inflator system that customizes deployment based on several factors, including the front passenger's weight. Sensors in the driver's slide rails determine how far the driver is positioned from the steering wheel and deploy the airbag at an appropriate level of force.
Mercedes-Benz S-ClassAll the must-haves for shorter folks are present on Mercedes' S-Class sedan: height-adjustable driver's seat and seat belts and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel.

What the S-Class also gives you is style to accompany all those safety features; full leather upholstery and a navigation system are standard. Jump up to the S600 and standard fare includes four heated seats and a higher level of leather and wood trim. Who says style is the price you'll pay for the right fit?
Cars for Taller Drivers
It may seem a tad ironic, but taller drivers should look for basically the same things in a car as shorter drivers: adjustable pedals, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a large range of seat-height adjustments. While these features are key to a good driving experience, taller drivers also benefit from abundant legroom and long seat travel.
Chevrolet Malibu (and Malibu Maxx)That point is illustrated perfectly by the inclusion of Chevy's Malibu and Malibu Maxx on lists of ideal cars for both shorter and taller drivers. All of these models' standard customization features — height-adjustable driver's seat and front seat belts, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and adjustable pedals in the Maxx and Malibu LTZ and SS — will keep taller drivers sitting just as pretty as their petite counterparts.

What makes the Malibu sedan and Malibu Maxx wagon especially well suited to taller drivers is a generous amount of both headroom and legroom. The Maxx offers 39.4 inches of headroom, while the Malibu sedan stretches that space to 39.9 inches. Both offer 41.9 inches of legroom in the front seat, putting them near the top of the list in total space for drivers.
Honda AccordThere's a reason this car is a best-seller. In sedan versions, the Accord offers drivers 40.4 inches of headroom and 42.6 inches of legroom. Even in sedans that include a sunroof, headroom still reaches 37.5 inches — a pretty lofty figure for cars so equipped.

The Accord also comes with a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable seat belts and, in all but the base trim level, driver's seat height adjustment.

Drivers closest to the ozone layer are more likely to embrace all those features in the Accord Hybrid — just one more way to keep the air up there a bit cleaner.
Lexus LS 430Lots of room to move distinguishes the Lexus LS 430 from its competitors. While necessary features for height customization are all present — standard height-adjustable driver's seat and seat belts and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel — Lexus' flagship sedan also offers a generous 44 inches of legroom up front.

Add 38.1 inches of headroom to all the standard luxury fare you expect from a Lexus, and the LS 430 is well suited to provide plenty of creature comforts for even the tallest drivers.
Nissan AltimaNissan had legroom in mind when setting the style for the Altima's instrument panel, which is designed to "fall away" from occupants. The strategy worked, as the Altima sports a generous 43.9 inches of legroom in the front seat.

That alone might be enough to qualify the Altima for this list, but the car also offers 40.8 inches of headroom. Spaciousness aside, Altima trim levels from the 2.5 S on up also come standard with a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable front seat belts and eight-way driver's seat adjustment, which includes height modification.
Convertibles on a Budget
We all like their looks, but many convertibles have price tags way out of reach for most drivers. So what are some realistic choices for drivers just looking to catch a few rays while on their merry way?
Ford MustangThis American icon has long been touted as the commoner's sports car, and it's unquestionably a performance leader in its price range.

Starting out at $23,940 in convertible form, the Mustang is still a classic. A recent redesign that harks back to the muscle car's heyday has drawn rave reviews, and dealers are having a hard time keeping new Mustangs on their lots.

The convertible is available with either a 210-horsepower V-6 or a 300-hp V-8. Both five-speed-automatic and five-speed-manual transmissions are available. Handling is improved over the previous generation, making this Mustang as much fun to drive as it is to look at.
Mazda MX-5Redesigned — and officially renamed — for 2006, the new generation of the Mazda Miata retains the popular roadster's overall design while increasing in power over its predecessor.

Starting at $20,435, Mazda's rear-wheel-drive two-seater comes with a 170-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Three transmissions are available: a five-speed manual, six-speed manual and six-speed automatic.

Its performance doesn't top the charts, but the MX-5 is one of the few affordable roadsters with modest fuel economy: it's rated at 23 - 25 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
Mini Cooper (and Cooper S)As if Mini's Cooper wasn't already the poster child for cute, the automaker added a convertible version to its lineup for the 2005 model year.

The Cooper Convertible has a fabric top that can be rolled back 16 inches to serve as a sunroof on days when you want just a glimpse of the great outdoors. When you're really in the mood to feel the wind in your hair, the soft-top opens in 14 seconds and folds neatly behind the rear seats.

The convertible is available in both normal and supercharged Cooper S forms, starting at a list price of $21,950. Although scarcity is sure to drive up that price, you'll still — relatively speaking — be cruising in style on the cheap.
Pontiac SolsticeA recent addition to Pontiac's lineup, the Solstice is a visual stunner with a modest price tag of $19,915.

The rear-wheel-drive two-seater is approximately the same size as the Mazda MX-5, and its fuel economy ratings are comparable. The Solstice comes with a 177-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard, but a five-speed automatic is available.

Although the roadster has only been on sale since late 2005, it's already a popular choice for convertible buyers.
Cars for Camping Trips
Whether you're a rugged outdoorsman or an urban dweller desperately in need of a break, taking the right vehicle goes a long way toward making your camping expedition a success.
Honda ElementSay what you want about the aesthetic appeal of Honda's box, but its pillarless side-door configuration and dirt-friendly interior make this sport utility vehicle ideal for the outdoors enthusiast.

The Element's front doors are hinged at the front and the rear doors are hinged at the back, creating a large loading area unobstructed by a B-pillar. Add in folding rear seats, and the Element gives you plenty of space to haul tents, tackle and the rest of your gear.

All that cargo is bound to make a mess, but the Element's easy-to-clean interior — complete with waterproof, stain-resistant seating and a durable, washable utility floor — is well equipped to take a beating without retaining any scars.
Jeep Grand CherokeeFor campers looking for more than a few quiet nights in the woods, the Grand Cherokee offers serious offroad potential.

Trims equipped with Jeep's Quadra-Drive II system — electronic limited-slip differentials for heightened offroad capability — can take campers virtually anywhere their hearts desire. In addition, the Grand Cherokee features 34.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats up and 67.4 when they're folded. Depending on the engine, these SUVs can tow 3,500 to 6,500 pounds.

If its rugged nature isn't enough for you, the Grand Cherokee's cargo area features a reversible load floor panel with an easy-to-clean plastic side. There's also an optional GPS-based navigation system in case your offroad adventures take you far from your tent.
Nissan XterraEverything about this SUV — from the available accessories to the spelling of its name — signals that this is a vehicle for extreme adventurers.

Every trim level comes with an easy-to-clean cargo floor and multiple interior storage bins. Rear bumper steps make it easy to load muddy boots or sandy wet suits into the latchable box on the roof rack.

Available add-ons include an interior bike rack and a hatch tent that turns the cargo area into sleeping quarters. And with an offroad model available, drivers are sure to put those extras to the test.
Subaru Outback SportAll-wheel drive is standard on the Subaru Outback Sport sport utility wagon, which has a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds.

In addition, the Outback Sport's standard roof rack and heavy-duty suspension are bound to come in handy while traveling off the main road. This wagon also has SUV styling cues and relatively high ground clearance.

If it's just the two of you, the Outback Sport can hold up to 61.6 cubic feet of cargo. But if the kids are coming along, cargo space with all the seats in place is just 27.9 cubic feet.
Last updated on 3/15/06