Strapped chaps

Posted on 04 Oct 2008 at 7:26pm
By Casey Williams – Auto Reviewer

Don’t let the financial crisis scare you away from buying one of these hot-yet-affordable transports

If either by choice or the result of the recent financial crisis your bum is hanging in the wind, there is no need to fret. A boy has to get around, and peddling a mountain bike won’t get him a chap to strap.

Buying a new car may seem like the ultimate thumping, but there are some hot, cute things that will make you look sexy without the proverbial draft.

Scion xB: Party for homo domesticus

HEIR APPARENT: The compact but smoothly-powered Scion xB, above, is a fuel-conscious juggernaut.

Shaped like a streamlined ’40s locomotive, the Scion xB puts a box around homo domesticus and party spontaneous. When launched in 2003, the first generation xB looked like the box a Volvo came in. Starkly different, it won raves on the street and at the loading dock. Rounded, enlarged and significantly refined, version 2.0 is even better.

Flared fenders, high windowlines and thick pillars hint at ’30s street rod, looking less like a reject from the backroom of Target and more like a mini-crossover. Many special effects and wheels can be added by the dealer for complete customization. Check out the ethereal interior lighting. All hail disco!

To gain command of this shipping container, one slides through wide-opening doors and into comfortable front captain’s chairs or high rear bench. A center-mounted digital speedometer, flanked by auxiliary gauges, highlights a wide dashboard. XM Satellite Radio, thumpin’ Pioneer speakers, CD player and iPod jack get the party started the moment you roll homo away from domesticus.

Turbo smooth power roils the front wheels via a 158-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and crisp five-speed manual trannie. There’s nothing fancy in the xB’s footwork, but it is perfectly competent on the dance floor. Vehicle Stability Control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and traction control move you in all the right directions. Fuel economy is rated 22 city/28 highway.

Compact cars used to be for cheapsters and the poor. The xB would make almost anybody happy, even if it weren’t the devious little box it once was.

An as-tested price of $16,230 is like stealing.

2009 Honda Fit: Puggy and pretty

A favorite in Europe, the Honda Fit now shows its versatility on this side of the Atlantic.

An experienced queen knows how to throw a convincing fit to get her way — I once threw one at the Volkswagen dealer to get $2,000 off the price of my partner’s Beetle.

It also took a few tantrums to convince Honda to emigrate the Fit from Europe and Japan, but they paid off. Breaking wind with pug nose cuteness usually reserved for Erasure’s Andy Bell, the all-new edition is worth all the theatrics.

Exterior styling of the Fit is familiar, but takes on a more sculpted form. A domed hood, alloy wheels, elongated side windowline, rear spoiler and clear lens taillamps give the little car a sporty and aggressive stance while keeping its large interior.

Fit drivers will flip for the quickfold rear seats that open a large cargo space or go cushion up so bicycles can load sideways. Fit’s slick interior also harbors a sportilicious three-spoke steering wheel, blue-lit gauges and an available in-dash navigation system with voice recognition. For a small, inexpensive car, the Fit’s interior is stylishly designed, well made and fun to use.

Under the stubby hood is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, connected to either a five-speed manual or paddle-shift five-speed automatic transmission that gets 28/35 mpg. Sixteen-inch wheels connect to a spirited suspension system for fun handling no matter where you find your thrills. Electronic stability programming, four-wheel anti-lock brakes and electronic brake force distribution are all available.

For $14,550, you get a puggy and pretty compact that drives like a highly engineered sports car. The only fit you will have to throw is to get one — the line wraps around the proverbial corner.

Suzuki SX4: Versatility in the sack

Whether sedaning it or feeling sporty, the Suzuki SX4 delivers.

If you’re going to strap only one chap, you want him to be versatile in the sack. Pleasure should come from all places. Driving a compact car is not so erotic and sensual, but the experience shouldn’t force fantasies to lighten your load. Suzuki’s SX4 — sedan or five-door — could be the perfect aphrodisiac.

If the SX4 were a hooker, she would provide Park Avenue service at dirty-whore prices. Five-door editions come standard with all-wheel-drive, stylish outerwear, neatly tailored innerwear and the reliability of a morning cock-a-doddle. Sedans diss AWD, but are sporty and energetic. They do everything, and on a budget.

Unique triangular A-pillars enable tall roofs and airy space. Just step right in, SUV style. Auto climate control, heated mirrors, CD/MP3 audio and height-adjustable driver’s seat spoil. Alloy strips on the center dash look as much Hummer as Suzuki. XM Satellite Radio and Bluetooth connectivity are available for a few Benjies more.

As a sedan or fully endowed, the SX4 packs a 143-hp four-cylinder punch. You’ll want to stroke the five-speed manual transmission to wring as many ponies as possible from the baby block, but fuel economy ratings of 23/31 mpg city/highway conserve your paycheck.

Well-stocked, either model comes in under $17,000, including a full tank of gas. Suzuki gives the thrill with a little bill. Best of all, they leave nothing but envy hanging in the wind.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice Drive print edition Fall, 2008.

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