Drive to your own beat in cars under $25,000
If you commute to work in the LA area, you will likely spend 90 hours stuck in traffic this year. That’s two weeks at work - plus overtime - spent breathing in noxious fumes and listening to a stream of inane commercials and the blabber of amateur comedians passing as disc jockeys. Options include silence, carrying a bunch of CDs or satellite radio, which skips the commercials but still plays songs you may not like and charges a monthly fee. Until now. Carried along but slightly behind the wave of iPod personal music is the idea that a person could rig up an iPod in their car and get hours of uncompromised entertainment. Initially, to do that meant an installation fee or poor sound quality, but Apple and the automakers have quickly gained ground. Some luxury automakers now offer complete iPod integration, and more are providing buyers with easy ways to pipe in their entertainment of choice. Listed on the following pages are ten vehicles that come standard with iPod compatibility, or require simple upgrades to make using an iPod in the car simple and easy. Best of all, they’re under $25,000.
Chevrolet HHR Sound for the Chevy HHR comes from a stock audio system with a single-disc CD player; the LT adds a standard MP3 player. Integrating your iPod simply requires an inexpensive adaptor cord. Chevy’s new retro wagon, the 2006 HHR, is one of a handful of new General Motors models ready for your iPod. Get yourself an inexpensive adaptor cord, and with the HHR’s standard auxiliary jack, you’re ready to plug and play. Looking eerily similar to the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the Chevy HHR makes its introduction wearing one of two badges, LS or LT. Prices start at $15,990 for the LS and $16,990 for the LT (including a $565 destination charge). All models come standard with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 143 horsepower and 155 lb.-ft. of torque, which is connected to a five-speed transmission. Any HHR can be outfitted with a four-speed automatic transmission, while an optional 172-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is reserved for the LT. Sound comes from a stock audio system with a single-disc CD player; the LT adds a standard MP3 player.
Chevrolet Impala & Monte Carlo All 2006 Chevrolet Impalas and Monte Carlos come standard with auxiliary iPod jacks, but motorheads (no pun intended) may rather listen to the rumble of a newly-available V8. When it comes to this pairing of two- and four-door full-size GM cars, the 2006 model year ushers in not only fresh appearances but also some cool new sounds – those from an optional 303-horsepower V8 and from your iPod’s catalog of music. Both models feature updated styling, but the biggest news is that their respective SS models are finally worthy of the double snake badging, courtesy of a 5.3-liter, eight-cylinder engine. We haven’t driven them yet, but we can say that the exhaust’s low rumble adds some needed edge to these rental fleet Hall of Famers. Also new for 2006 are standard V6 engines that offer more displacement and power than last year. Prices for the 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo and 2006 Impala range from $21,990 for LS models to $27,790 for SS models (including a $660 destination charge). All models come standard with auxiliary iPod jacks and CD players, while upper level models add an MP3 player.
Honda Element Since it’s introduction for 2003, the Honda Element has featured an auxiliary input on the dash, making it one of the first (if not the first) vehicles to allow you to plug-and-play your iPod. Until recently, Honda had never been known for pushing the styling envelope. The most recent deviation from that rule is seen in the unique styling of Honda’s first pickup, the Ridgeline, but the floodgates actually opened when the Element SUV was introduced for the 2003 model year. The Element’s styling resembles a Rubbermaid box, with plastic fenders designed for a bit of punishment should you opt to take a four-wheel-drive equipped Element onto some light-duty trails. Powering you to your destination is a 160-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine connected to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Inside are quick-clean rubber floors and removable seats clothed in waterproof fabric. Front-wheel drive models start at $18,000, whereas four-wheel-drive models, which include a standard rear sunroof, start at $19,400. And since it’s introduction, the Honda Element has featured an auxiliary audio input on the dash, making it one of the first (if not the first) vehicles to allow you to plug-and-play your iPod.
MINI Cooper Thanks to a new deal between Mini and Apple Computer, Cooper owners can enjoy the benefits of their iPods while driving. The vehicle’s sound controls will operate the iPod, which in turn will be charged by the Mini’s battery. There’s one thing dogs, babies, and Mini Coopers have in common: They’re all cute. Well, unless it’s one of those inbred pups or the 80-lb. infant plastered on this week’s tabloid newspaper. But, the Mini, it’ll always generate smiles. For an entry price of $17,500 (including a $550 destination charge), buyers get the base model with 115-horsepower, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine connected to a five-speed manual transmission. Drivers looking for a bit more excitement will want to opt for the 168-horsepower, supercharged Cooper S, which starts at $21,150. Both base and S models can be ordered with a soft convertible top. Mini Coopers come standard with a basic AM/FM sound system with a single-disc CD player, with the option of adding a cassette player or Sirius satellite radio. And thanks to a new deal between Mini and Apple Computer, Cooper owners can enjoy the benefits of their iPods while driving. Both companies collaborated to design a Mini-specific adaptor that allows an iPod to be connected to a cable in the car’s glovebox. After a simple installation by your Mini dealer, the Cooper’s sound controls will operate the iPod, which in turn will be charged by the car’s battery. Pricing for the adaptor has not been released, but a similar product for BMW sells for $149 (plus installation).
Pontiac Solstice Pontiac is finally getting some positive attention thanks to the 2006 Solstice, a $19,995 roadster that comes standard with an auxiliary iPod jack. Buzz. It’s what carmakers enjoy when they’ve got a product that gets people talking, whether it’s based on styling, performance, price, or technology. As simple as it is, buzz is probably one of the few four-letter words not uttered by Pontiac dealers in recent years. That changed with the release of the first pictures of the 2006 Pontiac Solstice, a roadster that shot a bag of AB-negative into an extremely anemic brand. Priced at $19,995 (including a $575 destination charge), the 2006 Pontiac Solstice comes equipped with a 2.4-liter, dual overhead cam, four-cylinder engine putting out 177 horsepower and 166 lb.-ft. of torque. The only available transmission is a five-speed manual. Tunes comes standard via a basic audio system with a single-disc CD player; a Monsoon sound system, six-disc CD changer, MP3 player, and XM satellite radio are all optional. But you don’t have to pay extra for the auxiliary iPod jack – that’s included in the sub-$20,000 base price.
Saturn Vue This five-passenger road tripper makes the journey all the more fun by making it easy to access your iPod’s vast music library. With seating for five and an available 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine, the Saturn Vue is an SUV that gets called upon for plenty of road-trip duty. And anyone who’s toured their share of U.S. highways and byways knows that your standard AM/FM radio will only serve you so far. Granted, the 2006 Saturn VUE comes standard with a single-disc CD player and can be outfitted with an MP3 player or XM satellite radio, but with the aid of an inexpensive adaptor cord, roadies can plug in their iPods and access their own vast music library on the go. Prices for the 2006 Saturn Vue start at $17,990 for the basic front-wheel-drive version and climb to $23,650 for a V6-equipped model with all-wheel drive (prices include a $600 destination charge).
Saturn Ion Like the other GM models listed here, the 2006 Saturn Ion, priced from about $12,500 to $19,995, allows for quick and easy use of your iPod via an inexpensive adaptor cord. Saturn’s compact coupe and sedan, the Ion, is one car that covers all of the bases. For only $12,490 (including a $565 destination charge) buyers can get into the base model sedan with its standard 140-horsepower engine, five-speed manual transmission, OnStar telematics system, and single-disc CD player. In addition to better-equipped sedans, the Ion can also be had in four-door coupe form, with prices starting at $13,490. The iconic Ion is the Red Line coupe, priced at $19,995, which is powered by a supercharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine offering 205 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque, and which shares a standard MP3 player with up-level sedans and coupes. Like the other GM models listed here, the 2006 Saturn Ion allows for quick and easy use of your iPod via an inexpensive adaptor cord.
Scion tC The Scion tC comes with an auxiliary jack that will operate your iPod, but a $260 upgrade adds in steering wheel controls and displays song titles on the Pioneer head unit. For years, automotive designers and marketers have done their darnedest to figure out what young and young-at-heart drivers desire. Honda and Mitsubishi have probably been the most consistently successful, but each has also had its share of disappointments, including the present-day versions of the Civic Si and Eclipse. Enter Toyota’s new youth brand, Scion, just when X and Y generation drivers are ripe for the picking. This new line of autos carries with it Toyota’s reputation for quality and reliability, a base price of $16,515 (including a $515 destination charge), and fresh designs from angular and boxy to fast and furious. The latter describes the hot Scion tC coupe, which resembles the larger Infiniti G35 coupe in profile and comes standard with features like a huge sliding moonroof, a 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear stabilizer bars, and a 160-watt Pioneer sound system. With that standard audio system comes a CD player, MP3 player, and auxiliary jack. But for $260 more, you get the same system with iPod compatibility, meaning your personal portable music library is available via the steering wheel audio controls, and the titles to your favorite tunes will be displayed on the Pioneer head unit.
Scion xA The xA offers the same reputation for quality as the more popular tC, yet is priced at only $13,245 and gets up to 38 mpg. Plus, a simple and inexpensive upgrade fully integrates your iPod. Launched before the tC but now relegated to its shadows is the Scion xA, a subcompact five-passenger wagon. Small in dimensions and large in rounded edges, the xA offers the same reputation for quality as the more popular tC, yet is priced at only $13,245 (including a $515 destination charge) and can attain an EPA-estimated rating of 38 mpg from its 108-horsepower engine (the tC’s top rating is 30 mpg). It may not be a visual charmer like the tC, but it’s cheap and economical. The 2006 Scion xA also offers some standard features not expected in this price range, such as air conditioning, antilock brakes, and a 160-watt Pioneer sound system with a CD player, an MP3 player, and an auxiliary input jack. Fork over $260 for the optional radio and you can operate your iPod with the standard steering wheel controls.
Scion xB Playing your iPod through the xB’s radio controls requires a $260 upgrade and an inexpensive adaptor cord, which connects to a handy jack labeled “iPod” in the center console. Few cars are as distinct as the Scion xB, a small wagon characterized by its boxy shape, tall body, and customization possibilities. Scion dealers will be happy to install a number of options on your xB, from alloy wheels and rear spoilers to cargo organizers and subwoofers. The base xB’s price of $14,395 (including a $515 destination charge) will get you a 108-horsepower, 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission; 15-inch steel wheels; five-passenger seating; air conditioning; and the same Pioneer sound system that’s found on the tC and xA. You can operate your iPod with the standard auxiliary jack, but you'll have to spend an extra $260 for fully integrated controls and song titles displayed on the Pioneer head unit.
Photos courtesy of the manufacturers