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Dream rides for Dad - Our Cars staff makes their picks for Father's Day

Consumer Reports News: June 08, 2012 05:08 PM

The countdown is on to Father's Day: Are you prepared to reward Dad with a gift worthy of a lifetime of love and sacrifice? Our Cars team has assembled their own four-wheel personal picks for Father's Day to inspire your decision making. Should this not be the year for a new car, it may be fun simply to play the "What if?" game with your Dad.

If you are looking for a more modest automotive gift, see "How to choose the best GPS navigator for Father's Day."

Cliff Weathers: Father's Day is time to celebrate the man who wore black tube socks with Bermudas to your middle-school graduation. You don't know this, but a father's primary directive is to motivate you enough to feverishly apply to out-of-state colleges. And since you were smart enough to use three years of baby-sitting earnings to short Facebook last month, honor those paternal contributions with a special Father's Day this year. But forget the two-week Bahamian fishing trip. Instead, focus on a new set of wheels to replace the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

Forget a sports car. Dad needs something big enough to take you to the university, and it needs to be a trailer-friendly vehicle that can be used to drag everything you own cross country. And when Dad gets home to convert your vacated room to a man cave, he's going to need the cargo capacity for untold round trips to the Home Depot and the taxidermist. Beyond that you never know when the empty nester will gear up for an impromptu camping trip or tailgating party.

All this is to say, if there is $27,450 to spare on the third Sunday in June, I could sure go for a new Subaru Outback. Not only can it perform all the tasks above, it has ample space up front for my ever-widening body. And go easy on yourself, kid. You don't have to spend an extra $2,000 for the six-cylinder engine; the four-cylinder boxer engine will do just fine and get me some decent fuel economy.

David Champion: My first choice would be a convertible, like the new Porsche Boxster (which we'll be testing soon). But if my family wanted to come along then I'd choose the Ford Mustang GT convertible. I really enjoy driving a top-down car on a warm night when it is dark out... it just adds to the fun.

Eric Evarts: In this era of high gas prices, I need something efficient, both for my long commute and for weekend outings. I also need something that can carry occasional boards, plants, and what-have-you home from the hardware store. When the chores are done, I need to be able to throw bikes and kayaks on top. What I need is a wagon, small SUV, or minivan. But, it can't be dull to drive.

Add it all up, and I'll take a Volkswagen Jetta TDI SportWagen, a model that was spared the company's latest penny-pinching measures. I've always liked VWs and find them very easy to live with. This TDI is available with a big sunroof and a slick six-speed manual transmission. Best of all, it gets 36 mpg overall, and almost hits 50 mpg on the highway. Even with higher diesel prices, I'll come out ahead.

Gabe Shenhar: Of the hundreds of cars of I've driven in the last couple of years, the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG stands out.

It masquerades as a regular C-Class, the brand's smallest sedan. Yet, it will leave just about any Chevrolet Corvette or Porsche 911 in the dust. The beauty of this car is that you don't only enjoy it on a race track. With its gorgeous exhaust sound, effortless thrust, sublime steering feel and perfect body control it puts a smile on your face even during regular everyday type commutes. But it remains comfortable, roomy and practical enough so you don't feel beaten to death as is the case with many other high-performance cars. Should dear ol' Dad be due for an epic treat, this is on my wish list.

Jeff Bartlett: Should my family ask, I'll have the answer ready before the question is even finished: Ford Mustang. Increasingly I realize how short life is. Live a little and pass that spirit on to the next generation. Do you want your legacy to be that of a wage-slave in a minivan, or the cool Dad with the Mustang? I thought so.

This pick is less radical than you might assume, if you can resist the myriad high-performance variants and options.

Realistically, my pick is the surprisingly efficient Mustang V6 coupe. In Consumer Reports fuel economy tests, it returned 16 mpg city, 35 mpg highway. (Crazy, huh?) While our official overall fuel economy is 24 mpg, I could see something closer to 30 mpg based on my driving mix. From a stylish, boldly American coupe boasting more than 300 horsepower, that is more than acceptable.

Make mine Race Red and find a means to add dual stripes. I'd choose the six-speed manual transmission, which helps bring the 3.7-liter engine to life. I am sorely tempted by the Performance Package with a suspension upgrade that would imbue a more Boss-like feel to the dynamics, however it comes with summer-only tires. No thanks. Add the Shelby-inspired window louvers and side scoops to complete. So equipped, the retail price is $23,500. Online, Ford shows discounts of at least $1,000, putting it at $22,500. A patriotic bargain.

In playing the "What if?" game with my father this week, he is wrestling with replacing his Mustang GT and dreaming of a Shelby GT500. Like father, like son.

Jim Travers: In addition to families, Dads are all about stuff. Sometimes big stuff. Sometimes smelly stuff. Sometimes both. And that's where a pickup comes in handy. With plenty of room for big, smelly stuff in the back, trucks go with Dads like Sundays and remote controls.

A Honda Ridgeline offers room for lots of stuff, plus four doors and seating for Dad and the family. And with a car-like ride, all-wheel drive, a 5,000-pound towing capacity, and excellent reliability, the Ridgeline makes a comfortable and versatile workhorse.

A three-year old used one can save thousands over new, with prices starting at less than $23,000. And it looks virtually the same as a new one. That'll appeal to Dad's frugal side and his fashion sense, while leaving money for novelty T-shirts.

Mike Quincy: As the father of two small boys, I have to choose carefully which car I sign out for the weekend from the Auto Test Center. Summer's almost here and the time is right for top-down, two-seat convertible fun. But I can't get through a weekend's worth of soccer games, running errands and whatnot in a two-seater. But since this Pick is all about what I want (even Dads get one day a year, right?), I'm leaning toward a Dodge Challenger R/T Classic—just like the one we tested.

The big 5.7-liter V8 has tons of power and emits a perfect symphonic tone, and the six-speed manual shifter feels great in my hand. There's just enough room in back for my boys and the trunk will swallow a weekend's worth of soccer gear. The ride is comfortable for a road trip, and this old-school muscle car still gets lots of looks. Fuel economy is nothing special, but I don't care. Every time I drive the Challenger, I want to put one in my garage as a permanent part of my household. It has the right mix of just enough fun and practicality... and I'd never want to return it. Try achieving that with a tie.

What would you want for Father's Day? Remember, there is no cost for dreaming.

Jeff Bartlett

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