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CAR TALK

Dear Tom and Ray: I'm a fun, sporty, active 46-year-old mom of three. I've been driving a minivan for 14 years now, and I need a change. I'm interested in the smaller sport utility vehicles, and recently test-drove a Hyundai Santa Fe. Needless to say, I loved it. I know you guys like the Subaru Outback and Forester, but to be honest, I felt they were both a tad too small. I don't want some huge SUV that guzzles gas and scares people half to death, either.

-- Janet

Tom: We like the Hyundai Santa Fe. It's a small SUV that's based on a car platform. That means it's more economical, handles better, is easier to get in and out of, and is more comfortable than the larger, truck-based SUVs. So it doesn't tow quite as many mothers-in-law -- who cares?

Ray: And the Santa Fe still has the world's best-designed rear-lift-gate handle. Its shape fits your hand, and it's located right where your right hand would naturally reach out, rather than in the middle of the lift gate, where most of them are. If we had an award for rear-lift-gate handles, it would absolutely go to the Santa Fe.

Tom: Add to that a very reasonable price and Hyundai's 10-year power-train warranty, and you really can't go wrong.

Ray: But you're right to test-drive other vehicles, Janet. You might take a ride in the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V and the Ford Escape (which has a high-mileage, hybrid-electric version). You want to make sure that whatever you drive, you feel comfortable and in control behind the wheel. Some cars just "fit" some people better than others -- like that plaid suit, white belt and white shoes fit my brother.

Tom: And if you're comfortable, you'll pay better attention to the road and be a better driver. So, look around to see which small SUV feels right to you.

The "Car Talk" radio show can be heard locally on WBFO-FM 88.7 on Saturday mornings at 6 and 10 a.m.

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