Professional cars for the professional world
By Joe Grove
Graduation time is upon us and if you’re graduating, chances are you’re still driving either your first or second car. Maybe it’s your grandma’s old Taurus–clanking, smoking and dripping rust. Maybe it’s your second car, newer, but racking up miles and spending more time in the shop than on the road.
It’s important to look professional the moment you pull into the parking lot of a potential or new employer. If you’re looking for an upgrade to your car, but you don’t want to spend extreme amounts of money, check out the cars we have lined up. All have a base price that starts below $24,000. They’re professional looking, fun to drive and economical.
2015 Buick Verano Base Price: $23,380 Price as tested: $24,445
The 2015 Buick Verano is easily the most “grown-up” car on our list. I’m sure a few of you are thinking, a Buick? I’m graduating not retiring! But this Buick isn’t anything close to the Buicks of old. The Verano was introduced in 2012 as Buick’s entry-level sedan, based off the European Opel Astra and has been leading the reinvention of Buick.
The Verano is the most expensive car in the list, but it comes with a huge list of standard features. For 2015, a back-up camera is standard, as is a touch screen with Buick’s Intellilink infotainment system. The Verano also come with standard cloth and leather appointed seats and new for 2015, the car has the ability to be a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot.
Driving the Verano, you realize how much this car has changed from the old Buick land-barge image. Steering is light and crisp, and the 2.4 liter, four cylinder engine is more than capable of handling the compact car all while getting 21 miles per gallon city and 32 on the highway. The suspension isn’t floaty like old Buicks, but it isn’t stiff either; it lets the perfect amount of road feel in, while isolating the harsh bumps.
The Verano’s crisp lines flow well over the car’s short stature, giving it a young but mature look. Buick’s signature blue headlight rings help the standard projection beam headlights stand out both day and night. On the inside, the Verano has extremely comfortable seats which face a handsome dash. The dash features wood accents, available two-tone color schemes and a high mounted screen. The only complaint with the interior is the multitude of buttons which can be confusing while trying to focus on the road.
The Verano is a sign that Buick has changed, for the better. The competent little car provides a professional look and feel, while still having fun handling and an available, sporty turbocharged engine. The Verano is a car that shouldn’t be over-looked when shopping for a new car.
Thanks to Stoops Buick GMC for allowing us to test the Verano.
2015 Hyundai Veloster Base Price: $18,000 Price as tested: $22,765
If you’re looking for a new car that is slightly off beat and extremely expressive, look no further than the Hyundai Veloster. Our RE:FLEX edition test car was painted in a bright metallic orange, named “Vitamin C” and had brightly polished 18” chrome wheels. The Veloster isn’t just unique in looks, it features a very unique door count: three. There are two doors in front and just one in back on the passenger side. Using an AMC Pacer approach, the driver’s side door is longer, but only for aesthetics, not for loading passengers into the rear; that’s what the third door is for.
The unique designs don’t stop on the interior. The inside is filled with hoop style door pulls and a V-shaped center stack. The deeply hooded instrument cluster gives it a sporty look, as do the silver pedals. The Veloster also comes standard with a rearview camera which is displayed on an also standard 7 inch touch screen placed in the middle of the dash. The base Veloster comes with Bluetooth connectivity and Hyundai’s Blue Link service.
Driving the Veloster, the first thing that stands out is the very stiff accelerator pedal, but after a few miles, it becomes less of an issue. The ride is stiff, but the Veloster is a hatchback that’s focused on performance and sportiness instead of luxury. One aspect of the Veloster that was a slight problem was the rear window. Since the hatchback splits the window onto two planes, there is a line that goes across the field of vision, blocking large objects from the rear view. It’s a good thing that the Veloster comes with a standard back-up camera and large, 7 inch touch screen or else backing up with the blocked view would cause a lot of grief.
The Veloster is a very different, off-beat kind of car that is purely meant to turn heads and get people talking. But with a tech-filled interior and powerful, optional engines, it accomplishes much more than that. The sporty little hatchback spices up an otherwise dull segment.
Thanks to Gaddis Hyundai for allowing us to test the Veloster
2015 Jeep Patriot Base Price: $16,695 Price as tested: $22,475
Introduced for the 2007 model year, the Jeep Patriot is the oldest car on our list; in fact, it’s soon to be replaced by a new model. But why bring up an old model that’s about to bite the dust? Because the Patriot is an amazing value and has remained modern with multiple updates. Starting at just a shade under $17,000, the Patriot offers a high seating position, a rugged Jeep look and up to 30 mpg highway. Also, now that the Patriot is nearing the end of it’s life, the prices will start to fall, making it even more of an awesome value.
Our test vehicle was a special Altitude edition which comes with 17” black painted wheels as well as other painted pieces; which gives the Patriot a sportier look. The Patriot isn’t a sports car by any means, but it isn’t meant to be; it’s a high-riding, furniture hauling, pet transporting crossover. I wasn’t impressed with the acceleration when I stepped on the pedal in an effort to blast around a slow driver. The Patriot didn’t react immediately, which brought on a noticeable amount of engine lag. Other than that, the Patriot handles twisting roads and rough pavement in stride; its soft suspension connects the driver to the road and the vehicle never felt top-heavy.
The interior of the Patriot isn’t flashy or overly luxurious, but it has a competent layout and is constructed out of soft touch materials. A large greenhouse on the vehicle provides great views with minimal blind-spots. The Altitude edition comes with premium cloth seating, full interior illumination and Chrysler’s UConnect radio system.
Even though it isn’t a spring chicken anymore, the Patriot has managed to stay fresh and relevant in a very hot market. A high number of features attached to a low price with large end-of-model sales coming, the Patriot is a huge value vehicle.
Thanks to Gaddis Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Jeep for allowing us to test the Patriot.
2015 Dodge Dart SXT Base Price: $16,495 Price as tested: $22,820
The Dodge Dart is based off the European-only Alfa Romeo Giulietta. After Chrysler merged with the Italian automaker, Fiat, the company decided to bring back the Dart name plate for the first time in 35 years. Dodge had a bit of a hit in the ’90s with the Neon, but had a flop with the Caliber that replaced it. Now Dodge is back in the small car game with the new Dart and after driving it, I think they’re definitely on the right track to success.
Our Dart was a brilliant shade of laser blue with black rims and a blacked out grille. Of all our test vehicles, the Dart turned the most heads. Yes, more heads than the funky Veloster. The Dart doesn’t have any chrome; everything that is usually chrome is now gloss black, which helps give the car a stealth, sporty look. Around back, the tail-light cluster is Dodge’s unique, full-width “Racetrack,” made with LED lights.
The Dart has a very sporty feel while driving. Quick acceleration and light steering make it a nimble little car that has the power to match the look. Powered by a 2.4-liter, four cylinder engine which is mated to a six speed automatic transmission, the Dart makes 184 horsepower–more than enough to help it get to speed.
A cool feature on the interior is the “Racetrack” is echoed around the radio and instrument cluster by having a red band wrap around the dash. Our Dart had extremely comfortable cloth seats which had ample amounts of bolstering to hold you in place. Our car came with Dodge’s Uconnect infotainment system which is operated through an 8.4” touchscreen in the dash. Overall the interior of the Dart is lightyears better than the Caliber and Neon that came before it and the entire car is a good sign that FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) knows what they’re doing in the small car segment.
Thanks to Gaddis Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Jeep for allowing us to test the Dart.
2015 Chevy Colorado Base Price: $20,120 Price as tested: $35,125
For 2015, Chevy re-entered the mid-size truck market with the second generation Colorado. The Colorado nameplate has been on hiatus since the 2012 model year. As you’ve probably noticed, the truck we tested was a little over our price limit, and by a little, we mean $11,000 over. Don’t be alarmed, the Colorado does start well under our $24,000 price limit, at just $20,120 for the base model. The reason we had to test a pricier up-level trim was due to high popularity of the truck and a limited availability.
Base Colorados come with a 2.5 liter, four cylinder engine standard with a 3.6 liter, six cylinder engine optional but all come with a six-speed transmission, manual or automatic. Our test truck had the 3.6 liter engine and an automatic transmission which provided ample torque and speed to make the truck a smooth driver. One thing we didn’t like that was very noticeable about the truck was the transmission’s urge to shift. In stop-and-go city driving, the transmission shifted three times before reaching 35 mph. It’s a minor issue that will just take some time to get used to, but it is certainly noticeable. Other than the shift-happy transmission, the Colorado has a very smooth ride, it handles potholes and Ball State’s brick-laden McKinley Avenue with ease. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to take our 4×4 Colorado off-road, but the large tires and ample amount of ground clearance gives us hope.
Inside, the Colorado sports an interior that mimics its big brother, the Silverado. The radio and climate controls sit high on the dash and all models come with bucket seats. The seating position of the Colorado gives passengers a mountain-top view in traffic and the comfortable seats are good for long trips. The back seat in our crew-cab Colorado provided ample legroom and would be comfortable for any length of trip. Unfortunately we can’t comment on the extended cab seats, as they were not available. Other notable features on the Colorado are the easy up-and-down tailgate and integrated rear bumper steps, both of which allow easy access into the bed of the truck.
Chevy came out swinging into the stagnant mid-size truck market and it will be very interesting to see the reaction from the competition. We may be seeing a new trend in smaller, more capable trucks.
Thanks to American Chevrolet and Cadillac for allowing us to test the Colorado.