Upscale features on a downscale car budget

LOS ANGELES This leather car interior has just about all the luxury items anyone could want today, including things like a real-time traffic map and satellite weather reports.

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The surprise comes on the outside: It's the fairly compact Acura TSX, the lowest-priced car in the Acura line. It has a sticker price of about $32,000, even with the technology package.

It's also frugal under the hood, thanks to a four-cylinder engine. While it makes good power and is very smooth, it saves on gas compared to many cars with bigger engines. The official combined rating is 25 miles per gallon for the automatic version.

In today's world of high gas prices and squeezed budgets, it could become a lot more popular with commuters who want luxury features for less. The navigation and traffic system alone would make any drive easier.

Factory-installed GPS navigation systems started showing up on high-end luxury models a number of years ago. And they were pricey for the time, at $2,000 - $3,000. Like a lot of technologies, they've become more affordable and more commonplace, first showing up in mid-size cars. Now we're seeing them even in some low-priced models.

The 2009 Suzuki SX4 starts at about $16,000 and comes standard with a pop-up Garmin satellite navigation unit. It's now the lowest-priced car to have one by far.

It also includes Microsoft link, which, like some much more expensive cars, shows you which freeways are clogged and which aren't. It can also show you the weather, and it even tracks prices at gas stations as well as movie times.

The SX4 isn't perfect. The interior is not especially luxurious. And while the engine provides good power and decent mileage, it's not as quiet or smooth as in some other cars. But it's important to keep in mind that it's only $16,000.

So if you want upscale features on a downscale budget, some cars today do have a lot of what the bigger ones have ... for less.


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