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ROYAL FORD

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Ten rides worth kicking the tires on at the Bayside Expo Center next week

Leaves have fallen, the air is crisp, and the Patriots are headed to the playoffs again. Time to kick some tires.

I'm not sure what any prospective buyer ever learned by kicking the tires of a car, but it has entered the vernacular as though it were a true test of a car's possibilities.

So let's look ahead to next week's 2006 New England International Auto Show at the Bayside Expo Center, celebrating its 50th anniversary.

My advice: Look at everything. Take note of which cars offer standard side and curtain air bags -- true lifesavers. Remember who offers, at what price, standard electronic stability control. Why? Because multiple studies have shown that ESC cuts the chance of an accident by more than 40 percent and, in the event of an accident, reduces the chance of death by more than 40 percent.

But mostly, have fun, and be sure to check out some of my favorites:

Acura RDX: Honda's first turbocharged vehicle. Has paddle shifters, and carves corners like a Swiss Army knife cuts campground cheese. Will deliver more than 20 miles per gallon. Seats five people in firm luxury. Sit in both the front and back seats. Imagine it plowing through snow and whisking in brisk commuter traffic. Plan to pay around $35,000, give or take a grand.

Audi R8: That's R as in radical. Audi felt left out after all the attention given to the high-end Mercedes SLR McLaren and Porsche Carrera GT. The R8 is its response. We don't know much about this car except that it should be arriving for 2007 as an all-wheel-drive two-seater with more than 600 horsepower. It won't be cheap. As you stroll by, think of it as high-powered art.

Dodge Nitro: It's muscular, with "gills" a la Mercedes-Benz along the front quarter panels. Not a car for the meek, this model has a 5,000-pound towing capacity, with either a 210 horsepower 3.7-liter V6 or a hot rod R/T with a 255 horsepower four-liter V6. Priced at between $20,000 and $30,000. Dodge dealers cannot wait to get these into their showrooms.

Ford Edge CUV: Talk about companies looking for an edge -- Ford is looking to survive, and this "crossover utility vehicle" is important to the company's success. The Ford Fusion is one of my favorite cars of the past decade, and by combining the Fusion's ride and handling with a modest bit of SUV appeal, Ford should have a hit with the Edge. Front- or all-wheel drive, and prices start in the mid-20s.

Honda Fit: Perfect car at a perfect time. Adaptable interior -- everything seems to fold flat. A fun little hot rod with front-wheel drive and a five-speed manual transmission (or a benign commuter with a five-speed automatic). Only 109 horsepower, but it feels like more. And it feels good at the gas pump, too: this car gets 34.2 miles per gallon in Globe testing. It's my favorite car of the year. And you'll like the price -- in the $15,000 range.

Hyundai Veracruz: Neither Hyundai nor Kia has come out with a bad car in recent years. Now comes the Veracruz, flagship CUV of the Hyundai fleet. It likely will have a 3.8-liter V-6 (from the Azera sedan) and a six-speed automatic transmission. Will seat seven, surrounded by side curtain air bags. Price not yet determined.

Jaguar XKR: The name's Ford, Royal Ford. Oops, this is not an Aston Martin. Not a problem, I'll take this supercharged, ultra-luxurious beast any day. It feels like a high-performance car, but also like a car I could use every day. Powerful, fast, and luxurious. If this is the future of Jaguar, then Jaguar has a future: 420 horsepower, priced at almost $90,000.

Porsche Cayman: Repeat this worn-out phrase: "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like." Now Google "Porsche 550 Coupe." Print out a picture and go to the Cayman on the auto show floor. What a beautiful creation. On a race track in Alabama, it took me two laps to go as fast as I could go in this car because, with its mid engine setup, it was perfectly balanced. Look for it to be priced from the low 50s to almost $70,000.

Saturn Aura: Comes in two levels, prices from around $20,000 to more than $25,000. Definitely not another boring American sedan. It's classy. And it comes loaded with features. Check this one out and cross-shop it if you are in the market for a family sedan.

Volkswagen Rabbit: Rabbit Reborn. We had it for a while, then somebody at VW decided Golf was a good name for its replacement. Somebody should have yelled, "Fore!" But the Rabbit is bounding back, with a typically superb VW interior. Two- and four-door models are available, starting at $15,000 and $17,000, respectively.

So go kick some tires. Lots of them.

Royal Ford can be reached at ford@globe.com.

Dodge Nitro
Dodge Nitro (Dodge Photo)
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