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Today: car recommendations for older drivers.

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Dear Tom and Ray:



I will be 77 years old soon and would like your opinion as to which of the following automobiles you would recommend for someone like me. I love driving, and I drive a stick shift to this very day. For the past eight years, I have driven a Honda Accord coupe. The practical side of me tells me to get a new Honda Civic, while the less-practical side argues for a Mini Cooper, a car that has great appeal to me aesthetically. Incidentally, before I bought the Honda, I drove a Toyota Celica, which I loved. Your input will be much appreciated. Are there cars you would especially recommend for older drivers? -- Isaac

TOM: Well, there are certain things we do look for when recommending a car for an older driver -- in addition to making sure the blinker-cancel switch is robust.

RAY: No. 1 is modest size. When you were a young whippersnapper, you might have been able to navigate a 30-foot-long Chrysler Imperial and bring it into dock without smashing up the cars around it. But that ability diminishes with time. So we generally recommend that older drivers step down a size or two.

TOM: Smaller cars tend to be easier to maneuver and park. And while some older folks resist smaller cars at first, it's been our experience that they come to appreciate the certainty of knowing where the car begins and ends. And they like having to make fewer apologies for taking out mailboxes and tulip beds.

RAY: We also look for good visibility. In general, visibility has gotten worse during the past 10 years. Car styling has veered toward rising belt lines and high trunks.

TOM: That's automotive styling, Isaac, not whether your personal belt line is up around your chest.

RAY: A lot of modern cars are harder to see out of, particularly out the back and out the sides toward the back. So that's something to consider.

TOM: Then we look for comfort. Not in terms of DVD players and electric butt-scratchers, but we want an older driver to feel comfortable behind the wheel. Because a person who is comfortable driving his or her car (a comfortable seating position, familiarity with the controls) is a better, safer driver.

RAY: There are other specific needs people might have, like ease of entry and exit, and large, readable instrumentation. But appropriate size, visibility and driver comfort and confidence are at the top of our list.

TOM: And while the Honda Civic meets all of those criteria, we think you should go out today and get the Mini Cooper, Isaac.

RAY: Absolutely. We've just been test-driving a new Mini, and it's got great visibility, it's fun to drive, it's easy to get in and out of, it doesn't feel small inside, and you can fit into half a parking space when you're late for bingo and the parking lot is already crowded.

TOM: And if you're itching to get one, what are you waiting for? Your roaring 80s? If the majority of your driving is around town, and you don't have to schlep lots of kids or passengers, the Mini is the perfect car for you, Isaac.

RAY: I agree. You deserve it, Isaac, don't you? Live it up! And be sure to get a loaded one with racing stripes on the hood. The 80-year-old gals at my brother's nursing home really love the stripes!

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