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Old 12-04-2006, 08:48 AM   #1
NYCshopper
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Default 2006 Sport Compact Comparison Test "$25k" (Edmunds.com)

2006 Sport Compact Comparison Test "$25k" (Edmunds.com)



http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do...ticleId=117762
(For Full Read w/ Stats, Specs, & Figures click above Link)



Quote:
Ask five different people what defines a sport compact car and you'll get five different answers. Look it up on Wikipedia, the everyman's encyclopedia known for its everyman definitions and you get this: "a high-performance version of a compact car...often compromising cargo space, seating, gas mileage, drivability and reliability."

Here's the three-word definition we like: small, sporting, inexpensive. And because these cars are frequently the only transportation their owners have, reality says we should add a fourth: practical.

This test is performed in that spirit. That is, find the best small, sporting, inexpensive and practical car sold in the U.S. today. We narrowed the field to six that we feel are genuine contenders: the 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged, 2006 Honda Civic Si, 2007 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3, 2006 Mini Cooper S, 2006 Subaru WRX and 2006 Volkswagen GTI.

The Specifics
One of the three words in our definition of a sport compact car is "inexpensive." Naturally, this means different things to different people, so for this test we planned a price cap of $25,000. Much as in the real world of car buying, it was impossible to get our test cars optioned the way we wanted, so the Mazdaspeed 3 and Subaru WRX TR both exceeded our limit. If you mentally delete the Mazda's $1,750 navigation system and the Subaru's $579 premium sound package, however, harmony is restored.

When you remember that most sport compacts are born from economy cars, you'll be impressed with each test car's list of standard performance features. All six are powered by four-cylinder engines ranging in displacement from 1.6 liters to 2.5 liters. Only the Civic, however, lacked forced induction. The GTI, Mazdaspeed and WRX pack a turbocharger, while the Mini and the Cobalt are supercharged.

Of the six cars, the Civic Si, GTI, Mazdaspeed 3 and Mini Cooper S come with six-speed transmissions. The Cobalt SS, Civic Si, Mazdaspeed 3 and Mini all have mechanical limited-slip differentials, while the Subaru WRX TR features all-wheel drive.

Speed is critical in this category, which is why we value performance-oriented features so highly. The practicality of four (or five) doors, real-world rear-seat accommodations and folding rear seats can't be ignored, however, so we've factored that into our evaluation, too.

The Gauntlet
Testing enthusiast cars means a comprehensive combination of both real-world driving and track tests. We drove these sport compacts to work in stop-and-go traffic, loaded them with kids and groceries, and generally got on with the mundane details of life. Then we replaced the grocery bags with racing helmets and headed for the Streets of Willow Springs, a 1.8-mile road course featuring relatively low-speed turns appropriate for street cars. After a day of lapping to figure out which compact had the most sport, we headed to our usual test facility to record results from our standardized acceleration, braking and handling tests.

Let's face it, though, most owners will drive these cars quickly on real-world roads far more often than they'll see a racetrack, so we included 400 or so miles of the best two-lane blacktop that California can deliver between L.A. and Monterey. Then we turned around and headed back home on the freeway just to round things out.

Sixth Place: 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged
Chevy's 2006 Cobalt SS Supercharged is a surprisingly competent car. It's clear GM's engineers are capable of tuning for performance, even though they started with the least capable platform in the group. The Cobalt's steering and brakes surprised most editors, delivering a crisp, precise feel unlike that of any car GM has ever offered in this segment. What's more, its engine produces adequate power and delivers it in deadly effective style through a limited-slip differential. Our Cobalt hit 60 in 7.1 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 15.2 seconds at more than 95 mph — respectable midpack numbers.

The Cobalt makes the right kind of numbers in our handling tests, too. It turned the second quickest lap time at the Streets of Willow (1:34.90), pulled 0.87g around the skid pad, and zipped through the slalom at 67.5 mph. It also stopped in just 121 feet from 60 mph, and had excellent brake feel.

Unfortunately, there's still a lot of the worst of GM in the Cobalt SS Supercharged. This short-coupled coupe offers the least usable passenger package in the group, and its interior materials (aside from the Recaro seats) are far below the quality level set by the other contenders. The double-throwdown, combat-style rear wing just shows you that a styling cliché can't disguise a weak people package. Add it all up and despite the Chevy's encouraging performance, it lacks the refinement and utility necessary to compete here.

Fifth Place: 2006 Volkswagen GTI
The 2006 Volkswagen GTI offers upscale interior quality and feel, the practicality of a hatchback and a distinctly German driving experience. Ultimately, though, its suspension is tuned so softly that it affords less cornering grip than almost every other car in the test. As a whole, it lacks the hardware and tuning to perform with the quickest cars here, and it's the least involving car to drive as a result.

Much like the Cobalt, the turbocharged GTI speeds to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds and reaches the quarter-mile in 15.3 seconds. It has respectable cornering grip on the skid pad at 0.83g, and runs through the slalom at 65.2 mph. Although the numbers are good, the VW's soft, long-travel suspension slows down its steering response, so it's not as much fun to drive. The brakes produced a 128-foot stop from 60 mph, but they faded quickly on the open road. On the track, the GTI cranked out a 1:37.15, the second slowest lap time recorded.

Our editors like the GTI's quality interior materials and simple, functional design. Its folding rear seats add to its function for those using it as an only car and it's probably the best around-town daily driver here. However, quality and utility without performance isn't the complete package we're looking for.

Fourth Place: 2006 Mini Cooper S
Although it's due for replacement by a revised version by the time you read this, the 2006 Mini Cooper S still awes us with its brilliant proportions. It's big enough to be practical, yet the combination of light weight and a responsive powertrain delivers outstanding driving dynamics. At 2,660 pounds, the Mini is the lightest car here by 175 pounds. The steering effort is perfectly weighted and the chassis is perfectly balanced. Even better, this car is also a bargain at $22,450 — including a limited-slip differential.

When it comes to performance, the Mini has the least powerful engine in the group and it shows. It beat the Si to 60 mph by a tenth of a second, but couldn't hold the advantage through the quarter-mile, where it was the slowest car in the test at 15.6 seconds. We love the Mini's feel when driving quickly, but our car lacked the stickier tires offered by the sport package, so its handling limits were relatively low. Its 0.78g skid-pad performance and 64.9-mph slalom speed are completely unimpressive in this group, and the car had the longest stopping distance at 131 feet and the slowest lap time at 1:38.05.

The Mini is a really small car, which helps its handling but cramps its living quarters. Its huge speedometer mounted in the center of the dashboard away from the driver's line of sight also frustrated some editors. Still, because of the Mini's undeniable fun factor and timeless styling it finishes ahead of two faster machines.

Third Place: 2006 Honda Civic Si
This is the least expensive car in the test, and it'll set you back only $21,085 with summer tires. It also comes with a standard limited-slip differential, a high-strung 2.0-liter i-VTEC engine and a six-speed transmission that makes the out-of-sight power delivery (197 hp at 7,800 rpm) usable. The 2006 Honda Civic Si is a hell of a lot of car for the money.

Our test car had the optional summer tires, improving its cornering grip and boosting driver confidence on the track. The perfect combination of front-end grip and steering feel brings the Si to life when you're searching for that extra bit of speed on a twisty back road. And as much as you abuse the brake pedal or simply brake too late, the Si seems to keep tracking through the corner, which should keep even the most reckless drivers out of the ditch.

For all the capability of the Civic's chassis, this car is not exactly quick, taking 7.5 seconds to reach 60 mph, reaching the quarter-mile mark in 15.5 seconds, and registering only a 3rd-place finish on the track at Willow Springs with a lap time of 1:36.20. The engine is involving, but it hasn't the displacement (or boost from a supercharger or turbocharger) to run with the big dogs. The Civic also brought home a 3rd-place finish in the slalom at 67 mph and another 3rd place on the skid pad at 0.86g.

Most of us were unimpressed by the look of the Civic's massive two-tiered dash, but this car is certainly a quality machine assembled with excellent materials. The Civic's only two drawbacks are its two-door body and, ultimately, a significant power deficit to the WRX and Mazdaspeed 3. Of course it's now available as a sedan, so only a boost in horsepower remains on our Civic wish list.

Second Place: 2006 Subaru WRX TR
If the fun factor were the only important criteria in this test, the 2006 Subaru WRX TR would have walked away with the trophy. Its combination of big-bore turbo power and all-wheel-drive grip with ass-out chassis tuning is unmatched here. It's the only car in the group that can be thrown into a corner sideways and still exit with respectable speed. Although this handling strategy might not reward precise driving, the car has a rough-and-ready capability that's perfect for the real world.

Thanks to traction afforded by all-wheel drive, the WRX hit 60 in just 5.9 seconds (just like the Mazdaspeed 3), and then broke the quarter-mile traps in 14.3 seconds. Nevertheless, weak tires hold it back. Its stopping distance is a lengthy 135 feet, cornering grip on the skid pad is just 0.82g, and the slalom speed is compromised at 64.7 mph. A fairly soft suspension calibration also keeps the WRX from showing much on the road course, where it was timed at 1:36.45.

When we're behind the steering wheel, we love the WRX's driver-oriented cockpit, which places the tachometer in the middle of the instrument panel and has the simplest and easiest-to-use climate controls in the group. The Subie's supportive seats help make the most of an upright driving position with excellent all-around visibility. The WRX, even after all these years, still offers an almost unbeatable combination of speed, utility and value. However, it of course did get beat.

First Place: 2007 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3
Mazda's 2007 Mazdaspeed 3, the new guy on the block, is unquestionably fast (155-mph top speed), quick (14.2-second quarter mile) and grippy (0.88g on the skid pad). The Mazda had the quickest segment times at the Streets of Willow, not to mention the quickest overall lap time of 1:33.65. It also stopped short at 116 feet from 60 mph. Doesn't really matter how you spin it, the Mazdaspeed 3's performance is unmatched in virtually every category.

Just as important, the Mazdaspeed 3 also felt right. The controls delivered great feedback and inspired confidence. On rough roads this car wasn't always as composed as we'd like, but only the WRX was better over a less-than-perfect surface. The 3 is quick, communicative and powerful — the perfect dance partner.

This five-door hatchback also combines the most practical body style in this group with the best interior. We've always loved the Mazda 3's monochromatic black interior, and the new seats are very supportive yet make no compromise in comfort. With four real doors, room for five and a hatchback, it's the most usable shape in the test. But it's not cheap — at $26,300 it was the most expensive car here.

Texas hold 'em
After two full weeks of flogging these sport compacts, every last card was on the table. And the 2007 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 had the full house. Its undeniable speed in every situation and its practical five-door hatchback body made it not only the fastest car here, but also the easiest package to live with. It comes with a huge list of standard features which make its above-average price easier to justify. Put simply, it's impossible to go this fast, have this much fun or be more practical for less money.

Subaru's fast, sideways-driving WRX TR finished a distant 2nd, but proved to be more fun than any other car in the test on the right road. Honda's smart Civic Si impressed us with its laser-precise controls that truly bring the car to life during hard driving. The Mini Cooper S wound up in 4th despite brilliant dynamics and styling. VW's softly sprung GTI was 5th and the supercharged Chevy Cobalt SS just couldn't hack it in this well-rounded field and finished 6th.

The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.
&

Cliff Notes:
Quote:
1st: Mazdaspeed 3
2nd: Subaru WRX TR
3rd: Honda Civic Si
4th: Mini Cooper S
5th: VW GTI
6th: Cobalt SS S-Charged
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Old 12-04-2006, 09:38 AM   #2
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With four real doors, room for five and a hatchback, it's the most usable shape in the test (MS3).
Too bad they don't make a WRX in a hatchback

No real surprise here, so if you drove a WRX "hatchback" with a different set of tires and then drove the MS3, you might have a really really close challege. That's what I did and I'm happy with my decision (& car payments).
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Old 12-04-2006, 10:33 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by shaw169 View Post
Too bad they don't make a WRX in a hatchback

No real surprise here, so if you drove a WRX "hatchback" with a different set of tires and then drove the MS3, you might have a really really close challege. That's what I did and I'm happy with my decision (& car payments).
Dude, there's nothing to complain about this review. I wouldn't have been surprised if either GTI or the Copper S beat the aging WRX. Some people really dig the euroness, and on top of that those two are quite capable cars with very advanced powertrain. I am very happy that the WRX did as well as it did.

EDIT: I didn't reallize it's the old Copper S, not the new direct injection turbo. So nevermind my comment on the Copper.
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Old 12-04-2006, 01:48 PM   #4
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Stellar review. The WRX's flaws are professionally pointed out (tires/suspesnion tuning) but overshadowed by the overwhelming goodness of the aged/outgoing Impreza. The MS3 is a great car at a great price, hate to have one in the snow though

Shaw, the WRX wagon costs more than the $$ cap on the test
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Old 12-04-2006, 02:02 PM   #5
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Yeah, that was a raving review for an old chassis. Nothing to lament here.
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Old 12-04-2006, 02:03 PM   #6
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The MS3 was over the "cap" also, just a wagon guy saying they could have pointed out that there is a more "practical" "hatchback" WRX avaliable. Well done otherwise.
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Old 12-04-2006, 02:46 PM   #7
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The MS3 was over the "cap" also, just a wagon guy saying they could have pointed out that there is a more "practical" "hatchback" WRX avaliable. Well done otherwise.
The MS3 was equipped over the cap, the WRX wagon starts over the cap... semantics but a valid point.
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Old 12-04-2006, 02:46 PM   #8
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Copper.
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Old 12-04-2006, 03:00 PM   #9
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Woohoo! Nice to know a 6 year old "dog" still holds up even when compared to some recent revisions to its competitors.
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Old 12-04-2006, 05:12 PM   #10
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That would be the most nimble element on the periodic table!
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Old 12-04-2006, 05:31 PM   #11
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If only there was a wagon WRX TR ... =D (And the tires were better)

Subaru could have won this contest.

Oh, and Subaru had the advertising budget of Mazda.

-Allen
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Old 12-04-2006, 05:37 PM   #12
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If only there was a wagon WRX TR ... =D (And the tires were better)

Subaru could have won this contest.

Oh, and Subaru had the advertising budget of Mazda.

-Allen

and the design staff
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Old 12-04-2006, 06:36 PM   #13
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Stellar review. The WRX's flaws are professionally pointed out (tires/suspesnion tuning) but overshadowed by the overwhelming goodness of the aged/outgoing Impreza.
Very well put. This definitely came across as if the road test editors truly spent time getting to know each car. For such an old chassis, the WRX did extremely well.

My only surprise was the low placing VW GTi which I feel should have finished ahead of the Cooper S...
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Old 12-04-2006, 07:13 PM   #14
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Very well put. This definitely came across as if the road test editors truly spent time getting to know each car. For such an old chassis, the WRX did extremely well.

My only surprise was the low placing VW GTi which I feel should have finished ahead of the Cooper S...
I feel a Mini Cooper S should place higher as it is more raw and has attributes that make it more "sports car-like" than a VW GTi. The GTI, although it has good upscale feel and a great powertrain, isn't really geared for track (it doesn't even have an LSD option). Then again, I'm surprised they rated the Cobalt SS so low if speed was the objective of that article.
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Old 12-04-2006, 08:25 PM   #15
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Dear Subaru,

RE92's are FTL! kthxbye.

Sincerely, Everyone in the world.
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Old 12-05-2006, 04:09 PM   #16
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Yeah, that was a raving review for an old chassis. Nothing to lament here.
+1

That whole tire thing keeps coming up time and time again, and deservedly so. I like how they factor in how easy the car is to live with; we sometimes take that for granted around here.
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Old 12-05-2006, 10:39 PM   #17
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I've got a Mazdaspeed 3, and I love the Bridgestone RE050A's they put on them. Subaru really needs to follow suite.

But then again...I would love to have those RE92's right now for our Michigan winter!

They definitely need to put a better all-season tire on the WRX. Regardless, I'm glad that my two favorite cars (of the group) made 1-2 back-to-back.
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Old 12-06-2006, 08:46 AM   #18
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Better tires wouldn't have kept the WRX out of 2nd place. The Cobalt is running some awesome tires (just look at the numbers), but the writers at SCC weren't judging tires. The Mazdaspeed is nicer and newer.. the obvious shoe-in.
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Old 12-06-2006, 09:35 AM   #19
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Of course the tires hindered the TR..I'm sure it would've done much better in the cones with stickier stuff. The 3 is pushing $27k and that really begs the question of whether it belonged in this test.
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Old 12-06-2006, 09:41 AM   #20
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I am glad though that MS3 is such good competition for the WRX (wagon or not), it gives Subaru something to think about so that maybe we'll get something new and improved in the next year or two and the shoe will be on the other foot, so to speak.
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Old 12-06-2006, 09:49 AM   #21
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Sounds like if not for the tires (which are easily rectified), WRX would have took top spot.

In any case, they make it sound like it was still the most fun to drive on the most variety of conditions compared to the rest.

I have no idea what my 0-60 is when I'm driving to the grocery store. But I know that everytime I get in the car it puts a smile on my face and I never, ever get bored with it.
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Old 12-06-2006, 06:20 PM   #22
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Of course the tires hindered the TR..I'm sure it would've done much better in the cones with stickier stuff. The 3 is pushing $27k and that really begs the question of whether it belonged in this test.
From Mazdausa.com

2007 Mazdaspeed 3 Sport -- $22,835
2007 Mazdaspeed 3 Grand Touring -- $24,550

From Subaru.com

2007 Impreza WRX TR Sedan -- $23,995
2007 Impreza WRX Sedan -- $24,995

$27k huh?

Or are we adding all options, shipping, tags, registration, and taxes too?

Well in that case, I got my MS3 GT for $24,962 out the door...with everything on it accept for nav. Sounds like under $25,000 to me!
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Old 12-06-2006, 06:45 PM   #23
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Of course the tires hindered the TR..I'm sure it would've done much better in the cones with stickier stuff. The 3 is pushing $27k and that really begs the question of whether it belonged in this test.
No. Try to keep up. The TR placed well because the reviewers at SCC were completely ignoring the raw data. If the times had mattered at all, the WRX would have been near the back of the pack and the Cobalt would have been in the top 2 or 3. The TR is a nice car, it's an easily modified car, and after mods it's an insanely quick car.. that's what matters to SCC's readers and that's who they wrote the article to. If Subaru had put RE070s on the WRX, the review would have just said, "So it corners as well as the Mazdaspeed, it stops as well as the Mazdaspeed and it slaloms as well as the Mazdaspeed, but it's in 2nd place because it's not the new hotness. Mazdaspeed Wins!"
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Old 12-07-2006, 02:27 AM   #24
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No. Try to keep up. The TR placed well because the reviewers at SCC were completely ignoring the raw data. If the times had mattered at all, the WRX would have been near the back of the pack and the Cobalt would have been in the top 2 or 3. The TR is a nice car, it's an easily modified car, and after mods it's an insanely quick car.. that's what matters to SCC's readers and that's who they wrote the article to. If Subaru had put RE070s on the WRX, the review would have just said, "So it corners as well as the Mazdaspeed, it stops as well as the Mazdaspeed and it slaloms as well as the Mazdaspeed, but it's in 2nd place because it's not the new hotness. Mazdaspeed Wins!"
What article are you reading? This thread is about the EDMUNDS article, not SCC. They got 7.1 and 15.2 for the Coboalt, and 5.9 and 14.3 for the WRX. Ignoring numbers??
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Old 12-07-2006, 09:39 AM   #25
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Well in that case, I got my MS3 GT for $24,962 out the door...with everything on it accept for nav. Sounds like under $25,000 to me!
Quote:
Originally Posted by edumunds
This five-door hatchback also combines the most practical body style in this group with the best interior. We've always loved the Mazda 3's monochromatic black interior, and the new seats are very supportive yet make no compromise in comfort. With four real doors, room for five and a hatchback, it's the most usable shape in the test. But it's not cheap — at $26,300 it was the most expensive car here.
You did read the article didn't you? That is what I was commenting on.
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