It’s always nice to have something to talk about with your kids.

Our youngest son has reached that milestone age of earning his learner’s permit to obtain a driver’s license.

For the past 15 years, I have been little more than his personal chauffeur. On most of our trips, I actually think my son made “Miss Daisy” look like a chatterbox. Not that I haven’t tried to strike up a conversation, mind you.

But then again, Alex never has been much for conversation — until recently, that is.

Now that he has his learner’s permit, Dad has become Alex’ walking encyclopedia of automotive information, which just happens to be my youngest son’s new favorite subject.

I know he’s just laying the groundwork for getting his own car next year after becoming a licensed driver. I don’t care, though. After 15 years of grunts and shoulder shrugs, I’m just glad to have an actual conversation on the ride home.  

This week we had an opportunity to talk about the all-new Pontiac Vibe, the next generation of the popular crossover model.

Available in front- or all-wheel drive configurations, the 2009 Vibe brings more power and performance to the table (without sacrificing fuel economy) with a bold, muscular styling.

With a base price starting below $16,000 and an EPA fuel economy average of 31 mpg, I was eager to hear my son’s take on the compact crossover.

“Dad, you know I want to get a truck,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the brochure of the Chevrolet Silverado he picked up at the auto show.

Don’t ask me why he forgets his homework but he never leaves home without that brochure.

“I know,” I said, nodding as he folded up the brochure and stuffed it back in his pocket. “I just wanted to know what you thought of the Vibe.”

“I like the stereo,” he said, promptly reaching over to change the channel.

“You do know that in some states changing a person’s radio station is a capital offense, don’t you?”

“No it’s not,” he said with the smug grin of a teenager.

“You’re right,” I responded. “But just remember, you can always walk home.”

“So, Dad, tell me about the 2009 Vibe,” my young son asked with a newfound appreciation for Dad’s wisdom.

Two available engines power the ‘09 Vibe. The base model is powered by a 1.8-liter I-4 while GT and AWD models are equipped with a 2.4-liter I-4 generating 158 horses.

With seating for five, the five-door crossover provides spirited performance with excellent handling capabilities. While fun and functional (the rear seat folds flat to provide nearly 50 cubic feet of cargo capacity), it’s also an outstanding value to own and operate.

It’s also nicely equipped and loaded with safety features, including vehicle stability system with traction, tire pressure monitoring, six airbags and active head restraints.

Alex agrees. For those in the market for a compact crossover, the Vibe is a “must” for the test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 15 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. Comments may be sent to Neal at neal.white@waxahachiedailylight.com.

THE NUTS AND BOLTS

MODEL:

2009 Pontiac Vibe

5-seat compact crossover  

Front-; all-wheel drive

Trim packages:

Base, AWD, GT

PRICE RANGE:

$15,895-$22,000

ENGINE:

1.8-L I-4 (132 hp/128 torque)

2.4-L I-4 (158 hp/162 torque)

TRANSMISSION:

4-speed automatic

5-speed manual

EPA: 25/20/21 mpg city, 31/ 26/29 mpg highway (Base/AWD/ GT with automatic transmission).

FUEL: Regular unleaded

SUSPENSION:  MacPherson struts with coil springs (front); torsion beam with trailing link, coil springs and stabilizer bar (rear). AWD and GT feature independent double wishbone rear suspension.

TRACTION

CONTROL:

StabiliTrak electronic vehicle stability system with traction control

BRAKES: ABS

LENGTH: 171.9 inches

WHEELBASE: 102.4 inches

WIDTH: 69.4 inches

HEIGHT: 60.9/62.7 inches

(Base/AWD)

WEIGHT: 2,855-3,295 lbs.

TRACK: 59.6/58.9

(front/rear)

FUEL TANK: 13.2 gallons

TIRES: 16-, 17- or 18-inch

COMPETITION: Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Caliber, Mazda3 5-door.

CARGO: 20.1/49.4 cubic ft. (behind 2nd seat/first seat).