Guys, thanks for your responses.
I went out to 3 LBS's around me, tried various bikes: Motobecane Cafe Sprint, Cafe Noir, Vent Noir, Schwinn Ultra Sport, Mongoose Comfort 450, GT Zum 5.0 etc.
I went with an open mind (to any type of bike Comfort/Hybrid/Road), even tried some out of my budget just to get an idea of what the higher end feels like and what I am foregoing with my budget.
Turns out I really felt comfortable (upright position, bike feel) in the Schwinn Ultra Sport and the Mongoose Comfort 450. They both were in the same LBS. They were both very quick bikes. Ultra Sport they had was a 2007 model at $500 while the 450 was 2008 at $400.
The one I originally started out looking at (mongoose 250) was for $229 but they didn't have it in stock, i confirmed with the LBS that they are both identical (450 and 250) except that the 450 is heavier since it has the front shocks and slightly higher end components.
I felt the slightly more effort that I had to put in with the mongoose vs the schwinn due to the shock. I also test drove/compared two rides on the mongoose 450, once with the shock engaged and once with it locked out. I liked it better with the lockout.
So with that in mind, I went ahead and ordered the 250 (they will do a fitting once they get it) since they were also running a special in-store which would lower the price of the 250 further down to $195!
Btw, my wife also bought a 2008 Schwinn Sierra GS after test driving a couple step-through bikes.
There aren't a whole lot of options for step-through bikes anywhere.
Cant wait until the bikes get here.
ALso went ahead and ordered the Hollywood Racks E3 Express 3-Bike Trunk Mount Rack from Amazon.