The 93 horsepower, 1.3L four-cylinder gas engine, even with "integrated motor assist" from the electric, meanders to 60 mph in nearly 15 seconds – not quite a record. The hybrid goes for about $20,000 while the regular gas versions start at $14,000 plus.
Inside, the four-door Civic demonstrates its functionality. The gas pedal, despite the 14.9 seconds to 60 mph, is not a dead pedal. Front seats are bolstered and leg room is adequate. Every dip in the road is felt but well controlled. Civic signals its reluctance to zoom around corners with high understeer.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) provides adequate punch for mid-range acceleration. For the all-new 2006, there are three new four-cylinder engines, 1.3L, 1.8 L, and 2L. The biggest engine turns 160 horsepower and fits the "tuner" hot rod Si Coupe like a glove.
Like the Corolla-Camry, the Civic also points the way to brother Accord with more room, power, and handling, but without the fine tuning.
High atop the Ram lineup is the 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 SLT Mega Cab 4x4.
The 5.7L V-8 of 345 horsepower hauls all of this to 60 mph in just under 10.2 seconds. It's a really big truck with 15 more inches of length in the crew cab – hence Mega Cab. That allows a first: the back seats recline from 22 to 37 degrees. Other features include anti-lock braking on the disc brakes, power sunroof, fog lamps, navigation screen, leather steering, and power adjustable pedals.
All this is on a 160.5-inch wheelbase that makes U-turns adventuresome. The Ram holds its course well on curves as well as straight runs. With the reclining seats, the back seating feels limousine like. But the jouncy ride (even on smooth roads) isn't like a limo.
The Ram SRT-10 Quad Cab (minus the Mega) goes to 60 in 6.8 seconds using the Dodge Viper V-10 engine. Dodge says if really pressed, that can cut to an "estimated" 5.2 seconds. That's swift in either case. Both are via a six-speed manual transmission. The SRT is started from a red button on the dash labeled "engine start" – just like in 1950. Despite its performance-tuned suspension, the SRT is a straight-ahead rocket. Gas mileage is on a par with a 1976 Dodge Monaco V-8: 9 city and 12 highway.
All Rams share the aggressive, 18-wheeler styling that is another strong point. The Mega is priced at $37,280 base and the SRT at around $50,000 with virtually no additional optional equipment. Rams start at $21,500 or so.
Meanwhile, Chrysler Group's own sales figures show distinct differences – and similarities – between ethnic buying groups.
For Hispanics, the Dodge Ram pickup is by far the favorite: 22 percent of the auto group's sales to the Hispanic market go to this model. The Jeep Liberty, a compact SUV, is second at 12 percent, followed by the Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs at 7 percent. The Chrysler 300 is next at 6 percent and the Dodge Neon, a subcompact, at 5 percent – tied with a heavy duty Ram.
Others Making Gains
In the Hispanic auto market, other contenders are entering the fray. For Hyundai, a new sedan, the Sonata, and SUVs are leading the brand's gains. The new, U.S.-made Sonata is outrunning the brand's entry-level subcompacts like the Accent in percentage increases. Elantra, a compact sedan, still leads in absolute numbers.
Also gaining favor are Hyundai's SUVs, such as the Tucson. The Santa Fe, growing larger and more upmarket, is also growing in popularity. Hyundai ranked the most improved nameplate in a recent national quality study.
Showing gains from 2004 into this year are a pair of full-size pickup trucks: the Toyota Tundra and the Nissan Titan.
Regardless of brand, buyers in the burgeoning Hispanic market seem to be sticking to their guns when it comes to what's important: fun-to-drive, good styling, value, and quality.
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