The Korean twins – the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio – share the same basic specifications. They start around $13,000 and nicely equipped come to $14,000-plus. The Accent gets 28/36 mpg and the nearly identical Rio gets 29/38. Both get power from a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with a four-speed automatic transmission. They get to 60 mph in the standard 12 seconds or so.
Dodge Caliber and Chevrolet HHR are bigger than the Asian-brand vehicles. Caliber rests on a 107.7-inch wheelbase and stretches 173 inches. HHR is on a 103.5-inch wheelbase and measures 176 inches long. This produces a fairly smooth ride for both.
Caliber comes with a base 2-liter, four-cylinder engine with 158 horsepower starting at $13,985 for mileage of 26/30. There's a 2.4L version with 172 horsepower driven through a CVT and all-wheel drive that cuts mileage to 23/26. In exchange 0-60 mph is 11.3 seconds, right in the group of smaller cars.
Forget about the SRT4 Caliber and its 300-horsepower turbo 2.4L and its 0-60 of some 6 seconds. When you light up the tires, there's no such thing as fuel efficiency.
The Chevy HHR has a retro look that GM says harks back to a 1949 Suburban. Well, sort of. The windshield is less slanted than usual and there's a brightly chromed grille, luggage rack, and door handles. The 2.4-liter version with 175 horsepower detracts only slightly from the 2.2L with 158 horsepower for fuel economy. The 2.4-liter gets 23/30 mpg and reaches 60 mph in 9.7 seconds. Base price is $13,985.
All the new smalls are a nice bang for the buck. There's plenty of value in what are honest vehicles. They are fuel-efficient, downsized cars and nothing more. Most are nice and handy in suburban parking lots, but you don't want to take all of them home to mother unless she lives in the next block.
Hybrids are still out there amid conflicting reports of consumer acceptance, but the Lexus GS450h looks a lot like the future for hybrids. It's really a GS sedan with a 3.5L V-6 engine abetted by two electric motors that gives it the punch of as 4.5L V-8, hence the 450. That propels the GS to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. At the same time, the GS450h gets 25 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. The $54,900 price tag falls below that of the $59,700 GS430.
Upscale marques are in the fuel-efficiency game, too. The Lincoln Zephyr (aka the MKZ) is a midsize sedan that still gets 20 city and 28 highway. It comes in leather, 10-way power front seats that are heated and cooled, leather and wood steering wheels, and a navigation system. All are priced north of $33,000. It gets to 60 mph in a respectable 7.9 seconds and its base price is $29,660.
The 2007 Lexus ES 350 ($33,170) generates 272 horsepower from its V-6 and boasts a six-speed transmission. It reaches 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and get 21/30 mpg.
There are also luxury cars that provide a superior motoring experience. The Cadillac STS is at the $50,000 range and the Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas a bit higher at $75,000 or so.
The STS is on the cutting edge of the edgier Cadillac styling with lots of sharp angles. What it has is even more important – a V-8 engine driving the rear wheels for maximum handling. The V-8 at a base of $51,440 can get to 60 mph in a rapid 6 seconds.
From the Ford family, at least for now, the Jaguar Vanden Plas's 300 horsepower 4.2L V-8 propels the long-wheelbase alloy body to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds without upsetting the tea. As you grasp its heated steering wheel, it swoops and slashes through curves like a Toledo blade. Base is $75,550.
Pickup trucks aren't bought for fuel economy. They're purchased to do a job. Thus diesels are popular, despite their price premium, because of higher mileage, long life, and towing capabilities. Yet GM, Chrysler, and others are rushing to hybrid big pickups as well. Coming in model year 2008, GM's "dual hybrid" uses two electric engines and a V-8 that runs on fewer cylinders for a 25 percent increase in fuel economy.
For 2007, the all-new Chevrolet Silverado shows fuel economy of 17/21 with the 4.3L V-6; 16/20 with the 4.8L V-8 and 16/22 with the 5.3L V-8. An "active fuel management system," which turns off four of the eight cylinders at cruising speed or at idle, is responsible for the 5.3L's improved fuel economy. It gets better by some 2 mpg when the 5.3L is teamed with the electric motor of a hybrid. That model starts at $29,740 while the base Silverado goes for $16,740.
Pickups are among new GM vehicles that stack headlights vertically. That provides extra room for bigger grilles and a more massive look for the car or truck.
If it isn't bigger, it can be made to look bigger. So that old-time marketer is on target with buyers still seeking the most metal they can.
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