Car Buy of the Year: Honda Civic Hybrid proves economy can look sporty
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
As Auto industry sales sagged by about 27 percent in calendar 2008 with credit and cost-concerns tempering each car buy, it is timely to consider which vehicles offer buyers their best bang for the buck. To address this, and for the fourth consecutive year, All About Cars wraps up its yearly coverage with two Top-10 “Best” lists. This week’s Car Buy of the Year is followed by next week’s year-end Car of the Year list.
During the calendar year I test drove about 60 vehicles, putting them through their paces for an entire week each, usually covering about 500 miles. My tests involved highway driving – usually making up about two-thirds of my tests – city and township trips, and country road cruises. Additionally, I took each vehicle out to assorted tracks and test areas and timed their zero-to-60mph runs and quarter-mile treks, while seeing what they can do in strait-aways, S-curves and high-banks. I also tried most of them out on auto-cross set-ups.
My parameters involve grading the cars, trucks, crossovers and SUVs in eight categories, giving the vehicles 10 points for best possible to 1 point for worst possible. As a note, I gave only five perfect 10s all year, and no vehicle received less than a charitable 4 in any category. The eight segments in which I judged the vehicles were: Interior; Safety; Power; Handling/Ride; Economy/Price; Looks; Niche-fitting and a Miscellaneous grouping in which I took into consideration the “feel-good” factor and other intangibles. Each category had its own make-up and included such things as driver intuitiveness, comfort, easy-to-read instrumentation, quietness and ease of surroundings in the Interior segment, and crash-test results, standard air bags, crumple zones and construction in the Safety arena. Additionally, these were vehicles I tested in calendar 2008, so if I drove it in 2007, or have it scheduled for 2009, it didn’t warrant consideration; that also means that some 2009s are in the countdown, along with the 2008s.
Finally, the difference between this week’s “Best Car Buy” winner and next week’s “Best Car of the Year” champ is that this week it is all about best purchase for the price. Not necessarily the lowest price, but what you get for the dollars spent in terms of all eight categories. Next week’s winner is all about the car, truck, crossover or SUV and what it delivers, regardless of price – just the pure vehicle.
This year’s winners:
No. 1 – 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid -- $27,420. Fuel-efficient with attractive lines and tech and comfort inside. EPA-rated at 40mpg/city and 45/highway with 110hp. Look for this car again next week in the Car of the Year Top-10 list. Proves that econo-champs can be sporty-looking. Scored perfect 10s in Niche-fitting and Economy/Price, and a 9 in Safety.
No. 2 – 2008 Saturn Vue Greenline -- $24,795. Green-friendly, designed in Korea, styled in Europe and assembled in Mexico, an SUV without a sports-ute appetite. Getting 25/32mpg, and generating 169hp, scored a 9 in Economy/Price.
No. 3 – 2008 Ford Focus SES – $20,050. The hottest-selling vehicle in the Blue Oval line is targeted to young buyer/drivers. At 24/35mpg, this 140hp in-line-4-powered coupe earned a 9 in Economy/Price.
No. 4 – 2008 Suzuki SX4 Crossover -- $16,870. An affordable all-wheel-drive for all seasons. The lowest-priced vehicle to make the list, and getting 21/28mpg, this 143hp minivan/SUV earned a 9 in Economy/Price.
No. 5 – 2008 Dodge Charger SXT -- $36,490. Legendary street-machine is a mix of muscle, architecture and convenience. This 250hp icon gets 15/22mpg. The Charger also charges into next week’s Car of the Year list. Scored three 9s – Safety, Looks and Niche-fitting.
No. 6 – 2008 Honda S2000 CR -- $37,935. A club roadster with a race-track-inspired engine roar. The highest-priced vehicle to make the list, and rated at 18/25mpg, this 237hp convertible scored a 9 in Looks.
No. 7 – 2008 Toyota Prius Hybrid -- $23,810. Green-friendly mid-size is constantly evolving. The highest-rated fuel economy at 48/45 and lowest power output on this list at 110hp, the Prius sets the econo-standard, but loses points for looks. It was one of two cars that scored two perfect 10s – Economy/Price and Niche-fitting.
No. 8 – 2008 Saturn Astra -- $18,870. Family hatchback has untapped tuner potential. One of two sub-$20,000 cars on the list, this 138hp compact is rated at 24/30. It earned a 9 in Economy/Price.
No. 9 – 2008 Pontiac G8 -- $29,765. The Chief’s flagship sedan is built in Australia and offers styling and status. Curiously, this G8 had a V-6 for power, but it thundered out 256hp (most brawn on the list) and was still rated at 17/25. Scored a 9 in Looks.
No. 10 – 2008 Chevrolet HHR SS Turbo -- $22,375. Retro SUV brings the past into the present. The High Heritage Roof homage to panel trucks puts out 235 horses and is rated at 19/28.
Two cars in this list also makes next week’s Car of the Year Top-10, and the top choice is a neck-and-neck race between a six-figure car and one in this bang-for-the-buck list, proving that high prices don’t necessarily translate to the best on the market.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
# # #
Journalist note: Information about the Carlisle Events Group, its event listings, auction offerings and expo center is available to journalists by phone:
Carlisle Event Marketing Dept.
# # #