2011 Passenger Car Buying Guide

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Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida is the Editor-in-Chief of the New Car Pricing Insider blog and publishes daily incentives on new cars in addition to newsworthy articles pertaining to the auto industry.

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, Automotive Editor - March 18, 2013

Compact Cars

Compact cars are popular given the current economic climate. Spiking gas prices and marked improvements in features have more shoppers opting more than ever for these "econo-boxes". Today, compact cars not only deliver excellent fuel economy but add sophisticated styling and everyday practicality at prices that won't break the bank. With more features offered as standard equipment, cars in this class offer excellent value.

Because of their smaller dimensions, they are more fuel efficient than mid-size cars, averaging anywhere from 20 to 50+ miles per gallon.

Price Range: $10,990 - $39,200

The Minimalist Approach

The 2011 Chevy Aveo in a no-frills base trim can be had for around $12,875. That means no power windows, no CD player, and no cruise control. Hey, nobody said life was fair. The good news is that these cars are built to be efficient, reliable, and cheaper to operate. They also carry a warranty that's on par for the best in the industry. In early 2012, the Aveo will be replaced by the all-new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, which will boast improved fuel efficiency, cleaner styling and more cargo capacity.

2011 Honda FitThe 2012 Honda Fit, 2012 Nissan Versa, and 2012 Toyota Yaris are carryovers from 2010 and have gone through minor updates for 2012. The Versa has drawn praise for its styling, the Fit for its interior space and the Yaris for its overall package. The2012 Fit is only available in a hatchback whereas the Versaand Yaris are available in hatchback and sedan body styles. Historically, all three models will have higher-than-average reliability.

Edmunds.com says that "The Honda Fit is a triumph of creativity, proof that good ideas don't have to be expensive. It seats four comfortably (five in a pinch), offers great fuel economy (above 33 mpg), and is as easy to live with as your best friend."

Motor Trend goes on to say "Like all Hondas, it comes better equipped than Heidi Klum, with ABS, six airbags, a 160-watt CD audio system, A/C, five cupholders, and power windows, mirrors, and door locks."

A Little More Room

If you are looking for something with a few more technical gizmos in addition to a roomier interior, give the2012 Nissan Sentra a look. The Sentra now sports technological appointments previously found only in higher-priced models. Features like intelligent keyless entry, keyless ignition, Bluetooth , in-dash 6-CD changer with MP3 capability and satellite radio. Prices for the Sentra range from $15,000 for the base model to $21,000 to the souped-up 200-horsepower SE-R Spec V.2012 Nissan Sentra

Car and Driver says "The 2012 SE-R Spec V edges the Honda Civic Si on turn-in, power, ride comfort, and overall livability." The Spec V also comes with top-of-the-line Brembo brakes, which alone are valued at $3,000. That makes the Spec V a bargain, especially since Nissan continues to offer it with incentives up until the end of 2011.

The 2012 Ford Focus continues to makes strides in this category, with a PZEV-trimmed version that averages 40 MPG highway, as do stalwart models like the Toyota Corolla with 41-mpg, the refined and fun-to-drive (not to mention aftermarket-parts-friendly) 2012 Honda Civic and the all-new 40-mpg 2012 Hyundai Accent.

And if you're shopping for a compact car, you can't leave out the 2012 Ford Fiesta and the 2012 Mazda2(the Mazda shares the same platform with the Fiesta). Both offer suprisingly roomy cabins and heaps of value in this class. Fuel economy also tops out at 40-mpg on the highway.

For More Performance

If it's flat-out performance you are looking for, you have a plethora of options in the Compact Car class, including the quick and nimble Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru WRX, and the sixth generation 2012 Volkswagen Jetta. Another contender, the redesigned 2012 Mazdaspeed3, brings 263 horsepower to the party in a utilitarian package that boasts a snowboard-friendly cabin featuring fold down seats, which boosts interior room. And then there's the creme-de-la creme: the 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.

A refreshingly new angle on sport compacts comes from Volvo in the form of the Volvo C30. Featuring a stout 2.5L turbocharged & intercooled inline-5 synonymous with the Swedish manufacturer, the C30 takes the Mazdaspeed3 a step further in terms of utility by offering a roomier cabin (notably for rear seat occupants).

Customizable Compacts

Though the iconic shape of the MINI cars remains the same, MINI will launch an eagerly awaited revamp of its current model lineup, consisting of a larger and more powerful MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S (in both hatchback and convertible trim). The turbocharged inline-4 engine of the 2012 MINI Cooper S delivers zippy acceleration, going 0-60 in just 6.7 seconds and reaching top speeds of 140 MPH. Impressive handling is a result of a rigid unibody. With a bevy of color schemes and interiors amenities to choose from, you can customize your MINI to fit your individual persona. The best part is that it's all dealer installed for the perfect OEM-fit & finish, in addition to having the advantage of having the costs financed together with the base price of the vehicle.2012 Mini Cooper

Scion also offers a range of dealer-installed options for each of their three cars. The popular 2012 Scion tCremains unchanged for 2012, while both the Scion xB andxA receive minor updates with new color options and refreshed fascias. The xA has been replaced by the new xD. The xB gets a bumper in horsepower, boasting new accessory options to its already substantial list.

The 2012 xD continues to illustrate why Scion replaced the xA with it offering more power, more room, and a more-appealing appearance. All for a bargain-basement price of around $15k.

Luxury Compacts

One new development in the Compact Car space is the arrival of luxury brands. Audi compressed its popular 2012 A4 into the 2012 A3, while the aforementioned Volvo C30 has also been released for the car buyer who wants a more upscale look and feel. For the buyer who wants even more performance and luxury, the 2012 BMW 128 Coupe and top-of-the-line 2012 BMW 135 Coupe are available with fascia and trim updates for 2012. And last but definitely not least, the long-awaited 2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe, the most affordable M car ever.

These models can also be found in CarsDirect's Luxury Class, but we mention them here in the event that you are willing to shell out for expensive things in small packages.

Hybrid Compacts

This segment of vehicles was the first to sport hybrid technology, in which gasoline engines are paired with battery-powered motors to conserve gas and reduce emissions. With the discontinuation of the Honda Insight, the Toyota Prius becomes the most fuel-efficient car available, with an EPA estimated 51 miles per gallon in the city. Highway economy dips to 51mpg due to the inability of the brakes to partake in battery regeneration technology.

Four years after its redesign, the wildly popular Prius remains synonymous with the "green" car. Honda hopes to take away market share with the new 2012 Honda Insight, which can now run on only the electric motor at low speeds -- not possible with the previous generation.

Not only are hybrids excellent, fuel efficient vehicles, they are spacious and comfortable as well. The third generation 2012 Toyota Prius ranks first in Autos.com of overall comfort amongst popular compact cars and the Insight ranks a close 2nd.

Crossover Compacts

If you're in the market for a compact car, you may also want to consider more car-based crossover utility vehicles, or CUVs, which often deliver more durability and functionality.

Manufacturers are developing more and more of these "cute utes". Carryovers from 2010 include the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Chevy Equinox.

Compact Car Safety Guide

Recent developments in automotive technology have made safety features as commonplace as the seatbelt. Such features include antilock brakes (ABS), side airbags, side curtain airbags and active head restraints. In some cases, advanced safety technology may only be available as costly options, if at all, so it's important to do your research if safety is important to you.

Mid Size Cars

The mid-size car has been the foundation of the American family for years and is commonly referred to as the "family sedan". In general, a mid-size car can seat four adults comfortably and carry their belongings effectively, with some models having the ability to also carry cargo with the addition of fold-down rear seats.

Mid-size cars have always been the staple of the auto industry. As the most competitive car class for manufacturers, there are a wide variety of excellent mid-size cars for you to choose from.

Price Range: $18,995 - $47,470

Models

Standard Mid-size

The 2012 Honda Accord and 2012 Toyota Camry continue to be industry benchmarks in the mid-size car class. For 2012, the Honda Accord receives minor updates from last year's model with a starting price of $20,360 for the popular LX model. Its eye-catching appearance looks to stand the test of time. And measuring two inches longer, one inch taller, and featuring a wheelbase that's been stretched an additional three inches, the EPA has now grouped the Accord into the "large" class. But it still drives like a Honda Accord. For 2012, the Camry, which was redesigned back in 2007, features only small trim updates and starts off at $18,950.

Also for 2012, Nissan's 2-door Altima Coupe continues to earn accolades for its sporty looks and competitive pricing. Nissan has managed to capture more of the performance oriented mid-size consumers by offering more horsepower than the majority of the competition. A hybrid version of the 2012 Nissan Altima is also available, and starts off at $25,070.

The 2012 Mitsubishi Galant gets a much anticipated new performance trim level, the Ralliart. As Mitsubishi's performance department, Ralliart has reworked the Galant to make the 3.8L engine produce 258hp and has tuned the suspension to allow for peak performance. At $26,999 the Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart is ready to thrill.

Other notable, fairly new mid-size cars are the completely redesigned 2012 Kia Optima, 2012 Hyundai Sonata, and the 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year, the 2012 Ford Fusion. All are priced between $16,355 and $17,295 making them affordable to those on a budget.

Performance Mid-Size

Performance packed mid-size cars sport more aggressive youthful styling and cutting edge performance to add a little more attitude to the "family sedan" image. Cars like the Mazdaspeed Mazda6, with its 274hp turbocharged 2.3L V6 engine, supply just what the doctor ordered. Edmunds.com calls the Mazda6 a "stunningly capable blend of under-the-top styling and world-class performance in a surprisingly affordable package." The all-new 2012 Dodge Charger RT satisfies even the heaviest of lead feet with 350 horsepower coming from a V8 Hemi engine and performance suspension to improve handling. When talking about the Charger's performance USA Today said, "The Hemi's response to vigorous throttle application is sudden, sensual and satisfying. The Charger shoots into clean air and clear road in little more than a blink."

Hybrid Mid-Size

With oil prices hitting record highs, companies are scrambling to release mid-size hybrid vehicles. The2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid (33/34 city/hwy), 2012 Nissan Altima Hybrid (35/33 city/hwy) are currently available at prices ranging from $22,140 to $25,200.

Mid-Size Wagons

If you are in the market for a mid-size car, you may also want to consider similar vehicles with more cargo capacity. Namely, mid-size wagons. This class of vehicle allows for the everyday utility of a mid-size car, but also has the capabilities to carry more cargo behind the 2nd row of seats.

Notable examples in the segment are the 2012 Mazda6 Wagon, 2012 Subaru Legacy Wagon, and the2012 Subaru Outback Wagon. For those who seek a slightly more luxurious appointments, check out the2012 Volkswagen Passat Wagon, and the 2012 Volvo V70 Wagon.

Mid-Size Car Safety Guide

Recent developments in automotive technology have made safety features as commonplace as the seatbelt. Such features include antilock brakes (ABS), side airbags, side curtain airbags and active head restraints. In some cases, advanced safety technology may only be available as costly options, if at all, so it's important to do your research if safety is important to you.

Sporty Cars

The sports car class aims at enveloping race car-type performance into a street-legal passenger car. Sports cars also have a more aggressive look, which can be attributed to lower ride heights and sportier wheel and tire options. Most importantly, sports cars have robust engines that produce more than enough power to not only transport you around town, but to bring a smile to your face while driving around your favorite twisty road.

Price Range: $18,995 - $2,250,880

Models

Arguably, the hottest talk for 2010 is Nissan's GT-R. Minor changes abound, the GT-R features reconfigured shift algorithms while eliminating the "launch control" from 2010's model. The reviews for the GT-R all paint a positive picture of the car's exemplary performance. The GT-R offers supercar performance at a fraction of the price, with the base GT-R starting at $81,790*. For those who want 80% of the performance at half the price, the 2010 Mitsubishi Evolution should be the best bang for the buck in performance sedan (or coupe for that matter). The Evo X comes correct with an all-aluminum 2.0-liter turbocharged & intercooled inline four cylinder engine mated to a twin-clutch paddle-shifted transmission (MR version). That's right - no pesky clutch pedal to modulate while in traffic. And if there's one thing you'll love more than anything, it's the 295 horses lurking under the aluminum hood. All-wheel-drive (AWD) is standard, and with that much power on tap, you'll need it.

Not ones to rest on their collective laurels, Subaru presumably felt the heat, and have stepped up to the plate with the new for 2010 Subaru WRX STI. The STI will again bring out the polarized internet cognoscenti in regards to its styling. Subaru opted to offer the new STI in a 5-door wagon rather than the more conventional 4-door sedan. One thing you can't argue is power. The STI produces 304 horsepower and should cost around $32k.

Coming from Germany, the $22,100 Volkswagen GTI battles in the hotly contested sporty compact class as somewhat of an underdog. Well, somewhat of an underdog. The 2010 Volkswagen GTI was recently crowned by Automobile Magazine as the 2010 Car of the Year.. Known for engines that "deliver smooth, progressive power and torque and a lot of driving fun," according to Automobile magazine, the GTI is equipped with a 200hp 2.0L I-4 engine this year. Volkswagen has also added a four-door hatchback to the GTI lineup and lowered the ride height about an inch, allowing for a more aggressive stance.

The Chevrolet Corvette is the sports car in its purest form. This all-American muscle car has incorporated more European styling in recent years, with headlight and front fascia treatments reminiscent of the outgoing Ferrari F430. But, starting at $46,110, you can have one at a fraction of the price. The 2010 Corvette offers up a 430-hp 6.3-liter V8, better interior materials, stunning looks, and excellent handling. Edmunds.com gives praise to the Corvette saying, "The handling is spot-on, the powertrain is smooth and scary-fast, the look is classy and the ergonomics are top-notch".

Convertible Sports Cars

If it's the wind through your hair and blue sky above that you want, then here are some convertible sports cars you should look at.

The Audi TTS Convertible is all new for 2010. At $36,800, it comes standard with a 200hp 2.0-Liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine which provides seamless power delivery and that solid and unmistakable German feel.

The Mazda MX5 Miata at $21,220, comes standard as a soft-top convertible, but there is an optional retractable hardtop for 2010. From our experience, we'd opt for the hardtop because soft-tops, no matter what material, simply do not last. The hardtop Miata starts off at $25,035, which is well worth the price, especially if you live on the east coast.

Sporty Car Safety Guide

With an ongoing concern for safety, many features considered to be a boon in emergency situations are being offered on vehicles in the sporty car segment. Often, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and side airbags are standard on such cars, but are, at the very least, available as options. Traction control is a more advanced feature that stops the spin of a wheel and insures maximum contact between your tires and the road. Augmenting this feature is an Electronic Stability System that also keeps your tires in maximum contact with the road by coordinating the ABS, Traction Control, and the "yaw" of your vehicle (how much a car rocks side-to-side). The individual systems are combined in an effort to reduce tire spinning, skidding, and traction less cornering. All features, if not offered as standard, can considerably boost the overall price of vehicles in this segment.

, Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida is the Editor-in-Chief of the New Car Pricing Insider blog and publishes daily incentives on new cars in addition to newsworthy articles pertaining to the auto industry.

Follow On: Google+ | Website

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