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The Statesman

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Buying Guide

Buying Guide

Compact:
Mazda3- $14,490 base MSRP

Once again, the Mazda3 takes the Statesman compact car of the year.’ Since its redesign in 2004, no other car in this segment offer the level of refinement and performance that Mazda does with the Mazda3.’ Starting at around $14,490, the Mazda3 is comparable in price to popular competitors such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, with a much smoother powertrain.’ Even in its base trim with the 2.0-liter I4 engine, the Mazda3 presents a much better value than its competitors.’ Its interior fit and finish is what you might expect in a much more expensive car- it’s hard to tell that the Mazda3 is a budget car from the inside.’ It is available in a 2.0-liter I4 that makes 148hp, and a class-leading 2.3-liter I4 that makes 156hp.’ The smaller engine gets 28mpg in the city and 35 on the highway, while the larger engine gets a respectable 26/33.’ Not only is the Mazda3 the Statesman’s choice for the compact segment: it is the Statesman car of the year.

2nd place: 2007 Nissan Sentra ($14,750)
3rd Place: 2007 Mitsubishi Lancer ($13,990)

Sport:
MazdaSpeed3 ($22,835)

To risk sounding redundant, Mazda has redefined the compact sport segment with the MazdaSpeed3.’ Pushing a whopping 263hp and 280 pounds of twist, with a limited-slip differential, through the front wheels and a six-speed manual was all but unheard of- until now.’ What’s even more exciting is the lack of a turbo.’ The MazdaSpeed3 manages this massive amount of raw power through a direct-injection version of the same 2.3-liter engine that powers its lesser sibling.’ Separating it from the run-of-the-mill Mazda3, this car boasts an improved suspension for a tighter, albeit harsher, ride.’ Casual drivers may want to look towards the mushier VW GTi as their general people hauler.’ However, priced at only $22,835, this is more car for the money than has ever been offered in this segment.’ Ever.’ It even manages to get a respectable 20/28mpg in roughly 6 seconds- rivaling a V8 Mustang.’ This is one hell of a car for one hell of a price.’ Mazda, you’ve done it again.

Second Place: Mitsubishi Eclipse ($19,999)
Third Place: Ford Mustang ($19,995)

Small SUV:
Mitsubishi Outlander ($21,370)

Mitsubishi seems to be the forgotten child of the automotive world.’ While everybody’s attention has been captivated by rise of Toyota and Honda, and the struggling domestics, the world has turned a blind eye to Mitsubishi for years now.’ In that time, they have developed a strong lineup, which includes the Outlander.’ Priced below both the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4, the Outlander is simply a better car for the money.’ The interior is very polished, and the exterior is styled in a much more compelling way than its fellow Japanese rivals, who have often set the benchmarks in the compact SUV segment.’ With a brand new 3.0-liter V6, producing a powerful 220hp, the Outlander is definitely a strong performer for the price.’ It may not offer the same refined ride as the RAV4, but priced several thousand dollars less for the similarly equipped V6, it is a shortcoming that is easily forgiven.’ Cinching the deal is a fuel economy of 19/26, with AWD, all backed by a 10 year warranty. What’s there not to like?

Second Place: Toyota RAV4 ($20,950)
Third Place: Dodge Nitro ($19,885)

Compact Luxury Car:
BMW 328i ($32,400)

The BMW 300 series remains an excellent example of what precision engineering looks like in an affordable package.’ Its inline 6-cylinder engine producing 230hp is perfectly smooth and strong throughout the entire gear spectrum; it handles like no car in its class; and to top it off, the interior is what you would expect from a more expensive BMW model.’ BMW still manages to get a thrifty 20/29mpg in this powerful package.’ In short, just because it costs less than their pricier flagship models, the 328i does not disappoint.’ To be fair, had the contest been between the admirable Infiniti G35 and the last generation BMW 300 series, the Infiniti would have won hands down.’ However, the Germans have not been resting on their laurels, instead choosing to perfect an already amazing piece of machinery.’ It is because of this point that the 328i comes out on top in this very competitive and very important segment.’ Add optional AWD to the mix, and nothing even comes close.

Second Place: Inifiniti G35 ($31,450)
Third Place: Acura TL ($33,625)

Midsize Sedan:
Nissan Altima ($19,800)

Industry Leading.’ Innovation.’ Awe inspiring.’ Mostly awe inspiring.’ Nissan led the way with their 2003 redesign of the Altima, and now they’ve done it again.’ The 2007 Altima is easily the most aesthetically appealing midsize sedan on the road today, and has one of the best powertrains available.’ The base 2.5-liter I4 engine produces an admirable 175hp, while the 3.5-liter V6 produces a staggering 270hp, both through an all-new CVT.’ Both cars are great performers and easily beat their Japanese brethren, the Toyota Camry and the aging Honda Accord.’ Even the up and coming Hyundai Sonata doesn’t stand a chance.’ Driving with a CVT after you’ve spent the past umpteen years driving a more conventional automatic can be a bit jarring- I would equate the learning curve to when ABS was new.’ The bottom line is, you’ll get used to it.’ And you’ll learn to love it.’ Courtesy of this new CVT, the 2.5-liter I4 Altima gets an astounding 26/35mpg.’ The only drawback, and it is a minor one, is the lack of an AWD option.’ In fact, the only car worth looking at in this segment with an AWD option is the Ford Fusion.’ If AWD isn’t a major sticking point, then the Altima is definitely the way to go.

Second Place: Ford Fusion ($17,995)
Third Place: Saturn Aura ($20,345)

Full Size Sedan:
Ford Taurus

And it’s back: after being unceremoniously killed nearly two years ago, new Ford CEO Mulally decided to resurrect the venerable Taurus brand.’ Some of you might be disappointed to learn that the Taurus, which once reigned supreme over Accords and Camrys, is simply a rebranding of the Ford Five Hundred.’ Fear not: the Taurus gains a great 3.5-liter V6, producing 260hp, and a new six-speed automatic transmission, in addition to the new three bar chrome corporate grille.’ Pricing is expected to remain close to the $23,375 that the Five Hundred currently commands.’ Consumers will also be able to add an AWD as an option to the new Taurus, bringing the price to roughly $25,500.’ This will be the only full size sedan with AWD in its price and size class when it debuts this summer- not a moment too soon.’ It may not look like a million bucks, but the new front end is a welcome change.’ Under Mullaly’s reign, it looks like Ford is starting to respond to the needs of the market.’ Thank God.

Second Place: Chrysler 300 ($24,320)
Third Place: Toyota Avalon ($24,895)

Convertible:
Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky ($22,115)

The Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky: six of one, half a dozen of the other.’ They are the same car with slightly different sheet metal, and both motivated by a 2.4-liter I4 Ecotec engine that makes 177hp and 166 lb-ft of torque.’ The upgraded engine is a 2.0-liter turbo that makes an even 260hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.’ While the ride may not be as refined or sporty as the Mazda MX-5, looks must count for something.’ Both the Sky and the Solstice are gorgeous examples of what cars are meant to look like.’ A two-seater sports car isn’t meant to be utilitarian in the least, and the styling of these two roadsters says this in spades.’ At $22,115, the price isn’t unreasonable, though if you are looking for raw performance, the MadaSpeed3 might be the compact for you.’ The base engine gets 20/28mpg with a manual transmission, while the turbo 2.0-liter gets a great 22/31mpg with the same manual (you wouldn’t dream of buying a tw
o-seater with an automatic, would you?).

Second Place: Mazda MX-5 ($21,180)

Hybrid:
Nissan Altima Hybrid ($24,400)

No, the Civic Hybrid did not make the cut, and for a good reason: the Altima Hybrid is simply a far superior car in every respect.’ Nissan took nearly everything that is likeable in the standard Altima 2.5 S, detuned the engine and added in a hybrid system, and the result is a slick midsize sedan that gets 36mpg the city and 41 on the highway.’ That’s better fuel economy than a subcompact in a midsize sedan.’ Wow, to say the least.’ The Camry Hybrid is a close second, but the Altima is just too great a car to pass up, especially at over $2,000 less.

Second Place: Toyota Camry Hybrid ($26,820)
Third Place: Toyota Prius ($22,175)

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