Join Date: Dec 2005
Chevy Aveo narrowly misses being one of Ed Wallace's Best of 2008
The Best of 2008
by Ed Wallace
Itís hard to believe that yet another year is almost gone and with it another 51 reviews for Fox Fourís Good Day. Condensing a weekís hard driving into such a short period on camera isnít easy, especially since so few of the ones I review fall into the "I canít believe they bothered to make this" category. In fact, itís been almost a decade since I reviewed a ride and said, "Stay away from this vehicle at any cost;" that vehicle was the Isuzu Amigo, which failed.
Today, itís hard to find a bad choice in a new automobile or truck. And in this decade of the "super incentive" itís hard to find a car thatís not worth the price thatís being asked for it. Even todayís least expensive automobiles are fundamentally decent vehicles. Long gone is the Geo Metro, which had unbelievable gas mileage but was just flat-out painful to drive. The same can be said of the original Hyundais of the mid-eighties, with their cardboard inner door panels and "kitchen drawer" door handles.
What I find shocking these days is how many individuals write suggesting that the price of new cars today almost prohibits their purchase, when nothing could be further from the truth. Itís one of the unique aspects of human memory: We always remember how little something used to cost, but rarely remember how little we earned when we bought it. Iíve made the point many times, but in 1974 a brand new Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with a landau top, rally wheels, automatic, AM/8 track, bucket seats and air conditioning listed for $5,180. That same year the average American familyís income totaled around $10,800.
Then as now, the average car sold for about half your annual income; but todayís products are far superior in both quality and features. Even the worst stereo radio today in the cheapest car sounds better than the old one-speaker AM radios. Radial tires have replaced the old bias-ply maypops, gasoline mileage has more than doubled, horsepower is way up, and most auto air conditioners actually work in Texas summers.
Still, when one considers the list price against the vehicleís overall value, some new vehicles rise to the top of the list Ė even without rebates. So without any further comment, these are the top four vehicles that I found to be exceptional buys for 2008.
1. The Dodge Challenger
The base price is $22,545 and the one tested was $25,800, but at that price you will find it hard to buy a better driving vehicle today. Sure, itís almost an exact knock-off of the early seventies Challenger. And the competition for the hearts and minds of aging Baby Boomers will be fierce once the new Camaro comes to market in late January, followed by another generation of the Ford Mustang. But both GM and Ford will have their work cut out for them in terms of bringing back their Pony cars to match the ride and handling of this new Dodge. Now, your first impression might be that Iím lost in the age of muscle cars. Challenger is a semi-remembered representative of that class because it actually didnít sell as many units as Chrysler had hoped for; the early seventies version posted sales around 25,000 units a year.
To be honest, muscle cars didnít do much for me then and they donít today. Yes, it was great that Chrysler gave me the first SRT8 version before the dealers received theirs, but itís the 250hp V-6 version that I found incredibly appealing. Great ride, drive, suspension and sound system, and priced under many popular import models. I believe the new Camaro is going to be the big hit of 2009, but that doesnít mean that Chrysler missed the boat on this one. They didnít Ė and for the first time ever you can cruise Camp Bowie listening to Led Zeppelin like you wished you could 38 years ago, and without a cheesy suspension causing the dash to squeak and rattle when you go over the missing bricks.
2. Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
Base price, $26,225. OK, this is not a Toyota Prius and it is not going to get you 46 miles to the gallon on the highway. No, this is a "mild" hybrid unit mated to a four-cylinder engine that is as smooth and quiet as can be, while giving one the sense of driving a larger V-6. It is also a vehicle that I found hard to hit the EPA mileage figures with Ė 26 in town and 34 on the road. At this point, youíre wondering why it makes my top four list.
First, itís one of or maybe the best driving sedan in the under-$30,000 range. While I have noticed over the years that more and more vehicles are losing their ability to deliver a whisper-quiet ride under many road conditions, not so for the new products coming out of General Motors. Not only is the Malibuís exterior and interior design one of the best, but with the hybrid system it also delivers remarkable mileage figures in stop-and-go driving. Itís true.
Iíve long made mention of the fact that in the worst city driving, even the most fuel-efficient compact cars can often disappoint with fairly low mileage. Itís not unusual for a compact car to get only 16 to 17 mpg under these conditions. However, the Malibu often delivered in the 22 Ė 23 mpg range, and that is remarkable for a vehicle this size. It should also be noted that sales of the Malibu are up over 50 percent in a down car market and thereís a reason: GM has never built a family sedan that came close to this one. And the in-town mileage figures are best in class. The only downside is that GM has raised the price almost $2,000 since the 2008 model arrived this spring.
3. Volkswagen Tiguan
Base price, $23,200. Yes, America is flooded with exceptional compact SUVs. And itís true that it is the most competitive class of vehicle sold in America; no matter which one you buy you just canít go wrong. Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda Tribute or Hyundai Santa Fe, the compact SUVs are all great, each in its own way. But the VW Tiguan made this yearís list for one reason only: Best handling, most fun to drive. Enough said.
4. Toyota Corolla
Base price, $15,350. Two generations ago the Corolla had only one thing going for it. It wasnít flashy, had a very pedestrian ride and didnít have state-of-the-art engineering Ė but on the other hand, you couldnít tear it up no matter what you did to it. For that reason alone it was the model most preferred for taxis in Afghanistan. Iím not kidding: Used Corollas out of Japan and Asia often found their way to Afghanistan because the cabdrivers there knew they could drive them forever, in the worst possible conditions, doing little more maintenance than changing the oil. The last generation became far more stylish, but the carís "substantial" feel was gone. My first impression on driving it was that Afghani taxi fleets would be switching over to the Hyundai Accent, the new "inexpensive but indestructible" leader.
With this pick I walk away from many automotive reviewers that didnít find the new generation of the Corolla that impressive. Give me a break: It feels far more substantial than the previous model, delivers a superior ride and at its price, moves one down the road as nicely as the more expensive Camry. Sure, itís not a little tank like it used to be, but who cares? Itís far nicer than the price would make you think.
The First "Year of Conscious Thrift"
I should note that I almost put the updated version of the Chevrolet Aveo into this yearís list. The price is attractive enough, starting at $12,625, and the vehicle is noticeably better than the previous version. Without doing anything remarkably well, the Aveo delivered a far more pleasant ride for the week than the price suggested. Of course, the biggest drawback is that once you add options its price can still rise above $14,000; and I think that most individuals consider any automobile under $16,000 inexpensive. Had the final price of this Chevrolet been just $1,500 less, it would have taken position #5.
All in all, 2008 will go down as a fairly unremarkable year for truly exciting new car introductions. Only the Challenger turned heads and got the big thumbs-up from fellow motorists on the road. Moreover, many great cars were updated or redesigned, yet didnít really offer much new in terms of ride, options or values. As always, cars over $50,000 werenít included in this list because we expect them to be excellent.
America will remember 2008 as the last great Year of Suicidal Incentives. If they buy any of these four vehicles, owners will remember, and possibly even brag, for the rest of their lives how great they were for the money.
© 2008 Ed Wallace
Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, and is a member of the American Historical Society. He reviews new cars every Friday morning at 7:15 on Fox Fourís Good Day, contributes articles to BusinessWeek Online and hosts the talk show, Wheels, 8:00 to 1:00 Saturdays on 570 KLIF. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
[That style] was the model most preferred for taxis in Afghanistan. Iím not kidding: Used Corollas out of Japan and Asia often found their way to Afghanistan because the cabdrivers there knew they could drive them forever, in the worst possible conditions, doing little more maintenance than changing the oil.