How we do it
2007 Dodge Caliber
Cool, inexpensive, great fuel mileage…plus that trendy, edgy hatchback styling overcomes a relatively weak powertrain and some shoddy interior materials. It does, however, have some pretty neat interior innovations, such as a glovebox that doubles as a small cooler. Priced competitively, the 2007 Dodge Caliber replaces the old Dodge Neon and splits the difference between small hatchbacks like the Mazda Mazda3 and small suvs such as the Honda CR-V, and does so with that famous Dodge grille. And just wait – coming soon is a 300-horsepower SRT version of the Caliber, the SRT-4.
2006 Ford Escape Hybrid
2006 Honda Civic
2007 Honda Fit
2006 Hyundai Sonata
Watch out, Toyota – here comes Hyundai. Our bet is that we’ll see more Hyundais on the Hot List, and soon, led by the superb Sonata Online shoppers seem to agree, and are warming up to the value and reliability of this redesigned sedan. So what if it looks like a Honda – it’s a Hyundai, with that great warranty and their emerging reputation for quality. A powerful V6 or an efficient four-cylinder engine frames the choices for shoppers when it comes to the Sonata. We think that this is one sedan that has the staying power of, say, the Accord or the Camry, and might be even better. Coming soon: the redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe, a Sonata-derived SUV that will probably also make the hot list.
2007 Lexus ES
2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid
Camry reliability + hybrid sensibility = big-time popularity among Autobytel’s fuel-focused shoppers. Add to that a new style, and it’s easy to overlook some of the recent production issues Toyota has had with Camry models. Interestingly, the Camry is all hybrid on the inside, but very subtle on the outside. The interior gets a slightly different look and a more sophisticated climate control, including a plasmacluster filter. Yet the outside barely whispers its hybrid roots to the world, with a badge and a few front-end changes. And take note: this is an upscale Camry, so it ain’t cheap. Still, it’s an excellent step toward integrating hybrid technology with a mainstream vehicle.
2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser
There’s an exception for everything and here’s ours: the Toyota FJ Cruiser. This is a fuel-sucking SUV that rides like a bus and is hard to see out of – yet still, folks just love the rugged, off-road style. Style is, indeed where it’s at with the FJ: it could even be considered one of Toyota’s first “retro” vehicles. And with an advantage in price and power over the Hummer H3 the FJ is very competitive. Bottom line? People flat out want to be seen rumbling down the road in this car. Buyers should take note: coming next year is an H3 that offers more power than the FJ, and, in fact, the MSRP on an optioned-out FJ Cruiser costs pretty close to the same as a Hummer H3.
2006 Toyota RAV4
Whether it comes with four or six cylinders, the redesigned RAV4 is shedding its “sorority sister” SUV reputation. The result: requests were way up in the second quarter vs. ’05, as shoppers said yes to its more masculine style and choice of either efficiency (four cylinder) or power (V6 generating 269 horsepower). The RAV4 is also significantly larger, and even has an optional third-row – a major selling point among this type of vehicle. As for the drive, this car-based SUV offers plenty of power, a comfortable ride and room to move about. For compact – and even mid-size -- SUV shoppers, the RAV4 has quickly become a viable choice in a crowded segment.
2007 Toyota Yaris
Remember the Echo? We thought so. Thanks to the popularity of the new Yaris, the Echo – Toyota’s previous subcompact – is quickly gettin’ gone in shoppers minds. That’s appropriate in our book, because it was largely a forgettable car anyway. The Yaris is worth remembering, however, for its fuel efficiency, style and small car interior space. Yep, the power could be better, but with a sedan or a hatch to choose from, Toyota has what looks to be a solid answer for buyers who place fuel efficiency over power and handling.
Photos courtesy of the automakers, Ron Perry