Buyer's Guide: 2007 Autos

Efficiently yours

October 1, 2006

When a car is integral to your business as it is in real estate, you need options for saving money on gas, which now tops $3 a gallon in most parts of the country.

The auto industry is delivering. Manufacturers are rolling out an array of new small cars, such as the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit, which offer mega mileage and incredible roominess for ferrying clients, despite their small exterior dimensions.

New car-based crossover vehicles such as the Ford Edge and Audi Q7 will provide most of the basic features consumers like about SUVs, such as all-wheel-drive and high “command” seating. But they’re more comfortable on-road than traditional sport-utility vehicles and have better fuel economy.

Efficient new power trains are giving a mileage boost to even some existing products. DaimlerChrysler’s new “global” engine is a good example. The I-4 was developed in a joint venture with Japan’s Mitsubishi and South Korea’s Hyundai and will be appearing in new products such as the Dodge Caliber. Not only are these new engines more efficient and better-performing, but the alliance strategy has held down development and production costs.

These days, even the most affluent buyers are still likely to think about fuel economy. Lexus approaches efficiency in several different ways. The brand-new version of its flagship LS delivers a whopping 100 horsepower more than the old LS430, yet the 2007 LS460 also gets better mileage. One reason is the use of the eight-speed automatic transmission. More gears allow this silky-smooth gearbox to always operate at peak efficiency.

Then there’s the Lexus GS450h, the latest in a fast-growing line-up of luxury hybrid-electric vehicles, or HEVs. For those unfamiliar with the concept, hybrids combine gasoline and electric motors. Energy normally lost while braking or coasting is recaptured and stored in a battery.

Hybrid technology is undergoing both rapid growth and significant improvements. It’s not surprising that HEV sales are expected to hit record numbers this year. Whether a hybrid is right for you, for now, depends on your ratio of city to highway driving. Current products, such as the Toyota Prius and the Mercury Mariner, are most efficient when you’re running in stop-and-go traffic. On the open highway, where there’s less chance to recharge the battery, some HEVs may actually lose mileage.

A consortium of manufacturers, including General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, and BMW, hopes to correct that problem. Late in the 2007 model year, they’ll bring out vehicles featuring a new two-mode hybrid system intended to deliver better mileage in both city and highway driving.

One thing is certain: You’ll see lots more hybrids in 2007, including the first from Nissan with a gasoline-electric Altima sedan. And GM’s Saturn division has launched the new Vue Green Line of SUVs. With an option price of $2,000, it’s a surprisingly affordable way to get into the hybrid revolution.

Gasoline-electric technology isn’t the only way to maximize mileage. There’s growing interest in diesel power. Skeptics will note that diesel fuel isn’t cheap. And it can be hard to find in some markets. There are also some tough new diesel emissions standards about to go into effect, and even with the new low-sulfur fuel, carmakers admit it will take them another year or so to comfortably meet the stricter regulations.

Going forward, expect to see even more efficient engines, more mini and microcars, and advanced engineering that will help manufacturers improve mileage. So, real estate motorists, start your engines.

Remedy to our dependence?

These days, it seems, it can be cool to be corny—at least when you’re talking about ethanol, the hip new fuel that proponents claim could slash our dependence on foreign oil. Collectively, automakers intend to produce several million cars, trucks, and crossovers capable of running on E85—a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline—during the 2007 model year.

For now, you probably couldn’t find E85 if you tried. There are perhaps 1,000 of these pumps in the United States, though the number is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years. The good news is that flex-fuel vehicles can run on either gasoline, E85, or a blend of both.

Traditionally, the fuel has been more expensive than gasoline, though as petroleum soars to record heights, E85 is becoming steadily more competitive. And new means of producing the alcohol-based fuel could help even more.

2007 models

ACURA RDX Price range: (1) $33,610–$37,110. Power train: (2) Turbocharged 2.3 liter I-4, 240 horsepower, all wheel drive. Fuel economy: (3) City 19 mpg; highway 24 mpg. Standard features: (3) Dual-zone automatic climate control, intermittent front and rear wipers, leather heated bucket seats (front), split/fold rear seats, tilt/telescope steering wheel, keyless remote, power moonroof, AM/FM/MP3/6-disc in-dash CD. Dimensions: Wheelbase, 104.3 inches; length, 180.4 inches; cargo, 60.6 cubic feet. Seating capacity: 5. Safety: 4-wheel disc brakes, ABS, traction control, stability control, tire pressure monitor, HID (super-bright) headlamps, engine immobilizer, dual front air bags, front and rear head restraint air bags.

CHRYSLER SEBRING Price: $18,995. Power train: (2) 2.4 liter, DOHC I-4, with variable valve timing, 173 hp; 2.7 liter V-6, 189 hp; or 3.5 liter V-6, 235 hp. FWD. Fuel economy: City 23 mpg; highway 31 mpg (I-4). Standard features: AC, keyless entry, power windows, doors, mirrors. Dimensions: Wheelbase, 108.9 inches; length, 190.6; cargo, 13.9 cf. Seating capacity: 5. Safety: Dual front and side-curtain air bags, ABS brakes, brake assist, daytime running lights, tire pressure monitor.

DODGE CALIBER Price range: (1) $13,985–$19,985. Power train: (2) 1.8 liter I-4, 148 hp, 125 lb-ft; FWD. AWD optional. Fuel economy: City 27 mpg; highway 32 mpg (I-4). Standard features: AC, engine immobilizer (shuts down engine in case of theft), AM/FM/CD, tilt steering wheel, intermittent wipers. Dimensions: Wheelbase, 103.7 inches; length, 173.8 inches; cargo capacity, 48.0 cf. Seating capacity: 5. Safety: Dual front air bags, front head curtain air bags.

JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE DIESEL Price: $42,000 (est.). Power train: (2) Turbocharged 3.0 liter diesel, 215 hp. 4WD. Fuel economy: City 19 mpg; highway 23 mpg. Standard features: Rain-sensitive wipers, remote keyless entry, key theft deterrent system. Dimensions: Wheelbase, 109.5 inches; length, 186.6 inches; cargo, 67.4 cf. Seating capacity: 5. Safety: ABS, multistage air bags, belt alert, brake assist, child seat anchor system, seat belt pretensioners, electronic roll mitigation, side-curtain air bags.

LEXUS GS450h Price: $55,595. Power train: (2) Hybrid Synergy Drive consisting of 3.5-liter all-aluminum V-6, 292 hp/267 lb-ft, and two electric motors generating a peak 197 hp. Combined rating is 339 hp. RWD. Fuel economy: City 25 mpg; highway 28 mpg. Standard features: Power windows, locks, and mirrors; ventilated and heated leather power seats; AM/FM/six-disc, in-dash CD; rain-sensing wipers; moonroof; park assist (senses obstacles). Dimensions: Wheelbase, 112.2 inches; length, 190.0 inches; cargo capacity, 7.5 cf. Seating capacity: 5. Safety: Dual front, side, and front and rear side-curtain air bags; rear backup camera.

NISSAN VERSA Price range: (1) $13,055–$16,055. Power train: (2) 1.8 liter I-4; 122 hp, 127 lb-ft., FWD. Fuel economy: City 30 mpg; highway 34 mpg. Standard features: AC, AM/FM/MP3/6-disc in-dash CD, keyless remote, tilt steering wheel. Dimensions: Wheelbase, 102.4 inches; length, 169.1 inches; cargo, 17.8 cf. Seating capacity: 5. Safety: Front disc brakes, front and side air bags, tire monitor.

SATURN AURA Price range: (1) $20,595–$24,595. Power train: (2) 3.5 liter V-6 with variable valve timing, 224 hp, 221 lb-ft; 3.6 liter V-6, 252 hp, 250 lb-ft., both FWD. Fuel economy: City 20 mpg; highway 29 mpg (3.5 liter V-6). Standard features: AC, keyless remote, tilt/telescope steering wheel, AM/FM/MP3/CD, split/fold rear seats. Dimensions: wheelbase, 112.3 inches; length, 190.9 inches; cargo, 15.7 cf. Seating capacity: 5. Safety: 4-wheel disc brakes, ABS, front and side air bags, OnStar with one year free.

VOLKSWAGEN RABBIT Price range: (1) $15,620–$18,695. Power train: (2) 2.5 liter I-5, 150 hp, 170 lb-ft., FWD. Fuel economy: City 22 mpg; highway 30 mpg. Standard features: AC, AM/FM/CD, keyless remote, tilt/telescope steering wheel. Dimensions: Wheelbase, 101.5 inches; length, 165.8 inches; cargo, 15.0 cf. Seating capacity: 5. Safety: 4-wheel disc brakes, ABS, dual front air bags.

(1) Price range covers low-end base model through high-end model without options.

(2) Power train includes either most popular single version, or, if noted, range of engine and driveline options, e.g., AWD and RWD. (3) Base model, unless otherwise noted.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of the products in this category. NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in product info. Prices are the vendors’ suggested retail prices and are subject to change.

Paul A. Eisenstein is publisher of The Detroit Bureau. He has more than 30 years of experience covering the auto industry for a broad range of print, broadcast, and electronic media.

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