Buyer's Guide: 2008 Autos

Bye, Gas-Guzzlers

November 1, 2007

Automakers selling to American consumers finally seem to have gotten the message that buyers want cars and SUVs that allow them to trim their gas bills while at the same time providing comfortable rides in stylish, roomy vehicles. The latest lines of auto hybrids, diesels, and compact vehicles will allow you to go farther with less gas and say goodbye to your gas-guzzling days.

And you’ll be able to do that while not sacrificing the interior roominess. “I’d be foolish not to consider mileage,” says Christopher Tovar, a sales associate with Century 21 Real Estates 1st Team in Killeen, Texas. Tovar recently purchased a Buick Lucerne, partially because it gave him good mileage — 27 mpg on the highway — and also because it offers plenty of room.

Green machines will be everywhere in auto showrooms in the 2008 model year and beyond. Take the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec. At first glance, it looks like a conventional version of Mercedes’ midsize sedan. But under the hood, it boasts the latest in diesel technology. With the debut of new, ultra-low-sulfur fuel, manufacturers are now able to introduce super-clean diesels that meet even California’s tough clean air standards.

Expect a flood of new, clean diesels to start arriving in the months to come. Diesels must overcome some image problems with long-time drivers who remember older, smelly, finicky diesel systems.

Gasoline-electric vehicles, however, are the darlings of the gadget- and green-minded alike. At their most basic, machines as diverse as the popular Toyota Prius sedan and Saturn Vue Green Line SUV recapture energy normally lost during braking and coasting. That energy is stored in onboard batteries, then tapped for an extra boost during hard acceleration. Some vehicles, like the Lexus RX400h, also can ride on battery power alone, albeit for short distances.

For 2008, federal regulators have revised methods used to determine a car’s mileage. While all vehicles have seen their numbers trimmed, hybrids generally have taken the biggest hit. But if you’re doing most of your driving in heavy stop-and-go situations, hybrids can still prove advantageous since, unlike gas-powered cars, they achieve better mileage in stop-and-go driving than at highway speeds.

General Motors, BMW, and Chrysler and its former German partner Mercedes-Benz have partnered in the development of so-called two-mode hybrid technology, which uses a new transmission technology to improve mileage.

GM will be the first to bring the two-mode hybrid technology to market, installing it on a range of offerings, including the completely-redesigned Saturn Vue. The updated Vue Green Line will use a simple but cost-effective hybrid system that boosts mileage about 20 percent.

In 2009, Saturn plans to launch a “plug-in hybrid.” Using advanced lithium-ion batteries, it will be able to store enough battery power.

But before better mileage sways you too much in your car shopping, make sure you test drive the car’s roominess and performance.

Click here for a Fuel Efficient Auto Vocabulary

HYBRIDS

Toyota Prius
Price range: $20,000 base to $25,000 fully loaded. Fuel economy: City 60 mpg; highway 51 mpg. Dimensions: Wheelbase, 106.3 inches; length, 175 inches. The Japanese automaker’s 4-door remains the most popular gasoline-electric vehicle on the market — and the most visually distinctive, with a streamlined body and lightweight chassis shared with no other Toyota product.

Saturn Vue Green Line
Price: $24,000, slightly more than $1,000 over a standard-issue Vue. Fuel economy: City 27 mpg; highway 32 mpg.* Dimensions: Wheelbase, 106.6 inches; length, 180.1 inches. This car-based crossover was completely redesigned for 2008, with a more lavish cabin and aggressive yet still comfortable ride and handling. Saturn eventually plans to offer a plug-in hybrid, as well as a new two-mode hybrid.

Chevrolet Tahoe Two-mode
Price range: $45,000 to $50,000. Fuel economy: City 20 mpg; highway 22 mpg.* Dimensions: Wheelbase, 116 inches; length, 202 inches. This big SUV will arrive late for the 2008 model year. But it will drive onto the scene with the first version of the two-mode hybrid system developed as part of a GM/BMW/Chrysler/Mercedes partnership. That two-mode technology promises to sharply enhance both city and highway mileage numbers; if the technology delivers as promised, in the real world, expect up to 40 percent better mileage.

DIESELS

Volkswagen Clean Diesel TDI Jetta
Price range: mid-$20,000s.* Fuel economy: City and highway 30-plus mpg.* Dimensions: Wheelbase: 101.5 inches; length, 179.3 inches.** The “people’s car” company has had the most popular — and most affordable — diesels on the road in recent years. While existing models are being phased out, look for an assortment of new ones using the marque’s latest Clean Diesel TDI technology, starting with the Jetta sedan and Jetta SportWagen, arriving during the first quarter of 2008. The TDI Jetta uses a variation of new clean diesel technology that lets it skip the use of urea but still meet emission standards.

Jeep Grand Cherokee
Price range: low to mid-$40,000.* Fuel economy: Low- to mid-20 mpg range for combined city/highway.* Dimensions: Wheelbase 109.5 inches; Length: 187 inches.* While the old Jeep Liberty diesel has gone away, the automaker’s off-road division will launch a Bluetec version of the Grand Cherokee during 2008. As with the Mercedes Bluetec, you’ll need to add urea, probably the same time you change your oil.

Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec
Price: $52,675. Fuel economy: City 23 mpg; highway 32 mpg. Dimensions: Wheelbase, 112.4 inches; length, 191 inches. The same luxurious sedan, different engine — that pretty well sums up the basics of Mercedes’ midsize 4-door. The engine is the first to feature all-new technology designed to meet the toughest new emissions standards. Be aware that Bluetec, like many of the other new diesels to come, will require the occasional addition of a simple and inexpensive additive, urea, to maintain its emissions system.

SMALLER FUEL-EFFICIENT VEHICLES

Nissan Rogue
Price range: Starting slightly under $20,000. Fuel economy: City 21 mpg; highway 26 mpg. Dimensions: Wheelbase, 105.9 inches; length, 182.9 inches. It may be a Rogue, but you’re likely to approve of Nissan’s first “cute-ute,” a competitor to the likes of Toyota’s RAV4 and Honda’s CR-V. Nissan’s offering can be had in either front- or all-wheel-drive, either version mated to a 170-hp 2.5-liter I-4 engine — itself paired with an especially efficient continuously variable transmission, or CVT, which helps deliver better mileage.

Mini Cooper S Clubman
Price: $25,000.* Fuel economy: City mid-20 mpg.* Dimensions: Wheelbase, 100.3 inches; length, 155.8 inches. Designed by BMW’s British division, the Mini is back in all-new trim. The Cooper S Clubman will prove especially popular among those who need a real back seat. The Clubman adds 9.5 inches to the basic Cooper’s wheelbase — and, significantly, another 3.2 inches of legroom. The rear seat will be easier to access through a special half “club” door, and the cargo bay is reached by a side-opening door.

*Estimates. Exact figures were not available from the manufacturer by press time.
**2007 dimensions, latest available.

Prices are the vendors’ suggested retail prices and are subject to change. This list isn’t comprehensive; NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in product info.


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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