With gas around $4 per gallon, hybrids are hot. Before, if they looked like their regular production counterparts, they languished while the different-looking Toyota Prius prospered. Now buyers would rather have extra bucks in their pockets than make a styling statement. Other than hybrid badging, there is little that makes the Malibu Hybrid stand out. It does get better fuel economy, primarily in the traffic where the stop-start feature helps squeeze 4 mpg more out of the city cycle. Chevy has done an admirable job in making the operation seamless; just don’t expect massive boosts in fuel economy. With a light foot, you can make the Malibu start off in pure electric mode, but it will soon pop on the 4-cylinder engine, especially if you have accessories like air conditioning running.
The Toyota Camry Hybrid sedan brings the quality and reliability of the Camry together with increased fuel efficiency.
The Camry Hybrid is a front-wheel drive four-door sedan that seats five passengers. Available in two trim levels, LE and XLE, the heart of the Camry Hybrid is the Hybrid Synergy Drive, a combination electric motor/gasoline engine that produces a combined 200-hp, and efficient, electronic continuously variable transmission. The standard warranty for hybrid-related components is 8 years/100,000 miles. Stability and traction control, ten-airbags, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and tire pressure monitor are some of the standard safety equipment. Tech features include Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, garage door opener, rear camera, navigation with touch screen, HD and satellite radio, and the new Entune mobile app and services system.
For 2013, the Camry Hybrid LE is outfitted with a standard 6.1-inch touch screen audio system with Bluetooth wireless streaming.
While the Impreza is great for economy-minded drivers, Subaru's WRX and STI provide an easy upgrade path to enthusiasts seeking performance nirvana. The WRX and STI may be similar in specification—they come in either 4- or 5-door body styles and feature manual transmissions and all-wheel-drive drivetrains, turbocharged flat-4 engines and sport-tuned suspension—but they are fairly different in intent. The WRX is for enthusiasts, and 265 bhp and a 5-speed manual is just what it takes to keep them happy. The STI is for the hardcore types, the ones who demand more power to the tune of 305 bhp. You also get a 6-speed manual, adjustable center differential, an even stiffer suspension setup, and a bigger and stickier tire package.
Kia has taken the once so-so Rio subcompact and turned it into a contender in this increasingly crowded marketplace. Right off, you notice the more sporty, sophisticated exterior styling, thanks to new sculpted contours and a posture that makes a 1.6-liter car look fun. Inside, the Rio delivers high marks for its class. The design not only ensures you won’t be bored behind the wheel, the newly extended wheelbase offers expanded passenger room. Fuel economy gets a boost with the 1.6-liter Gasoline Direct Injection engine when equipped with Idle Stop and Go system, which shuts off the engine when the car is at rest. There are three trim models: LX, EX and SX. Unfortunately, for driving aficionados, the 6-speed manual is only available in the LX, while EX and SX get the mandatory 6-speed automatic. Choose the Rio 5-Door hatchback…really.
There will be an all-new BMW Z4 for the 2009 model year but, unfortunately, the car won’t make its debut until the next North American Auto Show in Detroit in January 2009, so this Buyer’s Guide went to print long before the German company was ready to release details. It’s safe to say that this new roadster/coupe will be more powerful, offer better handling and will feature toned-down, less busy sheet metal than the current car. The next-generation car should be available on dealer lots by either spring 2009 or by summer, at the latest. In the meantime, dealerships should be eager to make deals to move out the remaining current models, so now might be the time to move in for a low-dollar bargain of an outgoing 2008 Z4 model, for which specs are listed.