How to find the best values on 2012's new cars
America's love affair with the automobile is changing. Once smitten with large, muscular, fuel-thirsty SUVs, we now lust after a different body type: smaller and more fuel-efficient. In 2011, eight of the 20 best-selling models were compacts or compact crossovers. Buyers have finally come to accept that high gasoline prices are probably here to stay, and they are gravitating toward smaller vehicles to trim outlays at the pump. But economy car is no longer synonymous with econobox. Automakers are packing in features such as Bluetooth and USB connections as standard items, adding more airbags for extra safety, and manufacturing vehicles with high-quality fit and finish. "Buyers are getting the most car they have ever gotten for their money," says Jesse Toprak, vice-president of industry trends and insights for TrueCar.
MORE AT KIPLINGER.COM
Sales of vehicles with alternative powertrains and turbocharged gas engines are growing as consumers hedge against the unremitting rise in fuel prices. Although hybrids, diesels and electric vehicles account for only 3% of total sales, government mandates on fuel economy will push these vehicles onto center stage in the next few years. By 2025, automakers will have to produce fleets that average 54.5 miles per gallon, a fuel-economy increase of 5% per year. Brad Berman, founder of PluginCars.com, says carmakers won't wait to make changes — they will gradually increase fuel efficiency by stepping up production of electrified vehicles (hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs) and turning more to turbocharging, direct injection and stop/start technology to help make the traditional gas engine greener.
Manufacturers are already using fuel-efficient technology in their most popular models. Volkswagen's Jetta, which comes in gasoline and diesel variants, is set to go hybrid soon. Chevrolet plans to add a diesel engine to the Cruze, which is already available with a turbocharged engine. Kia and Hyundai offer their midsize sedans, the Optima and Sonata, with turbo and hybrid powertrains.
Taking a different tack, Toyota is betting on the success of the ubiquitous