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New Cars 2012: Economy Car New Model Year Round-Up

By (view all posts by brwood)
at 11:55AM Tuesday September 13, 2011
under Shop Smarter

Last week I covered new and substantially different, or newish economy cars for 2012 from Chevy to Honda alphabetically.  This week I'll cover from Hyundai to Yugo.  Actually lets start with Yugo: There haven't been any new Yugos since 1985.  But no news is good news, especially if you have ever driven one of them.

Hyundai: The big news here is an all new Accent. It starts at little more than $13k and tops out near $17k. It continues Hyundai's attempt to beat the Japanese car makers the way they beat the rest of the world back in the 70s--by making better cars, and making them cheaper. You get a 1.6 liter 4-cylinder motor, a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission and up to 40 miles per gallon on the highway. You also get a car that makes the original 1980s Hyundai Excel look like it was made in East Germany.

Nothing really new with the Elantra, which was all new last year. There is a new "ECO" button to help you get better mileage by changing throttle and transmission settings in low speed in town driving.

The bigger news is the Veloster, a sporty 3-door hatchback with similar drive train as the Accent, but with a dual clutch sporty automatic. It will be priced above the top of the line Accent. The Veloster also marks the return of cars with different sized door on either side. The driver's side is a bit longer, but the passenger side has a shorter door and an extra rear door to aid getting into the rear seats. I think the AMC Pacer was the last car to try this.

: There's an all new Rio at Kia, with 1.6l direct injection 4-cylinder engine and much more interesting styling. Since Kia and Hyundai are corporate cousins, I expect it shares quite a few parts and specifications with the Accent.

It starts at about $12k ($15k for the hatchback) and also gets 40mpg.

Not much changed on the Kia Soul, but it does have more power. So here's "A Little Bit of Soul" by the Little Darlings.

Mazda: Mazda also gives you a choice of 2 or 3, for your small car dollar. I think they must have fired the guy who used to come up with the names in a cost-cutting move. The 3 gets a minor facelift and a new motor option called the Skyactiv-G, which is just a 2.0l 4 cylinder with direct injection and every other trick in the book and a few new ones to give you a few more MPGs. With this moto,r your new 3 will get 40 mpg on the highway. 3s start at about $16k.

The 2 is based on the same platform as the Ford Fiesta, or vice-versa. Because the 2 does not get the fancy new motor, it can only get up to 35 mpg, but it is supposed to be great fun to drive. It gets a 1.6l 4 cylinder and a 4-speed auto or 5-speed stick for $14k and up.

Mini: Not a lot has changed here, though there is a new 2-seater. It weighs more, and costs more, plus gets worse mileage.

Nissan: For some reason there is an all new Versa sedan, but the hatchback is still the same old, same old. It is still one of, if not the cheapest, new cars you can buy. It starts at under $11k! According to the ads they have been running, now it also has more interior room than a Mercedes E class. If you are looking for the cheapest to buy, cheapest to drive new car out there, I think this is it. It still has a 1.6l 4cyl and 5-speed stick or CVT automatic. You'll get 36-38 mpg for your money.

Scion: It's been delayed by the recent earthquake and flooding in Japan, but soon you'll be able to buy the 3 1/2 seat iQ. It has an offset driver/passenger seat and so can only fit 1 full sized rear seat passenger and a child or pet. It's got a 1.3l motor and a CVT automatic. No idea what mileage it will get yet, but it should cost $15k or so, and be very easy to park. Imagine a Smart car as built by Toyota and you get the idea.

Suzuki: Nothing new, but I just wanted to remind people that they are still out there making cars and selling them in the USA. An SX4 starts at $14k and is like a mini Suburu Impreza with all-wheel drive an option and a great fun to drive factor.

Toyota: The Yaris does the opposite of the Nissan Versa: the hatchback is all new, but the sedan is all the same. The drive trains all carry over, but the body is redone. It's much cuter, starts at $13k, and gets 36mpg hwy out of its 1.5l 4cyl and 5 speed stick or 4 speed automatic.

By the way, if you need a cheap truck, with the Ford Ranger gone the Tacoma now is your cheapest new truck on the market.  The Tacoma starts at $16.4k and undercuts the Chevy Colorado by $1000.

Traditionally Volkswagen ought to be at the end of the list, but the all new Jetta (and Golf, for that matter) are decidedly mid-sized cars these days. Plus even with the "dumbing down" and cheapening of them for the American market they still start at $16.5k for the Jetta, $18k for the Golf. Why VW doesn't bring in a model smaller and cheaper than this I don't know. They certainly build them for other countries and I'm sure they could be made safe and emissions-legal for the USA. It's an odd business move for a company that want to be as big as Toyota.

So that's it--now you know what's new and what's not at your new car dealer.