Going To Extremes: the Short List for North American Car of the Year, Part One

October 4, 2010

Now that the short list for the North American Car of the Year (NACOTY) is out, there’s a lot to marvel at among the 14 selections. There’s also a list of 14 for the North American Truck of the Year, but this story concerns the cars up for consideration.

What’s noteworthy about the list is that the contenders range from affordable compacts to pint-size electrics and hybrids to super-luxury sports sedans. Each entry is all-new for 2011 and the sheer variety of personalities in the list is nothing short of amazing.

Let’s start from the low-end of the list, in terms of price and size (although listed here alphabetically).

Chevrolet Cruze – Replacing the Cobalt, the five-passenger all-new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze compact is, according to Chevrolet, “filled with performance, safety, and technology features you wouldn’t expect in a compact.” These include 10 standard airbags and OnStar Turn-by-Turn Navigation standard for the first six months. Available in four trims: LS, 1LT, 2LT, and LTZ, manufacturer’s suggested retail prices (MSRPs) range from $16,275 to $21,975.

Ford Fiesta – Named a 2011 Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2011 Ford Fiesta small car is already capturing its fair share of attention with catchy advertising appealing its target demographic of younger buyers. With a starting MSRP of $13,320, Fiesta is certainly priced right. Reviewers say its fun driving experience and comfortable upscale cabin elevate Fiesta to benchmark level for the affordable small car class.

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Mazda MAZDA2 – Zoom-zoom in its most concentrated form – that’s what Mazda says of the all-new 2011 MAZDA2 subcompact, which is a sibling to the Ford Fiesta. Starting at $13,980 for Sport and $15,435 for Touring won’t hurt, either, since MAZDA2 is aimed at younger buyers – who also want style, economy, and fun.

Nissan Juke – The small 2011 crossover SUV or “sport cross” as Nissan calls it, Juke  combines the best qualities of a sports car with the best aspects of an SUV – and does so at an affordable price, with MSRPs beginning at $18,960. There’s no denying its funky good looks, which no doubt will appeal to younger buyers.

Volkswagen Jetta – The compact Volkswagen Jetta, while all-new for 2011, is somewhat conservative in design when compared to some of the competition. Available in three models, S, SE, and SEL, base MSRPs range from $15,995 to $21,395 – less expensive than 2010 models. Some reviewers say VW brought down the price by cheapening the interior. Still, the automaker made Jetta longer, provided a roomier and more comfortable rear seat and updated the exterior design.



Hybrids and Elecrics

Though they fall into the small car category, the hybrids and electrics deserve to be mentioned separately. The short list includes three:

Nissan Leaf – Billed as the “world’s first affordable, zero-emission car” by Nissan, the 2011 Nissan Leaf all-electric is a medium-size hatchback that seats five and has a range of 100 miiles. The car’s power train has no tailpipe and thus emits no CO2 or greenhouse gases. The company says Leaf can get a quick charge of up to 80 percent of its full capacity in just under 30 minutes, while a full recharge takes about 8 hours at home through a 200-volt outlet. Although Leaf’s starting MSRP is $32,780, after federal tax credits that winds up being $25,280.

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Chevrolet Volt – Chevy calls the 2011 Volt an extended-range electric vehicle, an electric car that can create its own electricity via a gasoline-powered generator that kicks in to recharge batteries when they are low. The four-passenger Volt is entertaining to drive, say reviewers, but it won’t win any speed awards. And it has a tiny trunk. Still, being able to generate electricity while driving is a plus. And the expected range of all-electric driving is 40 miles (latest GM estimates put the numbers between 25 and 50 miles, depending on driver and driving conditions). Volt will net out at $33,500 MSRP (after federal tax credits), or can be leased for $350 per month.

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Hyundai Sonata/2.0T/Hybrid – Hyundai’s first-ever hybrid, according to the automaker, continues the company’s commitment to be the most fuel-efficient automaker on the planet. With the all-new Sonata design comes the estimated 37 mpg city/39 mpg highway – pretty fuel efficient for a mid-size sedan. The Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Hybrid uses a breakthrough lithium polymer battery pack which the automaker says “runs cooler, lighter, and is shapeable for optimum packaging.” No pricing has been released yet on the Sonata 2.0T Hybrid.

Mid-Size Affordable

There’s only one entry that qualifies as mid-size and affordable (other than the Hyundai Sonata/2.0T/Hybrid, which is also a mid-size but prices haven’t been released), and that’s the Kia Optima. Really a rebadged Hyundai Sonata, the Kia Optima is nonetheless all-new just like Sonata. Prices should be similar to 2010 Optima models, ranging from $17,640 to $21,300.

Read more about the rest of the list of contenders in Going to Extremes: The Short List for North American Car of the Year, Part Two.

[Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, IIHS, Kia, Mazda, Nissan, Volkswagen]

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