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2008 ICOTY Winners' Buyer's Guide

2008 Entry Level Car of the Year - Volvo C30
by Martha Hindes


International Car of the Year
Honda Accord Sedan

International Truck of the Year
Chrysler Town & Country

Most Sex Appeal/Sports Car
Audi R8

Most Dependable/Sedan
Honda Accord

Most Spirited/Entry-Level
Volvo C30

Most Compatible/Minivan
Chrysler Town & Country

Most Versatile/Crossover
Buick Enclave

Most Respected/Luxury Car
Mercedes Benz CL63 AMG

Most Athletic/Pickup Truck
GMC Sierra Denali

Most Resourceful/SUV
Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

There are vehicles for the wealthy and vehicles for the adventurous. Some are there for workhorse duty and others are more inclined to pamper the budget. That budget-friendly category is where most entry level cars reside, in an area where buyers want the same kind of fun, function and fashion as any other vehicle owner. They just want it at a little better price.

When considering the best vehicle for the "most spirited" entry level category, the ICOTY jury considered what could seem a contradictory measurement for the contenders. A winner had to have chutzpah, style and be useful and fun to drive, while modestly sipping fuel and pampering a hard-working budget. The winner? A somewhat upscale entrant with a load of sense, sass and safety talent. The Volvo C30 is the 2008 ICOTY Entry Level Most Spirited vehicle.

2008 Volvo C30Who would have thought the cutest, spunkiest, trendiest newcomer for the more budget-minded shopping crowd would be a Volvo? The safety-conscious company has brought us years of rock-solid premium autos for the elite. However, the C30 is a dramatic departure from earlier Volvo perceptions, offering a solidly secure three-door that dares to be different. A swooping rear window dips down for perhaps the best behind-the-scenes view on the block, and is capped off with a saucy spoiler. Rakey wheels announce a competitive spirit, while tapered lines streamline the idea of a small car. They lend a sense of supple style to match the oomph and agility under full throttle from the 227-horsepower, turbocharged 2.5-liter T5 powerplant with 19 city/27 highway mpg.

Yearning to be different is a welcome desire. Besides the 1 and 2 versions, there are a dizzying array of high and lower tech pick-and-choose options through Volvo's "Custom Build" program. Just say that variety never looked so good. With an entry level price at $22,700, and decidedly tempting sounds for audiophiles, is it any surprise this winner took top honors in ICOTY 2008's Entry Level â€” Most Spirited category?

Honorable Mentions

2008 Dodge CaliberDodge Caliber
If Dodge's Caliber was a caliber above the ordinary before, just check it out in SRT4 attire. Last year's "Gee mom. You finally got a trendy car" comment pales in the face of this year's sport-tuned version of the saucy compact. The Caliber SRT4 digs in with a tire-smoking vengeance, pumped up with 300-horsepower verve and 260 lb.-ft. or churning energy torque. SRT (for Street Racing Technology) makes sure it can tame the mean streets of any urban area, while holding onto its feisty charm. For tuners who love to customize their vehicles, this has to be a dream on wheels â€” ready for the track and zero to 60 performance in less than six seconds. The ICOTY Awards offers it a place of honor by presenting the Dodge Caliber SRT4 with an honorable mention for 2008.

2008 Ford FocusFord Focus
Ford must be in sync with trendy, budget-minded car buyers. Its Focus redesign includes the high-resolution, Microsoft-based "Ford Sync" for hands-free access to audio and communication functions with a simple, spoken word and USB connection if required. Ford ratchets up the pizazz as well in this popular, entry level auto. No "Mr. Mild Guy," Focus shows its wilder side with a more assertive, more muscular stance than before. A bold, solid appearance, strong chrome-touched face and sporty flared wheel wells enhance the look. This $14,995-based auto gets a spunky ride from its 140-horsepower Duratec 2.0-liter four. Renewed transmissions (5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic) add spunk and better estimated fuel economy surpassing last year's 24 city/34 highway range. Quieter comfort and mood adaptable lighting choices inside spell "cool" with a touch of hot. For those talents, we award it a 2008 ICOTY honorable mention for "Most Spirited" entry level auto.