Entry Level Car of the Year - Volvo
by Martha Hindes
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
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.
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?
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.
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.