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2009 Compact Car Buyer's Guide

2009 Compact Car Buyer's Guide
by Martha Hindes

Autos usually don't race to be best at the bottom, driven by the smallest engines that can crank out the most miles from a gallon of gas. Decades of competition have pushed them in the opposite direction, riding on hunkin' big horsepower numbers, torque that could maneuver a tank and handling that can clip corners nearly at full speed. But "blazing," "thundering" or "dominating" just won't cut it for bragging rights anymore. Not on a major scale anyway. Now the ideal is small, nimble, sassy or even cute, which is evident in this 2009 Compact Car Buyer's Guide.

Those descriptives for autos in demand might have seemed incomprehensible just a year or two ago when "downsized" or "entry level" bore a second-class status that wouldn't put a vehicle high on almost anyone's wish list. But the realization that fuel prices aren't likely to go down to acceptable levels again has made an impact. Now, the rush to downsized vehicles has put the brakes on anything resembling an oversized gas hog. "MPG" has beaten out "zero to 60" in the numbers game. And having a lower price tag is the winner of the bonus round.

As virtually every brand scrambles to move its small, fuel efficient, entry-level autos from the back of the lot to the front of the showroom, finding the ideal one has risen to the level of winning a lottery ticket or getting a promotion at work. Following is a peek at some of next year's fuel-efficient Cinderellas. We're pretty sure it will be glass slipper time for almost every one of them.

START

Chevy Aveo

Mazda's Mazda3

Dodge Caliber

Nissan Versa

Ford Focus

Smart Fortwo

Honda Fit

Suzuki SX4

Hyundai Accent

Toyota Yaris

Kia Rio/Rio5

Entry Level Home

2009 Entry-Level Car of the Year: Volvo C30

2008 Entry-Level Car of the Year: Volvo C30

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