As uber-golfer Tiger Woods proved, no one is perfect. Same for cars. Who knew Toyota — the gold standard in safety and reliability — would one day be struggling amid recalls of some nine million vehicles?
Brake pedals, accelerator pedals, floor mats, drive shafts — the list seems to grow each week. Truth is, all automakers have had recalls at one time or another. In Toyota’s case, the perfect storm is slow automaker response, congressional scrutiny and conflicting reports about what’s really wrong with the vehicles.
For now Toyota is selling fewer new cars, the value of its used cars is taking a hit, and prospective buyers willing to navigate the recall waters often can get great deals — whether on a new or used Toyota.
Still, many consumers will look elsewhere. Below are some top picks from government, insurance and consumer agencies. (Currently, Toyota is off most lists: Consumer Reports, for example, recently suspended its “recommended” status for Toyotas affected by the recall.)
All the vehicles here scored high in front, rear, side and rollover tests. And they have electronic stability control (ESC) to help prevent skids (in some cases, as with the Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Avenger, and Honda Civic, the ESC has to be purchased as an option).
Each of these compacts is fun to drive, though the new-gen VW Golf is fastest, has a luxe-like cabin, and comes with optional gas-sipping diesel engine; it’s also the most expensive. The Subaru Impreza has grippy handling, thanks to standard all-wheel drive. And the Kia Soul and Nissan Cube are nimble, quirky head-turners that fit anywhere and have oceans of headroom and legroom.
Honda Civic (sedan; except Si model)
$16,000. Mpg: 26 city/34 highway.
$14,000. Mpg: 26 city/31 highway.
$14,000. Mpg: 25 city/30 highway.
Subaru Impreza (except WRX model)
$18,000. Mpg: 20 city/27 highway.
Volkswagen Golf sedan
$20,000. Mpg: 23 city/30 highway.
Except for the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger — dated designs, so-so features — all the mid-sizers here are shortlist contenders, so it really boils down to price, gas mileage, hatchback-versus-sedan and other preferences. The biggest buzz has been on the redesigned 2011 Hyundai Sonata, which just rolled into showrooms last month.
$28,000. Mpg: 21 city/30 highway.
Chevrolet Malibu (built after November 2009)
$22,000. Mpg: 22 city/30 highway.
Chrysler Sebring (sedan)
$21,000. Mpg: 21 city/30 highway.
$21,000. Mpg: 21 city/30 highway.
Hyundai Sonata (2011 models)
$20,000. Mpg: 24 city/35 highway.
$34,000. Mpg: 18 city/26 highway.
$20,000. Mpg: 19 city/27 highway.
$23,000. Mpg: 19 city/27 highway.
$18,000. Mpg: 22 city/30 highway.
$28,000. Mpg: 22 city/31 highway.
$25,000. Mpg: 21 city/29 highway.
In a sign of how far the domestic automakers have come so quickly, three of the four vehicles here are from GM or Ford. What’s more, power, styling, and fit-and-finish for these cars is world-class. The Buick LaCrosse even gets the best mileage. Still, the Volvo S80 is the car to beat for safety: front-seat side airbags with separate chambers for chest/hip protection, side curtain airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints, blind-spot monitors, collision warning alerts, lane-departure alerts, driver-fatigue warning system, special auto-braking system, and above-average braking.
$27,000. Mpg: 20 city/30 highway.
$26,000. Mpg: 18 city/28 highway.
$42,000. Mpg: 17 city/24 highway.
$40,000. Mpg: 18 city/27 highway.