- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

WWW.edmunds.com, an automotive Web site, has come up with a list of the best used-car bets, and Japanese cars head the pack.

Japanese vehicles were rated first in seven out of the 10 automotive categories. That’s pretty impressive.

The best used economy car, according to Edmunds, is a 1997-2001 Honda Civic, with the Toyota Corolla a close second. Both are extremely fuel efficient, reliable and relatively maintenance-free, so long as you don’t abuse them. Edmunds opts for the Honda because it is a bit sportier in its handling.

This is something of a Honda tradition. I remember well when the early Civics — actually, they are CVCCs (for compound vortex controlled combustion), a name that has been bastardized into “Civic” in the U.S. market — had five-on-the-floor in the two-door model, and they were great fun to drive. Front bucket seats added to the sporty feel. They were small cars but comfortable even for taller folks. It was a great car.

The Civic offered an Si version in 1999 and 2000 that boasted a four-cylinder, 160-horsepower engine that really flew. That might make a very interesting purchase. Check Edmunds for pricing, which will vary widely depending on features, mileage and location.

In the midsize category, Edmunds gives the No. 1 ranking to the Toyota Camry, a solid if less-than-daring design that long has been known for its reliability.

To my mind, the Honda Accord is a more interesting buy because it handles better, but with either car you should be fine.

When it comes to large-car value, the Edmunds pick is an American car, the Ford Crown Victoria, also sold as the Mercury Grand Marquis. This is the car of choice for a lot of police departments and taxi companies nationwide, and for good reason — plenty of room for guns, golf bags, batons, computer screens, luggage or evidence, and backseat legroom for passengers of all sorts. It’s a solid car.

I’ll run through Edmunds’ next four categories quickly. All are (once again) Japanese. Best value in a used luxury car: Lexus ES 300. My comment: Great value, dull design.

Best value in a used “sporty” car: Mazda Miata. No doubt about it, these are a hoot to drive, and you look great driving them. There isn’t a lot of room for luggage or for big passengers, but you can’t have it all. It’s labeled a “sporty” car to distinguish it from sports cars such as Porsche and Corvette, which not only look fast but also have the performance to back it up. For xenophobes, the Miata is actually a U.S. design, conceived in Southern California.

The pick for best mini-SUV (also referred to as “cute-UTEs” by car wags) is the Honda CR-V. This is a downsized version of your standard sport utility vehicle, which means you are not hauling around as much weight and bulk as you would with a typical SUV. Gas mileage is much better, so it is cheaper to run. It is just more practical all-around, while still giving you the height advantage in the driver’s seat that many SUVers love.

Best used full-size SUV: Nissan Pathfinder. They are good-looking, well made and reliable. I have never understood the popularity of the full-size SUV among average drivers, who use them for hauling groceries and little else. But, hey, it’s a free country, thank God, so go ahead and buy one. People love these cars, and governmental proposals to limit their performance will probably mean that politicians who support such regulations will lose their next election. Rightly so.

In the minivan category, Edmunds picks the Honda Odyssey. I frankly don’t know much about minivans except that they are extremely useful and equally ugly. OK, I’m prejudiced, I admit it.

As for pickups large and small, the choice is Ford in both cases. The Ford Ranger is the preference for small trucks, and the Ford F-150 is the pick in the larger category. In case you get confused about all those Ford F designations, the difference is basically engine size and load capacity. Thus, the F-250 boasts a larger engine, and the 350, larger still, with correspondingly greater loads.

Congratulations to the Japanese. Let’s hope their economy recovers soon and they can keep building vehicles of such high quality.

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