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Smart choices

Choosing fuel efficiency

VW, Ford, Mazda models also deliver convenience and space

Consumer Reports / February 6, 2011

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Four different fuel-efficient cars, Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Honda CR-Z, and Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen, were recently tested by Consumer Reports.

The Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI posted an “excellent’’ score, delivering impressive comfort, convenience, and room. The new Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 subcompacts posted “very good.’’

The new two-seat Honda CR-Z hybrid hatchback scored too low for CR to recommend it.

Despite getting 35 miles per gallon overall and having a crisp manual transmission, its ride was stiff. Its visibility is lacking, and it isn’t very sporty to drive. It was the lowest ranked of the cars that CR tested this month.

While the Jetta is recommended, the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 are too new for CR to have reliability data. CR only recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Auto Survey of its more than 7 million print and Web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested, or included in a government rollover test.

CR’s other findings include:

Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen. The Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen is a premium compact wagon whose ride has an underlying firmness, especially at low speeds, but is supple and well controlled. The Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI ($27,204 manufacturer’s suggested retail price as tested) is powered by a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine that delivers leisurely acceleration but gets 36 miles per gallon overall and a superb 49 miles per gallon on the highway in CR’s own fuel economy tests. The six-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is very good. The interior is well-finished. Folding the 60/40-split rear seatbacks creates a spacious cargo area.

Ford Fiesta. Ford’s subcompact Fiesta is enjoyable to drive. Its agile handling, relatively quiet cabin, and composed ride are high points. The Ford Fiesta SE sedan ($16,595 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 120-horsepower, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers adequate acceleration and gets 33 miles per gallon overall. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts responsively. Braking is good. The interior is well-finished. The trunk will hold three large, upright suitcases and one large duffel bag.

Mazda2. The Mazda2 is fun to drive, with excellent fuel economy, responsive steering, and a usable rear seat despite the car’s modest dimensions. The Mazda2 Touring ($17,075 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 100-horsepower, 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine that accelerates modestly and gets a very good 30 miles per gallon with automatic transmission. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is good. The interior is well-finished. The cargo area can hold one large upright suitcase and two duffel bags with the rear seats in place.

Honda CR-Z. The Honda CR-Z is a sporty-looking, two-seat hybrid that handles nimbly, but is not very sporty otherwise. The ride is choppy, noise levels are high, and on-limit handling can be tricky. The Honda CR-Z EX ($21,510 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 122-horsepower, 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with hybrid assist that is mild and gets 35 miles per gallon overall. The six-speed manual transmission shifts effortlessly. Braking is very good. The interior materials look nice, and most panels fit together nicely. A divider between the cabin and trunk folds down to reveal a large cargo area, but the 400-pound payload capacity is restrictive.

C onsumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.