Hatchbacks and wagons: some very good, some disappointing

By Consumer Reports
Versatile versions of the Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen and the Hyundai Elantra Touring topped the group in Consumer Reports’ recent test of six wagons and hatchbacks.
The two new wagons, spin-offs of popular sedans, scored within a point of each other and received Very Good ratings, 80 and 79 respectively. The Sportwagen, a new addition to the Jetta line, combines sound driving dynamics and more cargo and versatility than the sedan. It also imparts the feeling of a much more expensive vehicle. The Elantra Touring, also an extension to its line, is an affordable and practical vehicle with good fuel economy (26 mpg overall in CR’s own fuel economy tests.)
In a separate test, the new Honda Insight,a five-passenger hybrid, posted a lackluster Good overall road-test score in CR’s testing. The Insight achieved an excellent 38 mpg overall in CR’s tests but fell short in ride quality, handling, interior noise, acceleration, rear-seat, access and visibility.
“The Insight is the most disappointing Honda Consumer Reports has tested in a long time,” said David Champion, senior director of CR’s Auto Test Center. “The Insight is a noisy, stiff-riding car with clumsy handling that is nothing like the Fit on which it is based.”
The group also included the improved Chevrolet HHR and the Pontiac Vibe (the virtual twin of the Toyota Matrix.) The Vibe will be discontinued this August given GM’s decision to discontinue the Pontiac brand. Both the Vibe and the HHR received Very Good ratings. The test group also included the sporty Mazda3 hatchback, freshened with a new four-cylinder engine and new styling, which was also rated Very Good.
Prices ranged from $19,085 for the Pontiac to $24,730 for the Chevy HHR. All vehicles in the test proved to have average or better reliability in CR.
All vehicles in the test group are recommended by CR except for the Insight. CR only recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Car Reliability Survey of its more than seven 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:
• The Honda Insight, cannot be recommended because of its low scores in CR’s tests.
• The wagon version of the Volkswagen Jetta, $24,324 MSRP as tested, combines good driving dynamics and versatility with excellent fit and finish. The Jetta SE is powered by a 170-hp, 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine that delivers average performance but got only 23 mpg overall in CR’s fuel economy tests.
• The Elantra Touring wagon, $19,475 MSRP as tested, is fairly roomy and versatile, with a nicely finished interior and lots of amenities for the money. The Touring’s ride is noticeably stiffer than the sedan’s ride, with some sharp impacts.
• The Mazda3, $20,700 MSRP as tested, has been one of CR’s top-scoring small cars for several years, distinguished by agile handling and a good-quality interior that is laid out well. The Mazda3 had a firm, compliant ride that provided good isolation from everyday road bumps and delivers 25 mpg overall.
• The Pontiac Vibe, $19,085 MSRP as tested, is versatile, fuel-efficient, and reasonably priced. The Vibe’s ride is compliant but not very steady. Bumps create side-to-side rocking and even the highway ride can feel choppy. It gets 29 mpg overall.
• The Chevrolet HHR, $24,730 MSRP as tested, plays to 1950s design nostalgia but one drawback to its retro styling is the small and short windows, which inhibit the view out. It gets 24 mpg overall. Bumps are absorbed quite well, but the deep ruts and ridges come through as rubbery kicks.

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