You’re sick of large, gas guzzling SUVs and of paying $3.30 or more for a gallon of premium gasoline. You decide to “go green” with a Toyota Prius. Not so fast. Current (2007) Environmental Protection Agency miles-per-gallon ratings show that the Prius indeed gets 60 highway m.p.g. However, those standards are based on a test cycle that does not factor in your lead foot, the use of air conditioning or that megawatt, power-draining stereo you ordered as an option. New standards that begin with 2008 models will reflect real-life driving scenarios. To determine what the new m.p.g. for your car will be, go to www.fueleconomy.gov  and click on Find and Compare Cars.
2007 Honda Accord EX-L
The Honda Accord first graced our shores in 1976. After 30 years, seven model changes and more than 9 million vehicles sold, the car that redefined the everyday midsize sedan remains as consistent as a Ray Allen jump shot. The sleek, contemporary 2007 Accord looks nothing like its forebears, but the core components that made this car popular—rock-solid reliability, miserly fuel use and unbeatable value—still hold true.
Our Accord EX-L was near top-of-the-line, with features such as voice recognition navigation, XM Satellite Radio, heated leather-trimmed seats and dual-zone climate control. Its double wishbone suspension delivers a sporty but comfortable ride and handling, adjusting well to most driving surfaces and conditions. The smooth, 166-horsepower 16-valve 4-cylinder VTEC engine moves the Accord swiftly, using one gallon of fuel over 24 city or 34 highway miles. Fit finish and material quality are exemplary for this class of vehicle and, with its generous 67-inch wheelbase, front and rear legroom are more than ample. The price tag: $27,645 for the EX-L with navigation; more than $30K with a V6 engine. Given the lengthy lifespan of the average Accord, consider it money well spent.
2007 Chevrolet HHR Panel LT
Chevy’s already versatile HHR just added an option. Cool retro styling was not enough; the 2007 Chevy HHR Panel LT is now available with more cargo room and interior versatility. What makes the HHR Panel different from a standard HHR is right in the name. Where once there were side and rear windows on a regular HHR, there are now smooth panels that give the HHR more of the characteristics of a cargo van. Clearly, Chevy is marketing to such businesses as catering companies, florists and couriers, which need cargo van utility in a more maneuverable, fuel-efficient package.
HHR Panel LT comes standard with a 2.4 liter DOHC Ecotec engine with a five-speed manual transmission, power sensitive steering and sport suspension. Safety standards include dual front airbags, battery rundown protection and daytime running lights. Interior and exterior standards include 17" wheels on all-season tires, pretty much power everything, AM-FM stereo, CD player and MP3 player with auxiliary input jack. Options on our test vehicle included a four-speed automatic transmission with remote start, head curtain side airbags, antilock brakes, high-performance audio system with seven Pioneer speakers, along with XM Satellite Radio and GM’s OnStar mobile communications system.
While the HHR possesses cool exterior styling, decent drive characteristics and fuel economy (23/30 city/highway), there are some negatives, including compromised side visibility without side windows and no outside door handles. Buttons to open the side doors are on the driver’s side, but on one occasion these did not work and I had to reach in and open the door from the inside. Overall however, it’s an adequate vehicle for the buyer who can appreciate its cargo versatility
Pricing for the 2007 HHR Panel LT starts at $18,595 (includes $590 destination charge). Our model as tested came in at $24,144.
Kimatni D. Rawlins is the publisher of Automotive Rhythms (www.AutomotiveRhythms.com ) and host of “The Urban Automotive Experience.” Brian Armstead and Gary Joseph contributed to this report.
By Kimatni D. Rawlins