Recession Proof Cars: Honda Fit and CRV
While we’re all griping about yet another handout to the least-deserving, worst-performing businesses in this country, there’s something especially galling about this one to many of us who cover the auto biz. See, while we often get accused of rooting against the domestics, that’s a downright lie. The problem isn’t that American carmakers can’t build great cars. They can. That’s just the point. They can and they do: the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, and Dodge Ram are all superior to their Japanese competition. But then look at what cars are actually selling in this economy, and you see examples like the Honda Fit. Why do we have to rely on Honda to give us a successful small car like the Fit or the Civic, although Ford can sell the Focus, the Ka, and the Fiesta in Europe—models that are so much better than the domestic versions? We’ll get fuel-efficient economy cars, if Ford lives long enough to bring them to market. Those European Fords are fine examples of management understanding how to make great cars—but not seeing how to get them to market faster than their competition.
But there are some good deals out there in this recession; cars that are worth the price and will hold their value. And in spite of our exasperation, we don’t advise buyers to to ignore the American brands. Our outlook is more nuanced than that, although unfortunately for the Wee Three’s sake, it’s still not the story they want to read. Here’s the breakdown, and the logic behind it.
Gold Standards: Brand Equity, Reliability, Resale
Gold standards are just what they sound like: Cars in high demand now and likely to be so in the future. That means that although a car is never a wise investment (unless you have the means to mothball a Ferrari for 30 years), the depreciation hit won’t be as dire as it would be with a less beloved model. Depreciation also correlates to reliability, so these are also cars seen as more reliable (according to Consumer Reports.com). There’s another factor at work; these are cars from makers that aren’t in dire straits. Face it: the residual value of a marque plummets when a carmaker dies (Daewoo anyone?).
Gold Standards: Honda Fit
For a time this summer, when gas prices nationwide crested above $4 a gallon, used Fits were as costly as new ones, which is absurd since it makes way more sense to keep spending a little bit more for gas to fill your jalopy than to eat someone else’s depreciation hit (a few grand in the first year of a Fit’s life in a normal market). Still, this car should remain popular for some time because its cabin is flexible enough to move a lot of stuff, just like with a small wagon, the gas mileage is terrific (27/33), the driver has great visibility, the ride is fun, and the trim grade is high—all attributes that are too rare in the subcompact sector. Sealing the deal are standard safety features like ABS and airbags, decent rear-seat legroom and tons of headroom.
Gold Standards: Honda CR-V
The CR-V is a standout in an increasingly competitive segment. The Saturn Vue is a great example of a new sleeper in midsize crossover category—but the Honda is just a hair better. Mostly this comes down to slightly smoother feel from the drivetrain (comparing four-cylinder engines in both), a more tidily laid out cockpit, and slightly better fuel economy. Both the Honda and Saturn are fun to drive, but the CR-V has shown more consistent reliability over the years. Then again, you can get two different hybrid versions of the Saturn—not an option with the Honda.