Hot Passenger Cars for 2006

Including everything from small, fuel-efficient cars like the Honda Civic and Kia Rio to Dodge's Hemi-powered Charger, the batch of new and redesigned 2006 passenger cars is bound to have something for everyone.

Chevrolet debuts the all-new HHR, a small retro-inspired wagon, and also launches redesigned versions of the Impala and Monte Carlo. Additionally, Ford's new Fusion sedan and Hyundai's redesigned Sonata square off in the marketplace. Continue reading for details on some of the hottest new passenger cars for 2006, or see which models we recommend on the Best Bets page.

Hot Passenger Cars for 2006
All passenger cars are listed in alphabetical order and are from the 2006 model year. Note that the models below are primarily affordable, family-oriented cars; to see what's new in luxury and sports cars, please visit those Buying Guides.
$25,265 - $34,265
Full-size car: Buick's all-new Lucerne sedan can seat up to six people when properly equipped. Buyers have a choice of either V-6 or V-8 power, and the Lucerne has standard side curtain-type airbags and side-impact airbags for the front seats. With the available adaptive Magnetic Ride Control suspension, the Lucerne proved to be a competent highway cruiser, offering a comfortable, low-fatigue driving experience. Though the Northstar V-8 lacked significant low-end torque, the engine hits its stride at higher revs. Cloth seating surfaces are standard, but the available leather seats provide a good balance between sink-in softness and proper support. Its turning circle is too large and the thick A- and B-pillars limit visibility at times, but the Lucerne is a competitive entry in the full-size segment.
$15,325 - $16,325
Compact car: Ranking as one of the most interestingly styled new models for 2006, Chevrolet's HHR is an affordably priced wagon that, according to the company, has design elements inspired by Chevrolet's SSR sport truck/roadster and the 1949 Suburban. The front-wheel-drive HHR has room inside for up to five occupants, and buyers have a choice between a 143-horsepower, 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine and a 172-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard, but models with the optional four-speed automatic are equipped with a remote-start feature that allows the car to be started from up to 200 feet away by pressing a button on the key fob.
$20,330 - $26,330
Full-size car: With the redesign of Chevrolet's popular Impala for 2006, the full-size sedan receives several significant changes. A much-improved interior replaces the staid gray plastic theme seen on previous Impalas; a V-8 engine, featuring cylinder deactivation technology that can automatically disable half of the engine's cylinders for improved fuel economy, is newly available in the Impala SS; and side curtain-type airbags are standard. The Impala's exterior styling has also been revamped, resulting in a design that looks more cohesive when compared to the previous model. In addition to the Impala SS's 303-hp V-8, two V-6 engines are available, including a 3.5-liter V-6 that returns EPA-estimated fuel economy figures of 21 mpg in city driving and 31 mpg on the highway when burning regular-grade gasoline; the V-6 also accepts E85, a fuel that is a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
$20,330 - $26,330
Midsize car: Chevrolet's Monte Carlo coupe receives new interior and exterior styling for 2006, and is now available with a 303-hp, 5.3-liter V-8 engine that has cylinder deactivation technology for improved fuel efficiency. Additional engine choices include a 211-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 that can run on either regular-grade gasoline or E85, or a 242-hp, 3.9-liter V-6. Although it's positioned as a sport coupe, the Monte Carlo doesn't offer a manual transmission; all engines drive the front wheels through a four-speed automatic.
$22,470 - $35,320
Full-size car: Though it serves as a replacement for Dodge's full-size Intrepid sedan that was last offered for the 2004 model year, the Charger is an entirely different type of car. Whereas the Intrepid was a front-wheel-drive wedge, the Charger features rear-wheel drive and a chunkier appearance highlighted by an upright crosshair grille and bulging rear fenders. The Charger is also available with a Hemi V-8 engine equipped with cylinder deactivation technology for improved fuel efficiency. The 5.7-liter V-8 cranks out 340 hp and 390 pounds-feet of torque in base form. If that's not enough power for you, Dodge also builds the high-performance Charger SRT8, which is equipped with a 425-hp, 6.1-liter V-8 and starts around $36,000.
$17,145 - $21,710
Midsize car: The Fusion is Ford's new entry in the competitive midsize-sedan segment, which includes the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Mazda Mazda6, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry, among others. The Fusion actually shares its platform with the Mazda6, but wears different sheet metal, including Ford's new three-bar corporate grille that will find its way onto other Ford vehicles. The front-wheel-drive Fusion can have either four-cylinder or V-6 power, and available safety features include side curtain-type airbags and side-impact airbags for the front seats. Front bucket seats and a 60/40-split, three-place rear bench seat that features fold-flat seatbacks provide seating for up to five people.
$14,360 - $21,850
Compact car: Honda made a couple of uncharacteristically bold styling moves with the redesign of its Civic coupe and sedan. The 2006 Civic's exterior has a futuristic look about it (especially in front) that's carried over to the interior's unusual split instrument cluster that features a digital speedometer positioned at the base of the windshield and an analog tachometer behind the steering wheel. The base engine is a 140-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder that teams with either a five-speed-manual or five-speed-automatic transmission. For the sport-compact and Sierra Club set, Honda offers Si and Hybrid versions of the Civic.
$17,895 - $22,895
Full-size car: Though it's technically a full-size sedan, the Hyundai Sonata's primary competitors include the midsize Fusion, Accord, Altima and Camry. The base Sonata GL comes with a high level of standard convenience and safety features, including air conditioning, cruise control, a CD stereo, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, all-disc antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain-type airbags and an electronic stability system. Buyers can choose either a 162-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that achieves an EPA-estimated 24 mpg in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway when paired with a five-speed-manual transmission, or an optional 235-hp, 3.3-liter V-6.
Kia Rio (and related Rio5)
$10,570 - $13,500
Compact car: Ranking as one of the most affordable passenger cars for 2006, Kia's redesigned Rio sedan and new Rio5 hatchback are both powered by a 110-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and come standard with side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain-type airbags. The pricier Rio5 adds such niceties as standard air conditioning and power steering, but both models come with Kia's 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
$22,950 - $31,900
Midsize car: Redesigned for 2006, Volkswagen's Passat sedan has new engine and transmission choices, and adopts the automaker's new plunging grille design. Buyers still have a choice between a turbocharged four-cylinder engine or a V-6, but both engines are now larger and more powerful: the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder generates 200 hp while the 3.6-liter V-6 produces 280 hp. Newly available features include a DVD-based navigation system and an excellent Dynaudio sound system, but all Passats have a number of standard safety features, including side-impact airbags for the front seats (optional for the rear seats), side curtain-type airbags, active front head restraints, and an electronic stability system.
Posted on 3/8/06