• Ford Focus
The Ford Focus has a markedly different character than most Ford products sold in the US and Canada. That’s because it was developed by Ford of Europe — that’s right, this is an honest-to-goodness European car. The tall cabin, upright driving position, roomy interior and trunk and smile-generating driving experience all come courtesy of the Focus’ old-world roots, but with the humble Ford badge on the boot — er, trunk — you aren’t paying for a fancy European name.
• Honda Civic
Civics are everywhere, and with good reason: They’re economical, easy to drive, and they run like a Swiss watch. With their blue-chip resale values and impeccable build quality, Civics are good investments both short- and long-term. Innovations like a totally flat passenger floor (no center “tunnel”) make the Civic comfortable and practical. Hybrid and natural-gas powered versions are perfect for the cost- and environment-conscious. Without question, this is the compact-class leader.
• Honda Fit
The Honda Fit is just one of a handful of subcompacts now on the US and Canadian markets, but few others can match the Fit’s balance of front seat, back seat and trunk room. The Fit is especially handy in urban areas, where its small size allows it to nip through traffic and squeeze into tiny parking spots. Its fuel-efficient 1.5 liter engine has plenty of get-up-and-go, even with an automatic transmission, and Honda quality means it’ll last an eon.
• Mazda 3
Mazda’s new compact brings with it a combination of style, space, and driving pleasure not often found in this class. The 4-door costs less initially but we recommend the 5-door for all-round practicality, not to mention a little elbow room for a growing family.
• Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Miata is a great set of wheels for a woman who doesn’t have a family, and an excellent second car for one who does. Few cars deliver the Miata’s combination of fun in the sun and raw driving thrills, and even fewer deliver such great fuel economy while doing it. Though trunk room is tight, the Miata offers just enough room for a romantic weekend getaway for two. And on a day-to-day basis, it’s a great way to put a little sparkle into your commute.
• Mercedes-Benz E-class
You’ve worked hard. Now enjoy it! The Mercedes E-class offers more prestige of the three-pointed star. The E is ideally sized, big enough for the family to ride comfortably (without a chorus of “Mom, he hit me!” “She hit me first!” from the back seat), but small enough for easy parking and urban handling. The E is the practical way to treat yourself right.
• Nissan Sentra
I firmly believe that women are more practical than men — and the Sentra is one of the most practical compact sedans on the market, blending a generous back seat with a continuously-variable transmission, a type of automatic that delivers better acceleration and fuel economy than a stick-shift.
• Subaru Forester
The Forester toes the line between car and SUV, but unlike most crossovers, the Forester does everything well. On the road it offers invigorating handling and performance; off road it’ll keep up with many bigger, brawnier SUVs. And when the weather turns foul, the Forester is one of the best vehicles of any size for safely negotiating slick roads. All this plus lots of cargo space and good fuel economy. The downside? Awkward looks and a tight back seat. Overall its an outstanding package.
• Toyota Camry
There’s a reason the Camry is the best selling car in the US, and has been for years: It does just about everything well. It’s roomy, quiet, comfortable, and built like the proverbial brick outhouse. With the new-for-2007 redesign, the Camry offers more choice than ever. Most buyers will opt for the well-priced and well-equipped Camry LE, but don’t overlook the fuel-efficient Camry Hybrid, luxury-oriented Camry XLE and sporty Camry SE.
• Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen’s compact sedan offers up enough individuality for an independant woman, enough cachet for the up-and-coming executive, and enough room for a growing family. We’re especially enamoured of the hot-rod turbo version, which has the same engine as VW’s boy-racer GTI. (We like the other versions too, especially the super-frugal diesel-powered Jetta TDI.)