Ford Escort 1995 review

Affordability has become one of the major issues in the auto industry - for consumers as well as automakers.

A decade ago, the average price of a new car was a bit more than $12,000, according to the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. This year the National Automobile Dealers Association says the average price of an automobile has rolled over the $20,000 barrier.

There are many drivers who can't - or won't spend $20,000 on transportation. They might opt instead to pay as little as $12,000 for a subcompact with basic equipment.

But what can you get for $12,000 these days? Plenty, as proved by a test-drive of three subcompacts in that range - the Toyota Tercel, Ford Escort and Hyundai Accent.

We chose to test these three cars, which are similar in price and size, for different reasons:

The Tercel, one of Toyota's best-selling cars, is a high-quality automobile and the most affordable car the company offers in the U.S. market.

The Ford Escort is a versatile, well-built car and a perennial best-seller.

The Accent, Hyundai's new addition, is the vehicle the company is banking on to repair its bruised reputation among entry-level buyers.

We drove entry-level models - stripped of electric gadgets and price-bloating knickknacks - for a week, logging about 300 miles in each in combined city and highway driving.

Although the Toyota ($12,471), Ford ($12,110) and Hyundai ($11,217) are priced within several hundred dollars of each other, there are big differences in how the cars are equipped once you get beyond air conditioning, radios and dual air bags.

The lower end of the new car market is where you really have to do your homework to be a smart shopper and to get the best deal. Just because economy cars are priced the same doesn't mean they come with the same equipment. In fact, our test shows that some cars give you more equipment for less money.

To make an informed buy, you have to do more than go for a quick spin around the block. First, look at each car's warranty. Then check out things like the rear seat - some small cars have rear seats that fold forward, making a rather small sedan a bit more versatile. Last, look for the small things. For instance, does the car have intermittent windshield wipers, a cupholder and two outside mirrors?

Value figured heavily in choosing the best of this week's cars. In fact, the car I selected as best wasn't necessarily the best-engineered.

The Toyota Tercel is all-new for 1995, not a gussied-up older model. The Accent, which replaces the Excel, is new to Hyundai line up for 1995. The Ford Escort has been around in its current form since the spring of 1990.

Here's how the cars stack up.

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