MSRP: $18,550 - $28,260
Mazda's bread-and-butter Mazda6 sedan is getting thoroughly reworked for 2009. The most obvious change is a more sharp-edged body that picks up the Mazda's new corporate look.
Engines and transmissions are also new for "next year" but, as with the Audi A4, it's that new sheet metal that will crush the resale value of all the '08 Mazda6's that people are buying.
Mazda is paying out a total of almost $3,000 in incentives on outgoing Mazda6's, according to Edmunds.com. That's a lot of money but, again, the reduced resale value of the 2008's could absorb much of those savings.
MSRP: $29,305 - $33,385
The 2009 Ford Escape doesn't look much different from the outside. Actually, it doesn't look any different. But there are some important differences are underneath the body.
Both V6 and 4-cylinder Escape engines will get more power and slightly better fuel economy.
Escape Hybrid buyers will get the most crucial benefit, though. Up until now, Escape Hybrids haven't been available with Electronic Stability Control, a computerized system that helps drivers maintain control in abrupt emergency maneuvers. Systems like this have been shown to reduce fatal crashes by about a third.
ESC will be standard equipment on 2009 Escapes Hybrids just as it is now on the non-hybrid versions.
Escape Hybrids are in short supply and demand is high so, even for 2008 models, Ford is spending practically nothing on incentives, according to Edmunds.com. (To be more precise, Ford is spending $43 per SUV.)
Given that, and given the lifesaving importance of ESC, it's more than worth waiting for the 2009 model.
These changes also apply to Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute hybrid SUVs which, for practical purposes, are the same vehicle.
MSRP: $14,550 - $16,060
The Honda Fit for 2009 gets a more rounded exterior. Overall passenger volume inside is increased by less than an inch with little real change to interior hip or shoulder space. The back seats have been redesigned for easier folding, though.
Honda boasts of a more rigid body structure. More than half the metal in the new 2009 Fit is "high-strength steel." A stiffer body means better ride and handling, Honda says
Recognizing that, with higher gas prices, small cars are now attracting buyers accustomed to larger-car amenities. For one, the new Fit offers in-car navigation, a feature not previously available in the Fit.
All this may not seem like much, but incentives on the outgoing model-year Fit are equally slim. The tiny Fit is in high demand, so Honda is spending just $105 per vehicle on incentives for those 2008 models. At that rate, sit tight a while longer and wait for the 2009 version. You'll get a better car with stronger resale value for about the same money.