The Ford Escort, Buick Skyhawk, Chevrolet Celebrity and Ford LTD Crown Victoria are among the best 1985 cars, while the VW Scirocco, VW Quantum, Chevrolet Camaro and Buick Electra are among the worst, according to ratings compiled by the publisher of "The Car Book," a popular consumer guide.
The guide originally was published in 1980 by the federal government and it quickly became the government's most popular publication, with 2 million copies requested. But the Reagan administration discontinued the book.
It is now published privately by Jack Gillis, the former Department of Transportation employe who was responsible for the 1980 guide and who left that job in order to update the book annually. The 1985 edition rates cars based on crash test performance, fuel economy, preventative maintenance costs, repair costs and insurance costs.
Gas misers listed in the car book include the Honda Civic Coupe HF, which gets 49 miles per gallon and has an annual fuel cost of $368, based on driving 15,000 miles per year; Chevrolet Spring, 47 miles per gallon and $375 annual fuel cost, and Nissan Sentra Diesel, 45 miles per gallon and $383 annual fuel cost.
Gas guzzlers included the Rolls-Royce Camargue, 8 miles per gallon and an annual fuel cost of $2,083; Jaguar XJ-S, 13 miles per gallon and $1,339 annual fuel cost, and Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC, 14 miles per gallon and $1,251 annual fuel cost. The federal fuel tax imposed on these cars at purchase time because of excessive fuel use ranges from $3,850 for the Rolls Royce to $1,300 for the Jaguar and the Mercedes-Benz.
The book also provides an overall comparison of new cars.
"We see improvements in the quality of the 1985 domestic cars," Gillis said yesterday. "There are more domestic cars on the list of best cars this year than last year. But domestic cars still aren't up to the quality of Japanese cars."
Of the major American manufacturers, Ford has made the most significant gains in quality, Gillis said. He said Ford also is the most "consumer-oriented" of the domestic manufacturers. "They retained the 5-miles-per-hour bumpers in all their cars, even after the government dropped that requirement. And the preventative maintenance cost of Ford cars generally has been lower over the years than other domestic cars."
Gillis also said 1985 domestic and foreign cars are safer than in the past. However, he said there is no indication that the new domestic cars are more safe or less safe than foreign cars. "When the crash test programs began in 1979, the Japanese cars were the worst performers," he said. "But the Japanese went back to their drawing boards, modified a number of their vehicles and now are producing some of the best performers."
Gillis said that this year's analysis also showed that General Motors, among the most outspoken critics of the crash test program, produced some of the best 1985 performing vehicles.
To compile the rating information in the car book, Gillis and his research assistants sifted through reports and records obtained from government agencies including the DOT and the Environmental Protection Agency, private engineering firms, and the insurance industry.
In addition to the new car ratings and the fuel economy evaluations, the Gillis book features nearly a dozen special sections, including one on child safety seats, with buying tips and a list of state child seat laws. Another section tells what consumers can do when the car they buy does not work properly and provides a summary of the "lemon laws" in 32 states.
"The Car Book" is available in bookstores or by mail for $8.95 from the Center for Auto Safety, 2001 S St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20009.