BIG 3 INCREASE SHARE OF HONORS FOR "BEST VALUE'

BIG 3 INCREASE SHARE OF HONORS FOR "BEST VALUE'

The Big Three automakers captured nearly two in five of the "best values" in IntelliChoice Inc.'s sixth annual car and truck cost guides.

The San Jose, Calif., research firm rates vehicles by factoring in

purchase price, resale value, cost of insurance, financing, fuel, maintenance and repair.The Big Three's strength is still concentrated in minivans - a category in which no Japanese product ranked in the top four - and full-size pickup trucks, a segment still free of Japanese competition.

And the Japanese continue to dominate the subcompact market. The Honda Civic VX hatchback was the best overall value among imports. Only the Geo Storm, built for General Motors by Isuzu, broke the top three in either of two subcompact rankings.

But the Dodge Dynasty registered third among compact cars under $16,500, below the Acura Integra and the Toyota Camry.

Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable and Pontiac's Grand Prix ST sedan ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, within the crowded and fiercely competitive field of mid-size cars. And that included higher-priced Japanese imports such as the Toyota Cressida and Mazda 929.

Of the top 65 vehicles spread among 19 market segments, GM, Ford and Toyota each had 10. Collectively, the Big Three produced 38 percent of the best values, up from about 33 percent a year ago, said Peter Levy, president of the San Jose, Calif., research firm.

"I believe people's perceptions of American cars are improving and that means they are beginning to better hold their value," Mr. Levy said.

One model with an improved ranking is the 1992 Buick Park Avenue, IntelliChoice's selection as the best overall value among American cars.

Its five-year cost of ownership fell from $34,285 in the 1991 model year to $33,605.

The reasons: It is depreciating more slowly. Its insurance rating has improved, offsetting most rate hikes set by insurers over the last year. And relative to other full-size luxury cars, the Park Avenue is efficient in fuel use, traveling 27 miles per gallon on the highway and 18 miles in the city.