Image: Tiburon
Hyundai
The Hyundai Tiburon led the list by selling 3,353 cars in April, up from 894 the year before. Its suggested retail price is $17,270.
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updated 5/15/2009 5:53:11 PM ET 2009-05-15T21:53:11

The Audi S5 coupe packs a 354-horsepower V8 engine, a taut sport suspension and three customized drive modes into one sleek ride. At a time when the auto industry is in the pits, the S5's boldly refined body, complete with adaptive halogen headlights, a panoramic sunroof and a rear spoiler, is seducing reluctant buyers to open their wallets.

The Audi comes in fourth on our list of 19 cars that broke out of the auto doldrums and sold better or held steady last month compared with April of 2008. With a base price of $40,700, 680 S5s sold last month, compared with 484 in April 2008.

To compile our list, we used sales records from Autodata Corp., a data and analysis provider for the auto industry. The list ranges from the very affordable sixth-best seller, Hyundai Accent at $9,970, to the rather pricey $88,475 Jaguar XKR, No. 19 on the list. The Jag sold the same number of cars in April 2009, 127, as it did in April 2008.

Many of the cars that fared well this April have simply continued their positive sales from March: Jeep's $21,460 Wrangler, Nissan's $29,930 350Z, Volvo's $23,800 C30 and Subaru's $19,995 Forester among them.

Others, like the $37,915 Chevrolet Tahoe, $27,045 Hyundai Veracruz, $36,800 Lexus RX and two models from Land Rover, proved that crossover and sport-utility vehicles aren't going anywhere, even if they are getting a bit smaller.

James Bell, the editor of Intellichoice.com, an automotive information provider, says full-size SUVs and large pickups are holding onto buyers at the moment too, because people need the vehicles for work.

Though this spring has been a rough time for auto sales, some SUVs performed relatively well. "The assumption has been that people are holding off purchases, but the nice thing about having the desperately hard months like this is that it's just helping to build more pressure into this pent-up demand, which is eventually going to release," Bell says. "It's kind of like a volcano, I guess you could say. It's definitely feeling the pressure."

Notably, no vehicles from quality stalwart Honda or luxury automakers BMW and Mercedes-Benz made the list. Despite their tanking stock price and desperate grasp for government cash, American brands Chrysler, Fordand General Motors each had at least one model in the lineup. The $19,000 Ford Fusion, selling 18,321 cars this April, did the best of the Americans, coming in at No. 7. That's a nearly 22 percent hike from last April.

In fact, Ford beat Toyota last month in overall sales, although company-wide sales at Ford tumbled 31.3 percent last month. At Toyota, April 2009 sales plunged 41.9 percent over last year. Here's how a few other brands compare: Audi sales were down 9.3 percent, Hyundai lost 13.6 percent and Subaru declined just 6.7 percent for the month. In this market, that's almost as good as a gain.

Still, Chrysler's takeover by Fiat and the overall sales decline from domestic automakers (down 36.3 percent in the U.S. in April) make for a bleak spring. All told, 819,540 vehicles sold in the U.S. last month, down 34.4 percent from 1,248,370 units in April 2008.

Meanwhile, Chrysler's dealers are awaiting their fate while the bankruptcy deal is hammered out, and General Motors is refiguring its viability plan yet again. GM's Pontiac woes will have a direct, lasting and negative impact on car sales, says Lonnie Miller, the director of industry analysis for R.L Polk & Co.

"It impacts loyalty," Miller says. "Will it impact people's consideration to buy a Pontiac? I believe it will. I think it's going to make them pause for a minute."

Sales of several models last month did hold some surprises, even if they didn't beat last year's figures. In a shift likely related to the domestic auto industry's ill health, the $20,905 Honda Accord sedan unseated the $21,565 Ford F-150 as the best-selling vehicle in America. The F-150 has been the annual top-seller for decades, selling 29,212 units last month over the pickup's 28,757. Still, each of those sold fewer year-over-year, with the Accord down 15.6 percent and F-150 down 35.8 percent.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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