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2011 Best Cars for the Money

Carmakers are finally starting to get it: Shoppers want value, which means giving buyers more bang for their buck. But, bang-for-your-buck doesn’t just mean offering more bells and whistles at a lower price than the competition. Now that people are hanging on to their cars longer, new cars should add value to their owner’s lives from the day they’re driven off the dealer’s lot to the day they’re traded in.

That’s what the 2011 U.S. News Best Car for the Money award winners do. The awards combine the U.S. News Automotive rankings as well as five-year total cost of ownership data from the analysts at TrueCar.com. The results highlight cars that not only delight car reviewers, but also provide lower than average ownership costs. That combination means that the winners are both great values and great cars.

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The Winners

Scroll through the list of winners and you’ll find some surprises. While no single company has cornered the market on great cars with great long-term value, upstart brands like Kia, Hyundai and Mitsubishi are challenging more well-known companies like Honda and Toyota. At the same time, carmakers with a tried-and-true reputation for quality in one segment have found success in new areas.

Take Ford, for example. In years past, Ford took home Best Car for the Money awards, but mainly for large cars, trucks and SUVs. This year, the Ford Fiesta is the Best Subcompact Car for the Money. The same trend applies to General Motors. In addition to winning awards for the Best Full Size Truck and Best Full Size SUV for the Money, the Chevrolet won the Best Midsize Car for the Money with the Chevrolet Malibu. And, in something of an upset, the Buick Regal won Best Upscale Sedan for the Money, beating out favorites from BMW and Lexus with its combination of performance and value.

As you might expect, the Honda Civic and the Honda Fit took home awards for the Best Compact Car for the Money and Best Hatchback for the Money. But brands that are less popular in the U.S., like Mitsubishi and Suzuki, also won awards. The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport beat out the Honda CR-V for Best Compact Crossover for the Money, and the Suzuki Equator won Best Compact Pickup for the Money. Hyundai and Kia weren’t left out of the awards either: The Kia Sedona won Best Minivan for the Money and the Hyundai Elantra Touring won Best Wagon for the Money.

Across the industry, automakers are adding value to their models, which is great for consumers. But, over time, that value equation can erode, leaving you stuck with high fuel, insurance, maintenance and depreciation costs. The Best Car for the Money awards highlight cars that may not be the flashiest ones on the market, but they’ve proven themselves to be great long-term values. And that beats a flash in the pan any day.