The Best Cars for the Money: More Top Picks
The U.S. News Best Cars for the Money represent the best values in each class. But that doesn't mean there aren't other good buys on the market. That's where our Top Picks come in. These cars didn't quite have that special something to win one of our awards -- maybe their fuel economy is a bit low, or their sticker prices a bit high -- but these runners-up still offer plenty of bang for your buck.
Subcompact Cars: Nissan Versa, Kia Rio
The Nissan Versa and Kio Rio may lack some standard features, but their extremely low base prices make them great values. For 2009, Nissan has given the Versa a leg up by pricing its base trim at under $10K, making it the least expensive car in America. The Kia Rio also offers one the lowest prices in its class and one of the longest powertrain warranties.
Compact Cars: Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic Hybrid
Redesigned for 2009, the Toyota Corolla is neither the best-performing nor the best-looking option in its class. But it's a solid alternative, and with a high-quality cabin, is considered be a positive renovation of a well-respected model. Likewise, the Honda Civic Hybrid compares well to class leaders due to its high quality and sleek design. Add its fuel-sipping habits and it's easy to see why it's a Top Pick.
Midsize Cars: Mazda Mazda6, Chevy Malibu
The Mazda6, entirely new for 2009, has always been a legitimate competitor for the class leaders -- and now its bold styling and comfortable cabin make it even stronger. But mediocre fuel economy keeps it from being a as goog a value as the award-winning Toyota Camry. The Chevrolet Malibu is also an exceptional choice within the midsize segment. In fact, in 2008 it took home a trunkful of awards from the press, including North American Car of the Year. It wins praise for its stylish good looks and well-designed passenger cabin -- but it comes with a rather steep base price.
Full Size Cars: Mercury Sable, Ford Taurus
The Mercury Sable is a family-friendly ride and offers loads of interior and cargo room and top-notch safety scores. However, its not-so-thrilling on-road performance detracts from its overall appeal. Likewise, the Ford Taurus is a good option within the segment. It's not the most exciting car, but it consistently receives good reviews and achieves the best fuel efficiency of any large car.
Upscale Cars: Infiniti G37, Lexus IS
Anyone considering a sport sedan should at least test drive the Infiniti G37 before buying something else. When compared with other upscale midsize cars, the G37 coupe comes out as the top performance car, and one of the lower base prices in the class doesn't hurt it either. The Lexus IS is another proven sports performer -- and the base IS 250 model is a bargain-priced value within its class. It boasts a high-quality interior, even if the driver's seat is on the small side.
Luxury Cars: Infiniti M, Cadillac DTS
The Infiniti M is a credible alternative to more well-known luxury sedans from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It holds its own against high-performance cars from more famous marques -- but low fuel economy detracts from its value. The Cadillac DTS also takes a hit in fuel economy, but makes up for it with a smooth ride and luxurious cabin.
Sports Cars: Honda S2000, Pontiac Solstice
The Honda S2000 is a no-frills street machine that functions great as a thrill ride. It provides a lot of power for the money, but isn't as comfortable day-to-day as others in the class. The Pontiac Solstice makes a solid choice for anyone shopping for a sporty roadster and rides a bit better in daily use, but has some low-quality materials.
Compact Crossovers/SUVs: Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V
With excellent reliability and safety reputations, the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V have become the benchmarks of the compact crossover class. The RAV4's powerful engine and optional third-row seating set it apart in its class. The CR-V is another award-winning SUV and daily driver, but reviewers find its engine sluggish.
Midsize Crossovers/SUVs: Toyota FJ Cruiser, Mazda CX-7
Despite the fact that it's a bona fide truck-based SUV, the Toyota FJ Cruiser provides a surprisingly comfortable highway ride. Add to that a cool, retro-looking exterior and its ability to double as a rugged off-roader and daily driver, and you've got a good value -- even if fuel economy isn't the greatest. The Mazda CX-7, our second runner-up, is a crossover with especially sporty handling and a powerful turbocharged engine -- but it too suffers in fuel economy.
Luxury Crossovers/SUVs: Acura RDX, Infiniti EX
With standard all-wheel drive and a turbocharged engine, the Acura RDX is a worthy -- and less costly -- competitor to crossovers like the high-performing BMW X3. However, reviewers are disappointed in the RDX's poor fuel economy and some low-quality cabin materials. The Infiniti EX is an exceptional handler and owes its sporty performance to its rear-wheel-drive configuration, which is unique within its class. But take note that it comes with an expensive price tag and pricey options list.
Full Size SUVs: Mazda CX-9, Chevrolet Suburban
Named North American Truck of the Year in 2008, the seven-passenger Mazda CX-9 is an attractive alternative for buyers who don't want to drive a minivan or truck-based SUV. It's the only car-based crossover in its class and has one of the best fuel economy ratings -- but it's also expensive relative to the competition. The Chevrolet Suburban may be in the same class, but it's at the other end of the spectrum in terms in fuel economy. However, it's a great choice for those who need to tow large loads and transport eight people in comfort.
Minivans: Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan
The Honda Odyssey delivers one of the best combinations of power, handling, and interior versatility of any minivan. It stands out for a long list of standard features, but suspension and steering woes detract from its appeal. With Stow ‘n Go and Swivel n' Go seating, the similar Dodge Grand Caravan is widely praised as a family room on wheels. However, it too suffers in performance due to an underpowered base engine -- but most families don't buy minivans for the driving experience.
Compact Pickups: Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger
The Nissan Frontier is a great choice for buyers looking for truck that's fast on-road and capable off-road. It also nets great fuel economy for its class. However, those looking for a comfortable commuter should consider other compact pickups. The Ford Ranger's ride, is also on the stiff side, but when it comes to capability on a budget, it's hard to find a better choice amid compact pickups.
Full Size Pickups: Ford F-150, Dodge Ram
The Ford F-150 is one of America's most iconic vehicles and is a longtime top seller. With the 2009 redesign, the F-150 gains better fuel economy. The Dodge Ram is also redesigned and offers an improved ride -- but continues to offer low fuel economy. Regardless, with the economy in flux, Ford and Dodge are offering big incentives on these tried-and-true trucks -- especially if you're willing to buy a 2008 model.
To see images of our Top Picks, see our slideshow.