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Cream of the crop: Best cars in your price range

So the family vehicle is getting a little ragged, or maybe you've just got new-car fever. Deciding to buy is the easy part. Settling on what to buy is far more difficult.

There are more than 400 different models in the U.S. market for the 2004 model year, ranging from the Kia Rio, the least expensive car available, to the Bentley Continental GT, a new $150,000 luxury speedster. There are myriad sport-utility vehicles, dozens of convertibles, scores of sedans and enough pickup trucks to empty every hardware store in your city.

To help you narrow your search, Bankrate has broken down the vast new-vehicle field into traditional body styles and price categories. When it comes to prices, we've listed vehicles based on the average list price. A model may cost more or less, depending on what optional equipment is on board, and the out-the-door price will vary depending on available factory rebates and incentives, finance charges, trade-in values and the discount negotiated with the dealer.

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Within each category we've ranked the top three choices, based on value, style, reliability and the fun-to-drive factor.

Cars by price -- sedans

Cars by price -- coupes and hatchbacks

Cars by price -- convertibles

Cars by price -- station wagons

Cars by price -- SUVs

Cars by price -- pickup trucks

Cars by price -- minivans

Cars by price -- when money's no object

The rankings are by Terry Jackson, former editor-in-chief of AMI Auto World Magazine. Jackson has been an automotive journalist for more than 20 years. His work has appeared in Automobile, Road & Track and AutoWeek. He is the author of six automotive books and evaluates more than 100 new cars a year.


-- Posted: Dec. 9, 2003

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