Purchasing a new vehicle is one of the largest purchases many Americans make. And with current average car prices surging past $40,000, it can feel tempting to just look at price to save money. But a cheap car is not necessarily a good deal. A cheap car may come with costs that rack up during your years of ownership, such as higher fuel costs, expensive repairs and pricey insurance.
While you shouldn’t purchase the least expensive car to save money, it also isn’t fiscally wise for most people to dole out extra cash for a luxury vehicle with all the newest features. Instead, research which vehicles available on the market carry the most value for what they offer. This will mean money saved down the road and a better overall ownership experience.
While a classic sedan is without much of the space that an SUV or midsize sedan can offer, they are a dependable and classic option for drivers of all ages. The top three winners in the category rank for their price point and combined high ratings among experts. The Chevrolet Impala takes the gold medal for affordable sedans and large cars. It ranks first according to the 2022 J.D. Power’s Dependability study and holds an almost perfect score from Kelley Blue Book (KBB). It is known especially for its comfortable ride and large trunk. Following close behind, the Avalon and Chrysler 300 both receive high ratings from Consumer Reports and gain special recognition for their spacious interiors.
|Best value sedans||Price|
Best midsize cars
A slight size and space upgrade from a sedan — a midsize car boasts more trunk space and legroom for both passenger and driver. The top midsize vehicles have a balance of space and ease of driving by offering an ample interior and an overall size that’s still manageable. Winning in this category, the Sonata ranks first with J.D. Power and is known for its exceptional fuel efficiency. For its middle-tier price point, the Camry boasts driver assist and great tech options. And the least expensive on the list, the Legacy holds high safety ratings and great resale value.
|Best value midsize cars||Price|
Best midsize SUVs
A midsize SUV gives the best of both worlds when it comes to rugged durability while not being too large to manage. Scoring these vehicles proved to be more of a challenge, although all received high marks according to Kelley Blue Book, the Santa Fe beat out the others for its gas mileage and advanced tech. The Outback followed close behind with its available roof and cargo options and comfortable ride. Finally, the Murano ranked for its safety rating and strong engine.
|Best value midsize SUVs||Price|
|Hyundai Santa Fe||$27,200|
The minivan is no longer just the perfect car for parents. Modern minivans boast the latest tech packages and extra space. Choosing the best minivan for your money takes some consideration on aspects like space, dependability and safety. The Sienna dominates the road when it comes to top minivans. J.D. Power ranks it among the top minivans, and it has excellent fuel economy. The Carnival and Odyssey follow close behind scoring for their powertrain handling and practicality, respectively.
|Best value minivans||Price|
|Dodge Grand Caravan||$29,025|
Best hybrids and EVs
The landscape for eco-friendly vehicles has dramatically grown over the past few years in accessibility and affordability. Check out the top options and consider a green auto loan to finance with extra discounts. While hybrid vehicles can be more expensive, the cost per drive can save you money in the long run. Our first-place winner, the Insight, offers an easy drive and high miles per gallon. Next, the RAV4 holds a perfect Consumer Reports score along with more space than the other category winners. Finally, the least expensive option, the Kona, has a powerful turbo engine and fun design.
|Best value hybrids and EVs||Price|
|Toyota RAV4 Prime||$38,800|
Compact cars are widely known for easy commuting and top-notch parking privileges. But the best compact cars on the market also boast good fuel economy and some extra legroom. The winners in this category won based on their dependability scores and ease of driving. J.D. Power ranks the Corolla as the most dependable compact option — along with KBB and Consumer Reports giving almost perfect ratings. Similar in price, the Elantra offers a turbocharged engine add-on and a practical driving experience. The least expensive winner, the Impreza, boasts an advanced infotainment system and quick steering.
|Best value compact cars||Price|
Best SUVs and suburbans
While large SUVs come with a higher price tag, you get what you pay for. The winners for best large vehicles seat up to eight passengers and are built out with the latest technology. So, while this vehicle segment tends to be more expensive, you can still garner good value from a pricier option. While it is the most expensive, the Expedition ranks high according to Kelley Blue Book and boasts a 6,000-pound towing capacity. Next, recognized for its spacious interior and extreme towing capability, the Tahoe is a great choice for drivers looking to spend less money. Finally, the Yukon ranks high according to J.D. Power and allows for a variety of trim upgrades.
|Best value SUVs and suburbans||Price|
According to information gathered by J.D. Power in its 2022 U.S. Dependability Study, Genesis brand vehicles ranked highest among premium vehicles while Kia took first place among mass-market brands. Although most drivers have an affinity towards one brand over another separate from dependability, this ranking is scored based on problems per 100 vehicles. Land Rover and Ram rounded off the list with over 250 problems per vehicle — two of the least dependable brands on the market according to J.D. Power.
|Best brands||Price range|
|Kia||$17,490 to $52,590|
|Buick||$25,595 to $43,995|
|Hyundai||$20,200 to $48,740|
|Toyota||$19,925 to $53,050|
Vehicle ranking was based on a combination of industry report findings and the vehicle price. This gives a firm idea of the value that each vehicle holds based on industry standards and the price-to-purchase ratio.
Specifically, cars are scored on a three-point scale from J.D. Power’s 2022 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. This study aimed to determine which vehicles over the past year held the longest lifetime for drivers. Although not every vehicle falling into the top-five spots was a winner from this report, it was used as a large determining factor.
Along with J.D. Power, Kelley Blue Book’s expert rating based on a five-point scale was added to the calculation. Finally, the five-point scale from Consumer Reports noting vehicle reliability was added. These combined factors were then scored with the price of each vehicle, choosing the top five vehicles for each style.
The bottom line
Vehicle value is based on a range of factors. Are there constant trips to the mechanic or poor gas mileage? While questions like these are important when determining which vehicle is right for you — color, make and model included — the best way to choose your car is based on how much you are spending and what that cost per drive equals. Take advantage of the above scores when it comes time to purchase your next vehicle.