Kiplinger's Best in Class winners top our rankings in each of our 12 categories, based on performance, value and safety -- plus driving impressions from our own road tests. All except one of our Best in Class winners are also Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Picks (no sports cars made that list this year).
Cars Under $20,000: Chevrolet Cruze
Sticker price: $19,995 (Eco, manual)
Invoice price: $19,225
TrueCar national average price: $19,889
3-year resale value: 57%, 5-year: 40%
City mpg: 28, Hwy: 42
Introduced last year to replace the Cobalt, the Cruze quickly shot to best-seller status. It’s wallet-friendly on many fronts, blending a low price with impressive fuel efficiency and high resale values. Its stylish and nearly silent interior, plus solid handling, push it to the front of the compact pack.
Cars $20,000-$25,000: Volkswagen Jetta TDI
Sticker price: $24,395
Invoice price: $23,451
TrueCar national average price: $23,619
3-year resale value: 62%, 5-year: 46%
City mpg: 30, Hwy: 42
The Jetta offers German engineering at a budget price but without a budget feel. It’s as spacious inside as compacts come, and as nimble, whether you’re parallel parking or navigating city traffic. The diesel version gets top honors for its powerful, fuel-efficient engine and stellar resale values.
Cars $25,000-$30,000: Kia Optima
Sticker price: $25,850 (2.0T EX)
Invoice price: $24,205
TrueCar national average price: $25,205
3-year resale value: 52%, 5-year: 36%
City mpg: 22, Hwy: 34
The Optima’s redesign last year shook off the bland styling, adding sharp creases and an aggressive front end complete with fog lights and wraparound headlamps; it also won Kiplinger's Best New Car award for its category. The turbo-boosted four-cylinder engine puts out more horsepower (274) than most in its class, a difference you’ll feel on the road. Add value pricing and a five-year warranty and you’ve got serious swagger.
Cars $30,000-$40,000: Ford Taurus
Sticker price: $38,950 (SHO)
Invoice price: $35,820
TrueCar national average price: $35,005
3-year resale value: 54%, 5-year: 39%
City mpg: 17, Hwy: 25
A Kiplinger’s top pick since its 2009 reintroduction, the Taurus earns its plaudits with a mix of fuel efficiency and power. The V6 EcoBoost engine gives it the power of a V8 without guzzling gas. The Super High Output (SHO) badge means it gets a sport-tuned suspension, bigger brakes and paddle shifters.
Cars $40,000-$50,000: BMW 5 series
Sticker price: $47,575 (528i)
Invoice price: $43,840
TrueCar national average price: $44,838
3-year resale value: 54%, 5-year: 37%
City mpg: 23, Hwy: 34
Direct injection and turbocharging make the 528i one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in its class. An eight-speed automatic transmission also lends a hand, as does start/stop technology, which shuts the engine off when you’re stopped and automatically restarts it when you press the accelerator.
Cars $50,000 and Over: Mercedes-Benz E-Class BlueTec
Sticker price: $52,565 (Luxury)
Invoice price: $48,947
TrueCar national average price: $48,997
3-year resale value: 56%, 5-year: 37%
City mpg: 21, Hwy: 32
Best in Class for the second year in a row, the E-Class diesel sedan proves it can go the distance on value. The BlueTec’s fuel economy -- 32 miles per gallon on the highway -- beats all except hybrid competitors in its class, and it sports higher resale values for 2012. Safety gets a boost with a standard driver’s knee airbag, Attention Assist drowsiness monitor and collision warning system.