Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Buying & Leasing a Car

12 Best in Class Car Values, 2012

Our annual round-up of the top Best in Class new car models based on value, performance and safety.

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

Advertisement

Sticker price: $24,395

Invoice price: $23,451

TrueCar national average price: $23,619

3-year resale value: 62%, 5-year: 46%

Advertisement

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)

Advertisement

Invoice price: $24,205

TrueCar national average price: $25,205

3-year resale value: 52%, 5-year: 36%

City mpg: 22, Hwy: 34

Advertisement

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.

Sports Cars: Chevrolet Camaro

Sticker price: $32,750 (1SS)

Invoice price: $31,476

TrueCar national average price: $32,546

3-year resale value: 59%, 5-year: 41%

City mpg: 16, Hwy: 24

Kiplinger’s Best New Car pick when it was reintroduced in 2010, Chevy’s Camaro SS sticks to its hot-rod roots. The brawny 6.2-liter V8 delivers 426 horses and is cloaked in a muscular exterior with styling cues from the pony car’s past. Plus, at just over $32,000, it won’t break the bank.

Small Crossovers: Subaru Forester

Sticker price: $30,670 (2.5XT Touring)

Invoice price: $28,767

TrueCar national average price: $29,259

3-year resale value: 60%, 5-year: 46%

City mpg: 19, Hwy: 24

Named Best in Class two years running, this baby ute also has sky-high resale values and picks up Best Resale plaudits. Subaru’s standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive sends power to the wheels with the best grip so you always stick to the road securely.

Midsize and Large Crossovers: Lexus RX 450h

Sticker price: $46,110

Invoice price: $42,039

TrueCar national average price: $44,965

3-year resale value: 60%, 5-year: 44%

City mpg: 32, Hwy: 28

A perennial Kiplinger’s favorite, the Lexus RX features top-notch safety in addition to luxury, and the hybrid RX 450h takes the cake for Most Fuel-Efficient. A ten-airbag tally includes knee airbags for front passengers and rear-seat side airbags, and an optional pre-collision system ($1,500) will tighten seat belts and make extra braking power available if it senses an accident is imminent.

Truck-based SUVs: Chevrolet Suburban

Sticker price: $46,625 (1500 LT)

Invoice price: $43,428

TrueCar national average price: $43,703

3-year resale value: 49%, 5-year: 34%

City mpg: 15, Hwy: 21

The ultimate family hauler, the Suburban seats nine and has a whopping 90 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row and 46 cubic feet behind the third row. The 5.3-liter V8 puts out plenty of power, and the Suburban tows up to 5,000 pounds with ease. But (aside from SUV hybrids) fuel economy is better than any V8 in its segment.

Minivans: Honda Odyssey

Sticker price: $29,035 (LX)

Invoice price: $26,390

TrueCar national average price: $27,498

3-year resale value: 55%, 5-year: 41%

City mpg: 18, Hwy: 27

Redesigned for 2011, when it swept Kiplinger’s minivan awards, Honda’s Odyssey still edges out the competition. Its bold exterior sets it apart from its peers, and improved driving dynamics and a more functional interior clinch its first-place status. For 2012, it picks up Most Fuel-Efficient plaudits, too.

Wagons: Subaru Outback

Sticker price: $25,070 (2.5i)

Invoice price: $23,632

TrueCar national average price: $23,828

3-year resale value: 54%, 5-year: 39%

City mpg: 22, Hwy: 29

Earning Best in Class honors for the third year in a row, the Subaru Outback shines with a modest price, high resale values and tons of interior space -- including 34 cubic feet of cargo room. It has the lowest insurance costs in its class and standard go-anywhere all-wheel drive.