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From the Editor

Get Your Money's Worth From Your Next New Car

When it comes to spending, especially on cars and other big-ticket purchases, spotting value is our stock in trade.

As a personal-finance magazine, Kiplinger’s is known for its coverage of investments, retirement, taxes. But this month we spotlight a feature that’s unique among financial publications -- our annual rankings of the best values in new cars, in which we pick the top vehicles in each of ten categories. (Get complete data on more than 1,000 vehicles.)

Our proprietary formula starts with raw data on performance and safety features, plus family-friendly stats on fuel efficiency, resale values and cargo room. We also list the costs of ownership and insurance for every vehicle. Then we top it off with our personal touch: Based on numerical scores, we test-drive every vehicle that’s in the running for a “Best New” or “Best in Class” award. In fact, says associate editor Jessica Anderson, “A car can’t win unless we drive it.”

Working with senior editor Mark Solheim and intern Arunjana Das, Jessica is the driving force behind our rankings, racking up more than 100 test-drives in 2009 alone. “You have to put each vehicle through the paces of daily living,” says Jessica. Recently, for example, she was hard-pressed to get 40 pounds of Bailey the beagle’s dog food into the trunk of a Volkswagen Golf.

Carmakers themselves value our rankings so highly that when the Hyundai Tucson had a shot at being named Best New Crossover in the small-crossover category, a company rep offered to hop aboard a train to D.C. the day after a blizzard to make sure that a vehicle was delivered to us. On the other hand, although the redesigned Jaguar XJ racked up impressive scores, we simply couldn’t get our hands on one to drive before our deadline. So the XJ wasn’t eligible for Best New Car in its class. But it’s included in a new feature added this year -- five vehicles in each category that were top contenders for Best in Class. (Note: To drive as many new and redesigned models as possible, we sometimes attend events sponsored by automakers -- and we always pay our own way.)

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Jessica may just have the sweetest spot on the staff -- especially on a day when she gets to put a Jaguar XKR through its paces. But when it comes to spending, especially on cars and other big-ticket purchases, spotting value is our stock in trade. Kiplinger’s readers are frugal but not cheap, willing to spend if they’re getting their money’s worth. So Jessica’s Drive Time columns focus on the finances of car ownership. For instance, her story on extended warranties was a big hit with our readers.

It’s no surprise that Kiplinger’s staffers often make a beeline for Jessica’s office to pepper her with questions before they buy a new car. (In case you were wondering, her own ride is a 1997 Honda Civic.) If she were in the market now, what would she buy? A Mitsubishi Outlander or a Honda CR-V. But that XKR still beckons.