Driving Today’s Best Car Buys of the Year – 2019 is our effort to help you triumph over a major problem in today’s society: the “tyranny of choice.” As we don’t have to tell you, the contemporary auto market is a textbook example of the problem of too many choices. When confronted with so many cars, trucks, SUVs and vans that seem so similar, how do you decide which is right for you? Don’t worry; we’re here to help you.
More choices increase stress and anxiety
Those who study human behavior find that more choices, which one would suspect to be better than having fewer choices, can actually increase stress and anxiety. At its worst, the stress prevents some of us from making any choice at all. If you’ve heard the term “paralyzed by fear” you basically get it. As psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote in his seminal book on the subject, The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. Well, we at Driving Today are devoted to lowering your stress levels, and we go about doing that by pointing out the very best cars, trucks, SUVs and vans on the market. We do the deep-dive test driving and extensive background research, so you don’t have to.
Which brings us to the crux of this special Driving Today section. Right before your eyes in simple prose we will identify for you the 10 Best Car Buys of the Year.
We see how cars perform in the real world
How do we identify the best car buys of the year? It is a rigorous process that starts well before the new model year officially begins. Over the course of 12 months, we use auto shows, vehicle introductions and thousands of miles in hundreds of vehicles to get a sense of which vehicles stand at the top of their respective classes. At the same time we do an equally rigorous amount of secondary research to help us gauge driver/owner experiences with the vehicles we evaluate personally. We need to determine not only how we feel about the various vehicles we test but also how those vehicles perform in the real world in the hands of typical consumers.
Our staff boasts decades of experience in evaluating vehicles, and we pride ourselves on our abilities to put ourselves in the shoes of the average car buyer. We are car enthusiasts, but we don’t let our enthusiasm color our mission to provide all car-buyers with advice that is most relevant to them.
What do we examine as we do our overall evaluations of every vehicle available in the U.S. market? We look at factors that are most important to you — safety, reliability, quality, comfort, convenience, economy and cost-to-own. We also place emphasis on new and redesigned vehicles, because those vehicles typically offer the most advanced technology. Our goal is to provide you with a guide to the best car values in 10 important vehicle categories. We wholeheartedly believe each of them will provide satisfying service to their buyers year after year.
Small Car Best Car Buy of the Year
The Volkswagen Jetta might be a bit of a surprise as Small Car Best Buy, not because it isn’t great, but because it doesn’t seem that small. In fact, that is one of the many virtues of the all-new Jetta sedan — it offers substantial interior space. The Jetta is more refined than the sixth-generation sedan that came before it. The fit, finish and all-around performance exceeded our expectations and outclassed key competitors. It’s more fun to drive than its price tag suggests with its 147-horsepower 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic. The suspension delivers handling that is reminiscent of much higher-priced German sedans. The Jetta’s exterior design is distinctive without going over the top, and its interior is a study in understated functionality. Volkswagen’s infotainment systems have been among the best for years. The standard 6.5-inch display screen is gateway to an excellent system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Operation is intuitive and simple, and some up level trims have a Digital Cockpit feature similar to that in many Audis. A lot of vehicles populate the small-car segment, but for 2019 the Volkswagen Jetta has earned its Best Car Buy status.
Family Car Best Car Buy of the Year
It takes a heroic effort to best the well-regarded Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in the gigantic family car segment, but that’s just what the all-new Nissan Altima delivered. In a category that encompasses both midsize and full-size sedans, the 2019 Nissan Altima’s combination of innovative technology, rock-solid build quality and cushy interior comfort flagged it as the overwhelming choice. If you seek ground-breaking technology you need look no farther than the VC-Turbo engine, a revolutionary gasoline-fueled internal combustion powerplant that features a variable compression ratio. The VC-Turbo is the Altima’s optional engine, replacing a much bigger and less fuel-efficient V-6, but the Altima’s standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine has been so heavily revamped that 80 percent of its parts are brand new. The Altima can also be equipped with electronically controlled all-wheel-drive, a boon in inclement weather. Then there are the Altima’s advanced driving aids. The Altima is equipped with ProPILOT Assist, engineered to take over routine chores like acceleration, steering and braking. Available in many iterations, the 2019 Nissan Altima is sedan the whole family will appreciate.
Small SUV Best Car Buy of the Year
Small crossover SUVs are all the rage now, and the Best Buy this year — the Kia Sportage — was one of the first in the category. In a segment that includes top-performers like the Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR, the Sportage stands out for its build quality, reliability and cheeky driving demeanor. With the base 2.4-liter four cylinder engine, the Sportage feels powerful enough, but with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four and its 59 additional horsepower, its acceleration can be addictive. Kia’s Dynamax full-time all-wheel drive is available across the lineup. The interior is attractively designed and ergonomically correct, and Kia ladles on equipment. We like the availability of upscale touches like heated and power-ventilated front seats. The base Sportage is equipped with a five-inch infotainment screen, and if you opt for a package you get a seven-inch touchscreen plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Standard safety systems include electronic stability control, traction control, brake assist system, hill-start assist control, downhill brake control and antilock braking system. With its lengthy warranty coverage, the Kia Sportage fills the bill for small SUV value.
Family SUV Best Car Buy of the Year
With a family SUV size matters — a lot. And one of the Chevrolet Traverse’s biggest advantages in its incredibly popular segment is its size. It offers interior space far and away better than most vehicles in its category. Completely redesigned for the 2018 model year, the Traverse offers surprising room for third-row passengers and features exceptional cargo space behind the last row. The newly designed split-folding second-row bench seat and the available second-row captain’s chairs have sliding features to enhance versatility. The curbside second-row seat tips up and slides forward to provide third-row access even with a forward-facing child seat in place. Seating arrangements can accommodate up to eight. Keyless unlock/start and three-zone automatic climate control are standard on all models. The standard MyLink radio systems feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility plus OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. The standard engine is a 3.6-liter V6, while a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is also offered. If you have a growing brood that is on the move, you will find the Chevrolet Traverse a family friend.
Full-size SUV Best Car Buy of the Year
All-new for the 2018 model year, the Ford Expedition enters 2019 with equipment additions and tweaks that make it an even better value. In its well-tailored bodywork, the Expedition provides families generous interior space, a heavy dose of connectivity and smart new technology. Ford claims the Expedition has best-in-class second- and third-row legroom. Flexible seating solutions include second-row tip-and-slide seats that offer easy access to the third row even when child seats are installed. The rear-seat entertainment system can stream live cable or satellite television, and there are USB ports in every row. The powertrain is a 400-horsepower 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine teamed with a 10-speed automatic transmission for fuel economy and towing capability. Towing is enhanced by Pro Trailer Backup Assist that makes it easier for drivers to back up a trailer. A robust four-wheel-drive system similar to that in the F-150 pickup truck is on the option list as is the FX4 off-road package. For those who find that really big isn’t really big enough, the Expedition Max offers longer overall length and increased interior space.
Minivan Best Car Buy of the Year
Chrysler reinvented their minivan a couple of years ago and renamed it Pacifica. With a versatile interior that can accommodate up to seven, it can be modestly equipped with a commensurate modest price tag or it can be equipped with a variety of bells, whistles and 20-speaker audio. That is one of the nice things about the Chrysler Pacifica — the variety of options lets you have it your way. And even those who don’t buy the top-of-the-line model get a lot of family-friendly stuff. Even low-line models feature heated/power-operated mirrors, keyless entry, stow-away second-row seats, power-operated driver seat and parking camera system. Chrysler’s infotainment interface is one of the best in the business, and if you want backseat entertainment, you can get it. Going up the trim level chain, power-operated doors, power-operated liftgate and power-folding second- and third-row seats are available. Powering most versions is a 287-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6. Another alternative is the ground-breaking plug-in hybrid system, the first in a minivan.
Electric Car Best Car Buy of the Year
Electric cars are multiplying like leaves on a tree, but in that very competitive environment the second-generation Nissan LEAF has the credentials to take the Best Car Buy crown. Right off the top it is a pure electric vehicle with a manufacturer’s suggested list price under $35,000, not $50,000 or $60,000 like one of its most prominent competitors. And with federal and state tax credits your net cost might be much lower. Some might wonder why the LEAF offers 150 miles of range on a full charge of its 40-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack when that same competitor offers more. But you have to ask yourself how often do you drive more than 150 miles per day? And on those days you do, would another 50-75 miles of range make any difference? Since the battery size is critical to cost, we think Nissan engineers gave the LEAF a good balance of range for the cost. It is also important to note that the LEAF is feature-filled and fun-to-drive. Among the many advanced features is one-pedal driving — the ability to go and stop without ever touching the brake pedal. No, the Nissan LEAF isn’t for everyone, but if you’re seeking a zero-emission EV, it is undoubtedly the best buy.
Pickup Truck Best Car Buy of the Year
Ram trucks have become known for their supple, car-like ride and better-than-average handling. The all-new-for-2019 Ram 1500 pickup truck takes those traditional strengths and runs with them. The truck’s technology, innovative engineering, evolutionary design and intelligent use of materials builds on the positives of the successful previous-generation Ram. You won’t find a better interior in all of truckdom than that in the 2019 Ram 1500. One example is the available 12-inch fully configurable touchscreen (one of the largest on any current vehicle) that enables you to control a wide variety of functions. The new truck is significantly longer, yet it is lighter than the old one by 120 pounds, and it delivers a big payload and serious trailer tow capacity. It is available in three lengths, and each of them are longer than before, resulting in the most spacious cab in the segment. An eTorque version of the Pentastar V-6 is the standard engine in most trim levels. It’s rated at 305 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque. Also available is the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 delivering 395 horsepower and 410 lb.-ft. of torque with variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation. You won’t find a better personal-use pickup for the money than the 2019 Ram 1500.
Hybrid Vehicle Best Car Buy of the Year
MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER PHEV
You might not know it, but the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been honored as the best-selling plug-in hybrid crossover in the world. There’s a reason for that. It delivers the real-world utility you want from a vehicle of its type with all the benefits of a plug-in hybrid. It can be driven as a pure EV, and when the charge is exhausted, it becomes a conventional SUV. For a vehicle in its class, it offers a lot of interior space. Though it is high-tech, it doesn’t bury you in tech for its own sake. Instead its controls are straightforward and easy-to-understand. In its roomy cabin five adult passengers will find comfortable seating and reasonable wiggle-room. The plug-in hybrid powertrain delivers all-wheel drive functionality by teaming a 117-horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder gasoline engine with two 80-horsepower electric motors. The 12-KWh battery pack offers 22 miles of electric-only range. More important is the fact the battery array enables the Outlander PHEV deliver an EPA-estimated 74 MPGe rating. The result is significant value.
For-Fun Best Car Buy of the Year
There are vehicles people buy for transportation, and then there are vehicles people buy because of the intangibles. For all its functionality — and it offers plenty of functionality — the all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler is a vehicle of the second type. If you want to have your own one-person parade every day, capturing the admiring glances of passersby, the Jeep Wrangler is your go-to ride. The Wrangler just seems to put smiles on faces, yours among them. But the new Wrangler is more than a lifestyle statement. It does everything the previous-edition Wrangler could do on- and off-road, but it does it in a significantly more driver- and passenger-friendly way. It’s not that Jeep is trying to domesticate the Wrangler. Instead, it has kept the toughness and the go-anywhere promise. The Wrangler will still rock-crawl with the very best of them, but when it comes to a day-to-day commute to work or picking up the kids at school, it will do so without the noise and ride comfort sacrifices of the previous Wrangler. The Jeep design and engineering team has done all it could think of to make the new Wrangler easier to live with. The windshield folds more easily; the soft top comes off and goes back on more easily; the carpet comes out and is replaced more easily. But it is more than an easy vehicle to live with; the Jeep Wrangler is an easy vehicle to love.