Kelley Blue Book announced a slew of awards late last year for the best cars to buy in 2019. And, since January is the official month of “New Year, new everything,” now’s a good a time as any to make the smartest automotive purchase you can.
As segments split into sub-segments, the buying process gets more complicated. For 2019, KBB added new categories that better define the evolving platforms car companies continue to produce. Once broken down, KBB considers “affordability, quality, driving dynamics, dependability and low cost to own,” which in some cases means the winners aren’t necessarily top sellers, just a smarter buy.
There are a few no-brainers on the list — it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Honda swept six of the 14 categories. But, Hyundai, winning the overly crowded subcompact SUV segment and earning the best performance car award shows just how far the South Korean brand has come. The same can be said for Volvo taking top honors as the “Best New Model,” too. Going into 2019, the market was bound to be packed with choices, no matter the segment, but Kelley Blue Book’s list should help streamline your approach.
Best New Model / Subcompact Luxury SUV: 2019 Volvo XC40
Volvo has introduced the (XC40 $39,500, base) as their first foray into the already full compact SUV segment. Its design is at once a departure from current brand styling and obviously related to other cars in the lineup; Volvo refers to the XC40 as a “cousin” to its other SUVs rather than a direct descendant. It is “designed for the city,” says Volvo, by 31-year-old designer Ian Kettle and exemplifies a “rugged personality but a modern, product-inspired aesthetic.” The XC40’s focus is on liveability and usability: there are ample, “smart storage solutions” throughout. Volvo is introducing its subscription-based ownership model, Care By Volvo, with the XC40. The XC40 will be available starting in the spring in AWD trim with a turbocharged inline-four and a somewhat less expensive ($33,200 MSRP) front-wheel-drive option with a less powerful engine arriving soon after.
Compact Car: 2019 Honda Civic
Midsize Car: 2019 Honda Accord
Subcompact SUV: 2019 Hyundai Kona
Compact SUV: 2019 Honda CR-V
I used four broad parameters to narrow down our “value” field:
• First, monetarily, it had to be a value purchase. The sticker price had to be less than $30,000. The car needed strong reliability, good gas mileage and high resale value.
• Second, it had to be safe. Any car without a five-star NHTSA crash test rating and IIHS Top Safety Pick status was excluded. The trim had to include the manufacturer’s active safety features at that price.
• Third, the car must have family utility: cargo space, versatility, all-wheel drive, family-friendly tech etc.
• Finally, we considered style and performance. Being decent to drive helped.
Midsize SUV: 2019 Honda Pilot
Full-Size SUV: 2019 Ford Expedition
Minivan 2019: Honda Odyssey
Pickup Truck: 2019 Ford F-150
Electric/Hybrid Car: 2019 Honda Clarity PHEV
Performance Car: 2019 Hyundai Veloster N
Hyundai has dabbled in road rockets before, most notably with the nice but weakly styled Tiburon sports car. Now it brings is ascendant N package to the United States with the new Veloster. It’s a fast little machine that’s seriously engineered to be driven hard, and to deliver considerable value for the modest investment. It’s a car you can have fun with, from a brand that younger performance enthusiasts might have forgotten about.
BUY NOW: $28,000+
Luxury Car: 2019 Lexus ES
Compact Luxury SUV: 2019 Audi Q5
You shouldn’t expect anything less than the Quattro AWD (which is just as much a safety net as it is a performance feature at this point) to the driver assistance technology, all the way down to the quality of materials used in the interior and the detail in the infotainment displays. We’re at a point now where if you buy a new car and it doesn’t have an AWD model or any of the aforementioned add-ons, you’re being short-changed. The majority of the population owns smartphones made of materials that immediately make it feel like a luxury product, that contain displays that can play movies in incredible definition, send you notifications of your heart rate, daily steps, order your food and hail you a ride. And that’s all from something that fits in your pocket — it stands to reason we should expect a similar level of tech and luxe from something that fits snuggly in a garage and, of course, for which you pay a considerable premium.
The same goes for the SUV’s performance. The Q5’s maximum torque is 273 lb-ft and comes on fully at 1,600 rpm. It’s no supercar, but it’s not exactly an anemic econobox either — it’s just the right amount of power right where you need it in daily driving. Anything less and you’ll be left wanting.
Now that assisted braking is to become mandatory by 2022 (much like when ABS went from a luxury option to mandatory) and traffic-safety assist tech is nearly standard on many cars, buyer satisfaction has begun to lay in the details and extras, not the base car. Soon cheap plastics, clumsy console layouts and interior design won’t be tolerated at all, regardless of price point. Brushed aluminum, open pore wood inlays and the softest leather will be the bar for the lowest of entry. And if you want that luxury as standard now, the Q5 is your barometer.