Buick LaCrosse

Buick LaCrosse

MSRP: $26,495-$33,265

Why Buy? The LaCrosse has won its segment in J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study in two of the last three years. It has been the focus of a lot of quality scrutiny at Buick in the hopes of making the new LaCrosse the model that finally attracts young professionals and energizes the brand.

The Scoop: The new Buick LaCrosse is an eye opener. Sure, Buick isn’t a hip brand yet, especially if you are under 60. But this cool sedan has gotten almost universal praise from the auto enthusiast magazines and websites. And the same quality that put the previous LaCrosse design on top of J.D. Power’s rankings has been dialed into this new one.
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius

MSRP: $21,400 - $28,070

Why Buy? Prius has ranked in the top three models within its segment in J.D. Power’s VDS two of the last three years. Despite Toyota’s recent recall problems, the company is serious about protecting the reputation of the Prius, which has cast a glowing halo over the rest of its cars. Customer service on this car is good now, and will only go up should problems arise. Great gas mileage is also a good hedge against rising prices over next decade.

The Scoop: The gas-electric hybrid has been hitting the top of JD Power’s dependability rankings. The current version of the car has been criticized for overly bland styling and some cheapness in the interior. And then there is the Internet chatter about replacing the expensive battery down the road. Toyota says it has never had to replace a failed battery in ten years of selling the Prius. If it does fail after ten years, there are already aftermarket solutions to extending its life.
Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V

MSRP: $21,545 - $27,745

Why Buy? CR-V has ranked in the top three small SUVs in Power’s VDS two of the last three years. Build quality and fit-and-finish is top-drawer. Research shows a trend of former minivan buyers with one or two kids trading down to vehicles like the CR-V for fuel economy and better ride and handling.

The Scoop: There is a reason why the CR-V was the best selling small crossover in the market, better than the Ford Escape or Toyota RAV4. The styling and packaging are superb, and of the three, it bears the least resemblance to an SUV. The powertrain has proven to be uber-reliable, and despite (because of?) offering only a four-cylinder, the CR-V hits the sweet spot for size and fuel economy.
Lincoln MKZ

Lincoln MKZ

MSRP: $34,330-$36,220

Why Buy? MKZ was the top ranked car in its class in the 2010 VDS, and was in top three in 2008. There are a lot of creature comforts in this car, and it can be had for about $30K after deals and incentives. The reputation of this car has not caught up with the reality of its classiness, quality and performance.

The Scoop: There is a new Lincoln MKZ coming out in 2012 that will look much different from this one, and distinct from the current Ford Fusion sedan. The two cars are built on the same assembly line and share the same basic engineering. But as-is today, the MKZ is a sweet package at a great price. Ford’s quality ratings have been on a tear. The styling may look a tad dated in a decade, but all signs are that it will still be holding together nicely.
Honda Ridgeline

Honda Ridgeline

MSRP: $28,450-$34,430

Why Buy? This pickup won the 2010 VDS award among pickups, and was North American Truck of the Year when it was introduced. Despite a somewhat odd design, the quality and innovative features mean that those who buy them, love them.

The Scoop: This is what is known in the truck world as a soft truck. Some of the big-belt-buckle crowd may even call it a girl’s truck. It is built from the Honda Pilot SUV platform, which means it is a unibody truck, not a real rugged body-on-frame truck like the ones Ford, Chevy and Dodge turn out. But if you are merely a Home Depot weekend DIY person, or have bikes or an off-road motorcycle to lug about, the reliability ratings on the Ridgeline are hard to ignore.
BMW 3-Series

BMW 3-Series

MSRP: $33,150-$58,200

Why Buy? It hasn’t topped recent VDS rankings, but is widely praised by other ranking entities like Consumer Reports. BMW offers four years of free maintenance on top of the warranty.

The Scoop: There is pretty widespread agreement, if not universal, that the 3 Series is pound-for-pound the best sedan in the world. Nobody will ever fault you for parking one in your driveway, and its high resale value will be a bonus if you decide not to keep it forever. The 3-Series is the blue blazer of the auto world, tailored in Munich, the automotive equivalent of London’s Savile Row.
BMW Z4

BMW Z4

MSRP: $46,000-$61,050

Why Buy? Tops among sports cars in 2010 VDS and came in second in 2008. Free maintenance for all BMW’s for four years after purchase.

The Scoop: While the Z4 is no performance slouch, it’s not such a hairy beast of a sports car and is entirely suitable for everyday driving. BMW has done an excellent job with the new Z4, which was redesigned for 2009, creating a look that will still seem fresh a decade from now. Imagine all the enjoyment you’ll experience behind the wheel of this retractable hardtop convertible in the meantime.
Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

MSRP: $102,600-$198,750

Why Buy? Why not, if you have the Benjamins. The SL topped the premium sporty car segment in the 2010 VDS. It’s a gold standard for sports cars.

The Scoop: Not too many people drive an SL as their daily driver. It tends to be a car for the other side of the garage, while the sedan, SUV or minivan takes up the slot closest to the door. The SL is a timeless classic with great resale value. And anyone who buys one today, should be just as happy ten years from now with the car, maybe even 20 with the way these cars tend to last.
Hyundai Elantra Touring

Hyundai Elantra Touring

MSRP: $15,995-$18,995

Why Buy? The Touring is a hatchback version of Hyundai’s bread-and-butter car, which makes it one of the most versatile vehicles on the road. Hyundai gives you a 10-year or 100,000-mile warranty, which it can afford to do because its quality rankings are right up there with the best.

The Scoop: The Touring is Hyundai’s best-kept secret. It didn’t allocate that many for the U.S., as it was originally designed for the European market, so it gets almost no advertising. Fit and finish is superb. Take the crisp design, lovely packaging, and the inherent utility of this vehicle and it should be a keeper for anyone.
Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Volkswagen Jetta TDI

MSRP: $22,830-$24,990

Why Buy? The Jetta doesn’t earn many big-time quality kudos, but VW diesel owners will tell you they love them. Read some of the enthusiast boards, and you definitely get the idea that there aren’t many problems that are worth complaining about. Resale value on VW TDIs is among the highest in the industry.

The Scoop: Volkswagen has had quality issues over the last decade, to be sure. But the diesels have fared better than their gasoline-engine counterparts. Diesel engines are also known for lasting longer than the sheetmetal around the car. A well-cared-for diesel can be going strong after more than 200K miles. Clean diesels run cleaner and more efficiently than most gas engines, so fuel economy can run 25- to 40-percent better. There’s also the fun-to-drive aspect of the torque-happy diesel engine, which gives the Jetta TDI good off-the-line speed.


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