Coupe Under $25,000: 2011 Mini Cooper
Trying to find someone who doesn't like his Mini Cooper is a hard thing to do — among the reviews written by Edmunds consumers, at least. Frequent comments include "superb gas mileage," "plenty of power" (regardless of engine), "composed ride," "front seat large enough for a tall person" and "when you drive it, it makes you smile." People also love that they can customize the Mini Cooper any way they want.
The Mini does have its liabilities, of course. The negative comments include a lack of rear seat space, but then consumers seem to be OK with that since they knew what they were getting into. (It's called Mini for a reason, after all.) The base stereo is also considered weak, so opting for the Harman Kardon upgrade is recommended by consumers and our editors alike. The thin sunroof shade also drew criticism. However, these detriments would seem to be more than made up for by the Mini Cooper's many charms. Among them, the Edmunds editors particularly enjoy the responsive engine, alert handling and a space-efficient package that has far more utility than you'd expect. The Mini has made the small car respectable on the American road.
Coupe $25K-$35K: 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Although they share the same name, don't confuse the Genesis Coupe with the Genesis sedan. Unlike the luxury-oriented four-door, the coupe places its beady gaze squarely on performance. This smaller, nimbler Genesis succeeds as a sporting car, offering superb handling highlighted by sharp steering and ample cornering grip. And in the Hyundai tradition, the coupe is also a value leader, boasting impressive quality and a long list of standard features, all for a relatively low price. And this isn't one of those sports cars that dazzles during weekend canyon carving, only to punish during weekday commutes. More so than many of its competitors, the Genesis Coupe presents a very livable proposition — it's responsive and communicative, but never at the expense of comfort.
In Edmunds consumer reviews, owners expressed appreciation for the car's engaging demeanor, outstanding value and sharp good looks. Says one: "What sold me was the handling on the Genesis...this car makes driving fun again!" Another points out that "Hyundai has truly made a sports car that everyone can own and drive without paying premium." This owner sums it up best: "A really nice car — fun to drive, easy to drive, looks and sounds great, and all at a bargain basement price. What a deal."
Coupe $35K-$45K: 2011 Audi A5
Owners all agree that the Audi A5 is quite the head-turner. The elegant yet not-too-flashy styling is also a hit with the multitude on the streets, who seem to constantly compliment and inquire about this sleek coupe. As you'd expect from a top-rated pick, the A5's beauty is more than skin deep. The lucky owners seldom saw the need for more power, even with the turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder under the hood. Furthermore, taller drivers were quick to mention that there's plenty of room, so comfort is assured after several hours behind the wheel.
While owners might have initially balked at the Audi's rather lofty price, the financial penalty has been quickly justified by the A5's well-rounded excellence. They also note that the ride quality strikes them as ideal, an effective balance of comfortable compliance and athletic handling. Also in the plus column are the many high-tech conveniences (and their ease of use), the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system, and a very accommodating trunk. A few comment that they wish the sunroof would open wider, but also admit they are just nitpicking. In the end, the Audi A5 proves to be a great way to stand out from the BMWs and Benzes crowding the city streets.
Coupe Over $45,000: 2011 Audi S5
The 2011 Audi S5 captures the essence of an expensive and exotic GT car in an affordable and yet still incredibly sexy package. Though both the S5 coupe and the Cabriolet (convertible) are similarly equipped and come with all-wheel drive, each has a significantly different character due to unique engine and transmission choices. The coupe gets a melodic 354-horsepower V8 that feeds its power through a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The Cabriolet gets a more modern 333-hp supercharged V6 that matches the V8's acceleration but boosts gas mileage with a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission.
Regardless of body style, you can expect the same high-quality cabin with top-notch materials, the latest electronics and superbly comfortable sport seats. One Audi S5 owner gives the final package this glowing review: "I am thrilled! It's the S5's seductive good looks, V8 power and four-wheel grip." Another owner says, "Beautiful car inside and out and what a joy to drive. Handles so confidently and smoothly. The extra power over the A5 changes the car considerably. You won't go wrong if you pick this car."
Convertible: 2011 Volvo C70
Thanks to its retractable hardtop, the Volvo C70 provides all the maximum exposure, sun-on-your-face fun expected of a convertible, along with the security and insulation of a hardtop coupe. Of course, nearly all of the C70's rivals also have a folding metal top; what sets the C70 apart is its emphasis on coddling its passengers. In keeping with Volvo tradition, the front seats are incredibly comfortable on long road trips, while the rear seats offer more room than most other convertibles. The ride is likewise plush. Yes, the C70 is much more a grand touring ride than a sporting machine, and that's just fine with its fans.
Said fans concur with our staff regarding the C70's comfortable and quiet ride, but many were also impressed with the styling and the turbocharged inline-5 engine. Writes one owner, "Beautiful exterior, proven hardtop convertible mechanism. Interior quality is very good. A true four-seater. Plenty of pep with the five-cylinder turbocharged engine. [I'm] getting 26 mpg on my 85 percent freeway commute." Another notes, "The C70 is quieter at interstate speeds than my S80 and my wife and I feel like we are in a snug, safe, comfortable cocoon when driving. It's just plain fun to drive, and we also like the head-turning effect."
Sedan Under $20,000: 2011 Mazda 3
The Mazda 3 has been a longtime favorite among the Edmunds editors, and now our readers agree. Owners love its combination of sporty handling, great value and extensive list of standard features. Other things that consumers like include the available Bose stereo, the stylish interior and Bluetooth connectivity. A number of readers who opted for the manual transmission spoke highly of its smooth shifting and like the way it reinforces the Mazda 3's sporty feel.
A few other readers comment that they would have wanted another gear in the automatic transmission to help improve fuel economy. If you share this concern, Mazda will address it in the 2012 model year, as the car is set to receive a new engine and six-speed transmission. The Mazda 3's "smiling" grille has left a few owners hoping for something more conservative, although they say the look is minimized with darker colors. Overall, the 2011 Mazda 3 won the 2011 Edmunds Best Retained Value award and also made it to our Top Recommended list.
Sedan $20K-$30K: 2011 Buick Regal
Several of the owners who reviewed the Buick Regal started out shopping the Japanese or German brands they'd owned in the past, but switched — sometimes to their own surprise — based on the car's features, price and driving experience. "I am really blown away by what you get for the money," one buyer writes. "It reminds me a lot of my BMW, but it is cheaper and a lot better equipped, even for the base model." Based on comments from several younger buyers in their 30s, the Regal might be shaking its image as a car for staid retirees.
Regal buyers love lots of things about the car: styling, comfort, build quality (it's like a bank vault when the doors close), and its quiet interior in particular. While the Edmunds reviewers found the electronics interface confusing, most consumers seem happy with the tech array. "Each day I find a new toy to play with," one says. The people who bought the car with the optional turbocharged 2.0-liter engine were delighted with the power they got. Most of the buyers got the standard 2.4-liter inline-4 engine, and only a few were disappointed with its performance. "This car delivers good all-around power," a buyer writes. "You certainly can get a speeding ticket." One common quibble: the lack of an interior trunk release.
Sedan $30K-$40K: 2011 Honda Accord Crosstour
There are plenty of choices for sedans in the $30,000-$40,000 range, but in the end the 2011 Honda Accord Crosstour scores highest from its owners. No doubt the Crosstour's appeal comes from its mix of car and SUV attributes. Based on the regular Accord sedan, the Crosstour offers many of the same practical advantages of that legendary model. But the Crosstour offers up more versatility thanks to its hatchback body style, available all-wheel drive and marginally increased ground clearance. A 271-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine is standard equipment.
In reviews, owners frequently praise the Crosstour's quiet and comfortable ride. "This is the nicest road trip vehicle I have ever purchased, including three BMWs and two Cadillacs," writes one owner. Others comment about the vehicle's high-quality interior, noting that it's more luxurious than competitors like the Subaru Outback and Toyota Venza. The Crosstour's versatile cargo area also factors into owners' opinions, as does Honda's reputation for reliability and typically high resale values. As one owner sums it up: "This car couldn't be better for our lifestyle. [It's] stylish, comfortable, practical to own and just plain cool. Great value and feels luxurious!"
Sedan $45K: 2011 BMW 7 Series
Whether repeat BMW owners or migrants from different brands, buyers of the BMW 7 Series are one happy bunch. As one 750Li buyer wrote, "It corners like a smaller car, absorbs bumps and gobbles up highway miles." Another noted it has "cutting-edge technology, great seating, high-end finishes and an amazingly powerful V8 engine." A buyer of the six-cylinder-powered 740i commented that this new-for-2011 engine offers more than enough power for the big 7.
Negative impressions? Well, delayed throttle response was cited (though it was commonly confused with turbo lag) and fuel mileage is apparently not living up to expectations. Besides that, one buyer complained that the seats massaged only their legs rather than their back as well. Another wished the car washed itself, which probably sums up the minimal number of flaws in BMW's big sedan. Edmunds editors particularly enjoy the driving experience offered by the 7 Series, as it makes every daily drive a genuine pleasure and every cross-country trip an opportunity for adventure. The power and sophistication of the drivetrain and the responsive, adept responses of the chassis are this car's overriding statements compared to other luxury cars.
Wagon Under $25,000: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen
If it seems as if the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen looks more like a Golf than the new 2011 Jetta, your eyes aren't deceiving you. That's because Volkswagen's two body styles for the Jetta now share only basic components. This year's sedan has been fully redesigned to be a larger, more value-driven vehicle, while the wagon carries on with the package and features that buyers prefer. Owners still seem to be quite fond of that previous model, as the 2011 SportWagen has earned the top rating for Wagons Under $25,000.
In reviews, owners frequently praise the SportWagen's available 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine. Rated at 30 mpg city and 42 mpg highway, it provides excellent fuel economy. "I was reluctant to trade in my Toyota Highlander, but I wanted something more economical that would still accommodate a family of four," writes one owner. "The SportWagen fits the bill." Thanks to its large cargo area — about 67 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, more than many small crossover SUVs — the SportWagen is also quite versatile. Many owners also comment favorably about this VW's suspension tuning (noting that it's composed on the highway and takes corners well) and upscale interior. Overall, the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen is a fine choice for a small and inexpensive wagon.
Wagon $25K-$35K: 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
The sport-utility vehicle has all but replaced the traditional wagon on the American road, but now that gas prices are rising so quickly, the wagon is making a comeback. It has the multidimensional utility of an SUV, but in a package that's more space-efficient and more fuel-efficient, not to mention more comfortable. The Acura TSX Sport Wagon is a good example, as this derivative of the Acura TSX sedan reflects Acura's traditional emphasis on practical luxury.
This wagon really speaks to the priorities of the Acura enthusiast, as one buyer suggests: "Bought it because I wanted a small sport wagon but wanted Japanese reliability." Another says, "Traded my Pathfinder for the Acura TSX Sport Wagon. What a difference — better gas mileage, smoother ride, luxury interior and built great." Another says, "Sold my 2003 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab and picked up my TSX Wagon. I was still able to load a four-burner gas grill (in box) from Lowes into the back cargo area as well as the gas tank and a few accessories." The TSX is sporty to drive as well, as another reviewer says, "I think of it as a modern Volvo 240 wagon that I'll be able to drive for 10 years with few problems. It is fun to drive, though, and I can hit corners at a high rate of speed."
Wagon $35K-$45K: 2011 Audi A4 Wagon
Whatever the traditional image of the station wagon might be, the Audi A4 Wagon is the opposite. This sport wagon is more like a sport sedan with an extra-large trunk, as it has a lively personality that makes even daily chores a genuine driving pleasure. Moreover, the combination of its 211-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 engine and all-wheel drive gives it a dimension of fuel efficiency and all-weather capability that you might not otherwise expect in such a sporty vehicle. As a downside, the A4 Sport Wagon is sized like a sport sedan, so its rear seat is not spacious and its cargo bay is not expansive.
Consumers understand the deal with the A4 Wagon, as one notes, "Did not want an SUV; simply more weight and a higher center of gravity leads to a dull driving experience. With any Audi you buy, you must get the sport package and Quattro, otherwise you might as well buy something else." Another says, "I never thought I would go for a wagon, but coming out of an SUV I am amazed at how fun this car is to drive. The fuel economy is excellent and the four-cylinder turbo has plenty of power."
SUV Under $25,000: 2011 Nissan Rogue
What do shoppers look for in an affordably priced compact SUV? If the Nissan Rogue's victory in this segment is any indicator, engaging performance is way up there on the list. The Rogue distinguishes itself from others in this class with its relatively sporty handling. Its suspension is accommodating enough, yet has enough backbone to impart a feeling of stability when cornering. Steering is just as impressive — though it starts out light, it becomes weightier as speed increases. Those who appreciate distinctive aesthetics will love the fact that this spunky little Nissan is also a standout in the sheet-metal department, with organic lines that add up to a fluid, eye-catching silhouette.
The Rogue is a bona fide hit with owners. "Drives like a dream...the smoothest ride of any of the vehicles I tested," says one. "I pretty much had three options: the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4 or the Nissan Rogue," says another. "Hands down, the Rogue won after checking them all out. Dollar for dollar, the Nissan offered more bang for the buck." The Rogue's most notable shortcoming is its less-than-optimum rear visibility, which, opines one owner, makes getting the optional rearview camera "a must."
SUV $25K-$35K: 2011 Mazda CX-9
Adding a little spice to a class of otherwise sedate vehicles, the 2011 Mazda CX-9 is actually fun to drive and feels more nimble than its practical silhouette suggests. Offered in three trim levels, the CX-9 also offers distinctive styling in a vanilla landscape of minivans and SUVs. The Mazda CX-9 provides adult-size seating in all three rows, solid build quality and a respectable 101 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity. Under the hood, this crossover is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 273 hp and 270 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic with manual shift control manages the power, getting the CX-9 to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds.
Some form of fun to drive is in virtually every consumer review for the CX-9, along with many comments about how it feels like driving a smaller vehicle. One owner put it this way: "The CX-9 balances room (which it has plenty of) with a car that you enjoy driving." Another CX-9 owner says, "Nothing compares to the Mazda's driving dynamics or what you get for the money." And finally: "It's nice having extra room and all these cool options (rearview camera, blind-spot monitor, power liftgate, Bose audio, GPS.)"
SUV $35K-$45K: 2011 Audi Q5
When you choose a small luxury crossover like the Audi Q5, you feel a lot like Goldilocks. SUVs or trucks are too big — oversize gas hogs, really — and you want something smaller and more fuel-efficient. Maybe you're coming from cars that were just a bit too tight for family needs, and it's time for more space. After considerable research in this SUV price range, you decide that with the Q5, "The size is right." Most owners opted for the Premium trim level with its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. The rest stepped up to the Premium Plus with its 3.2-liter V6 and six-speed transmission. "The 2.0 felt more tossable, and having eight speeds vs. six speeds made this vehicle a blast to drive," one owner says.
Our owner-reviewers agree that the Audi Q5 is "roomy, efficient and beautiful." Tech features and ride and handling score high with them. One swoons: "I have never had a car that was more enjoyable to drive, be in, or look at." The downside is price, though. "She is not cheap," one buyer says. A few note a transmission "hiccup," which the users say is the subject of a voluntary recall and fixable with a reprogramming.
SUV Over $45,000: 2011 Land Rover LR4
One particular buyer of the Land Rover LR4 seemed to perfectly encapsulate the ownership experience echoed by his fellow consumer reviewers. "I finally bought one of these things despite the warnings of high costs, poor mileage and electrical problems. Now I have an LR4 and am experiencing high costs, poor gas mileage and electrical problems. That said, I love this truck. On-road it is elegant and well-behaved; off-road it is unstoppable. However, the LR4 is not for everyone. It should be a purchase based on emotion, as it is primarily an off-road truck that happens to drive quite well on the road. If you think you'll like it, you'll love it. If you're worried about cost or reliability, then you may want to consider something else."
In other words, the happy buyers of the Land Rover LR4 seem to know what they are getting into and then are either not surprised when things go wrong or over the moon when they get one of the many good apples Land Rover sends down the factory line. Among other good things about the LR4, buyers note its excellent ride, luxurious interior, comfortable seats and powerful engine (though some wished a more efficient diesel was available). "Tremendous value" was also cited, as the LR4 costs much less than other similarly equipped luxury SUVs.
Compact Truck: 2011 Toyota Tacoma
This year the Toyota Tacoma has reclaimed the top-rated compact truck crown from last year's winner, the Nissan Frontier. And while both trucks are worthwhile choices in the segment, the Tacoma's highly capable nature clinched its victory this year. Popular features mentioned most frequently by the Tacoma's owners in our consumer reviews are the smooth ride quality, the cabin's many useful storage compartments and comfortable seats both front and back (in the cases of the extended- and double-cab versions). "It feels like a mini truck on steroids," says one consumer reviewer of the Tacoma.
A handful of Tacoma owners complained about a noisy engine, as well as a too-low seating position for the driver (a trait our editors have also called out in our model review of the Tacoma). The Toyota Tacoma is a very competent compact truck; it's built well and has a nicely appointed interior. Most important, the Tacoma comes in a variety of configurations just like a full-size pickup truck, so you're likely to find a version that will suit your trucking needs. The Tacoma brings all the customary Toyota attributes to the truck segment.
Large Light-Duty Truck: 2011 Dodge Ram 1500
The Dodge Ram 1500 is sort of like the guy who regular Joes love to hate — it's got the looks, the muscles and the talent. Specifically, the Ram 1500 is undeniably handsome and has everything you need in a tough work truck while also providing its passengers with a welcoming cabin. The powerful engine lineup includes a brawny Hemi V8 that can accelerate a four-wheel-drive Ram 1500 Crew Cab to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds and tow over 10,000 pounds. Meanwhile, the interior is impressive both in its sound ergonomic design and high overall quality.
All this has not been lost on those who've purchased a Ram 1500, as the feedback from them shows. Says one, "I like the interior features and amenities. The ride is very nice. It has plenty of storage. So far, I've been pleased with the fuel economy, being a full-size pickup." Writes another, "(Compared to my previous Ram pickup) it is much more refined and composed. I am extremely pleased with it. It has the center console and back-up camera that is more helpful than I would have thought. I'm also very happy with the factory spray-in bedliner."
Large Heavy-Duty Truck: 2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty
When it comes to automotive workhorses, there is no substitute for a big pickup truck. And when it comes to brawny trucks, the Ford F-250 Super Duty is a heavy-duty hit. Towing trailers is a big part of the equation, and in this regard the F-250 excels with its optional 6.7-liter V8 diesel and the incredible 800 lb-ft of torque this engine produces. Owners who hitched up a fifth-wheel trailer were quick to offer glowing reviews for the Super Duty's towing prowess, an ability reinforced by manual shift mode for the transmission to keep it in the right gear. As one driver eloquently mused, "It's got power up the whazzoo!"
Other high points include the quiet cabin and the F-250's long list of standard and optional features. Most owners mention the big Ford's high price and low fuel economy as weaknesses in the package — although they expected to encounter them — while some also deducted points for the interior's subpar materials and refinement in the more basic, sparsely equipped models. A few who purchased the 6.2-liter V8 gasoline engine had some regrets when towing, as it makes half as much torque as the diesel. But at the end of the day, consumers agree that a properly equipped F-250 Super Duty proves to be a trusted companion for the most demanding of tasks.