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Top 10 Best Dark-Horse Cars of 2010

There are certain vehicles that dominate the sales charts and have no shortage of mainstream recognition. You know the ones — models like the Honda Civic, Ford Explorer and Toyota Camry. If you're shopping for a vehicle, top sellers such as these are likely the first choices that come to mind as you populate your short list.

In many cases, these mainstream favorites are popular for very good reasons, but there are other choices that are just as worthy of your buying dollars, if not more so. These are the dark horses — the cars that somehow fly just below the radar when it comes to consumer awareness, but nevertheless have a lot to offer shoppers on the hunt for quality and value.

Below are our 10 picks for the best dark-horse cars of 2010, listed in alphabetical order (note that we've got a couple of currently available 2011 models included in the mix). Happily, some of these picks — like the sterling Hyundai Sonata — are beginning to get the kind of buzz that assures they won't be dark horses for too much longer.

  1. 2010 Buick LaCrosse

    2010 Buick LaCrosse

    If you think all Buicks are stodgy grandpa-mobiles, you haven't seen or driven the 2010 LaCrosse. With bold, assertive sheet metal and one of the most stylish interiors in the segment, this is truly a Buick for a new generation. Sharp, well-balanced driving dynamics round out the picture, ensuring that a pleasant time is had behind the wheel. If you're in the market for an upscale mid- to full-size sedan, the impressive LaCrosse is worth a look.

  • 2011 Ford Fiesta

    2011 Ford Fiesta

    There was a time not so long ago when economy cars offered affordable prices, good fuel economy and pretty much nothing else. These days, things have changed for the better, and the sporty Ford Fiesta is proof. The Fiesta is genuinely loads of fun to drive, and also comes with an inviting cabin and a host of available luxury features. Clearly, frugality doesn't need to go hand-in-hand with compromise.

  • 2010 Ford Fusion

    2010 Ford Fusion

    After years of obscurity, the Ford Fusion has been making moves on the sales charts. Its newfound success is deserved — revamped for 2010, this midsize family sedan is finally ready for prime time. The car offers the sort of roomy interior and comfortable ride shoppers in this segment lust for, with the added benefit of handling that truly engages the driver. For shoppers seeking a spicier alternative to the same old Accord and Camry, this Fusion is sure to please.

  • 2010 Hyundai Genesis

    2010 Hyundai Genesis

    It might not have the cachet of brands like Audi and Lexus, but in every other respect, the Hyundai Genesis delivers everything that luxury-car shoppers look for in a premium sedan. Its available engines offer lots of power and smooth performance, its cabin is spacious and well-appointed, and its standard features list is complete enough to satisfy the most discriminating shopper. Of course, since it's a Hyundai, it comes with a relatively affordable price; as such, this overachiever creams the competition when it comes to value.

  • 2011 Hyundai Sonata

    2011 Hyundai Sonata

    Automotive journalists have been singing the praises of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, and sales numbers indicate that the public is taking heed and embracing this scrappy upstart. Its predecessor offered solid value, but the new Sonata — redesigned for the 2011 model year — is a true game-changer. Offering great handling, a smooth ride and superb fuel economy, this outstanding four-door has what it takes to dominate the competitive midsize-sedan segment.

  • 2010 Kia Sedona

    2010 Kia Sedona

    Value, thy name is Kia Sedona. This hard-working minivan offers all the features you'll find in popular models like the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, for a lot less coin. Its ride is comfy and its crash-test scores are above reproach. Another plus is Kia's outstanding warranty.

  • 2010 Mazda Mazda 5

    2010 Mazda Mazda 5

    Full-size minivans are great, but they may be too much car for those with smaller families. One option is the Mazda 5. This compact minivan offers most of the features found in its full-size rivals — you'll find amenities like power-sliding doors, for example. There's room for up to six passengers, and the 5's smaller footprint makes it more maneuverable than the segment's larger offerings.

  • 2010 Nissan Versa

    2010 Nissan Versa

    The Versa may not offer much by way of driving excitement, but it's a star in most of the areas that are important to people shopping for an economy car. Its cabin is spacious and equipped with plush, supportive seats, and it offers a list of available features that for a long time were only found in more high-end automotive choices. And then there's its price: Available for just over $10,000, the Versa sedan is the least expensive four-door in the new-car market (note that both a sedan and a four-door hatchback are offered).

  • 2010 Suzuki Kizashi

    2010 Suzuki Kizashi

    Suzuki's capable Kizashi is one of 2010's most pleasant surprises. This midsize sedan looks great, handles well and offers refinement that allows it to easily pass for an entry-level luxury car. Its cabin is handsome to behold, offering build quality that's positively Germanic. It's a bit smaller than rivals like the Accord, but it's an excellent choice for those who don't need the biggest sedan in the segment.

  • 2010 Suzuki SX4

    2010 Suzuki SX4

    With lots of standard features, a spacious cabin, pleasant driving dynamics and a low price tag, the amiable SX4 is a must-see for those shopping for affordable transportation. All-wheel drive is also available. With the SX4, you simply get more for your money, and it's a formula that should appeal to budget-minded shoppers.

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