Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017

Last year, the Kia Optima was named “Best Family Car Under $30,000.”

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The fast and affordable

These stylish great-value cars will get your engines revving while sparing your wallet

No matter how much you want that new ride, no car buyer on a budget wants to get financially hosed, especially given the harsh reality of Automotive Economics 101 — the nanosecond you drive that brand-new dream machine off the lot, you can expect it to depreciate by a nightmarish 15 per cent (or more).

There is indeed a way to beat the depreciation game somewhat. If you aren’t a slave to current automotive fashion trends, then there are definitely “value” champions that you may have overlooked.

So gentlemen and ladies, start your calculators: here are a few of our top picks when it comes to new vehicles that offer the best bang for the automotive buck.

Midsize sedan: Kia Optima

Base price: $19,584
The current Kia marketing slogan is “Dare to Compare.” So we did. And you know what? We liked what we saw when it came to the Kia Optima.

The midsize sedan category is one of the most competitive. Just consider some of the front runners: Ford Fusion (base price: $22,499), Nissan Altima ($23,698), Toyota Camry ($23,700), Honda Accord ($23,990), Hyundai Sonata ($23,999) and Chevrolet Malibu ($24,995). The base prices of all these contenders are within $1500 of one another. The next thing you notice is that this category of cars will never be hailed for out-of-the-box design flair. These are the “grocery-getters” of the world, after all.

I never thought a Kia would make me do a double-take, but the Optima does have that effect — it is one snazzy-looking sedan compared to the competition. It also delivers an excess of value for the money. Last year, the Optima was named “Best Family Car Under $30,000” (that’s a huge category) by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

In addition to sharp looks, it also has superb fuel economy: 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres city and 5.8 litres per100 kilometres highway. But as the Kia folks say, dare to compare. Given the base price is some $3000 less than the nearest competitor, the Optima is a value-champion indeed.

Wagon: Subaru Outback

Base price: $28,495
While Subaru is small in comparison to other automakers, this Japanese brand might just have the most passionate fan base. And Subaru’s critical acclaim continues to grow with each passing year. In fact, last year Fortune magazine ran an article entitled, “They’re Calling Subarus the Best Cars Money Can Buy.”

Indeed, Consumer Reports rates Subaru above Mercedes-Benz, BMW and every other manufacturer in performance, comfort, utility and reliability.

And when it comes to the 2013 Subaru Outback, the vehicle truly excels when it comes to combining the utility of an SUV with the handling of a car. Inside and out, it’s well built. And, this wagon is available with a six-speed manual transmission to enhance the driving experience.

The $28,495 base price is for the 173-horsepower 4-cylinder model. That’s good for city driving, although it you want a more fun-to-drive vehicle, we suggest you pony up an extra $8000 to get the 256-horsepower 6-cyclinder model. That still makes it a relative bargain.

And if after purchasing the Outback, it isn’t exactly what you hoped for, here’s a silver lining: the Automotive Lease Guide hails Subaru as the current re-sale champion.

Roadster: Mazda MX-5 (Miata)

Base price: $29,250
It’s almost hard to believe: the Miata, which was originally introduced way back in 1989, has hardly changed over the past couple of decades. In fact, it has become the best-selling roadster in automotive history. For good reason, too: it remains a ride for the ages when it comes to bang-for-the-buck, sports car-style.

Of course, the Miata was officially renamed the MX-5 a few years ago for some inexplicable reason, but this affordable and uber-fun roadster will forever be known as the “Miata” by all those who love the snazzy two-seater, marketing gurus be damned.

What few changes there have over the years have improved what was already a hands-down winner. For example, the outdated pop-up headlights are gone, replaced by headlamps that are aerodynamically contoured to the front end. There’s also a heftier powerplant generating a more-than-sufficient 167 horses given the car’s feather-light weight. And, best of all, the Miata now comes with an optional retractable hardtop roof (if you can indeed afford the extra $11,000 for the GT, do so — it’s still a relative bargain.)

The fact remains that there are few roadsters around that merge driver with vehicle quite as well as this perfectly-balanced roadster. Plus, the BMW Z4 has a base price that is almost double. And believe it or not, you’ll probably have more fun piloting the Mazda.

Luxury crossover: Lincoln MKT

Base price: $49,050
In the good ol’ days when the Big Three reigned supreme, Lincoln was Ford’s luxury-laden answer to GM’s vaunted Cadillac brand. Back then, owning a Lincoln meant you were indeed somebody — or at least you aspired to be somebody.

But over the decades, Lincoln has become more synonymous with “airport limo ride” than “cutting-edge cool.” Beginning in the ’70s, some Lincolns were really nothing more than poorly tarted-up Fords. Then came the onslaught of performance-minded European luxury cars followed by the rise of the Japanese luxury brands and Lincoln simply became uncompetitive.

The made-in-Canada Lincoln MKT crossover makes a good case that Ford has indeed got its act together. What’s more, the 2013 model features a refreshing of the first generation MKT which debuted in 2010. Most noticeable: the grille has been subdued and now looks less like the gaping maw of a great white shark and more like an eagle spreading its wings.

The 3.5 L EcoBoost V6 (“EcoBoost” being Ford’s politically-correct term for “turbocharger”) now delivers 365-horsepower, which adroitly moves this 2270-kilogram vehicle with reasonable fuel economy numbers to boot (13.1 litres per 100 kilometres city; 8.8 litres per 100 kilometres highway.)

Inside the cabin, which features three rows of seats with space for seven occupants, all the bells and whistles one expects in a modern-day leather-wrapped luxury cruiser abound (a definite option worth springing for: the humungous panoramic sunroof.)

And despite being a somewhat hefty vehicle (albeit by no means obese like the outlandish Lincoln Navigator), the MKT drives as smooth as butter thanks to a highly advanced suspension system. Our hunch? If the “L” on this vehicle stood for Lexus rather than Lincoln, the MKT would be a top seller, such is the power of branding. But if you couldn't care less about the logo, then this luxury crossover makes for a sleeper hit.

Performance SUV: Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

Base price: $56,295

Yes, this Jeep’s got a Hemi engine in it. The SRT version of Chrysler’s popular Jeep Grand Cherokee delivers an eyebrow-raising 470 horsepower. In other words, when it comes to the power sweepstakes, this ain’t your grandfather’s Wrangler.

As for the cost of such a sports car posing as an off-roader? Even when fully-optioned out, this SUV comes to $63,635.

Let’s put that number in perspective: there are not a lot of vehicles in this class, but if you did indeed crave a sport utility vehicle on steroids comparable to the Grand Cherokee, you’d have to consider such rides as the 555-horsepower BMW X5 M (base price: $98,500); the 518-horsepower Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG (base price: $101,900); and the 500-horsepower Porsche Cayenne Turbo (base price: $123,800.)

Translation: this high-priced Jeep is indeed a performance bargain, although we highly doubt anyone buying this particular 4x4 is ever going to take the thing off-road.

Luxury sedan: Hyundai Equus

Base price: $64,499

We don’t know what Equus means, but if we had to guess, it would be this: “South Korea does Autobahn luxury.” Indeed, if you ever pondered what a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or a BMW 7-Series would look like if it were manufactured in Seoul, the luxurious Equus is your answer. And what an answer it is.

Granted, we know that some people still automatically equate Hyundai with the Pony, the deplorable economy car the company first introduced to Canada in the mid ’80s.

Indeed, that car and — and a few other early misfires — made the name “Hyundai” a popular cultural punch line. But Hyundai has undergone a renaissance. In recent years, some models have actually won Car of the Year honours.

With the Equus, Hyundai has truly raised the bar. Every possible option you’d find in the Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7-Series is there (yes, including the driver-side seat massager.) As well, the 429-horsepower V8 under the hood has been acclaimed as one of the “10 best engines” in the world” by auto industry journal, Ward’s.

But here’s the really good part: the base price of the Equus is $64,499 (or $71,999 fully optioned out.) The base price for the BMW 7-Series is $106,600 while the base price for a Mercedes S-Class is $109,900.

Granted, the Equus does not come with those other cars’ iconic logos. But if you could care less about branding, buy the Equus and smile as you enjoy the ride while banking tens of thousands of dollars in savings.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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