If you’re contemplating buying a new car this year – and we mean really buying a vehicle, either by forking out your hard-earned cash or by financing your purchase – we have some smart and reliable recommendations to pass along.
Anyone who’s on the hook for $30,000 or $40,000 ought to be on a mission to acquire a vehicle that will hold up long after the warranty runs out. The transmission, turbocharger and tie-rods should all outlive the car payments, too. The stakes are not as high if you’re leasing—but you pay dearly for the privilege of essentially renting your new vehicle.
Picking the best 2017 model year vehicles involved scanning industry data (principally, J.D. Power’s dependability studies) with a keen focus on reliability. A dependable vehicle results in lower operating costs and, not coincidentally, it will be worth more at trade-in because reliable models depreciate slower. Check out these wallet-friendly cars for 2017.
Best Subcompact: Kia Soul
The cheap and cheerful Kia Soul has been the South Korean automaker’s breakout hit ever since the first rectilinear five-door wagon rolled off the ship in mid-2009. It’s built on a modified Kia Rio platform, employing an independent front strut suspension and torsion-beam rear setup that doesn’t bite into cargo space. It’s a front-drive subcompact whose cubic shape outside nets lots of cubes inside.
If its boxy exterior offends, the interior offers a form of apology. The dash is moulded into expressive shapes, with instruments that are well placed and easy to read. Headroom is generous and the seats are mounted well off the floor. Buyers choose between three smallish, direct-injection engines: the base 1.6-L four–cylinder makes 130 hp, while the 2.0-L four produces 161 horses. New this year is the range-topping 1.6-L turbocharged four, good for 201 hp.
Despite being teeny and lightweight, the Soul earned a Top Safety Pick crash rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And while it resembles the carton your refrigerator came in, the Soul handles better than expected with steering that’s precise and has some heft to it. The ride can be a little stiff, however, and long highway jaunts can be tiresome due to wind noise. Around town the quirky and colourful Soul is an ideal companion.
Funny how the best-selling car in the history of civilization never seems to show up on anybody’s best-car list. True, the Toyota Corolla has long been an excruciatingly dull auto to both look at and drive, but its wholesale redesign for 2014 seemed to have addressed the latter, and a little of the former, too. Jeepers, it’s almost handsome.
The real reason more than 42 million Corollas have been assembled and sold throughout the world since 1966 has a lot to do with one steadfast attribute: the Corolla simply doesn’t break much. Unlike auto critics who put way too much emphasis on 0-60 times and lateral acceleration (grip), the buying public wants a vehicle that will reliably start on a frosty morning and avoid service bays like The Plague. The Corolla does that.
Part of the secret to its success is that it continues to employ the tried-and-true 2ZR-FE 1.8-L four cylinder engine tied to an ancient, but proven, four-speed automatic transmission (a CVT is available, as is a six-speed manual gearbox). Making just 132 horsepower, the Corolla is not quick, but it can get out of its own way. And it doesn’t hurt that the 2017 models are roomy, refined, frugal, easy to drive – and made in Canada.
North America’s bestselling car for most of the past 20 years has won over consumers with its spacey cabin, gas-sipping engines, quiet composure and, above all, its largely stainless reliability. J.D. Power found the Toyota Camry had the lowest problem incident rate of any model in its 2017 Dependability Study, which examined three-year-old models.
It may not be a particularly fetching model parked at the curb, although Toyota stylists have been working long nights trying to address its bland lines, while engineers exorcised some of the sedan’s dull reflexes. The body structure has been reinforced with more welds, and the suspension has been tweaked to feel more buttoned down, resulting in better handling and without sacrificing the Camry’s limousine ride. The sport-tinged SE is the best driving model in the range.
The cabin has genuine stretch-out room for five adults, along with good sightlines that many drivers find helpful. The Camry offers three distinct engine choices: a refined four-cylinder, a surprisingly quick and hushed V6, and a four-cylinder hybrid powertrain that brings all the benefits of a proven hybrid system without the stigma of driving Ed Begley Jr.’s ride. Given its reputation for running flawlessly, you won’t have any trouble selling your Camry a decade from now.
Stung by criticism that the reincarnated 2010 Chevrolet Camaro was too big and weighty to be considered a proper pony car, General Motors walked it back into the engineering shop to give it another rethink for 2016. It dispensed with the old rear-drive Zeta chassis from Holden, GM’s Australian division, and applied the new, smaller Alpha platform from the rear-drive Cadillac ATS.
The sixth-generation Camaro is 90 kg lighter than its predecessor, an improvement that pays dividends in terms of acceleration, handling and efficiency. Engine choices run the gamut from a turbocharged 275-hp four-cylinder, to a strong 335-hp V6 and a molar-rattling 455-hp 6.2-L V8, courtesy of the C7 Corvette. With its smaller footprint, the Camaro is back in fighting trim. Handling is sharp and nimble, and there’s prodigious grip to keep the car planted.
The Camaro looks better than ever, too, with proportions that more closely trace the 1967 original. Unfortunately, the high beltline and low roof conspire to limit outward visibility. At least the cabin has been thoroughly modernized to offer all the latest tech gear, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Regardless, the Camaro is more about the drive than the toys. New for 2017 is the ZL1: the ultimate Camaro with its 650-hp supercharged V8.
The Subaru Crosstrek is a pumped up five-door Impreza that always looks great parked in front of a sporting-goods store. Consider it the Crosstrek’s natural habitat. Since its debut in 2013, the Crosstrek has been Subaru’s surprise hit, especially among the bike-and-kayak people – and anyone who needs reliable, all-weather transportation.
Subaru stridently thumbed its nose at convention with its horizontally opposed flat (“boxer”) engine and standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. The flat-four lies low under the hood, which reduces the centre of gravity, while its north-south orientation allows the output shafts to be equal length for balanced power and torque delivery. The 2.0-L four cylinder is hardly muscular – it makes a middling 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque – but the engine is well matched with the manual gearbox or automatic CVT.
The Crosstrek combines the benefits of a true sport-ute – all-wheel drive, generous ground clearance, excellent versatility – with the advantages of driving a sporty hatch, including great handling, good fuel efficiency and a roof rack that’s not sky high. Emphasis here is on compact – five adults will only fit in a pinch – and the drive is a little buzzy on the highway. But in the wild, this half-pint is adept enough to keep up with the big mudders.
The Hyundai Santa Fe has been around long enough to garner a favourable reputation and familiarity with Canucks; first-generation models can still be seen ferrying kids to school and schlepping 2X4s from the lumberyard. The third-gen Santa Fe, introduced for 2013, has come a long way, bringing dollops of style and panache at an accessible price point. It’s also one of the quietest vehicles in its class, which many buyers equate with refinement and quality (a perception backed up by a five-year factory warranty).
The Santa Fe comes as a five-seater Sport, while the long-wheelbase XL model offers three-row seating for up to seven occupants. The cabin features high-quality materials and a broad array of standard features, including heated front seats, seven airbags, rearview camera display, fabric protection and 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats that offer fore-aft adjustability.
The base model uses a 185-hp 2.4-L direct-injection four-cylinder, while the optional 2.0-L turbo four makes 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of thrust. The XL features a standard 290-hp, 3.3-L V6. All engines employ a smooth-operating six-speed automatic transmission. The optional all-wheel-drive system, designed by Canada’s Magna, partly relies on the brakes’ torque-vectoring function in conjunction with the vehicle’s stability control to keep the Santa Fe safely grounded.
Chrysler invented the modern front-drive minivan and has dominated the segment with its affordable and utilitarian Dodge Grand Caravan, but it’s the Toyota Sienna that delivers the goods in terms of durability and low depreciation. The Sienna has been around in its present form since 2011, although it was heavily renovated in 2015 and again this year to keep it competitive.
While its outward appearance hasn’t changed much, the Sienna got a revised suspension, a stronger body structure and welcome updates to the interior going for it. Seven- or eight-seater configurations make the most of the massive cabin, with optional second-row lounge chairs wouldn’t look out of place in the Lexus flagship sedan. A new 3.5-L V6 puts out 296 hp, the highest output you’ll find in the category, working through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The Sienna is the only minivan that offers optional all-wheel-drive – a boon to those living in the snowbelt – although owners have to contend with expensive run-flat tires on AWD models. The Sienna doesn’t quite match the handling prowess of the new Chrysler Pacifica – not that shoppers are looking for hot lap times in a minivan. What it does well is haul people and stuff comfortably, efficiently and reliably year after year. You have to respect the van, man.
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