How We Choose the Best New Car Values

By Jessica L. Anderson, Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Jessica L. Anderson, Associate Editor,

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We pick Best in Class and Best New winners based on performance, value and safety. About half the score is awarded for performance and value, including resale value, power, fuel efficiency, front and rear legroom, headroom, and cargo space (the space in the trunk or the space behind the second-row seats in a wagon, crossover or minivan). Sedans are ranked within price categories. Crossovers, SUVs, minivans and wagons aren't broken out by price, so we also score on a scale that rewards lower prices.

SEE OUR SPECIAL REPORT: Best New Car Values, 2012

A vehicle's safety -- represented by crash-test ratings and features such as airbags and traction control -- count for about 35% of the total score. The remainder of the score comes from our impressions while test-driving the new cars. We assess design and comfort as well as dashboard layout.

Keys to a great deal . Only the most desirable vehicles actually sell for the suggested retail price. That's why we also list the invoice price (all prices include the destination charge). Our invoice price does not reflect the "holdback," which is money refunded to the dealer from the carmaker after a vehicle is sold. Ideally, you'll negotiate a price as close to the invoice as possible. At least aim for TrueCar's Market Average, which represents the most common sale price for the vehicle in your area; our tables list the national average. Before you shop, check for prices near you.

Another measure of a vehicle's worth is the resale value three and five years down the road. These figures, also supplied by TrueCar, are the estimated price a dealer would pay at trade-in, expressed as a percentage of the sticker price.

Don't neglect ownership costs. In our tables, service cost is an estimate of the cost of maintenance and unscheduled repairs over five years. Insurance cost is an estimate of the annual premium for each vehicle for a middle-aged driver with a clean driving record.

Finally, we choose the most fuel-efficient vehicles based on annual fuel costs, using gasoline prices of $3.20 for regular, $3.40 for premium and $3.95 for diesel, and assuming 15,000 miles of driving each year.

About the Tables

Sources for the data: TrueCar provided new-vehicle data. Service and insurance costs were provided by Vincentric . CarBargains shopped for the best deals on our Best New vehicles. Best leasing deals came from .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

This article appears in: Personal Finance Insurance
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