Shoppers who’ve been contemplating a new-car purchase in the last few years are likely aware of the rising costs of new vehicles and wondering how to get the best value out of their next new-car purchase. The median new-car price among Cars.com dealers was approximately $42,500 in December — a 10% increase from December 2021 and 18% higher than December 2020. Inflation and the persistent inventory shortage have certainly contributed to the spike as manufacturer incentives have dwindled and new-vehicle markups become more common. While these conditions are largely outside of shoppers’ control, there’s another factor impacting average prices that is being driven by shoppers: a growing preference for larger, costlier vehicles.
Related: Best Value Car of 2022
The popularity of mid-size SUVs and pickup trucks is holding strong, and these vehicles typically carry heftier price tags. Among Toyota’s lineup, the RAV4 compact SUV had a median price of approximately $31,000 among Cars.com dealers in December, the median price for the mid-size Highlander was $42,000, and the Tundra pickup’s was $55,000. Even with its higher price tag, the redesigned Tundra saw sales jump 27% from 2021 to 2022, according to Automotive News. Ford’s lineup paints a similar picture: The F-Series pickup truck ($64,500 median price) is not only the bestselling Ford model, but also the bestselling vehicle overall in the U.S. Among Ford SUVs, sales for the mid-size Explorer ($50,500) were 1.5 times higher than for the more affordable compact Escape ($34,000).
These examples from Toyota and Ford illustrate that buying a smaller vehicle can make a new-car purchase significantly more affordable. However, it’s important to consider the car’s overall value, including its purchase price, available features and cost of ownership. For some shoppers, hearing “value car” brings to mind a subcompact sedan, but our analysis of the best value new cars for 2023 shows that budget-conscious shoppers don’t have to limit themselves to just one vehicle type.
We analyzed four vehicle categories (cars, small SUVs, small pickup trucks and electric vehicles) with a focus on affordability and value. To select the best value finalists in each category, we used a methodology that accounts for pricing and available features. Unsurprisingly, cars offer the most affordable overall median price among Cars.com dealers; however, the small SUV category features the most models. The electric vehicle category, meanwhile, has a notably higher median price than the rest, but our plug-in hybrid and all-electric finalists make the case that it’s possible to go electric without going broke.
Best Value Finalists
The best value cars, small SUVs, small pickups and EVs below are ranked in order of the median price for the trim that includes all must-have features (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a blind spot monitor, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning) standard or available. If a package or option is required to get the required features, it’s noted as an add-on and factored into the vehicle’s starting price. Variables that impact cost of ownership (a vehicle’s EPA-rated fuel economy, annual fuel costs if available, and manufacturer warranty coverage) are outlined for each vehicle but do not determine ranking. All median and starting prices, EPA ratings and fuel-cost estimates are from December 2022; starting prices include destination fees. For further details, see the methodology following the lists.