Best Cars of 2018 under $30,000

If you want to know what the best all-new cars of the 2018 model year are you’ve come to the right place. We at DT have had the opportunity to sample virtually every member of the brand-new-for-2018 crop, and we can attest that the bar has been raised to nearly stratospheric heights this year.  Certainly we must acknowledge the American market has turned to crossover SUVs in ever-increasing numbers over the course of the past decade, but that doesn’t mean the auto manufacturers have turned their collective backs on the car.  So if you are looking for a sports sedan, a family car, an economy car or a hybrid you will find some very tantalizing choices on this list.

We at DT consider ourselves to be masters of suspense, so to maintain suspense as long as possible, we have structured this list in ascending order.  For those of you who have trouble distinguishing “ascending” from “descending,” (and on some days we’re right with you) this means we are saving the top cars until last.  But from bottom to top, this is one hell of a list.

Kia Rio

If you think the all-new 2018 Kia Rio sedan and five-door hatchback have a European look, you are onto something. Kia is a Korean automaker, but its international design staff features players who had key roles at Audi not too long ago. Because of that the fourth generation of the subcompact is one of theKia_Rio most attractive vehicles in its segment.  Both sedan and hatchback have grown slightly, and both feature the “tiger-nose” grille treatment that Kia favors these days.  Despite the fact it is a subcompact, the Rio offers significant creature comforts including six-way adjusting driver’s seat, tilt steering column, full instrumentation, air conditioning and a console with storage and two12-volt DC power outlets, very nice for about $18,000.

Subaru Impreza

Want a model that is all-new for just a hundred bucks more than the previous model?  If so, the Subaru Impreza might be your cup of joe.  Subaru is proud of the fact that the Impreza is built on its utterly new Subaru Global Platform. What this means to you is the new sedan and four-door hatchback models are more agile, more comfortable and more crashworthy.  Of course, the Impreza is equipped with Subaru’s trademark Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, which gives the vehicle remarkable traction and roadworthiness. Power comes from a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection. Even the base model, with a suggested list price of $18,495, includes a bevy of features including a 6.5-inch multimedia touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, power windows with auto up/down and 60/40-split fold-down rear seat.

Hyundai Ioniq

This year the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid joins the Hybrid and Electric in the varied Ioniq model lineup, and it is a fine addition indeed.  With 27 miles of all-electric range when fully charged, the Ioniq might enable you to commute gasoline-free.  Should conditions compel the use of the 104-horsepower gasoline engine, you can rest comfortably knowing you have a remarkable 650 miles of range.  But there’s more to the IIon_IQ oniq than just fuel economy.  The attractive four-door hatchback features a seven-inch display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the instrumentation is supplemented with a 4.2-inch display.  Steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, dual-zone automatic temperature control and automatic projector beam headlights give the $29,000 (est) Ioniq an upscale feel.

Toyota Camry

In its eighth generation the Toyota Camry presents a decidedly dual personality to the world. Toyota product planners made certain that the lineup includes a plain vanilla version whose major calling card is unquestioned reliability, but other versions of America’s favorite driving appliance go out of their way to be sporty.  Okay, not necessarily Porsche sporty, but certainly more performance-oriented than any previous Camry. As proof, while others are ditching their V6-powered versions, the Camry offers a 3.5-liter V6 offering a potent 301 horsepower. But if you want to keep your payout below $30K, you’ll have to stick with the 2.5-liter four cylinder with 203 horsepower. The sportier XSE delivers just three more horsepower, but it looks much cooler, and it has an MSRP just under $30,000.

Toyota_Camry_2018

Honda Accord

We hate to gush (really we do), but after spending time in several versions of the all-new Honda Accord we really can’t help it. This is a sedan that covers just about every family-car base – comfortable, roomy, economical and, yes, fun to drive.  Gone is the previous version’s V6, and in its place is a 252-horsepower turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine mated to a 10-speed automatic or manual transmission that has the car magazine guys excited. But if you’re like most Accord buyers, you’ll find the 1.5-liter four cylinder (also turbocharged) a very rational choice. Also utterly rational is the Accord’s safety array; forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist are standard equipment. Multiple versions of the 2018 Honda Accord are available for less than $30,000.  The line forms to your right.

 

 

Toyota, Lexus Most Reliable According to Consumer Reports

Some brands were big losers and other big gainers in Consumer Reports’ latest Annual Auto Reliability Survey, but one thing that stayed largely the same was the dominance of Toyota’s Lexus and Toyota brands in dependability.  For the fifth straight year, Toyota brands took their places on top of the ranking of 27 brands for predicted new-car reliability, but other Asia-based manufacturers, notably Acura and Mazda, saw their reliability averages fall. In contrast, Korea-based Kia continued to surprise observers with its rapid rise in the rankings.  Kia continues to make impressive strides in reliability, rising to third. General Motors, on the other hand, took a nosedive with three of its four brands -- Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC -- in the bottom third.

The Chrysler brand has had a difficult time in previous reliability surveys, but this year it registered the biggest gain, jumping 10 positions from last year. Even with the big gain it remains in the lower half of all 27 brands ranked by CR, but the general trend at Chrysler is up. Its new Pacifica minivan has average reliability, affected by some minor transmission issues, and overall the brand is greatly improved.  Other FCA brands – Jeep, Dodge and Ram – also registered gains, though the improvement did not push them into the top ranks. CR said Jeep seems to have worked out some of the transmission problems that plagued the early years of the Cherokee, but the Grand Cherokee and Renegade remain below average despite showing “marked improvement with these models each year.” The only Dodge model that did not have below-average reliability was the Grand Caravan, while the Charger and Challenger improved over last year, yet ranked below average. The Ram 1500 pickup improved to average, but the low standing of the 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups keeps the brand near the bottom of the overall list.

Ram has domestic-manufacturer company at the lower reaches of the rankings.  GMC and Cadillac are at the bottom of Consumer Reports’ brand list. The much-touted GMC Acadia debuted with well-below-average reliability, and it has the dubious distinction of being among the 10 least-reliable new models. Aside from some infotainment issues in the Acadia, problems with drive system, power equipment, and climate system were also reported. Equally dismal for General Motors is the fact that all of luxury-brand Cadillac’s models had below-average reliability, including the new-for-2017 XT5 compact SUV that Cadillac hopes will become a volume-driver.

For GM, Buick was the lone bright spot among the brands, but after ranking third last year, it dropped five spots to eighth.  Its biggest “miss” was the redesigned LaCrosse large sedan, which debuted with reliability well-below average. The much-better-than-average reliability of the Encore crossover, and the better-than-average reliability of the Cascada convertible and Envision crossover enabled Buick to stay in the top 10.

Chevy presented a mixed bag, but lagged most major players. Its new Bolt electric car is Chevrolet’s most reliable model with above average reliability, but the Volt plug-in hybrid remains below average, and the Cruze compact, which debuted with well-above-average reliability last year, plunged to below average this time around.

The third major domestic manufacturer, Ford, gained several spots in this year’s survey but ranks mid-pack at 15th. The mainstay F-150 pickup improved to average reliability, but the Focus and Fiesta small cars are still well below average with ongoing clutch and transmission problems.  Another somber note was that some respondents reported a few problems with the new Sync3 infotainment system in the Fusion midsize sedan. Ford had hoped Sync3 would cure its ongoing infotainment headaches.  Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand didn’t fare that well either.  Its MKZ sedan had average reliability, and the MKC and MKX crossover SUVs were below average.

Plagued by infotainment woes over the past couple of years, Honda has fallen from its perch as a top-echelon brand for reliability, but it improved by one spot this year, with all of its models having average or better reliability.  Serious improvement included solving the bugs with the Civic’s in-car electronics, and those enhancements were echoed in the redesigned-for-2017 CR-V, which in many ways is a tall Civic. But Honda’s luxury Acura brand took a nosedive this year, dropping to the bottom third of the brand rankings. While the RDX, which was last redesigned in 2013, is above average, the other Acuras were all below average.

As noted earlier, Kia continues to move forward positively in reliability, rising two spots to rank third overall. To demonstrate Kia’s efforts, the new Niro hybrid debuted as the most reliable new car in the entire survey. Kia’s lowest scoring model is the Sportage, which has average reliability. Subaru is another brand on the upswing. It gained five spots to rank sixth this year, despite the “below average” reliability of the redesigned Impreza compact.

Hyundai fell three places to rank 10th. The Elantra compact car, which was renewed for 2017, had well-above average reliability, but problems with the new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission dropped the Tucson compact crossover to below average. Nissan had a slight gain, with the popular Altima sedan improving to better-than-average and the Pathfinder SUV finally improving to average.

Some suggest that highly complex European vehicles deliver poor reliability, but the Consumer Reports survey suggests that, as with vehicles that are designed elsewhere, some European brands are stellar while others are laggards.  For instance, despite travails on the diesel engine front, Audi retained the fourth spot on the survey, and BMW jumped four places to land fifth. All of BMW’s models featured average or better reliability. 

Mercedes-Benz had mixed results. Its redesigned 2017 E-Class bucked the debut jinx to turn in better-than-average reliability in its first year, while the flagship S-Class, one of the world’s most sophisticated models, finally improved to average. The report on Volvo wasn’t as good.  The Chinese-owned Swedish brand remained near the bottom of the heap, dragged down by the much-worse-than-average XC90 crossover SUV, which ranks as the third least reliable model among new vehicles covered in the survey. The problem rate for the XC90’s infotainment, which has been much touted by vehicle reviewers, was the worst in CR’s Survey at 21 percent.  That negative rate was nearly as high as the now notorious Ford/Lincoln’s MyTouch system when it debuted several years ago.

For more information on Consumer Reports’ Annual Auto Reliability Survey, or to get the latest ratings and scores for more than 300 models, visit www.CR.org.

Rolls-Royce Seeks New Blood

These days, many of us decry the decline of craftsmanship. Industrial society is very adept at manufacturing thousands of perfectly acceptable items, but it is less proficient at creating individual pieces of uncommon quality. That, however, is just what luxury carmaker Rolls-Royce seeks to do, and in this era of mass production, it is looking to create a new generation of highly skilled craftsmen. The company -- based in Goodwood, England -- will soon begin to recruit its newest class of apprentices to build on its century-old tradition of quality workmanship. The successful applicants who make it through the rigorous winnowing process will join the apprenticeship program at the end of August and work alongside skilled craftspeople in the paint, wood, leather, motor vehicle, engineering and business areas.

Launched in 2006, the company’s apprenticeship program provides young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 the opportunity to train with the best, most talented members of the legendary carmaker’s workforce. And it is far from a quick on-the-job training effort. The apprenticeships can last for up to four years and involve extensive work under the keen supervision of master craftsmen, many with decades of experience. In addition, apprentices study to achieve nationally recognized qualification levels in their individual areas of emphasis. The opportunity to join the company following a successful apprenticeship is a possibility, but Rolls-Royce warns only the best apprentices are selected.

The young workers who will join Rolls-Royce this year will arrive at an exciting time. The ultra-luxury carmaker is enjoying unprecedented success, including record sales results in 2010, despite a global economic malaise. The manufacturer recently joined the move to electric vehicles by unveiling 102EX Phantom Experimental Electric (EE) at the Geneva International Motor Show. So, apprentices who join the company this year will have broader fields to work in than ever before.

“We are delighted to announce the start of recruitment for this year’s apprenticeship program,” says Torsten Muller-Otvos, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. “This clearly demonstrates our ongoing commitment to the development and training of young people in the U.K. manufacturing industry. On completion of the program, our new apprentices will be ideally positioned to take advantage of the unique opportunities available at Rolls-Royce.”

Compared with the entering class at an Ivy League school like Harvard University, the apprentice class each year at Rolls-Royce is tiny. In 2010, only 35 young men and women were employed with the company on industrial placements ranging in duration from six to 12 months. This year, Rolls-Royce expects the class to be larger, but not by much. In addition to the apprenticeships, the company also runs a successful graduate program with new positions made available each year.

Since the launch of the apprenticeship program in 2006, more than 30 Rolls-Royce apprentices have either joined the company or are in the process of joining the company as full employees, following successful completion of the program. Potential candidates for all Rolls-Royce Motor Cars positions should apply online at: Rolls-RoyceMotorcars.com.

What Is the Best Chevy of All Time?

In a Chevrolet-commissioned poll, nearly 125,000 Chevrolet fans cast their votes and named the 1969 Camaro the “Best Chevy of All Time.” As part of Chevrolet’s centennial celebration, which is kicking up toward an October climax, Chevrolet devotees were asked to vote for their favorite vehicle from the proud brand’s 100-year history. During the four-round elimination bracket that resulted in the final decision, the 1969 Camaro garnered 25,058 of the 124,368 votes cast, edging out the 1970 Chevelle SS in the final round.

Tom Peters, Chevrolet design director, had no quarrel with the decision. He believes the ’69 Camaro is not only one of the best vehicles in Chevrolet’s history, but also one of the best vehicles ever. He is a little biased, however, having owned the same 1969 Camaro for nearly 20 years.

“I can vividly remember seeing one for the first time as a kid,” says Peters. “The intent of the Camaro was instantly understood, even to a 14-year-old like me, because it possessed a very powerful personality and an elegant, simple design. The Camaro was so cool because it offered this great style, high performance -- and yet was attainable for someone just getting out of school.”

We at Driving Today have an affinity for the 1969 and other early Camaros as well, but we also think there are other Chevrolet models of the past that could also be worthy of the title “Best Chevy of All Time,” and none of them is the 1970 Chevelle. (Let’s be serious.) Here are our picks for four other worthy contenders. With them and the Camaro, you have what are, in our opinion, the top five Chevrolets.

1916 Chevrolet 490

In the era when the Ford Model T was the dominant low-priced car, Chevrolet came to market with a middle-class six-cylinder that was more than twice as expensive as Henry Ford’s brainchild. But founder William C. Durant quickly changed Chevrolet’s course to meet the Model T head-on. The 490 got its name from its base price, $490, a figure that happened to be $5 less than that of the then-dominant Ford. The shift in strategy made the Chevy what it is today: one of the world’s most popular low-priced cars.

1936 Chevrolet Suburban Carryall

Now we see SUVs everywhere. But before the 1936 Chevrolet Suburban Carryall arrived on the scene, that vehicle type was unheard of. Of course, nobody in Depression-era America called the Suburban an SUV, but its unique blend of a station-wagon body style on a truck chassis created a new market segment. Not only that, but -- except for the World War II years in which all civilian-vehicle production stopped -- the Chevy Suburban has been built and sold every year since.

1955 Chevrolet

The Chevrolets of 1955 may well be the most beautiful series of sedans, coupes, hardtops, convertibles and station wagons ever built. Each version is simple, handsome and classic. But styling isn’t the only claim to fame the ’55 Chevy boasts. 1955 was also the year the Chevrolet brand introduced the incredibly long-lived small-block V-8 engine, which supplemented the veteran inline six. The small-block V-8 is, arguably, the best mass-produced automobile engine ever produced, while the ’55 Chevy in all its forms is still highly prized by collectors.

1963 Corvette Sting Ray

What is the best Corvette of all time? Ask 10 Corvette fans and you’ll get 10 different answers. But most will have to agree, when prompted, that the ’63 Corvette Sting Ray -- especially in its split-window coupe form -- deserves that honor. To the efficiency and sheer power of its small-block V-8 engine, the Sting Ray added an independent rear suspension that brought it into the realm of true supercars at a fraction of their lofty prices. It’s a formula that continues to guide Corvette today.

So do you have a favorite Chevrolet model that you feel deserves to be in the Chevy top five? Tell us about it. We might even agree with you.

2013 Ford Taurus: TomorrowÂ’s Car, Today

Usually, car companies keep their new models under wraps until the very last minute because they would like to sell the current models for as long as they possibly can. Since new models frequently make current models look hopelessly outmoded, you can understand where they are coming from. But today, that method of madness might be changing simply because the competitive pressure to capture the public fancy is so great. The year 2013 is still way off in the distance for most of us, but this past week Ford used the New York International Auto Show as a venue to introduce its 2013 model year Taurus and Taurus SHO, two very important models in its portfolio. Since General Motors took the same opportunity to show its 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, you can understand why Ford was willing to pull the wraps off the Taurus early.

The biggest piece of news is the fact that the 2013 Taurus will be the first car in Ford’s North American lineup to offer the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, which uses a turbocharger and direct injection to deliver highway fuel economy that is expected to be at least 31 mpg. Lest you think the engine is too weak to power the substantial Taurus, rest assured it will offer an estimated 237 horsepower. Equally encouraging is the upgrade on the standard 3.5-liter V-6, which will get a bump of 27 horsepower to about 290 horsepower thanks in large part to the addition of twin independent variable camshaft timing. Both engines are teamed with unique six-speed automatic transmissions that are engineered to maximize their special benefits. And in this era of high fuel prices, it is nice to know that a great deal of engineering time went into gasoline-conserving tech, such as a low-tension accessory drive belt, smart battery management, a variable-displacement air conditioning compressor, and reduced-friction lubricants. The electric power-assisted steering not only saves gas; it also can be tuned for more responsive handling and a better feel. And who doesn’t like a better feel?

The Ford engineers didn’t stop at tweaking the steering either. They also hard-mounted the steering rack and optimized the springs and shocks. Then, they dipped into the relatively new art of electronic torque vectoring. The feature, which will be standard on all 2013 Tauruses, applies a slight amount of braking force on the inside front wheel when accelerating through a corner, providing an effect analogous to that of a mechanical limited-slip differential. The result is a vehicle that feels more maneuverable, largely because it is. Working out of the same trick bag, engineers also added curve control, a braking control innovation aimed at averting single-car accidents that occur when drivers enter curves too swiftly. The application of so-called “smart four-wheel braking” can turn a potential crash into a non-event. Additional safety items include adaptive cruise-control, collision warning with brake support, Blind Spot Information System, cross-traffic alert and the MyKey feature, which enables parents to limit top speeds and audio volume. It can also prevent kids from listening to the adult channels on satellite radio.

To accompany these changes, Ford designers have refined the already handsome and distinctive Taurus exterior. The new Taurus features a more muscular hood, as well as larger wheels and tires that better fill out the wheel-well openings. At the rear, larger, full LED tail lamps are affixed to the Taurus’s heftier haunches, and the SHO model is graced with an attractive new grille. New features include a heated steering wheel, multi-contour seats with Active Motion rolling massage, rearview camera and rear-window power sunshade. Auto high-beams and rain-sensing wipers are other luxury-class-grade additions.

Suffice it to say the 2013 Taurus is filled with innovation, and it looks better than the current car to boot. Normally, a car company wouldn’t be tipping its next hand so early, but these are very competitive times, and the New York International Auto show is a big stage. We’ll see whether showing their cards so soon was worth the gamble.

Photo Credit: Getty Images