2017 Car Buy of the Year: Hyundai Elantra: Family sedan evolves in class

By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Thursday, December 21, 2017

For the 13th consecutive year, we end the ALL ABOUT CARS model year by focusing on the vehicles we have determined to be the “best deals on wheels” in 2017, and next week will we present our “vehicle of the year” regardless of price.

To be clear, delivering the best bang for the buck doesn’t always translate into sales. To make ALL ABOUT CARS’ Car Buy of the Year list, sales is not part of the equation. To be considered for this list, I must have test-driven the vehicle during calendar 2017 and dollar for value, or worth vs. cost carries the most weight, though some abstracts still apply.

Rated for this year’s competition, I test drove 53 vehicles, drove them, tested them and examined them for about a week each, using them as daily drivers around town, for errands and for maneuvering; on the highway for long trips, for passing, stability and for fun; and accelerating them and braking them hard on straight tracks and banked venues, auto-crosses and drag strips, and checking out what passengers and onlookers reported.

Some years we have higher-priced vehicles of great value on the list -- a low price is not always the sign of a great value. Price certainly is a factor; as is fuel economy, but the vehicle’s personality, how it fits its niche and how you feel driving it all play a part. This year, all the vehicles selected were under $40,000, with the top buy one of two priced under $20,000 and six were priced under $30,000.

The candidates were graded in eight categories, with vehicles earning 10 points for best possible to 1 point for worst possible. I gave only eight perfect 10s all year, and no vehicle received less than a charitable 5 in any category. My eight graded segments are: Interior; Safety; Power; Handling/Ride; Economy/Price; Looks; Niche-fitting and a Miscellaneous grouping in which I took into consideration the “feel-good” factor and other subjective intangibles

One more thing: the difference between this week’s Best Car Buy winner and next week’s Car of the Year leader is that this week it is all about best value for the price across all eight categories; not necessarily the lowest amount of dollars spent. Next week’s winner is all about the car, truck or crossover and what it delivers, regardless of price – just the pure vehicle.

My 2017 Top Buys of the Year are led by an above-class sedan, an iconic muscle car, a hybrid crossover and a sub-$20K SUV. Prices reflect my review vehicles-as-tested.

No. 1 Hyundai Elantra: Sculpted body and class-above features -- $19,755. The Hyundai Elantra, completely redesigned for 2017, has evolved with bold sophisticated styling; a longer, wider and more stable architecture; and all-new efficient powertrains for enhanced fuel economy; better ride quality and noise insulation; comprehensive safety with class-above features; and an impressive assortment of high tech and infotainment items. Aggressively priced with value far greater than their badge perception, Elantra projects confidence with sculpted body forms blended with functional aerodynamics Powered by a 2.0-liter Nu MPI Atkinson four-cylinder engine producing 147 horsepower and 132 lb. ft. of torque, mixed-use testing yielded an average of 33.2mpg.

No. 2. 2017 Chevrolet Camaro: History and muscle under $30k -- $28,275. Looking great and performing young for being 50 years old, the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro builds on its legacy with styling, performance, tech and infotainment, and new for 2017 are an available 50th Anniversary Edition and a “FIFTY” badge on the steering wheel of all models. With a 6.2-liter V-8 engine that produces 455 hp and 455 lbs.-ft. you get a sub-5-second zero-to-60mph dash, and I averaged 21.6 mpg.

No. 3 Kia Niro: The ‘Un-Hybrid’ is an Un-Crossover rated at 51mpg -- $25,570. New for 2017, a Hybrid that doesn’t look like a Hybrid, and housed in a Crossover package that doesn’t look or act quite like a Crossover. It is more like an “un-Hybrid, non-Crossover.” Kia’s Niro Hybrid Utility Vehicle (HUV) combines driving enjoyment with eye-catching design, functional utility and hybrid efficiency.” I got 47.1 mpg with a 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder engine and Lithium-Ion Polymer battery-powered 240-volt motor that provide 139hp and 195 lbs.-ft of torque.

No. 4 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage: A ton of fun at 74 hp -- $18,775. Mirage has returned with a fresh new look thanks to a revamped front fascia with chrome upper/lower grille; new hood design; LED tail lamps; rear spoiler; color-keyed front and rear bumpers. Augmented aerodynamics inside connectivity and tech abounds. Powered by a 1.2-liter MIVEC DOHC, 12-valve Inline 3-cylinder engine, the fuel-efficient system produces 78 hp and 74 lbs.-ft. and delivered 39.7mpg.

No. 5 Chevrolet Malibu: Dependable mid-size packed with amenities -- $29,340. In today’s world of demanding things you can depend on, Chevrolet’s Malibu fills that requirement and adds style and performance to the mix. Malibu’s 1.5-liter liter I-4 turbo hums out 163 hp and 184 lbs.-ft of torque and averaged 29.3mpg in mixed-use testing. While it was not muscle-car brawny, it was solid as a family car.

No. 6 Chrysler 200: style meets performance in mid-size sedan -- $29,985. Chrysler has positioned its 2017 200 as an elegant vehicle that exceeds expectations for a mid-size car. Delivering a thoughtful, well-crafted interior, my test 200 was powered by a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine that delivered 295 hp and 262 lbs.-ft. of torque and averaged 22.0mpg. Steady around town, on the interstate and on the track, the AWD vehicle was confident in all conditions.

No. 7 Dodge Charger R/T: 50 years of muscle and style -- $38,620. The Dodge Charger R/T trim was first offered 50 years ago. For 2017, Charger turns heads with its bold muscle look and wide body. The 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 that powered my R/T galloped out 370 horses and 395 lbs.-ft. of torque, and my mixed-use tests that included some tire smoking as well as long interstate treks, averaged 23.1mpg. Passing at speed was pie-easy and on the track, my R/T blazed a 5.9-second zero-to-60 dash.

No. 8 Infiniti QX30: Compact luxury Crossover is elegant -- $36,110. The all-new Infiniti QX30 premium active crossover was created for a new generation of premium buyers who appreciate category-defying design inside and out. The new QX30 shows off elegant design cues, a highly sculpted exterior, unique crossover stance and asymmetric cabin design. The standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged unit is rated at 208 hp, with peak torque of 258 lbs.-ft. and gets 29.1 mpg.

No. 9 Volkswagen Jetta: Downsized econo-car is sporty and quick -- $30,327. Volkswagen’s best-selling car had been offered in sedan and hatchback configurations, but is now only presented as a sedan. That design downsize doesn’t compromise Jetta’s range that starts as a stylish econo-car and tops off as a sporty and quick performance compact. The 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder turbocharged/intercooled engine that powered my Jetta GLI test ride, hummed out 210hp and 207 lbs.-ft. and averaged 25.9mpg.

No. 10 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF: Roadster adds a power-folding roof -- $34,700. This simple, fun-focused aggressively priced roadster features a new roof design with flying buttress elements behind the seats which remain even when the roof is open. MX-5 power comes from a 2.0.-liter DOHC 16-valve in-line 4 VVT multi-port electronic fuel injection engine that gets 155hp and 148 lbs.-ft. of torque, and averaged 30.0mpg.

Next week, we present our annual CAR of THE YEAR list… and you may see several of these great rides again.

> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "c

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