Car buyers crave the best deals on their purchases, but the best cars for the bucks are not necessarily the ones that come with the biggest discounts. After all, you can brag to your friends that you got a Saturn Ion with thousands of dollars on the hood, but you'll still be driving a Saturn Ion.
In the slide show that follows, we describe this year's crop of the top cars in terms of value. We focus on vehicles that give you a lot of car considering their sticker prices — not on vehicles that have deep discounts because of inventory and/or sales problems.
Detroit should focus on packing value into its cars from the beginning. Instead, starting with the initial business cases they make for new cars, American automakers count on offering incentives. The average offer from General Motors is $2,433; from Ford Motor, $2,612; and from DaimlerChrysler's subsidiary, Chrysler, $1,969 — all significantly higher than the offers made by foreign competitors.
Honda Motor is getting full sticker prices for its overhauled Civic line, and it can do that because the Civic is chock full of value. As you will see in our list, it is an affordable, entry-level car, but one that meets the highest standards for safety, reliability, build quality, accident-avoidance technology and fuel economy.
Honda avoids cash incentives, and fellow Japanese automaker Toyota Motor is cutting incentive spending. In the first quarter, Toyota's average incentive offer dropped 38 percent to $816. Yet sales for both Honda and Toyota are up this year, and their profits never seem to stop growing, while GM edges closer to bankruptcy.
However, American-car inventories have declined this year, meaning that GM and Ford might be able to avoid the kind of blowouts they offered last summer, when they made employee pricing available to the general public.
The command that Wall Street likes to use when advising General Motors is, "Shrink to a defensible position." This means cut production, cut salaries and cut the work force, and focus not on being the world's largest automaker but on improving per-car and per-dealer profits.
Just look at Porsche, which is one of the world's smallest automakers but one that is nearly untouchable in terms of profitability. Making fewer cars but making them better is the key to rehabilitating customers and getting them used to lower discounts.
In keeping with the idea that cheap doesn't equal good value, when compiling our list of the best cars you can get for your buck, we looked for vehicles that offer power, comfort, safety technology, reliability, high levels of build quality, sophisticated accident-avoidance technology and more — all for less than you would spend on competing vehicles. The cars on our list range from the $15,000 Civic up to the what we think is the best bargain supercar around, the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, priced a little under $66,000.
And they're from all over the map, which just goes to show that any automaker can offer an attractive car for an attractive price, and not just lure people into showrooms with cash on the hoods of its cars.