What’s eligible: Any 2021 model regardless of when it was introduced or last updated providing we’ve evaluated it since major changes.
Criteria: After narrowing the field to the most affordable models in several popular classes based on average prices listed on Cars.com, we choose our value favorites based on features, warranties and overall performance for the money.
Winner: 2021 Hyundai Venue
In a year of dashed plans and financial worries where people are choosing personal transportation over public, affordable cars became even more important. That’s why the 2021 Hyundai Venue is the inaugural winner of the Cars.com Best Value of 2021 award. Where the Venue shines is by demonstrating that “cheap” is no longer synonymous with “bad,” offering a bevy of standard safety features and technology, things that are extra-cost options on more expensive vehicles (if they’re even offered), at a price that will please the budget-conscious. And who isn’t more budget-conscious these days?
Given the ongoing SUV craze, it’s not surprising that Hyundai would replace the Accent hatchback with a small SUV like the Venue (even if the Venue comes only with front-wheel drive). But what may be surprising is everything you can get with the base Venue SE: an automatic transmission, standard 8-inch touchscreen with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, forward automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist and keyless entry — and all that for a starting price of $19,935 including destination fee.
But wait, there’s more: In addition to those features, the Venue has a combined estimated fuel economy rating of 31 mpg and comes with a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and three years/36,000 miles of free maintenance. Even if you want to go for a fully loaded Venue — gaining even more safety tech — and add every factory accessory, you’re still looking at a sub-$25,000 SUV with advanced safety tech, good gas mileage, a lengthy warranty and up to three years of free maintenance. And lest you think the Venue isn’t about having any fun, there’s also a Denim version that adds a two-tone blue-and-white exterior and interior, complete with denim-looking upholstery.
The Venue is feature packed, fuel-efficient and backed by a lengthy warranty, all at a price usually reserved for “cheap” cars. What’s not to like? It’s a more than deserving winner of this award.
2021 Hyundai Tucson: Nominee
The Hyundai brand has long been a value leader, and the Tucson compact SUV is a good example why. With easy-to-use technology and important active-safety features standard, the Tucson offers a lot for its less-than-$25,000 starting price.
The base Tucson SE comes with front-wheel drive; a 161-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; and a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a combination that’s good for EPA-estimated gas mileage of 23/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined. All-wheel drive is optional.
The Tucson has a standard 7-inch touchscreen multimedia system with intuitive on-screen menus and simple controls. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity makes it easy to bring your favorite audio — and your phone’s navigation capability — into the SUV. Other thoughtful standard features include automatic headlights and a 60/40-split, reclining backseat.
Standard driver-assistance features include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and a driver-drowsiness monitor. The Tucson also aced the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s crashworthiness tests, earning good scores (on a scale of good, acceptable, marginal or poor) across the board.
There’s a redesigned Tucson on the way for the 2022 model year, but the current generation is a solid entrant that earned a podium finish in our recent seven-model comparison test, and it shouldn’t be overlooked in this competitive compact SUV class. You might even find some extra deals on it as dealers make way for the 2022 model.
2021 Subaru Outback: Nominee
Subaru’s wagonlike SUV has a cult following with consumers, and we’re onboard. There’s plenty to like about the 2021 Outback — from its focus on utility and safety to its emphasis on value. It’s the latter that inspired its nomination for Cars.com’s Best Value of 2021 award.
The Outback was redesigned for 2020, and for 2021, it gained even more safety features while keeping its cost reasonable. For 2021, the base, Premium and Onyx Edition XT trims gain standard adaptive headlights that swivel in the direction of turns, making that feature standard across the board (all models already had LED headlights standard). Also newly standard are a reminder to check the backseat before leaving the vehicle and a seat belt reminder for all occupants.
As always, all-wheel drive is standard across the Outback lineup, another feature that helps it stand out from the pack. The base trim level starts at $27,845 (all prices include destination). Along with AWD, that price gets you the EyeSight safety suite that includes automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control.
The Outback has a roomy, functional interior with ample cargo space, and higher trim levels come with an 11.6-inch vertically oriented touchscreen for the well-executed multimedia system; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims.
The Outback earns its chance at our award not by being the lowest-priced option in its class, but rather because it’s a well-executed, versatile family vehicle that delivers comfort and utility — and represents value of its type, as well.