Cars are becoming increasingly expensive to buy and own, with the average price for a new car hovering around $34,000. The good news is that there are top-performing cars available for less than $30,000—the amount for the average new-car loan.

To assist bargain hunters, we have assembled the best new cars and SUVs under $30,000, based on their Overall Score, factoring road test performance, owner satisfaction, predicted reliability, and safety. Every model listed here meets the stringent requirements to be recommended by Consumer Reports. The very best model in each category is spotlighted, with others listed in alphabetical order.

In a couple cases, there is just a single model from a category that met these tough qualifications.


Best Subcompact Car: Toyota Yaris iA

Best Subcompact Car Toyota Yaris iA

For 2017, the Scion iA is renamed the Toyota Yaris iA. This four-door sedan is actually built by Mazda and is based on the new Mazda2 (not sold in the U.S.). It is powered by a 106-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder coupled to either a six-speed manual or an automatic. In our testing we got 35 mpg overall with the automatic. The iA proves to be quite pleasant for a subcompact, with nimble handling and semi-decent interior décor. It also comes with a standard low-speed pre-collision system that helps the driver avoid collisions. A backup camera is standard. Just like in current Mazda models, the infotainment system consists of a center control knob and a screen, which takes some getting used to in order to master. A navigation system is a dealer-installed option. 

Read the complete Toyota Yaris iA road test.

Other top models:
Chevrolet Sonic LT (1.8L)
Honda Fit EX



Best Compact Car: Toyota Prius

Best Compact Car Toyota Prius

In our tests the Prius returned 52 mpg overall, a significant improvement over the previous generation’s 44 mpg. On top of that, the new car also handles more responsively and rides more comfortably. Colorful digital gauges dominate the dashboard with abundant fuel-economy information. The touch-screen infotainment system is fairly straightforward. The sensible Prius has always been about efficiency and low running costs. The car can still drive solely on electric, up to about 25 mph typically, and the engine is now quieter when it kicks in. However, the seats are rather chintzy, tire noise is noticeable, and cabin access is not as easy because of the car’s lower stance. A plug-in version, the Prius Prime, is new. For the 2017 model year, forward-collision warning with automatic braking is standard. 

Read the complete Toyota Prius road test.

Other top models:
Chevrolet Cruze LT
Ford C-Max Hybrid SE
Hyundai Elantra SE
Kia Forte LX
Kia Soul Plus
Mazda3 Touring (2.0L)
Toyota Corolla iM
Toyota Corolla LE
Toyota Prius V Three


Best Midsized Car: Kia Optima

Best Midsized Cars Kia Optima

Kia’s recently redesigned Optima midsized sedan packs a lot of substance and value. It drives nicely, with a firm yet absorbent ride and responsive, secure handling. The mainstream 2.4-liter four-cylinder is pleasant and unobtrusive, and returned 28 mpg overall in our testing, and the uplevel 2.0-liter turbo four packs more punch. New to the line is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. At around $26,000, the EX trim features comfortable leather seats, automatic climate control, a roomy rear seat, and heating for the seats and steering wheel. The controls are very intuitive to use. Low-positioned dash vents are our only gripe. The latest version of Kia’s UVO touch-screen infotainment system works with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A hybrid is also available. 

Read the complete Kia Optima road test.

Other top models:
Chevrolet Malibu 1LT (1.5T)
Ford Fusion SE (1.5T) / Hybrid
Honda Accord LX (4-cyl.)
Hyundai Sonata SE (4-cyl.)
Mazda6
Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium (4-cyl.)
Toyota Camry LE (4-cyl.)


Best Sporty Car: Mazda MX-5 Miata

Best Sporty Car Mazda MX-5 Miata

The fourth-generation Miata remains true to Mazda’s original formula of a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive roadster. Although 155 hp from the 2.0-liter four doesn’t sound impressive, the Miata quickly scoots along while returning a miserly 34 mpg overall. Shifting the delightfully accurate six-speed manual shifter is a joy; we’d skip the optional automatic, though it works fine. Quick and precise steering delivers sublime back-road handling, even though some body roll is noticeable. High levels of noise, thin and unsupportive seats, and a stiff ride all grow fatiguing during highway travel. Cabin space is snug, and the optional dial-controlled infotainment system takes time to master. Flipping the convertible top open or closed is a breeze. 

Read the complete Mazda MX-5 Miata road test.

Other top models:
Subaru BRZ Premium
Toyota 86


Best Wagon: Subaru Outback

Best Wagon Subaru Outback

An SUV alternative, the Outback wagon is roomy and functional, and appeals to the practical-minded buyer. It rides very comfortably, with secure handling. Standard AWD delivers reassuring traction in wintry conditions. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder returns 24 mpg overall and drives through a standard continuously variable transmission. Opting for the 3.6-liter six-cylinder makes the car quicker, quieter, and thirstier, conceding 2 mpg. The controls are all easy-to-use, including the touch-screen infotainment system. The wagon’s generous rear seat is spacious enough for three adults. The generous cargo area is comparable to a Forester or Toyota RAV4, with a lower loading height to boot. The optional EyeSight safety suite adds automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.

Read the complete Subaru Outback road test.


Best Subcompact SUV: Subaru Crosstrek

Best Subcompact SUV Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek is a small quasi-SUV version of the previous-generation Impreza hatchback, with a raised ride height that gives it enough clearance to slosh through deeply rutted roads. It may appeal to those people who live at the end of a dirt road and don’t want anything big and bulky. The cabin is rather noisy, the ride is stiff, and the 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine occasionally has to work hard, but fuel economy is a gratifying 26 mpg. The costlier Hybrid, which got 28 mpg, has been discontinued for 2017. In the end, the regular Impreza hatch may be a better choice: It’s quieter, quicker, cheaper, and better riding, even if its lower ride height makes cabin access a bit more difficult. A redesign based on the new Impreza arrives this summer. 

Read the complete Subaru Crosstrek road test.

Other top models:
Honda HR-V LX
Mazda CX-3 Touring


Best Compact SUV: Subaru Forester

Best Compact SUV Subaru Forester

Hitting the sweet spot among small SUVs, the Forester delivers a spacious interior, impressive safety equipment and crashworthiness, and outstanding visibility in a right-sized, affordable package. Fuel economy is excellent at 26 mpg overall, especially given the standard AWD. The ride is supple, and handling is very secure. Engine noise is pronounced at times. Controls are straightforward and easy to use. The infotainment and connectivity systems have finally been updated with an intuitive touch screen. Midtrim Foresters bring a lot of content for the money, but it’s easy to crest $30,000 with options packages. A feisty turbo comes with XT trim but compromises the value equation. The optional (and recommended) EyeSight system includes forward-collision warning. 

Read the complete Subaru Forester road test.

Other top models:
Ford Escape SE (1.5T)
Hyundai Tucson SE (2.0L) / Sport (1.6T)
Kia Sportage LX (2.4L)
Mazda CX-5 Touring (2.5L)
Nissan Rogue SV
Toyota RAV4 XLE


Best Midsized SUV: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Best Midsized SUV Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Hyundai’s five-passenger midsized SUV received a number of updates with its 2017 freshening, including a standard rearview camera, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and lane-departure warning. It also improved from Marginal to Good in the IIHS small-overlap crash test. This roomy SUV has a comfortable ride and a quiet interior. Power comes from a responsive 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to a smooth six-speed automatic. We got a decent 23 mpg overall with this drivetrain. A more powerful 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is also available. Handling is sound and secure but not exceptional. The well-finished cabin is packed with a lot of standard features, but rear visibility is so-so.  

Read the complete Hyundai Santa Fe Sport road test.


Editor's Note: This list also appeared in the April 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.