The most underrated new cars on sale today

The most underrated new cars on sale today

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Admit it: You forgot the Kia K900 was still on sale.


Kia

Every single one of the cars and trucks on this list is good, but none of them get the credit they deserve. Overlooked and, in some cases, pretty much forgotten about, all of the vehicles listed here are vastly underrated.

It’s time to shine a light on these underappreciated machines. Whether they’re slow sellers that never caught on, a different take on a proven formula or a compelling car that just doesn’t seem to fit with a certain brand, all of these vehicles have a lot to offer.

Kia Stinger

The Stinger may not be underrated among journalists (everyone at Roadshow loves this Kia), but it still seems to barely register on the public’s radar. That’s a damn shame, because it’s one of the best all-around cars you can get for under $50,000.

Part of the reason that the Stinger is overlooked by the motoring public is simply because it’s a Kia and too many people still associate that Korean automaker with cheap, budget-oriented econoboxes. But the Stinger couldn’t be further from those cars.

Kia’s flagship performer is a well-built, comfortable, fast, attractive and engaging car that packs a stellar warranty and visually punches well outside its weight class. I can’t think of any new car in its price bracket that I’d rather own, and that’s a serious compliment.

— Kyle Hyatt

Honda Ridgeline

Here’s something most truck buyers don’t realize: You don’t need nearly as much capability as you think you do. I’m not talking about the heavy-duty haulers — if you’re pulling a horse trailer on the regular, a Ram 3500 is a must. But for the occasional weekend get away with a small camper or boat, I promise, you don’t actually need that huge F-150. What might suit you better is the midsize Honda Ridgeline.

Truck purists dog the Ridgeline for its lack of body-on-frame construction, but that just makes it easier to live with day to day. It’s as comfortable to drive as a Honda Accord sedan, and two-wheel-drive models are estimated to achieve up to 26 miles per gallon on the highway. A sophisticated all-wheel-drive system makes the Ridgeline foul-weather friendly, and its cabin is arguably better equipped than any other midsize pickup you can buy today. Have you sat inside a Chevy Colorado lately? Yeesh.

When it comes to truck stuff, the Ridgeline can tow 5,000 pounds and haul 1,584 pounds of payload. Those aren’t best-in-class numbers, but if you’re regularly towing more than 5,000 pounds, you probably aren’t buying a midsize truck anyway, are you? Plus, the Ridgeline has neat features including a lockable storage compartment inside the bed, and it’s as reliable as any other Honda, so it’ll live forever.

— Steven Ewing

BMW i3

There’s no other car on sale that feels more like The Future to me than the BMW i3. People dismiss it for its dorky looks — for what it’s worth, I love the exterior design — but the interior is the real star of the show. The i3’s cabin is the perfect meld of form and function: It’s super minimalist and forward-thinking without being barren or devoid of personality. Every time I get into an i3 it makes me smile.

BMW has steadily been improving the i3 over the course of its life, increasing range and adding new features. The EV-only version of the i3 now sports a 153-mile range, more than enough for the average driver. There’s even an i3s model, which gets more power and wider fender flares, and you can option the i3 with a range-extending gasoline motor.

With skinny tires, rear-wheel drive, well-tuned steering and instant torque, the i3 is damn fun to drive, too. Sure, the i3 is fairly pricey to buy new, especially compared to EVs like the Hyundai Kona or Chevy Bolt, but it’s easy to find used ones for under $20,000. Even new, though, I think the i3 deserves to be taken seriously. There’s nothing else like it.

— Daniel Golson

Toyota Avalon

The knock on the Avalon has always been that it’s a bit of an “old man’s car,” a reputation Toyota appears dead-set on changing. I say this because I’m not sure how else to explain the sedan’s “all ate up with grille” look it received for this fifth-gen model. As disquieting as the Avalon’s bold face is, the rest of its driving experience couldn’t be more serene or agreeable.

The fact is, most people overlook big, front-wheel-drive sedans like the Avalon today, so Toyota’s shouty exterior makes sense as a way to get on shoppers’ radar. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and boy, is the Avalon good. This sedan’s sprawling, class-above cabin is both well-appointed and whisper quiet, and the TNGA-K platform delivers a poised, unruffled ride to match. While happiest just cruising down the interstate, the Avalon is a surprisingly pleasant handler, too, and its 3.5-liter V6 offers plenty of oomph (310 horsepower) paired with reasonable efficiency. (There’s a hybrid model and newly available AWD, too, if that’s your thing.)

Badge snobs might be tempted by the cachet of the Avalon’s Lexus ES under-the-skin twin, but the truth is, the Avalon is the better car. That’s not just because it’s cheaper, it’s because it does without Lexus’ diabolical infotainment interface and because you can fold down the rear seats to make better use of that massive trunk.

— Chris Paukert

Jaguar XE

Old, tired jokes about British reliability aside, there’s a lot to like in Jaguar’s latest XE, which is positioned against the likes of the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The XE is a sharp little sport sedan, and a recent midcycle refresh gave it an extra dose of style. You see the Germans out and about all over the damn place, and all their looks are admittedly getting a little tired. So why not opt for something fresher and less obvious?

But looks are only part of the equation. You’ll be happy to know that the XE is every bit as competent as its Teutonic competition, with driving dynamics that shine through whether you’re driving slowly or… not so slowly. It may lack the stonkin’ output of BMW’s M cars or what have you, but when it comes to approachable amounts of power that you can actually use on the road, the XE has it in spades.

— Andrew Krok

Mazda6

Unless you’re the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, it’s tough to get much sales respect in the midsize sedan class. And that’s unfortunate because there are some great cars there. In particular, there’s the Mazda6, which boasts a handsome design, near-luxury interior and class-leading driving dynamics.

Visually, the sheetmetal is mature, elegant and sporty, while the effort Mazda has put into its interiors recently is hugely impressive. Clean layouts and quality materials give the 6’s cabin a premium feel whereas that was missing from previous-generation Mazda models.

Where the Mazda6 stands above all other competing midsize sedans is in the handling department. It’s eager and willing to boogie with responsive steering that offers tons of feedback, brisk turn in, stellar cornering composure and grabby brakes. And it does that while also providing a quiet and well-damped ride.

— Jon Wong

Nissan Versa

Look, we all know the Versa has been the king of cheap rentals, but with the 2020 model year, Nissan looks to rebrand the little econocar. Sure, it’s still pretty slow and it’s not as fun as say, the Honda Fit, but for $15,000 or so the new Versa is a great buy.

First off, it looks great, especially in the electric blue metallic color pictured here. It averages 40 mpg highway, has a spacious trunk and even though the rear seat is a bit smaller this year, my 5-foot, 9-inch frame fits just fine back there.

Under the hood is a tiny 1.6-liter engine with 122 hp and 114 pound-feet of torque, mated to a standard five-speed manual or continuously variable transmission. Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 is standard on all but the base trim and includes blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and forward-collision warning technologies, to name a few. Heck, you can even add adaptive cruise control. When was the last time your Hertz rent-a-car had those features?

— Emme Hall

Kia K900

When it comes to full-size luxury sedans, we usually think of the German heavy-hitters: the Audi A8
, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The Lexus LS and Genesis G90 put up a pretty good fight, too. But if you don’t care about the badge on your car’s hood, you might be surprised by an oft-forgotten entry, the Kia K900.

The K900 is essentially a Genesis G90 with a less-expressive face. It uses a 365-hp, twin-turbo V6 engine and all-wheel drive, and comes with all the driver-assistance features you could ever want, like Kia’s Highway Driving Assistant that combines adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, as well as blind-spot monitoring and more. Step inside and the interior is wonderful, with real Nappa leather, a huge smattering of infotainment tech on a big touchscreen, heated and cooled seats — all the stuff you’d expect from a big luxury barge.

But the best part? A fully loaded Kia K900 with the VIP package comes in at $65,335 including destination, which undercuts every other one of those luxury players — some by tens of thousands of dollars. The K900 is one of the best bargains in the luxury space today. Unfortunately, the only thing holding it back is the Kia logo on its nose.

— Steven Ewing

Volkswagen Passat

Ah, the Volkswagen Passat. A mundane front-drive family four-door, its styling is, well, let’s just say not the most exciting. This car’s looks may not set the world ablaze, but its clean, buttoned-down appearance should age well. In 25 years, we’ll probably all cringe while reminiscing about the current-generation Toyota Camry, but I bet our collective opinion of this Vee-Dub will be far more favorable.

Inside, there’s a heaping helping of cabin space with enough backseat room for Chewbacca to comfortably recline. And should the need to haul a load of Ewoks arise, its trunk is huge, too, measuring 15.9 cubic feet. With such capaciousness, this is a car that ought to get livery drivers all hot and bothered.

But the Passat isn’t just practical, it also offers plenty of tech, things like Apple CarPlay, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and much more. With clean looks, a genuinely useful interior and plenty of content, this is a solid midsize sedan, one that’s totally underrated and deserves to sell far better than it does.

— Craig Cole

Acura NSX

When the Acura NSX returned to the American market, it received only a fraction of the fanfare deserved by a car as beloved as its predecessor. The new one was frequently delayed and early indications were that it was a little too compromised, a little too tame and maybe, just maybe, a little too complex for its own good.

And I must confess that was my initial impression, too. Driving it back-to-back with the original I was left wishing for more seat time in the lighter, simpler machine. In retrospect, that was more than a little unfair, because the world today is a much more complex one than it was back in 1990. And so, too, is the new NSX. Viewed not through the lens of its epic predecessor, but instead on its own merits, today’s NSX is quite simply a wonderful machine.

It’s so comfortable and smooth that it almost hides its performance, executing 3-second 0-to-60-mph runs again and again without drama, and laying down effortless yet blisteringly quick lap times. Driven aggressively, it’s a legitimate hoot on the track. Driven more casually, it’s a calm and comfortable way to get out of town. It’s a wonderful all-rounder and a truly modern sports car that deserves a second look.

— Tim Stevens

Ford Transit Connect

You’re probably far more likely to see a florist or HVAC technician driving a Ford Transit Connect than your typical family, but that doesn’t mean this smart-sized commercial van isn’t fit for civilian duty. Quite the contrary.

No, this thing won’t set hearts a-flutter based on its looks, but don’t let that municipal-grade styling fool you. This versatile high-roof hauler is seriously underrated and a relative bargain these days, kicking off at right around $28,000 in Passenger Wagon form. That gets you dual sliding doors, a cavernous and cleverly reconfigurable interior with seating for seven and 29 mpg on the highway courtesy of Ford’s 150-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that comes matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

If you don’t need luxury-car trimmings, axle-snapping performance or all the latest and greatest in vehicular tech, this is a wholesome and useful option. The Transit Connect is straightforward and honest in a way few vehicles are these days.

— Craig Cole

Kia Sedona

Between the Kia Sportage, Sorento and Sedona, it can be hard to remember which one’s the minivan. It’s the latter one, and yes, Kia still sells a minivan. Not only does the Korean marque still sell the family hauler, it’s pretty darn good.

While car buyers continue to opt for crossovers and SUVs, there’s no replacement for the cavernous space minivans supply, and the Sedona does just that. It’s overlooked often in favor of more predominant models these days like the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, but, the Sedona is a classy thing.

Cabin materials are lovely, the rear seats recline with footrests, and although there are more modern looking interiors, the Sedona gets the family from point A to B in a comfortable fashion. For those that don’t need the flashiest looks, the Sedona should get a serious look, partially because it costs a few thousand dollars less than rivals.

— Sean Szymkowski

Honda Clarity PHEV

I know it’s ugly. And I know the plug-in Honda Clarity has the unenviable position of living in the shadow of the impractical hydrogen fuel-cell-powered Clarity and now-cancelled Clarity Electric. But with around 50 miles per charge, it has one of the longest EV ranges of plug-in hybrids today. The big hatchback-sedan-thing rides quietly and has decent power for acceleration (once you get used to how the eCVT works) and features decent Android Auto and CarPlay-powered tech

If you liked the Chevy Volt and lament its demise, the Clarity PHEV is the closest thing on the road today (albeit larger, uglier and uglier).

— Antuan Goodwin

Lincoln Continental

Sedans are a tough business these days, especially luxury sedans. For those who don’t want to tower above the world in an SUV, the Lincoln Continental is a fine choice.

Is it the best of the best? No. But at least the Continental absolutely knows what it is. It’s not a sport sedan, it’s a luxury sedan and treats owners like one. Not only that, but there’s a certain yesteryear charm to the cockpit that doesn’t rely on carbon fiber and sportier flash. It’s just a plushy sedan. And people, Lincoln will sell you one with a freaking blue interior. Talk about a breath of fresh air from all the black, gray and beige.

Modern amenities are in high supply with parent company Ford’s Sync 3 calling the infotainment shots, a 30-way adjustable driver’s seat with thigh extenders, the standard slew of heated interior elements and a gaggle of active safety gear. It’s a shame more people won’t give the Continental a look because it probably means we won’t see how Lincoln could improve upon it with a new generation. If you do want one, definitely try and source a Continental Coach Door Edition with its awesome suicide doors.

— Sean Szymkowski


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First published May 1.

Wireless London
Keyword: The most underrated new cars on sale today

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