The Winner's Circle
Here they are: 15 cars, trucks and SUVs that set the standard for value this year
(MONEY Magazine) – BEST SPORTS CAR
With 400 hp, a 186-mph top speed and track-worthy handling, the redesigned Corvette is faster and more comfy, and costs about $30,000 less than its nemesis, the Porsche 911.
• PERFORMANCE The enlarged 6.0-liter V-8 spurs the 'Vette to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, while the six-speed manual features shorter throws and smoother operation.
• DESIGN Shortened and sculpted, it's now beautiful and imposing. Both coupe and convertible get a richer, quieter cabin that ditches the family resemblance to cheap Malibus.
• FRINGE BENEFITS Extreme thrills, sure, but also big cargo space, reasonable fuel mileage and sterling resale value. RUNNER-UP Mazda RX-8
Base price  $44,245 to $52,245
BEST LARGE SUV
With three spacious rows of seats, a honkin' Hemi V-8 and excellent ride and handling for a truck this size, the Durango proves good things come in large packages. Sure, the school-bus styling won't win many awards, but its rivals aren't exactly ready for the swimsuit competition either.
• PERFORMANCE The Durango hauls seven folks and their stuff in comfort—and quickly, with that rodeo bull of an engine, the 335-hp Hemi.
• DESIGN Dimensions are just about right for this class, roomier than mid-size but more maneuverable than behemoths like the Chevy Suburban.
• DEALIN' With the biggest trucks stumbling in the market, Dodge has been forced to sweeten the pot, doling out $6,000 or more in incentives on the Durango, despite its being an all-new standout.
Base price $27,380 to $36,240
Designed and sold by BMW, this English muffin has become the ultimate urban runabout—chic, affordable, great on gas, perfect for tiny parking spots. The Mini's level of style, features and sophistication is unbeatable for a car that starts at around $17,000.
• PERFORMANCE When city gives way to country, the Mini reveals its go-kart handling. It works best in Cooper S trim, with its 168-hp supercharged four-cylinder engine.
• DESIGN Despite its breadbox size, the Mini is safe, with top government crash scores, a half-dozen air bags and available stability control. It also boasts the most eye-catching interior of any car near its price.
• TAKE IT OFF The Mini doubles the fun for '05, with a convertible that matches the heart-skipping performance of the hardtop. Base price $16,999 to $24,950
BEST MID-SIZE SUV
Dreaming about a Lexus GX470 but can't spend $50,000-plus? Meet the 4Runner: same solid platform, same available V-8, $7,000 to $10,000 less. You'll pay a premium over bargain-bin models like the TrailBlazer but get it back with class-best resale.
• PERFORMANCE It's loaded with high-end features usually found on luxury trucks, including hill-descent control, stability control and side-curtain air bags.
• DESIGN The Toyota doesn't have the highfalutin Lexus interior, but its cabin—the entire truck, in fact—still feels a cut above most rivals.
• BEEFING UP This year V-8 models get a boost to 270 hp (from 235) and a hefty 330 pound-feet of torque, while V-6 versions add a five-speed automatic transmission.
RUNNER-UP Honda Pilot
Base price $28,060 to $38,060
BEST LARGE CAR
Finding a big sedan without spending big bucks used to mean settling for ancient designs, dull performance or both. But the 300, MONEY's Car of the Year, is a vehicle that stars covet yet the masses can afford. After what felt like a three-decade break, it seems Detroit can build a great sedan after all.
• PERFORMANCE Not only has its Hemi V-8—a 340-hp blast from Chrysler's past—recaptured a place in car-culture lore, but it silently shuts down half its cylinders to save gas while cruising. The engine is terrific, but the 250-hp V-6 Touring and Limited models are better values and easier on gas.
• DESIGN From the stadium-size grille to generous helpings of chrome and attitude, there's nothing dull about the 300. The interior is comfy and Lexus-quiet, but overall the cabin won't dazzle people accustomed to true luxury brands.
• WHAT'S NEXT An SRT-8 version ($39,995) looks to lick Euro-rivals with a 425-hp, 6.1-liter Hemi and all-wheel drive.
Base price $23,920 to $35,995
Consider its stack of advantages: The best handling, quickest acceleration, best mileage and highest projected residuals. The new Touring model can reach $40,000, but the popular EX version can still be had for around $30,000, maintaining its rep for value pricing.
• PERFORMANCE Two high-dollar models, the Touring and EX with Leather, feature a 3.5 V-6 that shuts down three of six cylinders to save fuel during cruising, boosting mileage to 20 mpg city/28 highway.
• DESIGN The conservative styling masks a thorough re-engineering. An expensive-looking interior showcases Honda comfort, ergonomics and quality.
• GOOD DIRECTIONS The navigation system accepts hundreds of voice commands—no cumbersome typing or scrolling required.
Base price $25,505 to $38,810
Subaru has remade these trusty wagons, adding room, refinement and sharper handling to the usual Subaru virtues of affordability and standard all-wheel drive. Their price nicely undercuts AWD wagons from the European luxury kings.
• PERFORMANCE Some of Subaru's championship rally-racing heritage has trickled down to these wagons, the Legacy 2.5 GT and Outback 2.5 XT models in particular. They're not just quick, they're sports-car fast, with turbocharged four-cylinder engines that whip them from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds.
• DESIGN The outgoing models were as stylish as a commune farmer in coveralls, but these remakes are more sculpted and dressy, fit for a night in town.
• FUEL The Subies haul like SUVs but are easier on gas.
Base price $22,570 to $33,970
The F-Series pickup—the nation's top-selling vehicle for nearly three decades—has reclaimed its critical standing with a convincing redesign. It's the best, smoothest half-ton pickup we've ever tested. And it's priced in line with lesser rivals.
• PERFORMANCE This cowboy is the strong, silent type, the quietest full-size pickup going. Nissan and Dodge offer more V-8 hp, but the Ford wins on overall comfort and refinement.
• DESIGN Tough and masculine, but in a well-groomed sort of way. High-quality cabins make some competitors seem downright tacky in comparison—especially in deluxe models like the FX4, the Lariat and the new-for-'05 King Ranch.
• WORKHORSE VIRTUES The F-150 stays true to its roots with huge towing and payload capacities—it'll tow a maximum 9,900 pounds and shoulder a 3,000-pound payload—and myriad choices in cabs, bed lengths and power trains.
Base price $20,805 to $40,180
BEST LUXURY SUV
Land Rover LR3
The new LR3 has garnered a slew of awards, including MONEY's Truck of the Year. It lacks the flagship Range Rover's dramatic interior but mimics its elegant proportions, graceful handling and epic off-road ability for around $30,000 less.
• PERFORMANCE Just quick enough, with "only" 300 hp to motivate a nearly 5,700-pound truck. A fully independent air suspension can be lowered for easy loading or raised for extra clearance.
• DESIGN More useful space than any similar-size SUV, with adult-size third-row seats.
• QUALITY QUESTION Ford, which owns the brand, must lure folks who equate Rover with dodgy quality. The company has come out swinging, investing $1.3 billion in the LR3.
RUNNER-UP Cadillac SRX
Base price $44,995 to $49,995
BEST SPORTS SEDAN
The BMW-bashing price remains unbeatable for this level of power, performance and style. And following last winter's terrific AWD G35x version, Infiniti adds power and gives the interior a needed makeover.
• PERFORMANCE Sharp handling, big fun. And with 298 hp (280 in automatics), the manual-transmission G35 is the fleetest, strongest player in the class.
• DESIGN Pretty and potent, a fine blend that's aging well. Interior quality still isn't in Audi or Lexus territory, but it's improved. The back seat and trunk are more spacious than those of many competitors.
• COUPE'S COUP If you can do without four doors, the G35 coupe (like the sedan) is based on the Nissan 350Z sports-car platform—but with a useful back seat and more luxury.
RUNNER-UP BMW 3-Series
Base price $31,040 to $33,090
BEST ECONOMY CAR
Mazda has conjured the rare economy car that's sporty yet practical, stylish yet affordable. It may be Japanese, but its international breeding lends European flair and feel, from the sophisticated styling to the expensive-looking interior. Base 3i models are priced alongside more pedestrian fare, though high-end 3s models can top $20,000 well-equipped.
• PERFORMANCE Slick handling and a smooth five-speed manual make the Mazda a class standout. High-value 3i models feature a fine 2.0-liter, 148-hp four-cylinder engine; 3s versions, with their bigger 160-hp four, are even stronger.
• DESIGN This premium small sedan and hatchback shares its refined chassis with the vastly more expensive Volvo S40 and V50 (Ford controls Mazda and owns Volvo). The hatchback is especially striking, with its modern Euro shape and muscular rear quarters.
• BOTTOM LINE The 3 posted strong reliability and owner feedback in its rookie year, which bodes well for resale values.
RUNNER-UP Toyota Corolla
Base price $14,225 to $17,160
BEST FAMILY SEDAN
Honda Accord/Acura TSX
The jewel-like TSX is simply the world's best under-$30,000 sedan, going head to head with rivals that cost thousands more. It's essentially an Accord—the version sold in Europe, smaller but more fun. Four-cylinder Accords, meanwhile, are well-stocked for under $20,000.
• PERFORMANCE Don't be fooled by the Acura's four cylinders and 200 hp: It's a serious sporting machine. And the Honda's low-key looks disguise its skillful handling.
• DESIGN Both cars boast refinement, and fit and finish that put some so-called luxury cars to shame.
• HYBRID FEVER It's pricey at $30,505, but the new hybrid Honda is the fastest and most fuel-efficient Accord.
Base price Accord: $16,710 to $30,505 TSX: $27,560
BEST SMALL SUV
Overall, we love the Jeep for its great looks, well-packaged interior and sturdy construction. It still feels more substantial than some of its tinny competitors and holds its value well.
• PERFORMANCE Smooth and comfortable on the pavement, it breezes through the foulest weather. Beefy construction delivers genuine off-road ability but does add a weight penalty that somewhat hinders agility and fuel economy.
• DESIGN In a world of homogenous small SUVs, the Jeep's signature styling and overall toughness remain underrated.
• CHOICE MODELS Big news is the addition of a frugal turbo-diesel version rated at 22 mpg city/27 highway, compared with 17/22 mpg for the 210-hp, 3.7-liter gasoline V-6. The 2.8-liter diesel produces 160 hp and class bests including a 500-mile driving range and 5,000-pound towing capacity.
RUNNER-UP Honda Element
Base price $19,800 to $27,355
BEST LUXURY CAR
The all-new A6 circles the luxury bases—beauty, performance, character, craftsmanship—better than anything in its class. If you're planning to spend $40,000 to $60,000 on a luxury sedan, the A6 should top your test-drive list.
• PERFORMANCE The A6 closely matches the performance of the benchmark BMW 5-Series, yet it's more luxurious and ergonomically sound and costs roughly $5,000 less. Choose Audi's new direct-injection, 255-hp V-6 or a mighty 335-hp V-8; both are mated to standard Quattro all-wheel drive.
• DESIGN The gaping grille is Audi's bold new signature. Inside, the Multi Media Interface, a single-knob systems controller, is as easy to use as BMW's iDrive is baffling. A CD player hidden in the glove box is the one sour note.
• SAFETY POINT Headlights turn in concert with the steering wheel to illuminate around curves.
RUNNER-UP BMW 5-Series
Base price $41,620 to $51,220
The most significant box since Corn Flakes, the xB is a smart answer to the car-truck conundrum: It drives, parks and sips fuel like a tiny car but hauls more like a small van or SUV. It's as economical as it is efficient: The Toyota-built Scion starts at about $14,000 and showed us a stingy 36 to 38 mpg on the highway.
• PERFORMANCE With just 108 horsepower on tap, the xB dawdles a bit, and gets mildly buzzy above 70 mph. But it's more fun to drive than you'd expect, and its low-rider stance feels steady and safe.
• DESIGN Some will gape at the funky curve-free design. But the payback is great utility for the price, including a huge cargo hold and more headroom than nearly any full-size car or truck.
• TARGET BUYER Scion has young buyers in its sights, offering some 40 custom accessories, including a bass-thumping subwoofer and funky LED lighting inside, all for a youthful price.
Base price $14,165
Note:  Base prices include destination charges and cover the full range of vehicles in a model's lineup.