MONEY SAVER: The Ford Fiesta was named a Best Car for the Money in both the subcompact and hatchback categories by US News & World Report.
MONEY SAVER: The Ford Fiesta was named a Best Car for the Money in both the subcompact and hatchback categories by US News & World Report.
BILL GRIFFITH

It was nearly a quarter century ago when US News & World Report’s annual college ratings became important in our family’s lives. We found them helpful and insightful. We like to think it helped three family members find the right schools at the right price and led to some proudly framed diplomas.

The magazine turned its efforts to ranking new cars (since 2007 and updated constantly) and added the Best Cars for the Money annual awards a year later.

Some of the categories must have been close, considering that 225 vehicles were considered for the 21 awards. They were selected by simple methodology, one that every car buyer, in his or her own way, attempts to do individually.

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If you shop the way most people do, you decide what type of car and what size car you want, then do some research to figure out the best value proposition among the vehicles in its market segment.

There should be many to choose from on local lots this weekend. New England car dealers are well stocked and hoping that lots of potential buyers will come out to shop. They’d also like a stretch of good weather, not only for Presidents’ Day but also for the rest of the month to overcome a weather-related (cold, snow) slow start to the 2014 calendar year.

“Finding a great car that’s also a great deal is a challenge,” says Jamie Page Deaton, managing editor of US News Best Cars. “Our awards are designed to help consumers identify great value cars that also have received critical acclaim and high safety and reliability scores. A good value car doesn’t have to be boring; cars with the latest features, great performance, and comfortable interiors can also be smart financial choices.”

The quality portion of each vehicle’s rating is determined by the score it achieved in the magazine’s ongoing reviews and rankings. The value is measured by a five-year total cost of ownership projection and the average price being paid for it as calculated by TrueCar.com.

Visiting US News might not be your first car-shopping destination in a world where Edmunds, Kelly Blue Book, AutoTrader, Cars.com, and Consumer Reports are well established, but the usnews.com/cars site had 40 million unique visitors last year, two thirds of whom were in the market for a car.

The winners:

Cars—Subcompact, Ford Fiesta; compact, Mazda3; hatchback, Fiesta; sports car, Scion FR-S; upscale small car, VW GTI; mid-size, Toyota Camry; upscale mid-size, Chevrolet Volt; hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid; large car, Chevrolet Impala; wagon, VW Jetta SportWagen.

SUVs—Compact, Honda CR-V; 2-row mid-size, Ford Edge; 3-row mid-size, Hyundai Santa Fe; hybrid, Lexus RX Hybrid; luxury compact, Acura RDX; luxury 2-row, Lexus RX 350; luxury 3-row, Acura MDX; large SUV, Chevrolet Tahoe.

Minivan—Mazda5

Pickup Trucks—Compact, Toyota Tacoma; full size, Ram 1500.

The Lexus RX 350 has won a Best Car award for six straight years, and the Toyota-Lexus-Scion family topped the charts with five wins. Ford followed with four.

Enterprising Buyers

Enterprise Holdings, which encompasses the Enterprise, National, and Alamo Rent-A-Car brands, came up with an interesting finding while surveying customers in the millennial 25- to 34-year-old demographic.

Breaking from the common perception that this group is less interested in car ownership, the survey found 79 percent of those customers consider owning a car “extremely important” to their daily lives and work.

That finding is consistent with the numbers for older demographics.

“This group indicated that they are particularly influenced by the rental experience,” says Kurt Hohler, senior vice president of Enterprise Holding. “They say car rental is one of the best ways to introduce an automotive brand to the next generation of car buyers.”

Other findings were that 68 percent found renting a good way to experience new car technologies, 57 percent chose a rental they wanted to be seen driving, 53 percent wanted to rent something “completely different” from what they normally drive, and 28 percent say their rental sparked a decision to go car shopping.

A 28 MPG Pickup

The 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel pickup has earned a 28 miles-per-gallon EPA highway rating, the best ever for a full-size, half-ton pickup truck. The rating helps Ram retain the record set last year by the 2013 Ram with a 3.6-liter V-6 Pentastar gasoline engine.

The 2014 is the only turbo-diesel in the half-ton segment. In addition to its fuel economy, the 3.0-liter diesel delivers 420 lb.-ft. of torque. In its 4x4 version, it is rated at 19 city, 27 highway, and 22 overall.

Now that Ram has set the bar, the automotive world is keeping an eye on Ford’s coming 2015 F-150 pickup, the one that’s shedding 500 to 700 pounds thanks to the increased use of aluminum body panels. Speculation is that it will challenge that 28 mpg mark when equipped with an available a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine.