Two cars, and for the first time, a truck!
The CarBuzz People's Car Award aims to find the vehicle that offers consumers the most bang without sacrificing too many bucks. This category runs on a sliding scale, based on the average new vehicle transaction price, which creeps up year-on-year. Because of the chip shortages this year, the average new vehicle price skyrocketed to over $45,000 , well above last year's $38,000 average when the 2021 Kia K5 took home the win.
So although this year's winner is allowed to have a starting MSRP under $45,000, we chose three vehicles that all cost around $20,000 in their base trim levels. Some vehicles that just missed this year's cut include the Ford F-150, Hyundai Santa Cruz, and Nissan Rogue, but the three top dogs were, in no particular order:
Now in the award category's third year, this is the first time a pickup truck has ever appeared in the People's Car category. The 2022 Ford Maverick arrives as a breath of fresh air, with an affordable $19,995 starting MSRP for the base hybrid model. Not only is the Maverick affordable, but it's also efficient with an EPA-rated 42 mpg in the city. There's even a peppy EcoBoost four-cylinder model with 250 horsepower and a 4,000-pound towing capacity, available starting at $21,080.
We came away impressed with the Maverick's compact size, usable interior, strong standard feature's list, and available DIY solutions for the interior and bed. Pickup trucks get bigger with each passing year, so it's nice to see Ford return with one that's genuinely small. Even a fully-loaded Maverick will stick under this award's $45,000 starting cap, proving how much of a stellar value it is. Pickup trucks are the best-selling vehicle class in the United States, so it makes sense for one to represent a "people's car." If it wins, the Maverick would be first truck and first Blue Oval product to take home this award.
A runner-up in the inaugural CarBuzz Awards, the Honda Civic is back, now in its 11th generation. This year, we've driven the all-new Civic in Sedan and Hatchback form, but we didn't have a chance to drive the sportier Si variant before judging for the 2021 Awards concluded, so it will remain eligible for next year's awards. In standard guise, the Civic impressed with clean styling, a massively improved interior, and the same stellar driving demeanor we've come to expect from Honda.
Starting at $21,900 for the Civic Sedan and $22,900 for the Civic Hatchback, this is actually the most expensive vehicle on this year's list. The Civic justifies its price tag though, with a premium cabin, spacious hatchback body style, and a peppy (available) 1.5-liter turbocharged engine producing 180 hp. After finishing as a 2019 runner-up, Honda hopes the 11th-generation Civic can take home the win.
The 2021 Hyundai Elantra busts into the People's Car Award category with the most diverse lineup of the three finalists. Hyundai offers the Elantra with a standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 147 hp, starting at just $19,650 (the lowest of any vehicle on this list). Buyers seeking more performance can opt for the 201-hp turbocharged N Line variant, offered for a still-low $24,100 starting price. There's also a frugal Elantra Hybrid model, starting at $23,550 and achieving up to 54 mpg combined. Next year, Hyundai will introduce the Elantra N, which ups the ante with 276-hp and a standard six-speed manual transmission. The N model arrives too late for this year's awards but will be eligible for next year.
We were impressed by the Elantra's radical exterior styling, impressive cabin technology, diverse engine lineup, and extraordinary value. After watching its corporate sibling Kia take home the win last year with the K5, Hyundai hopes its latest Elantra can emerge victorious in 2021.