The Best New Cars Under $35,000
Car shopping can be one of the most frustrating or rewarding life experiences. Your experience depends on how much work you’re willing to do before heading to the new-car showroom. If you do no research, you won’t know that Kelley Blue Book reported that the average transaction price for light vehicles in the U.S. at the end of 2018 was $37,577.
You’ll also be at the mercy of salespeople and what your uncle’s girlfriend's sister’s friend thought about her new car. Doing ample research before heading to the dealership will help peel back the layers of what makes a vehicle great and what makes one a ticking time bomb of frustrations.
Sure, your wants and needs are front and center in your new-car search, but you also must consider reliability ratings, aggregated owner satisfaction, performance, comfort, fit and finish, and more. This may seem overwhelming now, but we put together a list of the 16 best cars under $35,000 to help you kick off your search.
What Makes a Car Great?
Deciding what makes a car a great buy is a tough spot to be in because there are virtually countless variables to consider. Plus, each person finds different aspects more important than others. To help decipher all this and get down to an objective list, we used data from Consumer Reports.
CR anonymously purchases all the vehicles it tests and puts them through the paces at its 327-acre testing facility that includes its own test track and miles of surrounding rural roads. In each test, CR gives a numerical score to help buyers better grasp where each vehicle excels and falls short.
Reliability and what other owners think of their vehicles matter too, so CR uses past reliability data and satisfaction ratings from owners to help create the final score for each vehicle.
We used Consumer Reports’ scores and pricing data to develop our list of the best vehicles under $35,000.
The Hyundai Sonata went through a full redesign in 2018 and has been high on critics’ lists since this slick sedan arrived. The 2019 Sonata’s entire lineup fits under our $35,000 mark with its base MSRP starting at $19,759 and its range-topping Limited 2.0T model hitting $29,100. You can even treat yourself to stellar fuel economy in the 2019 Sonata Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid and still fit all but one trim under the $35,000 budget.
According to Consumer Reports, the 2019 Hyundai Sonata’s transmission stood out from the crowd with a perfect 5 of 5 score thanks to smooth but firm shifting. It is also above average for its class with an 8.3-second 0-to-60 time with the base 2.4-liter engine and up to 42 miles per gallon highway. The cabin also boasts loads to write home about, especially the rear seats, which score a perfect 5 of 5 with ample space for two and unmatched comfort in its class.
At $34,050, the 2019 Nissan Maxima just barely squeezes under our predetermined budget, meaning you are stuck with basically the standard model. Thankfully, this is no econobox with only the bare necessities. In the base Maxima, you get desirable features like 18-inch wheels, an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, power seats, two USB ports, automatic emergency braking and more. Plus, it looks incredible.
Add to that a 6.5-second gallop to 60 mph thanks to its 300-horsepower V-6 engine, tight handling and a long history of reliability, and it’s easy to see why this is a great fit in your budget.
Hyundai Santa Fe
The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is all-new, giving it a slight boost on our list. The first thing any buyer will notice is now the 2019 Santa Fe stands out in a crowd with its thin headlights with striking underlines and sharp body lines.
While the looks are great, what really stands out in the Santa Fe are its passenger-friendly rear seats that not only receive high marks for comfort but also boast a whopping 40.9 inches of legroom. Add to that 39.2 inches of rear headroom, and nearly anyone can fit in the Santa Fe’s back seat.
Rounding out its shining points are top-level reliability score in the past four years, so you know you’re getting a quality crossover that starts from $24,500.
The 2019 Subaru Outback is a great option, especially for those who live in wet or snowy climates, as it is one of the few vehicles in its class that comes standard with all-wheel drive. This ensures you get ideal grip in all conditions. Despite having all-wheel drive, which normally kills fuel efficiency, CR testing puts the Outback at up to 32 mpg highway with its standard 2.5-liter engine.
The Outback is also ideal for buyers who haul a lot of cargo. With its seats upright, it can tote an impressive 35.5 cubic feet of cargo. Dropping the rear seats exposes up to 73.3 cubes of space, which beats many SUVs and crossovers.
Where the Outback really stands out is its reliability and owner satisfaction, which Consumer Reports says has been top notch over the past four years.
With a starting price of $26,345, there is a lot of room to add more features, too.
No best cars list is complete without an appearance by the Honda Accord. The 2019 Honda Accord has fallen off a little over the years, but it remains impossible to leave it off this list, especially with its $23,720 to $34,990 MSRP range. This means no matter what flavor Accord you prefer, even the hybrid or fully loaded Touring trim, it will fit in your budget.
What makes the Accord such a great buy is its status as an IIHS Top Safety Pick, its surprisingly snappy 7.7-second sprint to 60 mph, up to 42 mpg highway, and ridiculously high reliability ratings, according to Consumer Reports.
Mazda is an oft-forgotten brand in the grand mixture of the automotive world, but it’s worked hard at improving its image and creating reliable, fun-to-drive vehicles. The 2019 Mazda CX-5 hits both requirements with impeccable reliability ratings from Consumer Reports since 2013, an 8.6-second 0-to-60 time and curve-friendly chassis.
Beyond that, experts point toward its comfortable ride, peaceful cabin and top-notch interior materials in its higher trims as great reasons to include it in our list. And with starting prices that range from $24,350 to $36,890, all CX-5 models south of the range-topping Signature fit the $35,000 budget.
With a relatively vanilla recent history, some buyers may not even put the 2019 Chevy Impala on their short list. That would be a mistake, as a lot has changed as of late. The 2019 Chevy Impala is not only stylish, but it also boasts an impressive 3.5-liter V-6 engine that injects 305 horsepower and sprints this large sedan to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds.
The experts at Consumer Reports point toward many things the 2019 Impala does well to earn its spot on our list, including a crisp-shifting transmission, strong braking and a butter-smooth ride. Also, with above-average reliability and customer satisfaction ratings in recent years, you know you’re getting a sedan you’ll enjoy for the long haul.
When shopping for an Impala inside your $35,000 budget, you must stay at the LT trim or lower to remain under this amount.
Like its sister brand, Hyundai, Kia has dusted off a relatively poor image in the past decade or so to create some great cars with lots to offer. Leading the charge in this path was the Optima, and the 2019 model is plenty worthy of our list.
The experts at Consumer Reports point toward the 2019 Optima’s precise transmission and strong braking as its strongest points behind the wheel, but its eight-second 0-to-60 time is notable too. It also received perfect scores in front and rear seat comfort, thanks to its well-balanced padding and 35.6 inches of rear legroom. Buyers looking for more thrift can opt for the hybrid model and its 41 mpg combined.
All this comes in at a $22,990 starting price for the base model and $29,310 for the hybrid.
Mazda gets back on our list with its resident midsize sedan, the Mazda6. This sedan not only looks the part of a premium rig with its long hood, sharp brightwork and upscale cabin, but it also delivers great performance across the board, especially with the optional 250-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Other than its incredible reliability scores since 2011, Consumer Reports’ experts point toward its smooth ride, high levels of fit and finish, and its standard automatic emergency braking as key reasons it belongs on our list. And with an MSRP range of $23,800 to $35,100, your budget can handle almost the entire Mazda6 lineup.
With a starting price of $32,075, fitting the Toyota Highlander in the $35,000 price range requires sticking to just the base LE trim. Fortunately, there is still room to upgrade to the 295-horsepower V-6 engine, which Consumer Reports notes delivers the better drive of its available non-hybrid powertrains.
As with any Toyota, the 2019 Highlander shines in reliability ratings and buyer satisfaction ratings, according to Consumer Reports. It also scored 4 of 5 points in many other key areas, including acceleration, transmission shifting, braking, ride quality, noise level, and fit and finish. These are all great reasons to opt for the 2019 Highlander, even though you may have to sacrifice a few amenities by opting for the base trim.
The Toyota Camry is a legend in the midsize sedan segment, and it reignited its status with the 2018 redesign that brought in a sportier look, improved performance and a roomier cabin. Whether you want muscle or efficiency, the Toyota Camry delivers with a 301-horsepower V-6 engine or a four-cylinder engine that delivers up to 41 mpg highway. You can push the efficiency further with the Camry Hybrid, which delivers up to 53 mpg highway.
As a Toyota, reliability and owner satisfaction is outstanding, according to Consumer Reports. CR experts also point toward overall interior comfort and its 38 inches of rear legroom as the Camry’s key selling point, earning 4 of 5 points in all key interior tests. And with an MSRP range spanning from $24,095 to $34,850, the entire Camry lineup is within your budget.
As a small crossover that combines a little bit of the Outback with a little bit of the Impreza, the 2019 Subaru Crosstrek is a shoo-in on our list. It boasts all the nimbleness the Impreza sedan delivers while adding a touch of the Outback’s ride height and cargo area. This adds up to a go-anywhere, do-anything rig that rings in at $22,545 to $31,545, which means you can fit any trim level into your budget.
While it is far from fast with its 10.2-second 0-to-60 time, the Crosstrek makes up for it with up to 39 mpg highway in Consumer Reports testing. Tests also put its comfortable ride and low cabin noise on display, despite its compact size and off-road focus. Add to that near perfect reliability scores and above average owner satisfaction in recent years, and it’s clear why the 2019 Crosstrek is one of the best vehicles under $35,000.
With all its awesome crossovers and wagons, it’s easy to forget Subaru also builds one of the best sedans under $35,000. The Subaru Legacy, like all Scooby models this side of the BRZ sports car, comes standard with all-wheel drive. Despite having an all-wheel-drive powertrain known for being fuel hungry, the Legacy delivered 39 mpg highway in Consumer Reports testing, making it one of the most fuel-efficient sedans.
Consumer Reports pointed toward a handful of other areas where the Legacy excelled, but it shined brightest with perfect scores in ride quality, braking and transmission shifting. Its overall driving satisfaction was down a bit due to its sluggish 10.2-second 0-to-60 time, but most families care more about the standard automatic emergency braking and other active safety features the Legacy comes standard with than its acceleration.
Like others under the Subaru umbrella, the Legacy received top-level reliability and owner satisfaction scores in the past few years from Consumer Reports, solidifying it as a great buy at $22,545 to $31,545.
Another Subaru? Yeah, get used to it. The brand has been hard at work improving its quality, and it shows. The 2019 Subaru Forester rolls in as one of our top three cars under $35,000. Consumer Reports notes its 9.2-second 0-to-60 time is subpar on the track, but in real-world driving, the Forester has plenty of pep to handle daily driving duties. Plus, CR tests put its fuel economy at 28 mpg combined, tying it for the lead in non-hybrid small crossovers.
Consumer Reports notes the Forester shines in outward visibility, making it easy to zip through traffic and park in tight spaces. Add to that a slew of safety features as part of its standard EyeSight system, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and more, its compliant suspension and roomy cabin with 39.4 inches of rear legroom, and you’ll feel confident packing your family into this crossover.
With pricing that ranges from $24,295 to $34,295, the entire 2019 Forester lineup fits your budget.
Kia’s latest crossover, the Telluride, earns a spot near the top of our list with its impeccable scores from Consumer Reports. Not only is it incredibly stylish with its bold, upright stance that that looks part off-roader, part luxury cruiser and part family crossover, but it also boasts a 291-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 that gets it to 60 mph in just 7.2 seconds.
Consumer Reports also pointed to its impressively quiet cabin, supportive seats with available 10- and 12-way adjustment, and intuitive control placement as key reasons it is one of the best vehicles under $35,000.
You may need to limit your wants to keep the price under the $35,000 budget, but even the base 2020 Telluride LX comes with leatherette upholstery, an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, LED lighting and more. You can even opt for the second-tier S trim and add 20-inch wheels, a sunroof, dual exhaust, a 10-way power driver’s seat and more for $33,990.
With all the Subaru models on our list, it is no surprise the newest of the Subaru crossovers earned the top spot. The 2019 Subaru Ascent is not only one of the best vehicles under $35,000, but it is one of the best vehicles available at any price point.
Its standard 260-horsepower 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers ample acceleration on paper at eight seconds, and Consumer Reports notes it feels much quicker in the driver’s seat. This engine also delivered up to 32 mpg highway in CR testing, delivers a respectable 5,000-pound towing capacity and boasts 8.7 inches of ground clearance for off-road driving.
Inside, the Ascent received perfect scores for its rear seat comfort and high-quality ride. It’s also a safe space for passengers thanks to its standard EightSight package that includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist.
All this comes in at a starting price of $31,995, but you can move up to the $34,395 Premium trim and pack in more features for under $35,000.