Can you get a brand new car that's stylish, practical, fun and fuel-efficient for under $20,000?  According to the Spring 2008 U.S. News car rankings, the answer is yes -- especially if you'd be happy with a Honda, which has the top three ranked compact cars. If you can stomach today's record gas prices, you'll find many price breaks on large SUVs and full-size trucks. GM dominates the rankings in those categories, where the Chevy Tahoe and Silverado each take the number one spots in their classes.

The U.S. News rankings go beyond car buff bias to give consumers objective insight into the car buying market. U.S. News editors gather credible published reviews on every major model and translate the consensus of America's top automotive experts into rankings. The result: rankings that you can use when you purchase your next car. You can check out the full rankings to see how your favorites fare. Here are some highlights:

Compact Cars: Peppy versus Practical

Honda Civic Coupe

Once considered basic transportation for practical right-lane dwellers, small cars have evolved into stylish haulers and near-sports cars. The Honda Civic, Fit and Civic Hybrid take the top three spots in compact cars, though the Civic Hybrid is tied with the Scion tC for number three. In this class, reviewers like both sporty rides and affordable commuters, which explains the Civic Hybrid and tC tie. The same story plays out in the five and six spots, where the Mazda3 barely zoom-zooms its way past the Hyundai Elantra. For now, by a slim margin the reviewers prefer the sportier cars, but consumers have a lot of small car choices no matter what they're looking for.  

Midsize Cars: Honda Accord No. 1, Toyota Camry Close Behind

Toyota Camry Hybrid

While the Honda Accord is the top car in the Affordable Midsize class, the number two spot is shared by the Toyota Camry and Toyota Camry Hybrid. Though the conventional Camry has a slight performance edge, many reviewers find that gas savings and cool gadgetry make the Camry Hybrid worth the $6,630 premium. Consumers agree, as Camry Hybrid sales recently edged above V6-powered conventional Camrys. Four American cars make the top ten in this competitive class: the Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, Mercury Milan and Saturn Aura.

SUVs: Time to Make a Deal

Buick Enclave

If you want a good deal on a car right now, an SUV is the way to go. Sales are down, automakers are offering incentives, and there are a lot of good models to choose from. In Compact SUVs, the Honda CR-V leads the pack, followed closely by the Toyota RAV4. The Honda Element and the Saturn VUE tie for the number three spot.

If you need more space, Midsize SUV leaders include the Honda Pilot, upscale Buick Enclave and sporty Nissan Murano. Large SUVs are dominated by American models, with the Chevy Tahoe taking the top spot in Affordable Large SUVs. Its cousin, the Cadillac Escalade, beats out Mercedes, Toyota and Lexus to top the Luxury Large SUV class.

Going Upscale but Staying Small

Acura TSX

With more buyers choosing small cars, the Upscale Small Car Class shows that luxury and performance can come in a small package. The Audi A3 ranks first in the class while the Acura TSX and Volkswagen GTI tie for the second spot. There isn't enough data to rank the highly anticipated BMW 1 Series, but it's certain to shake this class up. Keep checking back to see what happens when the 1 Series makes its rankings debut.

Drop Tops

Mazda MX-5 Miata

With summer coming on fast, convertibles are looking better and better. If you only need two seats, the Mazda MX-5 Miata, Nissan 350Z Roadster and Honda S2000 rank well. If you want to take the kids to the beach, consider the Toyota Camry Solara Convertible, Ford Mustang Convertible or Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible. Though they're very different cars, all have room for four and rank in the top three in their class.

 

Check Out the Full Rankings

There's no single winner in the U.S. News Rankings. That's because the rankings are meant to help you find the best car for you. Use them to compare the cars you're interested in and find the one that suits you best. Though rankings are based on expert opinion, you can vote with your wallet.