But the Koreans and domestics? The Kias and Hyundais of the world don't have much cachet and Buick and Dodge have lost their Detroit glory-days luster, but don't cross them off your list just yet. Our rankings show that these overlooked (or misunderstood?) carmakers are turning out some real gems. Take a look at a few cars the experts love -- and could be a steal for you.
The Enclave: Buick is Back
Believe it or not, Buick is a top-selling premium brand in China. Stateside, it's still relegated to the right lane and Grandma's garage. Truth be told, Buick hasn't had a hit in a while. But watch out -- Buick is back with the Enclave, a far cry from the big soft sedans the carmaker is known for. The sleek SUV ranks very well against its crossover SUV competitors, even beating out some top sellers from Toyota. The Enclave's eight-seat interior and luxurious, quiet cabin represent the best of the classic Buicks, while its sexy lines give it a modern edge over the competition. And as for quality -- in recent dependability rankings from , Buick tied Lexus for the highest quality ratings of any carmaker. Surprised yet?
The Azera: Hyundai Goes Upscale
A $24,000 sticker price doesn't usually mean luxury -- unless you're talking about the Hyundai Azera. Though many critics complain of the sedan's bland styling, they praise its upscale interior, solid performance and unmatched warranty. For those who like their sedans big, powerful and with styling that's not too over-the-top, this Hyundai may be a surprisingly perfect fit.
The Magnum: A Mean, Hip... Station Wagon
The biggest surprise may be the Dodge Magnum, which staged a sneak attack to top the rankings affordable full size wagon class, passing over stiff competition from the Subaru Outback and the Volvo V50. The Magnum's base model engine isn't too impressive, but with retro, aggressive looks, it sheds the typical station wagon frumpiness. Despite the accolades, Chrysler has announced that it's dropping the Magnum from its lineup. So hurry...this may be one of your last chances for a new-retro wagon.
The Sorento: Quality from Kia
Let's face it. Kia is an econobox brand and Americans are still early in warming up to Korean carmaker. But recently the manufacturer has proven itself with long warranties and more reliable vehicles. Its latest winner is the Sorento, an affordable compact SUV with four-wheel-drive and towing capabilities that beat the Subaru Forester and Nissan Xterra in our rankings. Not only does the Sorento offer a powerful engine, but for 2008 it received the highest possible marks in government front and side crash tests. Add in an attractively low sticker price, and the Sorento becomes quite an attractive value.
To Buy or Not to Buy
Everyone knows that brand counts for something. In America's car culture we're often judged by what we drive. But before you jump at the most prestigious carmakers for your next car purchase, give some of the underappreciated brands a chance. You might be very pleasantly surprised -- and be seen as a smart shopper.