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Front Page - Friday, July 21, 2023

Behind the Wheel: 5 hidden automotive gems that should sell better

In the new car market, there exist some hidden gems – excellent vehicles with much to offer that are overlooked by many shoppers.

These vehicles provide a distinct combination of qualities that make them an attractive choice. They may be underappreciated because of branding misconceptions or vehicle type or overshadowed by popular models, but they can potentially please savvy shoppers who want to stand out from the usual mainstream choices.

Edmunds explores five of these hidden gems, shedding light on the X factor that makes them special. We list our choices by price and include destination.

Mazda 3 Hatchback

Mazda’s compact 3 isn’t a top seller, but it offers a trio of qualities that most small cars don’t: distinctive styling, a refined interior and a pleasing driving experience. Its somewhat high price tag is one reason for its low sales, but we think you’re truly getting your money’s worth here.

The Mazda 3’s base engine makes a respectable 191 horsepower, and there’s an optional turbocharged unit that churns out up to 250 horsepower. This turbo engine comes standard with weather-beating all-wheel drive, too.

Pick the hatchback version of the 3 and you also get a helpful amount of practicality to go along with this car’s style and personality.

Starting hatchback price: $26,855

Hyundai Santa Cruz

Many people are unaware that Hyundai produces a truck, even though the Santa Cruz has been on the market for over a year and competes with the Ford Maverick, the only other compact truck.

The Santa Cruz is more of a lifestyle vehicle than a true pickup truck because it’s essentially an SUV with a bed. This crossover design offers the best of both worlds, providing a pickup truck’s versatility and practicality while maintaining an SUV’s comfort and maneuverability.

The Santa Cruz has an available turbocharged engine that packs plenty of power and sports a stylish interior with excellent tech. Its bed is small but adds a lot of utility and has a handy in-bed trunk with a drain. The truck’s distinctive look isn’t for everyone, but it definitely stands out.

Starting price: $27,035

Kia Stinger

Without its badging, the Stinger would be mistaken for a premium sport sedan by anyone who drove it or saw it passing by. But the Stinger is often overlooked either because people don’t associate it with the Kia brand or because luxury shoppers don’t want to be seen in a Kia.

Yet the reality is that the Stinger is more fun to drive than many European luxury sedans and is nearly as nice.

The Stinger has a low-slung design but its hatchback body style actually provides a spacious cargo area. It also boasts a premium-looking interior.

For the most thrilling driving experience, choose the optional 368-horsepower turbocharged V6. Kia is discontinuing the Stinger after the 2023 model year so now’s the time to pick one up before it’s gone.

Starting price: $37,865

Chevrolet Tahoe, Suburban

You might be wondering why we would pick such popular SUVs, but we’re not talking about just any Tahoe or Suburban. Our hidden gem pick for these big SUVs is to get them with the optional turbodiesel engine. Along with the related Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon, the Tahoe and Suburban are the only large SUVs to offer one.

Packing one of these SUVs with the diesel engine has some benefits. Depending on the model, the diesel is 5-7 mpg more efficient than the base 5.3-liter V8. That means you can travel longer distances on a tank and visit the pump less often.

And if you plan on towing, you’ll love the diesel’s robust 460 lb-ft of torque that complements a generous towing capacity. Chevrolet charges $995 more than the base engine but you should be able to make that back after just a couple of years of driving.

Starting Tahoe price with the diesel: $60,090

Volvo V60

Wagons aren’t popular in the United States, and the elegant and luxurious V60 is no exception. Americans prefer high-riding SUVs and sedans. But hidden among those beasts of burden is the Volvo V60 and its unique blend of performance, high fuel efficiency and utility.

Unlike the more affordable V60 Cross County, a slightly raised, more rugged version of the wagon, the regular V60 is a traditional wagon with something special under the hood. It’s only available as a T8 Polestar Engineered performance model, which means the V60 packs a muscular 455-horsepower plug-in hybrid powertrain, all-wheel drive and a sport-tuned suspension.

When it’s time to dial back your driving enthusiasm, you can charge up the hybrid battery and drive an EPA-estimated 41 miles on all-electric power.

Starting price: $72,540

Edmunds says

If you’re willing to take a chance on an overlooked vehicle, these less-common choices could provide a unique and rewarding ownership experience.

Michael Cantu is a contributor at Edmunds and is on Instagram.