The 2019 Subaru Forester wowed us enough during our annual Best Car To Buy testing to take home our biggest award of the year. It wasn't an easy task for the Forester to nudge its way ahead during our testing.
This year's field was one of the most competitive in recent history, with a range of excellent crossover SUVs, a thrifty hybrid sedan, and even a pair of full-size pickup trucks gunning for the lead.
The runners-up this year deserve more than just a participation trophy. Here's why we our editors think these other nominees are worthy choices for just about anyone's garage.
2019 Acura RDX Advance
2019 Acura RDX Advance
Kirk Bell - Acura RDX
2019 Volvo XC40
Aaron Cole - Volvo XC40
The 2019 Volvo XC40 went beyond being just another luxury compact crossover and became a new way to consider car ownership. Even if the Care By Volvo car subscription plans lands closer to “gimmick” than “game changer,” the small ‘ute has succeeded in finding new enthusiasm for a group of cars that can feel like watered-down versions of bigger, more expensive models. The XC40 is anything but: Its interior layout is intuitive and smart, and prioritizes storage in ways that other automakers haven’t considered. The XC40’s slick infotainment screen still has a “wow” factor that others lack, and the XC40 is genuinely fun to drive.
Its base price of more than $34,000 is reason for pause. So is its as-tested price of more than $45,000. But for a milquetoast and crowded field of luxury compact crossovers, the XC40 is a new approach that conventional wisdom skips. What if small cars didn’t have to look like big cars?
2019 Subaru Ascent first drive
Joel Feder - Subaru Ascent
Subaru has finally joined the three-row crossover SUV party. For this Japanese automaker, the Ascent is a very important vehicle. It should stop current Subaru owners from venturing to other automakers as their families outgrow the Forester and Outback. With three spacious rows of seats, more cupholders than anyone realistically needs, and charger outlets strewn about the cabin, it’s the big Subaru current customers and dealers have been demanding. Subarus are known for all-weather capability and safety, and the new Ascent will be no different with a long list of active safety tech one expects from the brand, and standard all-wheel drive.
The Ascent has all the features buyers want, but the Honda Pilot, which was named The Car Connection Best Car To Buy 2016, is better packaged. That poses a problem. It’s almost ironic that the largest Subaru isn’t that much larger inside than the new Forester, which shows how well the new Forester is packaged. The Ascent is a good first attempt to keep current Subaru customers in the family.
2019 Ram 1500 Limited
Andrew Ganz - Ram 1500
Most of us don't need a full-size pickup truck. Most of us also don't need a five-bedroom house on a quarter-acre of land. More is better is the American way, for better or worse, and for the first time ever there's finally a full-size pickup truck that's a better choice than most SUVs. The redesigned Ram 1500 in crew-cab form has a spacious interior with more usable passenger space than the first two rows of a Chevy Suburban, yet it's able to haul just about anything in its open bed. Add a hard bed cover and it's weather-resistant.
More than that, the Ram is supremely comfortable on either its standard coil springs or its optional air suspension. Its interior is dressy in any configuration and ready for the Cattlemen's Ball in Laramie Longhorn guise. V-6 versions have plenty of punch and earn upward of 20 mpg on the highway. Forget the full-size SUV, the full-size pickup truck is finally the better way to go.
2019 Honda Insight
Bengt Halvorson - Honda Insight
To call the Honda Insight a dark horse in this group, you have to know about Honda's history of generally underwhelming Insights and Civic Hybrids past. It took Honda far too long to find this sweet spot, and create a high-mileage hybrid that looks classy and sporty and exhibits Honda’s fine ride-and-handling qualities from the Accord and Civic while essentially shaming the Toyota Prius. As it should; hybrids are fast becoming the mainstream, and the era of them needing to stand out should be a distant memory.
The Insight's supreme cabin and up to 52-mpg EPA combined fuel economy are going to make it a popular pick, provided two issues can be overlooked: the tight rear headroom and engine drone that some of us see as deal-breakers. Had it arrived a few years earlier it would have been an out-of-the-park home run. As the sedan form factor wanes and eco-conscious intents move on to battery-electric models, the Insight has to be taken for what it is today: a flash of insight to Honda’s mainstream future, and a cohesive statement on where the pragmatic side of the Civic is headed.
2019 Hyundai Santa Fe first drive
Marty Padgett - Hyundai Santa Fe
My dark horse for BCTB wasn’t much of a dark horse to me. The Forester and Santa Fe ran neck and neck—and I put the Hyundai ahead, despite its mediocre gas mileage and higher sticker price. Sometimes we just want nice things, and despite the fact I’m usually a tightwad when it comes to buying cars, I’d spend extra for the Santa Fe with the turbocharged engine, the Limited or Ultimate interior and equipment, and the superlative warranty. If I bought and sold cars more regularly and cared less about ride noise and infotainment, the Subaru would be a logical choice. But the heart—and the ears, and the rear end, and the eyes—want what they want, and in my case it’s the second-place vehicle here.