When it comes to test driving new cars, 2021 has been a good year. Our editorial team logged more than 100 first drives of new or redesigned vehicles, and more than half were 2022 models. That gave us a lot to consider for The Car Connection's Best Car To Buy 2022.
The idea for our testing and reporting is to cut through the fluff and provide shoppers with insights to winnow down the complex car buying process. We can't presume to know which car moves you, but we know through our in-depth testing which cars stand out among their peers. That's why earlier this week we identified the finalists for our 12th annual Best Car To Buy award. We value your opinion and would love to hear your take on the Driver's Choice Award page, where readers vote for their Best Car To Buy nominees.
MORE: Follow all our Best Car To Buy 2022 news
Our Best Car To Buy award is limited to cars that cost less than $50,000; performance and luxury vehicles park in the garage of our partner Motor Authority and its Best Car To Buy testing. That eliminated from our consideration the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing performance sedan or Rivian R1T electric truck.
Additionally, we evaluate all plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, especially as they increase in offerings and availability. But we focus on high volume models accessible nationwide, so we tested but did not consider the Mazda MX-30 or GMC Hummer EV. Our other partner, Green Car Reports, considers such vehicles for its Best Car To Buy awards.
We're still revisiting and test driving the finalists, and won't name a victor until January 3, 2022. The vehicles that didn't make the finalist cut failed to move the needle in their segment. They're all good cars, but they need to be great to be the "Best." Nearly half were three-row family haulers, but that doesn't mean we don't appreciate the minivan and its SUV successor. In the past six years, three of our winners have been three-row vehicles in the Kia Telluride (2020), Honda Pilot (2017), and Chrysler Pacifica (2016).
The redesigned three-row crossover SUV with luxury leanings sports a leaner look, roomier interior to seat seven, and more standard features, including adaptive cruise control, a panoramic sunroof, and a 12.3-inch infotainment display. Starting just under $50,000, the new MDX is good enough to earn a high TCC Rating of 7.0 out of 10, but it doesn't innovate enough to shake up the crowded class.
The return of the Bronco after a 25-year absence was met with all the hype Ford hoped for, but the roll out was as shaky as the off-road terrain conquered by the factory-ready adventurer. With its removable top and doors, the only true competitor to the Jeep Wrangler suffered from delays and quality control issues culminating with a recall of hardt op models. Despite its modern engineering—an independent front suspension, rack and pinion steering, turbocharged engines—the four-door hard top rides too rough and loud at highway speeds. Yet the ride quality and NVH really depends on the model; the Outer Banks soft top with standard tires is much more road friendly.
2022 Honda Passport TrailSport
2022 Honda Passport TrailSport
The refreshed mid-size crossover and five-seat cousin to the Honda Pilot gets a new off-road-oriented TrailSport trim, but the upgrades are mostly cosmetic with reshaped front and rear bumpers, a unique grille design, and 18-inch wheels with pewter highlights. All-wheel drive comes standard, but there are no performance upgrades except for a 0.3-inch wider track front and rear. And the price increases by up to $2,500 across the board.
With gas, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid powertrains, as well as a daring new design, the redesigned compact crossover was one of the toughest to eliminate from our finalist pool. Ultimately, in performance, it fell short of the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, and RAV4, which have similar powertrain options with hybrid models that exceed the EPA-rated 37 mpg combined. We didn't match that in our varied testing. Still, it's worth a long look if shopping for a five-seat crossover SUV.
2022 Infiniti QX60 Autograph
2022 Infiniti QX60 Autograph
Like the related Nissan Pathfinder, the upscale QX60 looks sharp inside and out, with a sweeping greenhouse and chrome trim accents brightening the body. The interior features open-pore wood and quilted semi-aniline leather with unique cross-stitching. Starting just under $50,000 but well equipped, the redesigned QX60 represents a vital upgrade for Nissan's premium brand, but the sole powertrain and familiar features of the Pathfinder wash some of its charm.
At long last, Jeep fitted its iconic SUV with a third row in the Grand Cherokee L that's extended by 15 inches. Stylish and rugged, sophisticated yet brutish, the JGCL fits six adults with versatile second-row captain's chairs and all the standard features expected in a family hauler, such as a 10.1-inch touchscreen. A choice of powertrains, with five drive modes and an available air suspension, the Grand Cherokee L is a bona fide off-roader and a cush road tripper. But with a price range from about $40,000 to $70,000, it sits at the more expensive end of the three-row spectrum.
The new Carnival minivan replaces the Sedona and loads up on standard features with luxury-leaning finishes, but the front-wheel-drive-only family hauler lacks some of the versatility and efficiency of a shrinking but very competitive minivan segment. Though it lacks a hybrid option to compete with the Toyota Sienna or Chrysler Pacifica, it's huge inside, and can fit seven adults with the second-row captain's chairs.
Like so many other vehicles on this list, the redesigned Lexus NX is essential for Toyota's luxury brand as it targets a younger demographic, but it adds to the luxury compact crossover segment rather than disrupts it. The bold styling is almost aggressive this time, but the highlight comes inside with a revamped infotainment system fronted by either a 9.8-inch or 14.0-inch touchscreen that will make its way to other Lexus and Toyota models. The commitment to technology applies under the hood as well, with turbo-4, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and F Sport models.
The smallest three-row crossover on our list, the redesigned Outlander shares its bones with the Nissan Rogue, and that third row is best in a pinch. The 181-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 with a CVT underwhelms, but the Outlander appeals for its value and loaded standard feature set starting at $27,000. Again, it's more important for the health of the brand than it is for the dynamics of the marketplace.
The redesigned three-row SUV fails to keep up to the hybrid competition with its lone 284-hp V-6 and 9-speed automatic, but its advantage sits in the versatile second and third rows. Child safety seats can remain in the available captain's chairs, and the seats slide forward with the push of a button. Two adults can fit in the third row, and good standard safety and convenience features make the fifth-generation Pathfinder a good base deal for $35,000, though we prefer the $40,000 SL model.
The mid-size pickup truck went 17 years between generations, and the new one carries over the old one's winning attributes of being a capable, no-frills truck that does everything well without being exceptional in any way. We love its honesty. The brawny front end holds a 310-hp 3.8-liter V-6 and a 9-speed automatic with rear- or four-wheel drive and a tow rating of 6,720 lb. Still sold in extended and crew cab models, it rides quieter, handles better, and comes loaded with the standard safety and convenience features lacking from its predecessor.
Larger than the C-HR but smaller than the RAV4, the new Corolla Cross fills the gap in Toyota's small crossover lineup. An entry-level car like its namesake, the crossover lacks in power (a 169-hp 2.0-liter inline-4) what it has in value, with a $23,500 starting price loaded with safety features and a reasonable 7.0-inch touchscreen. It gets 30 mpg combined with all-wheel drive, but a forthcoming hybrid variant makes the most sense here.
Another overdue truck redesign that nails the landing, the 2022 Toyota Tundra full-size truck swaps out the old V-8 for more powerful and more efficient twin-turbo V-6 models, including a range-topping hybrid that makes 437 hp and 583 lb-ft of torque. A lighter double wishbone suspension up front and a multi-link rear suspension and solid axle with coil springs replace the old leaf springs for a calmer, smoother ride both on and off-road. An available air suspension further improves its road manners, as do a bevy of standard safety and convenience features. Towing maxes out at 12,000 lb, and payload reaches 1,940 lb. The Tundra comes with extended or crew cab models with two different bed length options for each cab.