When it comes to categorizing new vehicles, the lines get blurrier every year. When is a station wagon considered big enough (tall enough?) to be a crossover? Is it fair to put a miniature van in the same category as a minivan? Once those questions are answered as best as possible, the really interesting debates begin. What truck would be ideal for maximum hauling? Which vehicle is the best in the dirt? Which truck or sport/utility is ready to race?
After a lot of heated discussion, we've come up with this year's list of winners and runners-up. To determine the rankings, we generally look for the most capability (towing, cargo area, payload) for the money. That's how we define value, and it means the least-expensive vehicle isn't necessarily the best. Fuel economy is also a consideration, as is the breadth of a vehicle's lineup. More engines, transmissions, bed and cabin sizes, and such mean that a model can offer something for nearly everyone.
All vehicles here are from the 2011 model year, with the exception of the Mazda5, a 2012 model that went on sale earlier this year. Please note prices reflect the specific models listed in each category, and for some charts, that may include optional equipment.
Specifications came from the most recent versions of the manufacturers' press materials, accurate as of press time. If you notice that some vehicles are missing (Commander, Explorer Sport Trac), it's because they aren't available for 2011.