Drive: The best cars of 2020

The year 2020 was tough for all of us, and tragic for too many. In the automaking world, a deep slump in April, resulting from the first COVID-19 spike, has been followed by months of recovery.

According to Kelley Blue Book, average prices are 1.3% higher this November than they were in November 2019. But during the same period, prices of electric, high-performance and luxury cars, and luxury midsize SUVs, declined. Experts say now is the best time to buy. In December, dealers have “the largest inventories, with more vehicles from the outgoing model year on dealer lots,” observes the automotive website “Automakers and dealerships want to close the year with strong sales. They also want to get rid of the prior model-year cars that are taking up space, so they're motivated.”

What sort of car, truck or SUV offers the best value? U.S. News & World Report lists the 12 best deals, and they include everything from the sporty Jaguar F-Type to the Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Two of the 12 are on our list of Cars of the Year, which follows - from smallest to biggest. Half are revealed today, and the rest will appear next week.

Subcompact Hatchback: Toyota Yaris

The Yaris started out 21 years ago as a singularly unimpressive car. It survived on the strength of its Toyota nameplate, low price and adequate fuel economy. For the last five years, however, the Yaris has been a very good car, thanks to its having been derived from the discontinued Mazda2 and Scion iA. We described our 2020 Yaris test car, priced at just $19,680, as “an engaging driver's car with high-quality materials. … The car rides comfortably and fairly quietly, like past versions of the Yaris, but the Mazda influence comes to the fore during hard cornering. The Yaris always felt balanced and secure.” Unfortunately, Toyota has discontinued both the hatchback and sedan versions of the Yaris. For 2021, the smallest Toyotas in the U.S. market will be the compact Prius - now available with all-wheel drive - the sporty 86, and the venerable Corolla.

Compact sedan: Nissan Sentra SV

Once a tinny econobox, the Sentra is now a comparatively refined small car. We noted its “easy access and egress, quiet, comfortable ride, luxurious, up-to-date interior, and taut handling.” It also struck us as a good value - $24,800 for a car that bordered on near-luxury status. “Overall, the interior materials were of higher quality than one would expect in a car that has made its reputation with its low price and low cost of operation,” we noted.

Subcompact SUV: Chevrolet Trailblazer

New for 2021, the Trailblazer is nothing like its namesake, which prowled the American road during the first decade of the 2000s. Small and fuel-efficient, it's roomy enough for four or even five adult passengers, and can be set up to accept 54.4 cubic feet of cargo. We were amazed to learn this small SUV, squeezed between the Trax and Equinox in the Chevy lineup, is powered by a 3-cylinder engine. But its 155 horsepower was sufficient to power this relatively lightweight SUV. The base model is priced at $19,000, even less than the Trax, while our upscale Trailblazer RS had a sticker price of $30,580. “The Trailblazer is diminutive but big where it counts,” we said in our review of this newest Chevy SUV.

Midsize sedan: Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

The Camry has been around a very long time, and the nameplate may be a little long in the tooth. But stiff competition from Nissan, Chevrolet, Mazda, Hyundai, Honda and Kia has compelled Toyota to keep its workhorse 4-door midsize sedan fresh. And indeed, there's nothing quite like the Camry Hybrid XLE. While the rest of the midsize sedans are competitive with the Camry, Toyota's entry is the fuel-economy champ. Our XLE was rated at 44 mpg city, 47 highway, and we nudged it up to about 50 by keeping a light foot on the accelerator. The Hybrid LE delivers even higher mileage - 51/53 - thanks to its superior battery and low-resistance tires. The garden-variety Camry's mileage isn't bad, either: 29/41. Our well-equipped Hybrid XLE was priced at $39,619, but drivers seeking maximum fuel economy will find the Hybrid LE has a base price of just $28,430.

Steven Macoy ( is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.