New cars get better every year, especially less expensive vehicles. In the past, if you wanted to save money, it meant sacrificing comfort, performance, and utility, but that’s no longer the case. For proof of that, look to the contenders for the 2021 Star Award for Best Value: the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra Hybrid, and Volkswagen Taos. 

All three have a starting price in the low-to-mid $20,000 range, each offering a long list of standard and available safety and driver-assist technology. They’re reasonably comfortable and spacious, too, with fuel economy that keeps costs down even after you’ve paid off that loan.

However, there can only be one winner, and with three similar (yet also very different) automobiles competing for the Best Value title, making a decision wasn’t easy. Lines were drawn, lots were cast, and when the dust settled, our editorial staff picked the controversial 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid. How’d it beat out the other two – which we also loved – in this test? Read on.

The Contenders

  2021 Hyunda Elantra Hybrid Limited 2022 Honda Civic Touring 2022 Volkswagen Taos SEL FWD
Engine 1.6-Liter Inline-Four w/ Permanent-Magnet Synchronous Electric Motor Turbocharged 1.5-Liter Inline-Four Turbocharged 1.5-Liter Inline-Four
Output 139 Horsepower / 195 Pound-Feet 180 Horsepower / 177 Pound-Feet 158 Horsepower / 184 Pound-Feet
Transmission Six-Speed Dual-Clutch Continuously Variable Transmission Eight-Speed Automatic
Drive Type Front-Wheel Drive Front-Wheel Drive Front-Wheel Drive
Fuel Efficiency 49 City / 52 Highway / 50 Combined MPG 31 City / 38 Highway / 34 Combined MPG 28 City / 36 Highway / 31 Combined MPG
Weight 3,069 Pounds 3,077 Pounds 3,175 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5 5 5

Cargo Volume

14.2 Cubic Feet 14.4 Cubic Feet 27.9 / 65.9 Cubic Feet

Base Price

$23,550 + $1,005 Destination $21,700 + $1,015 Destination $22,995 + $1,195 Destination
Trim Base Price $29,105 $29,515 $32,685
As-Tested Price $29,250 $29,910 $33,885

“Value” is something of a vague descriptor, especially nowadays. That’s why our competitors represent a variety of form factors and propulsion methods. The first-ever 2022 Volkswagen Taos won an invite thanks to its charming driving experience and spacious cabin, which earned it 8.9 out of 10 stars when we first drove it


The Volkswagen Taos is something of a replacement for the base Golf, which will only appear in the US in GTI form from now on. And while we might miss the slick little Euro-hatch, the Taos does a fine job of capturing its pseudo-predecessor’s Germanic driving experience while adding scads of people and cargo space. It even gets decent fuel economy, at least if you can convince yourself to lay off the accelerator and its entertaining blend of turbocharger whistle and wastegate chuffing. If only the Golf’s pleasant interior materials also carried over, as the Taos is a famine of hard, shiny plastics everywhere you look and touch.

The Honda Civic, long a bastion of young and/or frugal buyers, is new for 2022, bringing handsome new styling and a maturely styled interior with it. We gave the Civic an impressive star rating of 9.6 from our most recent review

2022 Honda Civic Touring
2022 Honda Civic Touring
2022 Honda Civic Touring

The Civic is one of Honda’s most popular and longstanding nameplates, but it’s never been as mature and grown-up as the 2022 model is. Gone is the pastiche of fake vents, replaced by a smooth profile and face. Inside, the Civic’s interior is leaps and bounds more stylish than its predecessor, with a midcentury-inspired piece of trim artfully hiding the air vents. And the tech suite is much improved as well, bringing the Civic from the back of the class to (nearly) the front. The old model’s lovable powertrains carry over – our Touring tester’s 1.5-liter turbo four and continuously variable transmission are a fine combo for daily driving.

Meanwhile, the controversially styled Hyundai Elantra now offers a hybrid variant, which we haven’t officially rated. We invited it along anyway on the suspicion that it would actually score better than its gas-only sibling, which earned an 8.6 the last time we drove it.

2021 Hyunda Elantra Hybrid Limited
2021 Hyunda Elantra Hybrid Limited
2021 Hyunda Elantra Hybrid Limited

The Elantra instantly wins points for having some of the most exuberant styling at its price point (or any other, for that matter). The appearance may not be for everyone, but inside and out, the Elantra is one-of-a-kind, though interior plastics could be better. It backs up the techno styling with one of the best infotainment and active safety suites on the market, and our Limited tester boasts heated and ventilated front seats among many other creature comforts. The supremely efficient hybrid powertrain is torquey too, with 195 pound-feet on tap to make stoplight getaways and quick merges a breeze.

How We Tested

Obviously, there’s a “dollars and cents” component to the Star Award for Best Value, but that doesn’t mean money is the only thing that matters. Our evaluation also took ride comfort, passenger space, cargo room, and real-world performance into consideration, which we tested by putting each editor behind the wheel (with a few riding along as passengers) to get varied subjective opinions.

2021 Star Award for Best Value

Our route comprised several 25-mile loops surrounding our test headquarters, taking us through tight switchbacks, long straightaways, variable pavement textures, and even some graded dirt roads. The path was designed to tax engine tractability, ride comfort, and handling prowess, key considerations for anyone looking for a good daily driver. What’s more, we crawled in and around the competitors, awarding credit for comfortable seating, cabin space, storage bins, and cargo flexibility. And of course, style played an utterly subjective role in our decision-making, though perhaps a small one. 

And finally, we took a look at the spec sheet and at our own observed fuel economy, allowing us to weigh a vehicle’s real-world strengths against the cold, hard math of a monthly budget. When we took it all in, we found ourselves divided into three factions. One editor loved the thought of getting a crossover-shaped Volkswagen for compact-car money, while others found themselves captivated by the Civic’s exceptional interior styling and big-car freeway comfort. In the end, however, it was the Elantra Hybrid’s phenomenal fuel economy, aggressive price point, and long list of creature comforts that earned the final Star.

Why The Elantra Hybrid Is This Year's Best Value Vehicle

Put simply, Hyundai’s compact car offers everything a value-oriented customer would need, as well as many extras that might have been unaffordable before. Starting at less than $25,000, the base Elantra Hybrid Blue achieves 50-plus miles per gallon, and its standard heated seats, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision prevention, and wild styling help set it apart from other compact cars. Then, for only about $4,000 more, our Limited tester features a long list of luxury and convenience features in addition to excellent fuel economy. 

Those added perks include a digital instrument cluster and a larger infotainment display – both of which measure 10.3 inches – as well as a power sunroof, ventilated seats, adaptive cruise control, and LED headlights. Some of those features aren’t standard on cars costing double the Limited’s $29,105 starting price, which will help its owners feel very confident in their purchase

2021 Hyunda Elantra Hybrid Limited
2021 Hyunda Elantra Hybrid Limited
2021 Hyunda Elantra Hybrid Limited

Further improving its value proposition is a secure, comfortable on-the-road experience. It’s not quite as nimble as the Honda Civic or as firmly damped as the Taos, but the Elantra Hybrid still excels over all kinds of pavement thanks in part to its multi-link rear suspension (base-engine Elantras make do with a twist-beam rear axle). The Limited’s standard Highway Driving Assist technology reduces fatigue by helping center the vehicle in the lane and maintain a safe distance from leading vehicles, even in heavy traffic or on gentle curves. And a funky interior design and ample space help keep passengers happy on long trips.

It was difficult to select just one winner from this group of competitors, but the 2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid ended up offering the best blend of creature comforts, driving competence, economical motoring, and aggressive pricing to get the nod. All three are worth a look, but for the owner who wants something comfortable, distinctive, and well-priced, it’s hard to improve on the Elantra Hybrid.

Other Winners

Stay tuned for much more on the first annual Star Awards. As always, we welcome your feedback at

Gallery: 2021 Star Award For Best Value

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