How I would shop for a new car (or used) in five easy steps – Part 3

08-27 SCUSA Five Easy Steps_3Time for a reality check for our new car.

In Part 1 of our five-part series, we calculated a vehicle price range of $14,600 to $21,500. In Part 2, we narrowed down the best choices to three or four compact cars and three subcompacts for our new car.

Now it’s time to put those contenders to the test with The Car Connection’s TCC Rating to see whether our new car choices based on Consumer Reports hold up to additional scrutiny – or what other vehicles might still be out there and worth considering given our selection criteria.

(The TCC Rating is a numeric value based on a 10-point scale that reflects the overall opinion of The Car Connection’s automotive experts on criteria such as performance, safety and styling.)

Let’s go back to our compacts, the Volkswagen Golf, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra and Scion xB. Following is a summary of each, plus other vehicles The Car Connection believes we should consider:

Volkswagen Golf – TCC Rating 7.8. Other comparable choices include the Ford Focus (8.8 rating), Kia Soul (8.6), Mazda Mazda3 (8.4) and Subaru Impreza (8.0).

Subaru Impreza – TCC Rating 8.0. Other comparable choices include the Mazda Mazda3 (8.4), Hyundai Elantra (8.4) and Volkswagen Jetta Sedan (7.8).

Hyundai Elantra – TCC Rating 8.4. Comparable choices include the Ford Focus (8.8), Mazda Mazda3 (8.2), Honda Civic (8.0) and Chevrolet Cruze (7.8).

Scion xB – TCC Rating 7.8. An alternative would be the Kia Soul (8.6).

Based on The Car Connection’s recommendations, the Hyundai Elantra and Subaru Impreza are the strongest of our original candidates, but TCC ratings suggest we also should consider the Ford Focus (8.8), Kia Soul (8.6), Mazda Mazda3 (8.2) and Honda Civic (8.0).

The strongest combined results – Consumer Reports and The Car Connection – indicate we should be looking at the Elantra, Impreza and Civic from our earlier list of seven compacts, and add the Mazda3. The Civic actually received a “recommended” rating from Consumer Reports, while the Ford Focus received decidedly mixed results from CR and the Soul was not rated because it was on a new platform.

Based on these choices, I’m going with the Elantra, Impreza, Civic and Mazda3 as my favorites for a new car, because I think the strongest argument can be made for these vehicles given our criteria.

We’re almost ready to get to the dealerships for test drives, but just two more easy steps.

Step 4 in the process will be considering’s True Cost to Own the vehicles on our list. That step will appear next week on the Santander Consumer USA blog.

Visit the Santander blog regularly for more news on auto-, auto-finance and SCUSA-related topics.