For many shoppers, buying a new car is as simple as going to the dealership and choosing a model they're familiar with. We think this is how so many drivers end up with the same cars over and over, even when there are better options on the market. But we strongly suggest doing some research about the best cars in your price range before making a decision, and here's why.

Familiar Doesn't Always Mean Best

We recently spent some time in two new compact cars: the Dodge Dart and the Kia Forte. Both were excellent new models that surprised us in every way, from driving characteristics to fuel economy, value, equipment and styling. In fact, we'd go so far as to say that they're among the best cars in the compact-car class.

The only problem? They'll never be discovered by a shopper who buys a familiar car without checking what else is available. That's because such a shopper will likely choose a Honda Civic, a Toyota Corolla or a different familiar model instead. And while the Civic and Corolla are excellent vehicles, we think the Dart and Forte might be better, and they certainly deserve a look.

There are several other situations where choosing the best car doesn't necessarily mean buying a familiar model. For example, we think the Buick Enclave is an excellent SUV, even though it doesn't have the familiar Lexus or Mercedes name that most luxury SUV shoppers are used to. The same goes for the Mazda CX-9, which is among the top midsize crossovers despite not being a household name like the Honda Pilot or Ford Explorer.

Sometimes, Familiar Can Mean Best

We don't mean to suggest that a familiar model can't be the best vehicle in its segment. On the contrary, many well-known vehicles are top models in their segments, including the Subaru Outback among wagons and the Honda Accord and Ford Fusion among midsize sedans.

We also know that buying a familiar car is a lot easier than putting serious effort into a car purchase, and we know that some buyers would rather choose something they know than waste time researching and test driving cars. In that case, you probably won't go wrong with a familiar car, but you might not end up with the best vehicle you could've purchased. For some buyers, that's no big deal.

Research Before Buying

We strongly believe that doing some research before buying a new car is a great idea. By taking just a little time to read what automotive experts have to say before you make your purchase, we think it's likely you'll end up with the best car in the segment. If that means buying a familiar car, that's great, but if experts send you a different way, don't be shy. Many automakers have made significant leaps in the last few years, and it's likely that some cars are far better than they were the last time you bought a new vehicle.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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