- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Certain vehicles consistently top the sales charts, such as Honda’s Accord sedan or its Odyssey minivan. These vehicles - the favorites, in horse racing terms - are often the first names that pop into people’s minds when they’re shopping for a new or used car or truck.

Such vehicles are winners for a reason, either because they’re best in their class or because of excellent reliability. But many other cars also can get the job done effectively - and for much less money. To continue the racing analogy, these are “dark horse” cars.

Dark horse cars don’t immediately come to mind. Or they come from brands that aren’t selling as well as the segment favorite. This is why you’re more likely to get a greater discount or see a larger incentive on dark horse cars and trucks: Their manufacturers have to more aggressively price them to draw your attention away from the favorites.

Here are Edmunds’ picks for the best dark horse cars of 2017, listed by vehicle type. If you’re willing to break with the mainstream choices and place a smart bet on a car that provides a nice combination of quality and value, you may come home a winner in the car-buying derby.

A word about pricing: The starting MSRP shown represents the car’s base model. Edmunds estimated the savings based on the average prices paid in Santa Monica, California, for both the favorite and the dark horse car. Incentives are based on manufacturer offers for July 2017. You may see different incentives when August rolls around.

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COMPACT SUV

FAVORITE: 2017 Honda CR-V

Base MSRP: $24,985. Average price paid: $23,881.

The super-popular CR-V was redesigned for 2017, so the discounts are minimal.

DARK HORSE: 2017 Ford Escape

Base MSRP: $24,645. Average price paid: $23,726. Total savings: $3,655. The dark horse savings come from a $3,500 incentive.

The Escape offers optional all-wheel drive, respectable fuel economy, a spacious cargo bay and an available power liftgate. On the road, its agility instills a level of driver confidence that’s rare in this class. This dark horse pick isn’t the newest crossover on the block, but it has an incentive that is hard to beat.

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MIDSIZE SEDAN

FAVORITE: 2017 Honda Accord

Base MSRP: $24,030. Average price paid: $20,629.

The 2018 Accord should be hitting dealer lots soon, and there are aggressive deals on outgoing models. But those discounts aren’t enough to offset the incentives and lower starting price on its dark horse equivalent.

DARK HORSE: 2017 Hyundai Sonata

Base MSRP: $22,435. Average price paid: $21,173. Total savings: $2,806. The dark horse savings come from an incentive of $3,350.

With its redesign two years ago, the Sonata earned Edmunds’ top ratings and that opinion still holds today. The cabin is cavernous and comfortable. The Sonata also drives confidently and avoids that floaty big-sedan feel out on the highway.

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MINIVAN

FAVORITE: 2017 Honda Odyssey

Base MSRP: $30,790. Average price paid: $27,711.

The 2017 Odyssey is in the final year of its body style, which brings discounts, but it is still more expensive than our dark horse pick. Redesigned 2018 Odysseys are in stock now, but dealerships are holding firm at sticker price.

THE DARK HORSE: 2017 Kia Sedona

Base MSRP: $27,850. Average price paid: $27,422. Total savings: $1,789. The dark horse savings come from a $1,500 incentive.

The 2017 Kia Sedona is a worthy alternative to the household-name minivans. Besides having a lower price and more features, the Sedona scores points for its quick acceleration and quiet ride. Kia also backs the car with the most generous warranty in its class.

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FULL-SIZE LUXURY SEDAN

THE FAVORITE: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Base MSRP: $53,075. Average price paid: $47,402.

Fresh off a full redesign, the E-Class sets the bar for all other luxury sedans.

THE DARK HORSE: 2017 Volvo S90

Base MSRP: $47,945. Average price paid: $40,927. Total savings: $6,475.

The Volvo S90 offers a far lower price point and more standard features than the E-Class. It has a sleek, coupelike shape, bold upright grille and high-tech LED headlights. The cabin is trimmed with high-quality wood and metal accents. Volvo calls it a “Scandinavian Sanctuary.” Sauna not included.

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EDMUNDS SAYS: Dark horse cars make up in savings and features what they might lack in terms of brand-name cachet.

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This story was provided to The Associated Press by the automotive website Edmunds . Ronald Montoya is a senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds. Twitter: @rmontoyaedmunds.

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Related links:

Edmunds 2017 SUV Buying Guide https://edmu.in/2t9H6tP

Edmunds 2017 Sedan Buying Guide https://edmu.in/2uwIbzs

Edmunds 2017 Minivan Buying Guide https://edmu.in/2tk5r4s

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