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The best-selling new cars for the 2022 model year are seeing good sales figures in the first quarter of this year even though some brands are struggling to get above water. What’s surprising is that four of those models scored less than 8 points on the U.S. News list of cars that are best sellers in 2023. What makes a less-than-stellar model so attractive to buy?

Let’s take a look at the four lower-rated sedans and see what earned them those scores and why they might have sold anyway.

A used car shoppers looks at used cars on a lot
Car shopper on a lot | Getty Images

1. 2022 Volkswagen Jetta

This model only received 7.8 out of 10 points from U.S. News. It offers a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine that produces 158 hp, which is OK for a compact sedan. The publication wasn’t impressed with the cabin area as it looked too cheap with its many plastic surface areas. It also didn’t offer an exciting ride, but you can upgrade to the GLI trim, which has a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine generating 228 hp. 

The first quarter saw 10,878 sales despite the low rating from U.S. News. It’s one of the most affordable sedans on the market, offering pretty good EPA ratings. For the standard manual transmission on the 1.5-liter engine, you can get 29 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway. With the 2.0-liter option paired with a manual gearbox, you can expect 3 mpg less when driving on city roads and 5 mpg less on the highway.

You’ll pay around $20,365 for the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta.

2. 2022 Chevy Malibu

According to U.S. News, the 2022 Chevy Malibu had 25,682 sales for the first quarter and starts at $23,400. While those figures look great, the sedan only managed a score of 7.4 out of 10 from the publication, which is the lowest of the four on this list.

This was due to the weak, 1.5-liter engine producing 160 hp, which is the only option you get with the model unless you upgrade to the Premier trim’s 250 hp unit. However, the sedan offers plenty of room inside and has good fuel economy with 27 mpg on city roads and 35 mpg when traveling on the highway. For an affordable price, Chevy’s last remaining sedan is still a best seller.

3. 2022 Nissan Sentra

This model earned a 7.5 out of 10 because U.S. News wasn’t impressed with the lackluster engine, uninspiring handling, and its below-average cargo space, which only offers 14.5 cubic feet of storage. Powering up the Sentra is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which only delivers 149 hp, which isn’t much for merging or passing on the highway. 

It does, however, get 29 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway and offers some decent features standard such as Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, and a 7-inch infotainment touchscreen. For an affordable MSRP of $19,610, the Sentra’s shining feature, though, is the Zero Gravity front seats, which are extremely comfortable to ride in. The first quarter sales saw 27,131 units purchased. 

4. 2022 Nissan Altima

The 2022 Nissan Altima scored 7.9 out of 10 for its unimpressive powertrain on the base model, which includes a 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing 188 hp paired with a CVT. This combination allows the sedan to go from 0 to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds. An available 2.0-liter turbocharged engine generates 60 hp more and can run 0 to 60 mph in approximately 6 seconds. 

It sold 38,295 units in the first quarter, probably due to its affordable MSRP, which begins at $24,750, and its fuel economy ratings. For the 2.0-liter models with FWD, you can expect 27 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. For the AWD versions, it drops to 26/36 (city/highway). Those sporting the 2.5-liter engine will have fewer mileage savings with 25 mpg on city roads and 34 mpg when traveling on the highway. 

Many vehicles saw impressive sales figures in the first quarter. Some best-selling cars like the Nissan Altima, Nissan Sentra, Chevy Malibu, and the Volkswagen Jetta defied the lower ratings from U.S. News and sold quite a few models anyway. It goes to show that sometimes consumers and critics don’t see eye to eye on a particular make and model of a vehicle.