First, you obviously have to select the model you want and then determine how to get the best deal on it.
For my purposes, my first choice was, with emphasis on "was", a 2014 Subaru Forester. This is Consumer Reports first pick in its class. It's also Motor Trends' SUV of the year. I was all set to pull the trigger and write the check until I test drove one. Now, there's a lot going for this model. Standard AWD, the best MPG in its class, 26mpg combined city and highway as per Consumer Reports testing (mid thirties on the highway) and more room than you'll probably ever need. Nicely optioned with an all weather package and navigation, you're looking at around $26000.
Now, to the deal breaker(s). First, while I wasn't expecting the trust of an F1 engine that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the moon, I did expect something to happen when I stepped on the gas. When nothing did, I asked the salesman about the lackluster pickup and he responded there's your MPG taking priority. Ok, I guess I can accept that and I would have if it weren't for the second deal breaker. Before I get into that one, it should be noted you can also order a Forester with a turbo-charged engine that gets less MPG and requires premium fuel for the premium thrust but I'm not sold on the long term reliability of turbo charged engines. So, that brings us to the second and in my neck of the woods, an absolute requirement: an effective air conditioning system. In my test drive in a Subaru Forester "Premium" version, the system barely seemed to cope with an ambient outside temperature of 82 degrees. From my readings of Subaru Forester owners forums, there were similar complaints of lack of an effective air conditioner in the vehicle. Some owners felt Subaru enlarged the Forester from the previous year but carried over the same capacity unit that can't cool the current model. Others suggested a bad batch of compressors and still other resorted to tinting windows, placing mats on the dashboard, and placing reflectors in the vehicle. Now, I live in the Santa Clarita Valley, and the ambient temperature in the summer months can range from the 90s-100s for many days. We had a particularly hot summer this year and I'm used to the air conditioners in my two Toyota models managing it without a problem.
So, it was off to a Toyota dealer for a test drive of their current model of the RAV4 AWD, equipped similarly to the Forester, but with two notable exceptions to performance: One, the car moved when you put the pedal to the metal and two, the air conditioner almost blasted us out of the car. It does give up some space to the Forester but you've still got a lot of room and 24MPG combined city/highway as per consumer reports testing(30s on the highway).
Then there's the method of getting your best deal. I tried TrueCar.com. Basically, they tell you the factory invoice of the car and MSRP, optioned the way you want it and your computer prints out three saving certificates that the dealerships are supposed to honor. My certificates were good for a whopping three days. I immediately received emails from dealerships on the Forester. One send me an offer on a Subaru Outback which is an entirely different vehicle from the Forester. Another dealer wanted me to "reserve" Forester, over the internet, for a premium model he didn't have on the lot. So much for TrueCar.
I'll probably end up going to CarBargains, a non-profit consumer group that charges a flat rate to negotiate the best deal by going thru the fleet departments of the dealerships and having the latter compete for the lowest prive on the vehicle you want. I've used them before and found them to be reliable and effective. Your mileage may vary...