Every year, Consumer Reports publishes its “Best And Worst” automobile issue. This is arguably the most comprehensive and thorough automobile guide in the industry and takes a hard cold look at new and used cars and SUVs. Consumer Reports accepts no advertising, so they have no axes to grind or flags to fly (except their own, perhaps), and all the cars tested are actually purchased by the company and passed around from employee to employee while they’re being evaluated. Here are some highlights.
But first, a few words about CR’s testing protocols. According to the company, each vehicle undergoes 50 separate tests, including track time, braking tests, accident avoidance, fuel economy, data analysis, and extensive driving under a variety of conditions, including commuting. There are 28 full-time staffers driving the cars and according to C.R. they spent $2.7 million on new cars purchases last year.
As far as C.R. is concerned, the best car overall is the Tesla Model S. This, despite the fact that it has only average reliability and costs at least $100,000….if you can find one (there is about a seven-year waiting list). If there is a flaw in C.R.’s approach it’s that they put too much emphasis on zero emission vehicles and tend to ignore the real world. Voting Tesla as the best overall is just sophistry, in my opinion, and irrelevant to most consumers.
Back here on earth, three of C.R.’s top ten picks came from Subaru this time around, while Toyota scored well for reliability and affordability. Surprisingly, perhaps, General Motors had two models in the top ten. Anyway, here’s the hit list:
- Best midsize sedan, Subaru Legacy
- Best green car, Toyota Prius
- Best small SUV, Subaru Forester
- Best large car, Chevrolet Impala
- Best compact car, Subaru Impreza
- Best luxury car, Audi A6
- Best sports sedan, Buick Regal
- Best mini-van, Honda Odyssey
- Best midsize SUV, Toyota Highlander
If there’s a “Best Of” category, then there must also be a “Worst Of”, and on that score, the manufacturer with the worst report card for predicted reliability and “road test” scores was Fiat, followed closely by Jeep. Best brand for overall reliability and driveability: Lexus.
In terms of cars beloved by their actual owners and models that owners would buy again, there are some surprises. For example, the subcompact with the highest owner satisfaction rating is the Fiat 500 (!?), with the Mazda3, Mazda6, Dodge Charger, and BMW 328d all getting top marks in their respective categories. Least satisfying? Nissan Versa, Nissan Sentra, VW Passat V6, Buick LaCrosse and Infiniti Q50….among others.
Here’s an interesting one. According to C.R., some of the most expensive cars to own and operate are the Hyundai Veloster equipped with a manual transmission, the Kia Soul Plus, Chevy Suburban, and Land Rover Range Rover. C.R. says the cost to run a Land Rover Range Rover, for example, for five years is $100,215 (US), factoring in things like fuel expenses, loan interest, insurance costs, sales tax, and maintenance and repairs. This is based on annual distance travelled of 12,000 miles (19,312 km).
On the other end of the scale, cars that are the least expensive to own and operate include the Toyota Prius C, Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, and Buick Verano. C.R. claims it’d cost $24,000 (US) to operate a Prius C for five years.
For flat-out reliability, the Toyota Yaris topped the subcompact list, followed by another Toyota product, the Scion xB, for compact car, the VW Passat 1.8 for midsize sedan, Kia Cadenza for large car, and Lexus IS 350 for luxury compact. Least reliable? Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500L, Nissan Altima, Chev Impala, and Mercedes CLA 250. These results are based on C.R.’s annual owners survey.
Consumer Reports also took a look at used cars, noting that “cars built in the last decade are more reliable than ever” and “many newer cars will provide trouble-free service for 200,000 miles (320,000 km) or more with care.” Here are some used models they recommend:
- Under $10,000 (US): 2008 Mazda3, 2005-2008 Pontiac Vibe, 2005 Acura TL, 2007-2008 Kia Optima (four cylinder), 2005 Honda CR-V, 2005 Honda Pilot.
- $10,000 - $15,000: 2010 Subaru Impreza, 2010-2012 Kia Soul, 2006-2007 Infiniti G35, 2005-2006 Acura RL, 2005-2007 Acura MDX.
Some used cars that were produced from 2005 to 2014 and should be avoided include the BMW 330i / 335i, Buick Terraza, VW Tiguan, GMC Acadia, Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Mini Countryman, and Nissan Pathfinder.