consumer reports 2011The 2011 edition of Consumer Reports' annual Auto Issue will hit newstands on March 8, but we have a sneak peek at what you'll find inside.

First up is are CR's Automaker Report Cards, and Honda, Toyota and Subaru continue to enjoy their three-year run at the head of the class. General Motors and Ford, however, are playing catch up fast. In fact, the Blue Oval now has a Recommended rating for 71 percent of its fleet. Chrysler, however, is sitting near the bottom of the pack, though it's kept company by former classmate Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

The Consumer Reports 2011 Auto Issue also examines the best and worst values across eight vehicle segments. Hyundai and Kia both earned a couple of "bests" while General Motors was given a few "worsts." Beyond the value of a vehicle, CR also names its Top Picks for 2011. For the first time ever, the Ford Mustang has made this list thanks to its multitude of engine choices, fuel economy and price.

If used cars are more your speed, Consumer Reports has even compiled a list of its top choices for 2001-2010 model year vehicles. Awards for best-in-class were chosen based on the results of road tests when the vehicle was new combined with ongoing reliability data.

We have a hefty dose of information for you to digest. The Top Picks, Best and Worst Values and Best of the Best Used Cars are all waiting for you after the jump.

[Source: Consumer Reports]

Best and Worst value in each of eight vehicle segments by Consumer Reports:

Best of the Best used car list by Consumer Reports, which shows 2001 to 2010 models that scored well in road tests when new and have been consistently reliable:

"Top Picks" for 2011 by Consumer Reports:
  • BUDGET CAR: Honda Fit. ESC is now a standard feature in the 2011 Fit ($16,020 to $16,730) which helps solidify this versatile subcompact hatchback as the best in its class and a great value. The Fit provides an amazing amount of interior space for its size, aided by a flexible rear-seat design in which seatbacks can fold down or the lower cushion can flip up to open an area stretching from floor to ceiling. Agile handling makes the Fit enjoyable to drive. And it pays back with excellent fuel economy: 30 mpg overall with an automatic transmission, 33 mpg with a manual.
  • SMALL CAR: Hyundai Elantra. Redesigned for 2011 the Elantra ($18,445) delivers a lot for the money. With its makeover, this well-rounded sedan is now more stylish and engaging to drive. The Elantra provides fairly nimble handling; a decent ride, a smooth, responsive powertrain; a well-finished interior; and a relatively roomy rear seat. It's also miserly on gas, achieving 29 mpg overall in CR's tests and 39 mpg on the highway. Reliability for the redesigned model is expected to be as good as the previous one.
  • FAMILY SEDAN: Nissan Altima. This is the second year in a row that the Altima ($23,970 to $30,335) has been the Consumer Reports Top Pick for Family Sedan. The Altima provides an impressive balance of comfort and performance while delivering some of the best fuel economy in its class: 26 mpg overall for four-cylinder models and 24 mpg with a V6. The Hybrid version gets 32 mpg. Its comfortable ride, secure handling and spirited acceleration make the Altima enjoyable to drive. And it has a roomy, well-finished, and very quiet interior. The four-cylinder models earned an above-average reliability Rating, and the V6 model was average.
  • SMALL SUV: Toyota RAV4. The RAV4 ($25,405 to $31,435) returns to the Top Picks list for the fourth time in the past five years. Its winning formula includes a roomy interior, agile handling, and very good fuel economy for its class. The four-cylinder version provides 23 mpg overall, one of the best gas mileage of any automatic, nonhybrid SUV CR has tested. The spirited V6 version accelerates about as quickly as the Cadillac CTS and Volkswagen GTI and gets only 1 mpg less than the four-cylinder model. A small third-row seat is optional.
  • GREEN CAR: Toyota Prius. Holding the title for Top Pick for Green Car for the eighth year in a row, the Prius ($26,750) is a pleasant car to drive, with a roomy interior, a comfortable ride, hatchback versatility, and excellent crash-test results. Software problems in the antilock brake system affected the first-year reliability of this redesigned model, but those problems have been fixed.
  • FAMILY SUV: Kia Sorento. The Sorento ($26,590 to $32,390) was redesigned for 2011 and is now a more well-rounded SUV. The roomy, nicely finished interior includes comfortable seats and easy-to-use controls. An optional third-row seat, although tight, allows the Sorento to carry up to seven passengers. The smooth V6 engine provides good performance and fuel economy-20 mpg overall-that's as efficient as the base four-cylinder engine. The Sorento is also stocked with an inviting list of features for its price, making it one of the bargains of this class.
  • SPORTY CAR: Ford Mustang. One of the high points of the Mustang ($28,880 to $43,880) is the strong rumbling V8 engine that propels CR's coupe and convertible test cars. It delivers scorching acceleration, a great exhaust sound, and good fuel economy for the class. For 2011, the Mustang received a refined, punchy V6, which provides strong acceleration and a decent 24 mpg overall with a manual transmission.
  • FAMILY HAULER: Toyota Sienna. The Sienna ($35,810 to $38,201) has earned a place in the Top Picks list three out of the past five years. Redesigned for 2011, the current model is still a very comfortable versatile minivan with excellent reliability. The spacious cabin can seat up to eight people. The engine delivers lively performance and decent fuel economy. And the Sienna is still the only minivan available with all-wheel drive.
  • SPORTS SEDAN: Infiniti G37. The G37's ($37,225) inviting combination of agile handling, blistering acceleration, and a luxurious interior makes it one of our highest-scoring sedans and earned it a spot on the Top Picks list for the fifth straight year. It's fun to drive on a twisty road but is still a fairly comfortable cruiser on the highway. A snug cabin and small trunk are the only notable weaknesses. Rear-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive optional.
  • PICKUP TRUCK: Chevrolet Avalanche. The Avalanche ($47,435) is a versatile crew-cab model with a unified bed and cab that helps give it a steady, comfortable, quiet ride. And the innovative partition between the cab and the bed can be folded to extend the cargo area into the back of the cab. That allows the truck to carry longer cargo. A three-piece bed cover provides a weather-tight and lockable cargo area. CR recommends getting the optional backup camera to reduce the truck's large blind zone.

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CONSUMER REPORTS AUTOMAKER REPORT CARDS 2011: FORD MOST IMPROVED, BUT HONDA, SUBARU STILL LEAD PACK

Mercedes-Benz falls back as both average road-test and reliability scores drop


YONKERS, NY - Honda and Subaru still make the best vehicles overall, but Ford posted the largest gain, improving both its road-test and reliability scores in the past year, according to Consumer Reports annual Automakers Report Card for 2011.

Ford has outpaced its cross-town rivals in reliability in recent years, and this year its average test score for all tested models rose from 66 to 70. Current offerings such as the Fusion, Flex, and Mustang have been impressive, and even the new Fiesta scored well in tests. Consumer Reports currently Recommends 71 percent of the Ford vehicles it has tested.

The Consumer Reports annual Automakers Report Card reflects the performance, comfort, utility, and reliability of more than 270 vehicles that Consumer Reports recently tested. Each automaker's overall score is based on a composite of road-test and predicted-reliability scores for all of its tested models. The road test score is based on more than 50 tests and evaluations, covering performance, safety, fuel economy, comfort, and convenience. Reliability scores come from Consumer Reports Annual Auto Survey, which included histories of 1.3 million vehicles.

Honda, Subaru, and Toyota are the top three for the third year in a row. Most of their vehicles do well in Consumer Reports tests and are relatively trouble-free.

Honda, including its Acura division, has had the best reliability record of any manufacturer and has made mostly good to outstanding vehicles. In fact, no Honda product scores less than average in reliability. Currently, Consumer Reports Recommends 76 percent of the Honda vehicles it has tested. But some new Hondas have been unimpressive, including the CR-Z and Insight hybrids, which didn't score well enough in CR's tests to be Recommended. The redesigned Odyssey, still CR's top-ranked minivan, dropped a few points in its test score, compared with the previous year.

Subaru, which has the highest average road-test score (81), makes only about a half-a-dozen models, but almost all do well in Consumer Reports road tests and have been reliability stalwarts. The Forester is a top-rated small SUV, and the Legacy, a good-performing sedan, has improved with each generation. Only one model, the sporty Impreza WRX, has below-average reliability.

Toyota, Lexus, and Scion models remain solid choices overall. Reliability remains better than average with a steadfast average test score of 74 for all tested vehicles. However, some newer Toyotas have slipped in interior fit and finish. Two Toyotas, the subcompact Yaris and the FJ Cruiser SUV, have shown superb reliability. However, these two vehicles are not Recommended because of their low road-test scores. Consumer Reports currently Recommends 74 percent of the Toyota vehicles it has tested.

General Motors has also improved in both its average road-test and reliability scores. The newer GM models, such as the Buick Enclave and LaCrosse, and the Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse have performed well in Consumer Reports' tests. GM's average test score for all tested models has improved to 67 from 65 last year. But the company still fields a few lackluster cars, including the Chevrolet Impala sedan and Colorado pickup. The below-average reliability of Cadillac and GMC models also drag down its overall score. Reliability has improved to average overall, but it's still not stellar for many models. Currently, Consumer Reports Recommends 46 percent of GM models it has tested.

If front-seat comfort, fit and finish, and driving dynamics were all that counted, European cars would rule the roost. European cars generally perform well in Consumer Reports road tests, but many have confusing controls and inconsistent reliability. Volvo is the only European make with an above-average reliability score.

Volkswagen's brand reliability has improved of late, but Audi's spotty reliability brings the combined automaker's score down. If the new Jetta sedan, with its low-grade interior and mediocre fuel economy, is an indication of where Volkswagen is headed, it's going in the wrong direction. Consumer Reports Recommends 53 percent of the Volkswagen and Audi models tested.

Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with below-average reliability, are near the bottom of Consumer Reports Automakers Report Card rankings. SUVs from both carmakers, especially, had reliability problems, according to Consumer Reports Annual Auto Survey, despite being good performers. Mercedes-Benz is the only manufacturer with the dubious distinction of having year over year drops in both its average road-test (77 to 73) and reliability ratings (from average to below average). And although the BMW 1 Series has an excellent road-test score, it is hobbled by terrible reliability.

Chrysler came in last in the class, with the lowest average test score by far (50). As it overhauls its lineup, newer models, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Ram, have done better in Consumer Reports tests than older models, and Consumer Reports is encouraged from early looks at upcoming redesigns. Chrysler's reliability, which is below average, needs to improve for the automaker to be competitive. Consumer Reports currently recommends only one Chrysler model, the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck.

CONSUMER REPORTS NAMES FIRST-TIMERS FORD MUSTANG AND KIA SORENTO AMONG SIX NEW TOP PICKS FOR 2011

Honda Fit, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Sienna, and Chevrolet Avalanche also join elite list


The Ford Mustang and Kia Sorento are among six new models named to the Consumer Reportsannual Top Picks car list for 2011, earning spots in the Sporty Car and Family SUV categories respectively. The 10 picks come from six manufactures and eight brands, reflecting the increasing competitiveness within today's auto market.

Findings from Consumer Reports' Annual Auto Issue, including the new Top Picks, were announced today at a Washington Automotive Press Association (WAPA) press conference in Washington, D.C.

The redesigned Hyundai Elantra, which now comes standard with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), also tops the list in the Small Car category. The previous Hyundai Elantra SE was Top Pick for Small Sedan for the past three years.

Other new additions for this year include the Honda Fit, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Sienna and Chevrolet Avalanche. They join reigning models from last year's list, the Infiniti G37, Toyota Prius and Nissan Altima.

"This year's diverse list of Top Picks reflects the fact that the industry is changing," said Rik Paul, Consumer Reports' automotive editor. "No one particular manufacturer dominates, as a number of automakers are now producing high-quality, reliable cars that score well in our tests."

Consumer Reports' Top Picks are the best all-around models in their categories and must meet stringent road test, reliability, and safety requirements. Each Top Pick scores at or near the top of its category among the more than 270 vehicles Consumer Reports has recently evaluated at its Auto Test Center; has average or better predicted reliability (based on the problems subscribers reported on more than 1.3 million vehicles in Consumer Reports' latest Annual Auto Survey), and performed adequately in overall safety if tested by the government or insurance industry safety tests. In addition, each model must offer electronic stability control (ESC), a proven lifesaving safety feature, as standard equipment.

The Sorento, Top Pick in the Family SUV category, is the first Kia model to make the list in the history of the Top Picks. The redesigned 2011 Sorento is a more well-rounded SUV with a roomy, nicely finished interior.

The Ford Mustang joins the list as the Top Pick for Sporty Car, a category which has been dominated by foreign models for the past five years, including the Subaru Impreza WRX, Mazda MX-5 Miata and Volkswagen GTI.

"Ford's reliability has improved greatly over the past few years," Paul added. "While the high points of this iconic muscle car are its strong V8 and new V6 engines, its agile handling, good fuel economy, decent ride, comfortable front seats, and very good fit and finish also make it a reasonable daily driver."

Even as more hybrids have entered the market in recent years, the Toyota Prius retains its position as the Top Pick for Green Car for the eighth consecutive year. It still gets the best fuel economy-44 mpg overall-of any vehicle Consumer Reports has recently tested.

HONDA FIT TOPS CONSUMER REPORTS BEST NEW-CAR VALUE LIST

Auto Issue names best new-car values in eight categories


Consumer Reports named the Honda Fit as the small car with the best overall value in its 2011 Annual Auto Issue. The Fit also emerged as the best overall value among some 200 different vehicles analyzed, ranging from small cars to luxury sedans.

Although the Jeep Wrangler is well known for its off-road capability, it was named as the overall worst value.

"A low price doesn't necessarily make a car a good value," said Rik Paul, automotive editor at Consumer Reports. "At a time when people need to make every dollar count, our best value list highlights the models that give you a lot for your money."

Consumer Reportsmined its performance, reliability, and ownership cost data to calculate value scores for some 200 different vehicles ranging from small cars like the Honda Fit to luxury sedans such as the BMW 750Li.

Scores are calculated based on the five-year owner cost for each vehicle (shown as cost per mile) along with CR's road-test score and the publication's own predicted-reliability. Five-year owner cost estimates factor in depreciation, fuel costs, insurance premiums, interest on financing, maintenance and repairs, and sales tax. Depreciation is by far the largest owner-cost factor.

In all, eight different categories of vehicles were evaluated including small cars, family cars, upscale sedans, luxury sedans, sporty cars, wagons and minivans, small SUVs and midsized SUVs. Within categories models are ranked by value score, above or below the average.

Where to find the best values
Small, affordable cars are often considered value choices. But some small cars are far better choices than others. At $16,000, the Honda Fit is the top value of more than 200 vehicles in our analysis; the similarly priced Chevrolet Aveo is the worst value in its class, with higher owner costs, a low test score and below-average reliability. The difference in owner cost could be $3,000 over five years, the typical period most people keep their cars.

Several family cars and small SUVs also stand out as good values, including the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Sonata, Subaru Forester, and several Toyotas, notably the Camry, Prius, and RAV4.

Small and family cars tend to provide the most value for the money, while luxury cars as a class are more expensive to own. But there are always exceptions. For instance, CR's best-value luxury car the V8-powered Hyundai Genesis 4.6, has a value score that is the same as the average for all cars.

Even some SUVs can be relatively good values, but midsized models tend to be more expensive over time due to worse fuel economy and higher purchase prices. Still, several models scored better than average, including the Hyundai Santa Fe, four-cylinder Kia Sorento, and the V6 and hybrid versions of the Toyota Highlander.

This year, seven best-value models come from Hyundai and its Kia brand, both of which has been producing a string of newer models that score well in CR's testing and have average or better predicted reliability. When including its Lexus and Scion brands, Toyota continues to lead in best values with 11 models. Five best-value models are from Honda and Acura. Among the worst values, three models are from Chrysler, seven are from GM, and nine are from European brands.

CONSUMER REPORTS' USED-CAR RELIABILITY SURVEY FINDS SOME USED CARS HAVE FEWER PROBLEMS THAN NEW MODELS

Late-model used vehicles offer more car for the money


With the average new car losing 47 percent of its value in the first three years of ownership, buying a used car can be the best way for consumers to get the most vehicle for their money, according to Consumer Reports' Annual Auto issue.

Consumer Reports found eleven 2008 models with about the same or even fewer problems than similar 2010 models in the same class. Among the most trouble-free 2008 models were the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Yaris with 11 and 12 problems per 100 vehicles, respectively. The average 2010 car had 13 problems per 100. While the FJ Cruiser and Yaris did not score well in Consumer Reports road tests, some of the other most reliable 2008 models, such as the Honda CR-V and Fit did, making them better overall choices.

Overall, Japanese cars are the most trouble-free, with Honda and Toyota far ahead compared with older vehicles made by other major manufacturers-especially 2006 (five-year old) and earlier models.

"Knowing a brand's reputation for reliability can aid the used-car shopper, but it's not foolproof. You're buying just one model from that brand. So it's important to check out the specific model's reliability ratings and learn about other factors like performance and safety," David Champion, Sr. Director, ConsumerReports Auto Test Center.

Some models have an alarming problem rate even when they're still fairly new. More than one in four owners of the 2009 four-cylinder Toyota Tacoma pickup reported a problem with the radio in the 12 months covered by the survey. For now, it's being replaced free under Toyota's basic warranty, which expires after three years or 36,000 miles.

The survey also found that five-year-old models can be good bets for used-car buyers, although problem rates, on average, are worse than rates of three- or four-year-old cars. While three-quarters of the three-year-old vehicles in Consumer Reports' Survey were problem free, so were two-thirds of the five-year-olds. The most problem-free five-year-old model was the 2006 Toyota Highlander V6, which had 19 problems per 100 vehicles.

Consumer Reportssurvey also found that cars older than five years are not so trouble-free. Only half of the nine- and 10-year-old vehicles had gone 12 months without a reported problem.

Buying used is an affordable way to get key safety and comfort features at a far better price. To help consumers navigate the vast options in used cars, Consumer Reports has compiled a Best of the Best list to guide consumers to the 2001 to 2010 models that scored well in road tests when new and have been consistently reliable.

Consumer Reports' testing procedures are the most comprehensive of any U.S. publication or Web site. More than 50 individual tests are performed on every vehicle, including evaluations of braking, handling, comfort, convenience, safety, and fuel economy. Roughly 6,000 miles of general driving and evaluations are racked up on each test car during the testing process. CR buys all its test cars anonymously from dealers. Other reviewers base their evaluations on press cars that are hand-picked by the automakers.

For the complete Consumer Reports Automaker's Report Card for 2011 check out the Consumer Reports Auto Issue on newsstands March 8, 2011 or online at www.ConsumerReports.org.