The best cars in the mainstream categories
Each year, Strategic Vision surveys new car buyers to find out what problems they've had with their cars in the first 90 days, as well as how much the owners enjoy the vehicles and what they perceive the cars' quality to be. Strategic Vision then analyzes the results to determine which are the best. This year 42,000 people were surveyed.
There are many different categories of vehicle in the survey, so what we have here are the various mainstream categories for cars, trucks and SUVs. There are some interesting picks in the list. Also of interest is the fact that the Tesla Model S has been supplanted as the highest-ranked vehicle overall. The new reigning champion is the Porsche Macan. Click on to see which cars won the different segments.
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Small Car: Honda CivicThe 10th generation Honda Civic swept Strategic Vision's conventionally-powered small car category (alternative powertrains got a separate class), taking home sedan and hatchback categories. We're quite fond of the little Honda ourselves. And although we really prefer the Type R and Si, we've found the Civic Sport hatchback to be impressively engaging. Both sedan and hatchback are roomy, frugal, and you can get a manual on both naturally aspirated and turbo engines.
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Midsize Car: Subaru Outback and Nissan Altima
The midsize class is split between Nissan and Subaru. The Altima took home top honors for midsize sedan, while the Outback was rated highest among midsize hatchbacks. Admittedly, the Outback has grown in size and height enough that it might be more accurately classified as a crossover, but regardless it's worthy of its award. We discovered that it's astonishingly spacious, comes with standard all-wheel drive, has an engine that's powerful enough and returns solid fuel economy, and it's all available for a reasonable price of under $30,000.
The Nissan Altima on the other hand has us scratching our heads. There's nothing wrong with it. It's roomy and drives pleasantly enough. However, this segment is full of better options such as the Mazda6, Honda Accord, and Ford Fusion. There's just not much reason to pick an Altima over almost anything else. In fact, you might be better off picking the Outback's sedan twin, the Legacy.
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Large Car: Dodge ChargerStrategic Vision's only large car award was for a sedan, and that went to the Dodge Charger. This is impressive considering how long the Charger has been around. Although it has seen many updates, it hasn't had a completely new redesign since its introduction over a decade ago. Still, with a V8, the Charger is hugely entertaining, and it's the only way to get a rear-drive sedan this side of a luxury car.
Standard Truck: Chevrolet ColoradoThe Chevrolet Colorado edges out the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier for Strategic Vision's standard truck award. In the past, the Colorado has impressed us with a high-quality interior and healthy engines. Speaking of which, the optional diesel is surprisingly refined and good for towing. Our pick of the litter though would be the hardcore ZR2 off-road version.
Fullsize Truck: Toyota TundraThe fullsize truck award goes to the Toyota Tundra. Though this big Toyota has seen revisions over the last few years, the last complete overhaul was for the 2007 model year. The Tundra is a solid truck, if somewhat thirsty and slow. It's biggest issue is that the competition continues to improve, while the Tundra stagnates.
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Small SUV/Crossover: Jeep Wrangler and Subaru Crosstrek
For SUVs and Crossovers, Strategic Vision gave individual awards. In the small or "entry level" class, the Jeep Wrangler took home the laurels for SUV, and the Subaru Crosstrek won the crossover award. People tend to either love or hate the Wrangler. It has classic looks, impeccable off-road ability, and it's also almost impossible not to enjoy having the top down and the doors off. But it handles poorly, consumes plenty of fuel, and is generally crude. It's up to you to decide whether the benefits outweigh the issues.
The Subaru Crosstrek on the other hand is an all-around good choice. The newest model has quick, confident handling, good fuel economy and ground clearance with a hill descent control that will get you places a lot of crossovers won't. It's main weak point is a really weak engine, but that's something most subcompact and compact crossovers suffer from.
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Midsize SUV/Crossover: Mazda CX-9 and Dodge Durango
Moving up a size, the crossover winner is the Mazda CX-9, and the SUV victor is the Dodge Durango. We also enjoy the Mazda CX-9. It's about the best driving big crossover in the business, and it's engaging dynamics are coupled with a sharp exterior, sumptuous interior, and torquey engine. Space is a bit limited, so if you need to haul a lot, you may need to consider something else.
The Durango is a solid choice, too, despite it getting on in years. It's still rear-drive, and you can have a normal one with a sweet-sounding 5.7-liter V8. You can even get a sweeter-sounding SRT Durango with the 6.4-liter V8. The V6 isn't bad either, and the 8-speed automatic is very good.