(MoneyWatch) Was that car you are driving to the Fourth of July barbecue made in America? In this age of global manufacturing, the answer to that becomes tricky.
German and Japanese companies have U.S. assembly plants, and Toyota and Honda make parts here as well. But, die-hard Made in America buyers say, profits still go back to a foreign company.
A new made-in-America index devised by an American University professor takes into account not only parts and assembly but also where the company is based and where research and development is done. The result is higher average scores for General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Chrysler Group models.
Associate professor Frank DuBois of American's Kogod School of Business, an expert on the global supply chain, argues that his index gives the fullest picture of an American-made vehicle.
Out of a possible score of 100, General Motors midsize SUVs GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse top all contenders with a score of 88.5. (To see the full index, click here.) Detroit models do not have an automatic advantage, however. Among sedans, the Toyota Camry scores higher than the Ford Fusion.
But shoppers want not only an American-made car but one that is stylish, comfortable and fits their needs. These GM SUVs are well reviewed by the U.S. News best car rankings, which aggregates and scores the results of published reviews.
In addition, for five categories of vehicles, we sought out models with scores of 75 or above on the American-made index that also ranked well in their categories in the U.S. News reviews. Here are our picks:
Small cars: Chevrolet Sonic. The Sonic has been part of a wave of successful small cars from Detroit companies prompted by a combination of high gas prices and tightening federal mileage standards. The EPA found that the four-cylinder Sonic, assembled in Michigan, gets 26 MPG in city driving and 35 on the highway. Reviewers like its sharp handling and smooth transmission. And it is especially roomy for a subcompact, with space for adults to sit comfortably in the back seat. List price for the Sonic ranges from $14,185 for the base model up to $21,470 for a fully loaded version.
Midsize sedans: Toyota Camry. Made in plants in Georgetown, Ky., and Lafayette, Ind., the Camry ranks second for American content in a compilation done by Cars.com. But in the broader American University index, it ties for 12th with a score of 78.5. Despite tougher competition from the redesigned Ford Fusion and Honda Accord, Camry has held on to its lead most months as the best-selling car in America. Reviewers like Camry's high reliability ratings, comfortable seating and choice between a base four-cylinder engine (rated at 25 MPG city, 35 highway) and an optional V-6. Camry safety options like blind-spot monitoring are not available on many rivals. Camry list prices start at $22,235 for the base model and range up to $30,465 for the V-6 version with maximum options.
Compact SUV: Chevrolet Equinox. In this fast-growing segment, Equinox boasts among the best fuel economy, with its base four-cylinder engine rated at 22 MPG in city driving and 32 on the highway. The optional V-6 engine, upgraded in the 2013 model, still has mileage rated at 17 MPG in the city and 24 on the highway. Reviewers like its comfortable ride and smooth-shifting automatic transmission. Equinox list price ranges from $24,225 for the base model to $32,735 for the top-level version.
Luxury Car: Cadillac ATS. The ATS aims squarely at BMW's competing 3 Series sport sedans, and reviewers think it makes a good showing with its power and handling. They do suggest opting for the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (still rated at 22 MPG city, 33 highway) or the V-6 for power that matches the competition. And starting at $33,095 and ranging up to $47,795, the ATS costs less than most BMW versions.
Pickup: Ford F-150. Pickup sales have surged along with the improving U.S. economy. And Ford has defied conventional wisdom that pickup truck buyers want V-8 engines, offering a V-6 as its base engine, with a mileage rating of 17 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway. Mileage-conscious shoppers have opted for the standard V-6. An optional turbocharged Ecoboost V-6 and V-8 options provide more power for towing and hauling. Reviewers like the comfortable front seating and roomy back seat in crew cab models. With almost endless options, the F-150 list prices range from $23,995 for the base model to $53,185 for near-luxury versions.