New Cars: Who Topped Consumer Reports Ratings?

Last Updated Feb 28, 2011 1:42 PM EST

Following its recent boost in sales, Ford has made the biggest gains in Consumer Reports' annual new-car ratings. But Honda and Subaru retain the top two spots on the list, and Toyota, despite its recall troubles, holds on to third place in the overall rankings.

Rounding out the top 5 are Volvo, in the fourth spot, and Ford, at No. 5; Hyundai lands in sixth place. The full Consumer Reports grades - available in its annual April auto issue or at its website if you are a subscriber - combine road test scores from its staff and predicted reliability based on surveys of its readers who report on 1.3 million vehicles of different model years.

What follows are some of the highlights; read on for more details on some of Consumer Reports' new picks.
  • Ford, which now gets a coveted "recommended" status for 71% of its vehicles tested, strongly outpaces its Detroit rivals. Despite praise for some recently redesigned models, General Motors gets recommendations on just 46% of its models. And Chrysler, despite some encouraging signs of its own (see "5 Reasons to Consider a Chrysler"), has continuing reliability problems and only one recommended model, the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup.
  • Honda and Subaru continue their records of stellar reliability. That track record has resulted not only in continuing CR recommendations but also high ratings in other surveys of resale value.
  • The Hyundai-Kia Korean corporate twins, which like Ford have shown recent sales gains, also showed up well in the ratings. The Kia Sorento SUV joined the ranks of CR's Top Picks for the first time, and the redesigned Hyundai Elantra held its spot on that list.
  • German companies fared less well. Mercedes and BMW luxury car makers were near the bottom of rankings, suffering in both cases from reliability problems with SUVs. And although Volkswagen's reliability has improved, CR criticized the new Jetta model for its low-grade interior and mediocre fuel economy.
  • The used-car rankings, for which CR looked at 2008 models, reflected the old order, in which Japanese companies dominated. Of the nine categories, eight of the top spots belong to Toyota or Honda, or their luxury Lexus and Acura brands. Consumer Reports automotive editor Rik Paul noted how that has changed in the 2011 Top Picks. "No one particular manufacturer dominates, [and] a number of automakers are now producing high-quality, reliable cars that score well in our tests," he noted.
Here's a closer look at two entries new to the Top Picks list (Ford Mustang and Kia Sorento) and the Hyundai Elantra, which was redesigned for 2011 but kept its spot among Top Picks.

Ford Mustang: Both Mustang and its arch rival Chevrolet Camaro are selling well in new incarnations. But CR picked the Mustang for its sporty car category, citing the combination of its scorching fast V-8 engine, which still gets decent mileage (17 mpg in the city, 25 highway), and its V-6 option which gets a better 19/31 mpg. (See "Fast Cars with Good Gas Mileage.") Mustang's list prices range from $28,880 to $43,880.

Kia Sorento: This choice for best family SUV is the first Kia model ever to make the Top Picks list. CR praises the 2011 model for its roomy interior, comfortable ride, easy-to-use controls and the ability to carry up to seven passengers with an optional third-row seat. CR says Sorento's features make it one of the best buys in the class ($26,590 to $32,390).

Hyundai Elantra: The redesigned 2011 Elantra holds onto its spot as top small car - and CR praises the new version as more stylish inside and out, with nimble handling and a smooth, responsive engine and transmission. Elantra (with a list price ranging from $14,830 to $19,980) is one of the generation of new small cars rated by the EPA at 40 mpg in highway driving. (See "Gas Mileage: 40 MPG Is the New 30.")

Photos courtesy of the manufacturers

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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