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9 new cars to avoid (and 9 better alternatives)

Greg Jarem, Wieck

If you're shopping for a new car, knowing which models to avoid can be almost as important as finding the best choices.

That's especially true if you're a budget shopper seeking out the best deals, perhaps this summer as dealers begin to clear out the 2016 models. To help you avoid falling for the wrong rock-bottom price, Consumer Reports has put out a list of its lowest-rated vehicles in various categories.

These ratings combine road-test scores, projected reliability, owner satisfaction and safety -- factoring in crash-test results from both the federal government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Of the lowest-rated vehicles, Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) had four entries, General Motors (GM) one and Ford Motor (F) one. In cautioning against being lured solely by big rebates and low prices, Consumer Reports said in a statement: "Falling for a smooth sales pitch and a swell cash-back offer could lead you to suffering years of buyer's remorse."

Here's a closer look here at nine of these vehicles to avoid, along with suggested better alternatives with top-rated models in the same categories.

Subcompact car: Mitsubishi Mirage

Mitsubishi, Wieck

With a price starting at $12,995 for the base model (going up to $15,395) and gas mileage rated at 37 MPG in the city and 44 on the highway, the 2017 Mirage could look tempting. But Consumer Reports warns against the noisy three-cylinder engine that delivers sluggish acceleration. Auto reviewers surveyed by U.S. News also complained about its "drab interior and shoddy handling."

A better choice would be the Honda Fit, which starts at a pricier $15,790 (up to $21,065) and is long praised for its interior roominess and versatility with rear seats that turn into a flexible cargo hold. And for passengers, the rear seats provide plenty of leg room. It ranked No. 1 with U.S. News reviewers among subcompact vehicles. The Fit is rated for 33 MPG in the city and 41 on the highway with a continuously variable transmission.

Compact car: Fiat 500L

A.J. Mueller

Like all Fiats, the 500L compact wagon has perky good looks. However, reviewers say its turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces decent acceleration in the city but feels underpowered on the highway. With an automatic transmission, it's rated for 22 MPG in city driving and 30 on the highway -- a bit below some of its competitors.

In fact, test drivers at U.S. News rank it ninth out of nine wagons reviewed. The 500L also scored poorly on one difficult front-end crash test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. List prices for the 500L range from $19,345 to $24,695.

Take a look instead at the Volkswagen Golf SE, which ranked best among compact vehicles both in the Consumer Report road test and for owner satisfaction in a CR survey. The Golf's 1.8-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine is rated for 25 MPG in city driving, 36 on the highway. List prices for the Golf range from $18,495 well up to $38,995 for a high-performance, all-wheel-drive version.

Midsize car: Chrysler 200

Webb Bland

Fiat Chrysler has already announced that the 200 is being discontinued, saying the company's American operation will focus more on Jeeps and other SUVs rather than sedans. That should mean some big price cuts by dealers trying to clear out the last of the 200s. But Consumer Reports faults the sedan for mediocre ride and handling and a transmission that is bumpy combined either with the standard four-cylinder engine (rated for 23 MPG city, 36 highway) or the optional V-6 (19 MPG city, 32 highway). CR notes that the 200 has shown much below average reliability. List price for the 200 goes from $21,995 to $31,785.

Instead check out the Toyota Camry, the best-selling sedan in the U.S. The Camry is praised by CR as a refined and quiet midsize sedan. The four-cylinder base engine is rated for 25 MPG in city driving and 35 highway while the optional V-6 is rated 21 city, 31 highway. Test drivers like the roomy and stylish interior. The Camry comes standard with a rearview camera--an important safety feature. List price for the Camry ranges from $23,070 to $31,370.

Luxury compact car: Mercedes-Benz CLA250

Greg Jarem, Wieck

The CLA250 is the least expensive Mercedes-Benz, starting at $32,050 (up to $49,500). But Consumer Reports says the driving experience, especially the harsh ride, "falls far short of a typical Mercedes." CR describes the interior as being noisy and cramped.

Reviews compiled by U.S. News rank it 13 out of 15 small luxury cars. The four-cylinder, turbocharged engine is rated 24 MPG in city driving and 33 on the highway. List prices for the CLA run from $32,050 to $49,500.

A better alternative is the BMW 3 Series. The 328i reviewed by CR boasted quick acceleration but is still rated for 23 MPG city, 35 highway. Reviewers surveyed by U.S. News praise the 3 Series for powerful engines and athletic handling. List prices for the 3 Series go from $33,150 to $63,200 for high-performance versions.

Luxury midsize car: Lincoln MKS

Lincoln

Ford's luxury Lincoln brand has had a tough time selling against its German and Japanese competition. The MKS is described by Consumer Reports as cramped for its size and lacking a true luxury ride. At U.S. News, it ranks last among 11 larger luxury cars.

And its standard V-6 engine is rated for just 17 MPG city, 26 highway -- low even for the luxury class. List prices for the MKS go from $39,850 to $45,840.

Try instead the Audi A6, ranking first out of 18 luxury midsize cars among U.S. News reviewers. CR describes it as having outstanding ride and handling and strong performance. Its turbocharged four-cylinder engine is rated for 24 MPG in city driving and 35 on the highway. List prices for the A6 run from $46,200 to $70,900.

Or if you're ready for a glamorous electric car starting at $70,000, the Tesla Model S got the top road test score of any car tested by Consumer Reports. And it was also best in its class for owner satisfaction.

Family SUV: Dodge Journey

A.J. Mueller

Lackluster acceleration combined with humdrum gas mileage make the Journey a standout at the bottom of the ratings. The base four-cylinder engine is rated for 19 MPG in the city, 26 on the highway. And the optional V-6 engine has ratings of 17 MPG city, 25 highway.

Consumer Reports also criticizes the Journey for poor handling and well-below-average reliability. And it got a poor rating in the Insurance Institute's so-called small overlap front-end crash test. List prices for the Journey range from $20,995 to $33,695.

Take a look instead at the Kia Sorento, which leads the CR ratings in reliability and owner satisfaction. The CR test drivers praise the Sorento for its elegant interior and the smooth acceleration of its optional V-6 engine (rated 18 MPG city, 26 highway.) The base four-cylinder engine has EPA ratings of 21 MPG city, 29 highway.

The Sorento also has strong safety ratings and a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Sorento list prices go from $24,900 to $43,100.

Luxury compact SUV: Land Rover Discovery Sport

Land Rover

The Discovery Sport's combination of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and nine-speed automatic transmission results in spiky, uneven acceleration, according to Consumer Reports. So-called "turbo lag," which delays power kicking in, and reluctance of the transmission to downshift can make it difficult to merge onto a highway. The engine is rated for 20 MPG in city driving, 26 highway.

The Discovery sport also has poor predicted reliability. The base price is $37,455, but typically equipped models run into the high $40,000 range.

If you can afford to spend more, the top-rated entry in the CR road test and owner satisfaction is the Porsche Macan. Test drivers describe the Macan of having sports-car feel and performance along with the practical uses of a small SUV. The base turbocharged V-6 engine is rated at 17 MPG city, 23 highway. The base price is $54,400, but typically equipped S models run into the low $60,000 range.

Luxury large SUV: Cadillac Escalade

Cadillac

Consumer Reports criticizes the Escalade for having a stiff ride that's not up to the standards of a luxury SUV. Braking and handling are also worse than its competitors, CR says. The standard V-8 engine is rated for 15 MPG in city driving, 22 on the highway. Escalade list prices range from $72,970 to $94,950.

Instead, look at the Audi Q7, which is both much better-rated and less expensive. Redesigned as a 2017 model, the Q7 is praised for effortless acceleration and smooth, quiet, comfortable ride. Its turbocharged V-6 engine is rated for 19 MPG city, 25 highway. List prices range from $54,800 to $64,300.

Minivan: Chrysler Town & Country

Jim Frenak

The Town & Country is being replaced by a redesigned minivan called the Pacifica. So you'll likely see tempting deals out there on the remaining Town & Country models. But Consumer Reports criticizes the Town & Country for its slow-shifting transmission and poor gas mileage.

The V-6 engine is rated for 17 MPG city, 25 highway -- lower than the best of its competitors. The Town & Country list price ranges from $29,995 to $40,645.

Look instead at the Honda Odyssey, which ranked the highest in the CR road test and owner satisfaction. The Odyssey has unusually nimble handling for a minivan, and it can seat up to eight. The standard V-6 engine is rated for 19 MPG city, 28 highway. Odyssey list prices range from $20,275 to $44,750.