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Best Cars Of 2003

Since 1953, "Consumer Reports" has published an annual issue that is devoted completely to the automobile and giving the public a list of the vehicles that performed the best in the rigorous tests.

The April issue of "Consumer Reports" is the 50th anniversary annual auto issue and contains the best car picks among the 2003 models. Several of them will be on The Early Show plaza.

CR picked the best 2003 models in 10 categories, best car tested, fun to drive, family sedan, small sedan, driving green, affordable versatility, small SUV, mid sized SUV, pickup truck and minivan.

Here are five vehicles that represent four categories:

Honda Accord
Cost between $21,000 to $23,000

It was redesigned for 2003. David Champion, director of the "Consumer Reports" auto-testing facility in East Haddam, Conn., said that it drives more like a European car than the previous model. In the CR issue it is described as having an "excellent balance of comfort, agility, roominess, performance and affordability."

Volkswagen Passat
Cost $30,000

"It's almost a luxury car," said Champion. "It has very smooth 6-cylinder engine with a 5-speed auto transmission and it has very nice steering, handling and a ride that gives it a real driver's car impression. The interior is beautifully crafted." On the inside, he specifically mentioned the door panels, wood inserts and leather seats.

Honda Pilot - Best Midsized SUV
Cost $31,000

Champion said that it's based on the Honda Odyssey minivan, which is larger. "It has seating for eight, very flexible and has all-wheel drive," said Champion. It also has a nice interior and a powerful V6 engine for its class.

Chevrolet Avalanche - Best pickup truck
Cost $33,000 to $37,000

"Pickup trucks are becoming much more popular," said Champion. "Once they were fairly crude and basic and uncomfortable. Now they drive much like a car and offer a relatively comfortable ride." It has a powerful V8 engine and seats five when the midgate is raised.

BMW 530i - Best car tested
Cost approximately $46,000

This sports sedan received the highest overall score of all the cars tested. CR described it as having "excellent handling and exceptional comfort with advanced safety features, responsive performance, and exquisite fit and finish. It effectively combines sportiness and luxury, something few vehicles can match."

Those cars were ranked high for being reliable in response to the magazine's annual survey of subscribers. "The top picks have to be top of class in terms of performance and have average or better reliability," said Champion.

"Consumer Reports" is the only auto-testing magazine that doesn't accept advertising. The cars that it tests are anonymously bought from dealerships by the magazine. That's because the testers want to be in a position to be completely objective. Last year, itspent $1.3 million on test vehicles.

The reliability assessment is based on the nearly half-million responses to the annual survey that is sent to CR subscribers. "Every year, a questionnaire is sent out to nearly 4 million subcribers," said Champion, "They tell us how reliable the car is in everyday life. We receive information back from about 480,000 consumers."

In addition to testing cars that are bought anonymously at dealerships, Champion said that CR employees take the cars home and test them for 2,000 miles in everyday driving to see how well it drives and how useful it is for a family. "After 2,000 miles, the wheels are realigned and the car is put through a whole battery of tests," said Champion. "It goes through tests for acceleration, braking, emergency handling, interior comfort, etc. Each test is scored numerically."

Champion said that throughout the year, the results of road tests are reported in "Consumer Reports," but once a year, one entire issue is devoted to cars.

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