DETROIT (WWJ) - Two of the smaller Japanese brands made the biggest impressions in Consumer Reports annual look at best vehicles and best brands.
"It's Mazda and Subaru that are really distancing themselves in making extremely desirable vehicles," said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports director of automotive testing. "Sure, they're reliable too."
Subaru and Mazda were the top mass market brands in Consumer Reports annual brand "report card." Audi was the top brand overall. The Subaru Impreza and Forester were each top picks in their categories, as was the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Two domestics topped their categories, both made in Detroit. The Chevy Impala was named best big car, the Ford F-150 best pickup.
"This year several automakers have really hit the mark with their redesigned vehicles," said Mark Rechtin, Consumer Reports' Cars Content Development Team Leader. "This year's Top Picks include refreshed models, like the Lexus RX, that have vaulted back to the top of their respective categories after lengthy absences."
The studies combine Consumer Reports own testing and feedback from readers. Fisher says they want to find vehicles that are both appealing and reliable.
"If you're looking for a great car, you gotta look at more than just that showroom appeal," he said. "It's gotta be reliable. It's gotta be safe. And, it's gotta be something that you're gonna really enjoy to drive."
Fiat Chrysler continues to have trouble, with all of its brands faring poorly, and Fiat finishing at the bottom.
"What's really hurting them is reliability," said Fisher. "The reliability just continues to be bad. As they introduce new vehicles we're still seeing problems with them."
While Consumer Reports is not unique in finding problems with Fiat Chrysler vehicles, the company says it's own internal indicators show improvement.
"We value all feedback from our customers and third-party evaluators, including Consumer Reports, as it helps guide our product improvements. We respect Consumer Reports' opinion, as they're one of the many third-party evaluators we receive comments from," said Matt Liddane, Vice President – Quality, FCA North America. "With that being said, we encourage customers to experience our vehicles for themselves. We continue to aggressively pursue both product and launch-quality improvements as they are top priorities for the Company and our internal measurements are showing progress."
Consumer Reports' 2016 Top Picks By Category:
MIDSIZED CAR: Toyota Camry ($24,089-$32,603) The Camry's no-fuss driving experience – great outward visibility, controls that fall easily to hand, a roomy interior – may not be the most thrilling in its class, but it's far from plain. The solid Camry delivers year after year of outstanding reliability, which when combined with impressive crash-tests results, make it a near-perfect sedan.
SUBCOMPACT CAR: Honda Fit ($19,025) The Honda Fit is thrifty with fuel, returning a competitive 33 mpg overall, and its nimble handling beats expectations. It has remarkable interior space for such a tiny footprint, with second-row seats that elegantly stow away or flip up to hold more cargo. Road noise does boom in, and its rough ride can be tiring on long drives. Still, its crash-test scores have improved over its predecessor.
COMPACT CAR: Subaru Impreza ($21,345-$22,345) Despite its compact size, the Impreza's ride and comfort will surprise. It has expansive window glass, lots of interior space for a car of its size, intuitive controls, a suite of available safety technology, great crash-test results, and an available hatchback version to haul bulky cargo. And with the added benefit of superb all-wheel-drive traction, the Impreza is a smart, practical car.
LUXURY SUV: Lexus RX ($51,630-$57,565) Lexus created the luxury crossover segment almost 20 years ago, and its dominance hasn't diminished since. Though the exterior now features origami styling and a new "Predator" grille, it still boasts a quiet and comfortable cabin, effortless power delivery, a smooth ride, and a tastefully done interior fit and finish. The hybrid version gets an impressive 29 mpg overall.
SPORTS CAR <$40K: Mazda MX-5 MIATA ($29,905) The MX-5 Miata combines lithe, precise handling with a crisp manual stick and a zoomy engine—that gets an enviable 34 mpg—to create the perfect car for the enthusiast driver and weekend racer. It's reliable, too. With its jumpy, firm suspension, loud cabin, and tight quarters for taller drivers, the Miata isn't a commuter car. But given a sunny day and a winding road, none of that matters.
SMALL SUV: Subaru Forester ($27,145) The Forester is roomy, rides comfortably, and handles unflappably. Its AWD system routed the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V in CR's snow-driving evaluations. Fuel economy is among the class leaders. It also has the best sight lines from the driver's seat of any model on the market.
MIDSIZED SUV: Kia Sorento ($37,915) The Sorento is a great SUV hiding in plain sight. It offers class-above elegance at mainstream prices. It's a shade smaller than its midsized competitors, but that allows it to be city-friendly while still offering the space and features of a larger vehicle.
MINIVAN: Toyota Sienna ($35,810-$38,201) The Sienna is super-reliable transport with all of the modern features an active, connected family would want. Its spacious and multifunctional interior, with available seating for eight, mates well with the Sienna's magic carpet ride and energetic powertrain.
PICKUP TRUCK: Ford F-150 ($45,750-$46,755) By eschewing traditional steel body panels, Ford created a pickup that weighs less, enabling it to be quick off the line and fuel-efficient. The cabin is extremely quiet and spacious. The intuitive Sync 3 infotainment system is a welcome update from the MyFord Touch. The F150 has the best predicted reliability of any domestic truck.
LARGE CAR: Chevrolet Impala ($39,110) The Impala is dynamic and comfortable, combining a cushy ride with responsive handling, beating some elite luxury sedans at their own game. The controls are refreshingly intuitive, without resorting to overcomplicated interfaces. There's enough cabin space to fit five comfortably.
This article was originally written by Jeff Gilbert for CBSDetroit.com.
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