Consumer Reports Annual Auto Issue
April 1, 2001
By Scott Lewis
As an automotive enthusiast I don't really care much for reading Consumer Reports for information on cars. But many people do. Also, they do a great job of investigating the reliability history of cars that can be extremely helpful when narrowing the choices for buying a car. When the April Auto Issue arrived I went through it casually. I noticed a couple of things that spurred me to do an analysis of their Recommended cars.
Now, by no means will this be a comprehensive report on CR's review of the cars. They have the benefit of having driven the cars, and have a significant amount of research invested to back up their opinions. What I want to do is comment on some of their Recommended cars and point out a few cars that I feel deserve to have received the recommended status. Finally, I want to point out a couple of trends I noticed. Keep in mind, I am an enthusiast and this analysis will be based on cars that an enthusiast would/should care about. However, I may make a stray comment about some lesser genre vehicles just to have some fun.
I was a little surprised by a couple of cars in CR's top picks. Here are the cars that made the top picks list:
Family Sedan or Wagon - Volkswagen Passat
Small Car - Honda Civic EX
Green Car - Toyota Prius
Most Fun To Drive - Honda S2000
Sporty Coupes - Toyota Celica GT-S
Upscale Sports Sedan - BMW 330i
Best Car Tested - Mercedes-Benz E320 4matic wagon
Small SUV - Toyota RAV4
Mid-sized SUV - Lexus RX300
Pickup Truck - Toyota Tundra
Minivan - Honda Odyssey
Do you notice what I noticed? 1) No American cars listed, and 2) the Honda S2000 is a really cool enthusiast car. The Celica got a small mention in the paragraph on the Honda which is why I indented it above. Although I like the choice of the S2000, I find it odd that CR would pick it. CR is normally way too stuffy to put the really good cars in their top rankings (notice the safe pick of the Celica for a sporty coupe). Also, the S2000 is a fairly hard core performance car. It has significant compromises for what you get. It is a firm riding car, firmer than a lot of people would care for. Also, its 8900 RPM redline engine doesn't come into its own until 5000-6000 RPM. That is much higher then most people would push the engine. In around town driving this car will be sluggish. Finally, because of the RPM range of the engine it is geared so that the engine is at a noisy level at highway speeds. That will get annoying to many people. I would consider buying the Honda if I could live with a two seater, but CR recommending it so highly might have some people thinking about it that shouldn't. The Mazda Miata is a very good sports car, and received Recommended status. I think it would have made a much better choice for the Top Picks list than the Honda because it would appeal to a larger audience.
The absence of any American cars is appalling. Unfortunately I must agree, except for the pickup truck. I like the Tundra, but it really is a bit small for a full size pickup. It really competes with the Dodge Dakota. The best pickup should have gone to the best workhorse of a true full size truck. Ford's F-150 received a Recommended status in the pickup class, that probably should have been extended to the top picks list as well.
Both Honda & Toyota have taken the copy & perfect way of building cars to dominate the list. It is time the Americans start copying them.
Recommended vs. Not Recommended
I noticed a lot of cars received the Recommended status. More than I would have picked. Here are some of the cars I noticed on the list.
Small Cars - Chevrolet Prism, Honda Civic, Mazda Protege, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Echo, Volkswagen Golf.
Notice that there aren't any American cars here either. The Chevrolet Prism is actually a Toyota Corolla. I was surprised the Ford Focus failed to receive a recommended rating due to low reliability. Overall I believe that the Americans are dropping the ball, especially GM.
Upscale Sedans - Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Chrysler 300M, Infinity I30, Lexus ES300, Lexus IS300, Saab 9-5.
I was very impressed with that the Chrysler 300M, Lexus IS300 and BMW 3-Series all made the list. These are three out of four of my favorite sedans, in price order... because of my salary. If money were no object I would reverse the order and get a BMW 330i or Ci. Then again if money were no object I could move up to the 5-Series. Truly the holy grail of luxury/sport sedans at any price, and also a recipient of the CR Recommended status in the luxury sedan class. If I had the money I would probably buy BMW exclusively until the Americans could figure out how to compete with them. I was disappointed that the Lincoln LS did not attain Recommended status. Reliability rears its ugly head again. I have driven the Acura, and it is a truly fine car. In fact, one of my brother-in-laws drives one, as does one of my best friends. My only gripe with the Acura TL is that unless you own one you will not be able to tell it apart from a Honda Accord on the road. Audi is a great alternative to BMW now that they have the horsepower to compete.
Luxury Sedans - This category went about as I would expect. My all time favorite sedan, the BMW 5-Series, made the list of Recommended cars. But I was very surprised to see that the excellent Lexus LS430 did not make Recommended status, and without an explanation. Huh?
SUVs - Thank goodness! SUVs may finally be falling out of flavor, since not one mainstream SUV received a Recommended rating. Car based SUVs did quite well with 6 vehicles. And I was surprised to see that my own Suburban was on the list of Recommended Large SUVs. I guess we are not saved yet.
Chrysler Sebring Convertible - With the recent redesign of the Sebring line this car has improved greatly. It is currently the best family car convertible on the market. At $25,000 - $30,000 it is reasonably priced if a little underpowered. But CR readers care less about horsepower than other factors, so that should not have had much influence. At the least this car should have received a Promising rating due to a lack of track record in reliability for the new version. Then again, it was lumped into the Family Sedan category with the rest of its siblings. CR should create a category for vehicles like this, and the Toyota Solara Convertible (probably this car's only competition), since it is not really thought of as a family sedan by potential buyers. It is a convertible that makes a great daily driver and holds 4 people in a pinch. Toyota's Solara received the Recommended status, but the Solara Convertible does not come close to touching this car in execution. Toyota has not quite figured out how to copy this formula yet. The Solara Convertible is a coupe with its roof cut off by ASC. Chrysler developed the Sebring as a convertible from the start. That makes all the difference.
Overall I was impressed by Consumer Reports' ratings. They have shown that they really can pick some nice sport oriented vehicles appealing to the enthusiast. I would like to see the Porsche Boxster and the Chevrolet Corvette on the list, but at least they are getting better.