'Consumer Reports' Targets Best Values, Used Cars

Toyota Prius i

The Toyota Prius was Consumer Reports' top pick for best green car for the sixth year in a row. The Prius Touring model was also the top pick for the magazine's new best value category. Courtesy of Consumer Reports hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Consumer Reports
Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius was Consumer Reports' top pick for best green car for the sixth year in a row. The Prius Touring model was also the top pick for the magazine's new best value category.

Courtesy of Consumer Reports
Toyota RAV4 i

The Toyota RAV4 tops the list of best used small SUVs in Consumer Reports' 2009 ranking of nine categories of used cars. Courtesy of Consumer Reports hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Consumer Reports
Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 tops the list of best used small SUVs in Consumer Reports' 2009 ranking of nine categories of used cars.

Courtesy of Consumer Reports

Best New Car Overall Value

  • Toyota Prius Touring
  • Mini Cooper
  • Volkswagen Rabbit
  • Honda Civic EX
  • Honda Fit

Top Used Cars

  • Small cars: Honda Civic
  • Family cars: Honda Accord
  • Upscale cars: Lexus ES
  • Minivans: Toyota Sienna
  • Small SUVs: Toyota RAV4

Source: Consumer Reports' April issue of Best & Worst 2009 cars

The domestic car industry could use its own set of air bags — not to mention some electronic stability control.

General Motors Corp. said on Thursday that it lost $9.6 billion and its car sales dropped by 26 percent for the last quarter of 2008.

Those kinds of numbers make one wonder whether anyone wants to buy a new car. There may be few buyers these days, but Consumer Reports' latest car issue is full of advice for the budget conscious. That includes a new section on the best new-car values and the magazine's largest section ever devoted to used cars.

It's no surprise that the magazine says in its April issue of best and worst 2009 cars that Japanese automakers still remain on top when it comes to manufacturing the best all-around vehicles for the U.S. market.

Honda, Subaru and Toyota received the top scores in the magazine's automaker report card for comfort, fuel economy, performance and reliability. Meanwhile, Ford, GM and Chrysler remain at the bottom of the class.

Ford has been making improvements in its reliability over the past few years (the magazine says some models "now rival the best from Japan"). But Ford's cars lack customer appeal, with styling that is "so-so" and interiors that are "bland," says David Champion, senior director for Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center. "They just need to get some more passionate products that will excite the consumer."

GM has the opposite problem. The company is getting some things right when it comes to overall build quality and fit and finish, but reliability has been "very inconsistent," he says.

Each company has already made some strides with cars like the Ford Flex and the Chevy Malibu, says Rik Paul, automotive editor for the magazine. "If you could merge the two, you'd have one quality company."

Meanwhile, Consumer Reports dropped Chrysler's reliability rating to "below average" this year, and no vehicles from Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep made it onto the magazine's recommended list.

Bang For Your Buck

The magazine has added a best values category to its review of new cars. And the winner isn't necessarily the cheapest car — it's a Toyota Prius Touring, priced at just under $25,000. The determination is based on road test scores, five-year owner cost estimates and predicted reliability ratings. The other top four in this category are the Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Rabbit, Honda Civic EX and Honda Fit.

"These are the cars that give you the most for your money," Paul says. What's at the bottom? GM's Hummer H2, which the magazine says is a "terrible deal."

Used Car Sales

Used cars have always outsold new cars, and with people looking for ways to save money, it's still a sound strategy. The magazine, which devoted 19 of its 100 pages to this category, also used data going back to 1999 to compile its first-ever breakdown of the best used cars in nine categories. These include the best of small cars (Honda Civic), family cars (Honda Accord) and minivans (Toyota Sienna).

"A two-or three-year-old used car is probably one of the best values out there," Champion says. And Paul says visitors to the Consumer Reports Web site have been gravitating toward the used car section.

Just be sure to kick the tires and honk the horn when you get offline.

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