Thinking of buying a used car that’s … oh … four years old? Well, every year, Consumer Reports (CR) publishes its “Best And Worst” automobile issue. This is arguably the most comprehensive and thorough automobile guide in the industry and takes a hard, cold look at new and used cars and SUVs. Consumer Reports accepts no advertising, so they have no axes to grind or flags to fly (except their own, perhaps), and all the cars tested are purchased by the company itself and passed around from employee to employee as part of the evaluation.
According to the company, each vehicle undergoes 50 separate tests, including track time, braking tests, accident avoidance, fuel economy, data analysis, and extensive driving under a variety of conditions, including commuting. There are 28 full-time staffers driving the cars and, according to CR. they spent $2.7 million on new cars purchases in 2015. Here are some highlights.
As far as CR is concerned, the best car overall in 2015 was the Tesla Model S, despite the fact that it had only average reliability. If there is a flaw in CR’s approach, it’s that it traditionally put too much emphasis on zero emission vehicles and tend to ignore the real world. Voting Tesla as the best overall is just sophistry, in my opinion, and irrelevant to most consumers.
Back here on earth, three of CR’s top 10 picks for 2015 came from Subaru while Toyota scored well for reliability and affordability. Surprisingly, perhaps, General Motors had two models in the top 10. Anyway, here’s the hit list:
– Best midsize sedan, Subaru Legacy
– Best green car, Toyota Prius
– Best small SUV, Subaru Forester
– Best large car, Chevrolet Impala
– Best compact car, Subaru Impreza
– Best luxury car, Audi A6
– Best sports sedan, Buick Regal
– Best mini-van, Honda Odyssey
– Best midsize SUV, Toyota Highlander
If there’s a “Best Of” category, then there must also be a “Worst Of”, and on that score, the manufacturer with the worst report card for predicted reliability and “road test” scores was Fiat, followed closely by Jeep. Best brand for overall reliability and driveability was Lexus.
In terms of cars that owners would buy again, there are some surprises. For example, the subcompact with the highest owner satisfaction rating was the Fiat 500, with the Mazda3, Mazda6, Dodge Charger, and BMW 328d all getting top marks in their respective categories. Least satisfying? Nissan Versa, Nissan Sentra, VW Passat V6, Buick LaCrosse and Infiniti Q50 … among others.
Here’s an interesting one. According to CR, some of the most expensive 2015 vintage cars to own and operate are the Hyundai Veloster equipped with a manual transmission, the Kia Soul Plus, Chevy Suburban, and Land Rover Range Rover. CR says the cost to run a Land Rover Range Rover, for example, for five years is US$100,215, factoring in things like fuel expenses, loan interest, insurance costs, sales tax, and maintenance and repairs. This was based on annual distance travelled of 12,000 miles (19,312 km).
On the other end of the scale, cars that are the least expensive to own and operate included the Toyota Prius C, Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, and Buick Verano. CR claims it’d cost US$24,000 to operate a ’15 Prius C for five years.
For flat-out reliability, the Toyota Yaris topped the subcompact list, followed by another Toyota product, the Scion xB, for compact car, the VW Passat 1.8 for midsize sedan, Kia Cadenza for large car, and Lexus IS 350 for luxury compact. Least reliable? Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500L, Nissan Altima, Chev Impala, and Mercedes CLA 250. These results were based on CR’s annual owners survey.
Consumer Reports also took a look at used cars, noting that “cars built in the last decade are more reliable than ever” and “many newer cars will provide trouble-free service for 200,000 miles (320,000 km) and 10 years at least, or more with care.” Here are some used models they recommended:
2005-2008 Pontiac Vibe
2005 Acura TL
2007-2008 Kia Optima (four cylinder)
2005 Honda CR-V
2005 Honda Pilot.
$10,000 – $15,000:
2010 Subaru Impreza
2010-2012 Kia Soul
2006-2007 Infiniti G35
2005-2006 Acura RL
2005-2007 Acura MDX.
Some used cars that should be avoided:
BMW 330i / 335i
Dodge Grand Caravan
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).