Gas mileage drastically improves if you are being towed. Other than that there is very little to recommend a vehicle that gets great fuel figures but costs you money at resale due to buyer worries about reliability. Add to that fact that just one problem could erase all the savings in gas over the lifetime of the car.
Thus Consumer Reports has supplied their list of the most dependable vehicles. I have never been a fan of Consumer Reports since we followed their ratings for buying several household appliances only to have them require sufficient work. That might not be the fault of Consumer Reports. What might be the problem is that once a company gets a high rating and sales increase they start cutting corners.
Since Consumer Reports does a good job of reviewing products, they are more highly rated than ours but we doubt that they are as useful to family buyers, here are their top picks and our assessment based on models up to 2007.
Mercedes continues to battle with quality problems in some models as their M Class ranks as the most unreliable vehicle. We find that the best Mercedes product is the E Class, especially with the diesel or Bluetec engine. We also feel that they have made considerable progress the last two years.
Price appears to have little relevance to quality and old myths are shattered when you look at the data that reveals that the Lincoln Zephyr was nearly as reliable as the always reliable ES 350. In fact, if you want to buy a good used car a 1995 Lexus ES is the one to have. Outstanding gas mileage and exceptional reliability. They have oil leaks and thin leather seats but for under $3000 you are probably going to get 300,000 miles.
Ford continues to improve with good rankings for its Fusion and Milan. Indeed, these vehicles performed at the same level as the pricier Camry and Accord. General Motors also did well with good rating for its Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS.
One of our frequent best vehicles is the Subaru line and Consumer Reports agreed. All their models did well, but we don’t recommend the racy WRX STi do to it hot rod engine and stiff legged ride. A great car, just not a family car. Outside of the Versa and Sentra we don’t really feel that Nissan has that many quality products and some, such as their large SUVs gets astonishing low gas mileage.
Porsche continues to suffer, according to owners
Porsche continues to have reliability issues. Since this is the only company that refuses to allow us to test its vehicles we have no reason to disagree with the Consumer Reports information. If you buy a Porsche you are buying a possible source of problems that the company’s short warranty may not help you cover.
The Porsche 911 and Carrera, Pontiac Solstice, Mercedes SL and CLK, and V6 powered Ford Mustang all did poorly and the Porsche is easily the most expensive of this list. We feel Mercedes is improving and that the Solstice is very new and probably going through growing pains. The Mustang is priced under $20,000 and we don’t feel its quality is as good as it should be. As for the Porsche, how could a company that has been building essentially the same car for decades continue to have problems? We feel it is the fact that they are profitable and have a loyal following even though there are several cars that costs tens of thousands of dollars less that can perform equally.
As expected the best small cars are the Honda Fit and Civic Hybrid as well as the Toyota Corolla. What we didn’t expect was the high rating of the Toyota Yaris, which we did not like and found very uncomfortable and lacking a quality feel. However, we love the Fit and the Corolla. In this category the Chevrolet Cobalt and Aveo, Nissan Sentra, and Volkswagen Jetta did poorly. The Sentra has been redone and is much better. The Cobalt’s rating surprised us as we found it was a great compact with a spirited ride and spacious interior. Volkswagens continue to be suspect, although we have placed an order for the new Jetta wagon and have our fingers crossed.
The important family sedan segment had the Accord, Fusion, Milan, and Toyota Prius in the top positions. The Accord four cylinder was our choice. We have no idea why anyone orders the V6 version when the four is so frugal and energetic. The Volkswagen Passat didn’t fare well and we don’t recommend it either.
As noted the Lexus ES does well, as did the Zephyr. Add to that the surprising Hyundai Azera and the Acura TSX and TL and you have some great vehicles although the Azera is very softly sprung. However, it is loaded with equipment and looks far more expensive than the Lexus. The Jaguar X Type, Chrysler 300 V8 and Saab 9-3 rated at the bottom. Are experience with the Saab is that the older ones do better than the new ones. After 2002 they seemed to lose their composure. Still, they handle, accelerate, and feel as solid as any sporty sedan. We like them. The large Chrysler has visibility issues and the V8 isn’t needed as the large six does just as well for the family. The Jaguar is an old design and isn’t going to age well anyhow. Nice looking, though.
In the luxury field the older Cadillac STS, Mercedes S and CLS and E and the BMW 7 Series and Jaguar S should be avoided. The new models of these are far better, but we always have doubt about BMW products outside of the 3 Series due to the complexity of their electronics and poor fuel mileage. The Jaguar S is another old design and the new Jaguar FX promises to be much better. Winning include the always terrific Lexus LS and Infiniti M. We noticed tire wear problems with the big Infiniti, but the Lexus is perhaps the best luxury family sedan ever made. We bought one of the first ones brought to the US in 1989 and it was a dream. They still are, but beware of the costly prices to replace such items as oxygen sensors. You pay for the Lexus name. We actually bought the same anti-freeze solution at the Toyota dealership for nearly 30 percent less than the Lexus dealer wanted.
If you want sportiness the Lexus SC is again a great performer as is the Toyota Solara. We found the chassis on the Solara was too flexible, especially in the comfortable, but that was the previous model. The Subaru Impreza WRX is fun and highly rated as is the Honda S2000, the Mitsubishi Eclipse, and the fun MINI Cooper. There is quite a price range here, but if you don’t need the room the MINI is excellent with gas mileage over 30 mpg. Get the Clubman if you have a family for the extra cargo space. The Subaru is the most fun for the buck, though, just make sure it has been maintained. Subarus are expensive to buy parts for and we don’t like their automatic transmission.
In terms of people movers the Nissan Quest fared poorly as did the General Motors trio of the Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, and Saturn Relay. We were shocked at the General Motors listings as we tested them and found them tight and well made. However, perhaps it was too much to try and make a SUV look like a minivan. On the plus side the gas sipping Pontiac Vibe/ Toyota Matrix were superb and so was the Toyota Sienna. A used Sienna is worth considering. We got great gas mileage. The Honda Odyssey van, everyone’s first choice, finished in the middle. The complex engine management program may have been the problem. And, if you need less room, the cute Scion xB finished among the elite, too. Very economical and a hoot to drive.
Crossover SUVs did well as a group with only the very inexpensive Kia Sportage reporting poor ratings. It was also among the least expensive in this grouping. Favored crossovers with the Toyota FJ Cruiser and RAV4 as well as the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outland, and versatile Subaru Forester. The FJ has so little side and rear visibility and poor fuel mileage we can’t recommend it. The Outlander is okay, but not the best choice. The RAV4’s gas mileage when tested was over 25 mpg and the all-new Honda CR-V had a great interior. We like the RAV4 and the Subaru Forester. In fact, we like the old Forester better than the new one. The best fuel mileage of any all wheel drive family crossover.
Large SUVs were dominated by the Japanese automakers with the Toyota Highlander, 4Runner, Lexus RX 400 h, Acura MDX, and Honda Pilot all ranking on top. The Lexus is much more expensive than the others and we would recommend the RX 350 and save thousands. The Highlander and Pilot are both very good. The fuel mileage on the MDX causes us to place it much lower, although it handles better than the others.
As expected the worst of the SUVs are some of the vehicles we never recommend such as the Land Rover LR3 with the V8, the horrible Hummer H3---all Hummer models are horrible, the lumbering Volkswagen Touareg, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes R and M Class, Volvo XC 90, Ford Explorer, and Mercury Mountaineer. If there ever was a grouping of vehicles to avoid as lacking any quality traits this is it. Why anyone would consider one is beyond our grasp as they get stinky fuel mileage, handle poorly, and every one has a better choice from the same manufacture.
Hummer Owners Rank them Lowest
Large SUVs, and why anyone in their right mind would need one of these top-heavy burdens on renewable resources escapes us, are lead by the Toyota Land Cruiser, Sequoia, Lexus LX, Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon. The god-awful Hummer H2 performed as expected, at the bottom of the list. We don’t’ think it would matter to a perspective buyer anyhow.
Buying one of these Hummers, which are illegal to drive on most residential roads as they exceed the three-ton limit, is a look at me decision for those into conspicuous consumption. The same can be said for the Ford Excursion and Lincoln Navigator. Blights on the road and the Lincoln only best the Hummer in the race to the bottom of the reliability chart. Of course with all that weight going to the bottom is easy. Think 10 to 12 miles per gallon and a resale value that rivals current presidential approval ratings when you buy in this segment.
Consumer Reports final ratings were for pick-up trucks. These are the cash cows of the industry and their success is important. The Subaru Baja, which is really too small to carry much more than a six foot long rope, Toyota’s Tundra and Tacoma were joined the Nissan Frontier V6 as having superior quality ratings. The Baja is handy, but clearly does not belong in this group. The worst were the Nissan Titan, horrible gas mileage, too, and the Ford F-250 diesel, Dodge Dakota, and wallowing Cadillac Escalade EXT. The latter model drives like a boat with little road feel and a tendency to absorb gasoline faster than the Saudis can produce it.
Two elements emerge from the Consumer Reports study. First, only Toyota has a vehicle line-up that excels in quality and Honda is close behind. Thus the higher resale for these two brands. Secondly, the cost of the vehicle is not indicative of its quality. The Ford Fusion is about $20,000 and does well while the Porsche and Hummer H2 are complained about by their owners who shelled out those big bucks the most per dollar.
Family conference: Our favorites by category as the Honda Fit and Toyota Corolla in the compact class; family sedan class winners are the Toyota Prius, Accord and Ford Fusion; larger sedans would find the Lexus LS in our garage; the MINI Clubman would be our fun to drive vehicle; the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe would be the handiest to own; and the Lexus 400h and Subaru Forester would fill up our department of motor vehicles quota. We don’t recommend large SUVs and feel that pick-ups are not family vehicles and can be very unsafe.
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