Every year Consumer Reports releases its report card ranking the top cars and automotive brands. The rankings are based off of several different categories, like reliability, road test performance, owner satisfaction and safety. The data points are gathered from hundreds of thousands of subscriber surveys, Consumer Reports' own testing and IIHS and NHTSA crash tests.
This data allows Consumer Reports to give a fairly good look at how individual brands and vehicles stack up against the rest. The categories of safety and reliability are more heavily weighted, so any vehicles that receive a poor rating in either are automatically precluded from recommendation. At the same time, vehicles equipped with enhanced safety features such as forward collision warning or automatic emergency braking receive "extra credit."
In a surprising move for 2016, Consumer Reports gave top brand honors to Audi and Subaru, with scores of 80 and 78, respectively. Both brands received high praise from the magazine for reliability, driving dynamics, owner satisfaction and safety, and every vehicle tested from those brands received a status of "recommended."
Bringing up the back of the pack are the brands of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Fiat, Jeep and Chrysler received abysmal rankings, hampered by poor reliability. Land Rover and Mitsubishi were also poorly ranked.
Overall, Consumer Reports is fairly accurate with its overall brand scores, providing a valuable look into what makes a car good or bad. While Audi and Subaru are both a surprise in this category, it's nice to see that Consumer Reports isn't solely focusing on reliability, as has been its reputation of the past. They have started to take the entire driving experience into account, allowing cars like Audis with great driving characteristics and mere above-average reliability to shine alongside more boring cars with excellent reliability like a Toyota Camry.
But there are some issues with the way they rank certain categories. For example, reliability is no longer just based on mechanical dependability. Consumer Reports has started to include the ease of use of infotainment systems into this category. The relation this has to reliability isn't clear. While infotainment systems can be frustrating, any mark against them should be under driving dynamics, which carries less weight than the reliability category.
For individual cars, there are some questionable rankings as well. For example, the Volkswagen Jetta SE with the 1.4 L turbocharged engine scored 79 points, placing it third in the compact cars category, with the marks against it being ride, interior finish and agility. The Volkswagen Jetta Sport with the more powerful 1.8 L turbocharged engine, a more agile suspension and the same interior, somehow scored only 70 points, even if it was an admitted improvement over the SE model.
Consumer Reports also isn't quite sure how to handle sports cars and "sporty" cars yet. In the "Sports Car" category, vehicles like the $110,630 Porsche 911 Carrera S are pitted against the $24,985 Ford Fiesta ST hatchback. Is it any surprise that the Porsche was scored a 95, and the hot-hatch Fiesta was scored a measly 74? Meanwhile, dedicated sports sedans like the Chevrolet SS are placed into the "Large Cars" segment.
Overall, Consumer Reports is getting better and better at ranking their cars. Although the magazine was once widely scoffed at by enthusiasts for reviewing cars in a way that someone would review washing machines, it appears that Consumer Reports has begun to better convey when the overall driving experience can make more intensive maintenance or slightly worse reliability worth it.
For someone looking for a new car, the Consumer Reports rankings are a great place to start, or a great way to narrow down choices between two options.
About the writer: Will Kinton thinks life is too short to drive boring cars, and enjoys sharing his passion for them. For more, follow him on Twitter: @willkinton247
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