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Consumer Reports annual April auto issue hits newstands

Posted Thursday, March 8, 2007

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Best & Worst Autos, What’s Next in Auto Safety, What’s Coming for 2008, & More!!

Yonkers, NY - The April issue of Consumer Reports highlights winners and losers culled from more than 250 tested vehicles and nearly one million responses to the magazine’s annual subscriber survey.

Owner satisfaction: With the results in from CR’s biggest Annual Car Owner Satisfaction Survey ever, more U.S. models made the Most Satisfying list, although Japanese models still dominate. Seven domestic models made the top cut this year, compared with only four last year. Japanese models fell from 31 to 26; European models increased from 9 to 11. And a South Korean model is on the list for the first time: the Hyundai Azera. The Toyota Prius ranks as the most satisfying vehicle overall for the fourth straight year, with 92 percent of owners saying they would get the same model again. Second place again goes to the Chevrolet Corvette. The Chevrolet Uplander minivan was the lowest-ranked model in the survey.

New and redesigned models: Among vehicles that have been newly introduced or recently redesigned, CR’s testers found some especially impressive and others that don’t live up to their hype. Among the most impressive are the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan. Their nimble handling and comfortable ride make them feel like more expensive European cars. In addition, the well-balanced handling and controlled ride of the updated 2007 Infiniti G35 made it a joy to drive. Vehicles that were among the most disappointing are the Dodge Nitro, due to its cheap-looking interior, vague steering, and ungainly handling; and the Toyota Yaris for its sloppy emergency handling, excessive noise, and uncomfortable driving position.

Fuel economy: The top-ranked gas sippers included the Toyota Prius (44 mpg) for small cars, the Toyota Camry Hybrid (34 mpg) for midsized and large sedans, and the Ford Escape Hybrid (26 mpg) for SUVs. The worst gas guzzlers included the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (20 mpg) among small cars, the Chrysler 300C and Mercury Grand Marquis LSE (16 mpg) for midsized and large sedans, and the Dodge Durango Limited (12 mpg) for SUVs.

Safety tests: Among CR’s safety tests is a dry-braking test (from 60 mph) and avoidance maneuver, which helps CR testers judge how capable a vehicle is when a driver is trying to steer around an obstacle; the higher a vehicle’s speed, the better. For dry braking, the Porsche Boxster 2.7 fared best at 112 feet, while the Nissan Versa 1.8 S (without antilock brakes) came in the worst at 163 feet. For the avoidance maneuver, the Porsche 911 Carrera S scored highest at 59.5 mph and the Chevrolet Tahoe LT the lowest at 44 mph.

Coming Soon: CR’s Early Take on the 2008 Models

Much of the talk at this year’s auto shows and especially from the domestic automakers is about the renewed focus on sedans. In addition, Chrysler is trying to catch up in the minivan market just as Ford and GM are dropping out. The Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan will soon have features to match the Japanese and South Korean minivans that have become very competitive. Here is CR’s take on some of those upcoming models:

Ford Focus: The Focus gets a freshening, with new sheet metal, a retuned suspension, and an interior that is likely to be quieter. These changes address prior shortcomings, but there are some omissions clearly for the sake of cost cutting.

Saturn Vue: The forthcoming Vue, based on a Daewoo design shared with Opel, will have standard Electronic Stability Control, however the mild-hybrid powerplant, carried over from the previous Green Line, isn’t impressive for fuel economy or acceleration.

Honda Accord: The current Accord, while our highest-rated family sedan, has never been much of a looker, but the redesigned model will have svelte new styling. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is likely to carry over. The new V6 should have more horsepower than the current one. The new Accord will get some strong competition from the Nissan Altima.

Cadillac CTS: The 2008 CTS will go on sale this fall with an updated interior and all-wheel-drive option. The 258-hp, 3.6-liter V6 will be standard, and a new direct-injection 3.6-liter V6 will get 300 hp. The center console is designed to accommodate an MP3 player. The CTS has been one of GM’s stars and this makeover should keep it basking in the spotlight.

The future of auto safety: Innovative advances to make driving safer than ever

Electronic Stability Control is the most important safety advance since the seat belt. The auto industry has gone a long way to make cars that can protect passengers in a crash, so now the trend is toward creating additional technologies for crash prevention. Consumer Reports highlights the latest technologies — most of which have already turned up in limited use and others about to appear on the horizon — that will protect drivers including:

Next-generation stability control. ESC II will go even further in controlling a vehicle by providing slight steering input in addition to selective braking and throttle reduction. Rear-wheel steering control is also being looked at to work with next-generation ESC to provide optimum stability.

Pre-collision systems. Currently found on a few Mercedes-Benz and Lexus models, these sense a collision before it happens and take action to warn and prepare the driver for an accident. It detects vehicles in front and can sound an alarm, display warning lights, and take preventive steps to optimize the driver’s and passengers’ safety.

Adaptive cruise control. In addition to maintaining a set speed on the highway, this system can automatically maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. It operates the brakes or throttle to slow or accelerate the car as needed. Some of CR’s testers, however, found the systems they’ve tested to be annoyingly abrupt in their operation.

Lane-departure warning. Cameras that detect the stripes between lanes can determine if an inattentive driver has let the car wander off its intended path and alert him with a chime and warning light.

Blind-spot detection. Audi and Volvo currently have systems that use warning lights connected to cameras or radar on the outside mirrors to alert a driver when a vehicle is in or approaching a blind zone.

Intelligent networks. Tomorrow’s cars will have high-speed data networks that allow communication between various automotive systems and other vehicles. Vehicles will be able to send warnings about hazards or potential accidents on the road.

Detailed car reliability ratings: user-friendly charts

Consumer Reports reliability charts showcase how 248 models are holding up in 16 trouble areas, in an easy-to-read format. These charts give readers a model’s reliability history for both its used versions (2001 through 2006) and CR’s prediction of the new one currently on sale, based on our 2006 Annual Car Reliability Survey, for which CR received nearly one million responses covering about 1.3 million vehicles. Note: Info for new cars is a prediction only.

Winners and Losers from Consumer Reports Testing and Owner Surveys

MOST IMPRESSIVE

 

Ford Fusion

Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan
As expected, these replacements for the Taurus and Sable are practical and roomy. But we were unexpectedly impressed with their nimble handling and comfortable ride, which make them feel more like expensive European cars. Unlike many new cars in their first year, their reliability has been excellent.

Hyundai Santa Fe
With much better ride and handling than its predecessor, the new Santa Fe might be the best Hyundai we’ve tested. It also has a smooth powertrain, quiet interior, and impressive fit and finish, giving it a No. 2 ranking among small SUVs, behind the Toyota RAV4 V6.

Infiniti G35
With its 2007 update, the G35 has been transformed into a very capable sports sedan. Quick and agile, with well-balanced handling and a controlled ride, it is a joy to drive. Handling, interior fit and finish, and controls are all markedly improved over the previous model.

Hyundai Entourage/Kia Sedona
The redesigned Sedona and new Entourage--minivan twins--are a big improvement over the small, clumsy, and fuel-thirsty first-generation Sedona. They are quiet, roomy, comfortable, and powerful, and offer a wide array of features at a competitive price.

CR’s Annual April Auto Issue is on sale from March 6 through June 6. The Consumer Reports Auto Issue is available wherever magazines are sold. Free highlights from the April Auto Issue will be available at http://Cars.ConsumerReports.org.Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Web site; the magazine’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To subscribe to Consumer Reports, call 1-800-234-1645. Information and articles from the magazine can be accessed online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

 
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