Are you a doctor in the market fora new car? Then why not get anhonest assessment of your selectionfrom the 2004 Annual Auto Issue?
(www.consumerreports.org) selections are all-around highperformersthat have outpointed theircompetitors in the magazine's rigoroustesting program, shown average or betterreliability in own subscribersurvey, and performed adequatelyin crash tests by the National HighwayTraffic Safety Administration or theInsurance Institute for Highway Safety.
testing proceduresare the most comprehensive of any USpublication. The top vehicles were selectedfrom among the 183 vehicles that wererecently tested by the magazine. The followingvehicles, by category, are best performers:
• Small sedan: Ford Focus. The Focus(around $17,000) is nimble, relatively spacious,well designed, and fun to drive. Theride is firm, steady, and well controlled.Last year's top pick in this category wasthe Honda Civic EX.
• Family sedan: Honda Accord/VolkswagenPassat. For the second year in arow, the Accord and Passat share the honorsin this category. The Accord ($21,000to $23,000) is the top pick among 4-cylindermodels; the Passat (around $30,000) isthe top pick among V6 versions. Both providean excellent balance of comfort andsporty handling.
• Upscale sedan: Acura TL. The TL's2004 redesign transformed the sedanfrom a mid-packer to a front-runner. TheTL (around $33,000) provides sporty performance,an impeccable interior, andrespectable fuel economy. did not have a top pick in this categoryin 2003.
• Luxury car: Lexus LS430. The LS430(around $70,500) has a silky smooth V8power train, spacious accommodations,easy-to-use controls, and a plush, quietcabin. Comprehensive safety features,excellent reliability, and low depreciationalso make this car a standout. This is a newtop pick category.
• Fun to drive: Ford SVT Focus. TheSVT Focus hatchback (around $19,000)blends superb cornering abilities, livelyacceleration, and excellent brakes withcommendable interior space, a usable rearseat, and a tolerable ride. Last year's toppick was the Subaru Impreza WRX.
• Small SUV: Subaru Forester. TheForester is a good vehicle and a goodvalue—around $21,000 for the 2.5X. Thisall-wheel-drive, car-based SUV handleswith agility and rides compliantly. Brakingis excellent. The Toyota RAV4 was the toppick in this category last year.
• Midsized SUV: Lexus RX330.Though not cheap (around $40,000, well equipped),the RX330 is an excellent overallpackage. It blends a smooth, responsive230-hp V6 and secure handling with avery comfortable ride. There is no changein this category from 2003.
• Three-Row SUV: Honda Pilot. Theeight-passenger Pilot (around $31,000)blends the qualities of an SUV and minivanin one package. A comfortable ride,secure handling, impeccable fit and finish,and a foldaway, split third-row seatmake it an all-around excellent choice.This is a new top pick category.
• Minivan: Toyota Sienna. Theredesigned Sienna (around $28,000, wellequipped) leads the class in comfort andsafety, and is one of few minivans to offerall-wheel drive. The Honda Odyssey wasthe top pick in this category in 2003.
• Green car: Toyota Prius. The second-generationPrius hybrid (around $21,500)is quicker, more spacious, and more fuel efficientthan the first version, but costsabout the same. In tests, the Prius averaged 44 mpg overall.The Prius' roomy, versatile interior andgood driving performance make it aviable alternative to a conventional small,or even midsized, sedan.