For the second consecutive year, the Toyota Prius liftback topped Consumer Reports' annual list of vehicles giving buyers the best bang for their automotive buck. The hulking Nissan Armada SUV won the prize for the worst value.
Consumer Reports said the Prius had the best combination of reliability, resale value, fuel economy and driving performance of the cars measured by the magazine.
The five-year ownership cost of the hybrid amounts to 47 cents per mile. The Armada, by comparison, will set its owner back $1.20 a mile. It gets only 13 mpg overall and scored poorly in Consumer Reports' annual reliability survey.
"The Prius' 44 mpg overall is the best fuel economy of any non-plug-in car that Consumer Reports has tested," said Consumer Reports Automotive Editor Rik Paul. "Though it's not particularly cheap to buy, the Prius' depreciation is so low that it costs less to own over the first five years than its initial MSRP."
Indeed, inexpensive cars didn't always fare well in the Consumer Reports assessment.
"Just because a car is cheap to buy doesn't mean it's a good value. The Nissan Versa Sedan, for example, is one of the least expensive cars that Consumer Reports has tested," Paul said. "For about $1,500 more, we'd go with a Honda Fit, which is fun to drive, cheaper to own, more reliable, and provides almost twice the value."
The Fit scored second to the Prius in the magazine's compact/subcompact car category; the Versa scored near the bottom of the pack. The Volkswagen Beetle with the 2.5-liter engine scored the lowest.
For large cars, Consumer Reports scored the Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited as the best value and the Ford Taurus Limited as the worst.
In luxury cars, the Lexus ES 300h hybrid ranked at the top and the BMW 750Li was at the bottom.
Consumer Reports liked the Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring as the best value among sports cars and convertibles and said the Chevrolet Camaro convertible 2SS with a V-8 engine was the worst.
Mazda also scored the highest in the wagons/minivans category with its Mazda5 Grand Touring. Chrysler's Town & Country Touring-L ranked lowest.
In small SUVs, the Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium was the best and the Ford Escape SE with the 1.6-liter, turbocharged engine was last.
For midsized SUVs, Nissan's Murano SL ranked highest while the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara was at the bottom.
The next two groupings included odd sets of vehicles that didn't really go together, said Jack Nerad, an analyst at car shopping website Kelley Blue Book.
Consumer Reports named the small BMW X1 xDrive28i as the top value in a luxury/large SUV category and the giant Nissan Armada Platinum as the poorest value.
"I can't imagine these cars ever being cross-shopped," Nerad said. "One can almost fit in the other one."
Likewise, the magazine said the Honda Ridgeline RTS was the best value in a pickup truck and the Ford F-250 Lariat with the 6.7-liter, V-8 engine – a heavy-duty truck – as the worst value.
"You are talking apples and bananas there," Nerad said. "I can't see one as a substitute for another."
He said that when Kelley Blue Book does comparisons, it uses more narrow groupings that mirror how consumers shop.
"We look at vehicles that would be shopped against each other," he said.
Consumer Reports conceded that not all the cars in the categories are directly comparable but said it wanted to condense the categories into just 10 groups.
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