Archive for the ‘Buyer Tips’ Category
As Consumer Reports prepares to release its 2014 Autos Spotlight, which includes our highly anticipated Top Picks, we asked our Facebook followers to tell us what’s the best car on the market in the U.S. today.
From the followers’ initial submissions, we asked people to “vote” on the six most popular models*: Ford Mustang, Hyundai Sonata, Subaru Outback, Toyota Camry*, Toyota Prius, and Toyota RAV4.* All have been considered good, safe, reliable models, earning the distinction of a Consumer Reports recommendation. From these, the Subaru Outback won, garnering a quarter of the votes.
Subaru Outback: 25 percent
The genre-bending Outback wagon stood out amid a crowd of popular models. Reading through the comments, it is clear that the Outback’s esteem is elevated by owners like Amy, who wrote, “I love my Outback! The best car I have ever owned.”
In our tests, the Outback has earned a solid overall test score, but there are several higher-rated wagons. The key to its appeal is the rare blend of adventurous styling, frugal fuel economy (for the four-cylinder), generous interior space, and winter-ready features.
Ford Mustang: 22 percent
Celebrating 50 years as a motoring icon, the Mustang is the only American-branded model to make the list. The current car remains at the apex of an impressive performance legacy, staying true to the original concept. One commenter noted, “That’s no contest. Make mine a Mustang!”
With prices beginning under $23,000, the Mustang starts with 305 horsepower and climbs seemingly to the stratosphere with 662 hp. Available as a coupe or convertible, the Mustang can be configured to suit many personalities and budgets, remaining engaging and entertaining throughout its product line. Look for a redesigned Mustang in late 2014.
Toyota Camry: 17 percent
A perennial hot-selling sedan, the Camry is roomy, quiet, refined, fuel efficient, and reliable, earning it a high rank among our ratings, and placing it in high-esteem among drivers. As Chris wrote on our wall, “All great choices, but my pick is the Camry.” The same can be said in the marketplace, which is currently crowded with smart choices in the segment and yet routinely sees the Camry as the most popular.
Toyota Prius: 17 percent
Even after all these years on the market, the Prius remains a revolutionary car, and its recognition as such is clear. The key is that the Prius is no one-trick pony. As Al points out about his Prius, “Best car I have ever owned—fuel efficient and reliable.” Fuel economy is excellent at 44 mpg overall and 55 mpg on the highway in our tests. And despite its hybrid complexity, the Prius remains one of the most reliable cars in our annual survey. Plus, for a small car, it is relatively roomy, with a large back seat and good cargo space. Yes, there is much to like, especially at today’s gas prices.
Hyundai Sonata: 10 percent
That this curvaceous sedan made the cut is further proof that Hyundai has risen to be tough mainstream competitor. No question: the Sonata delivers a lot for the money. Its 200-hp four-cylinder engine is smooth and responsive, yet delivers an impressive 27 mpg overall. Good handling, a supple ride, and comfortable seats are other pluses. (We’d suggest skipping the hybrid version, which didn’t score as well in our tests and returns relatively mediocre fuel economy for a hybrid.)
Toyota RAV4: 10 percent
A popular choice among the vibrant small SUV contenders, the Toyota RAV4 stood out to our Facebook followers. As we have seen in recent surveys, small SUVs represent a sweet spot in the marketplace that small car owners aspire to and larger vehicle owners are looking to downsize to. While it created this car-based, soft-roader category in the last century, we feel there are better alternatives today.
The people have had their say. Soon it will be our turn.
Consumer Reports will release its 2014 Top Picks at 12:45 p.m. ET on Tuesday, February 25.. Until then, share your thoughts on our Facebook wall and name your dream car. Our staff will be doing the same. See you there!
The only caveat here is the Toyota RAV4, which had its recommendation revoked after a recent poor performance in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s small-overlap crash test. The Camry also briefly lost its recommendation for the same reason, although modifications to the 2014.5 Camry returned this popular sedan to favor.
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The U.S. auto industry announced in 2013 that it was back in full force with unit sales increasing to 15.6 million, up better than 7% from 2012, and crossing the 15 million mark for the first time since 2007.
A combination of an improving economy, lower unemployment rates, and historically low lending rates have encouraged consumers to jump into what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase their dream car at a very attractive lending rate.
Needless to say, a lot of thought and effort goes into which car a consumer will purchase. Consumers often look at fuel economy, read reviews online, test drive the vehicle (perhaps a number of times), ask for advice from family and friends, and also plot out how much they’re willing to spend on their vehicle over the life of a loan if they choose to finance it.
One thing that consumers often overlook, though, is the dependability of the vehicle they’re considering buying. For a new car buyer, the expectation is that they’ll encounter few maintenance problems for the first couple of years, and if they do, that their warranty will cover those snafus. For a used car purchaser, dependability is everything since there’s rarely any warranty attached to a used car purchase.
Not only is dependability important for your pocketbook in that more dependable vehicles will cost less to maintain, but it’s also the silent advertiser for a brand. As J.D. Power & Associates has demonstrated through its research, 56% of car owners who report having no problems return to the same brand, while 42% who reported three or more problems kept their same brand of vehicle with their next purchase. Therefore, vehicle dependability can, at least partially, help us predict which brands’ sales may move higher and which brands may struggle based on this vehicle dependability-brand loyalty correlation.
America’s five most dependable automotive brands
To that end I turn to J.D. Power & Associates annual vehicle dependability study for 2014. The study itself looks at three-year-old models from a number of brands (i.e., all 2011 models) and asks consumers if they experienced one or more of 202 noted problems. J.D. Power then ranks those car brands from top to bottom based on how many problems were reported per 100 vehicles, commonly known as its PP100 metric. Dependability is especially important this year when you consider that J.D. Power’s study uncovered the first rise in reported problems, especially engine and transmission problems, since 1998!
Let’s have a look at the five top automotive brands according to J.D. Power’s study and then note what brands really stood out, as well as which brands faltered.
As a warning, you may be shocked to discover which brand decisively took the No. 1 spot in vehicle dependability!
No. 5: Buick (112 problems per 100 vehicles)
Rising from the sixth spot into the top five this year is Buick, owned by General Motors(NYSE: GM ) which had consumers report just 112 problems per 100 vehicles as opposed to 118 PP100 in last year’s study from J.D. Power. The real standout for Buick was the Lucerne which took top honors in the large car category, besting Toyota‘s (NYSE: TM ) Avalon and Ford‘s (NYSE: F ) Taurus. As Foolish auto analyst John Rosevear notes, Buick is doing a really nice job transitioning into a global brand.
No. 4: Acura (109 problems per 100 vehicles)
Honda Motors‘ (NYSE: HMC ) Acura was another big mover in 2014, vaulting higher by four spots to fourth place from eighth with 109 PP100 reported compared to 120 PP100 last year. Like GM’s Buick, Acura only took top honors in one category (compact premium CUV) with its RDX, but it also claimed a tie for the third-highest rating in the midsize premium CUV category with the Mercedes-Benz M-class. Honda and Acura are relatively synonymous with economical but dependable vehicles in the U.S., making this ranking not too surprising.
No. 3: Cadillac (107 problems per 100 vehicles)
Chalk up another victory for General Motors which can claim its second top-five brand for dependability in Cadillac. Year over year, Cadillac surged 11 spots to No. 3, with vehicle owners reporting only 107 PP100 compared to 128 PP100 last year. This huge jump came in only second to Jaguar which vaulted 13 spots higher in J.D. Power’s rankings. Cadillac took home the top honors for its large premium CUV, the Escalade, as well as large premium car, the DTS, which tied for the top spot with the Lexus LS. Cadillac has certainly done its best to focus its efforts on a slightly younger crowd, and these improved dependability ratings should help.
No. 2: Mercedes-Benz (104 problems per 100 vehicles)
Jumping three spots in 2014 to No. 2 with only 104 PP100 compared to 115 PP100 reported in the prior year is Daimler‘s (NASDAQOTH: DDAIF ) Mercedes-Benz. What’s particularly interesting here is that Mercedes-Benz didn’t win any of the 22 vehicle categories as outlined by J.D. Power, but it did place or show in quite a few which speaks to its overall consistency. Mercedes-Benz ranked second in midsize premium car with its E-Class sedan/wagon, second in large premium CUV with its GL-class, second in compact premium CUV with its GLK-class, and tied for third with the Acura MDX in the midsize premium CUV category with its M-class. Simply put, if consumers are going to pay a premium price, they expect premium results, and Mercedes-Benz appears to be delivering on that promise.
And the real shock (at least to me)…
No. 1: Lexus (68 problems per 100 vehicles)
I guess it shouldn’t be that much of a shock since Toyota-owned Lexus was first in last year’s ratings as well, but I recall shortly after I got my license, nearly two decades ago, how I was admonished from buying a Lexus because of their dependability issues. This rating simply confirms how far the brand has come in less than two decades as its PP100 of just 68 is light years ahead of second-place Mercedes-Benz, and even lower than the 71 PP100 that J.D. Power reported last year. Lexus tied its LS for top large premium car with the Cadillac DTS, was the top midsize premium car with the GS, and nabbed both the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in compact premium car with the ES and IS, and midsize premium CUV with the RX and GX.
Here are J.D. Power’s full rankings based on PP100:
Source: J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.
Obviously brands in the top five can be construed as winners, but General Motors, Toyota, and Honda deserve special recognition since they brought home eight, seven, and six, of the top category awards, respectively – that’s 21 of 22 categories won by just three companies!
As I stated above, Toyota and Honda generally build no-frill vehicles, choosing instead to focus on improving fuel economy and storage space. The end result for years has been a reliable vehicle that will get the consumer from point A to B with ease, and without too many automotive issues.
The real shock here is the dominance by General Motors’ vehicles and the total absence of Ford, save for a runner-up effort in the midsize pickup category with its Ranger. GM is hoping to translate these key wins into strong sales for its recently redesigned trucks, the Silverado and Sierra, which it hopes will give Ford’s dominant F-Series a run for its money. Early sales of GM’s Silverado have been mixed with winter weather and parts shortages eating into total unit sales, but as Foolish auto guru John Rosevear recently pointed out, it’s actually spending fewer days on dealership lots than either of its foes, signaling that GM may indeed be on the up-and-up.
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Inventories of cars at local dealers have reached the highest level in seven years. This likely will trigger substantial sales and financing deals for consumers looking for new cars as dealers try to clear their lots. The late winter and early spring may be one of the best times in recent memory to buy a car or light truck.
New analysis by research firm Kelly Blue Book (KBB) shows:
… inventory levels are rising and days supply is high compared to 2007. If this trend continues, as expected with weather issues, automakers will have to continue to show some discipline instead of pushing incentives on vehicles to sell more cars.
However, car companies and dealers have very few tools to clear supplies beyond price concessions. And increased discounts and financing deals have become part of what auto manufacturers use to prune inventory.
Normal industry “days to turn,” a measure of the time dealers have cars on their lots, run in the 40 to 50 range. KBB sees a rise in these numbers as probable cause for decades-old practices to lure buyers. Karl Brauer, senior analyst at KBB, said:
Automakers like GM have stated they won’t compromise residual values and profit with excessive incentive spending, but the automaker is losing sales and market share for its brand new Silverado and Sierra. The critical role those trucks play in GM’s overall revenue might force it into an incentives play if inventories remain bloated throughout February and beyond. And if one automaker starts an incentives war several more will almost certainly join in.
The problem is compounded by January sales drops among some of the best-selling vehicles. Chevrolet Silverado sales were down 18% for the month. Sales for Toyota Motor Corp.’s (NYSE: TM) flagship, the Camry, were off 27%. Sales of its hybrid Prius plunged 23%. Sales of the Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC) Accord dropped 16%. And sales of the Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) Focus were down 26%. All of these are among the top 20 selling cars in the United States.
In the meantime, after a near-record year of U.S. car sales in 2013, sales dropped 3.1% in January to 1,012,582. Sales for each of the top three car companies — General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM), Ford and Toyota — dropped more than that.
The goal of manufacturers to keep margins high has begun to meet the need to sell cars at a rapid rate to lower backlogs. Price wars among these companies are about to break out. And consumers are about to be offered a wide array of discounts and attractive financing packages.
The perennial leaders Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Chevrolet stand out as the top brands in consumers’ minds based on the 2014 Car-Brand Perception Survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Several other brands—including Tesla and Subaru—are moving up the rankings.
These scores reflect how consumers perceive each brand in seven categories: quality, safety, performance, value, fuel economy, design/style, and technology/innovation. Combining the scores for those factors gives us the total brand-perception score.
Of course, perception and reality often differ. Perception can often be a trailing indicator, influenced by word-of-mouth, marketing, and anecdotal hands-on experience. Analyzing the data collected from interviews with 1,578 random adults in car-owning households, we see that there is often a notable correlation as to what might inspire someone to think a brand excels. For instance, a company may be known for clever infotainment systems, giving it a perception edge in technology/innovation, but a closer look can reveal satisfaction and reliability concerns among owners.
The annual brand rankings provide a horse-race view of how consumers think of the brands. As you scan the list, and read the full brand-perception report, consider if your own impressions match those of others. And think about what might be affecting the ranking. Doing so will help make you a more critical car shopper and hopefully make it easier to separate the actionable, objective data—such as what’s readily available at ConsumerReports.org—from subjective impressions.
In some cases there was rather dramatic movement, with many brands capturing a higher score. Tesla and Subaru were the big movers, each buoyed by a standout year for headlines, safety accomplishments, and media accolades. Gains made by Buick, Cadillac, Smart, and Volkswagen are noteworthy too.
Toyota’s high score seems to reflect the brand’s overcoming the damage due to the publicity in 2009 to 2010 regarding sudden acceleration concerns with some its models. As brands gain or lose points throughout the seven factors, the annual shift can add up to a dramatic one. The key here is momentum, and we’re seeing many brands on the rise over time.
Read our complete report on the 2014 Car-Brand Perception Survey to see how the brands measured up in the seven categories and which brands are the lowest ranked.
Providing a true reality check, Consumer Reports will be publishing its annual automaker report cards on Feb. 25, ranking the brands based on a composite score that factors road test overall score and predicted-reliability
Quality is something we all want when it comes to cars, especially older used ones. But how do we get it?
I have been studying this question in one form or another for nearly 14 years now. I began my automotive career as a car dealer, buying and selling hundreds of vehicles a year. As time went on, I became an auto auctioneer, a remarketing manager and a part-owner of a wholesale auto auction.
I saw thousands of cars come and go through the auction block during the course of each year, and as my worked changed, so did my understanding of quality. The overwhelming majority of the time, cars and trucks considered reliable in their early days would draw the strongest bids. But it wasn’t always true; I observed some models experience costly transmission failure just as the odometer rolled past the 100,000-mile mark, while others would exhibit everything from blown head gaskets, to chronic rust issues to inoperative battery packs for hybrid vehicles.
Well-respected publications such as Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates do an outstanding job finding defect trends among new and slightly used vehicles. However, once that specific vehicle is sold by the survey participant, there’s no access to the history of the vehicle. As the average car owner over the last decade has typically kept their vehicle for approximately five to six years, a lot of data has disappeared.
Because there is no tracking service covering the problems in these vehicles, the 10-year-old vehicle that everyone assumed had great reliability will at times have terrible issues. Who knew? No one really. Consumer Reports’ database goes back 10 years, but the average car and truck is now 11.4 years old.
So I decided to test my guesses about used vehicles by using data from auto auctions and the problems dealers themselves disclose. As a frequent buyer and seller, I started my study with what I consider the key quality question for most car owners: “At what point does my car become so undesirable that I am willing to accept a wholesale used price for my vehicle?”
Trade-ins are a great measurement of that emotional question. Most consumers who trade their vehicle will get a price hundreds to thousands of dollars less than retail. Car dealers not only know the wholesale market, they know the retail market as well, and are often able to get cars repaired for a lot less than most car owners.
This isn’t always the case. Clean cars can sometimes be traded-in at a retail price, and then financed to a sub-prime car buyer for even more money. Dealers who specialize in a given car brand are usually more effective in marketing and selling that specific name, and they also get a greater share of trade-ins from the brand — along with a better selection of clean vehicles.
To remove this bias, I decided to gather data on trade-ins sent to wholesale auctions by large used-car retailers such as Carmax, J.D. Byrider, Drivetime, and other regional used-car retailers that don’t cater to a single automaker. This way there wouldn’t be an over-representation of a given brand. I also employed the help of Nick Lariviere, a statistician capable of creating visuals that would make all this real-world used car data easy to understand.
One year and nearly 300,000 vehicles later, we have developed a new quality index that you can find here. For now, we are focusing on brands and models. As the study continues to pool more vehicles, we’ll gradually introduce specific model year data, and even powertrain combinations, so that used car buyers can figure out where to find that older used vehicle that has truly earned its quality reputation.
So what out there is truly low quality? As far as those cars with the highest defect level at trade-in time, here are the 10 worst:
10. Volkswagen New Beetle(automatic transmission issues and cheap interior components; diesel models with 5-speed manuals are by far the best powertrain option.)
9. Mazda 626 (automatic transmission issues, all models.)
8. Lincoln Aviator (a gussied-up, unpopular Ford Explorer that had unique sensor and software issues which negatively impacted the overall powertrain and electronics.)
7. Jaguar S-Type(Extensive transmission and engine issues on all V-6 and V-8 models. Along with Limited edition models with ungodly replacement costs.)
6. Lincoln LS (Same basic powertrain as the Jaguar S-Type with nearly identical results.)
5. Mazda Millenia (Engine issues, transmission issues and cheap interiors that just don’t wear well.)
4. Land Rover Discovery (Expensive parts. Expensive powertrains. Electronics that are apparently the spawn of Beelzebub.)
3. Mini Cooper(Bad transmissions that are unusually expensive to replace. Cheap interior parts. Cheap hydraulics.)
2. Land Rover Freelander(A cost-cutting exercise that went way past the bone.)
And a true shocker, the single worst used vehicle at the wholesale auctions when it comes to overall defect rate at trade-in time is….
No list can be perfect, and it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t offer at least a couple of important caveats here. There are cars out there that are worth so little money now that they go straight to the junkyards instead of the wholesale auctions: Older Chryslers with defective 2.7-liter engines, older Suzukis and Kias, and the aquatic late ’90′s Ford Tauruses sometimes fall straight into the crusher once a major problem takes hold.
Also, if the vehicle appeared to have reliability issues, but didn’t have enough of a sample size at this point (for example: Mercury Mystique, Isuzu Axiom, Suzuki Forenza), I have kept it off the list for right now.
Finally some models, like the VW New Beetle, may have a pearl of quality in a specific engine/transmission combination within the overall swamp of trouble. This is one of the reasons why we are going to delve deeper as this study continues to take shape. In the meantime, if you want to know the top ten models in terms of long-term quality, click here.
The sign may say no, but how could you resist? If I owned a rock-crawling Jeep like this one photographed by Jason Bo, I’d drive it over everything. Got a shot to share? Add it to the Motoramic …
It’s been a clean sweep for Chevrolet in the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards event, with its 2014 Corvette Stingray sports car receiving top honors in the car category and its 2014 Silverado 1500 receive the same in the category for trucks and utilities. It is the first time Chevrolet has won both awards in the same year. The Silverado last won the truck category in 2007 while its been since 1998 since a Corvette was picked for the car category.
Finalists in the car category included the 2014 Cadillac CTS and 2014 Mazda 3, while in the truck category the 2014 Acura MDX and 2014 Jeep Cherokee were among the finalists. Some other top contenders were the 2014 BMW 4-Series and X5, 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, and the 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport.
The announcement of the winners this morning at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show ends weeks of diligent testing of all the nominee vehicles by a panel of 49 judges comprised of automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada. Among them was our own Marty Padgett.
They base their vote on a number of factors including innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value.
New Year’s Day is known as the best day to buy a car, and since it’s right around the corner, here are some thoughts on the pros of buying a used car.
Buying a car is a daunting excursion no matter how you look at it. Shady car salesmen, mountains of paperwork, hidden fees, and confusion over what to choose abounds. One of the biggest questions most face when purchasing a vehicle is: used or new? While new cars are appealing in the sense that they’re shiny, can be customized, and are previously untouched by anyone else’s hands, it still remains the more logical — and less stressful — choice to purchase a used car. Here are ten pros of buying a used car.
Used cars are always cheaper than new cars; time and previous ownership has lowered the value of a used car even if it’s in like-new condition, and you can save a great deal of money just buy purchasing your dream car in used condition. Some people look at buying a used car as “inheriting people’s problems,” but this fear can easily be quelled by making sure that the used car is certified, meaning that it comes inspected and with an extended warranty and guarantee that it is problem-free.
CarFax is also an extremely helpful tool to take advantage of when it comes to buying a used car, as it’s a service which allows the user to search by a car’s VIN number and will then tell the user about that car’s history: whether or not it has been in any reported accidents, when the last oil change was, and any repairs that have been done on the vehicle. Another pro of buying a used car is that the lowered price can sometimes allow the buyer to purchase a nicer model of the vehicle they were originally looking for.
All cars — used and new — lose value as they’re driven and used. But the steepest decline in a car’s value is seen in new cars, specifically within their first one to three years of purchase. This concept can be applied to pretty much any product; if you buy a television, a kitchen appliance, or a piece of furniture, it’ll be hard for you to get what you originally paid for it when trying to re-sell the item simply because it’s considered “used” from the time of purchase.
Some new cars lose 40 percent of their value in just the first year after purchase, so another pro of buying a used car would absolutely be that the used vehicle has already undergone that initial depreciation and, if you choose to resell it, is more likely to sell for the same price (or close to) what you paid for it if it’s kept in good condition. Though many people equate “used” with “old,” the vehicle in question doesn’t have to be more than a year or two old to be possibly over $10,000 less than it’s original price tag.
8. Lower Registration Fees
Lower registration fees are a big pro of buying a used car; this advantage is simply built into the way state DMVs work, which is typically to charge less to register a used vehicle. In Colorado, registration fees for a new vehicle fall only the first few years after purchase. Why wait that long? With a used vehicle, registration fees are already likely to be lower than that of a new car.
7. Avoiding Useless Extras
One advantage of buying a new car is that it may be customized down to a tee, but this can be a huge disadvantage as well. Car salesmen get commission for every sale they make — which means that they want you to spend as much money as possible. These untrustworthy, manipulative individuals will lie through their teeth and sell you on dozens of unnecessary extras and frills that you may not want or need. Something as simple as metallic paint detailing can cost thousands of extra dollars.
With a used car, you’re getting exactly what you see. No hidden frills or extra, unnecessary features to drive up your price by thousands of dollars, and no one trying to convince you to add them. The simplicity of not struggling with what (often overpriced) extras are and aren’t needed is definitely one of the pros of choosing used.
6. Avoiding Inflated Prices
Even if you do decide you want extras on the car you’re about to purchase, the extras on a new car are usually much more expensive than what you would pay to have that specific feature added to the car yourself. Plus, buying a used vehicle means that you can search for cars that already have desirable features, such as a sun roof or power windows, without paying astronomical fees for them because of depreciation, which is a huge advantage.
5. Cheaper Insurance
4. Certified Vehicles
One pro of buying a used car from a car dealership is that many are certified. This means that the used vehicle comes with a service guarantee and an extended warranty, just like a new car would. The car is sold to you under contract that it is problem-free and the warranty and guarantee provide security that you’re not blindly buying a lemon from someone who will disappear from the face of the earth when you try to seek help for your issue. Certified used cars have usually undergone extensive inspections to ensure their reliability. And additionally, many certified vehicles are more flexible when it comes to financing than non-certified cars.
3. Used Models Can Be More Reliable
A new vehicle has never been properly tested — until you buy it. Then, you’re the one testing it out and all of its “teething problems” and hiccups become your headache. One pro of buying a used car is that a pre-owned vehicle will have already fixed any problems that were unseen in the factory and which had to be dealt with by the original owner. It’s also unfortunately true that many older models are simply built using better methods and sturdier materials than some of the cheaply made models of today, which may deceitfully appear to be more reliable when they’re painted a nice color and put in a shiny advertisement.
Some dealerships take overcharging to the next level when sticking it to consumers who are trying to buy a new car. Transportation fees, paperwork fees, “dealer preparation,” and destination fees are all nonsensical terms that are synonymous with “make-believe reasons why you need to pay us more.” A pro of buying a used vehicle is that none of these fees exist; the car is at the dealership, the paperwork is ready to go, and no one can try to stick you with hidden fees that come with a new vehicle.
1. Less Stress
New cars are often targets for thieves and burglars, while an advantage of having a used car is that it looks more inconspicuous and less tempting to potential criminals on the street. It’s easy to get wrapped up obsessing over trying to keep your new vehicle spot-free and brand new, but a used car is a little more comfortable and won’t stress you out as much.
Get ready for Ford‘s aluminum pick-up truck, likely either to be hailed as a breakthrough product or one that draws scads of comparisons to a beer can.
Ford is going to announce in a couple of weeks that the next F-150 will have a body made mostly of aluminum instead of steel in a bid to save weight, and thus gas, says Bloomberg News on the basis of what it says are confirmations by unnamed sources. And, it says Ford is going to lengths to invite comparisons to the aluminum used in military vehicles, not in flimsy beer cans.
To try to sell the press, and thus the public, on its new silver bullet, Ford has approached Alcoa to borrow some military-grade aluminum for its booth at the North American International Auto Show, where the truck is expected to make a grand entrance, according to Bloomberg. The macho appeal of the military vehicles would be used to crush the beer-can image.
Remember, though, making a truck out of aluminum is a highly risky move for Ford. It has a proven winner in the F-150, not only the nation’s most popular pickup, but the most popular vehicle of any sort. Pickup truck buyers tend to be brand-loyal traditionalists, and they don’t take easily to changes.
“Ford’s sales job will be considerable: The company is eager to demonstrate the toughness of aluminum, which is lighter than steel, to pickup buyers who’ve made F-150 the bedrock of its business,” Bloomberg writes.
If Ford can pull it off, analysts say F-150 will blaze the way for more extensive use of aluminum in mainstream cars, not just the high-end models where it found now.
“Like alternative drivetrain technology, lightweight materials will be a key component in meeting the fuel economy standards of the future. Ford’s use of aluminum in the next F-150 foreshadows a widespread trend we’ll be seeing across every vehicle segment in the coming years,” says Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book in a statement to USA TODAY.
Ford is apparently trying to squeeze more than 700 pounds out of its next generation of pickup trucks, according to the news service. Aluminum body panels would play a key role. Last January, Ford showed the Atlas truck concept that is expected to be the forerunner to the next pickup.
Ford has showed it is willing to make changes for a better product. When turbocharged engines were introduced, they became a huge hit in F-Series pickups. In the past, pickup owners clung to V-8s as the only way to produce the towing and hauling power they need no matter how bad their gas mileage.
The change to aluminum may be the last big ones from Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who is due to retire next year or leave for Microsoft’s top job. As the head of Boeing’s commercial airline business before coming to Ford, Mulally was a huge proponent of weight savings through use of composites. But the resulting 787 jet has been racked by delays and trouble. Mulally must be hoping that the same issues don’t extend to an aluminum F-150 even though the metal is trickier than steel when it come to automotive components.
As we’re about to close the door on 2013 and ring in 2014, we decided to take a look back at which vehicles were the most popular on our site. We checked out new and used models subscribers were researching on ConsumerReports.org for the last year based on visits to our info-rich model pages.
Every day potential car buyers look to our independent test scores and reliability survey results to aid their research and help determine the best vehicle to buy for their needs. We looked at visits to our vehicle model overview pages from Jan. 1 through Dec. 15, 2013, to compile this list of the top 10 most popular new and used cars.
So, what are car buyers looking for? SUVs and sedans are heavily researched among subscribers in new and used categories. All the top new car models listed are from Asian brands and do well in our tests; we often see that our subscribers gravitate toward vehicles that tend to populate our myriad “best” lists. The Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester were quite close in the new car list, with a clear advantage over the third-place Honda Accord. This follows what we have seen in our surveys, that there is much movement in purchase intent toward small SUVs from car owners moving up and down in size. What may be surprising to some is that there are no pickup trucks (the most popular vehicle type) on either list.
Similar models comprise the used-car list. The close race in this group is the near statistical ties between the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Another key difference is the BMW 3 Series being the lone European model to find such favor, and the only luxury model in the used list.
From our lists below, presented in rank order, click on the model names to visit their model pages and learn why they are drawing so much attention.
Most popular new cars:
Most popular used cars:
We didn’t expect the Volkswagen XL1 to be as much fun to drive as it is.
Which makes it doubly a shame that Volkswagen
won’t be selling its radically efficient, two-seat, plug-in diesel hybrid XL1 model in North America.
At a price of € 111,000 (roughly $153,000), the 250 XL1 cars that Volkswagen will build and sell in Europe are akin to a pricier modern-day analogue to the original 2000 Honda Insight.
Like that pioneering hybrid, the two-seat XL1 is supremely aerodynamic (its drag coefficient is 0.19), very light (1,750 pounds), and uses a tiny engine paired with an electric motor.
Volkswagen XL1 (European model), New York City, Dec 2013
Diesel twin hybrid
In this case, though, the engine is a 48-horsepower 0.8-liter direct-injected and turbocharged two-cylinder diesel (essentially half of a 1.6-liter VW four-cylinder diesel engine).
The XL1′s 20-kilowatt (27-hp) electric motor sits between the engine and a seven-speed dry-clutch direct shift gearbox (DSG) dual-clutch automatic. Maximum combined output is 68 hp.
Also unlike the old Insight, the VW XL1 has a 5.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that can be plugged into the electric grid to recharge.
Volkswagen quotes up to 31 miles of all-electric range, though we’d caution that it’s likely to be under fairly low-speed circumstances.
Volkswagen XL1 (European model), New York City, Dec 2013
It’s the efficiency when running as a pure hybrid that’s the truly impressive part: On the European cycle, the XL1 is rated at 138 mpg (1.7 liters per 100 km) once its battery is depleted and it’s operating as a hybrid.
As always, take that figure with a large grain of salt, since European test cycles are very different to the EPA procedures that provide window-sticker fuel efficiency numbers.
Still, it’s safe to say that the VW XL1 is a very, very efficient vehicle.
Dropping into low seat
Getting into the XL1 requires dropping into a molded-shell seat that’s only a few inches above the pavement. The XL1 is just 2 inches above the pavement, the minimum allowed in Europe.
While it’s visually long (153 inches), the XL1 is low (just 45 inches tall) and relatively narrow (66 inches).
The passenger seat is staggered about 6 inches behind that of the driver–though both seats slide and recline–which let VW take some width out by putting the passenger’s left shoulder about 6 inches behind the driver’s. They’d touch if they were parallel, but they don’t.
Volkswagen XL1 (European model), New York City, Dec 2013
The passenger toeboard is further back than the driver’s pedals as well, to provide space for the battery pack, and the bulkhead behind the seats divides the passenger compartment from the mid-mounted engine, motor, and transmission units.
That means the passenger has to scoot forward considerably and stretch skyward to reach the bottom of the gull-wing door to close it. (Opening it takes another trick: the interior handle is actually in the door sill next to the low seat.)
The XL1 is built of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), like the BMW i3 electric car, with aluminum and magnesium crash structures and stiffening beams where needed.
That’s how VW keeps the weight says notably below 2,000 pounds while still meeting all the latest crash-safety requirements.
Sound deadening: too heavy
Behind the small, flat-bottomed steering wheel is a conventional instrument binnacle–supplemented by a freestanding small rectangular display in the center of the dash (again, like the BMW i3).
Like any plug-in hybrid car, pressing the Start button lights up the instruments but doesn’t necessarily switch on the engine.
Moving away under electric power, though, the driver can hear the motor whine rise with speed. It’s not necessarily obtrusive–we learned to screen it out after a while–but it’s louder than any other electrified car we’ve driven in three years.
But it’s when more power is demanded and the diesel engine kicks on that drivers first start to grin. Because VW deemed car-like sound insulation too heavy, the XL1 is one of the louder cars we’ve driven of late.
It’s not so loud you can’t talk–and the mid-engine layout helps, since the sound is behind both passengers–but it’s definitely noticeable.
And the engine sound is like nothing else we’ve experienced. The best approximation we could come up with is that it sounds like a very old, rackety motorboat engine that just fired up behind your right ear.
With two separate catalysts, each almost as large as the cylinder block, and modern emissions aftertreatment for the little diesel, the noise is relatively restrained.
And, oddly, once the car is at highway speeds, the engine is almost silent, with the noise apparently emanating only from the rear of the car.
Volkswagen quotes a 0-to-62-mph acceleration time of 12.7 seconds, which felt right to us. The car moves out from a stop smartly enough, but flooring it to accelerate on an uphill on-ramp reveals the limits of its 68 hp–even in such a light car.
The remarkable thing, however, was its momentum once at speed. On an almost impreceptibly downhill stretch of highway, the entire powertrain switched off and the XL1 just glided–not for the few seconds at a time that some hybrids can manage at highway speeds, but for large parts of a minute at a time.
Hit a slight uphill, however, and at speed the motorboat kicked in pretty quickly.
Still, we came to appreciate just how little power was required to keep the XL1 in motion even at highway speeds.
VW says it requires just 8.3 hp to keep the car moving at a steady 62 mpg on flat pavement–less than half the power required for the same task in the company’s most economical European production model.
The unexpectedly fun part of driving the XL1 was the handling.
The unassisted power steering–and when’s the last time you drove a car without power steering?–is extremely quick, far closer to that of a track racing car than a street vehicle.
Volkswagen XL1 (European model), New York City, Dec 2013
That made it easy to change lanes with lighting speed, once we’d carefully checked the video screens in each door to make sure it was safe.
And the ride, while firm, was better damped than expected from the noise–while passengers heard the car’s tires thump through potholes,
Cams, not mirrors
The Volkswagen XL1, you see, has no rear window and no conventional door mirrors–which increase a car’s aerodynamic drag a great deal.
From the rear, the engine vents in its long tapered tail give it the air of a 1930s German streamliner, with crisper edges.
Instead of mirrors, a pair of video cameras inset into its gull-wing doors transmit images to rectangular screens at the front of the inside door panels, several inches below the car’s beltline.
The image quality varied a lot with the light, and the late-afternoon sun low on the horizon seemed to reduce image crispness a lot. We also found the XL1 has no sun visors.
It’s all in the interests of reducing weight and cutting drag.
All too soon, our 10-mile drive was over and we pulled back up to the curb at Manhattan’s large Volkswagen dealership.
And just as they had before, pedestrians and drivers craned their necks, took photos, and asked questions.
The most common question: Is it electric? (“Not entirely; it’s a plug-in hybrid.”)
Next most common: What kind of gas mileage does it get? (“Well, probably more than 100 mpg–on diesel fuel.”)
Finally: How much does it cost? (“Oh, about $150,000.”)
That was the point at which you could see the neurons start to misfire.
A small, cool-looking, 100-mpg-plus car? Cool! For $150,000 ?? [FZZZZT]
Lessons for the future
Our best advice was to wait and see how and where Volkswagen uses the lessons it’s learned from making the XL1 into a production vehicle.
It may use the car’s plug-in diesel hybrid powertrain in its VW Up minicar, in a so-far-unconfirmed version called the TwinUp.
Or it may bring CFRP bodyshells into production.
And you may want to watch for rear-view door cameras to replace mirrors, once the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures out how to make them both legal and safe.
Until then, the Volkswagen XL1 remains a rare, ultra-efficient, and surprisingly fun car to drive.
So, Volkswagen: We’d like one for, oh, a couple of months, please.
You know, to provide some real-world feedback.