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    Federal crackdown on cramming is a win for consumers

    You've probably seen TV ads enthusiastically urging you to text a number to get your horoscope, find out the name of your perfect match, or get the latest celebrity gossip. Those promos should have included a warning to read your wireless bill—carefully—because you might get more than you bargained for, like months of charges for services you never agreed to hidden in your phone bill.

    These types of charges that appear on your phone bill for services offered by another business are known as third-party billing. When these charges are put on your bill without your permission, it’s called cramming, and it’s illegal. The pernicious practice cost consumer hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized charges.

    Consumers who have been hit by cramming earned a big victory this week when the Federal Communications Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that Verizon Wireless and Sprint will pay a combined $158 million settlement for deceptive mobile cramming practices. 

    While wireless customers ended up shelling out millions for things they never purchased, Verizon and Sprint profited from the predatory practices, retaining 30 percent or more of each unauthorized third-party charge that it billed, which typically were $9.99 per month. Customers who called to complain were often denied refunds, but when the FCC requested proof that customers had authorized charges, the carriers were unable to prove that these services were ever requested.

    text goes here promoting cell phone plans and services articles and buying guide

    Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, applauds the government's efforts to crack down on this predatory practice. Cramming isn’t a new scheme, but it has quickly infiltrated newer technologies. That’s why we pushed for tougher consumer protections to prevent cramming when it first appeared on landline phone bills in the 1990s and continue working for cramming protections on wireless bills.

    Verizon and Sprint, which was sued by the CFPB in December for cramming, are just the most recent to come under fire. Both T-Mobile and AT&T agreed to refund consumers millions of dollars for cramming unwanted third-party charges on their bills. While the major carriers say they have stopped charging for premium text services in the face of all these complaints and penalties, regulators are seeing other types of billing, such as charges that may be pushed to smart phones through apps that could be just as tricky.

    It’s only right that consumers who were wrongly charged should be refunded. But we also think you should be asked for permission before any third-party charge is placed on your bills, which is why we’re encouraged that Verizon amd Sprint will also now be required to get customer approval prior to any third-party charges. Getting customer consent before allowing third-party billing is the most effective way to shut down cramming schemes before they start.

    If you are a Verizon or Sprint customer who got hit with these bogus cramming charges, the CFPB is overseeing consumer refunds. Verizon customers can submit claims for refunds at www.CFPBSettlementVerizon.com or can learn more information about the Verizon settlement by calling 888-726-7063. Sprint customers can submit claims for refunds at www.SprintRefundPSMS.com or can learn more information about the Sprint settlement by calling 877-389-8787.

    This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

    Read other installments of our Policy & Action feature.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Is European sunscreen really better?

    Considering that more than 17 percent of the sunscreens we tested got an overall score of 90 or higher, it’s fair to say that Americans have access to some very good options. That’s impressive because the U.S. has just 17 approved active ingredients, compared with 29 in Australia, 27 in Europe, and 20 in Canada.

    And only a handful are widely used, notes David Steinberg, president of Steinberg & Associates, a personal-care-products consulting company in Plainsboro, N.J. The others either don’t work well or have properties that make them largely unusable. For instance, dioxybenzone makes the skin give off a blue glow as it absorbs UV rays. Menthyl anthranilate smells like bubble gum or grape juice, so it’s usually found only in kids’ products.

    If manufacturers have fewer UV filters to work with, what accounts for the high performance of U.S. sunscreens? “Everyone talks about active ingredients, but inactive ingredients are perhaps as important—if the vehicle doesn’t create a uniform film over the skin, you won’t get adequate protection,” says Steven Q. Wang, M.D., director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, N.J., and an industry consultant. “Over the years, manufacturers have figured out ways to improve the formulations, so they’re more elegant. That means people are more likely to use them—and use them correctly.”

    Get the latest sun protection advice from Consumer Reports and read our new report, "5 Things You Must Know About Sunscreen."

    This article also appeared in the July 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    2016 Chevrolet Camaro transforms the popular, modern muscle car

    Chevrolet has unveiled its latest machine to battle in the decades-old muscle car wars—the all-new, sixth-generation Camaro. Designed with a clear nod to the original 1967-1969 coupe, the next Camaro promises to ratchet up performance and sophistication.

    For 2016, the Camaro gets slightly shorter, narrower, and lower, while riding on a more compact wheelbase. The tighter exterior package moves the Camaro closer to the Ford Mustang in scale. And that’s not the only response to its decades-old rival…

    For the first time since mullets were in vogue, the Camaro base engine is a four-cylinder. Unlike the paltry old Iron Duke pushrod mill, the new one is turbocharged and boasts 275 hp. A new 3.6-liter V6 brings an incremental power gain, up a dozen horses to 335 total—notably more than in competing six-cylinder engines. For the V8 offering, Chevrolet adapted the ferocious 6.2-liter LT1 engine from the Corvette Stingray for Camaro duty. With 455 hp on tap, this will be the most powerful SS ever offered. All three engines can be had with a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmissions. A Driver Mode Selection feature allows personality to be dialed in, with four modes (Snow/Ice, Tour, Sport, and Track) affecting eight vehicle parameters.

    Beyond performance tuning, there has been significant effort made in sculpting the sounds these powertrains make, or masking them. The four-cylinder engine is coupled with active noise cancellation. Models with the upgraded Bose audio system benefit from sound enhancement. Both the V6 and V8 are teamed with mechanical sound enhancers that direct induction noise from the engine bay into the cabin, enabling the driver to revel in the revving. Further, an available dual-mode exhaust allows the driver to tailor the tailpipe rumble as desired.

    Chevrolet has reduced weight by at least 200 lbs. over the previous model, which is certain to have fuel economy and track benefits. The SS will be available for the first time with an active suspension, allowing the car to better react to road conditions and driver demands. (A similar system was previously fitted to the Camaro ZL1.)

    The four-seat interior retains a dual-binnacle design, although the buttons and assorted brightwork appear more polished than the chintzy controls in the outgoing model. Chevrolet promises better-quality materials throughout; based on the current Camaro, that seems nearly unavoidable. There are two eight-inch color screens: one providing key driving information in the instrument cluster, while the other serves as the interface for the latest MyLink infotainment system. The manual emergency brake is replaced by a more space-efficient electronic parking brake. But the dash vents got pushed way low on the console. An LED ambient light system offers 24 different colors, reminding of personalization that Mustang has offered in recent years.

    With all the changes for 2016, a couple of exterior badges are the only carryover pieces.

    To be built in Lansing, Michigan, the new Camaro goes on sale late 2015.

    Jeff Bartlett

      2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2015 Chevrolet Camaro 2015 Dodge Challenger 2015 Ford Mustang
    Wheelbase 110.7 112.3 116 107.1
    Length 188.3 190.6 197.7 188.3
    Width 74.7 75.5 75.5 78.2
    Height 53.1 54.2 57.1 54.4
    4-cyl. hp 275 310
    V6 hp 335 323 305 300
    V8 hp 455 426 375* 435

    *5.7L V8.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 05/17/15--02:59: What is noise in a photo?
  • What is noise in a photo?

    Read nearly any smartphone or camera review and you’ll come across a discussion of “image noise." Typically, the writer will say the camera shoots decent images in good light, then fault it for producing noisy images in low light. However, the review may not explain what noise is, why it occurs, or how to prevent it.

    What is image noise?

    In digital photography, image noise consists of specks of false color, called artifacts, that degrade the quality of the picture. For instance, if you look closely at a photograph showing a blue sky at sunset, you may see a random pattern of tiny red dots, giving the image a blotchy and mottled appearance. If you're photographing people's faces, they may end up looking like they suffer from rosacea.

    This effect is most common in pictures shot in low-light situations, when the camera’s internal metering may set the camera on a high ISO setting to capture more light. The camera's circuitry tries to squeeze more information out of whatever illumination is available—essentially, it guesses at how to interpret the light that enters the lens. That works, up to a point, but it also ends up producing irrelevent specks of color.

    Find the best model for your needs and budget: Check our camera buying guide and Ratings.

    What’s ISO?

    Something similar occurs with high-ISO film—but the results aren't nearly so ugly. A digital camera's ISO setting is basically an analogy to old-fashioned film's ISO ratings. (The letters stand for the “International Organization of Standardization,” the association that developed specifications for film sensitivity decades ago.) But, like all analogies, it's imprecise. And that causes some confusion.

    With film, tiny, light-sensitive crystals are embedded in the emulsion—the thin layer of goop that coats the plastic substrate. These grains undergo chemical changes when exposed to light and then they change further when they're being developed using a series of chemical baths. The larger the crystals, the more sensitive the roll of film: High ISO film, such as ISO 3200, has larger crystals than low ISO film, such as ISO 100, and it allows the photographer to shoot in lower light. On the downside, the crystals in high-ISO film are so large that in the final photo you’ll actually notice the grain, especially when you enlarge and print those images. Those large grains can compete with photographic detail, and this is particularly noticeable if you're shooting subjects with very fine, subtle patterns. However, the grains don't distort the color—and a somewhat grainy film photograph can impart a particular kind of artistry.

    In digital photography, the tiny elements that together capture the image aren't light-sensitive grains of silver. Instead, they are pixel sites located on the camera sensor. They detect how much or little light is hitting them, and send corresponding electrical signals to the camera's processor. The processor converts each electrical signal into a pixel, one of millions that will make up the image. It's during this process that errors can occur, resulting in image noise.

    There's a big difference between film and digital cameras: When a digital camera boosts its ISO, it doesn't switch in a new image sensor, the way a photographer would swap in faster film in an analog camera. Instead, the circuitry performs some electronic magic to increase each pixel's reaction to light. In fact, the ISO on digital cameras should really be called “ISO equivalency.” We'll discuss the details some more, but the result is that the distortion produced by low-light, high-ISO shooting in digital photography tends to be much more distracting than what's seen with film photography.

    Why does low light produce noise?

    When it comes to digital photography, there isn’t just one kind of image noise. In fact, if you shoot enough digital photos, you’ll start to notice that different shooting situations produce different patterns or types of visual artifacts. That's because some problems originate on the sensor, while others may come from the processor misreading the signal or from another source.  

    One big cause of image noise is the fact that individual pixel sites on your camera’s image sensor are never completely uniform in size and how they function (due to slight manufacturing defects and variations). In bright light, the pixel sites produce strong signals, and you don't notice these differences. But in marginal conditions, when each pixel isn't registering a strong signal, slight variations become more pronounced, and the resulting image includes pixels with the incorrect tone.

    It's up to you to decide when an image is too noisy to keep. That judgement will depend, to some extent, on the subject. A photograph with a lot of small textures and details may not look as noisy as an image with few details and large, continuously toned sections. The size of the print is also a factor—the bigger the print, the more conspicuous the noise.

    Of course, ideally you'll just produce photos that have little visual noise to begin with. Here are five tips to help you do just that.

    Six tips for minimizing image noise

    • Use a camera with a large sensor: One of the best ways to avoid noise is by shooting with a camera that has a large image sensor (such as an APS-C or full-frame sensor). These sensors are typically found in SLR and mirrorless cameras, as opposed to smartphones and point-and-shoots. A bigger sensor will normally mean bigger pixel sites, which gather more light than smaller sites. The more light gathered, the cleaner the signal sent to the processor.
    • Look for a brighter light source: Even cameras or phones with small sensors produce mostly noise-free shots in bright light.
    • Avoid using digital zoom: My advice is to never use digital zoom, no matter what device you use. In low light, it’s particularly problematic. First, the low light will probably produce noisy photos. Then, the digital zoom will magnify the noise. The results will almost always be disappointing.
    • Try post-production noise-reducing software or on-board noise-reducing camera features: Although they are not full-proof, noise-reduction software and noise-reduction features on your camera can minimize artifacts. However, these technologies can also soften the sharpness of the details in your image.
    • Turn the ISO back to Auto or a low setting after using it: Although you can alter many aspects of an image, such as a color and tone, in Photoshop or other image-editing software, you can’t recalibrate the ISO. After you’re finished using a very high ISO for a particular photo, be sure to reset it to ISO AUTO or a low ISO number.

    —Terry Sullivan

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Should I use Flonase or Nasacort for my allergies?

    Both are a good option. Research suggests that nasal steroid sprays like fluticasone (Flonase Allergy Relief) and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24 HR) are the most effective stand-alone medications available for relieving congestion, sneezing, postnasal drip and other allergy symptoms. For that reason, many experts consider them the best first option for allergy sufferers. Plus, Flonase and Nasacort are both available as over-the-counter medications.

    One drawback of Flonase and Nasacort is that it can take several hours before you begin to feel some relief from your allergy symptoms. And it may take several days before you get the full benefit of the drug. This means to get the best results, you should use them every day during the allergy season and not just when you have a flare-up.

    For more allergy treaments, check out our free Best Buy Drugs report on antihistamines.

    To get the most benefit from the steroid sprays, it’s important to follow the proper technique to make sure the medication stays in your nose and doesn’t run down the back of your throat. First, keep your head upright and don’t tilt it backwards. Insert the tip of the device into your nose, aiming to the outside of your nasal passage (away from the cartilage that divides the two sides of your nose). A gentle sniff after your spray is enough. A powerful sniff could make it drain down your throat. If that happens, spit it out.

    The steroid sprays are usually well tolerated, but some people may experience nosebleeds and nasal dryness and irritation.

    Find out why it's not a good idea to take Benadryl long term

    If your child uses one of these sprays, another potential side effect is a slightly reduced rate of growth. To reduce the risk of that, don’t allow them to use it for longer than two months a year. If their allergy symptoms last for longer than that, talk to your doctor about other options. And tell your doctor if your child also uses inhaled steroids to treat asthma or a topical steroid for itchy skin—using those with a steroid spray could increase the risk of slowed growth. Another option is to try a cromolyn spray instead. It’s not as effective, but it is not associated with growth problems and is very safe for children.

    If the steroid sprays don’t provide enough relief for you, considering adding an antihistamine spray (such as azelastine or olopatadine). Those are available by prescription, but studies show the combination can provide more relief than the steroid spray alone. Another option is an antihistamine pill, like fexofenadine (Allegra and generic), loratadine (Claritin and generic), or cetirizine (Zyrtec and generic). And if you’re already taking one of those and it’s working to relieve your symptoms, our medical advisers say there’s no need to switch or add a steroid or antihistamine spray.

    — Steve Mitchell

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Testing sun protective clothing

    In addition to using sunscreen, it’s important to wear sun protective clothing. Many hats, shirts, and other garments sport a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) number. What we found: The UPF shirt we tested more than delivered on its claims. Even better: You may not need to shell out for pricey UPF clothing to get good coverage.

    We measured the UPF in three white shirts. The Coolibar Girl’s Rash Guard UPF 50+, $32, delivered a UPF of 174. Because UPF indicates what fraction of ultraviolet radiation can penetrate fabric, that means that the garment—which is a blend of 84 percent polyester and 16 percent spandex embedded with titanium dioxide that is claimed to last the lifetime of the shirt— allows just 1/174th of UVA and UVB rays to reach the skin.

    As impressive as those results are, they don’t seem so remarkable when you consider that the two other garments we tested, which aren’t claimed to provide any UV protection, did very well, too. A cotton Hanes Beefy-T long-sleeve T-shirt, $13, and an Eastbay Evapor long-sleeve compression crew made of the same polyester/spandex blend as the Coolibar top, $18 delivered UPFs of 115 and 392 respectively. Even when wet, the Hanes Beefy-T, which is thicker than a regular T-shirt, offered a UPF of 39, which we judge to be a respectable level of protection. Coolibar’s UPF actually increased when it got wet, to 211, and Eastbay’s dipped to 304.

    Get more sun safety advice and the latest sunscreen Ratings from Consumer Reports.

    This article also appeared in the July 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    BMW 7 Series updates bring higher tech

    BMW has shared details of its new 7 Series ultra-luxury sedan ahead of its August unveiling. Following tradition, the flagship sedan promises to be a technology tour de force, with notable improvements promised with vehicle dynamics. So far, only camouflaged images give an idea what the car will look like.

    Perhaps the most cutting-edge technology coming in the new 7 Series is the gesture control function as part of the new iDrive infotainment and climate control systems. Drivers can wave, swipe, or pinch in the air in front of the screen to choose a function or song, or to adjust the fan speed in the climate control, among other things. The climate control system uses a separate touch screen, while iDrive retains its controller knob.

    New active steering will give the 7 Series the ability to drive itself into and out of parking spaces. Controlled from the car’s key remote, the system can even negotiate spaces so tight that you couldn’t get out of the car if you parked it yourself. The 7 Series will be the second car after the Tesla Model S to get this remote self-parking ability.  

    BMW explains that the active steering combines with active stabilizers in the standard air suspension to aid handling precision—hopefully restoring some of the agility we found lacking in the outgoing sedan. For more customized tuning, there are several drive modes that vary the responsiveness of steering, suspension, and transmission settings, or drivers can customize their own settings.

    The next 7 will continue to have lane-keeping assistance, likely with vibrating feedback through the steering wheel. Active steering will now also be available with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system.

    What may benefit handling the most is a chassis that has shed 287 pounds by using carbon fiber in the suspension mounts, roof supports, door pillars, and center tunnel. The company is expanding the use of its carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) technology developed for the i3 and i8.

    Under the hood, the standard engine will be the new twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine that BMW announced will first appear in the updated 2016 3 Series, where it produces 320 horsepower. The updated eight-speed automatic transmission also gets a wider ratio spread for better fuel economy.

    Most of these changes point in the right direction, toward restoring some of the driving enthusiasm to the original sporty luxury car. We’re eager to try the gesture controls to see whether they reduce driving distraction or add to it.

    We’ll find out how the 7 measures up, after it goes on sale in the fall.

    Eric Evarts

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Honda Accord, CR-V warranties extended for excess oil consumption

    Honda has found that certain versions of the four-cylinder 2008 to 2011 Accord coupe and sedan and the 2010 to 2011 CR-V SUV may begin to experience higher than normal oil consumption if they have regularly been revved hard with a cold engine using low-quality gas. These conditions can lead to carbon deposits on the piston rings, which can eventually reduce the rings’ effectiveness and allow oil to seep past.

    Based on these findings, Honda has extended the warranty on these engines to 8 eight years or 125,000 miles from the original purchase date. If you’re experiencing these problems and take your car to a Honda dealership, the dealer shop will conduct an oil consumption test by changing the oil, then sealing the fill port and drain plug. Then you’ll drive the car until the low oil light comes on again, and to return to the dealer to see how much oil your car consumed. The cost of the consumption test is covered as part of the repair if Honda finds a problem. If not, you may have to pay for it. (Accord owners can cite Honda Service Bulletin 12-087, CR-V owners reference 12-089.)

    Check technical service bulletins (TSBs) for common problems on the new and used car model pages, under the Reliability tab.

    If consumption is 1 one quart every 1,000 to 3,000 miles, the company may require more tests and higher levels of approval before offering repairs. If the consumption rate is more than 1 quart per 1,000 miles, Honda will rebuild the engine to replace the piston rings and may replace the engine block, if it is also damaged. (Read: "Get your car fixed for (almost) free.")

    Four-cylinder Accords and CR-Vs have been very reliable in our auto reliability survey overall, and this low-incidence issue doesn’t change that. Regardless, we’re happy to see that Honda is helping customers who experience this potentially costly problem.

    Learn more about car maintenance and check our car repair estimator.

    —Eric Evarts

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best MPG cars for city and highway commutes

    Depending on how you drive and what your typical commute looks like, you may want to compare how a vehicle fares in city versus highway mileage. If you are consistently in stop and go traffic, you want to find a car that uses the least gas in those situations. If you drive mainly on the highway, you can get up to double the city miles as cars typically use the least gas when driving at highway speeds. 

    Check out our list of which vehicles have the best fuel economy in city or highway driving.

    Click through the model names for the complete road test and ratings (available to online subscribers).

    These cars use the least gasoline in stop-and-go driving.

    Make & model  MPG
    BMW i3 Giga 135*
    Ford Focus Electric 108*
    Mitsubishi i SE 104*
    Ford C-Max Energi 87* / 36**
    Nissan Leaf SL 86*
    Chevrolet Volt 76* / 23**
    Toyota Prius Plug-in Advanced 69* / 34**
    Tesla Model S (85 kWh) 65*
    Toyota Prius C Two 37
    Ford C-Max Hybrid SE 35
    Ford Fusion SE Hybrid 35
    Toyota Prius V Three 33
    Honda Accord Hybrid
    32
    Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 32
    Toyota Prius Four 32
    Lexus CT 200h Premium 31
    Smart ForTwo Passion 30
    Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 29
    Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 29
    Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 29
    Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    28
    Honda Civic Hybrid 28
    Lexus ES 300h 28
    Scion iQ 27
    Honda CR-Z EX (MT) 26
    Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 26
    Fiat 500 Pop (MT) 25
    Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    25
    Mazda2 Sport 25
    Volkswagen Jetta TDI 25
    * = MPGe
    ** = MPG on gas only

     

    If you drive mainly on the highway, these cars are the most fuel-efficient.

    Make & model  MPG
    BMW i3 Giga 141*
    Nissan Leaf SL 118*
    Chevrolet Volt 118* / 41**
    Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE
    116*
    Ford Focus Electric 107*
    Tesla Model S (base, 85 kWh) 102*
    Ford C-Max Energi 98* / 38**
    Toyota Prius Plug-in Advanced 66* / 52**
    Toyota Prius Four 55
    Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 51
    Honda Civic Hybrid 50
    BMW 328d xDrive 49
    Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel 49
    Toyota Prius C Two 48
    Honda Accord Hybrid
    47
    Lexus CT 200h Premium 47
    Mitsubishi Mirage ES 47
    Toyota Prius V Three 47
    Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    46
    Ford Fiesta sedan SE 45
    Honda CR-Z EX (MT) 45
    Hyundai Accent GLS 45
    Mazda3 i Touring sedan 45
    Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 45
    Volkswagen Jetta TDI 45
    Lexus ES 300h 44
    Mazda6 Sport 44
    Nissan Altima 2.5 S (4-cyl.) 44
    Smart ForTwo Passion 44
    Ford Focus SE SFE sedan 43
    Ford Focus SE sedan 43
    Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 43
    Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 43
    Toyota Corolla LE Plus 43
    Fiat 500 Sport (MT) 42
    Fiat 500c Pop (MT) 42
    Ford Fiesta SES hatchback (MT) 42
    Honda Fit EX 42
    Audi A7 3.0 TDI 41
    Ford Fusion SE Hybrid 41
    Mazda3 i Grand Touring hatchback 41
    Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec
    41
    Toyota Yaris LE 41
    * = MPGe
    ** = MPG on gas only
    Best and worst new cars

    See our best and worst section to help filter down your purchase considerations including best new cars under $25K, best and worst new car values, most fuel-efficient, and most fun to drive.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to choose the best standalone freezer

    Consumer Reports recently wrapped up testing of nearly 50 standalone freezers. The high-low divide for this appliance has gotten wider in recent years, with more full-featured models joining the existing stock of basic bare-bones deep freezers. The good news from our tests is that you can get a top-performing model at just about any price point. To figure out the right freezer for your needs, ask yourself the following questions. 

    What’s your budget?

    The standalone freezers in our Ratings range from $175 to $900. The cheapest models are all chest freezers, also known as deep freezers since they’re basically a deep box with a hinged lid on top. The best chest freezers from our tests range from about $200 to $600. Top-performing upright freezers generally cost between $500 and $800.     

    How much freezer space do you need?

    We measure usable capacity, which is often a bit lower than the manufacturer’s claimed capacity, since we exclude nooks and crannies that don’t provide actual storage. There’s a pretty good range among chest freezers, from less than 5 cubic feet to more than 20 cubic feet. Upright freezers tend to be around 15 cubic feet, give or take.       

    Where will the freezer be located?

    You’ll need more floor space for a chest freezer, especially if you go for one of the larger models. For example, a 22-cubic-foot chest freezer will take up a 6-foot-by-2-foot space, while the same size upright will take up a 2.5-foot-by-2.5-foot space. If the freezer will sit in a living space, you might also be concerned about aesthetics. More uprights are available with attractive stainless steel finishes, including the Frigidaire FFFH17F4QT and the Whirlpool WZF79R18DM. Chest freezers still look like a plain white box.

    Will you be storing a lot of different items?

    Upright freezers tend to be easier to organize, thanks to their shelves, door bins, and pullout drawers. But we’re seeing more chest freezers with tiered bins and compartment dividers that help with organization. See “5 stand-alone freezers with smart storage features” for details on some of our favorites. As this YouTube video shows, you can also buy plastic bins from a place like The Container Store or Target and create a retrofit organization system for an inexpensive chest freezer.  

    Do you mind defrosting the freezer on your own?

    Ice build-up inside the freezer can affect its performance. Many upright models are self-defrosting, so you don’t have to think about it. But all chest freezers and some uprights are manual-defrost. That means you’ll have to periodically empty the unit and thaw it out. On the plus side, manual-defrost freezers are generally more energy efficient and quieter than self-defrosting models.       

    Once you figure out which type of freezer is best for you, check our freezer Ratings to find the top-performing models. Frigidaire and Kenmore are the two most winning brands, with four recommended models each. But we also like freezers from Amana, GE, Haier, Idyllis, Maytag, and Whirlpool.    

    —Daniel DiClerico (dandiclerico on Twitter)       

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Swash laundry system refreshes without washing

    Whirlpool and Procter & Gamble have teamed up to save you money on dry cleaning, especially if you spend $500 a year or more on shirts, suits, dresses, and other finery. Their solution? The Swash Express 10-minute clothing care system that they say speeds up laundry the way microwaves speed up cooking. When Consumer Reports heard claims that the Swash was “revolutionizing clothing care,” we had to put it to the test.

    This isn’t the first time Whirlpool and P&G have tried to bring dry-cleaning systems into the home. Fifteen years ago P&G came out with Dryel, a dry-cleaning kit that you toss in the dryer, but later sold the brand. Whirlpool has made two previous efforts—the Personal Valet, $1,000, and the Fabric Freshener, $250—but neither caught on with consumers. Will the third time be the charm with the $500 Swash?

    Despite its name, the Swash doesn’t actually wash clothes. Instead it freshens them and smooths wrinkles and restores their shape so that lightly worn clothing is ready for another outing without taking a detour to the dry cleaner. “Say goodbye to excessive washing, drying, steaming, ironing, and dry cleaning,” says the website. The manufacturer claims the Swash works on most fabrics, including wool, cashmere, and delicate lace. It’s not recommended for velvet, suede, silk, leather, or fur.

    Our tests

    Resembling a tall radiator, the Swash is designed to fit in a walk-in closet or next to a wardrobe and plugs into a normal wall  outlet. At 4-feet tall, it’s pretty compact when closed but requires about 5 feet to fully open. We set one up in our laundry lab and collected some slightly rumpled shirts, suit jackets, and jeans from members of our staff. Following the manufacturer’s instructions we hung the items in the box one-by-one and clipped them to the sides. The final step involves inserting a proprietary “Swash” pod filled with a scented solution. The pods, which are made by Tide and cost $7 for a box of 12, release a light mist during a 10- or 15-minute treatment cycle.

    Did it work? For the most part. Odors were removed or masked, wrinkles smoothed out, and jeans snapped back into their original shape. But you should take care not to treat clothing that’s dirty or stained as the temperature inside the box—150° F to 190° F—gets high enough to set some stains or make them more visible. Another drawback is that the clips used to secure clothing in the box can create new wrinkles.

    If you have a big closet and a large yearly dry-cleaning bill that's more than the cost of a Swash, it may be worth considering. Or you could just hang your clothes in the open air  or run them through the clothes dryer on the no-heat setting.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Don't let funeral homes overcharge you

    The last thing you need when grieving the loss of a loved one is to learn that the funeral home overcharged you for its services. Yet a sweep of 100 funeral homes in six locales by Federal Trade Commission undercover investigators found that 27 establishments had violated their obligations under the FTC’s Funeral Rule.   

    According to the Rule, issued in 1984, funeral homes must provide consumers with an itemized general price list at the start of any in-person discussion of funeral arrangements. Consumers also have a right to receive a price list for caskets or outer burial containers before they look at those products. Furthermore, funeral homes can’t require people to buy any item—such as a casket—as a condition for buying any other goods or services. By stipulating itemized prices, the Funeral Rule enables consumers to compare prices and buy only the goods and services they want. 

    To read more about how to avoid being ripped-off by funeral homes, read "Don't Pay Too Much for A Funeral."

    The funeral homes that failed to make the required price list disclosure are in the following regions:

    • Northwest Arkansas:  5 out of 16
    • Bakersfield, California:  7 out of 11
    • Annapolis, Maryland:  4 out of 13
    • St. Louis, Missouri:  3 of 16
    • Westchester County, New York:  3 of 29
    • Seattle, Washington:  5 of 15

    The silver lining is that all but two of the 27 enterprises agreed to enter the Funeral Rule Offenders Program (FROP) rather than face the possibility of a civil penalty. Run by the National Funeral Directors Association, FROP requires its participants agree to undergo training, testing, and monitoring for compliance. They also make a voluntary payment to the U.S. Treasury in place of a civil penalty, and pay annual administrative fees to the Association. 

    In addition, the FTC identified a number of homes, within the six states investigated, with minor compliance deficiencies. In lieu of law enforcement, the FTC requires them to provide evidence that they have corrected the problems.

    Since the FROP program began in 1996, the FTC has inspected more than 2,900 funeral homes, and found 503 establishments with violations.

    The FTC educates consumers about their rights under the Funeral Rule through a series of online articles in English and Spanish. Print or download a copy for that just-in-case file of important papers. It may not ease the heartache of losing a loved one but it will save you grief over unnecessary spending.

    Catherine Fredman

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    5 ways to stay safe when mowing the lawn

    Mowing can too often be a job you put off and then rush to finish before dinner or just before guests arrive for a weekend barbecue. And that's when accidents can happen, judging by the estimated 81,108 people—more than 5,000 of them children—who visited emergency rooms in 2014 for mowing injuries. More than 15 were fatalities. Here’s how to keep from becoming a statistic with your walk-behind mower:

    Make a walkabout without the mower

    Check your lawn for anything that could become a projectile or damage the mower. This includes stray toys or sports gear, fallen tree branches, and rocks.

    Inspect your equipment

    If you’ve been maintaining a gas-powered mower, all it may need is fueling up. Do this before you start the engine, while it’s still cool; refueling a hot engine can cause vapors to ignite or even explode. And refuel only outdoors, not in a garage or shed. Before you start the mower check the mower-deck height and make any needed adjustments.

    Protect yourself

    We’ve all seen neighbors mowing in shorts and sandals, but that doesn’t make it okay. Wear sturdy shoes with good traction, not sandals or sneakers, and long pants. Be sure to wear hearing protection. And never circumvent the mower’s bail lever—also referred to as the “deadman” control—to pick up something in your way while. (That’s what the walkabout is for.) Gas mowers with a blade-brake clutch stop the rotating blades, not the engine, when you release the bail.

    Protect kids and pets

    Young children and pets should stay well away from where you’re mowing, if not kept indoors altogether while you work. And don’t let kids younger than 12 use walk-behind mowers.

    Use safe mowing strategies

    Don’t mow grass when it’s wet; in addition to the grass being less upright, it’s also very easy to slip while you’re mowing. And if you must mow slopes with a walk-behind mower, mow parallel to the slope.

    Need a new walk-behind mower?

    See our lawn mower buying guide for tips on choosing a new walk-behind or riding mower. Then check our mower Ratings of 185 walk-behind mowers, lawn tractors, and riding mowers. Our top picks for walk-behind mowers include the self-propelled Honda HRR2169VLA, $500; Toro 20353, $400; and Troy-Bilt TB-280ES 12AGA26G, $340. For a push mower to maintain a small, relatively flat lawn, consider the Craftsman 37432, $220.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Complete guide to room and central air conditioners

    With temperatures rising, one thing’s for certain: your utility bill will, too. Now’s a good time, before the thermometer hits triple digits, to assess your cooling needs for the summer. At the very least you should check and clean your equipment, whether you cool your home with central air, room air conditioners, or good, old-fashioned ceiling fans.

    If you’re replacing an old room or central air conditioner, the choices on the market today are likely to be more energy efficient than what you have. But don’t buy too little or too much—getting a cooling system that is the wrong size is the most common mistake people make, regardless of the type. Underestimate your cooling needs and you could be hot and sticky and still increase your electric bills. Buy more capacity than you need and you may wind up with a cool, damp space.

    To keep your cool, get the best performing and most reliable equipment. Consumer Reports has new Ratings of window air conditioners, and this year we talked to 34,000 readers about the reliability of their central air conditioning systems. We learned what made readers hot under the collar and which systems cooled when called upon. During our research and testing, we discovered which units to buy and which to avoid.

    Although more and more homes have central air conditioning, about 6.5 million window units are sold each year. Our latest tests of small, medium, and large window air conditioners found that all were excellent at cooling. What distinguished the best from the rest was quiet operation, convenient controls, and whether they kept working under brownout conditions. All of our top picks exceed federal Energy Star standards and use at least 10 percent less energy than conventional models. Those energy-savers often include other features, such as timers, digital displays, remote controls, and directional vents, which coax the most comfort from the machine.

    How to choose a room A/C

    Before going to the store, determine the size of the space you need to cool and where you’ll place the unit. An air conditioner that's too small won't cool the room. One that's too big will cool so quickly that it won’t have time to remove enough moisture, leaving your room cold and clammy.
     
    Get the right size. When calculating the size of the air conditioner you'll need, take into account not only the size of the room to be cooled but whether the unit will be placed in a window that gets shade or direct sunlight, the height of the ceilings, and even the part of the country where you live. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers has a worksheet on its website that will help you make the right determination. All you need to get started is a tape measure, a scratch pad, and a calculator.

    Assess the airflow. Air conditioners generally do a better job blowing air in one direction than the other. To uniformly cool a room, you'll need to ensure that air is distributed throughout. When the window air conditioner is located near a corner, it must be able to direct air to the center, so check whether your air conditioner needs to blow air to the right or to the left.

    How quiet? If the unit is going to be placed in a bedroom or another quiet area, check our Ratings for noise. Models that scored excellent or very good in our noise tests are so quiet that the only sound you might hear is the fan running. But air conditioners that scored fair or worse for noise could disturb light sleepers when set on low and are distracting on high.
     
    Our latest tests of almost three dozen room air conditioners include an $580 model that cools superbly and quietly, and even comes in colors that match the drapes. But you don’t have to spend a lot to cool down as the mercury climbs; other top performers start at $160.

    Installation

    If you’re planning to install the air conditioner yourself, consider buying one with a slide-out chassis. That way you can attach the cabinet and adjustable side curtains to the window before sliding in the heavy working parts of the machine. One person can do it, but it’s easier with two.
     
    Check the electricity. Before installing an air conditioner, be sure that the electrical circuit to the room can handle the electrical load of the unit. Read the owner's manual; larger models usually need a dedicated circuit. Never use an extension cord with an air conditioner.
     
    Secure the unit. Always use the manufacturer's safety hardware, such as sash locks and mounting brackets. Unless the manufacturer's directions say otherwise, the window air conditioner should be level from left to right and pitched slightly toward the outdoors so water that condenses on the evaporator drains properly to the rear of the unit and doesn't leak into the home. Seal around the perimeter of the unit with new weatherstripping.

    Maintenance

    A clean machine will keep you cool and cost less to run. Plan on a thorough cleaning before and after the cooling season and regular filter checks during the season.

    Clean or replace dirty filters. You’ll need to clean the filter regularly. Depending on how much time the unit is actually operating and how clean the air is, cleaning may be needed every few weeks to monthly during the cooling season. With that in mind, make sure you determine how easy it is to remove the filter when selecting a new unit—some are trickier than others. Remove debris with a vacuum then wash the filter in warm, soapy water; be sure filters are dry before you reinstall them. Replace damaged filters.

    Vacuum coils and fins. When the filter is removed for cleaning, it's also a good time to check the surface of the evaporator coil, which will now be visible. If there is dust or debris on the surface, gently remove it. Taking care not to deform the soft fins, use an upholstery-brush attachment to vacuum the coils. If your unit has a slide-out chassis, you will usually have good access to the condenser coil when the chassis is removed from the cabinet. That's a good time to inspect and clean any debris off that coil.

    Seal the perimeter. Be sure to seal any air leaks around the unit.

    Avoid "short cycling.” Though most models with electronic controls now have built-in timers to prevent the unit from restarting immediately after shut-down, those with the “old-style” mechanical controls may not. Wait 5 minutes after shutting off the unit to restart it. That allows pressure in the refrigeration system to equalize, avoiding stress on the compressor.

    If your room has only one window or if window units aren’t allowed in your building, a portable air conditioner might seem like an ideal solution. But our latest tests found that portables aren’t as good at cooling as manufacturers claim. Plus they’re pricey and use more energy than similarly sized window units. And because all the mechanical parts are sitting in the room, they can be noisy.
     
    Even portable models with dual hoses, which vent through a window, didn’t impress in our tests. One hose brings air in from the outside to cool the condenser, and the other hose directs heated and moisture-laden air back outside. Dual-hose units did a slightly better job cooling off our test chamber than the single-hose models we tested, but their performance fell far short of similarly sized window units.
     
    If a portable is your only option, choose a dual-hose model. But in our tests, even those models produced less cooling than they claimed and didn’t cool the room to our required temperature. And rolling 85-pound “portables” around on carpeting isn’t for weaklings.

    Consumer Reports asked 34,000 readers about central air conditioning systems purchased between 2007 and mid-2013. Based on their experiences, you may want to give three brands the cold shoulder. All logged the most repairs in our latest reliability surveys. The good news: Choosing one of the more reliable brands can boost the odds that you’ll keep comfortable.

    How to choose central air

    Adding a central cooling system to your home can be relatively straightforward if you already have ductwork. But not all ductwork is equal, and duct systems that were originally designed for a heating system may not be able to handle the air volume required by a cooling system. Another obstacle can be the placement of supply registers. Systems originally designed only for heating might have registers placed in the floor or located low on the walls—good locations for heating but not the best choice for cooling. The less obvious issue is the amount of air being provided to each room, which really determines the amount of heating or cooling being supplied. For example, some rooms may actually require additional supply outlets in order to deliver the necessary cool air in summer, which would likely make them too warm in the winter.
     
    Your contractor should use a duct-sizing method such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Manual D to make sure that the main plenums and all the supply ducts are adequately sized and properly constructed. Further, the system must have the proper number and location of supply registers to deliver sufficient air to the right spots. Leaky or uninsulated ducts can reduce system efficiency considerably. In fact, one of the most beneficial improvements to a ducted system is to have it properly sealed and insulated. If your home doesn’t have ducts, adding them can be expensive and messy, though that is the best option when cooling an entire home.
     
    When replacing or upgrading a central air system, don’t automatically buy the same-sized system. Any changes you’ve made to improve your home’s energy efficiency, such as replacing windows or adding insulation, can reduce your cooling needs. On the other hand, if you’ve added rooms, you might need more cooling.
     
    Have your contractor do a load calculation based on a recognized method, such as Manual J from the ACCA. The contractor’s evaluation should include whether the ducts need to be resized, sealed, and insulated, or replaced. Remember that an indoor evaporator coil and an outdoor condenser must be a matched set, or the performance, efficiency, and capacity claims might not be accurate. After the required cooling capacity has been determined, focus on installation.

    Installation

    Replacing central air conditioning equipment, especially components that are more than 15 years old, can result in energy savings. And if you choose an Energy Star qualified model, you can save even more—but savings will only be realized when a new matched system is correctly installed. A matched system is one in which the indoor evaporator or fan coil and the outdoor condensing unit were meant to be installed together—the manufacturer considers the two components a system with its own unique efficiency rating. If you allow a contractor to install an unmatched set, your home has essentially become a test site and your contractor is the system designer. Though the system may function, it's unlikely to deliver the claimed efficiency that was based on a matched set.
     
    Beyond the cooling hardware, there are other important issues that a good contractor will address in the installation. Under- or overcharging the refrigerant on even a matched indoor/outdoor split system can cause a loss of capacity, efficiency, or both, so proper system charging is critical. Likewise, the proper amount of airflow across the indoor coil (evaporator) is critical for proper operation. Finally, if the air is allowed to leak from supply or return ducts, those leaks will have a significant impact on the operating efficiency and costs. So ensuring that system ducts are properly sealed and insulated is one of the most important improvements you can make.
     
    Finding the right contractor is often a challenge. North American Technician Excellence (NATE) offers a certification program for contractors focusing on specific skill areas. Contractors who participate in that voluntary program differentiate themselves from their competitors. You can also find an installer at contractor associations such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. Energy Star follows the ACCA guidelines and recommends the following:
     
    Size the unit properly. Installing equipment that is the correct size is essential for getting the best performance. Bigger isn't always better—a system actually operates best when each component is properly sized. Oversized equipment may cycle on and off more frequently, which can make the home less comfortable and shorten the equipment’s life. Larger capacity cooling equipment requires greater airflow. If the duct system was not sized for that flow, it can become noisy or restrict the flow, causing performance or operational problems.
     
    Seal ducts. Ducts circulate air from the central air conditioner or heat pump throughout the house. The duct system is actually many individual pieces, meaning there are lots of seams and joints. Without sealing, air escapes from those cracks, sending your heated or cooled air directly outdoors, which is not a good use of your energy dollars. Sealing ducts can greatly improve the efficiency of your system.
     
    Optimize airflow. Every evaporator or fan coil is designed to have a specific amount of airflow to meet its efficiency and capacity claims. A duct system that is too small can restrict airflow, which not only negatively impacts efficiency and capacity but can cause operational problems as well. Too high of an airflow is not good either, as it can mean a noisy system.
     
    Check the refrigerant. It's important for a central air system to have the correct amount of refrigerant, or correct refrigerant charge. An improperly charged system may consume more energy and provide less cooling capacity.

    Maintenance

    One of the best ways to keep your air conditioner humming is to keep it clean. That means changing the filters regularly and making sure that no debris accumulates around the outside unit. Here’s some guidance from our experts.

    Call a pro. Have a licensed professional clean and flush the coils, drain pan, and drainage system; vacuum the blower compartments; and check the refrigerant charge and mechanical components.

    Seal and insulate ductwork. Make sure that ducts are sealed and insulated. Up to 40 percent of cooling energy can be lost due to leaks or when uninsulated ducts pass through uncooled spaces such as attics.

    Conduct seasonal checks. Clear debris and keep vegetation at least 2 feet away from the outdoor unit. Clean indoor grills and filters monthly.

    Use a programmable thermostat. You can reduce cooling costs by up to 20 percent by programming the thermostat to raise the temperature when you’re at work and lower it when you return home. Consider using a ceiling, table, or floor fan in occupied rooms so that you can set the thermostat to a higher temperature. For every degree you raise the setpoint, you will save about 2 percent on your cooling costs. And remember, don’t operate a fan in an unoccupied room. That just wastes energy because the breeze doesn’t cool the room, it cools people.

    If you live in an older home or one in which it would be difficult to install the ductwork for a central air system, there is another alternative to getting window units. Split ductless systems are similar to central air but need no ductwork. They have an outside condenser and one to four indoor units with blowers mounted high on the wall. Tubing connects the parts and circulates refrigerant. The tubing, along with an electric and drain line, is usually run through a 3-inch hole hidden behind the indoor unit. Each indoor unit cools the room in which it’s installed and has its own remote control.
     
    The systems we tested in the past had a single indoor unit, did an excellent cooling job, and were much quieter than window air conditioners. When they were set on low, they were barely audible. The systems were about 12,000 Btu/hr., enough to cool roughly 650 square feet, and handled brownouts with ease. And they all used an eco-friendly refrigerant.
     
    Split ductless systems are more expensive than window air conditioners, and professional installation is recommended, but it’s a way to add cooling without tearing up walls to install ducts. A drawback is the large indoor unit (evaporator and fan) that must be mounted on the wall in the room being cooled. The systems can be a good choice when you're only cooling a few rooms. But if you plan to cool many rooms, the cost can increase significantly, often making a ducted system the better choice.

    Ceiling fans cool you, not the room, and they don’t remove humidity. But they’re generally inexpensive to buy and run, whether you use them alone or with air conditioning. And with a little help, you can install one yourself. When shopping for a ceiling fan, you’ll find models that conjure images from old movies and versions that are more modern. In the past we found that although pricier fans had fancier finishes, they didn’t necessarily provide better performance. What’s more, most fans performed similarly in our air-movement tests.

    How to choose a ceiling fan

    A 52-inch-diameter fan is ideal for rooms that are 225 to 400 square feet. Pick a 42- to 44-inch fan for 144 to 225 square feet. If your room size is on the border, choose a larger fan and run it on a slower speed. In our past tests, ceiling fans with the most airflow were the noisiest, although it was wind noise and fluttering, not a whirring motor. And fans with blades that have ridges, bumps, or other surface texture were often noisier on high than those with smooth blades.
     
    Motor. Most ceiling fan motors have sealed and lubricated ball bearings. The lubrication provides smooth operation and contributes to the longevity of the motor, which requires little or no maintenance. Higher-priced models usually offer higher-quality motors, which provide quieter operation and can stand up to longer periods of operation.
     
    Motor housing. The housing is the decorative body of the fan that encloses the fan motor. Fans that use heavier material, such as die-cast metals, tend to vibrate less, provide more stability, and make a good surface for high-quality finishes.

    Blade. The pitch of the blade is measured in degrees. Higher blade pitches move more air per revolution, but a higher pitch is not always better because it affects noise and motor power requirements. Blades should be sealed from moisture to prevent warping, bubbling, and peeling. High-quality blades are weighed and balanced prior to shipment and come in factory-matched sets with specific mounting systems. For that reason, blades from one fan cannot be switched with blades in other fans. Doing so can create a safety hazard.
     
    Controls. Most residential ceiling fans (and all Energy Star qualified fans) feature the ability to reverse the motor and airflow direction, allowing you to operate the fan year-round. They’re usually sold with a remote control.

    Installation

    No matter how handy you are, you’ll probably want an electrician to install your ceiling fan. Here’s what Energy Star recommends.

    Use an appropriate electrical box. When hanging the fan, make sure you use the appropriate listed box, marked “For Use With Ceiling Fans.” That outlet box is mounted above the ceiling and houses all the wiring needed to support and connect the fan. If you are replacing a light fixture, you’ll probably need to replace the electrical box.

    Balancing a fan. All fan blades should be balanced prior to shipment; however, if the fan is wobbly after installation, there are ways to fix it. First, make sure that all connections are properly aligned and tightly fastened. If the blades still wobble, use the balancing kit (clips and blade weights) that came with the fan.

    Maintenance

    A ceiling fan that is covered with dust or pollen can fling those offending particles around the room when it's in use. And if you have a fan in the kitchen, cooking grease can make it a dust magnet. That’s why it’s important to keep the fan clean, especially if you use it year-round. Doing so requires a ladder, an all-purpose cleaner, and some elbow grease.
     
    Cover the floor. Spread drop cloths or old sheets on the floor and over any furniture that's under the fan. Try to cover an area about twice as wide as the fan. Position the ladder so that you can see the top of the blades. Remove any globes and hand-wash them in the sink.
     
    Dust then wash. First remove loose dust with a cloth or duster. Then moisten a cloth or sponge with an all-purpose cleaner—don’t spray liquid on the fan—and wash each blade. Don’t apply heavy pressure, which can bend the blades and cause the fan to not work properly. Dry thoroughly; damp blades attract dust.
     
    Cool tools. There are special fan-cleaning cloths and tools on the market, and a few cleaning websites recommend using an old pillowcase, slipping it over each blade and then pulling it back to remove dust and dirt. If cleaning the ceiling fan is a chore you hate, try waxing the blades with car wax to prevent dust from sticking.

    The average home spends almost 20 percent of its utility bill on cooling, according to Energy Star. But there are ways to save even on hot summer days. A good strategy may be to use air conditioning and ceiling fans in concert. Instead of setting the air conditioner at 74° F to 76° F, raise the temperature to 78° F and let the fans do the rest. Each degree you lower the thermostat increases cooling costs by 2 percent. Here are some simple moves you can make that are recommended by our experts and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Switch to energy-saving lightbulbs.
    Less than 10 percent of the energy used by an incandescent bulb produces light; the rest escapes as heat. That’s one reason energy-wasting bulbs are being phased out. Energy Star qualified lighting not only uses less energy but also produces less heat, reducing your cooling costs.
     
    Set the thermostat. Use a programmable thermostat or the timer on a window unit to program cooling around your schedule. Avoid cooling an empty house by setting the thermostat a few degrees higher when no one is home and timing your window unit to go on an hour or so before you arrive.
     
    Use ceiling fans. Run the ceiling fan to create a cool breeze. If you raise the thermostat five degrees and use a ceiling fan, you can lower cooling costs by around 10 percent. Remember that a ceiling fan cools you, not the room, so turn it off when you go into another room.
     
    Pull the shades. Close the curtains and shades before you leave home to keep the sun’s rays from overheating the interior. If you don’t have natural shade, move container trees and plants in front of sun-exposed windows.
     
    Reduce oven time. Use a microwave instead of an oven to cook when you can. Ovens take longer to cook food and add heat to your home, working at odds with your air conditioning system. If you have a gas grill outside, consider using that.
     
    Check air conditioner filters. Check your cooling system’s air filter every month. If the filter looks dirty, change it. A dirty filter will slow airflow and make the system work harder.
     
    Plug leaky ducts. As much as 40 percent of your heating and cooling energy can be lost due to leaks and lack of insulation. Seal ductwork using mastic sealant or metal tape and insulate all the ducts that you can access (such as those in attics, crawl spaces, unfinished basements, and garages). Also make sure that connections at vents and registers are well sealed where they meet floors, walls, and ceilings. Those are common places to find leaks and disconnected ductwork.
     
    Work with your utility company. Many utility companies offer rebates to homeowners who upgrade their cooling systems with energy-efficient equipment. Some also offer homeowners free programmable thermostats or discounts and rebates to use an outdoor digital cycling unit (DCU) that “talks to” the utility via radio signals. When the electrical grid gets stressed during heat waves, the utility cycles your central air conditioner’s compressor on and off to decrease demand. Your home may get a little warmer, but it’s better than a blackout.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Wegmans to open first New York City store

    Specialty stores aside, New York City has never been a magnet for top-flight grocery chains. Bodegas and cramped, compact, and overpriced food stores are often the norm in many neighborhoods. Blame high real estate prices for some of the woes.

    For years, in fact, many of the lowest-rated food stores in Consumer Reports’ supermarket surveys were located not just in the New York metropolitan area, but in the East as a whole. The arrival of national players like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Costco helped invigorate the local landscape, as did the expansion of small fresh-food-focused chains like Fairway. But the city was still in search of a regional superstar. Until last week.

    Wegmans, which our subscribers recently ranked as America’s top grocer, a position it's held for a decade, is coming to Brooklyn. The 85-unit, family owned chain based in upstate Rochester, has more than half of its stores in the central and Western parts of New York. Sixteen are located in Virginia, around the Washington beltway, and the rest are scattered across Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Wegman’s New York City store will be in the historic but deteriorating Admiral's Row at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, which is undergoing extensive commercial redevelopment. The redeveloped Navy Yard complex is expected to open in 2017. Wegmans says no date has been set for the supermarket's opening.

    See how your grocer stacks up by reading, "America's best supermarkets—and worst."

    What makes Wegmans a standout is the chain’s outstanding perishables, cleanliness, and superior service coupled with reasonable prices. Usually, there’s more of a tradeoff between price and quality. The stores with the top-tier produce, meat, and prepared foods, for example, typically charge a lot. Whole Foods is a prime example.

    The proposed 74,000-square-foot store, although much larger than the typical supermarket, will actually be smaller than most Wegmans, which average 100,000 to 140,000 square feet. Still, it will be a huge to the community. The company plans to initially hire 450 employees, including 150 full-timers. Wegmans projects the number of full-time positions may grow to as many as 250. Wegmans tends to hire more workers than many stores because of its emphasis on service departments and prepared foods, which require additional labor.

    Why make the move to the Brooklyn, and why now?

    “We have stores in New Jersey and have wanted to open a store in New York City, but finding the right site took a while,” says Jo Natale, Wegmans vice president of media relations. “The former Brooklyn Navy Yard site is being developed by Steiner NYC, a developer we worked with for our Bridgewater and Manalapan, N.J., stores.” The fact that the location is accessible to so many shoppers—and with plenty of parking—made it even more attractive, she says.

    The key question, of course, is whether this is a one-shot deal or it signals an intended larger Wegmans presence in the region.

    “We need to get this store up and running before we can take another step, and right now, we don't have a timeline for construction or a projected opening date,” Natale says. “And, again, New York metro sites that meet our criteria, even with a smaller footprint, are hard to come by.”

    —Tod Marks

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Gas-saving vehicles with the best combination of fuel economy and acceleration

    You don't always have to give up engine performance in return for good fuel economy. To prove this, Consumer Reports compiled this list of vehicles that provided the best combination of fuel economy and acceleration in our tests. Vehicles are ranked within each category based on the overall miles per gallon and 0-to-60-mph acceleration times they achieved in our tests. Both were weighted equally. For more on saving gas, see our guide to fuel economy.

    Best fuel economy and acceleration by category based on CR tests

    Make & model

    Fuel economy
    (overall mpg)

    Acceleration
    0-60 mph (sec.)

    FUEL-EFFICIENT HATCHBACKS Overall mpg = 38 or higher; 0-60 mph = 12.0 or less
    BMW i3 Giga 139* 7.5
    Ford Focus Electric 107* 10.2
    Nissan Leaf SL
    106*
    10.3
    Chevrolet Volt
    99* / 32**
    9.4
    Ford C-Max Energi
    94* / 37** 8.1
    Toyota Prius Plug-in Advanced 67* / 43** 10.6
    Toyota Prius Four
    44 10.6
    Toyota Prius C Two 43 11.3
    Lexus CT 200h Premium
    40 11.0
    *=MPGe, **=MPG on gas only    
    SUBCOMPACT CARS Overall mpg = 31 or higher; 0-60 mph = 12.0 or less    
    Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    35 9.0
    Scion iQ 34 10.6
    Honda Fit EX 33 10.0
    Mazda2 Sport (MT) 33 10.3
    Ford Fiesta SE sedan 33 10.9
    Hyundai Accent SE (MT) 32 8.5
    Nissan Versa SV sedan 32 10.6
    Ford Fiesta SES hatchback (MT) 32 10.7
    Toyota Yaris LE 32 10.8
    Hyundai Accent GLS 31 10.3
    Nissan Versa Note SV 31 10.9
    COMPACT CARS Overall mpg = 29 or higher; 0-60 mph = 11.0 or less
    Honda Civic Hybrid
    40 10.9
    Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 37 8.1
    Volkswagen Jetta TDI 34 9.5
    Mazda3 i Touring sedan 33 8.3
    Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel
    33 9.7
    Mazda3 i Grand Touring hatchback 32 8.2
    Toyota Corolla LE Plus 32 9.9
    Mini Cooper (3-cyl.) 31 8.3
    Ford Focus SE SFE 31 8.5
    Volkswagen Jetta SE (1.8T) 30 8.5
    Honda Civic EX
    30 9.6
    Hyundai Elantra SE (1.8L) 29 9.5
    Nissan Sentra SV 29 9.7
    SPORTY CARS/ROADSTERS Overall mpg = 25 or higher; 0-60 mph = 7.5 or less (Manual unless otherwise noted)
    Mini Cooper S 30 7.0
    Scion FR-S 30 7.2
    Subaru BR-Z Premium 30 7.2
    Volkswagen GTI Autobahn 29 6.6
    Honda Civic Si 29 7.1
    Ford Fiesta ST
    29 7.3
    BMW Z4 sDrive28i 28 6.1
    Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring 28 7.0
    Volkswagen GLI Autobahn 27 7.2
    Subaru Impreza WRX Premium 26 6.0
    Mercedes-Benz SLK250 26 7.1
    Ford Focus ST 25 6.6
    Audi TT Premium Plus 25 6.7
    BMW M235i 25 5.2
    MIDSIZED CARS Overall mpg = 24 or higher; 0-60 mph = 11.0 or less
    Honda Accord Hybrid
    40 7.7
    Ford Fusion SE Hybrid 39 8.3
    Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
    38 7.6
    Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 37 9.8
    Mazda6 Sport 32 7.5
    Nissan Altima 2.5 S (4-cyl.) 31 8.2
    Honda Accord LX (4-cyl.) 30 7.7
    Chrysler 200 Limited (4-cyl.)
    30 9.8
    Toyota Camry LE (4-cyl.) 28 8.6
    Volkswagen Passat SE (1.8T)
    28 8.6
    Hyundai Sonata SE (4-cyl.) 28 9.2
    Honda Accord EX-L (V6) 26 6.3
    Toyota Camry XLE (V6)
    26 6.4
    Chevrolet Malibu 1LT 26 8.1
    Chrysler 200 C (V6) 25 6.9
    Kia Optima LX 25 8.6
    Nissan Altima 3.5 SL (V6)
    24 6.3
    Kia Optima SX (turbo) 24 6.6
    Chevrolet Malibu 2LTZ 24 7.0
    Ford Fusion SE (1.5T) 24 9.2
    UPSCALE/LUXURY CARS Overall mpg = 23 or higher; 0-60 mph = 8.5 or less
    Tesla Model S (base, 85 kWh) 84¹ 5.6
    Lexus ES 300h 36 8.2
    Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 36 8.2
    BMW 328d xDrive
    35 8.5
    Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec
    30 8.3
    BMW 328i 28 6.3
    Audi A7 3.0 TDI 28 6.6
    Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 28 6.6
    Acura TLX 2.4L 27 7.4
    Audi A3 Premium 27 8.3
    Mercedes-Benz C300 (AWD) 26 6.8
    Volkswagen CC Sport
    26 7.5
    Infiniti Q70 (V6) 25 5.6
    Acura TLX SH-AWD 25 6.5
    Lexus ES 350 25 6.7
    Audi A4 Premium 25 7.2
    Volvo S60 T5 Drive-E
    25 7.9
    Toyota Avalon Limited 24 7.0
    Buick Regal Premium I (turbo)
    24 7.4
    Buick Verano Leather
    24 8.5
    BMW 535i 23 6.1
    Acura RLX Tech 23 6.5
    Cadillac ATS Luxury
    23 6.5
    Lincoln MKZ 2.0 Eco Boost 23 7.4
    SMALL SUVS Overall mpg = 21 or higher; 0-60 mph = 11.0 or less
    Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid 28 10.1
    Mercedes-Benz GLA250
    26 6.9
    Mini Cooper Countryman S 26 8.3
    Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium 26 8.7
    Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium 26 9.7
    Mazda CX-5 Touring (2.5L) 25 8.0
    Nissan Juke SV 24 7.9
    Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 9.0
    Nissan Rogue SV 24 9.5
    BMW X3 xDrive 28i 23 7.3
    BMW X1 xDrive28i 23 6.8
    Mitsubishi Outlander SE
    23 10.8
    Buick Encore Leather 23 11.0
    Honda CR-V EX 23 9.2
    Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE 23 9.6
    Acura RDX 22 6.6
    Ford Escape Titanium (2.0) 22 8.2
    Hyundai Tucson GLS 22 9.7
    Ford Escape SE (1.6) 22 9.9
    Jeep Compass Latitude 22 10.3
    Kia Sportage LX 22 10.3
    Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.)
    22 10.9
    Mercedes-Benz GLK350 21 6.1
    Kia Sportage SX (turbo)
    21 7.1
    Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Pure 21 7.2
    Jeep Cherokee Limited (V6)
    21 7.7
    Audi Q5 Premium Plus 21 7.9
    Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 21 8.5
    Jeep Patriot Latitude 21 10.3
    MIDSIZED SUVS Overall mpg = 18 or higher; 0-60 mph = 9.5 or less
    Lexus RX 450h 26 7.7
    Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd.   25 8.3
    Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (diesel)
    24 8.6
    Volkswagen Touareg TDI 24 8.4
    Lexus RX 350 21 7.3
    BMW X5 xDrive 35i 21 7.4
    Kia Sorento EX (V6) 21 7.4
    Nissan Murano SL
    21 7.7
    Acura MDX Tech 20 7.2
    Toyota Highlander XLE 20 7.5
    Hyundai Santa Fe GLS 20 7.6
    Porsche Cayenne (base) 19 7.8
    Infiniti QX60 (3.5L) 19 8.3
    Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE
    18 6.5
    Mercedes-Benz ML350 18 6.8
    Infiniti QX70 18 6.8
    Cadillac SRX Luxury 18 7.1
    Chevrolet Equinox LTZ (V6) 18 7.1
    Lincoln MKX 18 7.6
    Nissan Pathfinder SL 18 7.7
    Toyota 4Runner SR5 (V6) 18 7.7
    Ford Explorer XLT 18 7.9
    Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (V6) 18 8.0
    Honda Pilot EX-L 18 9.1
    LARGE SUVS Overall mpg = 15 or higher; 0-60 mph = 10.0 or less
    Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec 20 8.2
    Dodge Durango Limited (V6)
    18 9.4
    Ford Flex SEL 18 8.5
    Cadillac Escalade Premium
    16 6.1
    Chevrolet Tahoe LT 16 7.7
    Chevrolet Suburban LTZ 16 7.9
    Chevrolet Traverse LT 16 8.8
    Infiniti QX80 15 6.9
    Lincoln Navigator Base
    15 7.0
    Toyota Sequoia Limited 15 7.1
    Buick Enclave CXL 15 7.9
    MINIVANS Overall mpg = 19 or higher; 0-60 mph = 9.0 or less
    Honda Odyssey EX-L 21 8.4
    Toyota Sienna XLE (FWD) 20 8.8
    Nissan Quest SL 19 8.4
    Toyota Sienna XLE (AWD) 19 8.5
    PICKUP TRUCKS Overall mpg = 15 or higher; 0-60 mph = 10.0 or less
    Ram 1500 Big Horn (diesel)
    20 9.5
    Toyota Tacoma (base, V6) 17 7.6
    Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT 16 7.5
    Toyota Tundra SR5 (5.7, V8) 15 6.7
    Ram 1500 Big Horn (V8) 15 7.1
    Nissan Frontier LE 15 7.9
    Honda Ridgeline RTS 15 8.6
    WAGONS/HATCHBACKS Overall mpg = 23 or higher; 0-60 mph = 11.0 or less
    Toyota Prius V Three 41 10.7
    Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE 37 8.4
    Nissan Cube 1.8 S
    28 10.0
    Ford Focus SEL hatchback
    28 9.3
    Fiat 500L Easy
    27 9.5
    Hyundai Elantra GT 27 9.8
    Kia Soul Plus 26 8.8
    Subaru Impreza Sport Premium 26 9.4
    Subaru Outback 2.5i
    24 10.5
    Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen SE 23 9.3
    Scion xB 23 9.4
    Mazda5 Grand Touring 23 9.6

     

    Best and worst new cars

    See our best and worst section to help filter down your purchase considerations including best new cars under $25K, best and worst new car values, and most fun to drive. Plus, check out our guide to fuel economy for gas saving tips.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 05/19/15--02:59: The most fuel-efficient SUVs
  • The most fuel-efficient SUVs

    SUVs are very versatile vehicles for transporting passengers as well as cargo, but now you don't have to sacrifice fuel economy to get the space you want.  Many SUVs now have fuel economy that are comparable to sedans.  There are a few hybrids and diesel SUVs, but regular gasoline engines can be gas sippers in SUVs as well.

    Among Consumer Reports' vehicle test criteria are measurements of fuel economy. Our fuel economy numbers come from our measurements using a precision flow meter and are rounded to the nearest mile per gallon (mpg).

    Our overall mileage is calculated from equal portions of city and expressway driving.

    The chart that follows features the 38 most fuel-efficient SUVs that Consumer Reports has tested. (See our list of the most fuel-efficient cars). Also see our Ratings comparison by category (available to subscribers), which lists each vehicle's overall mileage. 

    Rank Make & model CR Overall MPG City MPG Highway MPG
    1 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
    28 21 35
    2 Lexus RX 450h 26 22 31
    3 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250
    26 19 35
    4 Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium 26 19 34
    5 Mini Countryman S 26 19 33
    6 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium 26 18 35
    7 Mazda CX-5 Touring 2.5L 25 19 32
    8 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. 25 18 32
    9 Nissan Juke SV 24 18 31
    10 Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 18 31
    11 Jeep Grand Cherokee LImited (diesel)
    24 17 32
    12 Volkswagen Touareg TDI 24 17 31
    13 Nissan Rogue 24 17 30
    14 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE 23 18 28
    15 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 23 17 30
    16 Mitsubishi Outlander SE 23 17 30
    17 BMW X1 xiDrive28i 23 16 32
    18 Buick Encore Leather 23 16 32
    19 Honda CR-V EX 23 16 32
    20 BMW X3 xDrive28i 23 16 30
    21 Kia Sportage LX (4-cyl.) 22 16 30
    22 Hyundai Tucson GLS 22 16 28
    23 Ford Escape SE
    22 15 31
    24 Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.) 22 15 31
    25 Ford Escape Titanium
    22 15 29
    26 Jeep Compass Latitude 22 15 29
    27 Acura RDX 22 14 31
    28 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 21 16 27
    29 Kia Sportage SX (turbo) 21 15 29
    30 Nissan Murano SL
    21 15 29
    31 Jeep Patriot Latitude 21 15 28
    32 Lexus RX350 21 15 27
    33 Honda Crosstour EX-L 21 14 32
    34 Chevrolet Equinox 1LT (4-cyl.) 21 14 30
    35 Kia Sorento EX (V6)
    21 14 30
    36 Audi Q5 Premium Plus 21 14 29
    37 Jeep Cherokee Limited (V6)
    21 14 29
    38 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Pure 21 14 29
    39 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 21 14 29
    40 BMW X5 xDrive35i 21 14 28

    In addition to research and reviews, Consumer Reports offers subscribers access to the Build & Buy Car Buying Service at no additional cost. Through this service, a nationwide network of about 10,000 participating dealers provide upfront pricing information, as well as a certificate to receive guaranteed savings off MSRP (in most states). The pricing information and guaranteed savings includes eligible incentives. Consumer Reports subscribers have saved an average of $2,919 off MSRP with the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.

    Best and worst new cars

    See our best and worst section to help filter down your purchase considerations including best new cars under $25K, best and worst new car values, and most fun to drive. Plus, check out our guide to fuel economy for gas saving tips.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 05/19/15--02:59: Best safety performance
  • Best safety performance

    A vehicle with good braking and emergency handling can help you avoid an accident. Typically smaller, sportier vehicles perform well in these tests and larger trucks are slower to maneuver.

    Consumer Reports crucial emergency driving tests include an avoidance maneuver and a series of at-the-limit cornering assessments around a handling course-a snaking track loop. The avoidance maneuver is a "path-following test" in which the driver pilots the car down a lane marked off by traffic cones with a quick left-right-left sequence. That simulates swerving to avoid an obstacle in the road, then returning to the original lane to avoid oncoming traffic. The car threads through the course, without throttle or brakes, at ever-higher speeds until it can't get through without hitting any cones. When testing on-limit handling, drivers push the car to and beyond its limits of cornering capabilities to simulate entering a corner too quickly. Test engineers evaluate how controllable, secure, and forgiving-or not-the car is.

    Our automotive engineers also perform a series of brake tests from 60 mph to zero on wet and dry pavement to measure performance. The test car is rigged with a pavement-scanning optical device that records precise stopping times and distances. To evaluate antilock brakes, we use a wet roadway where the pavement under the left wheels is much slicker than the pavement under the right wheels. We also judge brake-pedal modulation.

    Here are the highs and lows in our dry braking test (from 60 mph) and avoidance maneuver. In the braking test, highest scores go to the shortest stopping distance. In the avoidance maneuver, the higher the speed through the course, the better.

    Best models ft.
    Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 3LT
    107
    Porsche 911 Carrera S
    108
    Porsche Boxster (base)

    112

    BMW M235i 115
    Maserati Ghibli S Q4 115
    Mercedes-Benz SLK250 115
    Porsche Panamera S 116
    Chevrolet Camaro 2SS convertible

    117

    Chevrolet SS 118
    Ford Fiesta ST
    118
    Worst models ft.
    Toyota Tundra SR5

    153

    Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 157
    Best models mph
    Porsche 911 Carerra S 59.5
    Subaru Impreza WRX Premium
    59.0
    BMW M235i

    58.5

    Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

    58.0

    Nissan 370Z Touring

    58.0

    Porsche Boxster (base)

    58.0

    Cadillac ATS Luxury 57.5
    Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 3LT
    57.5
    Chevrolet Spark 1LT
    57.5
    Ford Fiesta ST 57.0
    Worst models mph
    Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec 44.5
    Toyota Tundra SR5

    44.5

    Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara

    45.0

    Cadillac Escalade Premium
    45.0
    Chevrolet Tahoe LT 45.0
    Ford Expedition EL
    45.0

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 05/19/15--02:59: Best & worst fuel economy
  • Best & worst fuel economy

    The lists below highlight the vehicles within each category that achieved the best or worst gas mileage in our tests. We have selected mpg cutoffs that are relative to each category. For example, a vehicle that gets 19 mpg would not be a standout among wagons, but it would be among the highest in the midsized SUV or minivan categories. 

    Click through to each model overview page to find out how the vehicles rate in our road tests, reliability, safety, and more.

    Rank Make & Model Overall mpg City mpg Highway mpg
    FUEL-EFFICIENT HATCHBACKS Overall mpg = 38 or higher 
    1 BMW i3 Giga
    139* 135* 141*
    2 Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE 111* 104* 116*
    3 Ford Focus Electric 107* 108* 107*
    4 Nissan Leaf SL 106 * 86 * 118 *
    5 Chevrolet Volt 99* / 32** 76* / 23** 118* / 41**
    6 Ford C-Max Energi 94* / 37** 87* / 36** 98* / 38**
    7 Toyota Prius Plug-in Advanced 47 ** 38 ** 55 **
    8 Toyota Prius Four 44 32 55
    9 Toyota Prius C Two 43 37 48
    10 Lexus CT 200h Premium 40 31 47
    11 Smart ForTwo Passion 39 30 44
    * = MPGe
    **
    = MPG on gas engine only
    SUBCOMPACT CARS Overall mpg = 31 or higher
    1 Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    37 28 47
    2 Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    35 25 46
    3 Scion iQ 34 27 40
    4 Mazda2 Sport (MT) 33 25 40
    5 Honda Fit EX 33 24 42
    6 Ford Fiesta SE sedan 33 22 45
    7 Hyundai Accent SE hatchback (MT) 32 24 40
    8 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback (MT) 32 23 42
    9 Toyota Yaris LE 32 23 41
    10 Nissan Versa SV sedan 32 23 40
    11 Nissan Versa Note SV 32 22 42
    12 Chevrolet Spark 1LT
    31 22 39
    13 Hyundai Accent GLS sedan 31 20 45
    COMPACT CARS Overall mpg = 29 or higher
    1 Honda Civic Hybrid 40 28 50
    2 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 37 29 45
    3 Volkswagen Jetta TDI 34 25 45
    4 Mazda3 i Touring sedan 33 23 45
    5 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel 33 22 49
    6 Mazda3 i Grand Touring hatchback
    32 24 41
    7 Toyota Corolla LE Plus 32 23 43
    8 Mini Cooper (3-cyl)
    31 22 41
    9 Ford Focus SE SFE 31 21 43
    10 Honda Civic EX
    30 21 40
    11 Volkswagen Jetta SE (1.8T) 30 21 39
    12 Nissan Sentra SV
    29 21 38
    13 Hyundai Elantra SE (1.8L) 29 20 39
    SPORTY CARS/ROADSTERS Overall mpg = 28 or higher (tested with manual transmission)
    1 Honda CR-Z EX 35 26 45
    2 Fiat 500c Pop 34 25 42
    3 Fiat 500 Sport 33 24 42
    4 Mini Cooper S 30 23 38
    5 Hyundai Veloster 31 24 37
    6 Scion FR-S 30 23 37
    7 Subaru BR-Z Premium 30 23 37
    8 Ford Fiesta ST
    29 21 36
    9 Honda Civic Si 29 20 39
    10 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn
    29 20 39
    9 Fiat 500 Abarth 28 21 34
    10 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring 28 20 35
    11 BMW Z4 sDrive28i 28 19 38
    MIDSIZED CARS Overall mpg = 26 or higher
    1 Honda Accord Hybrid
    40 32 47
    2 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid 39 35 41
    3 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 38 32 43
    4 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 37 26 51
    5 Mazda6 Sport 32 22 44
    6 Nissan Altima 2.5 S (4-cyl.) 31 21 44
    7 Honda Accord LX (4-cyl.) 30 21 40
    8 Chrysler 200 Limited (4-cyl.)
    30 19 44
    9 Volkswagen Passat SE (1.8T)
    28 19 39
    10 Toyota Camry LE (4-cyl.) 28 19 38
    11 Hyundai Sonata SE (4.-cyl) 28 18 40
    12 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium 26 17 39
    13 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT 26 17 38
    14 Toyota Camry XLE (V6) 26 17 37
    15 Honda Accord EX-L (V6) 26 16 39
    UPSCALE/LUXURY CARS Overall mpg = 24 or higher
    1 Tesla Model S (base, 85 kWh) 84* 65* 102*
    2 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 36 29 43
    3 Lexus ES 300h
    36 28 44
    4 BMW 328d xDrive
    35 24 49
    5 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 34 29 38
    6 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec
    30 21 41
    7 Audi A7 3.0 TDI 28 19 41
    8 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 28 19 39
    9 BMW 328i 28 19 39
    10 Acura TLX 2.4L 27 18 41
    11 Audi A3 Premium
    27 18 40
    12 Buick LaCrosse Leather (4-cyl.) 26 18 39
    13 Mercedes-Benz C300 (AWD) 26 18 35
    14 Volkswagen CC Sport 26 18 35
    15 Audi A4 Premium 25 17 35
    16 Lexus ES 350 25 17 35
    17 Infiniti Q70 Hybrid 25 17 33
    18 Acura TLX SH-AWD 25 16 36
    19 Toyota Avalon Limited 24 16 34
    20 Buick Verano Leather 24 16 33
    21 Buick Regal Premium I (turbo) 24 15 35
    WAGONS & HATCHBACKS Overall mpg = 26 or higher
    1 Toyota Prius V Three 41 33 47
    2 Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE 37 35 38
    3 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI (MT) 36 25 49
    4 Nissan Cube 1.8 S 28 21 33
    5 Ford Focus SEL 28 19 39
    6 Fiat 500L Easy 27 18 37
    7 Hyundai Elantra GT 27 18 37
    8 Kia Soul Plus 26 19 33
    9 Subaru Impreza Sport Premium 26 19 33
    SMALL SUVS Overall mpg = 22 or higher
    1 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid 28 21 35
    2 Mercedes-Benz GLA
    26 19 35
    3 Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium 26 19 34
    4 Mini Countryman S 26 19 33
    5 Subaru Forester 26 18 35
    6 Mazda CX-5 Touring (2.5L) 25 19 32
    7 Nissan Juke SV 24 18 31
    8 Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 18 31
    9 Nissan Rogue SV 24 17 30
    10 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE 23 18 28
    11 Mitsubishi Outlander SE 23 17 30
    12 BMW X1 xDrive28i 23 16 32
    13 Buick Encore Leather 23 16 32
    14 Honda CR-V EX 23 16 32
    15 BMW X3 xDrive28i 23 16 29
    16 Kia Sportage LX (4-cyl.) 22 16 30
    17 Hyundai Tucson GLS 22 16 28
    18 Ford Escape SE (1.6)
    22 15 31
    19 Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.)
    22 15 31
    20 Ford Escape Titanium (2.0) 22 15 29
    21 Jeep Compass Latitude
    22 15 29
    22 Acura RDX 22 14 31
    MIDSIZED/LARGE SUVS Overall mpg = 18 or higher
    1 Lexus RX 450h 26 22 31
    2 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd.
    25 18 32
    3 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (diesel)
    24 17 32
    4 Volkswagen Touareg TDI 24 17 31
    5 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 23 17 30
    6 Nissan Murano SL
    21 15 29
    7 Lexus RX 350 21 15 27
    8 Chevrolet Equinox 1LT (4-cyl.) 21 14 30
    9 Kia Sorento EX (V6)
    20 13
    28
    10 BMW X5 xDrive 35i 21 14 28
    11 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS 20 14 29
    12 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec
    20 14 28
    13 Toyota Highlander XLE 20 14 27
    14 Acura MDX Tech 20 13 29
    15 Porsche Cayenne (base) 19 14 26
    16 Infiniti QX60 (3.5L) 19 13 26
    17 Mercedes-Benz ML350 18 13 25
    18 Nissan Pathfinder SL 18 13 25
    19 Infiniti QX70 18 13 24
    20 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE 18 13 23
    21 Cadillac SRX Luxury 18 12 26
    22 Ford Explorer XLT
    18 12 26
    23
    Chevrolet Equinox LTZ (V6)
    18 12 25
    24 Dodge Durango Limited (V6)
    18 12 25
    25 Honda Pilot EX-L 18 12 25
    26 Ford Flex SEL
    18 12 25
    27 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (V6)
    18 12 24
    28 Lincoln MKX 18 12 24
    29 Toyota 4Runner SR5 (V6) 18 12 24
     MINIVANS Overall mpg = 19 or higher
    1 Ford Transit Connect XLT (2.5L)
    21 15 27
    2 Honda Odyssey 21 13 31
    3 Toyota Sienna XLE (FWD) 20 14 27
    4 Toyota Sienna XLE (AWD) 19 13 24
    5 Nissan Quest SL 19 13 24
    PICKUPS Overall mpg = 16 or higher
    1 Ram 1500 Big Horn (diesel) 20 14 27
    2 Toyota Tacoma (base, V6) 17 13 21
    3 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT 16 11 23

     

    Rank Make & Model Overall mpg City mpg Highway mpg
    SMALL CARS Overall mpg = 24 or less
    1 Scion xB 23 16 30
    ROADSTERS/SPORTY CARS Overall mpg = 17 or less
    1 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS convertible 17 11 25
    UPSCALE/LUXURY SEDANS Overall mpg = 18 or less
    1 Chevrolet SS 17 12 23
    2 BMW 750Li 18 12 25
    3 Mercedes-Benz S550 (AWD)
    18 12 28
    4 Chrysler 300 C 18 12 29
    MIDSIZED/LARGE SUVS Overall mpg = 14 or less
    1 Nissan Armada Platinum 13 9 18
    2 Toyota Land Cruiser 14 10 20
    3 Ford Expedition EL 14 10 19
    MINIVANS Overall mpg = 17 or less
    1 Chrysler Town & Country Touring-L 17 11 27

     

    Best and worst new cars

    See our best and worst section to help filter down your purchase considerations including the most fuel-efficient SUVs, best new cars under $25K, best and worst new car values, and most fun to drive. Plus, check out our guide to fuel economy for gas saving tips.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    0 0

    Best in cargo capacity and fuel economy

    With today's ever changing gas prices, many car buyers are opting to trade cargo space for fuel economy by purchasing a smaller vehicle than they might have otherwise. To help buyers who are looking for cargo capacity and fuel economy, our list below highlights vehicles we've tested that provide the best combination of the two.

    In order to get on our list, a vehicle must meet benchmarks that vary depending on vehicle category. The vehicle must have achieved a minimum overall miles-per-gallon (mpg) figure in our fuel economy tests and have a minimum number of cubic feet of cargo capacity, according to our measurements. (For more on saving gas, see our guide to fuel economy.)

    Within groups, vehicles are listed in order of fuel economy; those with identical economy figures are listed in order of cargo volume.

    Make & model

    Fuel economy
    (overall mpg)

    Cargo volume
    (cu. ft.)

    MINIVANS Overall mpg = 18 or higher; cargo = 60 cu. ft. or more
    Ford Transit Connect XLT (2.5L)
    21 61.0
    Honda Odyssey EX-L 21 61.5
    Toyota Sienna XLE (FWD) 20 70.5
    Toyota Sienna XLE (AWD) 19 70.5
    Nissan Quest SL 19 62.0
    SMALL SUVS Overall mpg = 21 or higher; cargo = 24 cu. ft. or more
    Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium 26 35.5
    Mazda CX-5
    25 33.0
    Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 37.0
    Nissan Rogue SV 24 31.5
    Honda CR-V EX 23 36.0
    BMW X3 xDrive28i 23 33.0
    Mitsubishi Outlander SE 23 32.5
    BMW X1 xDrive 28i 23 26.0
    Buick Encore Leather 23 26.0
    Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE 23 25.5
    Ford Escape SE (1.6) 22 35.0
    Ford Escape Titanium (2.0) 22 35.0
    Acura RDX 22 31.5
    Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.)
    22 31.0
    Kia Sportage LX 22 28.0
    Jeep Compass Latitude 22 26.5
    Hyundai Tucson GLS 22 25.5
    Audi Q5 Premium Plus 21 32.0
    Mercedes-Benz GLK350 21 32.0
    Jeep Cherokee Limited (V6)
    21 31.0
    Volkswagen Tiguan SEL
    21 30.0
    Jeep Patriot Latitude 21 29.5
    Kia Sportage SX (turbo) 21 28.0
    MIDSIZED/LARGE SUVS Overall mpg = 18 or higher; cargo = 32 cu. ft. or more
    Lexus RX450h (Hybrid) 26 33.5
    Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd.   25 40.5
    Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (diesel)
    24 36.5
    Volkswagen Touareg TDI 24 34.5
    Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 23 35.5
    Kia Sorento EX (V6)
    21 37.5
    BMW X5 xDrive35i 21 34.5
    Chevrolet Equinox 1LT (4-cyl.) 21 33.5
    Lexus RX350 21 33.5
    Nissan Murano SL
    21 33.5
    Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec 20 47.0
    Hyundai Santa Fe GLS 20 40.5
    Toyota Highlander XLE 20 40.5
    Acura MDX Tech 20 34.0
    Infiniti QX60 (3.5L) 19 39.0
    Porsche Cayenne (base) 19 33.0
    Honda Pilot EX-L 18 48.0
    Ford Flex SEL 18 47.5
    Toyota 4Runner SR5 (V6) 18 44.5
    Dodge Durango Limited (V6)
    18 44.0
    Ford Explorer XLT 18 42.0
    Nissan Pathfinder SL 18 39.5
    Mercedes-Benz ML350 18 37.5
    Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (V6) 18 36.5
    Lincoln MKX 18 36.5
    Chevrolet Equinox LTZ (V6) 18 33.5
    WAGONS/HATCHBACKS Overall mpg = 20 or higher; cargo = 24 cu. ft. or more
    Toyota Prius V Three 41 32.0
    Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE 37 28.0
    Ford Focus SEL 28 24.5
    Kia Soul Plus 26 24.5
    Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium 24 34.0
    Mazda5 Touring 23 39.0
    Scion xB 23 34.0
    Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen SE 23 31.5
    Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
    22 34.0
    Audi Allroad Premium
    22 28.5
    Best and worst new cars

    See our best and worst section to help filter down your purchase considerations including best new cars under $25K, best and worst new car values, and most fun to drive. Plus, check out our guide to fuel economy for gas saving tips.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
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