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Consumer Reports

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    A hidden reason your health care costs are going up

    Health insurers, like all businesses and families for that matter, need to set some money aside to cover unexpected costs. But many non-profit insurers have amassed enormous surpluses, much higher than required by regulators, even as they raise premiums for their customers, a new Consumer Reports analysis finds.

    “Plans should not be allowed to justify rate hikes by saying they need to grow their surplus if their surplus is already very large,” says Dena Mendelsohn, a health policy analyst with Consumer Reports and the author of the report.

    The report found that nine nonprofit Blue Cross Blue Shield carriers collectively had more than $12 billion in surplus funds last year. Some notable examples, all nonprofits:

    • Wyoming’s Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, which increased its surplus fund by nearly 50 percent between 2010 and 2014, amassed a surplus of $251.3 million by last year, seven times more than the required minimum and nearly four times more than the higher minimum recommended by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
    • Tennessee BlueCross BlueShield Plan socked away $1.7 billion, more than five times the required minimum.
    • Arizona’s Blue Cross Blue Shield stockpiled $1.03 billion, yet hiked its premiums every year between 2007 and 2009.
    • California’s Blue Shield plan, also known as the California Physicians’ Service, had more than $4 billion in surplus funds in 2014. The California Franchise Tax Board has revoked the plan’s state tax-exempt status, though the reasons for the revocation have not been made public.

    Read more of our reports on health insurance.

    Health insurance premiums are meant to cover claims, needed services, and to build up a reasonable surplus, Mendelsohn explains.  “But we haven’t seen any evidence that these huge surpluses benefit consumers.”

    Governmental agencies can review insurance rates and premium hikes in some states, but they have limited authority to restrict stockpiling or to order insurers to spend down those surpluses. In general, regulators can’t tell carriers what to do with the premiums they collect; all they can do is reject proposals to charge excessive amounts.

    While carriers say the Affordable Care Act’s provisions expose them to greater risk because they can no longer refuse coverage to people with preexisting conditions or limit coverage to women of childbearing age, the ACA established several programs specifically designed to shield plans from unknown risks. The act also subsidizes premiums for low- and moderate-income earners in order to broaden the risk pool and encourage young healthy people to buy insurance.

    The surplus report will be distributed to advocates who review premium rates in their states and often push for more effective rate review processes.  Consumer Reports is urging policymakers and regulators, including Health and Human Services officials, to rethink how surpluses are evaluated in the context of rate hike requests and consider establishing maximum ceilings for surplus funds, not just minimum levels, and laws that allow regulatory agencies to deny rate increases or require spending down excess surpluses.

    Roni Caryn Rabin

     

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

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    Cheaper refinancing — for those with great credit

    If you have excellent credit, there has probably never been a better time to owe money. One reason is that investment bank Goldman Sachs recently announced its intention to enter the online consumer lending market, a field dominated by online peer-to-peer lending platforms such as Prosper and Lending Club. These peer-to-peer platforms pair borrowers (often consumers who are consolidating credit card debt) with investors (who want better returns than those currently offered by banks and government bonds). Goldman's move into this business will likely drive down the already low interest rates online lenders charge on loans. 

    In recent years, Goldman and other financial institutions have been taking larger bites out of the peer-to-peer marketplace, elbowing individual investors out of the way of personal loans. Their computing power gives them an edge over individuals, allowing them to identify which loans provide the best returns for the risks they assume. Currently, the safest loans are paying investors about 5 percent annually, and all but less than 1 percent of those loans are fully repaid by the borrower.

    Goldman, by setting up an online lending platform, is now taking the next logical step—cutting out the Lending Club and Prosper 'middlemen" and using its own computing power to determine the best risks, so that it can make loans to consumers directly.

    For more information, read "Can peer-to-peer lending be a good investment?"

    A similar phenomenon is taking place in that other large swath of consumer debt—student loans. Private lenders like Sofi.com are offering certain graduates with student loan debt significantly better terms than those they're receiving on their Federal student loans. Typically, these loans are made to graduates with the least amount of credit risk, and can result in interest rates lower than 3 percent annually, compared to the Federal student loan rates of more than 6 percent for some graduate student borrowers.

    —Chris Horymski

     

     

    Additionally, institutional money, largely in the form of private equity, are offering  terms to certain student loan borrowers that would be difficult to turn down.


    —Chris Horymski

     

    Additionally, institutional money, largely in the form of private equity, are offering  terms to certain student loan borrowers that would be difficult to turn down.


    —Chris Horymski

     

    Additionally, institutional money, largely in the form of private equity, are offering  terms to certain student loan borrowers that would be difficult to turn down.


    —Chris Horymski

     

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

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    5 steps to brewing exceptional coffee

    The best coffee, for many of us, is what you pick up at your local coffee haunt on the way to work. But that can get expensive, with a medium-size coffee every workday adding up to $500 or more a year. Here’s how to improve your chances of making top-notch coffee at home:

    Start with clean water

    If your tap water has an off taste, that’s reason enough to filter it for your coffee and tea. Some drip coffeemakers tested by Consumer Reports, such as the $100 KitchenAid KCM1202OB, come with water filters. Any other means of filtering water would do as well, provided you replace the filters as often as the manufacturer recommends.

    Use a high-performing machine

    Among drip machines we’ve tested, those with excellent scores for brew performance reach 195° to 205° F and maintain it for five or six minutes, the industry standard for optimal brewing. Examples include the KitchenAid as well as the $150 Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew BVMC-PSTX91WE. Single-serve (pod) coffeemakers operate differently, but our expert tasters haven’t found one that makes coffee that's better than mediocre for taste. Whatever you use, experiment to get the best ratio of grounds to water.

    Grind top-quality beans

    Most of us aren’t about to start roasting coffee beans as does one of our coffee-taste experts. But quality beans stored away from moisture, heat, light, and strong odors will produce better taste than something ground at the store—or before making it to the shelves. Grind your beans just before brewing; the $100 Black + Decker Mill & Brew CM5000 grind-and-brew model is one possibility, though its brew performance was only so-so. A separate grinder lets you set grind size suitable to what you’re brewing.

    Keep it from sitting

    While you have to let coffee cool before sipping, there’s no getting around that brewed coffee is best the moment it’s done brewing. A thermal carafe is meant to keep coffee hot, as is a brew-and-dispense coffeemaker such as the $100 Viante Brew-N-View CAF-05T. But neither can keep the rich flavor of fresh-brewed, fresh-ground beans from dissipating. Like to program your coffee to brew as you’re getting up? Fussy coffee drinkers, keep your hand off that snooze button.

    Clean your coffeemaker

    Various deposits in your coffeemaker, including minerals from your water and oily residue from coffee, can build up over time and affect taste. Coffeemaker owner’s manuals typically advise running a cycle of white vinegar through the machine every month or so; the process differs by model. Pod coffeemakers have a similar process, though the it might vary further. Keurig, for example, sells a special Descaling Solution ($13 for 14 ounces), which it calls “the only Keurig-approved cleaning solution for Keurig brewers.” The one-year warranty excludes damage from using non-Keurig pods and accessories; that could include using another cleaning solution. But after the warranty is up, there’s no reason not to try white vinegar instead. As always, run at least one cycle of just water afterward.

    Looking for a new coffeemaker?

    See our coffeemaker buying guide for a rundown on the available types, before checking  our coffeemaker Ratings of more than 110 coffee and espresso makers.

    —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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    Best cars with 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
    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.

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    Is paying for gift wrap when shopping online a smart move?

    When you're buying a gift online for friends about to get married, a newborn baby, a recent grad, or anyone else, during the checkout process you'll have to decide whether you want to pay for gift wrap. Is paying that added expense a smart move?

    To find out, we checked out the gift-wrap options from 10 major retailers, including Amazon, Macy's, Target, and William Sonoma. The price of gift wrap online ranged from $3 to $6 per item, and the wrapping results ranged from chic to shabby. Watch the  video above to find out which retailers earned a blue ribbon for their wrapping jobs.

    While the year-end holidays are still months away, it's never to soon to find out what happened to free gift wrap and how to ensure that gifts arrive on time—and in one piece.

    Do you paying for gift wrap when you order gifts online? Do you prefer to open gift-wrapped presents? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below.


    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
    Volkswagen GLI Autobahn 27 7.2
    Subaru Impreza WRX Premium 26 6.0
    Mercedes-Benz SLK250 26 7.1
    Ford Mustang Premium (2.3L EcoBoost, auto)
    25 6.4
    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
    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
    Kia Sedona EX 20 8.0
    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
    Chevrolet Colorado LT (V6)
    18 7.5
    Ford F-150 XLT (3.5L EcoBoost)
    16 7.2
    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
    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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  • 06/23/15--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.

    Learn more about how Consumer Reports tests cars.

    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
    Dodge Challenger R/T
    119
    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

    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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  • 06/23/15--02:59: Best & worst acceleration
  • Best & worst acceleration

    How fast a vehicle will accelerate is not something that should be of concern only to driving enthusiasts. Being able to merge safely with fast-moving traffic is important regardless of how or what you drive.

    Here are the quickest and the most, well, leisurely vehicles we've tested. Of course, you'll find a much different list when you look at the best and worst in fuel economy.

    Make & model Seconds to 60 mph
    Porsche 911 Carrera S
    4.1
    Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 3LT
    4.3
    Ford Mustang GT Premium
    4.9
    Chevrolet Camaro SS

    5.1

    Chevrolet SS
    5.1
    Mercedes-Benz S550 (AWD)
    5.1
    BMW M235i

    5.2

    Nissan 370Z Touring

    5.3

    Maserati Ghibli S Q4

    5.4

    Audi A8 L

    5.5

    Dodge Challenger R/T Plus
    5.5
    Jaguar XJL

    5.5

    Porsche Panamera S 5.5
    Make & model Seconds to 60 mph
    Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE 14.7
    Smart ForTwo Passion

    14.6

    Chevrolet Spark 1LT 12.8
    Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    12.1
    Honda Insight EX

    11.8

    Fiat 500 Sport

    11.3

    Toyota Prius C Two
    11.3
    Mazda2 Touring

    11.1

    Buick Encore Leather
    11.0
    Fiat 500 Pop
    11.0
    Lexus CT 200h Premium
    11.0
    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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    Muscle machine showdown: Ford Mustang vs. Dodge Challenger

    Designers call it retro-futurism: taking a fond look back at the treasures we cherished as adolescents and updating them with modern features and touches. Nowhere is the trend more apparent than with muscle cars, where classic examples from the 1960s routinely top six-figure prices at auction. For those with more ordinary budgets, Dodge, Ford, and Chevrolet have recently updated their go-fast coupes with modern powertrains, electronics, and safety features to accompany designs that pay homage to their sainted roots.

    WHich of these muscle cars would you prefer? Tell us by leaving a comment below.

    What do you give the iconic Ford Mustang for its 50th birthday redesign? Lots and lots of presents.

    Ford provided its latest pony car with the equivalent of a heart transplant and a hip replacement. It added a turbocharged four-cylinder engine to the lineup and replaced its creaky solid-axle rear suspension with an independent multilink design. What does that mean? Strong power with decent fuel efficiency, and a chassis that’s more planted than skittish.

    But Ford’s largesse didn’t stop there. A rakish new silhouette provides a sleeker, sportier appearance that’s modern yet true to the Mustang’s Americana roots. Interior quality and ambience are improved immensely.

    Coupe and convertible versions are again available. We tested two coupes—a GT V8 with a six-speed manual, and a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic. The turbo is a stylish, mildly sporty boulevardier; the GT is a tire-smoking brute that will summon your inner teenager.

    With a snappy 0-60 mph acceleration time of 6.4 seconds, the turbo version lives up to the image of its sheet metal. Power comes on quickly, but the engine sound is raspy and gritty. Fuel economy of 25 mpg overall is more akin to a midsized sedan than a performance car. As for handling, the turbo Mustang has an appropriately sporty demeanor while leaving your molars intact on bumpier roads.

    With its throaty 5.0-liter V8, the GT is more of a high-strung thoroughbred than an easygoing mare. Pumping out 435 hp, our GT roared from 0-60 mph in just 4.9 seconds, about a half-second slower than a Chevrolet Corvette or Porsche 911. The six-speed manual had smooth, low-effort action, and the clutch was light enough to avoid left-leg fatigue in traffic. That’s a rare feat in a car with this much torque.

    With the optional Performance package, we got stiffer springs, Brembo brakes, and a Torsen limited-slip axle. So equipped, the GT felt ready to race. But the Pirelli P Zero tires take forever to heat up for optimum grip, so we recommend getting performance all-season tires for real-world driving.

    All Mustangs have improved interiors, with soft-touch materials offsetting some hard plastic surfaces here and there. A row of toggle switches in the center stack lends a cool, retro-racer flair. But the irritating and poorly designed MyFord Touch infotainment system won’t be replaced by Sync3 until 2016.

    Unlike many sporty cars and coupes, the Mustang can serve as a daily driver without severely compromising visibility, ease of access, or drivability. The front seats are superbly supportive, but they lack a power recline feature. As for the rear seats, there’s room for groceries but little else. It is, after all, a coupe.

    A standard rear camera is helpful. We’d also select the optional blind-spot monitoring.

    So how does the Mustang look as it turns 50? Better than most of us.

    Read our complete Ford Mustang road test.

    Highs Handling, V8 acceleration and exhaust note, braking, interior details
    Lows Rear seat, ride (V8), noise, EcoBoost engine sound, glitchy MyFord Touch infotainment system
    Engines 435-hp, 5.0-liter V8, 6-speed manual; 310-hp, turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder, 6-speed automatic; rear-wheel drive
    Fuel 19 mpg (V8); 25 mpg (turbo 4)
    Price $24,625-$42,625

    It rumbles, it snarls, it roars—and it’s the car the neighborhood loves to hate

    Ever since the Challenger’s 2009 reincarnation as a retro-modern muscle car, Dodge has made a series of civilizing upgrades to the interior. It has also improved the handling and given it the latest version of Chrysler’s accomplished touch-screen infotainment system.

    Rest assured, its brazen attitude remains.

    The 2015 vintage brought various cosmetic changes, performance-oriented features, and a choice of V6 and V8 engines spread over a bewildering 10 trim lines, culminating in the outrageous 707-hp “Hellcat” version.

    Our tested car was a loaded midtrim R/T Plus with a 375-hp, 5.7-liter “Hemi” V8 and six-speed manual. Adding navigation; heated seats and steering wheel; a sport-oriented tire, brake, and suspension package; and active safety gear nudged the sticker to $40,860 with shipping.

    The Challenger’s bruising design makes a definite statement at a red light, with the Hemi’s baritone exhaust note gurgling at idle.

    But such an intimidating form takes a toll on function. The cockpit is a low, dark man cave, with plenty of macho furnishings. It feels as if you’re sitting in a pit—surrounded by long, high doors and windows that better resemble embrasures.

    Despite its heft, the Challenger is surprisingly capable. It snarls and grips in corners like a rottweiler with a rib-eye steak. Braking is exceptional. Steering requires more wheel-winding than expected but provides decent feedback. The manual shifter has longer throws than the Mustang’s, but it’s easy to find the right gear. Though not quick through our avoidance maneuver, it stayed balanced and predictable.

    Various track-driving apps let you scale down or shut off driving aids like stability control. That allows an experienced driver to test the limits—of car and wheelman—on a closed course. Compared with Ford’s pony car, the Dodge remained docile even at the limits of tire grip in corners. For a high-performance coupe, the Challenger has an almost refined demeanor.

    In everyday driving, our Challenger was a mixed bag. Around town, you feel the car’s heft and width. The ride is very firm but not too punishing. Acceleration is effortless, but the loud, exhilarating exhaust note can become tiresome. The heavy clutch-pedal effort wearies your left foot.

    The cockpit offers an old-school analog speedometer and tach dials. A versatile, full-color information screen shows a host of useful info, including a digital speedometer, a trip computer, and audio settings. Our car also displayed track stats including 0-60 mph times, braking distances, and lateral g’s.

    Although the Challenger offers generous steering-wheel adjustments, the recline adjustment for the front seats is manual only. The rear seats will fit kids, but an adult needs a slender body and powers of levitation.

    The Challenger’s biggest challenge is that it’s not the only muscle car with a modicum of civility. Drivers must carry an individualistic streak that overlooks its flaws.

    Read our complete Dodge Challenger road test.

    Highs Brawn, exhaust note, braking, infotainment system, habitable rear seat
    Lows Ride, noise, visibility, wide-hipped around town
    Engines 375-hp, 5.7-liter V8; 6-speed manual
    Fuel 20 mpg
    Price $27,990-$60,990

    The third entrant in the long-running American muscle-car race is the Chevrolet Camaro. The current model dates back to 2009—and we recommend the V8 version on the market now—but shoppers should know that a redesigned version arrives in dealerships later this year.

    Styled with a clear nod to the 1967 original, the sixth-generation Camaro promises to ratchet up performance and sophistication. The car’s dimensions contract for 2016. It’s slightly shorter, narrower, and lower, and it rides on a more compact wheelbase. Chevy has reduced its weight by at least 200 pounds to bolster fuel economy and handling agility.

    The base engine is a 275-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder. A new 3.6-liter V6 brings an incremental power gain, up a dozen horses to 335 total. For the V8 offering, Chevrolet adapted the ferocious 6.2-liter LT1 engine from the Corvette Stingray. With 455 hp on tap, it will be the most powerful SS yet.

    All versions have a choice of a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission.

    The interior retains a dual-binnacle instrument panel. The buttons and assorted brightwork appear more polished than the chintzy controls in the outgoing model. There are two 8-inch color screens, one providing key driving information in the instrument cluster and the other serving as the interface for the latest MyLink infotainment system.

    At first blush, the new Camaro appears to be more hospitable and a formidable competitor to the Challenger and Mustang. We will test it soon.

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

     

     

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    Pickup reviews: Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Colorado are home-improvement haulers

    There is nothing more American than a pickup truck. And the segment has been undergoing a transformation in recent years, with redesigns of the Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra, and soon the Nissan Titan. But the big dog in the group is the Ford F-150, which has been the No. 1-selling truck in America for 33 years. And for those folks for whom size doesn’t always matter, we also tested the Chevrolet Colorado, which is leading a resurgence in the compact pickup segment. Which truck comes out on top in our latest pickup review?

    After you read our pickup review, tell us about your experience with the F-150 or the Colorado by leaving a comment below.

    High-tech advances can’t overcome an underwhelming driving experience 

    With the launch of the redesigned F-150, Ford broke all of the rules for pickup trucks. From its much-touted aluminum construction—shaving about 700 pounds from the old model—to available small-displacement twin-turbo V6 engines promising the power of a V8 but with better fuel economy, Ford has shaken things up in a category not known for innovation. It has bet the farm on the automaker’s biggest profit center.

    The weight-loss program and high-tech wizardry under the hood pay off with class-leading 17 mpg overall fuel economy from the 2.7-liter turbo V6—edging out the 5.3-liter V8 Chevrolet Silverado by one hay-hauling mpg. The F-150’s 2.7- and beefier 3.5-liter turbo-V6 engines provide plenty of punch even at low revs, with quick acceleration and effortless towing ability. Powerwise, you won’t miss a V8.

    Still, old-school truckers can relax because a 385-hp, 5.0-liter V8 is also available. It has a great V8 rumble, but the two turbo V6 engines have more torque. The 3.5 turbo is actually a better choice for towing, with a max rating of 11,500 pounds. Rounding out engine options is the base, nonturbocharged 282-hp, 3.5-liter V6. All powerplants are paired with a six-speed automatic.

    Inside, our tested crew-cab models had cavernous room front and rear, and both were almost tomb-silent. The driving position is comfy and roomy. A standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and optional power adjustable pedals can accommodate truckers of all shapes and sizes. Large windows and relatively narrow pillars provide better visibility than the competing Silverado or Ram 1500, but a rear camera costs extra. It should be standard equipment, given a pickup’s rear blind zone behind the back bumper.

    A wide range of trim levels and option packages let buyers choose anything from a hose-it-out fleet special to a posh, leather-lined interior with luxury-car comforts. Our tested midlevel XLT trim was quite basic in ambiance and not befitting a $46,000 vehicle. Lots of clever features, including a tailgate ladder and side mirror spotlights, make work and play easier.

    Despite the revolutionary new structure, the F-150 driving experience falls flat. Bearing in mind that we were testing a truck, the steering was nonetheless vague and slow to respond, and the ride was fidgety and unsettled even on relatively smooth surfaces. That means staying in your lane on rural back roads requires fatiguing focus. A wide turning circle doesn’t help with parking. The Silverado handles better, and the Ram has a plusher, more settled ride. The F-150 also lost points for long stopping distances.

    If you’re a Ford loyalist dead set on staying in the family, be aware that new F-150s are currently rolling off the line with Ford’s distracting and irritatingly glitchy MyFord Touch infotainment interface. The system is to be replaced by year’s end with the new Sync 3. Based on our experience, the new display looks more intuitive and easier to use. We think it might be worth the wait.

    Read our complete Ford F-150 road test.

    Highs Quiet cabin, acceleration, fuel economy, available towing and payload capacities, clever features
    Lows Jittery ride, lackluster handling and braking, frustrating MyFord Touch infotainment system
    Engines 325-hp, turbocharged 2.7-liter V6; 365-hp, turbocharged 3.5-liter V6; 6-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel drive
    Fuel 17 mpg (2.7-liter); 16 mpg (3.5-liter)
    Price
    $26,995-$56,265

    Don’t need a monster pickup truck? Chevy offers a midsized alternative. 

    The world needs more small trucks. They’re easier to park and maneuver, and cost less to feed than the relative behemoths known as the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram 1500. The problem has been that there are only moribund and dated compact models available. And though the Chevrolet Colorado is the first redesign in 11 years, the fact that it tops the class is due more to its newness rather than it being inherently ground-breaking.

    How to put this nicely? We really, really want to like this truck. We just can’t. (Watch a video above of the Colorado's twin, the GMC Canyon.)

    This Colorado replaces a version that was an also-ran right out of the box. So small-truck buyers were left to choose between the aged Nissan Frontier and the rough-and-tumble ride of the Toyota Tacoma—akin to choosing between poison ivy and wasps on a 10-mile hike. Hence, Chevrolet had Rocky Mountain high hopes for the new Colorado.

    The pint-sized dimensions make parking a snap. It’s clearly the most maneuverable truck in the segment, and handling is quite responsive as well. Fuel economy, at 18 mpg overall, is tops. The cabin is quiet and easy to climb into.

    As for carrying out normal truck duties, the Colorado boasts a 1,555-pound payload and can tow up to 7,000 pounds. That’s more than the Tacoma or Frontier.

    But this is where things start to go badly. Despite its 305 hp, the V6 is rather short on the low-end torque that’s so important for truck owners who actually haul stuff. The ride can be brutal at times, with choppiness and jostling on any road rougher than a velvet Elvis painting.

    To fulfill its trucklike duties, the Colorado offers a damped rear tailgate that opens without sounding like you dropped a box of nails on a metal floor. A standard corner step in the rear bumper and a low loading height make getting your stuff into the bed that much easier.

    Expectations for interior quality in this segment are predictably low. The plastic knobs are rubber-ringed, but dials, switches, and panels are hard to the touch.

    The real deal-breakers here are the seats and driving position. The standard cloth seats in our tested LT model were universally scorned by our testers for being too stiffly padded and lacking lumbar adjustment. The bottom seat cushion didn’t adjust for tilt, and the recline adjustment is manual. The steering wheel didn’t telescope far enough for many.

    From a safety standpoint, we laud the Colorado for being equipped with a standard rear-view camera. We’re also impressed that it’s the only small truck currently available with forward-collision and lane-departure warning—part of the $395 Safety Package.

    The as-tested price for our crew-cab four-wheel-drive LT came to an eye-widening $34,300, not far from many full-sized trucks.

    Overall, the Colorado is almost a large-truck alternative. But it’s not cheap, and upcoming redesigns of the Tacoma and Honda Ridgeline mean that its elite stature among small trucks could be short-lived.

    Read our complete Chevrolet Colorado road test.

    Highs Maneuverability, towing and payload capacities, fuel economy, damped tailgate, standard rear camera
    Lows Ride, uncomfortable seats and driving position, gets pricey
    Engines 305-hp, 3.6-liter V6; 6-speed automatic; part-time four-wheel drive
    Fuel 18 mpg
    Price
    $20,995-$35,290

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

     


     

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  • 06/23/15--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 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 Ford Focus SEL 28 19 39
    4 Fiat 500L Easy 27 18 37
    5 Hyundai Elantra GT 27 18 37
    6 Kia Soul Plus 26 19 33
    7 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 Ford Flex SEL
    18 12 25
    26 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (V6)
    18 12 24
    27 Lincoln MKX 18 12 24
    28 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 Kia Sedona EX 20 13 28
    5 Toyota Sienna XLE (AWD) 19 13 24
    6 Nissan Quest SL 19 13 24
    PICKUPS Overall mpg = 16 or higher
    1 Ram 1500 Big Horn (diesel) 20 14 27
    2 Chevrolet Colorado LT (V6)
    18 13 26
    3 Toyota Tacoma (base, V6) 17 13 21
    4 Ford F-150 XLT (2.7 EcoBoost)
    17 12 22
    5 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT 16 11 23
    6 Ford F-150 XLT (3.5 EcoBoost) 16 11 22

     

    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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    Your name-brand TV might have been made by some company you never heard of

    One reason many of us buy a particular TV is because we trust that brand and assume the company whose name is on the front of the set is actually building it. But that's becoming less common, according to a report from market research firm IHS.

    In fact, the company says, well-known name-brand TVs are increasingly relying on Chinese and Taiwanese contract manufacturers to build their sets, both to trim manufacturing costs and to secure components, such as panels, when supplies get tight. According to IHS, by the end of 2015 some 43 percent of the TVs made globally this year will be outsourced, a new industry high.

    As you can see from the chart below, Vizio and Haier rely exclusively on contract manufacturing, where a third-party company does the actual production, generally from a design and specifications set by the brand. Sony is also increasingly turning to outside manufacturing. Korean brands such as LG and Samsung don't turn to outside manufacturers as often as other companies, since they want to fully utilize their in-house manufacturing capacity.

    TV brands have outsourced some components for years. But the move to complete contract manufacturing is newer, especially among better-known brands. It's then up to the brand's quality assurance teams to make sure the TVs can consistently perform up to the company's benchmarks.

    One downside to outsourcing is that quality can vary. That's a big reason why Consumer Reports continues to buy and test several models in each TV brand's series, rather than assuming all TV screen sizes in a series will perform similarly. Over the past few years, we've noticed more differences—sometimes subtle, sometime more dramatic—in the attributes and performance of TVs with different screen sizes, even when they're from the same series from the manufacturer.

    Outsourcing is most common for entry-level sets. If you want a name-brand TV that's made by the company on the front of the set, your best bet is to buy a step-up or flagship model from a major brand. Companies reserve their best in-house capabilities for these sets, which have differentiating features such as curved 4K screens, wider color gamuts, and smart TV platforms.

    Buying a TV made by a contract manufacturer doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a lesser product, since major brands need to maintain quality control over these sets or they risk diminishing their brands. Just make sure that the warranty is the same as on other sets from the company so that if you do have a problem, you'll get the same level of service as with any other TV made by the company.

    —James K. Willcox

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    The right window air conditioner for your room size

    Size matters when you’re buying a window air conditioner. Buy too small and it will struggle to keep the room at a comfortable temperature; buy too big and and the room will cool too quickly without removing enough humidity from the air. Buy just right and you’ll be comfy and save money too. At Consumer Reports, we test air conditioners in the size rooms that they're intended to cool. Here are the best small, medium, and large window air conditioners from our tests.

    Bedroom or office (100 to 300 square feet)

    For a small bedroom, home office, or guest room you’ll want an air conditioner with good scores for comfort and quiet.

    • The GE AEM05LS, $210, a CR Best Buy, aced our comfort tests and was very quiet on both low and high fan speeds.
    • The GE AEM06LS, $230, was very good at cooling a small room and just as quiet as its brandmate. Similar models are sold for $180 at Home Depot and $160 at Sam’s Club.

    Master bedroom or playroom (250 to 400 square feet)

    To cool a bigger or busier room, you’ll want to step up to a mid-sized air conditioner.

    • The GE AEM08LT, $300, was tops in its class with excellent scores for cooling a medium-size room. It cruised through our brownout test, which tests if a unit can restart when voltage is low.  But it was a bit noisy when the fan was on high.
    • The LG LW8014ER, $240, a CR Best Buy, has very good scores for cooling and aced the brownout test.  It was also somewhat  noisy with the fan was on high.

    Living room or family room (350 to 650 square feet)

    For a living room or family room, you’ll want a large air conditioner, especially if you have an open floor plan.

    • The LG LW1214ER, $350, made our top picks list with its excellent scores for comfort. And despite its size, it operates at a quiet hum.
    • The Friedrich Chill CP10G10A, $400, was tied at the top with the LG but our testers found its controls a bit less intuitive.

    Size up your needs

    Window air conditioners typically have cooling capacities ranging from 5,000 to 12,500 British Thermal Units (BTUs). But don’t buy by BTU alone. As a rule of thumb, an air conditioner needs 20 BTU for each square foot of living space but there are other considerations such as the height of your ceiling and the size of your windows and doorways. To measure your room, multiply the length of the room by the width. Energy Star recommends that you make adjustments for the following circumstances:

    • If the room is heavily shaded, reduce capacity by 10 percent.
    • If the room is very sunny, increase capacity by 10 percent.
    • If more than two people regularly occupy the room, add 600 BTUs for each additional person.
    • If the unit is used in a kitchen, increase capacity by 4,000 BTUs.

    Install it correctly

    To get the most from your window air conditioner, install it right. If your window is not in the center of your room, check that the direction of the airflow is into the room, not into the corner. Here are some tips from EnergySavers.gov.

    • Make sure it’s level so the drainage system works effectively.
    • Check your outlets. Some larger units need a dedicated circuit.
    • Don’t put lamps or TVs near the air conditioner’s thermostat as the heat will cause it to run longer.
    • Set the thermostat as high as is comfortable, typically 78° F. You’ll appreciate the savings.
    • Don’t dial the temperature down when you turn the air conditioner on—it won’t cool the room any faster.
    • On humid days, set the fan speed on low; the slower air movement removes more moisture from the air.
    • Use an extra fan to spread the cooled air around.

    Save energy too

    Energy standards for window air conditioners are getting tougher, making them cheaper to run. Look for an Energy Efficiency Ratio of 10 or above. The higher the EER, the more efficient the air conditioner. Look for models with filters that are easy to remove for regular cleaning. All the air conditioners in our tests have remote controls, digital displays, and timers that you can set to cool down the room before you get home.

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

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    How good is the revolutionary 2015 Ford F-150?

    Covert Baja 1000 prototype racing. Late night TV host pimping. "Moon shot" metaphors. Sledgehammers. With all of the hoopla surrounding the redesigned 2015 Ford F-150, it's way too easy to forget one simple question: Is it a good truck? Consumer Reports finally has the answer. Indeed, the F-150 is a good truck, but the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra and Ram 1500 are better. (Tell us about your experiences with the F-150 by leaving a comment below.)

    We hear your collective gasp. After all, we lauded the new F-150 as being part of the future because of its revolutionary aluminum body. The resulting weight loss, coupled with an amazingly small 2.7-liter EcoBoost turbo V6, helps the truck return a class-leading 17 mpg. Plus, that same engine feels downright frisky to drive, and it doesn't bat a whisker at towing a good-sized trailer. (Read the complete Ford F-150 road test.)

    Indeed, the powertrain is a high point. So is the roomy and tomb-silent cabin. Towing and payload capacities are high, particularly with the available 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. We certainly appreciate all of the clever and innovative gadgets, ranging from the familiar tailgate step to new features like spotlights in the mirrors. 

    So what's the problem? Put simply, the F-150's engineering proves to be far more revolutionary than how it actually drives. For years, Ford has built the most "truck-like" pickup, and this truck doesn't stray from that path. It's like Ford was afraid that they already asked buyers to swallow enough "newness" with the 2015 F-150, so they slavishly benchmarked how the old truck felt from behind the wheel. 

    Even for a truck, the F-150 feels cumbersome to drive, with slow and vague steering. Constant jitters from the suspension spoil the ride—a compromise that doesn't fly anymore in this class, since the Ram 1500's unique rear coil spring suspension raised expectations for ride quality. 

    The MyFord Touch infotainment system didn't win the truck any points either, although the impending move to Ford's new Sync 3 infotainment system might gain a few of those points back. Finally, our F-150 SuperCrew XLT 2.7-liter 4x4 carries a hefty $45,750 price tag, making the better-riding, more efficient Ram 1500 EcoDiesel with its lofty 20 mpg overall a reasonable alternative.

    There are a lot of good things about the 2015 F-150. Sales have been strong, and we're sure many repeat F-150 owners will love their new truck. But we just wish that the F-150 captured the same ride and handling magic that Ford works on their great-to-drive cars. 

    Our team discusses the results of our Ford F-150 road test and more in the latest episode of “Talking Cars With Consumer Reports.”

    As with the other shows, this episode is also available free through the iTunes Store. Subscribe to the video or audio. You'll also find the video on YouTube.

    Also watch:

    Tom Mutchler

     

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  • 06/23/15--09:59: Summer scam alert
  • Summer scam alert

    When the weather heats up, so do scams targeting homeowners and vacationers looking for bargains. Stay one step ahead of con artists. You can keep up on the latest scams at the Federal Trade Commission site. This season, here’s how to spot the dirty deals:

    Renting someone else’s home, condo, or apartment, or swapping your house with theirs, is an appealing alternative to staying in hotels and motels. But it appeals to scammers, too, who might solicit an advance payment for an imaginary property.

    Often those fakes can be found on listing sites such as Craigslist, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Or you might unwittingly rent a property in foreclosure just in time for the bank to toss you out. Sometimes the rip-off comes from a renter who boosts the price or doesn’t deliver what was promised. Or the property might be in an area where short-term rentals are prohibited.

    How to protect yourself

    Use a reputable listing site. Try FlipKey, which verifies property owners, or HomeAway and VRBO, which provide a $10,000 rental guarantee (starting at $39) that protects you against Internet fraud. If you use Airbnb, look for hosts that have a Verified ID badge. It indicates that they are linked to another online profile, have disclosed a phone number and an e-mail address, and/or have uploaded a government ID photo to the site. Skip properties with no reviews.
    Make sure it’s legit. Search online for the name of the town where you’re renting and terms such as “tenant rights” and “short-term rentals.”
    Look it over. Use Google Earth, and Google Maps Street View, and Zillow to make sure the property resembles the pictures on the listing. Get the rental agreement in writing, and read the terms. If you don’t understand something, ask the landlord to e-mail you an explanation.
    Pay via credit card or PayPal. Call the landlord before sending payment, and never pay via cashier’s check, Liberty Reserve, MoneyGram, Western Union, or wire transfer.

    Now that summer is in full bloom, your thoughts naturally turn to all of the around-the-house projects that need to get done. And the next thing you know a friendly contractor is knocking at your door. Well, that guy or gal might be a home-improvement scammer. Some con artists will walk right up to your house and offer to repair your roof, repave your driveway, or do whatever chore you need for a price that seems fair. They may say they can offer you a great deal because they’re working nearby and have leftover material. They often ask for payment in advance but then do either shoddy work or none at all. It can be difficult to catch and prosecute the con artists.

    How to protect yourself

    Ask for recommendations. Avoid contractors that contact you unsolicited. Get recommendations from friends, neighbors, or relatives.
    Review his past. Before hiring someone, check his work history with your state consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau. Search the Web using the company or individual’s name and words such as “reviews” and “complaints.”
    Check credentials. Verify with your state that the contractor has the required license or registration.
    Know your rights. Some states give you three days or so to nix home improvement contracts. Under federal law you have three days to cancel most contracts signed in your home or outside a contractor’s regular place of business.
    Don’t rely on spoken promises. Demand a written contract. Getall warranties in writing, too.

    Watch out for these timeshare resale and solar energy scams.

    During the summer, home security and alarm companies hire traveling sales agents to go door to door making unsolicited calls, the Federal Trade Commission says. In some cases, the salespeople use high-pressure or deceptive sales tactics to get potential customers to buy expensive, and sometimes substandard, systems or equipment that they don’t need. Unscrupulous sales agents may say their offer is for a limited time only. Or, the FTC says, they might try to get you to sign a contract by telling you the equipment is free. More than likely, strings are attached. For example, to get your “free” alarm, you may have to sign a long-term and expensive system monitoring contract. The salespeople may pressure their way into your home and refuse to leave. And they may use scare tactics. For example, they might talk about a spate of supposed burglaries in your neighborhood.

    Some door-to-door sales agents target homeowners who have signs on their properties for security systems with other companies. The sales agents may state or imply that they are from your existing security company and that they’re there to upgrade or replace your current security system.

    How to protect yourself

    Get references. Don’t be pressured to sign a contract. Instead, ask for references and call at least two or three. Find out whether the equipment was installed within the given time frame. Were any problems dealt with satisfactorily? If there was an intrusion, were the police contacted promptly?
    Do a background check. If you are told that someone is with your alarm company, call the company to verify the claim. If you’re considering installing a new system, contact your state attorney general, your local consumer protection agency, and the Better Business Bureau to see
    whether the company has complaints on file.
    Request written estimates from several companies. A reputable company will not try to sell you anything before completing a professional assessment of your needs and the layout of your home.
     
    –– Mandy Walker (@MandyWalker on Twitter)

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    Pros and cons of induction ranges and cooktops

    Every induction range and cooktop Consumer Reports has tested—19 and counting—delivers fast cooktop heat and superb simmering. That’s because induction models have an electromagnetic field below the glass cooktop surface that quickly generates heat directly to the pan, offering you precise simmering and control. But induction models aren’t cheap, so here’s what you’ll want to know before you shop.

    What induction is—and what it isn’t

    The only difference between an induction and electric smoothtop model is that the surface elements on an induction model heat pots by using an electromagnetic field, rather than radiant heat, says Tara Casaregola, the engineer who conducts our tests of cooking appliances. The electromagnetic field doesn’t create a glow so you won’t know it’s on. That’s why manufacturers are adding virtual flames and other special lights as a cue. As for the range ovens, they use pretty much the same old technology for bake and broil elements, whether the range is an induction or electric smoothtop.

    The induction advantage

    Induction elements typically heat quickly and no other technology that we've tested is faster than the fastest induction elements, but we’re talking 2 to 4 minutes faster to bring 6 quarts of water to a near boil. Life changing? Probably not. However, if you turn on an induction element by mistake with no pot on it won’t get hot, and when you remove a pot from an element the heating stops. And an induction surface stays cooler than a radiant smoothtop, which should make cleaning up spills easier. But your pots will get very hot while cooking and that heat transfers from the surface below and around the pot. So if you’re using several induction elements the surface will heat up too.

    You need the right cookware

    Magnetic cookware, or more accurately, induction-capable, is needed for induction to work. If a magnet strongly sticks to the bottom of the pot, it will work with an induction cooktop. Some stainless-steel cookware is induction-capable, and some isn’t. 

    What's that noise?

    “A buzz or hum is common and often is louder at higher settings, says Casaregola. “And we often hear clicking of element electronics at lower settings and the sound of the cooling fan for the electronics.”

    Dig out your dial thermometer

    The magnetic field of an induction cooktop can interfere with a digital thermometer so you may need an analog thermometer, an old-fashioned solution to a modern problem.

    Recommended 30-inch induction ranges

    Kenmore 95073, $1,530
    Samsung NE58H9970WS, $3,600
    GE PHB920SFSS, $2,200
    Bosch HIIP054U, $3,200
    Frigidaire Gallery FGIF3061NF, $1,800

    Recommended 30-inch induction cooktops

    Kenmore 43820, $1,700
    GE Profile PHP900DMBB, $1,400
    Bosch NIT5066UC, $1,800
    Kenmore 43800, $1,400
    Bosch NIT5065UC, $1,800

    More choices

    See our range Ratings and cooktop Ratings for all the details and use the filter to narrow your choices by price, type, or brand. And be sure to click on the Features & Specs tab to compare features. Any questions? E-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Kimberly Janeway

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    Teslas surpass 1-billion mile mark

    Tesla Motors announced today that the 75,000 or so cars it has built have driven 1 billion miles combined. As the company points out, that’s equivalent to 4,000 trips to the moon, 40,000 laps of the Earth, or a road trip that lasts 2,000 years. (And yes, those comparisons would all demand a fair amount of charge time.)

    The company says Tesla cars (mostly the Model S) have saved 570,000 tons of CO2 emissions compared with driving an average car over a similar distance. Better yet, Teslas have required no oil changes and no smog checks during that time, saving owners over $15 million, the company says.

    We can’t argue with any of that. But the company also makes a couple of spurious claims: That Tesla owners have saved 10 years of time standing at gas pumps and spent $0 on fuel. Implied but not stated is that Tesla drivers have spent less time “pumping” fuel into their cars, although more than a few have likely spent time charging on the road. Back when we first tested a 2012 Model S, we routinely spent 5-1/2 hours recharging. (Admittedly, we didn’t spend those hours standing by the charger, but the electric-car lifestyle does require some scheduling.) And although Tesla provides free electricity at its Supercharger stations, the company also says that most charging is done at home – where the average kilowatt-hour costs 11 cents, according to the Energy Information Agency. Most Tesla owners also live on the coasts where electricity costs more than average.

    No matter how you slice it, the gas savings are real. In our test, a Model S achieved the equivalent of 84 mpg. That means it uses about one-quarter of the energy that the average luxury car did in our tests at 23 mpg overall. (Those luxury cars range from the 116 mpgE BMW i3 to the 14 mpg Toyota Land Cruiser.) By our calculation that means the Model S fleet has saved more than 32 million gallons of gas and about $115 million compared to driving all those miles in an average luxury car.

    Tesla’s billion miles is a momentous achievement no matter how you look at it, especially in an electric car with a shorter range than most gas cars’ and much longer recharging times. But perhaps the final lesson to learn from all this data is how quickly Tesla was able to publicize these numbers. They’re logging every last mile their owners drive. Now there’s a data point to consider.

    See our complete guide to Tesla Motors news, tests, ratings, and videos.

    Eric Evarts

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    Tell Subway 'no thanks' to antibiotics in meat

    Antibiotics in meat production is a major factor in the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. With the amount of meat and chicken they buy every day, fast food and other chain restaurants could put real pressure on meat suppliers to stop the practice of feeding animals antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention. Some, such as Chipotle, McDonald's, and Panera Bread, have already taken steps in that direction. Now Consumer Reports is urging Subway, the largest fast food chain in the world, to get on board, too.

    Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has joined with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and nearly 60 other medical public health, environmental, and animal welfare groups in sending a letter to Subway executives asking that the company make the switch to using no antibiotic meat and poultry in its products.

    Read more about the problem of antibiotic resistance and find ways to protect yourself in our Antibiotic Resistance Guide.

    "We are now facing a crisis with antibiotic resistant infections and we must reduce antibiotic use in animals to get a handle on that,” says Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy at Consumers Union. “As a leader the fast food industry, a move by Subway in this area could make a big difference.”

    Other companies are serving meat without antibiotics: Chipotle sources its meat from farmers who raise their animals without antibiotics. Panera Bread uses "no antibiotics" turkey and chicken in their salads and sandwiches. McDonald’s has pledged to stop serving chicken raised with antibiotics used in human medicine by 2017.

    If you, too, are concerned about antibiotic resistance, join Consumer Reports' #SlamSuperbugs movement. Tweet @Subway #SubwaySaveABX to tell the company you want it to hold the antibiotics on those footlongs.

    —Trisha Calvo

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    The real cost of impulse shopping at the supermarket

    The average American spends $5,400 a year at the grocery store, but there are easy ways to shave hundreds or more off your bill by employing simple strategies: Stocking up on name brands when they’re on sale, reading unit-price labels to make you’re your purchasing the most economical sizes (hint: it’s not always the biggest package), clipping coupons, using your store’s bonus-savings, purchasing store brands—and avoiding impulse shopping. (Read our report on the best store brands at the supermarket.)

    To gauge the scope of savings, we tried different strategies to shop for 18 everyday items at two stores—a local ShopRite and Costco membership warehouse. As a savvy shopper, we sniffed out the best deals on national brands. We weren’t married to any one in particular; we chose whichever was on sale, used coupons available online or in the newspaper, and took advantage of extra discounts with our ShopRite bonus card.

    Playing the role of an impulse shopping consumer, we filled our cart at ShopRite with our favorite name-brand products no matter the price. We didn’t bother looking for coupons or other discounts. 

    Next, we chose ShopRite’s own store-brand alternatives to the big names. And finally, we compared prices for the same items at Costco ($55 annual fee), which is known for day-in, day-out bargains on a limited assortment of mostly national brands. Our last step was to calculate the unit price for everything we bought.

    The bottom line

    By shopping at a warehouse club, we cut our bill by 61 percent, paying less than $82 compared with the nearly $209 impulse shopping tab. Switching to store brands saved nearly as much. Check the chart below for all the details to see how much impulse shopping adds up.

    But even if you love name brands in normal-size packages, you can save a bundle simply by following your store's print and digital weekly flyers and stocking up when your favorites are on sale.

    Do you consider yourself a savvy shopper? Share your advice for ways to save at the supermarket by leaving a comment below.

    —Tod Marks

    Looking for more ways to save at the supermarket? Read our latest report on America's best supermarkets—and worst—and check our buying guide and Ratings of nearly 70 grocers nationwide.

    Product

    Impulse shopper

    Savvy spender

    Store-brand buyer 

    Warehouse-club patron

    Aluminum foil
    (per 100 sq. ft.)

    Reynolds, $9.18

    Reynolds, $4.75

     $6.50

    Reynolds, $3.20

    Baby powder
    (per pound)

    Gold Bond, $13.96

    Johnson & Johnson, $3.34

    $2.02

    Johnson & Johnson, $2

    Barbecue sauce
    (per pound)

    Guy Fieri, $4.20

    KC Masterpiece, $1.77

     $1.59

    Sweet Baby Ray’s, $1

    Cream cheese
    (per pound)

    Philadelphia (tub), $4.99

    Philadelphia (brick), $3.98

    $3.58

    Philadelphia, $2.66 (tub)

    Dijon mustard
    (per quart)

    Maille, $9.40

    French’s, $3.99

     $2.65

    Grey Poupon, $2.99

    Dishwashing liquid
    (per pound)

    Dawn Platinum, $5.85

    Ajax Triple Action, $2.01

    $1.70

    Dawn Platinum, $3.20

    Disinfectant wipes
    (100 count)

    Lysol, $6.49

    Clorox, $5.55

     $4.99

    Lysol, $3.75

    Disposable diapers
    (100 count, size 6)

    Huggies Little Movers, $46.04

    Pampers Baby Dry, $36.45

     $25.91

    Huggies Snug & Dry, $28.88

    Extra virgin olive oil
    (per quart)

    Lucini Premium Select, $34.80

    Carapelli, $9.39

    $6.08

    Berio, $5.99

    Greek yogurt
    (per pound)

    Fage, $4.51

    Chobani, $3.02

    $2.69

    Chobani, $2.30

    Ibuprofen
    (100 count)

    Motrin, $23.23

    Advil, $9.49

     $5.98

    Advil, $4.64

    Orange juice
    (per quart)

    Tropicana, $2.33

    Simply Orange, $1.33

     $1.62

     Tropicana, $1.47

    Pancake mix
    (per pound)

    Maple Grove, $2.53

    Aunt Jemima, $1.35

    $1.04

    Bisquick, $.90

    Pasta
    (per pound)

    DeCecco, $2.69

    Ronzoni, $1

     $.79

    Barilla, $1.12

    Potato chips
    (per pound)

    Cape Cod, $7.13

    Herr’s Ripples, $5.05

     $3.28

    Ruffles, $3.19

    Tall kitchen trash bags
    (100 count)
     

    Glad Force Flex, $19.33

    Hefty Easy Flap, $9.40

     $10.77

    Glad Forceflex, $11.14

    Toasted oat cereal
    (per pound)

    Cheerios Banana Nut, $5.86

    Cheerios, $4

     $3.42

    Cheerios, $2.24

    Tomato sauce
    (per pound)

    Mia’s Kitchen, $6.02

    Prego, $1

     $.99

    Ragú, $.86

    Totals

    $208.54

    $106.87

    $85.60

    $81.53

     

     

     

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    Cybersecurity? There’s a fund for that

    Electronic security breaches make headlines so frequently that there is now a fund that lets you invest in firms fighting that troublesome trend. The PureFunds ISE Cyber Security Exchange Traded Fund (with the somewhat predictable ticker of HACK) was launched late last year.

    Created by a New Jersey investment firm that manages only one other ETF, HACK is one of the latest in a growing number of new ETFs that invest in stocks that revolve more around a particular theme rather than an industry or a broader index. Other thematic ETFs recently created include funds that invest in genomics, social media, robotics, and nuclear-energy companies.

    Your driving data is at risk. Read, "Can you car get hacked?

    As far as niche ETFs go, HACK has some good attributes. Although six months isn’t enough time to evaluate any investment performance, HACK is up 26 percent so far in 2015, while broad market U.S. stock indexes were little changed over that same period. And HACK’s 32 stock holdings will help protect investors from the risk of being overinvested in a single stock. (Some thematic ETFs have held as few as four stocks.)

    But diversification among stocks is not the same as diversification among assets. If tech stocks sell off, most of HACK’s holdings will lose value in tandem. And naturally, considering the relative newness of cybercrime, many of the stocks in HACK aren’t well established: Half of the cybersecurity companies have been public for less than five years. Smaller firms, such as CyberArk, Infoblox, and FireEye, the three largest holdings of HACK, outnumber more established large-cap holdings such as Cisco, Symantec, and Japan’s Trend Micro.

    The HACK ETF has an annual expense ratio of 0.75 percent, which is certainly more expensive than the core holdings of broadly-based ETFs, which often sport expense ratios of less than 0.10 annually. You might, for instance, be able to build a similar bespoke investment for less using a specialized brokerage such as Motif Investing. But the more important point is that thematic investing speaks more to our speculative urges than to the notion of investing for the long term: History is littered with investment themes that flamed out.

    —Chris Horymski

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

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