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    All-New 2016 Honda Civic Hopes to Make Epic Comeback

    Honda has taken the cover off its new Civic, sporting more aggressive looks, promised refinement, and a roomier and upgraded cabin with a high level of connectivity. This is the 10th-generation of the car that helped put Honda on the North American map.

    The 2016 Honda Civic is is built on an all-new lightweight—yet stiffer—platform. It is nearly 2 inches wider and 1 inch lower with a 1.2-inch longer wheelbase compared to the outgoing model.

    The Civic model line will include a coupe, sporty Si version, and a five-door hatchback. And, finally, the U.S. market will even get the high-zoot Civic Type-R.

    The base engine for the 2016 Honda Civic is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder; a 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder is optional. Honda did not disclose the actual horsepower numbers but said the 2.0 is “the most powerful base engine ever offered on [a] Civic.” Those faithful to manual transmission can rest easy: a six-speed is still offered. Most buyers, however, will opt for the continuously variable transmission, or CVT, a version of which underwhelmed us in the new Honda HR-V.

    Honda says that the new car’s EPA highway fuel economy should be “in excess of 40 mpg.”

    Suspension details include a redesigned strut-based front and a new multi-link rear, as well as burlier front and rear stabilizer bars.

    The bane of Honda’s existence over the years has been high levels of interior noise, which, Honda says, will be much better with this new model. In an effort to quell the din, the 2016 Honda Civic uses new body-sealing techniques, a flush-mounted acoustic glass windshield, a more tightly sealed engine compartment, and triple-sealed doors.

    The 2016 Civic sedan will be available with the Honda Sensing suite of safety equipment, including autonomous braking, road departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.

    Inside, Honda claims that the 2016 model has the largest cabin in the compact segment; specifically, the new Civic gets two extra inches of rear-seat leg room as well as more trunk space. A 60/40-split folding rear seat is available on some trim lines.

    The 2016 Honda Civic also gets up-to-date connectivity features, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

    Other equipment details include standard automatic climate control and available power adjustments and heating for the driver and passenger seats.

    There was a time when Civics ruled our ratings, but the last several years have seen the once-mighty Honda play second fiddle to the Mazda3, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, and Hyundai Elantra. Will the new 2016 Honda Civic win over new buyers and become a solid contender again? We’ll let you know when we buy ours for testing.

    Pricing and on-sale dates have not yet been announced.

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

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    If Your Kid Wants an iPhone, Get Her an iPod Touch Instead

    At its big launch event on September 9, Apple introduced lots of new products, including the iPad Pro; an iPhone 6s and 6s Plus with pressure-sensitive touchscreens and 12-megapixel cameras; and a revamped Apple TV meant to challenge competitors' game consoles and streaming media players.

    The new iPhones, in particular, may catch the covetous eye of a tween in your household. But don't give in to requests for a new phone. You can buy your kid a great connected device—and save $450—by choosing the recently updated $199 iPod Touch instead. And you’ll avoid $50 or more in monthly data charges.

    When we tested the new iPod Touch, we found a device that rivals the year-old iPhone 6. Users of the iPod Touch can run just about any app, stream movies and TV shows, Skype with camp friends, and otherwise act like other mobile addicts, as long as their device is connected to Wi-Fi. For tweens, that’s not much of a limitation. 

    Here are more lab results.

    Looks

    The iPod Touch looks like a mashup of the iPhone 6 and the aging iPhone 5. It comes in gray, blue, gold, pink, silver, and a Product (RED) edition that supports efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa (guess what color it is). The Touch has an entirely aluminum backing, just like the iPhone 6 (complete with infamous camera bulge), but while the iPhone 6 has a relatively large 4.7-inch display, the iPod Touch’s 4-inch screen is the same size as the older iPhone 5 display. The device is appropriate for smaller hands and one-handed use.

    Cameras

    The iPod Touch has the same 8-megapixel camera as the year-old iPhone 6, with a few tweaks separating the two (different flash LED, slightly higher maximum aperture). In our tests of the iPod Touch and iPhone 6, the cameras produced photos of similar quality. Video quality was also comparable, though the iPod Touch can’t match the iPhone’s 240-frames-per-second slow-motion video—it records at 120 frames per second. The front-facing cameras are pretty much equal in terms of photo and video quality.

    Both devices can add location data to a photo, but the iPod Touch requires a Wi-Fi connection whereas the iPhone 6 can use built-in GPS to find out where a photo was snapped.

    Processor

    The older iPhone 6 and updated iPod Touch are evenly matched in terms of processing speed. They share the same A8 processor and M8 motion coprocessor, so games and fitness apps will be right at home on either device.

    iOS and Connectivity

    You’ll notice a few things missing from the Apple iOS on the iPod Touch, namely the phone and the Apple Watch app.

    But apps such as Skype and Whatsapp give users the communication tools to chat with anyone in the world, as long as they have a Wi-Fi connection. And one can always tether the Touch to a smartphone to get online in a pinch.

    Using an iPod Touch on the go will take a few moments of planning. Just be sure your kid downloads all desired apps before piling into the backseat for a road trip.

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

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    New Amazon Fire TV Gets 4K Video and Alexa, Keeps $100 Price

    Clearly not impressed with Apple's recent update to its Apple TV media streamer, Amazon today unveiled a new, updated Fire TV settop box that will incorporate Alexa, its own digital personal assistant, as well as support for 4K UHD videos, something the Apple TV will lack, at least for the time being.

    And unlike Apple TV, which is now priced at either $149 or $199, depending on internal memory, the new Amazon Fire TV player will retain its $100 price when it becomes available on October 5th. (The company is accepting preorders starting today.) Amazon says that Alexa will be rolled out to current Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick owners via a free software update.

    The upgraded Amazon Fire TV wasn't the only announcement made this morning. Amazon also unveiled a new $50 Fire TV Stick, which also gets Alexa and new voice remote, plus a slate of new tablets, including a much-rumored $50 model call the Fire.

    Even though the old Fire TV was no slouch in the speed department—it was among the faster, most responsive players in our streaming media player Ratings—the new model gets a 64-bit quad-core processor and a dedicated graphics processor, making it 75 percent more powerful than its predecessor, Amazon claims. Other specs include 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi, 8GB of onboard storage for games and apps, plus the ability to add up to 128GB of extra storage via its microSD card slot.

    Fire TV's support for 4K video and HEVC coding, a new, more efficient compression standard that can handle higher-resolution video, isn't surprising give that Amazon's Prime and Video streaming services offer 4K content. The company is the only major streaming player to include UHD support from these services, as well as from Netflix. (The Nvidia Shield, a game machine masquerading as a media streamer, also supports 4K videos.) In addition to 4K shows and movies, Amazon says, 1080p content will also be encoded in HEVC, which means you'll be able to receive higher-quality HD streams even at lower broadband speeds.

    The addition of Alexa—the voice-powered, cloud-based digital assistant that made its first appearance in the Amazon Echo Bluetooth speaker—means that Amazon Fire TV's voice-recognition features will get an upgrade. In addition to being able to search for content using natural language commands, you can speak into the remote to ask Alexa for all kinds of information, ranging from sports scores and traffic updates to music selections, with corresponding content displayed on your TV screen. Amazon has been steadily increasing Alexa's capabilities, and we fully expect the technology to include more hub-like control of elements within the home.

    One other cool feature, called Mayday Screen Sharing, lets a technician gain remote access to your Fire TV to answer questions, walk you through operations, or perform diagnostics and fix problems remotely. The permission-based service is free, and operates
    24/7, 365 days a year.

    The new Fire TV Stick, which comes with a voice remote and Alexa, will be priced at $50 when it starts shipping October 22nd. (The current Fire Stick is still available, priced at $40.) The new Fire TV Stick has a dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, Dolby audio, and improved Wi-Fi performance, Amazon says. Since the Fire TV Stick lets you to connect to Wi-Fi networks that require a password—such as a hotel room—without installing additional software, you can bring it along with you when you travel.

    To go along with the players, Amazon also announced a new, optional Fire TV game controller, which has voice search, improved game controls, plus an audio jack for private listening, something championed by Roku in its Roku 3 player.  Amazon is also offering a $140 Gaming Edition of the Fire TV, a bundle that includes the player, the game controller, a 32GB microSD card, and two games.

    New Fire Tablets

    Amazon's announcements weren't only about streaming players. Three new tablets—the Fire tablet, Fire Kids Edition, and Fire HD 8 and 10—were also unveiled. The low price of the $50 Fire tablet is likely to generate the most buzz, as it includes a quad-core 1.3GHZ processor, a 7-inch wider-angle IPS display, front- and rear-facing cameras, and up to 128GB of expandable storage via its microSD slot. Have a bunch of kids at home? Amazon is offering a six-pack of the tablets for $250, a $50 price break. And for parents whose kids have outgrown Amazon FreeTime, there's now an Activity Center that lets you track their activities, such as what website they're visiting and how much time they spend playing games. The Activity Center will be offered as a free Fire OS update in the coming months.

    Amazon is also offering two new Fire HD tablets—at 7.7mm, the slimmest Amazon tablets so far—with either 8- ($150) or 10.1-inch ($230) widescreen HD displays. Both have 1.5Ghz quad-core processors, stereo speakers with Dolby Audio, front- and rear-facing cameras, and microSD card slots for up to 128GB of expandable storage. The Fire HD 8 comes in four color choices—black, magenta, blue, or tangerine—while the Fire HD 10 is available in black or white. All the new Fire tablets start shipping September 30.

    Finally, the new Fire HD Kids Edition—at $100, $50 cheaper than last year's model—bundles the new Fire tablet with an updated kid-proof case, one year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, plus a collection of human-curated, age-appropriate websites and YouTube videos. The package is backed by a two-year warranty.

    Of course, we'll be getting all these products into our labs as soon as they become available. We're especially excited about comparing the new Apple TV to the new Amazon Fire TV to see how they compare, particularly since on paper they're the two most competitive new players. If you're thinking of getting a new streaming media player this fall, let us know which one and why in the comments section below. And check back later for our full evaluations of the newest Amazon media players and tablets.

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

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    Speed Queen Washers Built to Last

    Speed Queen has it fans—if user reviews are any indication—despite costing a lot more than most washers. And while other manufacturers tout enormous capacities, innovative features, and outstanding cleaning, Speed Queen promises 25 years of commercial-grade performance. Consumer Reports just tested two Speed Queen washers, including a $1,900 front-loader, and a Speed Queen electric dryer. Here’s a look.

    You’ll see Speed Queen commercial washers and dryers in laundromats. The Wisconsin-based manufacturer claims its laundry appliances for home use are “built with rugged, commercial-grade construction and pushed beyond their limit” in the test lab to deliver 25 years of performance. Speed Queen even provides an online calculator that estimates how long their washers will last. It’s based on the number of loads you do each week. At 8 weekly loads the washer should last 25 years, but at 10, that number drops to 20 years. An asterisk warns this number is based on Speed Queen’s tests and not guaranteed. These appliances are made in the U.S. and come with unusually long warranties—three years for parts and labor for washers and dryers with mechanical controls, five years for electronic controls. The industry norm is one year.  

    Brand Reliability

    Speed Queen top-loaders are among the more reliable washer brands, according to Consumer Reports Annual Product Reliability Survey of over 115,000 subscribers. There weren’t enough Speed Queen front-loader owners to qualify for our analysis, but our dryer brand data, based on more than 105,000 subscribers, shows that for electric dryers, LG is the most reliable brand with a 5 percent repair rate. Speed Queen’s was 10 percent (Fisher & Paykel was 20, making it the most repair-prone brand analyzed).  

    Speed Queen Test Results

    Speed Queen AFNE9BSP113TW01 front-loader, $1,900
    This front-loader scored 70 out of 100 and was the most expensive and fastest of the 39 we tested. It took 55 minutes using the normal wash and heavy-soil (max) setting. It has electronic controls so the 5-year warranty applies. Cleaning was impressive and gentle on fabrics. This Speed Queen is water efficient and extracts much of it so dryer time is shortened. Vibration wasn’t a problem, but it's noisy and claimed capacity is just 3.4 cubic feet, enough for about 15 pounds of laundry. The top-scoring Samsung WF56H9110CW front-loader can fit about 28 pounds. It’s $1,450. 

    Speed Queen AWNE92SP113TW01 agitator top-loader, $1,000
    At $1,000 it’s twice the price of some agitator top-loaders. However, it has electronic controls so it comes with a 5-year warranty. Wash time is a brisk 35 minutes using the normal wash on heavy-soil (max) setting and cleaning was impressive and one of the gentlest on fabrics that we tested. But claimed capacity is just 3.3 cubic feet, fitting around 14 pounds of laundry and, like many agitator washers, the Speed Queen uses a lot of water, about 26 gallons to wash our 8-pound load and it's noisy. Overall, this washer scored 39 out of 100. In a past test the $800 Speed Queen AWN542 top-loader scored 29.

    Speed Queen ADE3SRGS173TW01 electric dryer, $700
    Not the most expensive of the group—the $1,800 LG DLEX9000V holds that title—and the Speed Queen’s capacity is very good; claimed capacity is 7 cubic feet. But this dryer scored only good in drying, mostly because it lacks a moisture sensor and over dried our laundry when we wanted it somewhat damp (handy when ironing). The dryer’s temperature is higher, especially for delicates, than what we’ve seen recently. And this dryer is noisy. Overall score is 35. This dryer has mechanical control and comes with a 3-year warranty.

    Find a washer and dryer

    Consumer Reports tests models, month after month. Our washer and dryer ratings include dozens to choose from. Use the features & specs tab to help you decide, noting the dimensions of the appliances. Some with jumbo capacities are wider than usual. And take a good look at the brand reliability data. It’s like asking 100,000 friends and neighbors about their experiences with a brand. Questions? E-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

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

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    iPhone Upgrade Program Makes It Easy to Switch Carriers

    Much of the talk about Apple's new iPhone Upgrade Program has focused on the great pricing. And for “gotta-have-it” upgraders, it is a pretty good deal: about $30 to $45 per month (depending on the model), plus $129—spread out over 24 interest-free installments—for AppleCare, which is among the few extended-warranty programs we recommend for certain consumers.

    By choosing the iPhone Upgrade Program, you can opt for a brand-new phone after a year or pay off the one you already have and treat yourself to monthly savings. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon confirmed to us that service costs will be the same for iPhone Upgrade Program devices as they are for models bought from the carriers themselves. Not bad.

    Even better: It's super easy to change carriers. That's because you're dealing with Apple for the phone, not with the carrier. Fed up with spotty Sprint coverage in your area? Bring the phone to AT&T. Not happy with Verizon prices? Hello, T-Mobile. So long as you're not currently tied to a two-year carrier plan, you can pick out a new iPhone and a new service provider while you're at it.

    What’s more, if you pay off your iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, you might even be able to bring that phone to another carrier. Here’s why: Apple appears to be making only two versions of those phones. One seems to be compatible with the LTE networks of Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and a vast number of international carriers. The other supports AT&T's LTE network, along with more than 30 smaller domestic carriers, including Boost, Consumer Cellular, Credo, Cricket, Net10, Straight Talk, and U.S. Cellular. (Read our report on the best and worst cell phone carriers.)

    Apple’s site warns that LTE band support for the models listed will be based on whether those models are configured for CDMA networks (Sprint and Verizon) or GSM networks (AT&T and T-Mobile). Our engineers will be testing the phones for cross-carrier compatibility once they're available on September 25.

    If it turns out you can bring a Verizon phone to T-Mobile, how cool would that be?

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

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    The Way to a Wrinkle-Free Life

     Ironing to get  that crisp, fresh look may seem quaint in an era when casual Friday has morphed into casual every day. Closets with less cotton and more blends mean you don’t need to iron as much, and studies have shown that about a quarter of all consumers iron only when absolutely necessary. So just how wrinkled does a garment have to be for you to get out the iron? Standards vary—all the way up to that slept-in look. But for those occasions when the wrinkles just can’t be overlooked, an iron that produces plenty of steam will remove stubborn wrinkles faster.  Plus Consumer Reports tested several products that claim to smooth out wrinkles without an iron.

    And yet there’s no escaping dirty laundry. The average family does around 300 loads per year. Manufacturers get that your life is hectic and offer ways to take the pain out of the laundry routine, for a price. A large-capacity washer and dryer let you do more laundry at once. The biggest we’ve tested hold about 28 pounds of laundry, or about 20 full-sized bath towels, and the smallest hold only about 12 pounds, or nine towels. Options that trim wash time by 15 to 20 minutes without sacrificing cleaning ability also prevent pileups. And a dryer with a moisture sensor rather than a thermostat will recognize more quickly when laundry is dry, allowing you to get back to your life outside the laundry room.

    An End to the Iron Age?

    A hot, steamy iron can work wonders on rumpled garments, but what about steam dryers? That feature is meant to reduce wrinkles and odors. Our tests found that the steam doesn’t eliminate wrinkles, though it can help remove more odors than dryers without steam. So we tested products that manufacturers claim banish wrinkles to find out whether any let you put away your iron.

    Straight Up

    We tested three fabric steamers on men’s cotton shirts and cotton cloths. They reduced wrinkles, but none created that truly pressed look. Fabric steamers are best for quick touch-ups, delicates, and smoothing curtains without having to take them down. The heated pressing bar on the $65 Shark Press & Refresh GS500 made it the best at taming wrinkles and creating creases. The $35 Conair ExtremeSteam GS23 produced hotter—but less—steam than the other two. Its creasing attachment got the job done but was awkward to use. The $60 Steamfast SF-407 was the least impressive. Unlike the others, it sits on wheels, has a clothes hook on a telescoping pole, and has a hose for steaming. It provided the longest steam time, almost 90 minutes with one fill, but the hose and electrical cord reach is limited, so steaming hanging drapes would be tricky. And it was challenging to dewrinkle a shirt using the Steamfast’s pressing pad and steam wand.

    Just a Spritz

    Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus works as promised. Wrinkles fell from severely wrinkled garments—a laundry basket of cottons and blended fabrics. Clothes looked better than when we sprayed them with plain water although not as good as when we ironed them. Just spray Downy on garments until lightly damp. Then smooth and let dry, about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on fabric. Downy costs $8 for 33 ounces.

    Refresh Without Washing

    Wrinkles were smoothed out, odors were removed (or masked), and jeans returned to their original shape during the 10- to 15-minute treatment in the $400 Swash. Whirlpool makes the Swash, which refreshes one garment at a time using heat and a pod that releases a lightly scented mist. The pods, made by Tide, cost $7 for 12. At one pod per garment, that can add up. And don’t toss your iron yet. The clips used to secure clothing inside the unit can make new wrinkles. As for stains, the box gets hot enough to set some, so don’t Swash dirty or stained clothes.

    LG says its Styler cabinet, in stores this fall, will get rid of wrinkles and odors from four garments at once. But at $2,000, ironing may not be so bad after all.

    This article also appeared in the November 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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    Package Downsizing Proves That Less Is Not More

     F ew things are more infuriating than tearing into a bag of chips to find that it’s mostly filled with air, or digging into a “pint” of ice cream that—on closer inspection—is only 14 ounces. How can they cheat us like this? consumers often ask. There oughta be a law!

    Technically, there is a law—the almost 50-year-old federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. It prohibits excessive “slack fill,” or nonfunctional empty space that creates the illusion of more product through underfilling, overpackaging, or other tactics. But the law has loopholes. When we contacted the Food & Drug Administration to inquire about violations, and a recent citation it might have issued, the press officer referred us to a database in which we could find neither details of violations nor warnings to manufacturers.

    California is one of a few states in which local officials are cracking down. In late August, StarKist agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by Patrick Hendricks in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accusing them of underfilling various 5-ounce cans of chunk light and solid white tuna for more than five years. StarKist denied wrongdoing but has agreed to distribute $8 million in cash and $4 million in vouchers redeemable for their tuna products. (You can file a claim until Nov. 20; go to tunalawsuit.com.)

    Cracked open a container and found less than you’d bargained for? Post it on our Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest page or one of your own social media accounts. Tag us: @consumerreports.

    Larry Barlly, supervising deputy district attorney in Yolo County, Calif., told us that since 2009, 27 slack-fill cases have been settled in civil penalties against companies including Coty, CVS, Hershey, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, and Walgreens. As part of the settlements, the companies were also compelled to redesign their packaging.

    Other cases are pending elsewhere. This past March, in New York, 100 consumers joined a class-action suit against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies and McNeil-PPC accusing the manufacturers of using disproportionately large bottles to house a small number of Motrin IB and Motrin PM capsules.

    “Most every pharmaceutical issue is tied to regulatory matters, so any change to packaging materials (say, to a different-sized bottle) could mean expensive investments and time-consuming review and approval from the [FDA or another] agency,” said Jim Butschli, an editor at the trade publication Packaging World.

    “You and I may be outraged, but there might be a function to the slack fill,” said food and drug lawyer Eric Greenberg.

    When companies do start playing footsie with the packaging, you can bet it has to do with the bottom line. “If raw paper costs rise, you’ll see fewer and smaller sheets of paper towels,” says Edgar Dworsky, editor of the pro-consumer watchdog blog MousePrint.org, which looks at the fine print of advertising. “When peanuts are in short supply, a manufacturer will take out a few tablespoons from the jar to offset higher costs.”

    So be vigilant when looking at packaging. Pay attention to the net contents more than the box or bag they’re housed in. Compare unit prices of various-sized brands and package sizes to see which sell for the lowest price per ounce, per quart, or per pound. To get you going in the right direction, we take a close look at some big packages and bold claims—and share what the companies’ customer-service representatives told us when we called, as any consumer would, to ask: “Where’s the rest?”

    Check out these 9 surefire ways to save at the supermarket. And read about the more than 60 types of Oreos on the market.

    Same 'Giant' Label, Different Size: 7-oz. Hershey’s Giant Milk Chocolate vs. 6.8-ounce Hershey’s Giant Special Dark (shown)

    When “large” doesn’t pack a punch, “marketers go bigger and bolder, and neutralize the competition,” said Mark Lang, Ph.D., professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University. Hershey’s has its Extra Large (4.25 ounces), King (2.6), and Giant Special Dark chocolate bars (6.8, down from its original 8 ounces). And not all “giants” are created equal: The Giant milk chocolate version weighs in at a full 7 ounces. Why the difference? “It could be a marketing reason, but I really don’t know,” a rep said.

    Lowering the Bar

    Like other companies, Ivory has downsized; it shaved its standard bars from 4.5 to 4 ounces in 2012. But the iconic product has a smaller doppelganger. When you buy a 10-pack, you get the standard-sized soap cakes. Purchase a 3-pack, and the look-alike bars weigh in at only 3.1 ounces. Be sure to compare the cost of the soap on the price per pound (usually indicated on the unit-price label), not on the cost per bar.

    The Chips Are Down

    Why is it that chip bags always seem to be so filled with air? “So the chips can move freely in the bag to avoid breakage,” said a rep for Snyder’s of Hanover. When we asked why the snack giant recently shrunk the size of its bag of tortilla chips from a pound to 12.5 ounces, the rep cited increased production costs. Fair enough, but the expectation that an unopened product will be only half-full can make spotting downsizing even trickier.

    A Bitter Pill

    We’ve received many snarky comments about outsized boxes and bottles of OTC drugs, but combination packs like this one from Vicks NyQuil/DayQuil are especially maddening: Only 24 caplets on two blister packs rattle inside a box that’s about 3¼ x 4¼ x 2 inches. “People assume the larger box is a better value,” said Lang of Saint Joseph’s University. “Shoppers make decisions heuristically—based on shortcuts using inferences and incomplete data. We can’t process everything.” A rep couldn’t explain the large packaging. “But if you’d like to see it in a smaller container, I’ll pass the information along,” she said.

    Less Fattening Ice Cream

    “Larger package, two less bars, same price. Really?” wrote Jacquelyn Wood of Salem, N.H., when she sent us a photo of a 12- and 10-pack of Hood ice cream sandwiches, each which sold for $5. According to a customer-service representative, the reason Hood shrunk its sandwich count last year was to be in sync with the industry standard. But why did the company make the box bigger in the process? For that, the rep had no answer.

    Hot-Dogging It

    This claim on a French’s mustard bottle seems to indicate that consumers will get 50 percent more for their money. But the smaller print shows that the difference between the 18-ounce bottle and the 12-ounce one is, well, just that. According to a customer rep, the label isn’t misleading because the word “free” doesn’t appear anywhere. “We do it mostly for the moms,” the rep said. “Back in the day, the mustard came only in 12-ouncers. We put 50 percent more in the bottle, so it would last all summer and you wouldn’t have to go out and buy another. Sorry for the confusion.”

    Dimples Aren't Always Cute

    One way we’ve seen peanut butter and mayonnaise makers conceal the fact that you are getting less—even though you are paying the same—is by retaining a container’s dimensions but crafting a dimple into the base. When we called Jif to ask about downsizing, the customer-service rep confirmed that in 2012, Jif’s 18-ounce container shrunk to 16 ounces, as an alternative to a price increase. The most probable reason, the rep said, was the rising cost of peanuts.

    Secrets of Store Brands

    Many juice giants have taken their refrigerated not-from-concentrate citrus juices down from a half-gallon, or 64 ounces, to 59 ounces. But some store brands, such as this Stop & Shop grapefruit juice, continue to offer the old size. Jim Wisner, a former retailer and president of Wisner Marketing Group, said retailers will occasionally delay downsizing for as long as several years after a big brand has led the way in order to show consumers that they offer a better value. The other advantage of store brands is that they’re around 25 percent cheaper than the big names, on average, and in our taste tests many prove at least as good in quality.

    When Suds Get Slippery

    “I am very annoyed by the deceptive marketing practices of corporate America in today’s world,” wrote reader Ed McGuire of Syracuse, N.Y., who e-mailed us a photo of two different-sized bottles of All Free Clear—one 50 ounces and one 46.5 ounces—both sold at the same price. A company rep acknowledged that the laundry detergent bottle was reduced in size, attributing the decision in part to rising manufacturing, transportation, and packaging costs. However, we noticed that regular All liquid continues to come in the previous 50-ounce size. The lesson: Not all products are shrunk at the same time.

    his article also appeared in the November 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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    Oreos: Doubling Down on Double Stuf

    Each year, more than 40 billion Oreos are sold in more than 100 countries around the world­­—so many cookies that, if lined up, they’d circle the earth five times. Not bad for a confection quietly born in Manhattan a month before the Titanic sank, in 1912. The original cookie was packaged in bulk tins and sold by weight to grocers at 30 cents per pound. It has looked pretty much the same since 1953—12 flowers, 12 dots, and 12 dashes per side, and 90 ridges.

    Times have changed. The Nabisco cookies are now baked in Fair Lawn, N.J.; the once-standard, 1-pound package size is now 14.3 ounces. What has grown is the number of Oreos on the market: more than 60 types and package sizes, from the classic sandwich cookie to Mini, Double Stuf, Triple Double (three cookies and two layers of crème), Mega Stuf, and the newest addition, Thins. With no “typical” Oreo or package size, it can be tough to track your snack-food spending, not to mention your cookie calories.

    Read our report on package downsizing.

    When we called Oreo to ask the reason behind the brand extensions, we were told that the goal was to offer something for everyone: “We know that consumers enjoy variety when it comes to snacking, so we continuously deliver surprising new tastes and twists on the classic cookie,” said Janda Lukin, senior director for Oreo North America at Mondelēz International, the global conglomerate that manages snack-food brands, including those of Nabisco (now part of Kraft Foods), maker of Oreos. “This helps Oreo stay relevant.”

    Harvard University marketing professor John T. Gourville takes another view. “The strategy of multiple offerings assures that Oreo commands more shelf space for its popular products,” he said, “and, by extension, less for the brand’s competitors.”

    The variety also helps boost the bottom line. As you’ll see in the stack above, which compares the prices of key Oreos in the most common size sold at Walmart.com, the classic Oreo cookie is among the least expensive compared with some of its spin-offs. On a unit-price basis, the cheapest version is the Double Stuf; the priciest, the new Thins, which hit store shelves this past July and are marketed to adults who desire a “more sophisticated snacking experience.” Clearly, that sophistication comes at a cost.

    This article also appeared in the November 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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    Land Rover Discovery Sport Review

    The new Land Rover Discovery Sport looks good, like a scaled-down version of the luxurious Range Rover. But don’t be fooled. Beneath its posh, proper English exterior is an ill-mannered pretender. And though it may be the lowest-priced Land Rover, the real discovery is that this compact luxury crossover nonetheless carries a regal price tag—almost $50,000. Although it is among the priciest of its peers, this SUV finishes at the bottom of the pack.

    Winston Churchill said the British are “the only people who like to be told how bad things are.” In that case, they’re about to get an earful about the Land Rover Discovery Sport.

    The SUV faces a steep climb to meet ­established compact luxury models such as the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, and BMW X3 on equal footing.

    And though bearing the crest and warrant of the British royal family is a cool branding touch, it gets you only so far around the country club forecourt.

    We paid almost $50,000 for our midtrim HSE, making it one of the costliest crossovers in the category. Skipping our early release model’s extra-cost paint and decorative trim options could shave off a couple grand, but this SUV would be overpriced no matter what.

    At first blush things look promising. Though hardly opulent, the interior is as tidy as Lord Grantham’s drawing room. Drivers will find plenty of space, easy access, and good sight lines to the sides and rear. The rear seats are unusually spacious and comfortable for a vehicle of this size. A giant fixed panoramic roof lets in a lot of light, but it doesn’t tilt or slide open. A cramped third row of seats is available for an additional $1,750.

    But it doesn’t take long behind the wheel for the Cool Britannia vibe to wear off. The nine-speed automatic transmission’s inept shifting, combined with the four-cylinder engine’s erratic turbo boost, creates a frustrating and inconsistent driving experience.

    Tromp on the gas pedal, and the slow-witted transmission clings to the taller gears far too long, denying you the quick getaway you asked for—until a sudden downshift delivers a jarring kick in the trousers, accompanied by rudely noisy engine revs. Although the gearbox is designed to save fuel, the vehicle was thirstier than the RDX or X3; we averaged 21 mpg.

    The Sport also isn’t all that sporty to drive. It lumbers and leans around corners. On a winding road, your abdominals get a workout keeping your torso in the seat. Pushed hard, the electronic stability control ultimately kept the Land Rover on course in our emergency-handling tests, but the car was quite sloppy, first running wide, then displaying the onset of a tailslide.

    The Discovery Sport’s ride falls short of luxury-­level expectations as well. The suspension feels brittle, with every pavement rut and ripple reverberating through the body structure. That’s irritating in any car, let alone a luxury crossover.

    Land Rovers are known for their go-­anywhere tenacity. The Disco lacks the low-range gearbox of a true off-roader, but with a bit of struggle it managed to clamber its way up our steep off-road rock slope. That’s thanks to the help of electronic modes designed for mud, ruts, or sand, part of a Terrain Response system that all Land Rovers possess.

    And if you’re facing a whoa-this-is-really-steep ravine or gully, hill-descent control lets you stay off the brakes, allowing the vehicle to automatically crawl down the scary stuff.

    Those are challenges that other light-duty SUVs wouldn’t have the capability to surmount. But let’s face it, most Sports will discover a parking spot at the mall before blazing a trail.

    Niceties in our car included heated seats fore and aft, a heated steering wheel, a push-button start, navigation, and a rear camera. The infotainment system is operated by a too-small touch screen that’s mounted too far away, and system response can be frustratingly slow and glitchy.

    As for safety gear, our Discovery Sport featured forward-­collision warning with automatic braking, and lane-departure warning. But the available blind-spot warning and surround-view camera systems are bundled in a $1,900 option package, an annoying upsell for a modern so-called luxury crossover.

    The Discovery Sport’s few advantages aren’t enough to lift it out of the cellar. There are many better compact luxury SUVs out there.

    Read the complete Land Rover Discovery Sport road test.

    Highs Access, rear seat comfort, off-road capability
    Lows Ride, handling, transmission, power delivery, controls, headlights, value
    Powertrain 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbo 4-cyl.; nine-speed automatic; all-wheel drive
    Fuel 21 mpg
    Price $38,065-$46,565

    This article also appeared in the November 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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  • 09/24/15--02:59: Ford Edge Review
  • Ford Edge Review

    Ford has been on a roll of late in creating appealing cars, such as the Focus, Fusion, and Mustang. Its latest vehicle launch—the redesigned Edge five-seat crossover—displays refinement and sophistication in its driving dynamics and its upscale cabin that befits a prestige-branded model. With its newfound handling agility, ride comfort, quietness, and overall premium feel, the Edge catapults to the upper ranks of our Ratings of midsized SUVs.

    Who doesn’t love a tale of a downtrodden team coming up from the doldrums to become a champion?

    Today’s turnaround tale: the Ford Edge. Although widely sold, it was an anonymous, underwhelming crossover that stirred few souls.

    But clearly the Edge has been transformed with the redesign, which bows grandly with significant improvements. As a result, it is one of our top-rated midsized crossovers.

    The secret sauce for the Edge’s new success lies in the platform it shares with the Ford Fusion sedan—another model that punches above its weight class. The Fusion’s chassis provides sublime handling and cornering feel and a class-above ride. Those points carry over to the Edge.

    The Edge’s handling is reminiscent of an Audi Q5, while also providing ride comfort approaching a Lexus RX. For those unfamiliar with suspension engineering, this is an almost impossible feat.

    The Edge feels taut and sporty, with a steering feel that is athletic on a country road and yet light and easy to operate when parking or maneuvering through tight quarters. On the open road, the suspension delivers ride comfort that isolates you from the worst of the road’s jostles and bumps. Throughout, the Edge remains solid and steady.

    Underhood is a turbo 2.0-liter four-­cylinder that produces straight-line acceleration without the hesitation found in many turbos. By the stopwatch, the Edge is a bit slower than its rivals, but by the seat of the pants, its response and smoothness is on par with a V6. But the turbo has a greater thirst for fuel than expected—given its EcoBoost tech and related marketing—at 21 mpg overall in our tests.

    A traditional 3.5-liter V6 is available, but its rough character and similar gulping of gasoline make it the least desirable of the Edge’s optional engines. A twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 brings some serious hustle, but it can be had only with the Sport trim line. A capable six-speed transmission is paired with all three engines.

    Inside, our SEL trim’s styling is restrained and formal, with soft-touch surfaces, chrome door latches, and clever conveniences. The Titanium version is more plush and has more supportive seats.

    The broad hood, deep dashboard, and thick, steeply raked windshield pillars give the Edge some larger-than-life proportions from behind the wheel. Shorter drivers struggled to get the proper seat settings to reach the pedals, and large drivers felt restricted by the seat bolsters. Thick roof pillars challenge rearward visibility, so you’ll want the optional blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert systems.

    The generous second row offers abundant leg, knee, and head room, and the seats provide good support. The power liftgate whirs open to expose ample cargo space, with a flat load floor. Roomy quarters, front to back, provide family-sized accommodations.

    The Edge has bright, easy-to-read gauges. But the climate controls are tightly packed and mounted inconveniently low. The MyFord Touch infotainment system is frustrating, with small fonts, tightly clustered touch-screen buttons, and unintuitive functions. The next-gen Sync 3 infotainment system is due to arrive in the 2016 model year, and it promises more intuitive operation without sacrificing features.

    If you want surface-level glitz, this businesslike Ford SUV might appear less impressive than its main competitor, the showy Nissan Murano, which has flashier exterior styling. But if you want a more rewarding driving experience from a crossover, in this case Ford has the, ahem, advantage.

    Read the complete Ford Edge road test.

    Highs Ride, handling, quietness, rear seat and cargo room, access, luxury amenities in high-end versions
    Lows Visibility, MyFord Touch controls, acceleration
    Powertrain 245-hp, 2.0-liter turbo 4-cyl.; six-speed automatic; all-wheel drive
    Fuel 21 mpg
    Price $28,995-$40,990

    This article also appeared in the November 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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    Do You Really Need AWD in the Snow?

     Forty-one percent of all weather-related car crashes on U.S. roads are due to conditions involving snow, sleet, ice, and slush. That’s pretty sobering when you consider that those conditions usually exist during just a few months of the year. Accidents caused by winter weather result in 150,000 injuries and 2,000 deaths each year, on average, according to a study by the Federal Highway Administration.

    Little wonder, then, that car manufacturers trumpet all-wheel drive as a safety shield against inclement conditions. Consumers are inundated with that marketing message, and all-wheel drive is perceived as a must-have for many car buyers. It’s a key reason SUVs are now the top-selling segment of the auto market.

    But can all-wheel drive really save you when the weather turns ugly? It provides some benefit, but it may be insufficient to get you through a grueling storm.

    All-wheel drive is about getting your car moving from a dead stop—not about braking or steering­—and you should be aware of its limitations.

    Through weeks of driving in snowy, unplowed conditions at Consumer Reports’ 327-acre test center in Connecticut, we found that all-wheel drive didn’t aid in braking or in certain cornering situations. Our evaluations conclusively showed that using winter tires matters more than having all-wheel drive in many situations, and that the difference on snow and ice can be significant.

    We realize that swapping and storing tires twice per year is a nuisance. And in places where street plowing is thorough, you can probably get by with all-season tires that are in good condition.

    All-wheel drive is far better than two-wheel drive when it comes to driving on slick surfaces where you need serious traction to get going, such as a snowy uphill driveway. But our tests found that all-wheel drive by itself won’t help if you’re heading too fast toward a sudden sharp curve on a snowy night.

    That’s an important point for people who overestimate the capability of their all-wheel-drive vehicle. We’ve all seen them, zipping past us in blizzards with their illusory cloak of invincibility.

    Don’t be one of those guys—unless you want to risk a crash or find yourself stranded far from civilization.

    Our test-track observations lead us to advise that using snow tires provides the best grip and assurance for going, stopping, and cornering no matter what you drive: all-wheel drive, front-drive, or rear-drive. And buying winter tires for a front-drive car will cost far less than the several-thousand-dollar premium you’ll pay for all-wheel drive.

    Enhancements like electronic stability control—standard on every new car since 2012—also help two-wheel-drive vehicles maintain control, at least up to a point.

    What did our tests show?

    We conducted braking tests in an all-wheel-drive 2015 Honda CR-V, the best-selling compact crossover, with its original all-season tires, then with winter tires. The differences in stopping distances were considerable.

    On a different day under different snow conditions, we did braking tests pitting the CR-V against a Toyota Camry, both rolling on new winter tires. The front-drive Camry did just as well as the AWD Honda, both stopping from 60 mph in about 300 feet.

    As for handling, we found that some of the all-wheel-drive vehicles in our fleet struggled to stay on course when equipped with all-season tires—even in the hands of our professional drivers. A couple of the vehicles even plowed straight through corners and off the track.

    If you live in a place that gets frequent snow storms, an all-wheel-drive vehicle with winter tires will be very capable. And some AWD systems function better than others in terms of helping drivers get traction.  

    But most AWD drivers don’t think of adding winter tires. According to our survey of 54,295 subscribers who drove AWD or 4WD vehicles in the snow for more than six days last winter, less than 15 percent equipped their vehicles with winter tires. The rest kept rolling on their all-season tires and took their chances.

    At Consumer Reports, we strongly recommend buying four winter tires for whatever vehicle you drive.

    See our complete tire buying guide and ratings.

    What’s the Difference Among Drive Systems?

    There’s a clear distinction between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, although the terms are mistakenly used interchangeably. Follow this guide to understand how all of the systems work.

    All-Wheel Drive

    All-wheel drive is a lighter-duty system used for cars and car-based SUVs. AWD systems operate continuously, and they automatically vary power delivery to the front and rear wheels when needed. Some systems remain in front- or rear-wheel-drive mode until slip is detected, then power is routed to all four wheels. Other systems send power to all four wheels continuously.


    Good for: 
    Seamless acceleration in slippery conditions. Needs no driver intervention to engage.

    Drawbacks: Can’t improve braking or cornering performance in snow; lacks heavy-towing ability; lacks a low range for slow-crawl situations; fuel economy suffers; and there’s a price premium compared with front-drive cars.

    Four-Wheel Drive

    This refers to the heavy-duty drivetrain components found in pickup trucks and truck-based SUVs. The truck usually sends power to the rear wheels, and the driver engages four-wheel drive with a dashboard knob or button, which sends power in equal proportion to the front and rear axles. Most current SUVs and some pickups have a permanent or “auto” 4WD mode.

     

    Good for: Grunt work like hauling a boat trailer up a launch ramp. Most systems have a low range and locking differentials for extreme terrain.

     

    Drawbacks: Can’t improve braking or cornering performance in snow; driving in locked 4WD mode on clear roads can damage the driveline; and there’s a wider turning circle in 4WD mode.

    Front-Wheel Drive

    Used in most cars, minivans, and wagons, front-wheel-drive systems send engine power to the two front wheels. The drive shaft doesn’t extend to the rear of the car, leaving more room for rear-seat and trunk space. Traction control limits wheel spin in certain inclement conditions.

     

    Good for: Good traction in most driving situations. And it doesn’t carry the price premium of all-wheel drive. It’s also better than rear-wheel drive on slippery roads because there’s more weight on the front wheels, which propel and steer the car.

     

    Drawbacks: If the road is too snowy or icy, the front wheels will slip and you’ll be stuck. Winter tires are recommended for snowy conditions.

    Rear-Wheel Drive

    This system places less demand on the front wheels, freeing them to be used primarily for steering. It’s often used in basic pickups and traditional truck-based SUVs that are designed to handle towing and other chores. Traction control can help improve the performance of those vehicles as well. Rear-wheel drive is also the preferred setup for sports cars and high-performance sedans because of its con­tribution to ideal weight distribution, which aids in handling.
     

    Good for: Handling balance and cornering in dry conditions.

    Drawbacks: If the road is too snowy or icy, the rear wheels will slip and you’ll get stuck. Rear-drive cars tend to spin out in snowy or icy conditions. Winter tires are recommended.

    This article also appeared in the November 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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  • 09/24/15--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 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, which lists each vehicle's overall mileage. 

    Rank Make & model CR Overall MPG City MPG Highway MPG
    1 Lexus NX300h 29 23 34
    2 Honda HR-V LX 29 20 39
    3 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
    28 21 35
    4 Lexus RX 450h 26 22 31
    5 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250
    26 19 35
    6 Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium 26 19 34
    7 Mini Countryman S 26 19 33
    8 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium 26 18 35
    9 Mazda CX-5 Touring 2.5L 25 19 32
    10 Chevrolet Trax LT
    25 18 34
    11 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. 25 18 32
    12 Nissan Juke SV 24 18 31
    13 Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 18 31
    14 Lexus NX 200t
    24 17 33
    15 Jeep Grand Cherokee LImited (diesel)
    24 17 32
    16 Volkswagen Touareg TDI 24 17 31
    17 Nissan Rogue 24 17 30
    18 Jeep Renegade Latitude 24 16 32
    19 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE 23 18 28
    20 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 23 17 30
    21
    BMW X1 xiDrive28i 23 16 32
    22 Buick Encore Leather 23 16 32
    23 Honda CR-V EX 23 16 32
    24 BMW X3 xDrive28i 23 16 30
    25 Kia Sportage LX (4-cyl.) 22 16 30
    26 Ford Escape SE
    22 15 31
    27 Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.) 22 15 31
    28 Ford Escape Titanium
    22 15 29
    29 Jeep Compass Latitude 22 15 29
    30 Acura RDX 22 14 31
    31 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 21 16 27
    32 Kia Sportage SX (turbo) 21 15 29
    33 Nissan Murano SL
    21 15 29
    34 Jeep Patriot Latitude 21 15 28
    35 Lexus RX350 21 15 27
    36 Honda Crosstour EX-L 21 14 32
    37 Acura MDX Tech
    21 14 31
    38 Ford Edge SEL (2.0L EcoBoost) 21 14 31
    39 Chevrolet Equinox 1LT (4-cyl.) 21 14 30
    40 Kia Sorento EX (V6)
    21 14 30
    41 Audi Q5 Premium Plus 21 14 29
    42 Jeep Cherokee Limited (V6)
    21 14 29
    43 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 21 14 29
    44 BMW X5 xDrive35i 21 14 28
    45 Land Rover Discovery Sport
    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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  • 09/24/15--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.

    Best

    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 Honda Fit EX 33 24 42
    5 Ford Fiesta SE sedan 33 22 45
    6 Hyundai Accent SE hatchback (MT) 32 24 40
    7 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback (MT) 32 23 42
    8 Toyota Yaris LE 32 23 41
    9 Nissan Versa SV sedan 32 23 40
    10 Nissan Versa Note SV 32 22 42
    11 Chevrolet Spark 1LT
    31 22 39
    12 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 Mazda3 i Touring sedan 33 23 45
    4 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel 33 22 49
    5 Mazda3 i Grand Touring hatchback
    32 24 41
    6 Toyota Corolla LE Plus 32 23 43
    7 Mini Cooper (3-cyl)
    31 22 41
    8
    Honda Civic EX
    30 21 40
    9 Volkswagen Jetta SE (1.8T) 30 21 39
    10 Nissan Sentra SV
    29 21 38
    11 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 Mazda6 Sport 32 22 44
    5 Nissan Altima 2.5 S (4-cyl.) 31 21 44
    6 Honda Accord LX (4-cyl.) 30 21 40
    7 Chrysler 200 Limited (4-cyl.)
    30 19 44
    8 Volkswagen Passat SE (1.8T)
    28 19 39
    9 Toyota Camry LE (4-cyl.) 28 19 38
    10 Hyundai Sonata SE (4.-cyl) 28 18 40
    11 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium 26 17 39
    12 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT 26 17 38
    13 Toyota Camry XLE (V6) 26 17 37
    14 Honda Accord EX-L (V6) 26 16 39
    UPSCALE/LUXURY CARS Overall mpg = 24 or higher
    1 Tesla Model S P85D 87* 64* 110*
    2 Tesla Model S (base, 85 kWh) 84* 65* 102*
    3 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 36 29 43
    4 Lexus ES 300h
    36 28 44
    5 BMW 328d xDrive
    35 24 49
    6 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 34 29 38
    7 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec
    30 21 41
    8 Audi A7 3.0 TDI 28 19 41
    9 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 28 19 39
    10 BMW 328i 28 19 39
    11 Acura ILX Premium 28 18 42
    12 Acura TLX 2.4L 27 18 41
    13 Audi A3 Premium
    27 18 40
    14 Buick LaCrosse Leather (4-cyl.) 26 18 39
    15 Mercedes-Benz C300 (AWD) 26 18 35
    16 Volkswagen CC Sport 26 18 35
    17 Audi A4 Premium 25 17 35
    18 Lexus ES 350 25 17 35
    19 Infiniti Q70 Hybrid 25 17 33
    20
    Acura TLX SH-AWD 25 16 36
    21 Toyota Avalon Limited 24 16 34
    22 Buick Verano Leather 24 16 33
    23 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 Lexus NX 300h 29 23 34
    2 Honda HR-V LX 29 20 39
    3 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid 28 21 35
    4 Mercedes-Benz GLA
    26 19 35
    5 Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium 26 19 34
    6 Mini Countryman S 26 19 33
    7 Subaru Forester 26 18 35
    8 Mazda CX-5 Touring (2.5L) 25 19 32
    9 Chevrolet Trax LT 25 18 34
    10 Nissan Juke SV 24 18 31
    11 Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 18 31
    12 Lexus NX 200t 24 17 33
    13 Nissan Rogue SV 24 17 30
    14 Jeep Renegade Latitude 24 16 32
    15 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE 23 18 28
    16 BMW X1 xDrive28i 23 16 32
    17 Buick Encore Leather 23 16 32
    18 Honda CR-V EX 23 16 32
    19 BMW X3 xDrive28i 23 16 29
    20 Kia Sportage LX (4-cyl.) 22 16 30
    21 Ford Escape SE (1.6)
    22 15 31
    22 Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.)
    22 15 31
    23 Ford Escape Titanium (2.0) 22 15 29
    24 Jeep Compass Latitude
    22 15 29
    25 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 Acura MDX Tech 21 14 31
    9 Ford Edge SEL (2.0L EcoBoost)
    21 14 31
    10 Chevrolet Equinox 1LT (4-cyl.) 21 14 30
    11 Kia Sorento EX (V6)
    20 13
    28
    12 BMW X5 xDrive 35i 21 14 28
    13 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS 20 14 29
    14 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec
    20 14 28
    15 Toyota Highlander XLE 20 14 27
    16 Porsche Cayenne (base) 19 14 26
    17 Infiniti QX60 (3.5L) 19 13 26
    18 Mercedes-Benz ML350 18 13 25
    19 Nissan Pathfinder SL 18 13 25
    20 Infiniti QX70 18 13 24
    21 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE 18 13 23
    22 Cadillac SRX Luxury 18 12 26
    23 Ford Explorer XLT
    18 12 26
    24
    Chevrolet Equinox LTZ (V6)
    18 12 25
    25 Dodge Durango Limited (V6)
    18 12 25
    26 Ford Flex SEL
    18 12 25
    27 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (V6)
    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

     

    Worst

    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
    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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  • 09/24/15--02:59: The Most Fuel-Efficient Cars
  • The Most Fuel-Efficient Cars

    Fuel economy is an important factor to consider when buying a new car, even when gas prices are down—they won't stay that way forever. Many conventional cars today offer impressive fuel economy, especially in contrast to what you may be trading in. Further, alternative powertrains offer an increasing arrary of choices, with diesels, electrics, and hybrids each carry appeal for different drivers.  

    Measuring fuel economy is among our more than 50 tests we conduct on each car we purchase. Our fuel economy numbers are derived from a precision flow meter and are rounded to the nearest mile per gallon (mpg).

    CR's overall mileage is calculated from equal portions of city and highway driving.

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

    Rank Make & model CR Overall MPG City MPG Highway MPG
    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 Tesla Model S P85D
    87* 64* 110*
    8 Tesla Model S (base, 85kWh) 84* 65* 102*
    9 Toyota Prius Plug-in Advanced 47** 38** 55**
    10 Toyota Prius Four 44 32 55
    11 Toyota Prius C Two 43 37 48
    12 Toyota Prius V Three 41 33 47
    13 Honda Accord Hybrid
    40 32 47
    14 Lexus CT 200h Premium 40 31 47
    15 Honda Civic Hybrid 40 28 50
    16 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE 39 35 41
    17 Smart ForTwo Passion 39 30 44
    18 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 38 32 43
    19 Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE 37 35 38
    20 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 37 29 45
    21 Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    37 28 47
    22 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 36 29 43
    23 Lexus ES 300h 36 28 44
    24 Honda CR-Z EX (MT) 35 26 45
    25 Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    35 25 46
    26 BMW 328d xDrive 35 24 49
    27 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 34 29 38
    28 Scion iQ 34 27 40
    29 Fiat 500 Pop (MT) 34 25 42
    30 Fiat 500 Sport (MT) 33 24 42
    31 Honda Fit EX 33 24 42
    32 Mazda3 i Touring sedan 33 23 45
    33 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel 33 22 49
    34 Ford Fiesta SE sedan 33 22 45

    * = MPGe
    ** = MPG on gas only

    When buying a car, 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 and 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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    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
    Honda HR-V LX
    29 32.0
    Lexus NX 300h
    29 28.5
    Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium 26 35.5
    Mazda CX-5
    25 33.0
    Chevrolet Trax LT
    25 26.0
    Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 37.0
    Nissan Rogue SV 24 31.5
    Lexus NX 200t
    24 28.5
    Jeep Renegade Latitude 24 30.5
    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
    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
    Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE
    21 33.0
    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
    Ford Edge SEL (2.0L EcoBoost) 21 39.0
    Kia Sorento EX (V6)
    21 37.5
    BMW X5 xDrive35i 21 34.5
    Acura MDX Tech
    21 34.0
    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
    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
    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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    Does Cell-Phone Radiation Cause Cancer?

    D oes radiation from cell phones cause brain cancer—or doesn’t it?

    Researchers investigating that question have gone back and forth over the years, a game of scientific pingpong that has divided the medical community and cell-phone users into two camps: those who think we should stop worrying so much about cell-phone radiation, and others who think that there’s enough evidence to warrant some cautionary advice.

    Most Americans fall squarely on the “don’t worry” side. In a recent nationally representative Consumer Reports survey of 1,000 adults, only 5 percent said they were very concerned about the radiation from cell phones, and less than half took steps to limit their exposure to it.

    Many respected scientists join them. “We found no evidence of an increased risk of brain tumors or any other form of cancer” from cell-phone radiation, says John Boice Jr., Sc.D., president of the National Council on Radiation Protection & Measurements and a professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. “The worry should instead be in talking or texting with your cell phone while driving.”

    The U.S. government doesn’t seem very troubled, either. The Food and Drug Administration says on its website that research generally doesn’t link cell phones to any health problem. And although the Federal Communications Commission requires manufacturers to include information in user manuals about cell-phone handling, that’s often buried deep in the fine print.

    But not everyone is unconcerned. In May 2015, a group of 190 independent scientists from 39 countries, who in total have written more than 2,000 papers on the topic, called on the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and national governments to develop stricter controls on cell-phone radiation. They point to growing research—as well as the classification of cell-phone radiation as a possible carcinogen in 2011 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the WHO—suggesting that the low levels of radiation from cell phones could have potentially cancer-causing effects.

    “I think the overall evidence that wireless radiation might cause adverse health effects is now strong enough that it’s almost unjustifiable for government agencies and scientists not to be alerting the public to the potential hazards,” says David O. Carpenter, M.D., director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany in New York and one of the authors of the recent letter to the U.N. and WHO.

    Some countries have taken steps to protect users, at least when it comes to children. For example, France, Russia, the U.K., and Zambia have either banned ads that promote phones’ sale to or use by children, or issued cautions for use by children.

    The city council of Berkeley, Calif., has also acted. In May 2015, it approved a “Right to Know” law that requires electronics retailers to notify consumers about the proper handling of cell phones. CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group, is now tring to block that law from going into effect, as it successfully did after San Francisco passed its own Right to Know law five years ago.

    Of course, scientific seesawing like that doesn’t provide a lot of clarity or confidence for the 90 percent of American adults and roughly 80 percent of teens who report having a cell phone. So how concerned should you be about cell-phone radiation? Consumer Reports’ health and safety experts conducted a thorough review of the research and offer some guidance.

     

    What Is Cell-Phone Radiation, Anyway?

    Your phone sends radiofrequency, or RF, waves from its antenna to nearby cell towers, and receives RF waves to its antenna from cell towers when you make a call or text or use data. The frequency of a cell phone’s RF waves falls between those emitted by FM radios and those from microwave ovens, all of which are considered “non-ionizing” forms of radiation. That means that—unlike radiation from a nuclear explosion, a CT scan, or a standard X-ray—the radiation from your phone does not carry enough energy to directly break or alter your DNA, which is one way that cancer can occur. (FM radios and microwaves don’t raise alarms, in part because they aren’t held close to your head when in use and because microwave ovens have shielding that offers protection.)

     

    How Could the Radiation From Cell Phones Cause Cancer?

    At high power levels, RF waves can heat up water molecules (which is how microwave ovens work). Scientists used to focus their concerns on the possibility that such heating of human tissue, which is mostly water, might damage cells. In fact, the FCC’s test of cell-phone emissions—which was set in 1996 and which all phones must pass before being allowed on the market—is based on that effect.

    But most experts now aren’t concerned about that possible tissue heating caused by RF waves. Instead, what’s worrying some scientists are newer lab studies suggesting that exposure to cell-phone radiation can have biological effects without raising temperature.

    In 2011, researchers at the National Institutes of Health showed that low-level radiation from an activated cell phone held close to a human head could change the way certain brain cells functioned, even without raising body temperature. The study did not prove that the effect on brain cells was dangerous, only that radiation from cell phones could have a direct effect on human tissue.

    RF waves from cell phones have also been shown to produce “stress” proteins in human cells, according to research from Martin Blank, Ph.D., a special lecturer in the department of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University and another signer of the recent letter to the WHO and U.N. “These proteins are used for protection,” Blank says. “The cell is saying that RF is bad for me and it has to do something about it.”

    And just this year, a German study found that RF waves promoted the growth of brain tumors in mice, again at radiation levels supposedly too low to raise body temperature. The U.S. National Toxicology Program is now running an animal study of its own, exposing rats and mice to low-dose radiation. Results are expected in 2016.

     

    What Do Cancer Studies in Human Populations Show?

    The research above describes some lab and animal studies that looked at how cell-phone radiation might cause cancer or affect the body in other ways. But we also reviewed studies that investigated whether cell phones increased brain-cancer risk in humans.

    We focused on five large population studies, plus follow-ups to those studies, that investigated that question. Together the studies included more than a million people worldwide, comparing cell-phone users with nonusers.

    Though some findings were reassuring, others do raise concerns. Specifically, three of the studies—one from Sweden, another from France, and a third that combined data from 13 countries—suggest a connection between heavy cell-phone use and gliomas, tumors that are usually cancerous and often deadly. One of those studies also hinted at a link between cell phones and acoustic neuromas (noncancerous tumors), and two studies hinted at meningiomas, a relatively common but usually not deadly brain tumor.

    Though those findings are worrisome, none of the studies can prove a connection between cell phones and brain cancer, for several reasons. For one thing, cell-phone use in certain studies was self-reported, so it may not be accurate.

    In addition, the findings might be influenced by the fact that the study subjects owned cell phones that were in some cases manufactured two decades ago. The way we use cell phones and the networks they’re operated on have also changed since then. Last, cancer can develop slowly over decades, yet the studies have analyzed data over only about a five- to 20-year span.

     

    Are Today’s Phones Safer?

    Cell-phone designs have changed a lot since the studies described above were completed. For example, the antennas—where most of the radiation from cell phones is emitted—are no longer located outside of phones near the top, closest to your brain when you talk, but are inside the phone, and they can be toward the bottom. As a result, the antenna may not be held against your head when you’re on the phone. That’s important because when it comes to cell-phone radiation, every milli­meter counts: The strength of exposure drops dramatically as the distance from your body increases.

    Perhaps our best protection is that more people today use phones to text instead of talk, and headphones and earbuds are growing in popularity. On the other hand, it’s also true that we use cell phones much more than we used to, so our overall exposure may be greater.

     

    So Should I Stop Using My Cell Phone?

    No, Consumer Reports does not think that’s necessary. But we do have some concerns.

    “The evidence so far doesn’t prove that cell phones cause cancer, and we definitely need more and better research,” says Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Consumer Reports. “But we feel that the research does raise enough questions that taking some common-sense precautions when using your cell phone can make sense.” Specifically, CR recommends these steps:

    • Try to keep the phone away from your head and body. That is particularly important when the cellular signal is weak—when your phone has only one bar, for example—because phones may increase their power then to compensate.
    • Text or video call when possible.
    • When speaking, use the speaker phone on your device or a hands-free headset.
    • Don’t stow your phone in your pants or shirt pocket. Instead, carry it in a bag or use a belt clip.

       

    A Call for Clarity

    The substantial questions raised regarding cell phones deserve some clear answers:

    • The Federal Communications Commission’s cell-phone radiation test is based on the devices’ possible effect on large adults, though research suggests that children’s thinner skulls mean they may absorb more radiation.

    • Consumer Reports agrees with concerns raised by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Government Accountability Office about the tests, and thinks that new tests should be developed that take into account the potential vulnerability of children.

    • We think that cell-phone manufacturers should prominently display advice on steps that cell-phone users can take to reduce exposure to cell-phone radiation.

    This article also appeared in the November 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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    Why College Campus Cards Could Prove Costly

    When you get to college, you may be handed a campus card—a card that serves as an ID, lets you pay for your campus meals, and maybe even works at a nearby grocery store. It may also be the way you received your financial aid. The card may take the form of a debit or prepaid card and be linked to a bank that partners with the school. Keep in mind, though, that when you use it you may be subject to numerous fees.

    Currently, the Department of Education requires that students or parents don't incur costs when they receive student aid via a prepaid or debit card. But after issuance these cards have resulted in fees that are often esoteric. In the recent past, for example, some students have been assessed an inactivity fee if they don't use the card for a certain period of time. In other cases, you could be charged a fee for entering a PIN to make a purchase instead of using your signature. Such fees are not the kind that other debit card users would typically encounter.

    This year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed that colleges use a Safe Student Account Scorecard to itemize the potential fees students with campus cards may incur. While the scorecard is meant as a tool that colleges can use to negotiate better deals with potential banking partners, it also provides students with a useful list of potential 'gotcha' fees to watch out for. Here's what you need to find out:

    • Does the campus card assess a monthly fee? (If so, how might it be avoided?)
    • Are there any fees for point-of-sale purchases?
    • Is there a fee for having a transaction declined?
    • Is there a fee for closing an account?
    • Are there fees for account inactivity?

    Generally, campus card fees can be kept to a minimum as long as out-of-network ATM fees are avoided and the card isn't used for everyday purchases. A Consumers Union study last year found that some campus cards could cost heavy users $250 or more per year at some institutions.

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

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    Avoid Medical Bill Sticker Shock

     Before Lisa Beach, an assistant vice president for an Austin, Texas, credit union, had surgery for severe back pain two years ago, she did everything she could think of to make sure she wouldn’t have to pay a lot out of pocket.

    “I wanted to know the names of anyone who would have any kind of involvement in my surgery,” she says. Then she ran the names by her insurance company, Aetna, to make sure the care would be covered.

    In spite of her diligence, she received a $1,050 bill for services provided by an out-of-network doctor who, it turns out, wasn’t even in the hospital during her surgery. That doctor had simply provided specialized equipment used during the operation.

    Aetna refused Beach’s appeal, she says, so she went straight to the equipment provider. They agreed to drop the bill to $700—but only if she paid that day. She handed over the last $522 in her flexible spending account but still gets bills for the remaining $178.

    “I thought I did everything right, only to find out some information wasn’t disclosed to me,” Beach says.

    Beach’s experience is all too common. A 2015 Consumer Reports survey of 2,200 Americans found that most with private insurance don’t know where to turn with complaints about their health insurance, and almost a third had received a medical bill for which they had to foot more of the cost than they had expected. Many of those people ended up paying the bill in full.

    “These problems are happening much more frequently,” says Blake Hutson, who heads Consumer Reports’ health insurance advocacy efforts. “We’re expected to pay a larger and larger share of our health care costs, and getting hit with harsh penalties if, even unknowingly, we see providers outside of our network,” Hutson says.

    That’s true not just for people who buy insurance on their own through state or federal marketplaces but for those covered through their jobs. Even people on Medicare face shocks if they don’t understand the details of their plans—something that happens easily.

    How can you troubleshoot the increasingly tricky health insurance system? We’ve pinpointed seven situations that can cause medical bill sticker shock—and have advice on how to handle each.

    1.  Your Insurance Company Pays the Surgeon for Your Knee Replacement—But You’re on the Hook for the Anesthesiologist's Bill

    Problem: You ended up seeing an “out-of-network” provider. Your insurance company has a list of doctors you’re supposed to get all of your care from, and the anesthesiologist wasn’t one of them. Though that scenario often happens with anesthesiologists, the provider could also be an assistant surgeon or someone you never even met in person, such as the radiologist who reads an MRI or a pathologist who analyzes the results of a biopsy.

    How to prevent this shocker: If you’re preparing for a nonemergency procedure—such as a joint replacement or having a baby—ask the person who handles your surgeon’s billing for a complete list of the anesthesiologists, assistant surgeons, and everyone else who could conceivably be part of your medical team. Call your insurance company to determine whether all of those people are in your plan’s network. Make sure you tell them the exact name of the plan that’s on your insurance card, because insurers often have multiple plans, each with a different network of providers. If anyone on your list is not, ask the surgeon whether he or she can use network providers instead. If that’s not possible, contact the non-network providers to determine how much you will have to cover so that you’re not in for a surprise later. Or consider finding another surgeon who will use only in-network providers.

    If it happens to you anyway: Tell the providers and your insurer that you didn’t realize the procedure would involve doctors outside of your network. Some physicians may accept the insurance payment and forgive the balance, or the insurer and non-network doctor may negotiate a fee, leaving you with a smaller balance. If you have a plan that you bought on your own through a state or federal marketplace, contact your state health insurance department. Some states have rules for such plans, limiting how much you have to pay for out-of-network care.

     

    Video: What If Your Pizza Place Billed Like a Hospital?

     

     

    2.  The Rheumatologist That You Saw Billed $1,500 for Your Visit, But Insurance Covered Only $1,000—and You Have to Pay the Balance

    Problem: You’re a victim of “balance billing,” another way that going out-of-network can cost you. In that situation, your insurer allows you to use out-of-network providers but pays only the discounted rate that they’ve negotiated with in-network providers, leaving you with the balance. And that cost can be substantial, because the fees insurers set with in-network providers can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars less than what doctors charge directly.

    How to prevent this shocker: See providers in your plan’s network whenever possible. Call doctors and your insurance company—before your visit or procedure—to make sure that they are still in the network. (The insurer’s online directory could be out of date.) If you decide to go out of network, call your insurer to confirm what your share will be. Most plans, by the way, have exceptions for problems that can’t be handled by an in-network provider. Talk with your insurer if you think that applies to your situation.

    If it happens to you anyway: If you saw a doctor in your plan’s network, don’t pay the bill. Instead, tell the provider and your insurer that they’ve made a mistake. If the doctor was out of your network, explain your situation to the doctor. You might be able to get him or her to forgive the bill, negotiate a lower fee, or offer a payment plan that makes the bill more manageable.

     



    3.  You Broke Your Leg, and Your ER Visit Left You With a Hefty Bill

    Problem: This particularly nasty version of balance billing happens if the hospital you went to or the doctors who saw you in the ER are out of network. After all, in an emergency you may not have time to find an in-network provider. The Affordable Care Act has partially, but not fully, addressed the problem: It now requires insurance to cover ER care—but only at the rate paid to in-network providers. So if your ER doc is out of network, which they often are, you may be responsible for the difference.

    How to prevent this shocker: If you live close to several hospitals, call your insurer now—before you actually need an ER—to find out which are in your network and employ network ER physicians. Then, in an emergency, try to go to one of those (in your own car, if it’s safe; ambulances often aren’t covered). Reserve ERs for true emergencies. If your regular doctor could handle the problem, go there instead. Urgent care centers can also be options, but check with your insurer to make sure you’ll be covered.

    If it happens to you anyway: Contact the insurer and the doctor and explain that you didn’t have a choice because you needed emergency care. In some cases, the non-network doctor will accept the insurance payment, or the insurer and the doctor will negotiate an acceptable fee. In addition, call your state’s insurance department to see whether it has passed a law that prevents balance billing in the ER. If it has, don’t pay the bill, and lodge a complaint with the insurer. (See how to file a complainte in your state.)  

     

    4.  You Saw an In-Network Provider—But Your Insurer Says You're Responsible for the Whole Bill

    Problem: Your health plan probably has a high deductible that you haven’t yet met. High-deductible plans can seem attractive because they often have low monthly premiums. And more Americans now have that kind of coverage because insurers and employers are trying to shift a greater portion of health care costs to consumers. But many people who sign up for high-deductible plans don’t realize exactly how much they have to pay before insurance kicks in. The law currently caps total out-of-pocket spending at $6,850 for individuals and $13,700 for families.

    How to prevent this shocker: The next time you sign up for insurance, whether through work or on your own from a federal or state marketplace, think hard about whether you really want a high-deductible plan. (For the factors to consider and more advice on how to pick the right health plan for you and your family, see “Shop Smart for the Right Health Insurance Plan This Year.”  

    If it happens to you anyway: Call the insurer and ask whether you have reached your deductible, or check your insurer’s website for a tool that helps you track your expenses. If you’ve met the deductible, let the doctor and insurance company know. If not, check to make sure you’re being billed at the lower negotiated rate, not the out-of-network rate.

     

    5. You Thought Medicare Would Cover Your Doctor Visit, But No Such Luck

    Problem: You may have Medicare Advantage, not traditional Medicare. With traditional Medicare, you can usually visit any doctor and hospital you like as long as they accept Medicare—something almost all health care providers do. But when first enrolling in Medicare, you may have signed up for a Medicare Advantage plan thinking it was the same as traditional Medicare, perhaps in response to a pitch you received in the mail or on the phone. Medicare Advantage plans—which are run by private insurance companies such as Aetna or Cigna, not by the federal government—offer some advantages. But they do require people to use a specified network of providers. So if you signed up for Medicare Advantage and then see a provider outside of your network, you could be stuck with the bill.

    How to prevent this shocker: If you’re not sure whether you have Medicare Advantage or traditional Medicare, check your insurance card. It probably won’t say “Medicare Advantage” but might list a plan name, such as “Secure Horizons.” If you’re still not sure, call 800-633-4227 and ask which one you have. If you have Medicare Advantage, stick with network providers if possible. If you’re not satisfied with your Medicare Advantage plan, you can switch plans or enroll in traditional Medicare during the annual enrollment period. For 2016 coverage, that period runs from Nov. 1, 2015, to Jan. 31, 2016. Read more about Medicare Advangate vs. Traditional Medicare.

    If it happens to you anyway: Find out whether your plan allows exceptions for visits to non-network providers and whether you qualify for the exception in this case. Contact the non-network provider and ask whether it is willing to accept the insurance payment and forgive the balance. Many are willing to do that, at least once.

     

    6. You Saw Your Doctor for a Basic, 5-Minute Visit But Were Billed for an Expensive Procedure

    Problem: You may be the victim of a fraudulent practice known as “upcoding.” Every service performed by a health care provider has a code attached to it that’s used for billing private or public insurers (Medicare and Medicaid). Upcoding occurs when the provider submits a billing code for a higher-paying service than what actually took place. For example, if your child has an earache, your doctor can often ease the pain by simply removing built-up earwax. But some doctors have been known to bill the procedure as “outpatient surgery,” allowing them to get paid at a higher rate.

    How to prevent this shocker: It’s hard to prevent, unless you ask your doctor how he or she will be coding your visit or procedure—which is neither practical nor, usually, necessary. But if you have a history of that kind of problem with your health care provider, consider asking to put the office staff on notice that you’re watching.

    If it happens to you anyway: Check the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) form that you should get from your insurer after every doctor visit. If the charges on it seem unreasonably high, ask the doctor’s billing department to explain why a certain code was used. It could be an honest mistake, or there may be a valid reason for the code. For example, the doctor removed a mole during an office visit—a procedure you consider simple but may have been more complicated than you thought—and a provider can legitimately bill for it at a higher rate. If you’re not satisfied with the doctor’s explanation and suspect fraud, contact your insurance company, Medicare, or Medicaid, or your state insurance department. And check past bills for a pattern of upcoding. Illegal upcoding costs consumers millions of dollars in increased premiums and misspent tax dollars for Medicare and Medicaid payments.

     

    7. The Medication You Take Every Day Has Suddenly Shot Up in Price

    Problem: Your plan could have updated its “formulary”—the list of drugs that your insurer routinely covers—and your medication is no longer on it. Most private health plans can adjust their formularies at any time; Medicare can do that only during the open enrollment period. Plans update their lists for many reasons: They negotiated a better deal with the drug company, new research shows the medication isn’t as safe or effective as thought, or a generic (and cheaper) version of the drug hit the market that is just as safe and effective.

    How to prevent this shocker: Before choosing a health plan, check its formulary to see which drugs are covered. That’s essential if you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, that requires you to regularly take medications. You’ll get the lowest out-of-pocket costs when you buy the coverage plan’s “preferred” generic drugs, usually called “Tier 1.” A drug that isn’t listed on the formulary will often have the highest out-of-pocket cost and, in some cases, may not be covered at all. If you’re dissatisfied with your plan’s formulary, look for a better one at health insurance sign-up time. In addition, when your doctor writes a prescription, ask how much it costs and whether it’s covered by your insurance. And always ask whether a low-cost generic is available.

    If it happens to you anyway: If you find that the drug’s price is much higher than you expected when you pick up your prescription, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether a similar drug covered by your plan will work. It may be as simple as switching to a generic. If no other drug is appropriate, ask for an exception from your insurer. You should also shop around. Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers have found that doing so can save you hundreds of dollars. Costco, in particular, often has low drug prices, even for nonmembers. Last, try negotiating with the pharmacist. Our shoppers found that they could get discounts by asking, “Is this the lowest possible price you can offer?” (Read more about how to handle sudden spikes in your prescription drug costs.)

     

    How You Can Help End Surprise Medical Bills

    Consumer Reports is working to protect consumers from surprise medical bills in several ways:

    • In New York, we helped pass a landmark law to prevent balance billing in hospital emergency rooms, and we’re working on similar laws in states throughout the nation. You can join our efforts to stop surprise medical bills, share your billing story, and find out what’s going on in your state by going to EndSurpriseMedicalBills.org.

    • In California, we worked with the California Department of Insurance and the University of California, San Francisco on a tool that helps consumers there see what they might pay for health care and compare providers on quality. Try the California Healthcare Compare tool.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the November 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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    New 2016 Volkswagen Passat Updates Infotainment and Styling

    In one of the most awkward new-model introductions in recent memory, Volkswagen took the wraps off its restyled Passat, while the cloud of the company’s diesel emissions scandal lingers in the air.

    VW, apparently, wasn’t impressed with the last generation’s styling, so it took a scalpel to the Passat’s body and gave it a new hood, front fenders, grille, front and rear bumpers, and trunk lid. The company says that the only sheet metal it didn’t change was the roof, doors, and the body side stamping.

    Inside, the 2016 Volkswagen Passat gets an upgraded interior—a good thing since we thought the current model’s fit and finish wasn’t that impressive. Details include a new instrument panel, VW’s latest MIB II infotainment system, and a new steering wheel and column stalk design. New options include heated rear seats, LED headlights and taillights, and a foot-operated trunk opener.

    The infotainment system includes a standard touch screen on all models. Some versions get a capacitive-touch sensor enabling swiping and pinch-zooming, as well as a proximity sensor that detects when your hand is nearby and automatically switches its display to allow easier selection of specific features. USB and Bluetooth connectivity are standard on all 2016 Volkswagen Passat models. The system is also compatible for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink.

    Available safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control; forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking; blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert; and lane-departure warning. All 2016 versions come with a standard rearview camera.

    Powertrain choices remain the same as the current model: 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; 150-hp, 2.0-liter turbodiesel; and 280-hp, 3.6-liter V6. Both five- and six-speed manual and automatic transmissions will be offered.

    And, for the first time, you can get the Passat in VW’s zoot-suit R-Line version, which includes sportier exterior styling and 19-inch wheels mounted on 235/40 ZR-rated tires.

    Over the years we found that the Passat lost some of that crisp European driving feel of previous models. But it’s still a solid, upright sedan that delivers a comfortable ride, generous interior room, and competitive fuel economy from its four-cylinder engines.

    The Chattanooga, Tennessee-built 2016 Volkswagen Passat goes on sale later this year, starting at $22,440.

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

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    Consumer Reports Realigns Technology and Marketing Operations to Foster Growth and Impact

    Pete DiRenzo from Re/Code Appointed Chief Technology Officer

    YONKERS, NY, SEPT. 24 ─ Intensifying its focus on digital capabilities, Consumer Reports today announced a strategic realignment of its technology and marketing operations in order to accelerate growth, expand reach, and effect positive change in the marketplace.

    “Today, we are consolidating and reorganizing areas where collaboration means better results, promoting internal talent, and building leadership expertise in areas where we need deeper knowledge,” said President & CEO Marta Tellado.

    Tellado announced that all technology operations have been consolidated under VP-Digital Jason Fox, and that Pete DiRenzo will join CR on Oct. 1 as Chief Technology Officer. DiRenzo is presently Director of Digital Operations & Technology at Re/code.

    “We are very fortunate,” Tellado said, “to have recruited a creative, award-winning, and innovative leader with over 20 years of experience developing technology solutions for consumer-facing products at places such as eBay, Time Inc., Wenner Media, and Conde Nast. Attracting a leader like Pete from a highly-influential tech media start-up such as Re/code underscores CR’s commitment to bolstering its ranks with top-tier talent from innovative brands as well as our push to accelerate digital mastery as an organization.” 

    Tellado added that CR is also supplementing technology innovation by promoting Andrew Danyluk to the position of Chief Enterprise Systems Officer. Danyluk, who has extensive operational and leadership experience at CR, will oversee the project management office and enterprise systems and services, reporting to Fox.

    “Andrew’s command of our internal systems and management skills will help align our IT infrastructure with organizational priorities. Andrew and Pete represent a powerful partnership,” Tellado said.

    Tellado also announced that CR will appoint a Chief Marketing Officer and align several departments under the new CMO “as we shift from a product-centric approach to one that is more consumer-centric. This effort will require centralized leadership to unite all marketing activities and customer touch points and develop a cohesive strategy for results and growth.”

    “I believe these changes further position us to serve and reach consumers in new and dynamic ways, making us even more effective agents of marketplace change,“ Tellado said. “As a flatter organization with deeper expertise in all key areas and more holistic ways of working, we’ll be more successful than ever in serving our customers and helping to shape a marketplace that is safer and fairer for all consumers.”

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