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  • 01/29/16--06:59: Top Cars in Our Tests
  • Top Cars in Our Tests

    Each vehicle is put through a battery of tests at our track to determine its performance and some models stand out while others do not. Our list highlights the overall top-scoring vehicles in our Ratings and those at the bottom of the pack.

    You can create your own custom lists based on the factors you find most interesting by using our interactive Car Selector tool (available to online subscribers).

    Overall test scores are based on more than 50 individual Consumer Reports tests and evaluations, and they are presented on a 100-point scale.

    Top scoring cars in our tests

    Make & model Overall test score
    Tesla Model S P85D 100
    Tesla Model S (85 kWh) 99
    BMW M235i
    98
    Mercedes-Benz S550 (AWD)
    96
    Porsche 911 Carrera S
    95
    Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec 93
    Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 3LT
    92
    Audi A8 L 91
    Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ 91
    Audi A6 (3.0T) 90
    Infiniti Q70 90
    Audi A7 3.0 TDI 90

    The lowest scorers

    Make & model Overall test score
    Jeep Wrangler Limited
    20
    Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    29
    Mitsubishi i-MiEV 35

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best & Worst Car Acceleration

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

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

    Quickest vehicles

    Make & model Seconds to 60 mph
    Tesla Model S P85D 3.5
    Porsche 911 Carrera S
    4.1
    Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 3LT
    4.3
    Ford Mustang GT Premium
    4.9
    Chevrolet Camaro SS

    5.1

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

    5.2

    Nissan 370Z Touring

    5.3

    Maserati Ghibli S Q4

    5.4

    Audi A8 L

    5.5

    Dodge Challenger R/T Plus
    5.5
    Jaguar XJL

    5.5

    Porsche Panamera S 5.5

    Slowest vehicles

    Make & model Seconds to 60 mph
    Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE 14.7
    Chevrolet Spark 1LT 12.8
    Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    12.1
    Honda Insight EX

    11.8

    Fiat 500 Sport

    11.3

    Toyota Prius C Two
    11.3
    Smart ForTwo Passion 11.2
    Buick Encore Leather
    11.0
    Fiat 500 Pop
    11.0
    Lexus CT 200h Premium
    11.0

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    Best MPG Cars for City & Highway Commutes

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

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

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

    Best city mpg

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

    Make & model  MPG
    BMW i3 Giga 135*
    Ford Focus Electric 108*
    Mitsubishi i SE 104*
    Ford C-Max Energi 87* / 36**
    Nissan Leaf SL 86*
    Tesla Model S (85 kWh) 65*
    Tesla Model S P85D 64*
    Toyota Prius C Two 37
    Ford C-Max Hybrid SE 35
    Ford Fusion SE Hybrid 35
    Toyota Prius V Three 33
    Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 32
    Toyota Prius Four 32
    Lexus CT 200h Premium 31
    Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 29
    Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 29
    Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 29
    Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    28
    Lexus ES 300h 28
    Honda CR-Z EX (MT) 26
    Fiat 500 Pop (MT) 25
    Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    25
    Mazda MX-5 Miata Club (MT) 25
    Smart ForTwo Passion 25
    * = MPGe
    ** = MPG on gas only

     

    Best highway mpg

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

    Make & model  MPG
    BMW i3 Giga 141*
    Nissan Leaf SL 118*
    Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE
    116*
    Ford Focus Electric 107*
    Tesla Model S (base, 85 kWh) 102*
    Tesla Model S P85D
    110*
    Ford C-Max Energi 98* / 38**
    Toyota Prius Four 55
    BMW 328d xDrive 49
    Scion iA 48
    Smart ForTwo Passion 48
    Toyota Prius C Two 48
    Lexus CT 200h Premium 47
    Mitsubishi Mirage ES 47
    Toyota Prius V Three 47
    Volkswagen Jetta (1.4T) 47
    Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    46
    Ford Fiesta sedan SE 45
    Honda CR-Z EX (MT) 45
    Hyundai Accent GLS 45
    Mazda3 i Touring sedan 45
    Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 45
    Lexus ES 300h 44
    Mazda6 Sport 44
    Nissan Altima 2.5 S (4-cyl.) 44
    Ford Focus SE sedan 43
    Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 43
    Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 43
    Toyota Corolla LE Plus 43
    Fiat 500 Sport (MT) 42
    Fiat 500c Pop (MT) 42
    Ford Fiesta SES hatchback (MT) 42
    Honda Fit EX 42
    Mazda MX-5 Miata Club (MT) 42
    Scion iM 42
    Audi A7 3.0 TDI 41
    Ford Fusion SE Hybrid 41
    Mazda3 i Grand Touring hatchback 41
    Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec
    41
    Toyota Yaris LE 41
    * = MPGe
    ** = MPG on gas only

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 01/29/16--06:59: 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 Ford C-Max Energi 94* / 37** 87* / 36** 98* / 38**
    6 Toyota Prius Four 44 32 55
    7 Toyota Prius C Two 43 37 48
    8 Lexus CT 200h Premium 40 31 47
    * = MPGe
    **
    = MPG on gas engine only
    SUBCOMPACT CARS Overall mpg = 31 or higher
    1 Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    37 28 47
    2 Smart ForTwo Passion 36 25 48
    3 Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    35 25 46
    4 Scion iA 35 24 48
    5 Honda Fit EX 33 24 42
    6 Ford Fiesta SE sedan 33 22 45
    7 Hyundai Accent SE hatchback (MT) 32 24 40
    8 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback (MT) 32 23 42
    9 Toyota Yaris LE 32 23 41
    10 Nissan Versa SV sedan 32 23 40
    11 Nissan Versa Note SV 32 22 42
    12 Chevrolet Spark 1LT
    31 22 39
    13 Hyundai Accent GLS sedan 31 20 45
    COMPACT CARS Overall mpg = 29 or higher
    1 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 37 29 45
    2 Mazda3 i Touring sedan 33 23 45
    3 Mazda3 i Grand Touring hatchback
    32 24 41
    4 Toyota Corolla LE Plus 32 23 43
    5 Mini Cooper (3-cyl)
    31 22 41
    6 Volkswagen Jetta SE (1.8T) 30 21 39
    7 Nissan Sentra SV
    29 21 38
    8 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 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club (MT)
    34 25 42
    3 Fiat 500c Pop 34 25 42
    4 Fiat 500 Sport 33 24 42
    5 Mini Cooper S 30 23 38
    6 Hyundai Veloster 31 24 37
    7 Scion FR-S 30 23 37
    8 Subaru BR-Z Premium 30 23 37
    9 Ford Fiesta ST
    29 21 36
    10 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn
    29 20 39
    11 Fiat 500 Abarth 28 21 34
    12 BMW Z4 sDrive28i 28 19 38
    MIDSIZED CARS Overall mpg = 26 or higher
    1 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid 39 35 41
    2 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 38 32 43
    3 Mazda6 Sport 32 22 44
    4 Nissan Altima 2.5 S (4-cyl.) 31 21 44
    5 Honda Accord LX (4-cyl.) 30 21 40
    6 Chrysler 200 Limited (4-cyl.)
    30 19 44
    7 Volkswagen Passat SE (1.8T)
    28 19 39
    8 Toyota Camry LE (4-cyl.) 28 19 38
    9 Hyundai Sonata SE (4.-cyl) 28 18 40
    10 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium 26 17 39
    11 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT 26 17 38
    12 Toyota Camry XLE (V6) 26 17 37
    13 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 Nissan Maxima Platinum 25 17 36
    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
    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 Mazda CX-3 Touring 28 20 36
    5 Mercedes-Benz GLA
    26 19 35
    6 Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium 26 19 34
    7 Mini Countryman S 26 19 33
    8 Subaru Forester 26 18 35
    9 Hyundai Tucson Sport (1.6T) 26 18 35
    10 Mazda CX-5 Touring (2.5L) 25 19 32
    11 Chevrolet Trax LT 25 18 34
    12 Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 18 31
    13 Lexus NX 200t 24 17 33
    14 Hyundai Tucson SE (2.0L) 24 17 32
    15 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL (4.-cyl.)
    24 17 30
    16 Nissan Rogue SV 24 17 30
    17 Jeep Renegade Latitude 24 16 32
    18 Buick Encore Leather 23 16 32
    19 Honda CR-V EX 23 16 32
    20 Fiat 500X Easy
    23 16 31
    21 BMW X3 xDrive28i 23 16 29
    22 Kia Sportage LX (4-cyl.) 22 16 30
    23 Ford Escape SE (1.6)
    22 15 31
    24 Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.)
    22 15 31
    25 Ford Escape Titanium (2.0) 22 15 29
    26 Jeep Compass Latitude
    22 15 29
    27 Acura RDX 22 14 31
    MIDSIZED/LARGE SUVS Overall mpg = 18 or higher
    1
    Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd.
    25 18 32
    2 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (diesel)
    24 17 32
    3 Volkswagen Touareg TDI 24 17 31
    4 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 23 17 30
    5 Nissan Murano SL
    21 15 29
    6 Acura MDX Tech 21 14 31
    7 Ford Edge SEL (2.0L EcoBoost)
    21 14 31
    8 Chevrolet Equinox 1LT (4-cyl.) 21 14 30
    9 Kia Sorento EX (V6)
    20 13
    28
    10 BMW X5 xDrive 35i 21 14 28
    11 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS 20 14 29
    12 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec
    20 14 28
    13 Volvo XC90 T6 Momentum 20 14 28
    14 Toyota Highlander XLE 20 14 27
    15 Honda Pilot EX-L 20 13 28
    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 Ford F-150 XLT (2.7 EcoBoost)
    17 12 22
    4 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT 16 11 23
    5 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 Ford Mustang GT Premium (V8) 19 13
    27
    UPSCALE/LUXURY SEDANS Overall mpg = 18 or less
    1 Chevrolet SS 17 12 23
    2 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

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 01/29/16--06:59: 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 Ford C-Max Energi 94* / 37** 87* / 36** 98* / 38**
    6 Tesla Model S P85D
    87* 64* 110*
    7 Tesla Model S (base, 85kWh) 84* 65* 102*
    8 Toyota Prius Four 44 32 55
    9 Toyota Prius C Two 43 37 48
    10 Toyota Prius V Three 41 33 47
    11 Lexus CT 200h Premium 40 31 47
    12 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE 39 35 41
    13 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 38 32 43
    14 Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE 37 35 38
    15 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 37 29 45
    16 Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    37 28 47
    17 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 36 29 43
    18 Lexus ES 300h 36 28 44
    19 Honda CR-Z EX (MT) 35 26 45
    20 Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    35 25 46
    21 BMW 328d xDrive 35 24 49
    22 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 34 29 38
    23 Fiat 500 Pop (MT) 34 25 42
    24 Fiat 500 Sport (MT) 33 24 42
    25 Honda Fit EX 33 24 42
    26 Mazda3 i Touring sedan 33 23 45
    27 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.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 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
    Hyundai Tucson Sport (1.6T) 26 29.5
    Mazda CX-5
    25 33.0
    Chevrolet Trax LT
    25 26.0
    Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 37.0
    Mitsubishi Outlander SEL (4-cyl.)
    24 32.5
    Nissan Rogue SV 24 31.5
    Lexus NX 200t
    24 28.5
    Jeep Renegade Latitude 24 30.5
    Hyundai Tucson SE (2.0L) 24 29.5
    Honda CR-V EX 23 36.0
    BMW X3 xDrive28i 23 33.0
    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
    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
    Nissan Murano SL
    21 33.5
    Honda Pilot EX-L
    20 48.0
    Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec 20 47.0
    Hyundai Santa Fe GLS 20 40.5
    Toyota Highlander XLE 20 40.5
    Volvo XC90 T6 Momentum 20 35.0
    Infiniti QX60 (3.5L) 19 39.0
    Porsche Cayenne (base) 19 33.0
    Ford Flex SEL 18 47.5
    Toyota 4Runner SR5 (V6) 18 44.5
    Dodge Durango Limited (V6)
    18 44.0
    Ford Explorer XLT 18 42.0
    Nissan Pathfinder SL 18 39.5
    Mercedes-Benz ML350 18 37.5
    Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (V6) 18 36.5
    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
    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

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Make Great Pizza at Home on Game Day

    Pizza deliveries rise by 35 percent on Super Bowl Sunday, with orders spiking when the score is close. But you can skip the tip and the trip to the door by making your own pizza at home in one of two affordable home pizza ovens from Consumer Reports tests. One, the Black & Decker 5-Minute Pizza Oven & Snack Maker, sits right on your counter. The other, the BakerStone Pizza Oven Box, fits neatly in your gas grill. Here’s the score.

    Black & Decker 5-Minute Pizza Oven & Snack Maker

    As the name suggests, the Black & Decker 5-Minute Pizza Oven, $150, claims to cook fresh or frozen pizza at home in a speedy five minutes. The elements are infrared and the oven heats to temperatures of 600°F or higher. In our tests, it took a few attempts to find the perfect temperature setting for the type of pizza we were cooking—frozen, fresh, or take-and-bake—but once we got it right, the pizza oven turned out pie after pie faster than a conventional oven. It only fits pizzas up to 12-inches wide so you’ll appreciate the quick turnover time when you’re making more than one.

    The Snack Maker part of the oven may also come in handy on game day. In our tests, we tried fish sticks, chicken nuggets, and Hot Pockets. But when we put only a few pieces on the ceramic tray, the result was burned bottoms and undercooked interiors. The food cooked more evenly when we filled the tray with snacks, which is perfect when you’re cooking for a crowd.

    BakerStone Pizza Oven Box

    Super Bowl Sunday is one of the top grilling days of the year. If you’re grilling with gas, try the BakerStone Pizza Oven, $150, which sits on top of the grates. To bake pizza at home, a refractory stone cooking chamber traps hot air, cooking the pie from the top and bottom.

    We placed the box on a four-burner gas grill and, after preheating it for 30 minutes, baked eight homemade 12-inch pizzas in quick succession. In four minutes, the box turned out pizza with crispy crusts and nicely cooked toppings. Bakerstone claims you can also cook bread, cookies, roasts, vegetables, and fish in the box. We didn’t try it because we were too busy eating the delicious pizza.

    Gotta grill?
    While it’s not exactly high grill-buying season, some stores have them on display in out-of-the-way aisles of the store. If you like the pizza box concept, look for a grill with three or more burners. Consider one of the large or mid-sized models from our full gas grill Ratings and recommendations.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    If You Can't Find a Super Bowl TV Deal, Look for a 'Big Game' TV Instead

    When the Carolina Panthers face the Denver Broncos at Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, February 7, it'll be a classic contest of experience (Peyton Manning) versus youth (Cam Newton). Until then, any football fan shopping for a new TV will witness another kind of play-making, as retailers try to promote great prices without encroaching on a prized NFL trademark. Go looking for "Super Bowl TV" deals and you'll come up as short as the Cleveland Browns' red zone offense this season. Instead, try shopping for a "Big Game TV."

    That's because retail ads and promotions can't legally use the phrase "Super Bowl"—or even "Super Sunday"—unless the TV maker has shelled out a ton of money to the NFL. Once again, no TV manufacturer ponied up the cash to be the "official" TV of the NFL thus year. Since the league has no interest in joining the makers of aspirin, escalators, and yo-yos, whose once valuable trademarks gradually became genericized, it vigorously polices the use of these phrases. As a result, TV retailers have to be very creative about advertising a Super Bowl TV deal without using the words "Super" and "Bowl" together.

    That's why over the next few days you'll see numerous ads announcing "super" sales in time for "The Big Game," but surprisingly very few that specifically tout a Super Bowl TV deal.

    Walmart, for example is advertising that it's "Game Time," with expedited shipping that will get you a TV in time for "the Big Game." Best Buy says you can "Bring Home the Big Win" with its top "Big Game" TV sales. Crutchfield tells you to "Get Your New TV in Time for Game Day." Amazon has an "Ultra Game Plan" for getting a TV for the "Big Game." But no "Super Bowl TV deal."

    Even regional retailer H.H. Gregg, which in the past has flouted the NFL's Super Bowl advertising restrictions, is this year hewing to a more conservative approach, holding a "Super" sale, with special savings for those who enter the promotional code PLAYOFFS.

    As we get closer to the actual game, we'll be looking for other retailers to adopt even more creative end-arounds to help promote football-oriented TV sales without violating the NFL's trademarks. Let us know in the comments section (below) whether you see any.

    And if you do plan on catching the big game at home this year, make sure you check out our Super Bowl 50 guide, where you can find everything from top TV deals to the tastiest treats you can serve to guests.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 01/29/16--12:59: Best and Worst New Cars
  • Best and Worst New Cars

    Not all cars are created equal, and we have the data to prove it. Of course, numbers can tell a variety of tales and we understand every consumer has different priorities. To that end, we have compiled a series of best and worst car lists to highlight performance in a wide variety of categories. The lists below can be an excellent tool for filtering down your purchase considerations or for stocking up on vehicular trivia.

    Overall test scores are based on more than 50 individual Consumer Reports tests and evaluations, and are presented on a 100-point scale.

    Best cars in our tests
    Each vehicle is put through a battery of tests at our track to determine its performance and some models stand out while others do not. Our best and worst cars list highlights the overall top scorers in our Ratings and those at the bottom of the list.

    Best & worst values
    We think that real value is not necessarily how much you spend but what you get for your money. Vehicles that are reliable, perform well, and don't cost much to own represent the best values. Overall, small cars and sedans provide the best bang for the buck.

    Ownership costs
    Getting a good deal when buying your car is important. But it's just as critical to look down the road at how much a vehicle will cost you to own.

    Best new cars for under $25,000
    You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a good, reliable, safe vehicle and as this list shows, many models can be bought for under $25,000.

    Highest-scoring American vehicles
    There are many ways to view the Consumer Reports Ratings to find the highest-rated vehicle in a given category or price range. But we get many questions from journalists and our readers regarding the best current American-branded vehicles. To answer that query, we sorted vehicles into 13 key categories.

    Best & worst fuel economy
    With high gas prices and a tight economy, drivers need to find relief at the pump. If you’re buying a new car a fuel-efficient model can save you hundreds of dollars per year over a gas guzzler.

    Best city/highway mpg
    Depending on how you drive and what your typical commute looks like, you may want to compare how a vehicle's fuel economy fares in city versus highway driving.

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

    Best Acceleration and Fuel Economy
    You don't always have to give up engine performance in return for good fuel economy. To prove this, Consumer Reports compiled this list of vehicles that provided the best combination of fuel economy and acceleration in our tests.

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

    Best & worst visibility
    Being able to see out and around a vehicle from the driver’s seat can directly impact your safety and those around you. Vehicles with big blind spots make it harder for driver’s to see other vehicles approaching or even children or pets behind the vehicle. When a driver can’t see, it can be a recipe for disaster. Backup cameras and sensors can be helpful aids for those vehicles with poor visibility.

    Most fun to drive
    Fun to drive is a subjective measure—an elusive quality that can mean different things to different people. From our experience, a car can have a very powerful engine and accelerate quickly, but without handling agility, it's not much fun. For us, fun is a combination of factors such as handling response, sound, and the nature of the power delivery that lead to grin-inducing satisfaction.

    Best for comfort
    If you spend a lot of time in your vehicle, you know that comfort is a high priority. You want the ride to be pleasant and not torture for your body. A seat that causes discomfort or even a bumpy, noisy ride can make the drive very unpleasant. Here, we spotlight the most comfortable cars experienced in our testing.

    Best all-wheel drive cars
    When winter’s wrath hits hard, a car with all-wheel drive is your best bet to help navigate the roads safely. You can find AWD in a variety of vehicle categories.  See which one is right for you.

    Best off-road
    At our Auto Test Center, we have the ability to systematically evaluate the off-road capability of SUVs and 4WD pick up trucks. Ascending our "Rock Hill," a 23-degree slope of boulders set in cement, very quickly reveals differences in axle articulation, suspension travel, traction, approach and departure angles and more. It also presents a repeatable surface that does not change after successive runs.

    Best & worst three-row vehicles
    The main appeal of three-row vehicles is their ability to carry up to eight people and cargo as well. They’re great for carpooling and carrying all types of gear. The list includes minivans and SUVs, although larger SUVs provide both better access and more cargo space, minivans have a better third row seat for children, as well as adults.

    Best for tall or short drivers
    Cars are not one size fits all.  Some are especially versatile and rate very highly by both tall and short testers, but several models serve neither tall nor short drivers well.  It's important to find a car that fits your body and in comfortable.

     

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    How to Cancel Travel Plans Due to the Zika Virus

    If you plan to cancel the tropical vacation you've booked to avoid coming down with the Zika virus, you're probably in good company. Worries over travel have picked up in recent days with the news that at least 31 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the virus including a pregnant woman in New York City, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    But canceling raises more questions. Will you be hit with cancellation penalties? Will you be able to get a refund? 

    The good news is that some major airlines and cruise lines are bending their usually strict rules on cancellation for passengers with tickets to the affected areas. But at the same time, you may also need to negotiate for a refund to cancel travel plans. 

    Airlines

    JetBlue, which was rated the most highly among airlines in our 2015 airline Ratings, has the most forgiving policy among the five largest U.S. carriers we contacted. Customers concerned about Zika and holding tickets to affected areas can cancel travel for a refund even if they purchased non-refundable tickets. Re-bookings can be made without penalty. 

    United and American provide similar options, but only to women who are pregnant or attempting to become pregnant, and their travel companions, and their policies doesn't apply to non-refundable tickets. American requires a note from a doctor and refunds are limited for travel to only 11 countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Panama, and Puerto Rico.

    Southwest Airlines, also highly rated by our subscribers, has no specific Zika policy, but it never charges penalties for changing flight plans. So any traveler concerned about Zika is free to avoid problem destinations. If you have non-refundable tickets, their full value can be applied to travel elsewhere on Southwest.

    Delta did not respond to our request for comment, but the airline's website says customers may be able to change their destinations and travel dates without being charged a fee. They may also qualify for a refund if they cancel travel plans. Changes need to be made by February 29.

    What you should do. If you're not pregnant or trying to become pregnant and still prefer to cancel, getting a refund may be more difficult. If you bought travel insurance that has a rider that permits cancellation for any reason, that should protect you. If you don't have the insurance, we recommend that you negotiate for a refund from the airlines. That may require that you argue that canceling your trip helps prevent the spread of the virus to the U.S. It is especially advisable if you expect to be in contact with anyone who is pregnant (there are still questions as to how easily this disease gets transmitted). 

    Cruises

    Consumers who buy tickets for a cruise are typically subject to stiff penalties if they change or cancel travel plans. Payment in full is usually required 90 or more days before departure. If you later want to cancel, you can lose up to 100 percent of your payment depending on when you make that decision.

    But if the reason for canceling has to do with the Zika virus, the cruise lines are being unusually lenient. Carnival, the largest cruise line, is letting pregnant women cancel travel or change their itineraries to exclude Zika-prone destinations. They can also request credit for a future voyage. The same is true for Disney Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises. 

    Norwegian Cruise Lines goes a step further. It says it will let pregnant women, as well as those planning to become pregnant, make cancellations or itinerary changes at no charge. That's a critical protection, especially for couples that may be on a honeymoon cruise.

    "Expectant mothers are a very small set of our guests," says Vanessa Picariello, a Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman.

    Norwegian's usual policy is to not accept passengers who will have entered their 24th week of pregnancy at any time during the cruise, including the land portion of their trip.

    What you should do. If your cruise line isn't willing to help you avoid cancellation or change fees, remind them of the policies set by the other cruise lines and ask for similar treatment.

    As with the airlines, if you purchased travel insurance that has a rider that permits cancellation for any reason, that should protect you. We suggest that you don't automatically take the limited insurance policy offerings that the cruise line sells. You're likely to get better coverage and lower fees if you shop the market more broadly by using an online broker such as InsureMyTrip.

    Lodging

    Hotel chains have more consumer-friendly cancellation policies and routinely require 48 to 72 hours’ notice to avoid a charge equal to one night’s stay.

    However, if you cancel a prepaid stay during a peak period, you could forfeit the entire amount. Some resorts may bill you for three nights if you cancel your trip. 

    If you've booked a private vacation home rental through online marketplaces such as Airbnb, HomeAway, or VRBO, the homeowner sets the cancellation policy.

    What you should do. Given the severity of the warning from the CDC, negotiate for a full refund or a reduced penalty waiver. It can help to contact the hotel or travel agent and explain that your doctor has warned against travel to the area.

    For private vacation home rentals, check your contract for the owner's cancellation policy to see if you can get out of the deal within the rules. If you are unable to break the agreement, appeal to the owner on a personal level and try to negotiate a fair refund, given the new health threat.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Education Department Cracks Down on Student Debt Relief Companies

    Student borrowers are being targeted by debt relief companies promising help—for a price—for services that the government offers for free. Many borrowers, overwhelmed by the burden of paying back student loans, are tempted to sign on for their services.

    But they shouldn't. Today, two of those companies got a smackdown from the Department of Education, whiuch issued a cease-and-desist letter to Student Loan Project and Perfect Privacy, the operator of SL Programs Student Loan and Debt Consolidation. 

    The Education Department charged the student debt relief companies with unauthorized use of its official seal on their websites and misrepresentation of their relationship. The Student Loan Project was also accused of implying it is affiliated with the government by using the top-level domain ".us" at the end of its web address.

    The Education Department ordered the sites to stop using the official seal by February 4 and to put a disclaimer on their websites explaining that they are not affiliated with the department.

    “Millions of Americans are struggling to manage their education debt and are vulnerable to being ripped off by shady debt relief companies charging exorbitant fees,” says Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “We’re encouraged that the department is cracking down on these misleading marketing schemes and hope they will continue to aggressively enforce the law to stop debt relief scams.”

    'We've Put These Companies On Notice'

    In a video released this morning, Acting Secretary of the Department of Education John King said, ”We’ve put these companies on notice that they may not misrepresent their relationship with the department to trick students into paying for free services.”

    Although the Education Department issued warnings about student debt relief companies last summer, today's move is the first legal action it has taken. The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are also investigating possible deceptive practices in the student debt relief business.

    Student debt relief companies charge for services that provide little or any benefit. They also push borrowers into monthly contracts. Some companies charge upfront consolidation fees as high as $999 or 1 percent of the loan balance. They also charge "enrollment" fees up to $600 or account “maintenance” fees as high as $50 per month, according to Department of Education research.

    Students Shouldn't Pay For Help That Is Free

    The government's message to students: Don’t be fooled. You never have to pay for help managing your federal student debt. You can visit the Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid and the student loans section of its website if you need information on how to lower or cap your monthly loan payments, consolidate your federal loans, find out whether you qualify for loan forgiveness, and to get advice if your loan is in default.

    If you think you've been scammed, contact your state's department of consumer protection or attorney general. You can also file a complaint with the FTC or the CFPB.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Pull the Plug on the Utility Bill Scam

    Wintry weather brings out an especially cold-hearted scam: the utility bill scam. Someone impersonating an electric and gas company representative contacts you claiming that there’s a problem with your payment—it’s overdue or denied—and if you don’t pay the bill immediately, your service will be disconnected.

    Just in the past month, citizens from Connecticut to California have received utility bill scam calls or emails. Phone scammers might spoof caller ID by hijacking the number of a local utility and use utility terminology to seem more believable. Online scammers might email you from what looks like your utility’s website or they might send you a Google Calendar invitation with the subject line “Your electric bill is available.”

    Either way, scammers are after your money, your credit card information, or other personal information like your bank account numbers, date of birth, or Social Security number that can be used for ID theft. 

    Because local gas, water and electric companies do occasionally contact their customers by phone, it can be difficult to tell a scammer from a real agent. Similarly, fake emails can look eerily similar to the real thing. Here’s what you should know to protect yourself from a utility bill scam:

    • Prepaid debit cards are a red flag. If a caller demands instant payment using a prepaid debit card such as Green Dot MoneyPak, Vanilla or Reloadit prepaid cards, hang up immediately.
    • Don’t cave in to pressure to pay immediately. Utility companies will not send threatening emails to pay your bill. Customers who are behind on their payments receive written notices of a possible disconnection and how to prevent it.
    • Keep your utility scam antenna sharp. Look out for these kinds of bills and delete them. Bills that look like your normal bill but are from a different utility company, bills that look different from your normal bills, and bills that ask for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers. Do not click on any links as they may contain malicious spam.
    • Be informed. If you suspect you’ve been a target of a utility scam, call the utility directly to verify whether you owe money. Find out what forms of payment your utility company accepts.
    • Never give out personal information. Don’t share your bank account numbers, credit card number, Social Security number or date of birth, even if the person seems legitimate.
    • Never allow anyone into your home without an appointment. Scammers sometimes pose as utility representatives claiming they need to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or an appliance. What they really want to do is get into your house and steal money or get your personal information. Even if you’ve requested service, this could be a utility scam. Ask to see proper identification. 

    The threat of losing power or heat during chilly weather can be enough to freeze your common sense. Keep your cool. Report any incidents immediately to your utility company, using the official number found on your invoice.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    What Causes Those Bad Dishwasher Smells?

    Q. Why does my dishwasher smell funky?

    A. Check your filter. Those bad dishwasher smells could be coming from food residue that’s collected there, according to appliance tester Larry Ciufo. European dishwashers have always used a self-cleaning filter to combat such dishwasher smells. But American manufacturers have self-cleaning and manual filters, and not everyone knows that the latter should be cleaned periodically so that you don't get that funky dishwasher smell. Read your owner’s manual to see what kind of filter you have and how the manufacturer recommends cleaning it or dealing with bad dishwasher smells. If you find that the smell lingers, you could try using a dishwasher-cleaning product. We haven’t tested any, so we can’t recommend a specific one.

    For buying advice and related information check our Dishwasher Buying Guide.

    Send your questions to ConsumerReports.org/askourexperts.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    What is the Ultra HDTV Soap Opera Effect?

    Q. I just bought a new ultra high-definition TV, but movies look cheesy somehow, like daytime TV. Is there a way to fix this soap opera effect?

    A. Don’t worry; there’s nothing wrong with your HDTV, says our TV guru Claudio Ciacci. This soap opera effect is a common problem that comes up when a feature called smooth motion is activated, causing movies to lose much of their filmic character. It’s referred to as the “soap opera effect” because films end up looking hyper-realistic, almost like daytime soaps. Those shows are usually shot with cameras running at a higher 60 frames per second, or 60Hz, which naturally yields smoother motion. Movies, by contrast, are usually shot at a relatively slow 24Hz, with motion that can look a bit jerky during camera pans, but that’s the “film look” we’re accustomed to seeing. An easy fix for the soap opera effect is to turn off the smooth-motion feature. But with some TVs, it’s tied to anti-blurring processing—which is helpful in reducing blur during motion scenes. So by turning the soap opera effect off, you also lose any blur-reduction benefits. For TVs that have sub-controls in this feature’s menu, be sure to turn down the setting called anti-judder and turn up the anti-blurring processing. That should preserve the authentic film look. 

    For TV buying advice and related information check our TV Buying Guide.  

    Send your questions to ConsumerReports.org/askourexperts.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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    4 Products on Deep Discount in February

    February is about more than chocolates and flowers, especially if you're a shopper looking for deep discounts.

    There aren't lots of sales promotions this month, according to the National Retail Federation. But Consumer Reports' product-research experts, who track prices all year long, have have found a few items that are typically on deep discount in February.

    Upcoming Presidents' Day sales mean you'll be able to score even greater savings on these items. (We've seen the Presidents' Day sales period start as early as the first week in February and last until after the 20th of the month).

    Want to know what's on deep discount the rest of the year? Check our calendar of deals.

    Sales on Indoor Furniture

    Furniture pricetags are slashed this month because stores need to make way for new lines that will arrive after the spring High Point Market (April 16 to 20 this year).

    Shopping tips
    Where you shop makes a difference. Catalog retailers, for example, including those that are an adjunct to a chain of stores, tend to have the deepest selection. But mass-market retailers, including Ikea, Value City, and Walmart, tend to stress price and offer more savings. Expect a fairly limited fabric selection on upholstered furniture, however.

    Size up upholstered furniture like an expert. Follow these steps when examining floor samples when shopping and again when the furniture is delivered, to be sure that the piece that is delivered matches what you saw in the store.

    To find the best furniture stores, check this interactive guide, which also includes details on upholstered furniture, styles, and furniture-care tips.

    Great Deals on Mattresses

    Manufacturers usually modify innerspring mattresses for different sellers, changing the color, padding, quilting pattern, and so forth. Then each seller can call the mattress by a different name. Because such mattresses are at least somewhat different, and the names vary, it's really hard to comparison shop. Look for the deepest discounts around Presidents' Day, when you should expect to find prices slashed at least 50 to 60 percent.

    Shopping tips
    Take them for a spin.
    Buy at a store, not online or over the phone, unless you've already tried the identical mattress in a store. A product manager for Tempur-Pedic told us that more online customers return their mattresses than shoppers who buy in a store.

    Shop back to front. Stores keep the priciest models up front, so head to the back of the store first. Start out by lying down on the least expensive bed from a few top brands, then do the same thing working your way up in cost. Our mattress buying guide contains lots of additional shopping tips. We put mattresses through tough tests; you can see which ones came out on top in our Ratings.

    Discounts on Winter Clothing

    We've found winter apparel is usually on deep discount in February as retailers make way for spring lines. But this year's unusually warm fall means retailers are swamped with unsold coats, scarves, and sweaters. So look for sales of 60 to 70 percent off these items, says DealNews

    Shopping tips
    Time your purchase. 
    Shopping on the right day of the week can save you even more. Kohl's fans, for example, should check out the "Gold Star Clearance" racks, where prices are slashed up to 80 percent on weekend nights. Every Wednesday, shoppers who are 60 years old and older get an extra 15 percent off.

    At Target, women's clothing is generally marked down on Tuesdays, men's on Wednesdays, and kids' on Mondays. Markdowns at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx usually happen on Wednesday. Your local store may have its own schedule, so ask salespeople when items are typically marked down.

    Hit the outlets. We've examined the clothing sold at outlets several times, and although we've detected some shortcuts taken on items made expressly for the outlets (like less expensive buttons or fewer stitches per inch), we've found most of the merchandise is good quality. Just look over each piece of clothing carefully to make sure there are no loose threads, tears, or other faults.

    Price Cuts on Humidifiers

    Running a humidifier can relieve itchy eyes, sore throat, and cracked skin by adding moisture to dry, heated air. 

    Shopping tips
    Before you buy, check the features.
    A humidistat—if it's accurate—can help you maintain relative humidity between the optimal levels of 30 percent to 50 percent.

    Put substance over style. Models resembling a radio can liven up your decor but their output might be too low for the area you need to humidify. Some models with a touch of whimsy, however—like this owl model from Crane—also delivered good performance.

    Check our humidifier buying guide for more tips on finding the right model in our Ratings. To learn how we test humidifiers in our labs, watch the video below. 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Which Small SUV Fares Best in the Snow?

    With our Connecticut auto-test center in winter’s frigid grip, we piloted three top-selling compact SUVs around various sections of our track to see how they performed when driven on snow with standard all-season tires.

    Vehicles reflect a complete system; their tires, stability control, and AWD setup determine how well they perform in snow.

    We did straight-line acceleration and braking trials with a 2015 Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4. We also climbed a steep hill covered with fresh snow, and drove the SUVs around our unplowed handling course.

    We found that not all all-wheel-drive systems are created equal. Our judgments reflect our actual experience, but because there are variables in snow texture and density, consistent, repeatable tests were difficult to create.

    Caveats aside, our drivers’ assessments were surprisingly uniform. All of them agreed that the Subaru did markedly better than the Honda and Toyota at accelerating and hill climbing.

    The Forester’s drive system allows a certain amount of wheel slip while climbing, which helped the SUV maintain momentum in a pinch. The CR-V and RAV4 feel less responsive to a foot on the gas pedal.

    When it came to staying on course while rounding curves, we also found pronounced differences among the vehicles, with the Subaru the leader.

    When the cars were equipped with standard all-season tires, braking distances were similar—basically tripling the distance of dry-pavement stops from 60 mph.

    For more information on specific models, visit our SUV buying guide & ratings.

    Subaru Forester

    It started, stopped, and cornered the way people expect an AWD car to drive. We could feel the power being directed to all four wheels at different times to help stay on course. It felt well-balanced and allowed us to make midcorner adjustments without losing traction. Stability control wasn’t overbearing but helped when needed.

    Honda CR-V

    The CR-V mostly felt like a front-wheel-drive car. It required more driver input, and would initially continue straight rather than steer through a corner. But it could be persuaded to rotate by lifting quickly off the throttle and giving it a stab of steering input. The stability-control system prevented the SUV from spinning out, but ultimately it inspired less confidence.

    Toyota RAV4

    When it came to traction on unplowed roads, the Toyota AWD system often didn’t respond to steering, braking, and throttle inputs, plowing straight through curves. An AWD Lock feature sends equal torque to the front and rear wheels but disengages at 25 mph. The only solution that really worked was to slow down to a crawl before reaching a corner.

    Truth in Advertising? We Put Commercials to the Test

    Subaru: 'Delivery Truck'

    This commercial­—pulled from what appears to be a viral video­—shows the one strength of all-wheel drive: getting a vehicle going from a dead stop. And in this case, helping someone else get going as well. In that sense, the ad is accurate.

    Audi: 'Ski Jump'

    An Audi sedan climbs a 35° ski jump in Finland. Unmentioned are its spiked snow tires and big chain to keep the car from sliding back down the jump. Without those assists, it couldn’t make the climb nor could it descend the ramp.

    Dodge: 'It's Just Snow’

    “Without all-wheel drive, it’s the end of the world” is the tag line in the snowpocalypse portrayed. But the truth is that AWD vehicles without winter tires­ have the same traction problems as a typical car when it comes to stopping or cornering in the snow.

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

     

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    Your February Financial To-Do List

    It's nearly Valentine's Day, and I'm not opposed to spending a little money to give bon bons, bouquets, and bling to your loved one. But this month I'll also take a little time to get my finances in order.

    Not the most romantic sentiment, to be sure. But disagreements over money are the main reason both first and second marriages dissolve. This checklist may help you to avoid such problems and build on the progress you made in January

    1. Find Good Tax Prep Help

    There are good reasons to prepare your taxes early. If you're getting a federal tax refund this year, filing early means you can put that money to good use sooner.

    If you owe money instead, preparing early gives you time to figure out how you’ll pay before the deadline. The free preview features by tax software companies like TurboTax and H&R Block can help you figure out how much you'll owe. When our tax pro recently tried the programs, she found that both were easy to use and took less than 15 minutes to complete. 

    If you decide to prepare your own taxes, first read our recent comparison of H&R Deluxe tax prep software with Turbo Tax Deluxe. If you need to find a new tax preparer instead, start looking now before the good ones are too busy to take on new clients.

    You may also qualify for free tax help if your household income was low to moderate for your community last year, or if you're at least 50 years old. The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide service will pair you with trained volunteers who can handle Form 1040 and schedules A and B.

    2. Get a Free Credit Report

    The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.

    We suggest you order one credit report from a different major credit bureau each quarter, which allows you to take a peek at your credit files several times a year for free. The bureaus don’t collect exactly the same information, so getting one from each gives you a more complete picture of your credit history. To order your first free report in 2016, go to annualcreditreport.com.

    3. Buy Products on Deep Discount

    Consumer Reports product research experts, who track prices all year long, have compiled a list of items that are typically at their lowest price in February. If you're shopping for the best deals this month, look for sales on indoor furniture, mattresses, humidifiers, and winter clothes.

    If you think you can get an even better deal on products and services try haggling. In a Consumer Reports National Research Center survey of 2,000 American adults, 89 percent of people who said they haggled received a better price at least once.

    4. Check for New Credit Card Fees

    Credit card issuers keep finding new ways to charge fees. The average card now charges six different fees, according to a survey by CreditCards.com. Besides familiar dings for late payments and balance transfers, some unexpected charges to look for are fees for re-opening a closed account, returned checks, and hard copies of your credit card statement.

    Not all cards have a laundry list of fees. Take a look at your credit card statements for the past six months to see if you were charged unexpected fees. If you were charged, consider searching for better deals on websites such as Bankrate.com, CreditCards.com, CardRatings.com, and Lowcards.com.

    5. Check Your Property Tax Assessment

    February is the deadline for property tax appeals in some cities. If your property has recently been reassessed and you disagree with the reassessment, you may have a limited number of days to appeal. Find out when you can file a grievance; forms and procedure information should be found on the website for your town's tax assessor's office. 

    You can determine how much your home is worth by using current home-sales data to compare the assessed value to those of six or more similar houses in your town. Another option is to pay for an appraisal. If you feel your home has been assessed at least 10 percent too high, appeal to the tax assessor's office.

    A word of advice: Before filing a formal request for an appeal, meet with your town's assessor. Explain how you came to your conclusion and provide five to 10 property comps to strengthen your case. You should also find out how the assessor arrived at his assessment. You may be able to resolve your differences before going through the appeals process.

    If you decide to file an appeal, don't jump at tax-cut solicitations that offer to file an appeal for you for a fee. They might not be as thorough because they don't know your property as well as you do. If you do use a third party, make sure you understand the payment structure, which might involve a one-time fee, a contingency fee, or both. Check with the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general's office for any complaints.

    Pay your tax bill if it is due while your appeal is in process. If you win, you can gain a retroactive refund or credit.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Blasts From the Past: Boomboxes and Audio Shelf Systems

    Here in America, boomboxes are a visceral part of our collective audio culture. Who can forget that famous scene from Say Anything, with John Cusack holding a boombox high above his head, the Peter Gabriel hit "In Your Eyes" bounding from the speakers?

    Shelf systems are less iconic, but if you ever went to a dance club or a college dorm party during the Say Anything era, chances are you got your groove on while listening to a device like the ones pictured below.

    That's not to say that boomboxes and shelf systems are a thing of the past. The truth is they never really went away. But young John Cusack would be surprised to discover how much they've changed in the last 25 years. Today's models don't have cassette decks, for example. They offer Bluetooth connectivity and USB or HDMI ports instead.

    Here are four cutting-edge models that caught our attention:

    BeBox by Mohu, $500

    Why is this boombox so pricey? It comes with a built-in android tablet that allows you to access a wide array of mobile music apps. In fact, you can conceivably download one that actually let's you create music.

    If you want to pair the BeBox with a cell phone or other mobile device, though, you can still do so, either wirelessly (via Bluetooth) or through a 3.5mm jack, USB port, or microSD memory card slot. The BeBox also includes an HDMI output jack.

    Of course, to serve you well, a boombox must be portable, and this model delivers eight hours of battery life. That should be enough to keep the party going deep into the night. 

    SuperStar Monster Blaster, $400

    With its front- and rear-facing speaker, says Monster, this new boombox offers “powerful high-wattage bi-directional sound with full and deep bass.” It also provides you with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, plus a 3.5mm stereo analog input. What's more, it's water-resistant. In many ways, though, it's just a big wireless speaker with a handle—except perhaps for the styling, which, Monster argues, “will look great on anyone’s shoulder or at any social gathering.” The SuperStar Monster Blaster will be available this spring.  

    Samsung Giga Sound Systems, $150 to $1,700

    In addition to stereo speakers, shelf audio systems generally include other components. For example, Samsung’s $150 MX-J630—the entry-level option in its Giga Sound Systems—includes a built-in CD player. And this $1,700, top-of-the-line MX-JS9500 has a pair of powerful 4000-watt speakers, a built-in CD, an FM tuner, and a Party Drum feature that lets you add your own beats to any song on your playlist.

    LG X-Boom Series

    LG recently unveiled three X-Boom audio systems, including this CM9960 model, which offers more specialized, DJ-type features. For instance, the Sampler Creator lets users record a sound on a smartphone and wirelessly beam it to the X-Boom system, where it can be added to the digital soundboard and selected at the touch of a button. Much like other systems, LG also has a Party Thruster lever that creates multicolored light shows synced to the audio. LG has yet to announce the CM9960's price, but the unit is scheduled for release in the U.S. by mid-summer.

    If you'd much rather shop for wireless speakers or upgrade to a home audio system, be sure to consult consumerreports.org for more expert advice.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Hot Tips for Cold-Weather Grilling

    It’s time to plan ahead for your Super Bowl party, especially if you’re grilling like so many people do on game day. Super Bowl Sunday is the most popular grilling day of the winter with two-thirds of grill owners firing up theirs for the festivities. Grilling in cold weather takes longer than when it’s warm so check now to see if you have enough fuel on hand. Here are some other tips for cold-weather grilling from year-round grilling pros.

    Perform a grill check. In addition to a fuel check, make sure your grill is shoveled out and that the lid and knobs aren’t frozen shut. If they are, move the grill into the garage or a warmer spot to let it defrost—or use a hair dryer. Don’t force open a frozen knob or lid, which can damage the grill.

    Put the grill in a safe place. While you want easy access to your grill, don’t place it too close to the house—10 feet away is recommended. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never grill in an enclosed space like a patio, garage, or under an awning. Inspect the burners, jets, and gas lines for blockages that restrict the gas flow. The flame should burn blue not yellow, which indicates clogged air inlets or burners that need adjusting.

    Exercise patience. Preheating your gas grill can take up to twice as long in frigid temperatures so factor that in. To keep food from sticking to the grates, the grill should be fully preheated. Position the grill at a 90 degree angle to the wind so the flames don’t blow out on gusty days.

    Suit up safely.
    Bundle up but don’t wear scarves, tassels, or any other item that can dangle over the grill and catch fire. Choose a pair of warm gloves that allow full hand movement so you can easily manipulate your grilling tools.

    Keep a lid on it. Every time you lift the lid, heat escapes prolonging grilling time. For the grill to retain as much heat as possible, keep the lid closed. If you have an app-connected wireless meat thermometer, use it to monitor temperature and cooking time.

    Test meat temps. Cold-weather grilling takes longer so make doubly sure that your meat is thoroughly cooked. Place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the food and follow this advice from the USDA:

    • Cook raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to 145 °F. Allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or eating.
    • Cook raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to 160 °F.
    • Cook raw poultry to 165 °F.

    Plan a quick cleanup. The best time to clean your grill is when it’s still hot so take the time to brush food detritus off the racks, especially if your grill will be sitting idle for the rest of the winter.

    Need a Gas Grill?

    As grilling becomes a year-round activity, it’s getting easier to find grills for sale in the winter, even if you have to look in the back of the store behind the more seasonal items. If you need a grill for Sunday's game, make sure you have time to assemble it. While some stores offer assembly in warmer months, that task is usually done by seasonal workers who may be off duty now. To see the results of our gas grill tests, see our full gas grill Ratings and recommendations.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Toyota Puts the Brakes on Prius Production

    Just as sales are getting underway of the all-new, fourth-generation 2016 Toyota Prius, the automaker plans to halt production due to steel shortage.

    An explosion at supplier Aichi Steel Corporation’s plant in Japan is causing Toyota to suspend factory lines from Feb. 8 through the 13th, according to Automotive News.

    In addition to the Prius, many Lexus (CT, IS, GS, GX, LS, LX, NX, and RC) and all Scion models are imported from Japan.

    The automaker is expected to source steel from other locations, including China and Korea, to keep production rolling. The Prius was being built at an average rate of 1,600 cars a day for worldwide distribution, but projections see Prius production dropping to about 500 cars a day until the end of March even after production resumes.

    The shutdown should not affect North American production, leaving much of the Toyota line protected from the home-market problems.

    What this means for consumers is that the new car may be in limited supply in the coming weeks, curtailing color and option choices, as well as reducing negotiation room. Right now, there are about 3,000 unsold Priuses at U.S. dealerships, with about 5,000 more en route. Those cars are to be shared among 1,200 Toyota dealerships.

    In addition, it was expected that the remaining inventory of 2015 Priuses would be cleared off lots with generous customer rebates. (There are about 3,000 2015s available, as well.) But those incentives will likely not be as grand as a consequence.

    Production is said to be affected from February 2, and the supply impact will be felt a couple weeks later, starting on the West Coast.

    Fortunately, Consumer Reports was able to purchase a 2016 Toyota Prius Three a few days ago, with a sticker price of $27,323. We are currently adding up the break-in miles, in anticipation of testing in the weeks ahead. 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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