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    Three New Ways to Brew Coffee

    Consumer Reports’ coffee maker Ratings include performance scores and judgments on about 135 drip and single-serve coffee makers. But we know that many coffee drinkers occasionally like to brew coffee in a different way, or try a new coffee altogether, so we’re increasingly doing the same with the products we choose to test. With that in mind, we recently brought the Aerobie AeroPress Coffee Maker ($30), the Fellow Duo Coffee Steeper ($100), and the Oxo Cold Brew 1272880 ($50) into our labs for testing.

    The three coffee makers varied in how they work, so we used their instructions as a guide and compared their performance to the claims made by each. We also compared the coffee we brewed with what we’ve made using other alternatives to drip coffee makers, such as a French press, a Chemex, and a pour-over cone-filter holder. In all, we brewed lots of coffee with much experimenting with coffees, roast, time, proportions, and temperatures. Here's what we found.

    AeroPress Coffee Maker

    Dubbed “a better coffee press,” the AeroPress “utilizes a breakthrough in the coffee brewing process to yield the smoothest, richest coffee that you have ever tasted,” says manufacturer Aerobie. You can brew coffee or espresso, and the company says that the lower temperature and short brew time result in a coffee with a much lower acid level than you’ll get from conventional brewers. The product consists of a chamber for mixing hot water and coffee, plus an airtight plunger for forcing the resulting coffee through a micro filter at the bottom of the chamber—and into a mug or other container.

    Our results. Our greatest concern about the AeroPress is that the press can feel unsteady poised atop your mug as you’re pressing the plunger down hard to force the coffee through the filter. It also doesn’t make a lot of coffee at a time, a problem only if you’re making coffee, not espresso. But the coffee was ready shortly after the water reached the proper temperature, and the AeroPress was easy to clean.

    Fellow Duo Coffee Steeper

    Fellow describes the Duo as “a dual chamber ‘twist’ on a traditional French press.” You can also make cold-press brew coffee and, using the optional ($22) tea filter, loose tea. Almost 15 inches high, it consists of a stainless-steel chamber atop a glass carafe. To release coffee through the filter into the carafe, you twist the two parts of the top chamber. As with a French press, coffee grounds are immersed in the hot water. But the company claims the permanent fine filter ensures no gunk at the bottom of your cup.

    Our results. The coffee portions and brew time we used, despite being what the manufacturer recommended, resulted in a weak brew. Once we lengthened the steeping time, we liked the resulting coffee better. The coffee remained hot despite the longer brewing time, so the steeping chamber is well enough insulated that you can vary the process and still brew hot coffee.

    One complaint: You can’t fill two travel mugs with 21 ounces of coffee, the maximum amount of coffee the Fellow Duo claims to make at one time. Two people with different schedules, however, might like this product just fine.

    Oxo Cold Brew 1272880

    Oxo claims that the Oxo Cold Brew delivers on cold-press coffee’s promise of “a result that is less acidic and less bitter than coffee brewed with hot water and that stays fresh longer.” The product consists of a stand and a container with a filter and a “brew-release” switch at the bottom. You fill the brew tank with coffee grounds, and a so-called “rainmaker” lid spreads water over the grounds. After 12 to 24 hours, you place a glass carafe beneath the stand and flip the brew-release switch, which lets the concentrated brew drip slowly into the carafe.

    Our results. If you found yourself wondering, after using the Oxo once, exactly why you need it, your experience would reflect ours. Other than its switch on the container that holds the water and grounds, the Oxo doesn’t add much. Draining the coffee concentrate through the grounds and the fine mesh was much slower than decanting the bulk of the liquid and filtering just the dregs—as we did when we made cold brew using a simple glass jar.

    The product’s filter also clogged badly during one of our batches, requiring us to decant and filter the coffee anyway. To make matters worse, we fumbled the glass carafe, which lacks a handle, and it crashed to the floor.

    Bottom Line

    All three of these products can make a good cup of coffee, though all will take practice and experimentation to yield the results you desire, as they did for us. The true test, of course, is whether you continue using the coffee maker after you’ve tried it a few times—or if it instead begins its slow journey to your home’s land of misfit appliances. There’s a reason, after all, that standard drip coffee makers still dominate the market.

    Need a New Coffee Maker?

    If you haven’t bought a new coffee maker in some time, check out our coffee maker buying guide before plunging into our Ratings, which include specialty coffee makers as well as drip and single-serve machines. Among our top-performing drip coffee makers are the KitchenAid KCM1202OB and Kenmore Elite 12-cup # 76772, both $100. For a single-serve machine, consider the $130 DeLonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Genio EDG455T and the $100 Hamilton Beach FlexBrew 49988.

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

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    The Downside of High Deductible Health Insurance

    High deductible health insurance plans were supposed to help consumers cut healthcare costs. The idea was that since consumers would have to pay a large chunk of their own money for medical care before insurance kicks in, they would shop around to get the best prices.

    But it hasn’t turned out that way. According to a research paper published earlier in February in JAMA Internal Medicine, people in high deductible health insurance plans are no more likely than those with traditional health insurance to look for more affordable care.

    The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard University and University of Southern California, surveyed 2,000 people. About half had high deductibles—more than $1,250 for an individual and $2,500 for a family. While the majority of people surveyed said they were worried about costs, just 4 percent of those in high deductible health insurance plans said they compared prices the last time they had medical treatment, versus just slightly more than the 3 percent of those in plans with low deductibles. Not a big difference.

    "Simply increasing a deductible, which gives enrollees skin in the game, appears insufficient to facilitate price shopping," the study concludes. 

    Even more worrisome is research that shows that some workers with high deductible health insurance plans aren’t getting the care they need. According a National Bureau of Economic Research paper published in October 2015, researchers tracked workers at one company that moved all its workers from a plan with no deductible to one with a family deductible of $3,000 to $4,000. While average yearly spending per employee fell 13 percent, it was nearly all due to a reduction in demand for services. Workers just skipped healthcare altogether, even for preventative services that were free, such as colonoscopies and mammograms. 

    “People don’t know what (exams) are necessary or unnecessary," says Peter Ubel, a professor of business and medicine at Duke University. “The attitude is that the doctor knows best.”

    Those who do try to reduce their costs report little success. A January 2016 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and New York Times found that consumers who have difficulty paying their medical bills are more likely to try to compare costs or negotiate prices for medical treatment. But 69 percent of people struggling with medical bills say it was difficult to find out how much they would have to pay and 67 percent of those who tried to negotiate with a provider were unsuccessful. 

    Despite these trends, employers are increasingly offering high deductible health insurance plans to their employees. This year, 86 percent of employers will offer high deductible plans as an option, up from 54 percent five years ago, according to Towers Watson, an employee benefits consulting firm. Employees who like the prospect of paying lower premiums are increasingly opting for those plans. Enrollment has more than doubled from 20 percent to 43 percent over the past five years. 

    That trend is likely to continue. At about one-quarter of all companies, high deductible plans are the only option. And according to a PwC Health and Well-Being Touchstone Survey, 37 percent of companies are considering making it the only choice within the next three years.

    What You Should Do

    Deciding whether to get high deductible insurance requires some consideration. It starts with choosing your health insurance wisely, says Ubel. Talk to the benefits experts within your company or if you’re buying on your own, use an independent insurance broker. If you have a chronic condition or anticipate major medical care in the next year—say a knee placement—a high deductible health insurance plan may not be right for you.

    Understand what your existing plan covers and take advantage of free preventative services such as annual check ups, colonoscopies and mammograms. One positive trend for consumers: More insurers provide pricing tools on their websites that make it easier to compare costs within your network. You can also check out price shopping sites such as Healthcare Bluebook or Guroo from the Health Care Cost Institute.

    Keep in mind that if you skip or put off care you need, that could end up costing you and the health system more in the long run. 

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

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    Cadillac CT6 Challenges European Flagship Sedans

    It hasn’t taken Cadillac that long to rebuild, rebrand, and redesign since the American luxury contender was hit by hard times a few years ago. The latest addition to the renewed family is the Cadillac CT6 sedan. It is large in luxury, large in life, and large in looks. And GM says that this isn’t the ultimate flagship car for the brand. There is another one coming that will be even bigger.

    Cadillac’s stated goals for the CT6 are large; they want the CT6 to be about size, appearance, driving dynamics, and quietness. Also implied is the large ambition to take the best German luxury sedans on, head to head.

    The Cadillac CT6 is a bit of a tweener, fitting between defined sedan classes. The CT6 is bigger than premium midsized sedans it is priced like, such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. And yet, it is smaller than the flagship competitors that it is equipped like, namely the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.  

    Although the CT6 is big, it isn’t heavy. In fact, it’s a full 1,000 lbs lighter than the S-Class.

    The new Caddy is also a lot lighter on the pocketbook than any of the German ringleaders by tens of thousands of dollars. The Cadillac CT6 starts at $53,495 with a 2.0-liter turbo four and rear-wheel drive. The twin-turbo V6 with all-wheel drive in top-trim Platinum tops outs at $87,465.

    With the twin-turbo engine, all-wheel-drive, an active chassis package with magnetic ride control, 20-inch wheels, fancy rear-seat infotainment system, and rear camera mirror, the Cadillac CT6 we rented from GM stickered at $73,660. A similarly well-appointed Audi A8 would cost about $20,000 more.  

    Driving Impressions

    Ironically, this Cadillac drives more like a fun, hard-charging German sedan than some of its current Teutonic rivals. It’s agility is actually reminiscent of a BMW 7 Series from the Nineties—something we remember fondly.

    What looks like a big car shrinks around you when behind the wheel, and steering is sharp. The car doesn’t feel as large and intimidating as it looks. In fact, the CT6 proves athletic and nimble.

    With the deck stacked in its favor, the CT6 we drove had the most-powerful engine option, a 404 hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6. Power shows up when you need it, but it doesn’t force itself on you.

    Also among the engine choices is a 2.0-liter, 265-hp turbo four that does a surprisingly good job. Most CT6s will be bought with the normally aspirated 335-hp 3.6-liter V6 and AWD.

    The four-cylinder model is rear-wheel drive, and the six-cylinder models come with standard all-wheel drive. A plug-in hybrid version will arrive in about a year.

    Quietness is a goal in any luxury car, and the cabin is hushed. The turbo V6 sounds muted but yet hints at the power lurking within with a purposeful, unobjectionable hum.

    The ride is comfortable and composed, and the magnetic ride keeps the CT6 tied down and ensures a steady cruise no matter the road type. The optional 20-inch wheels and tires on our car, however, didn’t do it any favors on some of our winter damaged roads.

    Inside the Cabin

    Inside the CT6 looks terrific. Fit and finish is right up there with the Germans. Flagship sedans by Acura, Hyundai, Infiniti, Kia, and Lincoln all look like also-rans next to the the CT6’s plush leather, wood, aluminum, and piano-black surfaces.

    The seats provide great comfort and support. The rear seat is roomy and easy to access through the large rear doors.

    The rearview mirror camera is an industry first. It gives a wide rear view without restrictions from head rests and pillars, making it an effective supplement to the blind-spot monitor system. The high-definition image is bright and clear—sometimes disconcertingly so. It’s also a little distracting because it’s like watching a live TV show of where you just were.

    Cue, Cadillac’s infotainment system, has been updated. It is quicker, but the touchscreen interface is not entirely intuitive, and it still lacks the intuitive buttons and knobs that most people want. It is a classic case of form over function. Plus, the seat heater switches are hard to see, and the door-mounted seat controls aren’t lit. The touch pad between the seats is easy to brush accidentally and change an audio source inadvertently, and in-cabin storage is scant.  

    Bottom Line

    Ultimately, Cadillac finally has a stately, plush sedan that not only can shuttle dignitaries but can also be driven with enjoyment thanks to accomplished ride and handling, powertrains, and interior ambience.

    The Cadillac CT6 may mark a return to the brand’s old slogan, “Standard of the World,” and help pave the way for an even more luxurious model. We’ll see the market impact when it goes on sale in March.

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

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    Build & Buy car-buying service

    Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service adds to our suite of auto ratings, reviews, and buying advice. Once you've used our information to decide which is the best car for your needs, subscribers can use our Build & Buy Service to get competitive prices from local dealers who are held accountable for high customer satisfaction.

    Developed with TrueCar, Inc., Consumer Reports Build & Buy Service is available as an extra benefit to ConsumerReports.org, Consumer Reports,  and on Health newsletter subscribers. To access the service, visit our Build & Buy Car Buying Service home page.

    Advantages of the Build & Buy Service

    • Upfront dealer pricing information (in most states).  The Service provides you access to robust, current information about the make and model of vehicle you may be interested in buying.  Plus, you can access this information before even visiting the dealership. 
    • Guaranteed Savings off MSRP. In most states, the Service allows you to obtain a Certificate from a participating dealer that will guarantee you a certain amount of savings from MSRP on any in-stock vehicle of the same make, model, and trim as the “virtual vehicle” you configure on the website.  In some states, guaranteed savings are not available, but in this case your Certificate will contain an estimate of what you could reasonably expect to pay for your “virtual vehicle” based on analysis of current market data.
    • Pre-screened dealers. The Service includes more than 11,000 participating dealers nationwide who have agreed to follow strict guidelines of conduct in order to help provide an easier, more transparent, and consumer-friendly car-buying experience.
    • Easy-to-use tools. The Service allows you to quickly configure a “virtual vehicle” with the trim, color, and options you want and then get a Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service Certificate.  In most states, this Certificate will provide an Estimated Dealer Price, which is an estimate of the pricing available to Consumer Reports customers from participating dealers in your area for the “virtual vehicle” you configured.  In some states, Estimated Dealer Prices are unavailable through the Service and the Certificate will provide a Target Price, which is an estimate of what you could reasonably expect to pay for your “virtual vehicle” based on analysis of current market data.
    • Your identity is safeguarded.  Subscribers can use the Service as much as they want without revealing their identity to any dealers unless they choose to.  Your identity will be concealed from dealers, and theirs from you, when the Estimated Dealer Price (or Target Price in applicable states) is initially displayed.  You may then choose to send your identity to one, any, or all of the dealers, and in return, their identities will be revealed to you. 
    • No obligation. There is never an obligation to buy when using the Service.  You can always change your mind about the vehicle, price, or dealership, or whether you want to buy a car at all.
    • You receive all applicable incentives.  Participating dealers are required to pass along to you all applicable vehicle specific manufacturer incentives for in-stock vehicles.

    While Consumer Reports has long provided unbiased ratings and in-depth car-buying advice, subscribers have been on their own in finding dealerships that they want to work with. The Consumer Reports Build & Buy Service is intended to help make car buying easier, with less hassle and anxiety.

    The Service also helps Consumer Reports further its mission and ongoing work. TrueCar pays Consumer Reports a flat fee for each vehicle sold to a Service participant by a participating dealer. Consumer Reports has no direct contact or any financial relationship with any dealerships. For more details on the service, see the Build & Buy FAQs.

    Consumer Reports' new Build & Buy service adds to our suite of auto ratings, reviews, and buying advice. Once you've used our information to decide which is the best car for your needs, you can now use our Build & Buy service to get competitive guaranteed price quotes from local dealers who are held accountable for high customer satisfaction.

    Developed with Zag, Inc., CR's Build & Buy service is available as an extra benefit to ConsumerReports.org subscribers and to purchasers of Consumer Reports New Car Price Reports. To access the service, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/cars, choose a make and model (under "Find Car Ratings"), and click on the button that says "Build & Buy This Car."

    Advantages of the Build & Buy service

    • Guaranteed dealer price quotes. Participating dealers have agreed to sell their vehicles at competitive, no-haggle prices that are typically well below the manufacturer's suggested retail price and sometimes below the dealer-invoice price.
    • Pre-screened dealers. The program includes more than 5,000 participating dealers nationwide who have agreed to follow strict guidelines of conduct in order to help provide an easier, more transparent, and consumer-friendly car-buying experience.
    • Easy-to-use tools. The program allows you to quickly configure a vehicle with the trim, color, and options you want and then get a Build & Buy Report from Zag that includes guaranteed price quotes from dealers in your area.
    • Free and anonymous. You can use this free service as much as you want without revealing your identity to any dealers unless you choose to. Your identity will be concealed from dealers, and theirs from you, when the price quote is initially given. You may then choose to send your identity to none, any, or all of the dealers, and in return their identities will be revealed to you. The service also guarantees that consumers' contact information is never sold through the program.
    • No obligation. Even after you get your price certificate, there's no obligation to buy. You can always change your mind about the vehicle, price, or dealership, or whether you want to buy a car at all.
    • You receive all applicable incentives. Participating dealers have agreed to pass along to you any discounts provided by any applicable manufacturer incentives for the vehicle you're buying. This includes unadvertised manufacturer-to-dealer incentives, for which it's typically up to the dealer whether to keep the savings or pass them on to the customer.

    While Consumer Reports has long provided unbiased ratings and in-depth car-buying advice, subscribers have been on their own in finding dealerships that they want to work with and in doing their own price negotiations. The Consumer Reports Build & Buy service is intended to help make car buying easier, with less hassle and anxiety.

    The program also helps Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, further its mission and ongoing work. Zag pays CU a flat fee for each vehicle sold through the program, regardless of what makes or models are bought, who buys them, or which dealers they are bought from. Consumers Union has no direct contact or any financial relationship with any dealerships. For more details on the service, see the Build & Buy FAQs.

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

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    The Power of a Shareholder Proxy

    If you own stock in a publicly traded company, you'll soon receive an email or package in the mail. Either will announce important issues up for a vote at the company's annual meeting and provide a proxy in case you’re not able to attend the meeting.

    Don’t ignore that shareholder proxy. Even if you don't own stacks of shares, the proxy can still be a lever that allows you to effect change in how corporations do business.

    In recent years, there has been a surge in shareholder activism. Hedge funds tend to hog the headlines when they use their stakes to influence corporate decisions. Last year, for example, billionaire Carl Icahn, who controls more than 8 percent of the shares of Xerox, pressured the company to spin off its services business, a move he said would boost share value. Last month, Xerox decided to do just that.

    But ordinary investors are also shifting corporate strategy, especially with regard to sustainability practices involving clean energy, climate change and ethical labor. And they're getting results. In 2011, individual investors tagged onto a proposal by the social and environmental advocacy organization As You Sow to convince McDonald’s to replace its polystyrene foam beverage cups with more eco-friendly paper containers.

    Power to the Proxy

    The easiest way for individual investors to make an impact is to use their proxy vote to support and amplify proposals already put forward by other investors. If you owned stock in Abbott Laboratories last year, for example, you might have wanted to add your vote to As You Sow’s resolution to offer U.S. consumers GMO-free baby formula. If you own stock in Chesapeake Energy, you might want to support the resolution proposed by the Connecticut Office of the State Treasurer to disclose the company’s spending on direct and indirect lobbying.

    Environmental and social topics represented the largest number of shareholder proposals submitted in 2015. A record-breaking 433 social and environmental shareholder resolutions were filed in 2015, according to ProxyPreview, a free online report generated by corporate responsibility organizations As You Sow, Sustainable Investments Institute, and Proxy Impact.

    There are many websites that list socially responsible investing resolutions targeting specific companies.

    One of them, ProxyPreview, provides an annual report listing the types of resolutions that exist, companies with proposed resolutions, updates on recent resolutions, and an alphabetical list of companies with outstanding resolutions, making it easy for investors to find the issues on the table at companies in which they own shares. 

    Another nonprofit organization, Ceres, which advocates sustainability in business, tracks shareholder resolutions filed by its investor participants. The investors include some of the nation’s largest public pension funds and foundations, so individual investors who add their support to these resolutions are jumping on a very big bandwagon. 

    Small Holdings, Big Impact

    How much of an impact can individual shareholders make?

    "When 25 percent of company shares are voted in favor of a shareholder-sponsored resolution, management very likely pays close attention," says Josh Zinner, chief executive of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of nonprofit organizations and asset management firms that work together to push for change.

    That's why the proxy vote can be an effective first step for investors wanting to make a difference.

    A big block of stock isn't necessary to shift company policy, says Andrew Behar, chief executive of As You Sow.

    In that Abbott Laboratories vote, Behar says his organization convinced the company to offer GMO-free Similac baby formula with only 6 percent of shareholders voting for the resolution.

    The McDonald’s cup resolution to replace polystyrene with more environmentally friendly materials passed with 20 percent of the vote. That was enough, notes Behar, “to get into the press and start to taint their brand.” 

    The upshot: You can make a difference in a company's decisions through the shareholder proxy you receive.

    “Shareholders who just sit back are leaving a lot of power on the table,” says Behar.

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

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    The Best Cleaning Supplies for the Job

    Cleaning the kitchen or bathroom can be such an onerous job that some homeowners resort to the strongest cleaning supplies available. Commercial cleaners carry their risks and should be used with care. Alternatively, you can make your own cleaning supplies at home using a few basic ingredients. Typically, these formulas don’t perform as well as the best commercial products (with the exception of the window and glass cleaner that Consumer Reports uses to compare to commercial products) and are not necessarily any “greener” or less toxic than store-bought cleaning supplies. Here’s a comparison of what you can buy and what you can make, adapted from our book "How to Clean Practically Anything."

    Commercial Cleaners

    All-purpose cleaner
    Best for: Miscellaneous household tasks.
    Careful! Don’t buy versions that use antibacterial agents such as dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride. They might actually help create forms of bacteria that are harder to kill, plus the Food and Drug Administration says they’re no better at preventing the spread of germs.

    (See our Ratings of all-purpose cleaners.)

    Ammonia
    Best for: Cutting through grease.
    Careful! Many other cleaners also cut grease, including dish soap. If you do use ammonia, dilute it with eight parts water to one part ammonia. Wear gloves and work in a ventilated area. Ammonia can cause blindness when splashed in the eyes, so wear goggles. When mixing, add the water to the ammonia. And never mix with bleach.

    Bleach
    Best for: Wiping away mildew or cleaning a kitchen surface after prepping raw meat, poultry, or fish. It’s a powerful bacteria killer.
    Careful! Don’t mix bleach with products such as toilet bowl cleaners or ammonia. When they’re combined, they can produce deadly fumes. Always wear gloves and work in a ventilated area to protect yourself when cleaning with bleach.

    Glass cleaner
    Best for: Windows and mirrors.
    Careful! Don’t use full-strength ammonia-based window cleaners. Our tests show that you can dilute them and still get your windows really clean. Try our homemade version below.

    Toilet bowl cleaner
    Best for: Cleaning and disinfecting the bowl.
    Careful! The American Association of Poison Control Centers lists corrosive toilet cleaners among the most dangerous toxins found in homes. Save them for when people in your house are sick or when you really need them—when you’ve got rust and stains, for example.

    Homemade Cleaners

    All-purpose cleaner
    For everyday kitchen and bathroom cleaning, dilute one part ammonia to eight parts water. Add a few drops of dish detergent. Use in a ventilated area; wear gloves and goggles.

    Furniture cleaner
    Plain water and a little mild liquid dish detergent protect sealed wood furniture from common stains. Mix well and store in a water spray bottle. Spray onto furniture, then wipe with a damp cloth and finish drying with a clean, lint-free cloth.

    Glass and window cleaner
    1/2 cup ammonia
    1/2 teaspoon liquid dish detergent
    1 pint rubbing alcohol
    Add enough water to the ammonia and rubbing alcohol to make a gallon. Pour into spray bottles.

    Silver cutlery cleaner
    1 piece of aluminum foil
    1-2 tablespoons baking soda
    2 quarts boiling water
    This technique removes the tarnish uniformly, so don’t use it with antique or intricately patterned silver. Put a piece of aluminum foil into a plastic or glass container, lay the tarnished piece of silver on top, sprinkle it with baking soda, and cover with boiling water. Soak until bubbles stop, then rinse and polish with a soft cloth. What happens is that the silver sulfide (tarnish) breaks down and transfers to the aluminum foil, which you can throw out. The result: shiny silver. You can treat larger pieces in the sink this way.

    More cleaning supplies
    For more cleaning supplies, see the results of our tests of laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, all-purpose cleaners, and paper towels.

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

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    Should You Buy a Matching Washer and Dryer at Costco?

    Costco has its fans. Their cashews are addictive but members can also stock up on everyday essentials of impressive quality at a good price, including laundry detergent, LED lightbulbs, and batteries—both national brands and Costco’s Kirkland brand that you’ll find in Consumer Reports’ Ratings. But is Costco the go-to place for major appliances such as a matching washer and dryer?

    When it comes to major appliances, Costco was the only retailer to earn top marks for price in our most recent annual appliance retailer satisfaction survey. But their product selection received our readers’ lowest marks. That could be because washers and dryers are only sold at Costco.com, and there are limited items on display in the warehouse stores.

    What to Consider

    If you’re thinking about buying a washer and dryer at Costco, keep in mind that choices are limited. Currently, there are 94 models, but that includes some of the same models in various colors and both gas and electric dryers. The predominant brands available to members are LG and Whirlpool although selection changes.
     
    And Costco may not be the place to buy a replacement washer if yours just broke because delivery time for laundry pairs can take two to three weeks. In addition to being a member, you need to have the right credit card. At the moment, American Express and Costco-American Express credit cards, debit cards, and Costco cash cards are accepted. But sometime in mid-2016 the warehouses will stop accepting American Express, including the Costco-American Express card, and then accept Visa, including a Costco-Visa card.

    What You’ll Like

    On the plus side, Costco typically offers some of the newest models and the warranty on washers and dryers is two years—a year longer than the manufacturer’s. Costco makes returns easy and they’re accepted for any reason within 90 days, says Claudine Adamo, a spokesperson for the retailer. “When an appliance issue comes up after the 90 days, we will work with our members to resolve it,” Adamo adds. “If there is no way to fix an issue or replace the item, that is when we would offer a return.”

    The cost of delivery is included in the sale price unless noted on the website. A fee is quoted at checkout for areas outside Costco’s normal delivery zones. The sell price also includes basic hookup and parts in most areas, and haul away of an old washer and dryer. Installation and haul away can vary by state or local area and must comply with local codes.

    What it Costs

    You can buy a standalone washer or dryer and savings range from $50 to $550 per appliance, compared to typical prices. But most Costco offerings are matching washer and dryer pairs and often include accessories as well. The front-loading washer and dryer sets come with pedestals to boost the height and make them more convenient to load and unload. The LG front-loader and dryer pairs often include the SideKick mini washer that sits below the washer, replacing the pedestal. Keep in mind that two pedestals usually sell for $500 or so. LG’s SideKick mini washer is about $700.
     
    Some of the washers and dryers now available at Costco were impressive in our tests, others were only so-so or have very long wash times. Read “The Best Matching Washers and Dryers” to help you choose and to get an idea of typical prices, and check our washer and dryer Ratings for details on each model. If you have questions about a Costco deal, call them at 1-800-955-2292. Don’t forget to compare Costco’s prices to sales at other stores. Here’s a look at what we found at Costco.

    LG WM4270HWA front-loader and LG DLEX4270W electric dryer
    Typical total price: $2,000 (just washer and dryer)
    Costco package: $2,550 factoring in the $150 mail-in manufacturer’s rebate.
    What you get: Front-loading washer and LG SideKick mini washer that sits below the washer; electric dryer and dryer pedestal. All of this would usually cost about $2,950. The front-loader is also sold separately for $950.

    Whirlpool Duet WFW95HEDW front-loader and Whirlpool Duet WED95HEDW electric dryer
    Typical total price: $2,000 (just washer and dryer)
    Costco package: $2,000
    What you get: Front-loader, electric dryer, and two pedestals, which together would typically cost around $2,500. The washer alone is selling for $880.
     
    Check the brand reliability data in our washer and dryer Ratings to help you decide. Our survey found, for example, that LG front-loaders are among the more reliable brands of washers, while LG top-loaders are among the more repair-prone and we no longer recommend them. Email questions to kjaneway@consumer.org.

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    KitchenAid Dishwasher With Window Lets You Watch the Washing

    You can watch your bread bake and your popcorn pop through the windows in your kitchen appliances but are you ready to watch your dishes wash? That's what KitchenAid is envisioning with its introduction of the KitchenAid KDTM804ESS, a sleek dishwasher with a big window in the door. Consumer Reports has just added it to our dishwasher Ratings.

    The $1,800 KitchenAid KDTM804ESS is the first dishwasher we’ve seen that puts on a show as your dishes, glasses, and utensils get sprayed and dried. (A lower-end model, the KitchenAid KDTM384ESS, also comes with a window.) Other than the window, though, the KitchenAid KDTM804ESS is identical to a model we’ve tested, the KitchenAid KDTM704ESS, which at $1,620 costs $180 less. As with other products we’ve deemed similar to tested models, the KitchenAid KDTM804ESS is virtually the same as the tested KitchenAid KDTM704ESS. That KitchenAid dishwasher, which made our list of picks, is among a select few to have scored excellent overall. 

    Performance Details

    For washing and energy use, the KitchenAid KDTM704ESS was top-notch. In addition to easy operation, this model takes only 110 minutes to complete a normal cycle. That might seem long, roughly comparable to the running time of many movies, but it’s about 25 minutes shorter than the average of the other dishwashers in our tests. One complaint: This KitchenAid dishwasher was only mediocre at drying plastic items, among the hardest to dry. So you might be towel-drying during the closing credits.

    But there’s more to like: A motorized spray arm, plus an adjustable upper rack, a third rack for large utensils and other short items, adjustable tines, a stainless interior, a self-cleaning filter, and plenty of flatware slots. Both KitchenAid dishwashers also have interior lighting that comes on at the end of the cycle.

    Even if you prefer to watch traditional TV or online movies rather than your dishes get doused—and to be fair, you know the ending—there’s another benefit to having a window in your dishwasher. With the better dishwashers becoming quieter and quieter, you’ll always know when your dishwasher is running. 

    Need a New Dishwasher?

    Take a moment to check out our dishwasher buying guide if you haven’t bought a dishwasher in several years. In addition to the KitchenAid KDTM704ESS and KitchenAid KDTM804ESS, models worth considering include the $1,080 KitchenAid KDTM354DSS, the $900 Kenmore Elite 14793, and the $700 Bosch Ascenta SHX3AR7[5]UC, a CR Best Buy.

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    Comcast Data Cap: The ISP Wants You to Pay for Netflix Binges

    If you like to think of subscription services like Netflix as an all-you-can-eat buffet of streaming videos, some Internet service providers want to put you on a crash diet.

    To tame your appetite for nonstop streaming and Netflix binges, a number of companies are imposing or testing broadband data caps—also called "usage-based pricing"—that limit the amount of streaming you can do without having to pay extra. Comcast is the largest company applying these caps, and it recently expanded its tests to 10 states, and several large cities, including Atlanta, Miami, and Nashville. On its website, the company says that if you use more than the 300GB allotted each month and want to continue streaming, you'll have to buy additional 50GB blocks at $10 each. The company also has an "unlimited" data option in some markets that costs an extra $30 to $35 each month.

    There's one major exception to those caps: Comcast isn't counting programming from its own Stream TV when calculating how much data you use. We think you'll hear more about this practice, called “zero rating,” over the next few months. It's fairly common among cell phone carriers: T-Mobile's Binge On and Verizon's Go90 mobile video services are both exempt from those carriers’ data caps. 

    At first, zero rating might seem like a good deal for consumers—after all, you get to watch movies without having to pay for the extra data you use. However, groups including Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, aren’t so sure, as it provides an incentive for you to choose a broadband provider's own service rather than a competitor's, which seems unfair. Zero rating isn't banned by the FCC's Open Internet rules, but it seems to dance close to the line. While the practice isn't explicitly prohibited, the FCC has said it will evaluate such business practices on a case-by-case basis. 

    Other companies testing or broadly imposing data caps include AT&T, CenturyLink, Cox, and Suddenlink; surcharges kick in after you've used 150GB per month (for those with slower DSL connections) to 250GB or 300GB (faster connections).

    Will You Hit Your Cap?

    Comcast argues that fewer than 10 percent of its customers will ever reach a broadband cap under normal usage. The company also has a three-month courtesy plan, so that you only get charged extra for any overages when you exceed your cap for the fourth month.

    But here's why Comcast data caps could be a concern for many families. Netflix says that streaming a high-def movie can eat up close to 5GB per hour, so you'd have to burn through 50 hours of movies—25 two-hour movies—or 50 one-hour TV shows, to hit a 250GB monthly cap. Admittedly, few of us watch that much streaming—by ourselves. But those numbers start to look far more modest when you consider a household with a few children and multiple devices—smart TVs, streaming players, game consoles, Blu-ray players, tablets, smartphones—all connected to the Internet via the home's Wi-Fi network. In households where several members like to watch several episodes, or even whole seasons, of a show in binges, data usage grow quickly.

    And in the near future, it's likely we'll all be using more, not less data, as more of our entertainment migrates to the Web, and the Internet of Things adds connectivity to all sorts of devices—everything from thermostats to smart refrigerators.

    We expect to see streaming services add more higher-bandwidth 4K videos—with four times as many pixels as HD streams—to their mix, some with high dynamic range and wider color gamuts. Even with more efficient video encoding, these enhancements to video picture quality will eat up more data than regular HD streams. And analysts at market-research firms expect more ISPs to try usage-based pricing to compensate for the loss of subscribers to traditional TV services who switch to Internet-based alternatives.

    Not surprisingly, data caps have become a hot-button issue with consumers who now have to live with them. A Freedom of Information Act request, filed by the CutCableToday website, revealed that the FCC received 13,000 formal complaints from Comcast customers protesting the practice. Time Warner Cable experimented with usage-based pricing as an option, but abandoned the practice after it was poorly received.

    Charter, currently looking for regulatory approval to merge with Time Warner Cable, has pledged to refrain from usage-based fees, at least for the next three years. Neither Verizon nor Bright House, which is also being acquired by Charter, has data caps, and both have said they won't impose them in the near future.

    Consumer Reports and Consumers Union have pointed out how broadband data caps could discourage the use of the Internet for a variety of worthwhile activities, including education and small-business innovation.

    If you have a broadband plan that is subject to a data cap, let us know in the comments below; tell us whether you regularly exceed your monthly data allotment.

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

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    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 popular query, we have compiled a list of American-brand vehicles selected based on the Overall Score, which factors road test, reliability, owner satisfaction, and safety. And all are Consumer Reports recommended. We omitted categories where no American-branded model achieved a recommendation, due to road test score, reliability, and/or safety. 

    Category Model Overall Score
    Subcompact car Chevrolet Sonic LT (1.8L)
    65
    Compact car Ford C-Max Hybrid SE

    69

    Midsized car Ford Fusion SE (1.5T)

    77

    Large car Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ
    81
    Luxury compact car Buick Regal Premium I (turbo)
    78
    Luxury midsized car Lincoln MKZ 2.0 EcoBoost
    75
    Midsized SUV Ford Edge SEL (2.0L EcoBoost) 76
    Large SUV Dodge Durango Limited (V6)

    76

    Luxury SUV Buick Enclave CXL

    76

    Full-sized pickups
    Ford F-150 XLT (3.5 V6 EcoBoost)

    77

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

    5.2

    BMW 750i xDrive 5.3
    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
    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
    Hyundai Tucson SE (2.0L) 11.0
    Lexus CT 200h Premium
    11.0

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  • 02/23/16--09:29: The Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs
  • The Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs

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

    Among Consumer Reports' more than 50 vehicle tests are fuel economy measurements. 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 RX 450h 29 24 33
    2 Lexus NX300h 29 23 34
    3 Honda HR-V LX 29 20 39
    4 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
    28 21 35
    5 Mazda CX-3 Touring
    28 20 36
    6 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250
    26 19 35
    7 Subaru Crosstrek Premium 26 19 34
    8 Mini Countryman S 26 19 33
    9 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium 26 18 35
    10 Hyundai Tucson Sport (1.6T) 26 18 35
    11 Mazda CX-5 Touring 2.5L 25 19 32
    12 Chevrolet Trax LT
    25 18 34
    13 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. 25 18 32
    14 Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 18 31
    15 Lexus NX 200t
    24 17 33
    16 Hyundai Tucson SE (2.0L) 26 18 35
    17 Jeep Grand Cherokee LImited (diesel)
    24 17 32
    18 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL (4-cyl.) 24 17 30
    19 Nissan Rogue 24 17 30
    20 Jeep Renegade Latitude 24 16 32
    21 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 23 17 30
    22 Buick Encore Leather 23 16 32
    23 Honda CR-V EX 23 16 32
    24 Fiat 500X Easy 23 16 31
    25 BMW X3 xDrive28i 23 16 30
    26 Kia Sportage LX (4-cyl.) 22 16 30
    27 Ford Escape SE
    22 15 31
    28 Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.) 22 15 31
    29 Ford Escape Titanium
    22 15 29
    30 Jeep Compass Latitude 22 15 29
    31 Acura RDX 22 14 31
    32 Lexus RX 350 22 14 31
    33 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 21 16 27
    34 Kia Sportage SX (turbo) 21 15 29
    35 Nissan Murano SL
    21 15 29
    36 Jeep Patriot Latitude 21 15 28
    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 BMW X5 xDrive35i 21 14 28
    44 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.

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

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  • 02/23/16--09:29: 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 Toyota Prius C Two 43 37 48
    8 Toyota Prius V Three 41 33 47
    9 Lexus CT 200h Premium 40 31 47
    10 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid SE 39 31 46
    11 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE 39 35 41
    12 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 38 32 43
    13 Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE 37 35 38
    14 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 37 29 45
    15 Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    37 28 47
    16 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 36 29 43
    17 Lexus ES 300h 36 28 44
    18 Honda CR-Z EX (MT) 35 26 45
    19 Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    35 25 46
    20 BMW 328d xDrive 35 24 49
    21 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 34 29 38
    22 Fiat 500 Pop (MT) 34 25 42
    23 Fiat 500 Sport (MT) 33 24 42
    24 Honda Fit EX 33 24 42
    25 Mazda3 i Touring sedan 33 23 45
    26 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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    How Consumer Reports Tests Cars

    Consumer Reports operates the largest and most sophisticated independent automobile testing center devoted to the consumer interest anywhere in the world. Situated on 327 acres in rural Connecticut, the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center is home to about 30 staff members, including automotive engineers, writers, editors, technicians, a statistician, and support staff. Consumer Reports buys, anonymously, all the cars it formally tests, about 70 per year. Our staff drives each vehicle for thousands of miles to get the full experience so it can best serve you, the consumer.

    Formal testing is done at the track and on surrounding public roads. The evaluation regimen consists of more than 50 individual tests. Some are objective, instrumented track tests using state-of-the-art electronic gear that yield empirical findings. Some are subjective evaluations—jury tests done by the experienced engineering staff. The video above will provide further insights into the ways that Consumer Reports tests and evaluates new cars to help its readers make smart, informed choices. The tests below are listed in order of importance. (Watch our car-review videos.)

    Check our guide to Consumer Reports' Ratings.

    Acceleration

    Acceleration tests are conducted on a smooth, flat pavement straightaway at the track. The test car is rigged with a precise GPS-based device that’s hooked to a data-logging computer and a display that’s mounted on the windshield. This equipment creates precise records of time, speed, and distance. We use it to measure sprints from 0-30 mph, 0-60 mph, and for quarter-mile runs. For trucks and heavier SUVs, we also perform acceleration tests while towing a loaded trailer. Good acceleration speaks to more than the fun factor. It's also vital for executing safe highway merges and can potentially play a role in some accident-avoidance situations.

    Transmission

    Transmissions play a central role in delivering engine power to the wheels, and the characteristics of the transmission can greatly affect the overall driving experience. When evaluating transmissions, our engineers look for responsiveness, how quickly and appropriately the transmission selects its gears, and how seamlessly it shifts and downshifts. They assess how in tune the transmission is with the throttle, grade, and driver's inputs. For manual transmissions, the testers evaluate the shift action (how easy it is to move the shift lever through the shifter gate), The appropriateness of gear ratios is taken into account as well. The engineers also note the clutch action, looking for appropriate effort, pedal travel, and the point where the clutch engages.

    Braking

    Good braking performance is a vital factor in a car’s accident avoiding capability. Our automotive engineers conduct a series of brake tests from 60 mph to a standstill on wet and dry pavement to measure stopping distances. The test car is rigged with a precision GPS-based device. We also judge brake-pedal modulation.

    Ride Comfort

    An overly-stiff or uncontrolled ride can really detract from the driving experience. Our engineers judge ride comfort on a 30-mile loop at predetermined speeds on a course that includes a variety of roads containing, bumps, ruts, undulations, and a typical highway section. They note whether the suspension absorbs and isolates appropriately. They determine whether the ride is stiff, choppy, tender, or floaty, and how well the car copes with pavement flaws. The engineers are attuned to adverse ride motions such as side-to-side rocking and fore-and-aft pitching. Comfort is the name of the game, as is the ability to provide a steady cruise regardless of the terrain. Cumulative experience from commuting in the cars is also factored in.

    Noise

    We evaluate noise, as well as measure it, while the car is driven over various pavements, including specially built concrete slabs at our track. Complementing those findings is noise evaluation conducted by our test engineers on local public roads. They make note of engine, road, and wind noise, and judge the level and quality of the noises, be they raucous or pleasant, annoying or exhilarating.

    Routine Handling

    Our testers judge routine handling primarily during a test we call "one-day trip," which consists of a 30-mile loop of local roads ranging from a smooth highway to secondary two-laners, and rural twists and turns. A team of trained engineers assesses how well the car deals with curvy roads. That directly translates into the car’s agility and fun-to-drive qualities. The engineers note body control such as body lean and how steady the car remains over bumpy corners. They evaluate steering response to driver input and how well the car communicates feedback, mainly through the steering. The car's turning circle is measured by technicians as this quality translates directly into ease of parking and maneuverability in tight spaces.

    Emergency Handling

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

    Controls and Displays

    Engineers trained in ergonomics/human-factors evaluate a car's controls and displays, judging how easy it is to interact with the various vehicle functions such as audio, climate, phone, and all the switches and instruments. Every auto-test staff member logs comments drawn from months of living with the cars and driving them every day for commuting, trips, and errands. The more intuitive and user-friendly the controls are, the better.

    Driving Position, Access, and Accommodations

    Staff members of different size, age, and gender judge how easy it is to get comfortably situated behind the steering wheel, gauging whether they can see out well and reach all controls and pedals without straining or developing premature fatigue. They also get in and out of every seat, and note the ease of entry and exit. Driver seat comfort is judged on comfort and support.

    Fit and Finish

    Experienced engineers evaluate every test vehicle's interior qualities. They want to see that the trim pieces have minimal gaps and properly align with one another and that the texture of adjacent panels matches. The testers also judge the tactile quality of the plastics, leather, fabrics, and switchgear—the parts that owners interact with on a daily basis. They look for quality in sewn seams and for ill-trimmed plastic mold flash, rough edges, and hard, hollow plastic surfaces. They also pay attention to the way nooks and cubbies are finished inside and out, whether cup holders are sturdy, flimsy, or ill-placed, and whether compartment doors open and shut smoothly.

    Fuel Economy

    We perform our own fuel-economy tests, independent of the government's often-quoted EPA figures and the manufacturers' claims. Using a precise fuel-flow measuring device spliced into the fuel line, we run two separate circuits. One is on a public highway at a steady 65 mph. That course is run in both directions to counteract any terrain and wind effects. A second is a simulated urban/suburban-driving test done at our track. It consists of predetermined acceleration, and deceleration rates, as well as idle time. Consumer Reports' overall fuel-economy numbers are derived from those fuel consumption tests.

    Headlights

    Have you ever wondered whether your car's headlights are as good as they should be? To answer that question, Consumer Reports evaluates headlight performance on new cars in our test program. After aligning the headlamps in an indoor lab, we test them outdoors at our track on dark, moonless nights. Our headlight specialists set up a series of black targets at prescribed intervals along almost a thousand feet of level roadway. They then look for low-beam and high-beam performance, evaluating reach, intensity, width, and the evenness of the light pattern. They note glare effects—where stray light can bounce back from mist, rain, or fog. And they determine whether the transition or cutoff of light is so sharp that it reduces the headlight's range as it moves over undulations and uneven roads.

    Safety Features

    We don’t perform crash tests. We quote the government and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash test results. Other aspects require a personal touch to evaluate. Our engineers asses safety belts, the most important safety device, in all seating positions, gauging how easy they are to reach and adjust, how they drape on different-sized occupants, and whether they incorporate features such as pretensioners that make them more effective. The engineers also check head restraints in all seats to ensure that they are tall enough and can be positioned properly to mitigate whiplash injuries. Another key check is to judge how conducive the vehicle is to the securing of child seats of various sizes.

    Trunk and Cargo Space

    For cars with an enclosed trunk, we measure its usable volume with a set of typical-sized suitcases and duffel bags. For SUVs, wagons and minivans we use an expandable rectangular pipe-frame "box." We enlarge it enough to just fit through the rear opening and extend into the cargo bay as far as possible without preventing the hatch from closing. Cargo capacity is the volume enclosed by that box. For pickup trucks, we measure the volume of the load bed up to the top of the side rails.

    Off-Road Capability

    We check off-road capabilities for vehicles made for or advertised for off-road use. SUVs or pickups with a traditional four-wheel-drive system that includes low-range gearing or some equivalent are put to the test on varying terrain. We evaluate the vehicle's 4WD system and the driver's ability to modulate the throttle—something vital for climbing over tricky obstacles. We also judge ground clearance, axle articulation, and, of course, traction.

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

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  • 02/23/16--09:41: 10 Ways to Avoid a Crash
  • 10 Ways to Avoid a Crash

    Many people equate car safety with crashworthiness. But Consumer Reports believes the technology that helps you avoid the car crash in the first place is just as valuable.

    But choosing a safe car can be challenging when that technology gets lost in a showroom alphabet soup of acronyms that salespeople themselves may undervalue or underemphasize.

    Here are our Top 10 advanced safety features, in order of preference. Even if they come bundled into a package with other tech items that you might not want, and that can raise the car’s price, we believe these potentially lifesaving options are worth the extra cash.

    1. Forward-Collision Warning (FCW)

    Using laser, radar, or cameras, these systems assess surrounding conditions, as well as the speed of your approach to a potential impact with a vehicle ahead of you. They will alert you with visual and/or audible signals to a potential car crash, allowing you time to react. Some systems also sense and alert you to the potential for a collision with pedestrians.

    CR’s take: We want to see forward-collision warning standard in every car. It is important enough that we will award bonus points in our Ratings if the car has it as a standard feature.

    2. Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB)

    These systems add to the benefits of forward-collision warning. AEB will sense a potential collision, and if you don’t react in time, the car will initiate braking.

    CR’s take: Another of our favorites, auto-braking is a technology we would like to see in every car. An automaker that makes this feature standard will get extra credit in our scores because it has proved to reduce injuries and deaths. Offering it as option will not get credit.

    3. Blind-Spot Warning

    This technology detects and warns of vehicles you can’t see. The system scans the sides of the vehicle to warn of vehicles’ presence in blind spots. It alerts drivers with a visible, audible, and/or tactile alert to indicate that it’s unsafe to merge or change lanes.

    CR’s take: Blind-spot warning is not only one of CR’s top three favorite safety features but our readers rate it at the top of their favorites as well. It makes a big difference in highway safety.

    4. Rear Cross-Traffic Alert

    These systems sense traffic that may cross your path as you reverse, which can be helpful when you’re backing out of a parking space or driveway. Some systems will automatically brake for the driver to avoid an object.

    CR’s take: With a large number of accidents occurring in reverse at low speeds and in parking lots, we like that drivers can be assisted by rear cross-traffic alerts that help when navigating tight spots or where visibility is limited.

    5. Backup Cameras

    This camera-based assistance system is activated when the vehicle is placed in reverse. The rear view is displayed in a center console screen or rear-view mirror. Some vehicles have a parking assistance system that visually diagrams a lined guided parking path to track your steering angle. Cross-traffic alerts and overhead view cameras can also be integrated into the camera view.

    CR’s take: With many back-over accidents in recent years, we are glad to see it as standard equipment on all 2018 models, and every year after. Along with other safety advocates, Consumer Reports pushed for the law requiring the cameras and sued the government to get final rules in place.

    6. Automatic High Beams

    This function automatically switches from low to high beams, and back again, for improved nighttime visibility as conditions warrant.

    CR’s take: Many drivers don’t opt for the added visibility of high beams as often as they should. These systems make the switch for you. They improve visibility and automatically reduce the glare of your headlights as oncoming cars approach.

    7. Lane-Keeping Assist (LKA)

    In addition to sensing when you leave your lane, this technology will induce mild steering input to put you back into your lane.

    CR’s take: It’s most useful on highways, where the driver can become sleepy or distracted. But it can be overly intrusive on rural two-lane roads. Courteously giving a wide berth to a cyclist or pedestrian may cause the system to steer the car back toward the curb, scaring everyone involved.

    8. Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)

    By using lasers, radar, cameras, or a combination of those systems, ACC systems automatically adjust vehicle speed in order to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you and prevent a potential car crash. If traffic slows, some systems will bring the car to a complete stop and automatically come back to speed when traffic gets going again.

    CR’s take: ACC systems often include forward-collision warning, which can further reduce some of the stress of commuting.

    9. Parking-Assist Systems

    These are a series of sensors in the front, rear, or both bumpers that alert you at low speeds that cars, light poles, walls, shrubbery, and other obstacles are getting close.

    CR’s take: These can make it easier to maneuver in tight parking lots, saving your car from damage.

    10. Lane-Departure Warning (LDW)

    The use of cameras, lasers, or infrared sensors assists you with sound or vibration warnings to let you know when you have drifted out of your lane.

    CR’s take: LDW systems work best on freeways and open-lane highways but require more refinement because of the number of false alerts we’ve experienced, especially on narrow or winding roads.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 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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  • 02/23/16--09:41: 10 Top Picks for 2016
  • 10 Top Picks for 2016

    Car shoppers always seek the best car. How they define it may differ, and the buying decision certainly factors in price and pure emotional appeal. 

    For Consumer Reports, we define the "best" car as the one that excels in our extensive tests, as well as shines for reliability, safety, and owner satisfaction. Certainly, there are many good cars on the market today to choose from. But when a reader asks us to definitively name the best, the 10 Top Picks are our answers across popular categories. And we have the data to back it up.

    What It Takes to Be Tops

    Performance: To qualify, each model must rank at or near the top of its class in our road-test score.

    Reliability: Models must have an average or better predicted reliability rating based on problems reported by subscribers for the 740,000 vehicles in our 2015 auto survey.

    Owner satisfaction: We surveyed our subscribers about their happiness level regarding the 230,000 vehicles in their garages. Would they buy their car again?

    Safety: Top Picks must perform effectively in crash or rollover tests conducted by the government and insurance industry (if tested). 

    10 Top Picks Over the Years

    See the vehicles that made our Top Picks list in 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.  

    Best Subcompact Car: Honda Fit

    Thinking about the first new car for yourself or someone in your family? This Honda may just be the perfect fit. It’s thrifty with fuel, returning a competitive 33 mpg overall, and yet its nimble handling never gives off a “compromise car” vibe. It has remarkable interior space for such a tiny footprint, with second-row seats that elegantly stow away or flip up to hold more cargo. A rear-view camera is standard. Road noise does boom in, and its rough ride can be tiring on long drives. Still, owner satisfaction is high, and its crash-test scores have improved over its predecessor. For just under $20,000, the Fit can be an easy-to-park runabout that keeps you smiling.

    Read our complete Honda Fit road test.

    Best Compact Car: Subaru Impreza

    Despite its compact size, the car’s ride and overall comfort will surprise you. It has expansive window glass, lots of interior space for a car of its size, intuitive controls, a suite of available safety technology, great crash-test results, and an available hatchback version to haul bulky cargo. If you live where there’s heavy snowfall, you’ll appreciate its superb all-wheel-drive traction. The Impreza is a smart, practical car.

    Read our complete Subaru Impreza road test.

    Best Midsized Car: Toyota Camry

    Sure, it might seem like vanilla, but vanilla happens to be the best-selling flavor of ice cream. The Camry’s no-fuss driving experience—great outward visibility, controls that fall easily to hand, a roomy interior—may not be the most thrilling in its class, but it’s far from plain. A quiet cabin, slick powertrains, a comfortable ride, and sound handling make it pleasant and capable. A Hybrid version delivers excellent fuel economy while remaining reasonably affordable. The solid Camry delivers year after year of outstanding reliability, which when combined with impressive crash-test results, make it a near-perfect sedan and one of our 10 Top Picks.

    Read our complete Toyota Camry road test.

    Best Small SUV: Subaru Forester

    We hear all the time that Subaru is “the official car of New England.” But the Forester is good enough to be the small SUV of Everywhere. It’s roomy, rides comfortably, and handles unflappably. Its AWD system routed the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V in our snow-driving evaluations. Fuel economy is among class leaders. It also has the best sight lines from the driver’s seat of any model on the market. Forward-collision warning and automatic braking aren’t standard, but they’re available across most of the lineup at affordable prices. Strong IIHS crash-test scores make it a safe cocoon.

    Read our complete Subaru Forester road test.

    Best Luxury SUV: Lexus RX

    Lexus created the luxury crossover segment almost 20 years ago, and its dominance hasn’t diminished since. Origami styling and its “Predator” grille show that the RX has shifted from being an understated part of the Little League parking lot to a more extroverted design player. But don’t let its new edginess confuse the picture. You’ll still find a quiet and comfortable cabin, effortless power delivery, a smooth ride, and a tastefully done interior fit and finish. The hybrid version gets an impressive 29 mpg overall. It’s not a taut, high-performance machine of the German school; it lacks that razor-crisp handling, steering feedback, and sharp brakes. But what the RX does focus on—coddling well-heeled customers with reliable calmness—it does well.

    Read our complete Lexus RX road test.

    Best Sports Car Under $40K: Mazda MX-5 Miata

    Nobody packs more fun-per-dollar into a pint-sized package than Mazda. The MX-5 Miata combines lithe, precise handling with a crisp manual stick shift and a zoomy engine—that gets an enviable 34 mpg—to create the perfect car for the enthusiast driver and weekend racer. An easy-to-stow soft top is the clincher. It’s reliable, too. With its jumpy, firm suspension, loud cabin, and tight quarters for taller drivers, the Miata isn’t a commuter car. But given a sunny day and a winding road, none of that matters. We love this car, and that's why it's one of our 10 Top Picks.

    Read our complete Mazda MX-5 Miata road test.

    Best Large Car: Chevrolet Impala

    Long relegated to the inglorious life of airport rental fleets, the newest version of the Impala puts the competition in its rearview mirror. It proves an American automaker knows how to make an outstanding car for the masses. The Impala is dynamic and comfortable, combining a cushy ride with responsive handling, beating some elite luxury sedans at their own game. The controls are refreshingly intuitive, without resorting to overcomplicated interfaces. There’s enough cabin space to fit five with plenty of elbow and leg room. Trust us: It’s impressively good.

    Read our complete Chevrolet Impala road test.

    Best Midsized SUV: Kia Sorento

    This is a great SUV hiding in plain sight. Most midsized crossovers often feel like uninspiring errand runners. But the Sorento offers class-above elegance at mainstream prices. It’s a shade smaller than its midsized competitors, but that allows the Sorento to be city-friendly while still offering the space and features of a larger vehicle. The smooth 290-hp V6 is responsive with competitive fuel economy, and the suspension absorbs the worst bumps and ruts with dignity while still giving you confidence in corners. The interior design is flat-out gorgeous. Well-above-average predicted reliability combines with good crash-test results. There’s a new king of the category.

    Read our complete Kia Sorento road test.

    Best Pickup Truck: Ford F-150

    Is aluminum body construction macho enough for a big truck? You bet. By eschewing traditional steel body panels, Ford created a pickup that weighs less, enabling it to be quick off the line and fuel-efficient. The 2.7-liter turbo V6 has more grunt than truck traditionalists may expect. And it gets 1 mpg better than a comparable Chevy, which adds up over the life of a truck. The cabin is extremely quiet and spacious, with large windows and relatively narrow windshield pillars to aid outward visibility. The intuitive Sync 3 infotainment system is a welcome update from the bogged-down MyFord Touch setup. Top-notch crash-test results and the best predicted reliability of any domestic truck make the F-150 a solid workhorse and one of 2016's 10 Top Picks.

    Read our complete Ford F-150 road test.

    Best Minivan: Toyota Sienna

    Most people don’t dream of minivans, but the Sienna is super-reliable transport with all of the modern features an active, connected family would want. Its spacious and multifunctional interior, with available seating for eight, mates well with the Sienna’s magic carpet ride and energetic powertrain. Available all-wheel drive removes the excuse for buying a less practical SUV. Let the neighbors poke gentle fun at your capitulation to family realities. Soon enough, they’ll be begging to borrow your Sienna to make a Home Depot run.

    Read our complete Toyota Sienna road test.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 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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    Best and Worst Cars Tested by Consumer Reports

    For some people, finding a great-driving vehicle tops their list of priorities. These are the vehicles that excelled in our tests—and those that missed the mark entirely. 

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 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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  • 02/23/16--09:41: The Best of the Best
  • The Best of the Best

    Not everyone enjoys poring over used-car classified ads to find that hidden gem. Even our experts find the hunt through bad cars to be the worst part of the buying experience.

    An easier solution: Simply determine your budget and choose a vehicle from our lists of the best used cars. We dug through years of test data and hundreds of thousands of survey responses, and cross-referenced those metrics with the availability of electronic stability control, a lifesaving safety feature.

    The best of the best used car models are represented here. Each model performed well in our road tests when it was new and had above-average reliability for the model years shown. In addition, each vehicle offered ESC as a standard or optional feature.

    We also included a list of used cars you should avoid considering because they proved to be particularly troublesome and unreliable.

    Of course, even for used cars we recommend, there can be stinkers—due to a bad day at the factory or a former owner who didn’t care much for car maintenance. Before you buy, make sure to pay for a thorough inspection by a certified mechanic, so there are no surprises down the road.

    Less Than $10,000

    Small cars (with available ESC)

    The Focus delivers a steady ride, an interior that feels upscale for the price, and sporty handling. The Vibe is a reliable and spacious compact hatchback similar to the Toyota Matrix. The xB is a cargo box on wheels, ready to haul almost anything you can throw in or at it.

    Sedans

    You can stick to your budget and still get a reliable premium car if you choose the slick-handling Acura TL. The smaller TSX is a sportier alternative based on the European Honda Accord. The Hyundai Sonata is an accommodating alternative in a plain package. The sporty Mazda6 has a supple ride.

    SUVs and Minivans

    Standard ESC and curtain airbags, combined with acres of space, make the reliable CR-V a can't-miss prospect. For even more room, check out the eight-seat Pilot with its smooth V6 acceleration and carlike handling. Opt for the Sienna if you need the bountiful accommodations and flexibility of a minivan.

    $10,000 to $15,000

    Small Cars

    The Fit is a bit noisy, but excellent fuel economy and a flexible interior make it a standout among subcompacts. The boxy yet stylish Soul has tons of features for a small car and expansive cargo space, making it a smart choice for recent grads. The Mazda3 has everything most shoppers want in a small car: reliability, fuel efficiency, a fun-to-drive attitude, an interior that feels upscale for the price, and seats that won't leave your back and tailbone screaming.

    Sedans

    The G35 is Exhibit A in how to blend sporty handling with interior refinement. For less of a race-car feel, the MKZ has available AWD and a supple ride. Look for a 2010 model, which has a quieter, more luxurious interior.

    SUVs

    The MDX's quiet interior and responsive handling put an enjoyable spin on family-friendly vehicles, showing why it's the standard for three-row crossover SUVs. The rock-solid, reliable Highlander is slightly smaller, but for some, it's a handier size. It's available with a third-row seat, and the hybrid version delivers the fuel economy of a small SUV.

    $15,000 to $20,000

    Small Cars

    The Prius has always proved that you don't have to give up space or ride comfort to get stellar gas mileage. And its standard electronic stability control is an added bonus. Lots of features for the money, a roomy backseat, and responsive handling make the Elantra a great deal. Go for a 2013 or newer Civic to get its much-needed upgrades in braking, suspension, and the interior.

    Sedans

    A cavernous backseat, Honda's typically responsive suspension and 25 mpg overall from the four-cylinder engine make the Accord a perennial winner. The Camry is also a no-brainer thanks to stellar reliability and ample space for five adults. The ES takes the Camry platform and adds luxury appointments, front seats worthy of a road trip, and a hushed cabin. 

    SUVs

    Mazda's CX-5 has very good fuel economy, crisp handling, and a generous rear seat. The RAV4 is available with four- and six-cylinder engines, both of which are quite fuel-efficient. Nimble, secure handling is a plus.

    $20,000 to $25,000

    Sedans

    With its composed ride and European-style handling, the Fusion is a reliable, roomy sedan. The spacious and refined Legacy offers a wide variety of advanced safety features. Choose the Avalon if you want a commodious, luxurious sedan without the upscale price.

    SUVs

    The Murano has long been one of our favorite SUVs, with secure handling and a rich interior. The Subaru Forester has standard AWD, plentiful rear-seat accommodations, great visibility, and a comfortable ride. If you need a reliable SUV with seating for eight and strong towing capability, the Sequoia is a good choice. 

    Luxury

    The fun-to-drive and smooth-riding E-Class wraps its occupants in a first-class cabin. The Acura blends sporty handling and upscale accoutrements in a reliable small SUV package. The Lexus RX is the go-to upscale SUV for used-car buyers, with its bulletproof reliability, plush seats, and luxury ride. The hybrid version gets an impressive 26 mpg overall.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 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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  • 02/23/16--09:41: Practice Makes Prius
  • Practice Makes Prius

    No car has had as much of an environmental impact—and changed the way people think about green cars—than the Toyota Prius.

    With the footprint of a compact but the interior space of a midsized car—plus best-in-industry fuel economy, bulletproof reliability, hatchback versatility, and a sticker price without the sticker shock—the Prius is a pretty sublime transportation solution.

    Because it has been redesigned for the 2016 model year and is just reaching dealerships as of this writing, we couldn’t include it among our Top Picks because we haven’t tested it yet. But we drove a prototype, and it’s quite promising.

    The Toyota Prius was derided as little more than a green-marketing science project when introduced to the U.S. market in 2000. But the high-tech, gas-electric hybrid parachuted into a cultural zeitgeist that was just beginning to grapple with environmentally conscious transportation.

    But you didn’t—and still don’t—have to be a tree-hugger to drive a Prius. It just made economical sense in a way no car had done before, by practically doubling the miles driven per gallon of gas. Factor in low repair costs and low depreciation, and the Prius is quite affordable to own.

    The Prius—the name means “to go before” in Latin—became a cause célèbre among Hollywood early adopters including Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tom Hanks, and began gaining attention among a growing eco-fan base.

    The arrival of a more family-friendly, second-generation model in 2003, combined with a gas-price spike in 2005, triggered a mainstream rush. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of consumers were choosing the Toyota hybrid over traditional gasoline sedans, making it one of the top-selling cars in the U.S.

    See our complete guide to the Toyota Prius.

    That mass-market acceptance of the Prius—compared with people buying a typical midsized sedan—today represents 2.1 billion gallons of gasoline not consumed since 2000. And 11.7 million tons of CO2 haven’t been poured into the atmosphere.

    Other automakers have tried to replicate that success with hybrid variants of existing models, such as the Ford Escape hybrid, or with dedicated Prius imitators, such as the underwhelming Honda Insight. Yet none have been able to get anywhere near the brake lights of the Prius when it comes to a mass-market embrace. Why? Perhaps because the Prius is a dedicated hybrid; there’s no regular gas version. Clearly, the public considers it the car for proclaiming one’s green commitment.

    Toyota invited us to try the redesigned 2016 model in California. (We paid our own travel expenses.) Our impression? The early models show elements the previous versions lacked, such as more dynamic styling, a steadier ride, and rather athletic handling.

    Our one day of driving included a mix of suburban routes and some freeway cruising, and yielded an average of 50 mpg, according to the onboard computer. Even more impressive, a separate 27-mile loop in a lighter-weight Prius Eco version returned 66 mpg.

    The new gasoline engine now puts less roar into the cabin when you tromp on the gas pedal. The continuously variable transmission—which changes speeds on a continuum rather than through fixed gears, to aid fuel economy—is more refined and less obtrusive. The Prius can propel itself solely on electric power up to 45 mph depending on driving conditions—handy in stop-and-go traffic.

    The Prius also has the latest frontal-collision and pedestrian-protection systems­­, although they’re a $4,000 premium over the base model.

    The interior also benefits from a major upgrade. Gone is the hard, hollow plastic cabin of the previous generation. Instead, the 2016 Prius brings some soft-touch surfaces, flashes of chrome, and a vivid, colorful digital display.

    Starting at $25,035, the Prius redesign amounts to an incremental improvement rather than a metamorphosis, just the way Toyota likes it. Even with gas prices recently plummeting to historic lows (when adjusted for inflation), the idea of an energy-efficient vehicle still makes sense—for the good of your wallet and the planet, and to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

    The bonus is that the Prius feels more fun to drive than the previous versions, which felt more like sterile, high-tech appliances than cars.

    Stay tuned for our complete road test.

    See our complete guide to the Toyota Prius.

    Prius Through the Years

    1997-2003: First Generation (shown)
    Although introduced in Japan in 1997 as the world’s first mass-produced gas-electric hybrid vehicle, the Prius doesn’t reach the U.S. market until 2000. The small car’s tight interior and poky acceleration are compromises, but its excellent gas mileage (41 mpg in our tests) boggles consumers.

    2003
    Prius gets a huge image boost when a local dealer shuttles celebrities to the Academy Awards.

    2004-2009: Second Generation
    A larger, more practical hatchback shape emerges. The hybrid battery is smaller, lighter, and more powerful. With gas prices soaring, the Prius becomes a hit thanks to its great gas mileage (44 mpg in our tests).

    2010
    The 2 millionth Prius is sold worldwide.

    2010-2015: Third Generation
    Although fuel economy holds at 44 mpg, the redesign brings more power because of upgraded components, including a larger 1.8-liter engine. A rechargeable plug-in version arrives in 2012, with 15 miles of electric-only range.

    2011
    The Prius V wagon is introduced.

    2012
    The smaller Prius C expands the range.

    2016: Fourth Generation
    The new Prius platform will also underpin the next Camry. It includes a sportier feel and available advanced safety features. Fuel economy increases to an EPA-estimated 52 mpg overall.

     

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 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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    A Better Way to Find Your Next Car

    No single attribute can make a car truly great. That’s why Consumer Reports has always rated each car through a variety of assessments.

    Starting this year, Consumer Reports is combining those various attributes into one overall score, which will make it simpler for you to know which vehicle to buy.

    Every car we test will earn a score that encapsulates four factors:

    1. Our road-test program looks at real-life performance by running 70-plus new cars and trucks each year through more than 50 tests at our 327-acre test facility in Colchester, Conn. Those tests include each vehicle’s emergency-handling and braking capabilities.

    2. We gauge reliability through annual surveys of our subscribers. The 740,000 vehicles from our 2015 auto survey gave us insight into problem areas for 15 model years of cars on the road.

    3. Those same surveys also provide the data for our third major assessment, owner satisfaction, which asks owners of 230,000 vehicles purchased in the past three years whether they would buy their current car again.

    4. Our experts incorporate safety data from crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We give additional consideration to advanced safety systems—offered as standard equipment across all trim levels of a particular model—that can help you avoid an accident or lessen the impact of a crash.

    By merging those criteria, we’ve leveraged our expertise and resources to create the most well-rounded portrait of what makes a good car for you.

    After some serious data crunching, we have developed an Overall Score that not only helps car buyers sort the good vehicles from the bad but also holds the automotive industry to the highest possible standards. We want to help you buy a great car today, and we want to make sure an even better, safer, and more reliable car is available the next time you’re in the market.

    “Our new Overall Score is the only way to see the full picture of how a car stacks up,” says Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports. “This makes it easy to see which cars are the best and the worst.”

    Although the score is all encompassing, we have weighted the data so that a subpar performance in any critical area—such as below-average reliability or a poor crash-test result—will drop a car significantly further down in the rankings.

    As a result of this scoring system, the ranks have shifted somewhat. For instance, the Mercedes-Benz C300 compact luxury sedan is one of the top performers in our road tests, but when we factor in its much-worse-than-average reliability, it can no longer be considered for recommendation.

    The Overall Score will not be static. As new testing, reliability, and safety data arrive, the scores will be updated at ConsumerReports.org. That means online subscribers can always access the most current assessment of what makes the best-driving, most reliable, most satisfying, and safest cars.


    What Goes Into the Overall Score

    1. Road Test
    We purchase every car we test, just like consumers do. And members of our auto-test team drive each car more than 2,000 miles to gain real-world experience while commuting and living with the vehicle, just as any consumer would. That also allows the vehicle’s components to “break in.” After that, we put our vehicles through a battery of more than 50 tests at our facility. We test acceleration, braking, handling, and fuel economy, as well as evaluate ergonomic qualities such as seat comfort, cargo capacity, and the usability of controls and info­tainment systems.

    Our road test also measures dynamic aspects of vehicle safety—such as braking distances and the speed and confidence with which our test drivers can complete our accident-­avoidance maneuver.

    Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center staff has been testing and evaluating vehicle systems and performance for more than six decades. We can tell when an automaker has taken shortcuts, and we pay close attention to improvements and omissions in each new vehicle that may be important to consumers.

    2. Reliability
    We analyze more than 740,000 vehicles owned by our subscribers as part of our 2015 Annual Auto Survey—regarding every aspect of vehicle reliability. It includes any problem, from electrical gremlins to transmission replacements, that might require a trip to the dealership or mechanic for a repair. That information helps consumers see how troublesome a particular model might be.

    We have decades’ worth of data to track historical trends, and our annual survey covers cars up to 15 years old—showing which problems can become more prevalent as your car ages.

    For a 2016 model, the new-car reliability prediction is calculated by averaging reliability scores for the most recent three years of production, provided the model did not change significantly during that time. If we lack data, we predict its reliability based on the brand’s overall history of building good- or poor-quality vehicles, as well as the previous generation of that particular model’s reliability. We won’t recommend any tested vehicle with below-average reliability.

    Our data, combined with our technical knowledge, allows us to expertly predict the reliability of new and redesigned models. For instance, a vehicle that has a long tradition of strong reliability and has many carryover components—such as the Toyota Prius—is likely to get a strong predicted-­reliability score. Conversely, an all-new model—such as the Volvo XC90, with many new components—will probably see a decline in reliability in its first year but may improve over subsequent model years.

    3. Owner Satisfaction
    Our owner-satisfaction Ratings include data on more than 230,000 vehicles less than three years old. The survey asks owners, in essence, whether they would choose to buy their current car again.

    Subcompact cars usually fare poorly because they tend to be unrewarding gateway vehicles for car buyers on a budget. But mainstream vehicles—such as midsized sedans and SUVs—tend to have stronger consumer loyalty. When a vehicle shows poor owner satisfaction, it’s a red flag.

    Owner satisfaction reflects experience as much as expectations. For example, several luxury brands have moved downmarket into the $30,000 neighborhood. Our most recent data show that many buyers of those “entry luxury” cars are dissatisfied because they feel the brand did not keep its luxury promise with fit and finish, as well as the performance, of that model.

    For redesigned and brand-new models, we don’t have data on owner satisfaction yet, so we use data about the previous generation and similar models from the same brand or vehicle type to form the owner-satisfaction score.

    4. Safety
    A well-designed vehicle structure can save your life. That’s why we include safety in our overall score.

    We factor the results of crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

    Any vehicle with a Marginal or Poor rating in any crash test will have points deducted from its overall score. Those that scored Poor cannot receive a recommendation from Consumer Reports.

    We also consider whether a ­vehicle has advanced crash-prevention features as standard items. At Consumer Reports, we believe safety is for every­one. If a ­vehicle offers forward-­collision warning and/or auto­matic emergency braking as a standard feature across the model line, we give extra credit for that technology.

    We believe FCW and AEB are the most important safety breakthroughs since the advent of electronic stability control. However, those vehicles that offer the features as an option or only on upscale trim levels won’t see their score change.

    Bonuses to our safety scoring apply to systems that warn at any speed or apply the brakes automatically without a warning, for systems that warn and apply auto­nomous braking at city speeds below 55 mph, and for systems that warn of a potential crash and automatically apply the brakes at city and highway speeds.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 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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