It’s been a big year for Detroit with scores of new models reaching the market, but some are struggling to get the full nod from Consumer Reports .
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In recent years, the power of the Internet has had an interesting effect on publications that specialize in car reviews. As more information becomes readily available, opinions in what used to be well-respected publications appear to be losing their influence.
Despite being a diverse list this week, the three most popularly researched cars this week came from one manufacturer: Toyota.
Vehicle quality was not the only thing making news when Consumer Reports unveiled the results of its latest reliability study in Detroit earlier this week. Amongst the issues highlighted by the consumer publication were real world fuel economy and forced induction engine technology.
Fuel economy is now the number one purchase consideration for new car shoppers, sparking a massive swing in interest for alternative fuel vehicles.
There are a lot of car stereotypes out there, like that Toyota builds dull appliances. While true on many fronts, the Japanese automaker does also make exciting sporty cars like the Scion FR-S, and Lexus LFA, both praised for their exhilarating rides, edgy styling and pulse-raising performance. But there’s another stereotype that needs to be dealt with.
Likely you’ve heard the phrase “German engineering” more than a few times in your life and there’s a popular misconception that it equals good reliability. German cars are well engineered, sometimes to be amazing performance machines and sometimes to be incredibly high-tech (and often both) but, Porsche aside, German cars don’t have the best track record for reliability.
Price, looks and size… these are the few factors that used to decide what vehicle you’d park in your driveway. Looking for a cheap and small car? A Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic will do. Need something bigger, perhaps a mid-size Hyundai Sonata or an SUV. Things used to be pretty easy.
With increasingly high gas prices and an overall movement towards green, fuel efficient vehicles, fuel economy has become more important. In fact, for many price, looks and size are now completely trumped by fuel economy.
“Buyers just look at the MPG on the sticker,” says IHS Automotive Analyst Devin Lindsay commenting that car buyers are now completely mesmerized by the EPA sticker label.
Take a look at the Toyota Prius, for example. It’s not terribly big, is fairly expensive, and looks… well… weird. But that didn’t stop three million of them from being sold, all thanks to a hybrid gas-electric engine that provides excellent fuel economy.
The Prius isn’t the only option for someone looking for a fuel efficient car, however; especially those in search of a more engaging driving experience. If you want to cut down on trips to the pump, and still drive a fun, powerful, good looking car, your best bet might just be in a diesel powered vehicle. That does mean you’ll almost certainly have to drive German, although a flood of new diesel-powered vehicles are about to hit our shore.
Consumer Reports found the Kia Rio a solid and well-equipped car with nimble handling, simple controls and plenty of features for the price. Their test vehicle was a Kia Rio EX sedan ($17,275 as tested) with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine making 138-hp with 30-mpg overall. They noted that the six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly while both ride and noise were tolerable for a subcompact. They were also pleased with the braking performance of the Rio and found the trunk to be roomy.
The hatchback, on the other hand, came in third place behind the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa in the subcompact hatchbacks category. Despite the Versa having a strong showing among the hatchbacks, the sedan plunged from being at the top of Consumer Reports’ ratings to the bottom. Complaints from Consumer Reports include the engine’s whirring, jittery ride on the highway and unimpressive interior.
Even with its redesign, the Toyota Yaris continued to garner very low scores from Consumer Reports, which calling it “bare-bones transportation.” They reported that the Yaris is noisy, has a choppy ride, poor handling and slow acceleration.
The biggest surprise is probably the new Chevrolet Sonic getting high marks for its quiet cabin, agile handling, and excellent braking. What hurt the Sonic was its fuel economy, which Consumer Reports said is mediocre for the class. Even though Consumer Reports tested a fully-loaded Sonic LTZ turbocharged hatchback, they found that it was too expensive and “didn’t live up to its sporty aspirations.”
Apparently the luxury EV is meant to shut down in the event of a failure to prevent collateral damage that might otherwise result. LaSorda sent a letter to customers apologizing for the fault and any resulting inconvenience.
He also assured customers that he is “personally involved” in all the company’s initiatives, saying that hiccups in new technology sometimes require updates and refinements.
Fisker returned the Consumer Reports owned Karma fully repaired under warranty after finding a problem in the car’s inverter cable and battery.
Furthermore, it seems LaSorda dispatched what he calls a “SWAT” team of 50 engineers and other consultants to find problems with the car and fix them. New software has been developed to help prevent future problems in Karmas, and will be sent out as soon as the current testing procedure is complete, according to LaSorda.
Regardless of what he says, its hard to imagine buying a car for $107,850, as Consumer Reports did, only to have it die. A letter from the company’s CEO would probably offer little comfort after realizing your recent six-figure investment wasn’t ready to be sold.
GALLERY: Fisker Karma
[Source: Automotive News]
The Consumer Reports Fisker Karma test vehicle which broke down on them last week has now been returned to the fleet after spending 48 hours at a Fisker dealerhsip.
During a routine speedometer test the Karma began to flash a warning light and a chime to alert the driver that something was amiss. Once the car came to a stop the Consumer Reports testers could not get the vehicle to shift into any gear other than park and neutral.
The nearest Fisker dealership was alerted of the issue, and sent a flatbed to pick up the car. Consumer Reports says that the dealership found a fault with the battery and the inverter and both of them were replaced.
With a new battery and new inverter cable the car has been returned to the test fleet problem free… for now.
Watch the video below of the Karma breaking down on Consumer Reports.
Well this is just embarrassing. American electric automaker Fisker has had some pretty bad months recently, starting with a recall back in December, to reports of the company running out of funds, that has lead to the delay of Project Nina and then possible reports that the Karma could brick.
The automaker was probably hoping some good press would come with Consumer Reports putting the Karma to the test, looking to prove to the world that it is indeed a formidable plug-in hybrid especially at its hefty $107,850 price tag. That can just go out the window now, as Consumer Reports has reported that with less than 200 miles on the odometer their Karma has broken down.
The breakdown occurred while Consumer Reports was doing a speedometer calibration run on their test track, something they do for every test car. The calibration simply has the vehicle driving at a constant speed of 65-mph between two measured points. During one of its runs, “the dashboard flashed a message and sounded a ‘bing’ showing a major fault,” according to Consumer Reports.
They promptly took the vehicle off the track and parked it, rummaging through the owner’s manual to determine what may have occurred. Unfortunately after that, the Karma refused to let them shift the vehicle into any gear. The electronic shifter would only allow Park or Neutral.
The vehicle sat for about an hour before they restarted it hoping for better luck. This time around, it allowed them to put it into gear but it only moved a few feet before the error message appeared again and the Karma disabled itself. The dealer promptly sent out a flatbed tow truck to pick up the disabled Karma, which was almost 100 miles away from the dealership.
It’s disheartening to see all this funding going towards the Fisker brand and very little positive news has surfaced from the vehicle. It will be interesting to see what Consumer Reports publishes if they ever get the vehicle drivable for more than a couple of days.
Watch their video below
Consumer Reports released its Top Picks for 2012, with Toyota claiming five of the 10 spots — the first time since 2003 that a company held so many.
Consumer Reports chooses the “best all-around models” in each category by conducting road tests, reading thousands of customer surveys about reliability and examining crash test ratings on each model.
Toyota is the only company on the list with a repeat appearance, its winners ranging from best family sedan to best family hauler.
See the complete list of winners below: (note: all cars listed are the 2012 model)
Have you ever thought about cleaning your headlights? If not, you should. There are plenty of headlight cleaning kits out there, and according to Consumer Reports, even the most inexpensive or poorest quality ones can make a difference.
Since drivers are keeping their cars longer, it becomes more important to maintain this older fleet. And one of these maintenance issues is the oxidation that occurs on plastic headlight lenses. Oxidation causes an unsightly haze that reduces headlight illumination, and over time, can build up to become a dangerous problem.
Consumer Reports tried out a series of headlight cleaning kits, all under $25, and found that even the poorest quality kit dramatically improves light output. The kits that Consumer Reports tested included the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System 29008 ($15), the Fast Brite Auto Headlight Restorer Kit ($17), the Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit ($21) and the Turtle Wax Headlight Lens Restorer ($9).
After cleaning out the headlight lenses of various cars and testing them again a few weeks later, Consumer Reports found that even the poorest quality kit still made a difference in light output on badly weathered lenses. Sure, there’s some elbow grease involved, but if you’ve got an older car, these kits can really increase headlight brightness, which means you can see clearer in the dark.
After the jump, watch a Consumer Reports video on some helpful headlight cleaning tips.
[Source: Consumer Reports]
Besides revealing what consumers think about specific vehicle brands based on seven different categories, Consumer Reports‘ latest Brand survey also shows what nameplates they will consider for their next new vehicle.
Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet were recognized as the leaders when it came to purchase intentions for consumers, however, Honda, in fourth place was ranked considerably higher than the rest of the brands on the list. Honda’s strong customer loyalty helped then to achieve their high ranking and like the top three, the customer loyalty factor was registered at more than 50 percent.
Other findings in terms of brand loyalty revealed that Dodge, which had showed gains in recent years, dropped slightly for 2012 to 28 percent from 35, placing it a distant fifth behind Honda.
As for the reason why, the lack of a quality small car at a time when buyers are looking to save their pennies and placing more emphasis on fuel economy and value may be a significant factor. It’ll be interesting to see how the brand fares next time out, once the Dodge Dart has been introduced.
Volkswagen, which is making a huge push to become a dominant player in the volume segment in the US, has seen its purchase intent double in the last few years. Even with the growth VW has achieved, the purchase intent numbers are still low, rated at just under two percent, meaning that for many consumers VW simply isn’t on the radar when it comes to considering a new vehicle.
Another interesting finding from the survey was of those leading Domestic brands that contained trucks in their portfolio. Men were more likely to consider theses brands than women and for example, Ford showed a 19 versus 11 percent bias towards males, with Chevrolet at 15/11. However, Toyota, which also offers trucks, was actually skewered the other way with 16 percent of women (versus 12 percent of men) most likely to consider a new vehicle.
[Source: Consumer Reports]