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Consumer Reports names best cars
U.S. cars best Europeans in reliability for the first time. Ford Focus makes the list twice.
March 9, 2004: 3:29 PM EST
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Consumer Reports released its 2004 list of best cars on Monday. The magazine recommended cars in 10 categories. In reliability, one criterion for selection, American vehicles outperformed European makes for the first time.

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Consumer Reports is out with its most popular issue, its top car picks. As Fred Katayama reports, American automakers are starting to pull ahead.

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The cars, and their ratings in three key areas, are listed in the table below.

To assess reliability, Consumer Reports surveyed subscribers to the magazine and its Web site, ConsumerReports.org. In all, data was collected on about 675,000 privately owned vehicles.

Looking at reliability among vehicles less than a year old, cars from the "Big Three" U.S. carmakers -- General Motors, Ford and the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler -- outperformed European cars overall for the first time in the 25 years the publication has tracked results by nationality. Vehicles by Asian manufacturers still fared much better in the reliability survey than domestic vehicles, however.

According to Consumer Reports' survey results, the average rate of problems for new U.S. make vehicles was 18 problems per 100 vehicles. The rate for European makes was 20 per 100 vehicles and for Asian makes it was 12 per 100 vehicles. The overall average was 17 problems for 100 vehicles. In last year's survey U.S. and European makes were tied at 21 problems per 100 vehicles.

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A survey released by J.D. Power and Associates in July of last year showed that domestic vehicles were outpacing European makes in long-term reliability.

In choosing the top cars, the magazine relies on its own test-track performance analyses, reader surveys on reliability and crash-test results from government and insurance industry studies.

Consumer Reports anonymously purchases vehicles for testing and keeps them for several months, driving them for 6,000 to 8,000 miles on the magazine's test tracks and on public roads to gauge various aspects of performance.

Among Consumer Reports picks, two cars -- the Volkswagen Passat and Honda Accord -- tied for the top spot in the category of Best Family Sedan for the second year in a row. The Toyota Prius, a gas/electric hybrid redesigned for 2004, replaced last year's Green Car pick, the Honda Civic Hybrid.

The Ford Focus made the list in two categories: small sedan and "fun to drive." The Focus had previously been left off the list because of reliability problems.

Correction
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The table in an earlier version of this story displayed an incorrect price range for Honda Accord. The correct range is shown below.

"In our latest rating the Focus reliability has improved enough for us to recommend it," said Rik Paul, Consumer Reports automotive editor.

This year, the magazine did not include a pick-up truck category because its engineers are still testing several new trucks including the Nissan Titan and the redesigned Ford F-150, said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' auto test department.

  Category/
Vehicle
Test
score
Reliability Crash
Protection
App.
price
SMALL SEDAN
Ford Focus
Very good Good Very good $17,000
FAMILY SEDAN (tie)
VW Passat
Excellent Good Excellent $30,000
FAMILY SEDAN (tie)
Honda Accord
Very good Very good Excellent $21,000 to $23,000
UPSCALE SEDAN
Acura TL
Excellent Very good N/A $33,300
LUXURY SEDAN
Lexus LS430
Excellent Excellent N/A $70,500
FUN TO DRIVE
Ford SVT Focus
Excellent Good Very good $19,000
SMALL SUV
Subaru Forester
Excellent Very good Excellent $21,000
MIDSIZED SUV
Lexus RX330
Excellent Excellent Excellent $30,000
THREE-ROW SUV
Honda Pilot
Excellent Very good Excellent $31,000
MINIVAN
Toyota Sienna
Excellent Excellent Excellent $27,500
GREEN CAR
Toyota Prius
Very good Excellent N/A $21,500
Source: Consumer Reports

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