8 luxury autos that flunk the value test

These high-end rides prove that you don't always get what you pay for.

Substance over style
Substance over style
The car testers at Consumer Reports are often caricatured as granola-eating ultra-liberals left over from the 60s who are concerned with just one thing: managing finite resources. In other words -- the cheapest and simplest solution wins, whether it's washing machines, window-cleaners, or cars.

In fact, the Consumer Reports folks are focused on something a lot more important -- value -- and they've come up with an ingenious way to measure it for car buyers. They figure five-year operating costs per mile (depreciation and fuel are the two biggest expenses), add in a road-test score from their own drives, and calculate predicted reliability based on a readers survey. Then they come up with a value score that compares a given model to the average car.

The calculation provides a clear ranking of the best and worst values in 10 categories that is unavailable anywhere else. You can find "best car" lists everywhere. "Worst car" lists, on the other hand, are rare, because nobody wants to offend potential advertisers. But Consumer Reports doesn't accept advertising, so it doesn't run that risk.

In the Consumer Reports universe, small Asian cars score highly because of their better quality and gas mileage, while luxury and near-luxury sedans and SUVs rank much further down. More expensive autos are done in by deep depreciation, skimpy fuel economy, and -- shockingly -- poor predicted reliability. The bottom line is that a status brand and a high price aren't good indicators of value. Consumer Reports' ratings make a convincing case for caveat emptor.

By Alex Taylor III, senior editor-at-large @FortuneMagazine - Last updated February 08 2012: 5:41 AM ET
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