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Toyota, Honda dominate list of top 10 autos

Times Staff Writer

Toyota and Honda dominated this year’s Consumer Reports auto rankings as Japanese models once again finished first in all 10 of the magazine’s vehicle categories.

In the latest rankings, released Wednesday, Toyota Motor Corp.'s RAV4 (small sport utility vehicle), Highlander hybrid (mid-size SUV), Sienna (minivan) and Prius (“green” car), and Honda Motor Co.'s Fit (subcompact), Accord (family sedan) and Civic (small sedan) took top honors in their categories. Cars from Mazda Motor Corp. and Infiniti, Nissan Motor Co.'s luxury division, also made the top 10.

It was the fifth straight year that Toyota and Honda -- and their Lexus and Acura luxury brands -- have captured at least seven of the 10 categories, and the second year in a row that Japanese vehicles finished first in every class.

“This reflects the fact that these automakers tend to build well-rounded, balanced vehicles that do well in a number of our tests, and those type of vehicles tend to rise to the top of our ratings,” Consumer Reports’ automotive editor Rik Paul said.

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German luxury nameplate Mercedes-Benz finished last in the magazine’s reliability ratings, which are based on subscriber surveys and for the first time included responses dating back 10 years.

“To put it in perspective, the owner of a 1998 Lexus LS 400 -- a 9-year-old vehicle -- would likely have had less problems last year than somebody who bought a brand new 2006 [Mercedes] ML 500,” said David A. Champion, Consumer Reports’ senior director of automotive testing.

Donna Boland, a spokeswoman for the DaimlerChrysler unit, said she was surprised at the findings. “It’s inconsistent with what we’re seeing,” she said. “We had some issues a couple of years back, but today’s models are some of the best we’ve ever built. If their survey doesn’t reflect that, then there’s something wrong with the survey.”

Noting that other consumer surveys have found strong brand loyalty among Mercedes owners, Boland said that “people who are voting with their wallets instead of their pencils don’t feel that reliability is an issue.”

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In addition, Consumer Reports found that Mercedes vehicles are leaders in safety and tend to perform well in road tests.

Toyota and Honda were tops in reliability, but Paul noted that not all Japanese automakers scored well in that area. Nissan was especially inconsistent. Although several of its vehicles notched high reliability ratings, Nissan’s Armada and Infiniti QX SUVs and its Titan pickup were among the models with the most problems. All are made at the same plant in Mississippi.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. brands such as Chevrolet, Buick and Pontiac finished in the middle of the pack in terms of reliability. Ford’s Mercury brand was the only domestic nameplate to make the top 10.

Bright spots for the U.S. automakers included the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, Chevrolet Tahoe and Buick Lucerne, which all scored above average in first-year reliability, Champion said. He also noted that Hyundai Motor Co. of South Korea made its first appearance in the top 10 for reliability.

The new subcompact category reflects the growing demand among buyers for better gasoline mileage. The magazine’s testers rated the winning Honda Fit at 32 miles per gallon with an automatic transmission.

Paul said domestic automakers, which are losing market share to their Asian rivals, performed poorly overall in terms of fuel economy. He blamed that on U.S. companies’ reliance on big SUVs and pickups and said they also tended to lag behind foreign competitors in fuel-saving technology. The Prius, a gasoline-electric hybrid that got the best mileage of any vehicle tested, 44 mpg, was the top-rated model for owner satisfaction.

The last time Consumer Reports rated a U.S. vehicle first in any of its categories was in 2005, when the Ford Focus was named best small sedan. The magazine later revoked the car’s top-pick designation after it performed poorly in side-impact crash tests.

Each year, Consumer Reports rates new cars and light trucks based on federal and insurance industry crash tests, reader reliability surveys and results of more than 50 road and lab tests performed by the magazine.

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The rankings are posted at www.consumerreports.org and will be in the magazine’s April issue, which goes on sale Tuesday.

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martin.zimmerman@latimes.com

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Detroit shut out

Japanese brands ranked first in every new-vehicle category in Consumer Reports’ annual auto issue.

*--* Category Top-ranked model Budget car: Honda Fit Small sedan: Honda Civic Family sedan: Honda Accord Upscale sedan: Infiniti G35 Luxury sedan: Infiniti M35 Small SUV: Toyota RAV4 Mid-size SUV: Toyota Highlander hybrid Minivan: Toyota Sienna Green car: Toyota Prius Fun to drive: Mazda MX-5 Miata

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Source: Consumers Union


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