Now that nearly all the 2012 car models have been released, buyers are on the hunt, visiting dealers and making test drives. Consumer Reports tested the latest bunch in its annual auto issue for April, giving the prize to ten category winners. The following their category killers, for everything from an affordable family sedan to a speedy sports car.
|Family Sedan: Toyota Camry Hybrid|
The redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid was chosen as the best family sedan by Consumer Reports for its 38 miles per gallon (mpg) overall fuel economy, which is better than some smaller hybrids. Kelley Blue Book chose the non-hybrid version as its No. 8 pick in its list of ten best 2012 sedans under $25,000. The non-hybrid Camry, America's bestselling car, starts at $22,715.
That a hybrid won the category of best family sedan is not surprising, because after safety, economy of purchase is the second most important factor for many families, said Jack Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.
"I'm a family man myself," he said. "In years past, family cars were either big sedans or big station wagons, but that's changing."
|Affordable Family Sedan: Hyundai Sonata|
The 2012 Hyundai Sonata is a more affordable alternative to the Camry Hybrid, according to Consumer Reports. Kelley Blue Book ranks it as No. 4 in its list of ten best 2012 sedans under $25,000. But Hyundai should be on alert: Consumer Reports' pick last year for family sedan, the Nissan Altima, is due for a redesign soon.
"Shopping for a midsize sedan in 2012 America absolutely means test driving a Hyundai Sonata and its fraternal twin brother, the Kia Optima," Kelley Blue Book said. "For high style, driving pleasure and pure value there may not be a better car anywhere."
|Family SUV: Toyota Highlander|
Consumer Reports calls the Toyota Highlander a "refined, comfortable, and quiet SUV" which has consistently ranked near the top of its class in road-test scores and above-average reliability. The SUV has a "roomy" second-row seat but a "tight" third row. The V6 version gets 18 mpg and the hybrid model tops all SUVs at 27 mpg, according to the magazine.
|Family Hauler: Toyota Sienna (V6)|
The Toyota Sienna is a "versatile minivan" that can carry up to eight people, Consumer Reports said. It offers "lively performance," "decent" fuel economy, and a "comfortable" ride." It is also the only minivan that offers all-wheel drive, but the magazine points out the all-wheel-drive version had "below-average" reliability in its survey. Consumer Reports recommends the front-wheel-drive version, which gets 20 mpg.
|Pickup Truck: Chevrolet Avalanche|
The Chevrolet Avalanche is the "best combination of utility and versatility of any pickup we've tested," Consumer Reports said. It has an "innovative" foldable partition that divides the truck's bed from its cab and allows longer cargo. Consumer Reports recommends getting the optional backup camera to compensate for a large rear blind spot.
|Sporty Car: Ford Mustang|
This legendary sports car, the Ford Mustang, not only has persuasive V8 power but also good fuel economy for its class, Consumer Reports said. Its 3.7-liter V6 version got 24 mpg; the V8 got 22. It also has "agile handling, a decent ride, comfortable front seats, and a very good fit and finish."
|Sports Sedan: Infiniti G|
The Infiniti G was chosen as Consumer Reports best sports sedan for its "agile handling, blisterig acceleration, and comfortable, well-crafted interior." The car has won this category for the past six years. Its only weaknesses are a "snug" cabin and small trunk.
|Small SUV: Toyota RAV4|
With 22 to 23 mpg, the Toyota RAV4 offers good fuel economy for an SUV, plus a spacious interior and comfort. "With a four-cylinder engine, the RAV4 delivers some of the best gas mileage in its class," Consumer Reports said. It has "responsive handling" and "excellent reliability."
|Small Car: Subaru Impreza|
"Redesigned for 2012, the all-wheel-drive Imreza is a well-rounded sedan with nimble handling and a compliant, absorbent ride that rivals some luxury sedans," Consumer Reports said. The magazine said the fuel economy of 27 mpg is "impressive for an AWD car," while it has a "roomy" interior, simple controls, and "refreshingly good visibility."
|Green Car: Toyota Prius|
Getting 41 to 44 mpg, the Toyota Prius "sets the standard for its blend of fuel efficiency, practicality, and affordability," Consumer Reports said. The Prius' 44 overall mpg is the highest fuel efficiency of any five-passenger, non-plug-in vehicle the magazine has tested. The 41 mpg of the new Prius V wagon also tops its class. The car also has "excellent" crash-test results.