Consumer Reports' Top Five Economical Cars

Consumer Reports' look at best 2009 cars puts Detroit at "back of the class."

February 26, 2009, 12:38 PM

Feb. 26, 2009&#151; -- Consumer Reports has picked the Toyota Prius Touring as its best overall value of 300 U.S. and foreign cars reviewed. Not a single U.S. brand was among the 41 vehicles on the group's Best Value list this year.

In its 2009 annual auto issue, the consumer magazine said the Prius has a five-year ownership cost of $26,250 and rated relatively high on its road test.

The Prius doesn't have the least expensive sticker price in its class, but its excellent fuel economy of 42 mpg overall and solid resale value help give it a low overall owner cost.

"A low price doesn't necessarily make a car a good value," Rik Paul, automotive editor at Consumer Reports said in a statement. "At a time when people need to make every dollar count, our best value list will help consumers understand the difference."

Rounding out the top five were the Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Rabbit, Honda Civic EX and the Honda Fit.

"All three U.S. automakers continued to be at the back of the class," the magazine said. Although GM and Ford improved their overall scores, Chrysler "disappointed the most." The company's "poor-performing products and sinking reliability results have kept all Chyrsler, Dodge and Jeep-badged vehicles off CR's recommended list."

The U.S. automakers have struggled amid falling sales, causing both GM and Chysler to seek a government bailout. GM said today it lost $9.6 billion in its latest quarter.

One GM vehicle, the Chevrolet Avalanche pickup, was among the magazine's top picks, though not on the Best Value list. The Volvo C30 (Volvo is owned by Ford) did make the Best Value list.

In its auto issue, Consumer Reports highlights the best new-car value vehicles in nine vehicle categories: small cars, family cars, upscale cars, hatchbacks/wagons, sporty cars, minivans, small SUVs, midsized SUVs and pickup trucks.

Here are some of the highlights:

Best Value Small Cars: Honda Civic EX, Honda Fit (base), Hyundai Elantra SE, Toyota Corolla LE and the Honda Civic Hybrid

Best Value Family Cars: Toyota Prius Touring, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Toyota Prius (base), Hyundai Sonata (4-cyl.) and the Honda Accord (4-cyl.)

Best Value Hatchbacks/Wagons: Volkswagen Rabbit, Mazda3 hatchback, Scion xB, Subaru Impreza Outback Sport and the Toyota Matrix

Best Value Small SUVs: Toyota RAV4 (4-cyl.), Toyota RAV4 (V6), Honda CR-V,Mitsubishi Outlander (4-cyl.) and the Nissan Rogue

Best Value Midsized SUVs: Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Nissan Murano, and the Honda Pilot

The magazine also breaks down its top picks for cars in ten major categories.

This year, the Toyota Highlander dethroned the Hyundai Santa Fe in the midsized SUVs category, while the improved reliability of the new Chevrolet Avalanche helped it to replace the Chevrolet Silverado as top pickup.

Despite the arrival of more gas/electric hybrids, the Toyota Prius remains top pick in the "green" car category for the sixth straight year. The Prius's 44 overall mpg is the best Consumer Reports measured in any five-passenger car.

Here, by category, are the 2009 top picks written by Consumer Reports:

SMALL SEDAN: Hyundai Elantra SE The Elantra SE ($18,695) is a comfortable, roomy small car that provides good fuel economy, a quiet and nicely finished interior, and plenty of features for the money. Only the SE version comes with standard electronic stability control, which is absent on many other small cars.

MIDSIZED SUV: Toyota Highlander The Highlander ($26,000 to $41,000) is a very refined and versatile vehicle. It provides a comfortable and quiet ride, a nicely finished interior, three rows of seats, and decent fuel economy for its class. The Highlander Hybrid's fuel economy, 24 mpg overall, is among the best of any SUV in Consumer Report's ratings. First-year reliability has been excellent.

PICKUP TRUCK: Chevrolet Avalanche The Chevrolet Avalanche full-sized crew cab ($36,000 to $47,000) is one of the most versatile and comfortable pickups that Consumer Reports has tested. Its unified bed and cab helps give it a solid feel and a comfortable, quiet ride. Its innovative partition, between the cab and the bed, can be folded to allow longer cargo to extend into the back of the cab.

BEST OVERALL VEHICLE: Lexus LS 460 With a road test score of 99 out of 100, the Lexus LS 460 ($64,000 to $77,000) is Consumer Reports' highest-scoring vehicle. It provides a luxurious, uncompromising driving environment, with a supremely comfortable ride and a roomy, well-finished, and exceptionally quiet interior. The LS is brimming with electronic amenities, yet the controls are easy to use. Its 380-hp, 4.6-liter V8 and eight-speed automatic transmission deliver smooth, quick acceleration and relatively good fuel economy.

FAMILY SEDAN: Honda Accord The Honda Accord ($21,000 to $31,000) is a roomy, well-rounded sedan that's easy to live with and enjoyable to drive. It offers a comfortable ride, agile handling, and efficient, refined four- and six-cylinder powertrains. Electronic stability control is standard, and crash-test results are impressive.

UPSCALE SEDAN: Infiniti G37 One of the highest-rated sedans tested, the G37 (33,000 to $36,000, formerly G35) combines sportiness and luxury in a very appealing package. It has a very lively powertrain, agile handling, a comfortable ride, and a nicely appointed interior. For 2009, it also has a larger, 328-hp, 3.7-liter engine and a seven-speed automatic transmission, which improves fuel economy.

FUN TO DRIVE: Mazda MX-5 Miata The Miata ($22,000 to $29,000) is a true sports car at a reasonable price. With quick, precise steering, a crisp-shifting manual transmission, and balanced handling, it virtually tied the Porsche Boxster in test scoring, but it costs about half the price.

SMALL SUV: Toyota RAV4 Thanks to a larger and more powerful four-cylinder engine and other upgrades for 2009, the RAV4 ($23,000 to $30,000) narrowly outscored the Subaru Forester to remain our Top Pick for the third straight year. It provides agile handling, a roomy and quiet interior, a comfortable ride, and an optional third-row seat. The four-cylinder version gets the best fuel economy of any automatic, nonhybrid SUV CR has tested.

MINIVAN: Toyota Sienna The Sienna ($26,000 to $38,000) offers a spacious, versatile, and comfortable way to carry up to eight people. Consumer Reports found that the quiet, well-finished interior rivals that of some luxury sedans. Electronic stability control is standard. This is the only minivan available with all-wheel drive.

GREEN CAR: Toyota Prius Despite the arrival of more gas/electric hybrids, the Prius ($22,000 to $24,000) leads this category for the sixth straight year. The base model's 44 overall mpg is the best Consumer Reports has measured in any five-passenger car. The interior is roomy and versatile, and reliability remains excellent. A redesigned Prius will arrive in early summer.

Consumer Reports' annual auto issue is on sale March 3 to May 4 wherever magazines are sold. Freehighlights from the issue will be available at

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