The Consumer Reports annual auto issue was parked in my mailbox on Monday. As in past years (2007, 2008), I spent the afternoon leafing through it. This year, I think I managed to avoid the new-car itch. I’m not fond of my 2000 Ford Focus, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to drive it until it dies.

Here are the Consumer Reports top-rated vehicles in ten categories (with previous years’ top cars in parentheses):

  • Pickup Truck: Chevrolet Avalanche (2008: Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew Cab, no pick in 2007)
  • Fun-to-drive: Mazda MX-5 Miata (2008 and 2007: Mazda MX-5 Miata)
  • Small sedan: Hyundai Elantra SE (2008: Hyundai Elantra SE, 2007: Honda Civic)
  • Family sedan: Honda Accord (2008 and 2007: Honda Accord)
  • Upscale sedan: Infiniti G37 (2008 and 2007: Infiniti G35)
  • Luxury sedan: no pick, but implied Lexus LS 460 (2008: Lexus LS 460L, 2007: Infiniti M35)
  • Small SUV: Toyota RAV4 (2008 and 2007: Toyota RAV4)
  • Midsized SUV: Toyota Highlander (2008: Hyundai Santa Fe, 2007: Toyota Highlander Hybrid)
  • Minivan: Toyota Sienna (2008 and 2007: Toyota Sienna)
  • Green car: Toyota Prius (2008 and 2007: Toyota Prius)

This year, Consumer Reports chose a “best overall vehicle”, which was the Lexus LS 460. The LS scored 99 out of a possible 100 points in the magazine’s road test. (By comparison, my beloved Mini Cooper scored 81.)

Note: Some of the material from the Consumer Reports 2009 Auto Issue is freely available on their website. Other information, however, is locked behind a paywall. And don’t forget that you can always find great info on the Consumer Reports car blog.

Also this year, CR shared its list of “most overlooked cars”. These five vehicles are safe and performed well in their testing, but don’t sell well:

  • Mazda5
  • Kia Rondo
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Hyundai Azera
  • Suzuki SX4

Another new feature in this year’s issue was a measurement of which car provided the most bang for the buck. CR divided each vehicle’s 5-year cost of ownership by its road score to come up with a somewhat arbitrary measure of cost versus quality. They then rated vehicles within their categories. So, for example, the Hyundai Santa Fe was the midsized SUV with the most bang for the buck at $500 “per bang”. The Toyota Prius touring edition was best overall at $325. (The Mini Cooper was in second at $330!)

As expected, the car-buying issue features certain standard reports:

  • Tips for how to save hundreds on auto service.
  • A look at reliability trends across various makes. (Scion and Acura have the best reliability, while Saturn and Land Rover have the worst.)
  • And, of course, there are 12 page of vehicle ratings, 32 pages of vehicle profiles, and 11 pages of vehicle reliability reports.

Readers of this site would probably get the most value from the eight dense pages of used-car articles. My 2000 Ford Focus? It’s still on the list of “used cars to avoid”. No kidding. Tell me about it. There’s also a long feature article answering the question, “Who makes the best cars?” (In general, Chryslers are crap, but Hondas are heroes. Of particular note: Ford quality has been improving in recent years.)

Don’t forget that Get Rich Slowly features car-buying tips from time-to-time. Notable articles include:

I also recommend two older AskMetafilter threads:

The Consumer Reports car issue is an excellent resource. If you think you might purchase a vehicle soon, I recommend it. But I think it’s a little dangerous to pick up just for the sake of browsing. If you’re like me, you can find yourself moved from merely curious to “itching to buy”…