It’s that time of year again! The annual auto issue of Consumer Reports landed in my mailbox last week, and I spent some time leafing through it over the weekend. (You can read my summaries of past auto issues here: 2007, 2008, 2009) Fortunately, I’m not a victim of the new-car itch right now; the used 2004 Mini Cooper I bought last year is running like a champ, and I have no urge to replace it.

Note: A lot of people ask me how I like my Mini. (And when I meet long-time readers for the first time, they often ask to see the Mini, which cracks me up.) I love my Mini. It’s everything I hoped it would be and more. Plus it has re-affirmed my notion that buying a used car can be a smart move. (I’d always been a new-car kind of guy before this.) I hope to be driving this vehicle for many years to come.

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

  • Pickup Truck: Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (2009: Chevrolet Avalanche, 2008: Chevrolet Silverado 1500, no pick in 2007)
  • Sporty Car (formerly Fun-to-drive): Volkswagen GTI (2007-2009: Mazda MX-5 Miata)
  • Small sedan: Hyundai Elantra SE (2008-2009: Hyundai Elantra SE, 2007: Honda Civic)
  • Family sedan: Nissan Altima (2007-2009: Honda Accord)
  • Sports sedan (formerly Upscale sedan): Infiniti G37 (2009: Infiniti G37, 2007-2008: Infiniti G35)
  • Luxury sedan: no pick, but implied Lexus LS 460L (2009: implied Lexus LS 460, 2008: Lexus LS 460L, 2007: Infiniti M35)
  • Small SUV: Subaru Forester (2007-2009: Toyota RAV4)
  • Family SUV (formerly Midsized SUV): Chevrolet Traverse (2009: Toyota Highlander, 2008: Hyundai Santa Fe, 2007: Toyota Highlander Hybrid)
  • Family Hauler (formerly Minivan): Mazda5 (2007-2009: Toyota Sienna)
  • Green car: Toyota Prius (2007-2009: Toyota Prius)

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

Again this year, CR shared its list of “most overlooked cars”, which was identical to last year’s list of 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

This year, Consumer Reports revised how it determined which cars provide the best value. Last year they divided each vehicle’s 5-year cost-of-ownership by its road score to come up with an arbitrary measure of cost vs. quality. This year their method is more obscure, though it seems to follow the same principles (but with reliability ratings tossed in for good measure).

The CR website actually has more complete info than the magazine regarding the best and worst values in 2010 cars. Best value overall? The Honda Fit Sport with a “value score” of 2.24. Worst? The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara with a value score of 0.30. (The Mini Cooper places well at 1.82.) Where can you find the best car values? According to the magazine:

Small cars and family cars tend to have the best scores…Similarly, small SUVs tend to be better values than larger ones.

Reliability is important too, of course. This year, Consumer Reports rated these five used cars as the most reliable for their vintage:

  • 2009 Toyota Yaris hatchback
  • 2007 Toyota Highlander
  • 2005 Toyota Prius
  • 2003 Lexus LX
  • 2001 Toyota Echo

Overall, vehicles from Toyota have been most reliable over the past ten years (present woes notwithstanding), followed by Honda. (These two stand far ahead of the pack in long-term reliability.) Volkswagens and Hyundais have been more problematic, especially over a span of many years. (The magazine notes that Hyundai quality has been improving in recent years, however.)

Note: The CR website has a great round-up of the best used cars.

Other notable rankings:

  • The Toyota Prius has the best fuel economy (44mpg), while the Ford F-250 Lariat diesel has the worst (10mpg).
  • The Dodge Challenge (V8) has the highest customer satisfaction (92% would buy again), while the Chrysler Sebring sedan has the worst (37%).
  • The Honda Fit is the least expensive car to own over five years ($25,500), while the Dodge Viper is the most expensive ($113,000).

Some of the material from the Consumer Reports 2010 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.

From the archives
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. You may find yourself moved from merely curious to “itching to buy”!