Rev up with new top auto picks from Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports named its Top Picks for 2009 in its Annual Auto Issue, which include two new models — the Toyota Highlander and the Chevrolet Avalanche, as top choices for midsized SUVs and pickups.
Having proven reliable in its first year since a major redesign, the top-rated Toyota Highlander dethroned the Hyundai Santa Fe, last year’s winner 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 CR measured in any five-passenger car.
CR’s Top Picks are the best all-around models in their categories and must meet stringent road test, reliability and safety requirements. Each Top Pick scores at or near the top of its category among more than 300 vehicles CR tested at its Auto Test Center; has average or better predicted reliability (based on the problems subscribers reported on more than 1.4 million vehicles in CR’s Annual Auto Survey), and performed adequately in overall safety if tested by the government or insurance industry. In addition, to be a Top Pick, each model must offer electronic stability control (ESC), a proven lifesaving safety feature, as standard equipment or as a readily available option.
Consumer Reports’ testing procedures are the most comprehensive of any U.S. publication or Web site. More than 50 individual tests are performed on every vehicle, including evaluations of braking, handling, comfort, convenience, safety and fuel economy.
Here, by category, are CR’s 2009 Top Picks:
— Small Sedan: Hyundai Elantra SE. The Elantra SE ($18,695) is a comfortable, roomy small car that provides good fuel economy, at 27 mpg overall, a quiet and nicely finished interior and plenty of features for the money.
— 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 and decent fuel economy, at 18 mpg overall, for its class. The Highlander Hybrid’s fuel economy, 24 mpg overall, is among the best of any SUV in CR’s Ratings.
— 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 CR has tested. It gets 13 mpg overall.
— 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 CR’s highest-scoring vehicle. It provides a luxurious, uncompromising driving environment and gets 21 mpg overall.
— 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. The four-cylinder engine gets 23 mpg overall.
— 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 gets 21 mpg overall.
— Fun To Drive: Mazda MX-5 Miata. The Miata ($22,000 to $29,000) is a true sports car at a reasonable price and gets 27 mpg overall. 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 CR’s Top Pick for the third straight year. The 4 cyl version gets 23 mpg overall.
— Minivan: Toyota Sienna. The Sienna ($26,000 to $38,000) offers a spacious, versatile and comfortable way to carry up to eight people at 19 mpg overall. CR found that the quiet, well-finished interior rivals that of some luxury sedans.
— 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 CR has measured in any five-passenger car. A redesigned Prius will arrive in early summer.

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