- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

DETROIT (AP) — All of the top picks in Consumer Reports’ annual vehicle guide are made by Japanese companies, the first time in nine years.

The Honda Civic is the magazine’s top small sedan, while the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the top mid-size sport utility vehicle, according to results released yesterday. Vehicles from Nissan Motor Co. and Subaru, a division of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., round out the top picks in 10 categories.

Asian brands also fared best in the magazine’s survey of vehicle reliability. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus brand ranked first, Honda was second, and the Toyota brand was third. Ford Motor Co.’s Mercury brand was the only domestic nameplate to crack the top 10.

Consumer Reports’ rankings are important to automakers, even though companies can’t use the ratings in their advertising. Consumer Reports spokeswoman Lauren Hackett said the April auto issue is consistently the magazine’s most popular, selling more than 300,000 copies at newsstands. That’s twice as many copies as its second-most popular issue, the November electronics issue.

Consumer Reports named its top picks based on road and track tests, evaluations of comfort, convenience and fuel economy, as well as crash-protection ratings from the government and insurance industry and readers’ reliability rankings. The magazine said it recently tested more than 200 vehicles to come up with its top picks.

Honda had the most winners, snagging top picks in five of the 10 categories. Besides the redesigned Civic, the Honda Accord was the top family sedan that costs between $20,000 and $30,000, and the Acura TL was the top upscale sedan that costs between $30,000 and $40,000. The Honda Odyssey was the top minivan, and the Honda Ridgeline, Honda’s first entry in the pickup market, was the top pickup.

Toyota and Subaru each had two winners, including the Subaru Forester for small SUV and the Toyota Prius for “green car.” Nissan had one, the M35 luxury sedan, which the magazine called “an excellent balance of performance, comfort and handling.”

Reliability rankings are based on a survey of Consumer Reports subscribers who are asked whether they have had serious problems with their vehicles in the past 12 months.

The survey questions readers about 17 trouble spots. For this year’s survey, readers rated their experience with 810,000 vehicles from the 1998 through 2005 model years.

Consumer Reports said Japanese and Korean brands had 12 problems per 100 vehicles, while U.S. automakers had 18 problems and European makers had 21 problems. Asian and U.S. automakers have been improving their scores, but appeared to stall in 2005, the magazine said. European automakers’ ratings haven’t changed substantially in the past four years.

After Lexus, Honda and Toyota, the brands rounding out the top ten for reliability were Mitsubishi, Subaru, Acura, Scion, Mercury, Mazda and Suzuki. The ten lowest-rated brands were Audi, Infiniti, Saturn, Lincoln, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Land Rover, Hummer and Porsche.

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