Different models can provide dramatically different driving experiences. To get an in-depth perspective on what a particular model is like to drive, read detailed vehicle reviews from sources you trust. Good reviews can tell you about a vehicle’s driving character; how it handles, accelerates, and brakes; and how comfortable and user-friendly the interior is for everyday use. They can also give you insight into deficiencies that may not be apparent on a test drive. Because sources have varying points of view, we recommend reading a variety of them.
There is no shortage of reviews, both in print and online. But keep in mind that most are in publications or on web- sites that are supported by automaker advertising, and they can pull punches to avoid offending their advertisers. So while you can get insight into a vehicle’s performance and driving character, you will seldom find hard-hitting analysis or an in-depth exploration of safety or reliability issues. Look to our car model pages for notes on these topics. Moreover, only a few organizations conduct their own instrumented testing, which allows more accurate comparisons.
The key is to find reviews that are in-depth enough to give you a good, solid overview of the car and cover the aspects that are most important to you.
CR road-test reports. Every month (except for the April Annual Auto Issue) Consumer Reports magazine and ConsumerReports.org publish a road-test report on a group of vehicles in a similar price range and category (such as family sedans, SUVs, and minivans). Subscribers to ConsumerReports.org can access the full content of all road test reports and test results for any tested model.
Subscribers to CR’s Cars Best Deals Plus can also get the detailed engineers’ technical report (called Full Track Report) for each tested vehicle. These give you one of the most comprehensive perspectives of a vehicle you’ll find.
Other sources of reviews. There are a number of publications and websites that review new models, but keep in mind that they typically borrow test vehicles from the auto manufacturers’ specially maintained press fleets. Many types of problems that would show up in a car you bought from a dealership are addressed before the cars are delivered to auto reviewers. If a vehicle has major problems, it is often taken out of the press fleet so that reviewers don’t experience it. Auto-enthusiast publications also tend to focus heavily on performance attributes, often at the expense of more everyday concerns such as safety, reliability, and fuel economy.
Many newspapers print auto reviews geared toward the everyday driver rather than the enthusiast. A word of caution, however: Special newspaper auto sections are often intended to draw advertising from automakers and local dealerships. As a result, they can shy away from hard-hitting criticism or comparisons with competitive models, particularly as newspapers consolidate and cut staff to save money. Reviews may be written with more of an advertising than editorial influence.
Personal experiences. Hearing about the problems and experiences of vehicle owners can give you insight into what it’s like to live with a model, and there are plenty of websites on which you can either voice your opinion or read those of others. The sites can be very informative and even entertaining. But be careful. Sometimes the reliability of the information can be questionable. For example, you have no way of determining the source of an entry: it could be from a disgruntled automaker employee, a dealer, or a dealer’s competitor.
Websites and forums such as Epinions are a bit different in that they publish reviews that have been submitted voluntarily by owners. It’s always insightful to get the perspective of an actual owner, but keep in mind that they usually haven’t experienced a wide range of vehicles for comparison. They don’t rely on expert opinions and don’t review, judge, or test products and services themselves.
You can also find a range of topics, including car-buying experiences, discussions of recurring problems, and service frustrations that owners are having. Similarly, ConsumerReports.org publishes user reviews submitted by subscribers. It also provides a variety of free forums that feature discussions on various subjects.
In the free content at ConsumerReports.org, look for Consumer Reports Car News where you can find updates on vehicles that are being tested, industry news, and safety alerts.