10 Top Picks of 2015

2015 AUTOS SPOTLIGHT

10 Top Picks of 2015

Best cars and SUVs from our tests

Published: February 24, 2015 12:45 PM

These are the cars that ignite the gasoline in our veins. That we trust. Respect. And love. They also happen to score high in our reliability Ratings and shine in automotive crash tests. So if you corner a Consumer Reports auto expert at a party and ask, “What car should I buy?” these cars will be the answer.

What it takes to be a top pick

Performance: Each model must rank at or near the top of its class in our overall road-test score.

Reliability: A Top Pick must have an average or better predicted reliability Rating, based on problems reported by subscribers who rated 1.1 million vehicles in Consumer Reports’ latest Annual Auto Survey.

Safety: Top Picks must perform effectively if included in crash or rollover tests conducted by the government or insurance industry.

Where are the trucks?

Sharp-eyed readers may notice that there’s no Top Pick in the pickup-truck category. That is because the 2015 Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Colorado are too new to have reliability and testing data, and the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra and Ram 1500 are not reliable enough. With such a thin field, we decided to pass until next year’s Ratings are in.

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Best overall: Tesla Model S

Photo: Tesla

For all of the impressive new vehicles released in 2014, none was able to eclipse the innovation, magnificence, and sheer technological arrogance of the Tesla. That’s why it’s our best overall pick for the second consecutive year. Through the course of their life cycles, cars become obsolete quickly as newer models appear with updated gizmos. But with Tesla’s over-the-air software updates, a Model S that came off the line in 2013 has many of the same new features as one built today. Despite the Tesla’s teething problems at launch, our subscriber reports showed average reliability. The Model S is a technological tour de force, a high-performance electric vehicle with usable real-world range, wrapped in a luxury package.

Read our complete Tesla Model S road test.

REPORT CARD
Test score: 99
Reliability: Average (3 out of 5)
Overall MPGe*:
84
Price as tested: $89,650

*Miles-per-gallon equivalent

Compact car: Subaru Impreza

Photo: Subaru

The Impreza’s interior packaging is outstanding, especially when you put friends (whom you want to remain your friends) in the backseat. Recent ­improvements have made it quieter inside. The ride is more comfortable than in some pricier cars. It drinks more fuel than its peers, but you’re getting all-wheel drive as a benefit. We don’t like the slackness and drone of most continuously variable transmissions, but with recent ­improvements Subaru has managed to mask those quirks. Subaru also has finally embraced the need for a contemporary ­infotainment system. The Impreza is among the pricier compact sedans, but it’s a strong value. A great starter car.

Read our complete Subaru Impreza road test.

REPORT CARD
Test score: 79
Reliability: Very good (4 out of 5)
Overall MPG:
27
Price as tested: $21,345

Midsized sedan: Subaru Legacy

Photo: Subaru

Most sedans are excellent appliances—they do their job, but few people wake up excited to drive them. The Legacy exceeds those drab, rental-car expectations, providing a quiet, comfortable, and roomy package that also has the best ride among its peers. Its 26 mpg might seem lackluster, but that’s with the reassurance of all-wheel drive. Years ago, quirky folks bought Subarus to be practical and pragmatic. Now it’s simply a great car with mainstream appeal and impact. If you need a wagon for its cargo space, the Legacy’s Outback sibling is an excellent choice, as well.

Read our complete Subaru Legacy and Outback road tests.

REPORT CARD
Test score: 89
Reliability: Very good (4 out of 5)
Overall MPG:
26
Price as tested: $24,837

Large car: Chevrolet Impala

Photo: Chevrolet

For decades, the Impala nameplate was synonymous with the image of a bad rental car. Make no mistake, this Impala humbles the Toyota Avalon and even the Lexus ES 350. Large and roomy, the Impala has comfortable seats and rides like a true luxury car. The suspension is supple yet responsive, without the body roll that plagues many big cars. For the older demographic this car hopes to attract, the controls are big, intuitive, and easily understood. The only drawback is limited visibility due to its high rear deck and deep parcel shelf. You can get one nicely equipped for $35,000, with affordable optional forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems. A caveat: Only the V6 version meets our reliability standards.

Read our complete Chevrolet Impala road test.

REPORT CARD
Test score: 91
Reliability: Average (3 out of 5)
Overall MPG:
22
Price as tested: $39,110

Luxury car: Audi A6

Photo: Audi

Quick, nimble, and effortless, the A6 pampers you with extravagant surroundings and a plush ride. But at its heart, this Audi remains a driver-focused machine faithful to its core value of crisp handling on a curvy road. The seats are bolstered for hard cornering yet are comfortable on that 6-hour whisper-quiet cruise to wine country—with a trunk that will store your year’s supply of Riesling. The interior’s styling and layout display functional elegance without showy glitz—a fit-and-finish leitmotif that makes fans of Design Within Reach all squishy inside. All functions are within a finger reach of an infotainment system that becomes logical with some practice. Fuel economy is commendable when combined with the security of the Quattro all-wheel drive. Hit five out of six Powerball numbers? Then take your reward.

Read our complete Audi A6 road test.

REPORT CARD
Test score: 90
Reliability: Average (3 out of 5)
Overall MPG:
22
Price as tested: $56,295

Green car: Toyota Prius

Photo: Toyota

The purity of the Prius’ functional excellence dictates that–although almost at the end of its model cycle–it remains atop our list as the best green car. Sure, there are other hybrids, and even plug-ins, but nothing can touch the sweet-spot combination of the Prius’ affordability, stellar fuel economy, smart packaging, and blue-chip reliability. That’s why it has been a Top Pick for 12 years in a row. Sure, its ride comfort is merely OK, the cornering is lackluster, and interior bits feel cheap to the touch, but the Prius has transformed an early-adopter technology into a mainstream player. It’s the perfect economical transportation solution. “Just buy a Prius” has become our testers’ cocktail-party refrain.

Read our complete Toyota Prius road test.

REPORT CARD
Test score: 75
Reliability: Excellent (5 out of 5)
Overall MPG:
44
Price as tested: $29,230

Sports sedan: Buick Regal

Fans of German autobahn cruisers are breaking out their venom-tipped quill pens as they read this. An American car—an American front-drive car—is one of our Top Picks? Unbelievable! Surprisingly agile, the Regal defies Buick’s brand stereotype. Because it’s an Opel underneath, it has that Teutonic ride control that provides a Europhile driving experience. Close your eyes, and you’ll think you’re driving an Audi—a very good Audi at that. The 259-hp, 2.0-liter turbo is sharply integrated with a six-speed automatic and available all-wheel drive, and it remains responsive across a linear power band. The IntelliLink infotainment system is intuitive. The value-for-money equation is strong. You can even get a Regal with a stick shift to bolster your sport sedan credentials. It may not be as luxurious as the German giants, but a well-equipped Regal delivers a lot for the money.

Read our complete Buick Regal road test.

REPORT CARD
Test score: 83
Reliability: Very good (4 out of 5)
Overall MPG:
24
Price as tested: $34,485

Minivan: Honda Odyssey

Photo: Honda

When Honda introduced its redesigned Odyssey at an autocross course, most journalists asked, “Who cares whether a minivan can giddyap?” No one, until you’re hauling a load of kids and must nonchalantly dodge an 18-wheeler’s shredded tire. The Odyssey rides and handles better than some family sedans; it’s actually enjoyable to drive. This is the best vehicle Honda makes, a living room on wheels that can take corners with confidence. There’s flexible seating for up to eight crumb crunchers, and an optional built-in vacuum to clean up after them. It scores well in crash tests. An all-wheel-drive version is still missing from the lineup, and reliability could be better. But it’s still one of the best values on the market.

Read our complete Honda Odyssey road test.

REPORT CARD
Test score: 84
Reliability: Average (3 out of 5)
Overall MPG:
21
Price as tested: $38,055

Small SUV: Subaru Forester

Photo: Subaru

Compact crossovers are the hottest vehicle segment, and Subaru has nailed the recipe of combining practicality, safety, fuel economy, value, and interior accommodations. Subaru’s merchan­dising of features transmits into outstanding value for the price. For 26 grand and change, you get all-wheel drive, a moonroof, 17-inch wheels, heated seats, and a power driver’s seat. Its visibility is terrific. The Forester doesn’t just look like a tank, it’s built like one—with better crash-test results than most of the field. Its one downside—an outdated infotainment center—will be addressed with a running change this spring. This is the vehicle we recommend to our families.

Read our complete Subaru Forester road test.

REPORT CARD
Test score: 86
Reliability: Excellent (5 out of 5)
Overall MPG:
26
Price as tested: $26,814

Midsized SUV: Toyota Highlander

Photo: Toyota

Toyota has finally convinced people that minivans are cool … just present them as an SUV! In all seriousness, this people and cargo hauler has all the versa­tility and functionality of a Mom-mobile, but wrapped in a slightly more macho package that grew 3 inches compared with the old model. Although its engines are carry-overs, the redesigned Highlander has a new all-wheel-drive setup and an elegant double-wishbone rear suspension that make it handle more like a car and less like a whale. The interior packaging is cavernous and smart—with neat touches like a wee balcony for your smart phone and a center cubby that will swallow a purse. This is the real swagger wagon for the sensible crowd.

Read our complete Toyota Highlander road test.

REPORT CARD
Test score: 84
Reliability: Excellent (5 out of 5)
Overall MPG:
20
Price as tested: $38,941
Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the April 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.



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