The increasingly competitive automotive landscape produced four new winners amongConsumer Reports'2014 Top Picks announced Tuesday in 10 vehicle categories.
The list of best all-around vehicles by category is the highlight ofCR'smuch-watched annual auto Issue, which also includes top used cars, best safety rankings and other ratings.
The new vehicles to break through as Top Picks in their categories are the Hyundai Santa Fe for large SUV, the Ram 1500 among pickups, Subaru Forester for small SUV and the Tesla Model S luxury sedan as best overall vehicle.
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CRnoted that before the Ram, the last Chrysler-built Top Pick was the 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It also noted that the dominance of Japanese-brand winners has slipped from 70% of the categories in 1997 in the various segments to 50%, the lowest inCR's18 years of Top Picks. In addition, the 10 winners are from eight brands, with only Honda and Subaru having more than one.
'The competition in the marketplace has grown fierce. There was a time when a handful of brands dominated our Top Picks list, but in recent years, we've seen a more diverse group make the cut,' said Rik Paul,CR'sautomotive editor.
CRalso cites other vehicles in each category that might be a buyer's best choice based on more individual needs, such as all-wheel drive, towing or more family room. It provides the category ranking, including all the vehicles gettingCR'svaluable 'recommended' status.
The 2014 Top Picks and recommendations scored at or near the top inCR'stesting of 260 vehicles, perform well in federal or insurance industry crash tests and have average or better predicted reliability inConsumer Reports'latest survey of owners of 1.1 million vehicles.
Here are the 10 Top Picks in the categories, with prices and some of the reasonsCRcited for the picks (more details and videos of the Top Picks are available at the 2014 Autos Spotlight page on ConsumerReports.org):
Tesla Model S electric luxury sedan ($89,650). Exceptional acceleration, handling and ride, a 'versatile' cabin in a car 'brimming with innovation,' plus a 225-mile driving range and as fast as 5-hour charges.
Honda Accord with four-cylinder engine ($23,270). Roomy, well-equipped, competitively priced, with impressive 30-mpg overall gas mileage and 40 on the highway.CRcited agile handling, though noted that some rivals have a more comfortable ride.
Subaru Impreza (sedan, $21,345; hatchback $22,345). This is Impreza's fourth year on top of the category.CRcalled Impreza's two versions 'well-rounded packages' that include all-wheel-drive at affordable prices. It also cited handling and 'an impressively compliant, absorbent ride' among the best in the class, plus good fuel economy for an AWD car.
Toyota Prius ($26,750). While there are more hybrids on the market these days,CRsays that for an 11th consecutive year, none beat the 'combination of affordability, practicality and fuel efficiency' plus room and hatchback practicality of the Prius. It says the 44-mpg overall it measured is the most it has seen in a five-passenger, non-plug-in vehicle.
Audi A6. ($56,295)CRcalls it 'a joy to drive,' with its supercharged V-6 and 'super-smooth' eight-speed automatic in making A6 a Top Pick for a second year. It also cites 'an impeccably finished, first-class cabin brimming with the latest in high-tech features.' It also cites fuel efficiency that's a 'respectable' 22 mpg overall, even with all-wheel drive for the gasoline version and 28 mpg for the diesel.
BMW 328i ($43,195). A winner for a second year,CRcalls the current model roomier and more luxurious and says it 'delivers excellent handling and a high fun-to-drive factor.'CRalso cites improved fuel efficiency of 28 mpg overall.
Subaru Forester ($26,814). The redesigned 2014 Subaru Forester dethroned the Honda CR-V this year for top small SUV.CRcited its 'space-efficient design' and said the big windows and doors offer 'the easiest access and best visibility' in the category. Also best in class: 26 mpg overall and 35 on the highway, with all-wheel-drive.
Hyundai Santa Fe ($36,290).CRsays the seven-passenger SUV offers a 'comfortable ride, a quiet interior, a limo-like rear seat, and generous cargo area yet doesn't feel too bulky to drive or park.' It also cites Santa Fe's features for the price and a smooth V-6 that delivers a 'decent' 20 mpg overall.
Honda Odyssey ($36,830)CRcalls this 'the most complete family vehicle available.' It cites comfy second- and third-row seats that can be arranged for seating up to eight or to handle a variety of cargo needs. It calls the minivan 'relatively fun to drive' and the gas mileage 'decent.'
Ram 1500 ($42,810).CRcalls the Ram 'surprisingly refined and inviting' and says its unique coil-spring rear suspension make it 'the most comfortable-riding truck.' Also lauded was a 'whisper-quiet' interior that seems like a luxury vehicle.