Consumer Reports Announces Its Top Car Picks For 2011

Our test-happy kin at Consumer Reports have released their annual auto issue, which means it’s time for the magazine’s list of its top picks in 10 categories.

Toyota dominates the list with three entries — the RAV4 (Small SUV), Sienna (Family Hauler) and Prius (Green Car). The only other car maker with multiple entries is Nissan, whose Altima was the top pick in the Family Sedan category, while its Infiniti G37 was named in the Sports Sedan category.

Only two cars by U.S. manufacturers made the list — the Ford Mustang (Sporty Car) and the Chevrolet Avalanche (Pickup Truck).

“Ford’s reliability has improved greatly over the past few years,” said CR’s automotive editor Rik Paul. “While the high points of this iconic muscle car are its strong V8 and new V6 engines, its agile handling, good fuel economy, decent ride, comfortable front seats, and very good fit and finish also make it a reasonable daily driver.”

Below is the complete list, and over at the Consumer Reports site, editors are taking readers’ questions about the auto issue and posting video responses.

• BUDGET CAR: Honda Fit
“The Fit provides an amazing amount of interior space for its size, aided by a flexible rear-seat design in which seatbacks can fold down or the lower cushion can flip up to open an area stretching from floor to ceiling. Agile handling makes the Fit enjoyable to drive. And it pays back with excellent fuel economy: 30 mpg overall with an automatic transmission, 33 mpg with a manual.”

• SMALL CAR: Hyundai Elantra
“The Elantra provides fairly nimble handling; a decent ride, a smooth, responsive powertrain; a well-finished interior; and a relatively roomy rear seat. It’s also miserly on gas, achieving 29 mpg overall in CR’s tests and 39 mpg on the highway.”

• FAMILY SEDAN: Nissan Altima
“The Altima provides an impressive balance of comfort and performance while delivering some of the best fuel economy in its class: 26 mpg overall for four-cylinder models and 24 mpg with a V6. The Hybrid version gets 32 mpg. Its comfortable ride, secure handling and spirited acceleration make the Altima enjoyable to drive.”

• SMALL SUV: Toyota RAV4
“Its winning formula includes a roomy interior, agile handling, and very good fuel economy for its class. The four-cylinder version provides 23 mpg overall, one of the best gas mileage of any automatic, nonhybrid SUV CR has tested. The spirited V6 version accelerates about as quickly as the Cadillac CTS and Volkswagen GTI and gets only 1 mpg less than the four-cylinder model.”

• GREEN CAR: Toyota Prius
“The Prius is a pleasant car to drive, with a roomy interior, a comfortable ride, hatchback versatility, and excellent crash-test results. Software problems in the antilock brake system affected the first-year reliability of this redesigned model, but those problems have been fixed.”

• FAMILY SUV: Kia Sorento
“The roomy, nicely finished interior includes comfortable seats and easy-to-use controls. An optional third-row seat, although tight, allows the Sorento to carry up to seven passengers. The smooth V6 engine provides good performance and fuel economy–20 mpg overall–that’s as efficient as the base four-cylinder engine. The Sorento is also stocked with an inviting list of features for its price, making it one of the bargains of this class.”

• SPORTY CAR: Ford Mustang
“[The V8] delivers scorching acceleration, a great exhaust sound, and good fuel economy for the class. For 2011, The Mustang received a refined, punchy V6, which provides strong acceleration and a decent 24 mpg overall with a manual transmission.”

• FAMILY HAULER: Toyota Sienna
“Redesigned for 2011, the current model is still a very comfortable versatile minivan with excellent reliability. The spacious cabin can seat up to eight people. The engine delivers lively performance and decent fuel economy. And the Sienna is still the only minivan available with all-wheel drive.”

• SPORTS SEDAN: Infiniti G37
“It’s fun to drive on a twisty road but is still a fairly comfortable cruiser on the highway. A snug cabin and small trunk are the only notable weaknesses. Rear-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive optional.”

• PICKUP TRUCK: Chevrolet Avalanche
“The Avalanche is a versatile crew-cab model with a unified bed and cab that helps give it a steady, comfortable, quiet ride. And the innovative partition between the cab and the bed can be folded to extend the cargo area into the back of the cab. That allows the truck to carry longer cargo. A three-piece bed cover provides a weather-tight and lockable cargo area.”

For more from Consumer Reports’ auto issue, head to ConsumerReports.org