Three U.S. models cracked Consumer Reports’ list of its 10 top car picks this year, and Buick became the first U.S. brand to land in the magazine’s annual ranking of the best auto manufacturers.

Share story

Three U.S. models cracked Consumer Reports’ list of its 10 top car picks this year, and Buick became the first domestic brand to land in the magazine’s annual ranking of the best auto manufacturers.

Tesla Motors’ electric Model S sport sedan won top honors in Consumer Reports’ selection of the best car models. This was the second consecutive year Tesla was atop the list.

Although there were many “impressive” new models this year, the magazine said, “none was able to eclipse the innovation of the Tesla.” The $89,650 Tesla that Consumer Report tested is “a technological tour de force, a high-performance electric vehicle with usable real-world range, wrapped in a luxury package.”

Tesla’s achievement is tempered by the fact it only has one model compared with the full lineups of other automakers, said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports director of automotive testing. But the test director said he expects the Model X sport-utility Tesla plans to sell later this year to be good because it shares many of the components in the Model S.

“The question is whether Tesla can keep its reliability together as it expands with the Model X this year and later the planned Model 3,” Fisher said. “Their reliability is average now, and it doesn’t take much to sink below the line.”

The Buick Regal is another U.S. model joining the best list, taking the sports sedan crown. The magazine called it a “surprisingly agile” car that combines a “Europhile driving experience” with a “strong” value-for-the-money equation.

Buick needs cars like the Regal to overcome the brand’s reputation as “an old person’s car,” Fisher said. “It is small, tight and agile. It is like a German sports sedan, not a floaty American barge.”

Another General Motors car, the Chevrolet Impala, was named best large car. The venerable Chevrolet nameplate has been reborn with a “true luxury car” ride, the magazine said.

“For years, domestic automakers built lower-priced and lower-quality alternatives to imports, but those days are behind us,” Fisher said. “Today many domestic models can go toe-to-toe with the best imports.”

Subaru landed three of the top 10 places: its Legacy as midsize sedan, the Impreza as compact car and the Forester as small sport-utility vehicle.

Toyota had two, the Highlander as midsize SUV and the Prius as green car.

The Audi A6 was the top luxury car and the Honda Odyssey was the top minivan.

Asian-branded cars, which have dominated the magazine’s best cars list over the years, still have six of the top 10 cars.

But this year’s results show a leveling of the global automotive playing field, Fisher said.

“Not too long ago, all 10 were Japanese,” he said.

Consumer Reports’ Top Picks are chosen from 270 vehicles the organization has recently tested. They must rank at or near the top of their category on overall road tests, they must have earned an average or better predicted-reliability rating, based on problems Consumer Reports’ subscribers reported on 1.1 million vehicles in the latest survey, and they must perform adequately if included in crash or rollover tests by the government or the insurance industry.

Japanese brands have held more than 70 percent of the spots since 1997.

Subaru’s performance was especially impressive considering it only makes all-wheel-drive vehicles, which face a handicap in the testing metrics, Fisher said.

The all-wheel-drive components make the cars heavier, which hurts both fuel economy and acceleration.

But the Subarus “did very well in ride and handling,” Fisher said. “They tend to be quiet and they are very practical vehicles.”

Consumer Reports has been rating individual vehicles since 1997. Just three years ago, the magazine started rating auto brands based on both their reliability and performance in driving tests.

Since then, Lexus has dominated the brand rankings. The luxury division of Toyota scored the highest this year, the third consecutive year.

Mazda was second, offering “a solid lineup of cars that are reliable, fun-to-drive, and deliver impressive fuel economy,” the magazine said.

The other brands rounding out the top five were Toyota, Audi (the luxury division of Volkswagen) and Subaru.

Porsche, also a Volkswagen division, was sixth.

Buick, due to improved reliability scores for its lineup, was ranked seventh, leapfrogging eighth-place Honda. South Korean automaker Kia was nine and BMW, 10.

Currently, 83 percent of Buick vehicles are on Consumer Reports’ recommended list. That compares with 58 percent for Honda and none for Chrysler.

The magazine said the Mercedes-Benz brand was the biggest loser this year, dropping to 21st from ninth last year. Bad reliability scores, especially for its new CLA compact sedan, hurt the brand.