This, Not That: Consumer Reports Releases Its List

Compilations and lists purporting to tout the ‘best and worst’ of any consumer product – from cars to computers to toasters – are always given side glances in this office, if for no other reason than our own skeptical nature. Still, the crew at Consumer Reports have been releasing exactly this type of list for longer than some of us have been alive, so there’s reason to mention their findings.

In this year’s brand ranking on reliability, there were the usual suspects at the fore – and only one ‘domestic’ brand in the top ten.

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Study: Automotive Debt Is Out of Control, You're Being Swindled

Consumer Reports just released the findings of a year-long stud y looking into the latest trends in automotive loans and car payments. The resulting information highlights just how explosive the debt growth has been over the last 10 years and the arbitrary way in which borrowers are now being treated.

Long story short, we’re all being swindled.

With vehicle prices ballooning and the associated loans becoming longer than ever, dealers and lenders seem to be operating whatever way yields the steepest profit margins with only a modicum of consideration being given to the established frameworks designed to act as a guard rail. This has led to U.S. citizens carrying around a record $1.37 trillion in automotive load debt and customers with good credit being treated no different than those that fall into the subprime category. Sadly, the issue appears only appears to be worsening as new economic perils are only making things more expensive. Meanwhile, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is projecting national auto debt to swell to $1.42 trillion by year’s end.

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Safety Groups Downgrade Tesla Models for Dumping Radar

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is downgrading the Tesla Model 3 and Y following the company’s decision to remove radar from its advanced driver-assistance suite. We wrote about it, noting that the change actually removed several features from the affected cars and introduced the activation of another creepy, driving-monitoring camera.

While the latter aspect warranted the most cursing from your author’s side of the laptop, it’s the former that’s seeing the lion’s share of debate among groups advocating for vehicular safety. Everyone wants to blame Tesla’s overreliance on cameras as the thing contributing to high-profile crashes when there’s nary a vehicle on this planet that’s truly capable of driving itself. But that hasn’t stopped the NHTSA from slapping affected Tesla models into their own category, noting that they lack several functions it deemed important for safety. It’s all relative, considering there are millions of vehicles on the road that don’t have any advanced driving aids to speak of and heaps of evidence that electronic nannies don’t always function as intended. But it’s earning Tesla bad publicity as it gets dinged by increasingly more safety groups.

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Consumer Reports Worried Tesla Could Spy on Customers

Consumer Reports has taken umbrage with Tesla’s new cabin camera designed to monitor the driver by suggesting there might be some privacy concerns. While that sounds like the understatement of the year, we’ve seen other companies (e.g. Cadillac) deploy similar devices with little pushback. Uncoverable lenses on our laptops and phones are creepy enough. When the auto industry starts affixing driver-monitoring cameras to the dashboards of automobiles, you have to sit back and ask yourself how much longer you’re willing to be a party to the prologue for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Trapped like a dog inside the hot car of progress, we’ve been attempting to honk the horn until someone pays attention. Mercifully, Consumer Reports doesn’t seem to have forgotten its roots in consumer advocacy and is walking up to our window with a rock. It’s demanding more privacy protection for vehicle operators, and not just from a single automaker.

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Mazda Stands Atop the Consumer Reports List for First Time

Mazda just unlocked a first for the brand.

The “zoom-zoom” brand is now sitting atop Consumer Reports’ yearly list of most reliable automotive brands. That’s the first time that has happened.

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Buying a Car For Your Ungrateful Teen? Here's a List

The thought of a parent spending any significant amount of money on a vehicle for their teen offspring leaves a bad taste in this writer’s mouth, but some families march to the beat of a different, more affluent drum. Yours truly believes a free hand-me-down wreck should be the absolute limit of parental generosity, and that’s only on the condition that they pay for all upkeep.

But loans from the Bank of Mom and Dad are definitely a thing, which gives them considerable say over what vehicle actually enters their kid’s life. With this in mind, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Consumer Reports joined forces to craft a list of decently reliable, safe rides for parents on a budget.

Would your spawn be happy with any of these top choices?

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How Responsible Are EVs for Maintaining Our Automotive Infrastructure?

With electric-vehicle owners eligible for sizable tax breaks, and ineligible for federal fuel taxes, it often feels like they’re not pulling their weight when it comes to maintaining this great nation’s transportation infrastructure. However, feelings are sometimes wrong — when it feels like an Arby’s night, for example.

There are actually 26 states that presently impose fees upon EV owners and, according to Consumer Reports, 11 charge more than the amount drivers of similar, gas-powered cars pay in gas taxes, with 3 charging more than twice the average amount. Another dozen states are considering adding fees, with CR’s own research stipulating that 10 would require electrics to pay more than they would if they were powered by gasoline.

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Gas War: Efficiency Rollback Would Raise Fuel Costs, Study Claims

The fuel economy rollback posited by the Trump administration remains a hotly debated issue within the automotive community. Unfortunately, it has become mired in political nonsense, making decrypting the real-world impact of embracing or shunning it rather difficult. Consumer Reports recently took a stab at making sense of the matter, coming out in favor of balking at the notion of a rollback on the grounds that it would ultimately raise fueling costs.

Last year, the administration proposed capping fuel economy and emission standards at 2020 levels, instead of allowing them to rise annually as under existing regulations. The opposition, fronted by California, is vying to maintain the existing standards — with the possible compromise of delaying them by one year.

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Survey Suggests Most Motorists Dig Advanced Driving Aids

A survey released by Consumer Reports this week indicated that a majority of motorists (57 percent) believed that the advanced driving aids their vehicles had actively helped them avoid a crash. The survey, which incorporated data on roughly 72,000 vehicles from the 2015-19 model years, asked drivers to weigh in on a multitude of safety systems — including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot alerts, and more. While not all of these features had majority support, tabulating them as a whole showed at least half of the people using advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) saw some value in them.

Our opinions on these systems have been thoroughly mixed. While we’ve found most advanced driving aids to be inconsistent in their operation, sometimes befuddled by fog or a vehicle encrusted with roadway grime, we’ll happily admit that adaptive cruise control offers more utility than the standard on/off inclusions of yesteryear. But we’ve also seen disheartening reports that semi-autonomous features dull a good driver’s senses to a point that effectively makes them a worse motorist and would be lying if we said we trusted any of these systems implicitly.

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Consumer Reports Is All Out of Love for the Tesla Model 3

Less than a year after bestowing a coveted “Recommended” label on Tesla’s Model 3, Consumer Reports is taking is back. You can just imagine the outrage in the online Teslaverse.

Consumer Reports’ secret ownership by shadowy oil execs and General Motors notwithstanding (this is clearly false, don’t sue us), the retraction of what amounts to a “buy this, you probably won’t be sorry” label is a blow to the automaker, and CR claims it’s all Tesla’s fault.

At least Tesla can say it isn’t alone in the recommendation withdrawal camp.

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Americans Suffer in Consumer Reports' 2018 Brand Reliability Rankings

Consumer Reports has released its reliability rankings for automotive brands. The results, based on responses from half million of its readers, are about what you’d expect, with a few exceptions. Normally, reliability rankings don’t change all that much per annum. However, this year’s tally saw some surprising slippage from domestic brands that had performed rather well over the past few years.

The biggest loser was Buick, which fell 11 spots in 2018. CR attributed it to lackluster performance from the redesigned Enclave. Owners cited repeated issues with its new nine-speed transmission and claimed the rest of the brand’s fleet was middling at best. Buick now occupies 19th place, or slightly below average. On the flip side of things, Mazda shot up 9 spots to occupy a comfy position in 3rd place overall. While minor HVAC issues continue to plight the CX-3, the outlet suggested that the rest of its lineup has gotten its act together.

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Hands Off: Cadillac's Super Cruise Beats Tesla's Autopilot in First Consumer Reports Ranking

Now that new car buyers have a decent selection of semi-autonomous driving systems to choose from, Consumer Reports felt it would be a good idea to put them to the test.

Expect to see much consternation expressed on Tesla forums. The rankings, which pitted Cadillac’s Super Cruise against Tesla’s groundbreaking Autopilot, Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, and Volvo’s Pilot Assist, shows GM’s luxury marque in the lead.

What propelled Cadillac’s system to the top of the heap? The same element that gave Tesla’s system a black eye two years ago: safety.

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Consumer Reports About-face Brings 'Recommended' Label to Tesla's Model 3

The Consumer Reports review that criticized the Tesla Model 3’s stopping distance and all-consuming touchscreen seems to have sparked CEO Elon Musk’s recent spat with the media, but a change of heart at CR might cause Musk to think twice about his proposed rating site for journalists.

After the automaker improved the model’s 60-0 mph stopping distance by nearly 20 feet (a feat accomplished via an over-the-air software update), the publication bestowed the car with a “recommended” rating, despite lingering concerns over certain features. Maybe the torches-and-pitchforks crowd can clear off CR‘s lawn now.

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Them's the Brakes: Musk Promises 'Further Refinement' of Model 3's Binders

If you weren’t on Twitter yesterday, well, you picked a good day to stay away. However, if public battles between an automaker and the media is your thing, coupled with exasperating (and disturbing) displays of tribalism from the manufacturer’s fan base, Monday was a gold mine.

The social media brouhaha was a result of Consumer Reportsless-than-glowing review of the Tesla Model 3, which was found to have the worst braking performance of any contemporary car in the publication’s testing catalog. As Tesla disciples circled the wagon (one created a list of “bad journalists”), Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to CR‘s findings.

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Pump the Brakes: Consumer Reports Dings Model 3 For Lackluster Stops

“Lackluster” may be an understatement. In its test of the Tesla Model 3 Long Range model, Consumer Reports discovered plenty of things to like about the California automaker’s smallest electric vehicle, but two large gripes kept the publication from bestowing a coveted “recommended” tag on the sedan.

We’ve complained before — and online videos have aptly demonstrated — about how the Model 3’s massive center screen diverts too much attention away from the road by consolidating simple tasks (like adjusting the dash vents) into the menus and submenus of the vehicle’s interface, and CR‘s opinion was no different. However, the largest issue seen while driving the Model 3 was its lengthy average stopping distance.

The publication went so far as to borrow a privately owned model just to make sure its observations were legit.

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  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Cory. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.