If you're planning to buy a new car, take advantage of all the high-tech safety features you can afford.
That's the message from Consumer Reports, which released its 10 favorite cars, SUVs and trucks Thursday from among 240 vehicles that its researchers tested and rated for the 2020 model year. The Yonkers, New York-based nonprofit and magazine has been testing automobiles since its founding in 1936 and has been anointing its Top Picks since 1997.
Many manufacturers, such as Subaru and Toyota, already are equipping their more affordable vehicles with safety systems such as forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, says Jonathan Linkov, Consumer Reports deputy auto editor. Some luxury models still don't incorporate those features.
"These are really great features to avoid an accident,” he says. “The car can react faster than you can."
Technology can stop fender benders
Cameras and other sensors keep an eye on traffic around you, warning you of a vehicle in your blind spot or a car approaching faster than you anticipated. But most important: The systems can brake for you if necessary, keeping you, your car and someone who might have run in front of you intact in a way that wasn't widely available five years ago.
"The system will help identify something before you can pull out,” Linkov says. Vehicle models received extra points for including four specific safety systems at all trim levels, and each of the Top Picks had to have forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection as standard equipment.
Toyota has four models among the Top Picks: the Avalon large sedan, Corolla small car, Prius hybrid and Supra sports car. Its luxury division, Lexus, has its RX as the midsize luxury SUV Top Pick.
Subaru's Forester small SUV and its Legacy midsize sedan also made the list. Honda's Ridgeline compact pickup, Kia's Telluride midsize three-row SUV and Tesla's Model 3 electric car round out the top 10.
In the past five years, the average price of a new vehicle bought in January has increased by more than 14 percent, according to Kelley Blue Book, a for-profit automotive research company based in Irvine, California. That compares with an increase in same timeframe of about 10 percent in the price of consumer goods generally.
The average price of a 2020 vehicle has risen to more than $37,500, according to Consumer Reports. But more than half of the magazine's Top Picks retail for less than $35,000 at their most basic. One, the Toyota Corolla, is less than $25,000 for most trim levels.
"We believe basic safety is a right for all of us, not a luxury reserved for those who can afford it,” Marta Tellado, the nonprofit's president and chief executive, wrote in a column accompanying the list.
Day-to-day testing continues
Consumer Reports spends about $2 million a year buying as many as 70 vehicles at regular retail prices when models are redesigned, Linkov says. The nonprofit's extensive testing sets it apart from other publications that test drive vehicles, but the researchers’ work is not finished when the automotive issue comes out.
"What we do is hold on to them for a certain amount of time, six months to a year, and live with it,” Linkov says of the vehicles. “We live with them as if it's our own car so we can get that experience."
Testers go grocery shopping or to the home improvement store. They haul the kids and grandkids if they aren't planning anything with too much dirt. They also take care of the vehicles, maintaining them perhaps better than some family cars.
Then Consumer Reports sells the vehicles, either outright or at an auto auction, sometimes trading them in as employees buy new cars to start testing for the next model year.
Here are Consumer Reports’ choices for 2020:
Consumer Reports’ take: "It has a ride that rivals a great sedan's, handling that outshines that of other trucks and a quiet, coddling cabin."
Crash rating, overall, from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: 5 stars, the top rating. The 2019 model was an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) top safety pick.
Miles per gallon, combined city/highway, from Environmental Protection Agency testing: 21 to 22, depending on trim level
Yearly fuel cost, from EPA: $1,650 to $1,750
Years on Consumer Reports Top Picks list, which began in 1997: 3; the first model year for the Ridgeline was 2006
Price range: $33,900 to $43,520
Tesla Model 3
Consumer Reports’ take: "The Model 3 proves that EVs [electric vehicles] can challenge conventional upscale sedans by offering invigorating performance with a high-tech vibe."
Crash rating: 5 stars, the top rating; also 2020 IIHS top safety pick plus, the highest rating
MPG equivalent: 113 to 141, depending on trim level
Yearly fuel cost: $450 to $550
Years on Consumer Reports list: 1; the Model 3 was introduced in 2017
Price range: $39,990 to $56,999