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Consumer Reports Rates 10 Best Vehicles for 2021

High-tech safety features on standard models was key criteria

spinner image 2021 Toyota Camry
Toyota Camry

The best new cars on the road today offer a multitude of high-tech safety features to help protect drivers and their passengers, according to Consumer Reports magazine.

The publication evaluates and tests automobiles to choose its “Top Picks” annually. Each model in this year's Top 10 “comes standard with advanced safety features,” the magazine notes.

Those safety features include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking; pedestrian detection typically incorporating an auto-braking feature; and blind-spot warning that lets a driver know if another vehicle would be difficult to spot in the mirrors or even with a quick turn of the head.

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"They have to be standard on all models. Not left off the base model, not left off the manual (transmission) model, not left off the sporty model,” which some buyers might choose because they think (usually incorrectly) that they can react better than built-in safety devices, says Jennifer Stockburger, an engineer and director of operations at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, a 327-acre facility at Colchester in rural Connecticut.

Stockburger describes these protections as “saved my bacon” features.

No large sedans make the Top 10

To warrant inclusion among the magazine's top options, a vehicle must have scored well in Consumer Reports safety tests, including accident avoidance. It must also have earned a passing grade if it's been crash-tested by the government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which provides a rating that goes up to five stars, or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a trade group.

The vehicles are sorted according to what Consumer Reports deems popular categories, and the all-around best in each category gets the nod. “It's what people are buying,” notes Stockburger.

Notable this year is that no large sedan made the list. “People aren't buying large sedans; they're buying SUVs,” she says. For the curious, she says last year's top big sedan, the Toyota Avalon, still is best in that group.

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The Yonkers, New York–based nonprofit has been testing automobiles since its founding in 1936 and has been anointing its top picks since 1997.

Here is Consumer Reports’ list of top 2021 models, with the listed price range and fuel economy reported by the magazine.

Subcompact SUV

spinner image 2021 Mazda CX-30

Mazda CX-30

Consumer Reports’ take: The six-speed automatic transmission is an antidote to the “joyless continuously variable transmissions” common among rivals. The CX-30 features “much-better-than-average predicted reliability.” Mazda is the top-rated Consumer Reports brand this year, up three slots from a year ago.

Crash rating: NHTSA, 5 stars (highest rating); IIHS Top Safety Pick + (highest rating)

MPG: 27

Price range: $22,050–$34,050

Small SUV

spinner image Subaru Forester

Subaru Forester

Consumer Reports’ take: The Forester has “the best outward visibility of any vehicle beyond a bicycle.” The magazine calls its fuel economy “impressive for an SUV that isn't a diesel or a hybrid.” Every Forester comes with a standard all-wheel-drive system.

Crash rating: NHTSA, 5 stars; IIHS Top Safety Pick +

MPG: 28

Price range: $24,795–$34,895

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spinner image 2021 Subaru Outback

Subaru Outback

Consumer Reports’ take: “The Outback deftly balances carlike driving manners and efficiency with SUV-like functionality.” It has “ample ground clearance” and standard all-wheel drive.

Crash rating: NHTSA, 5 stars; IIHS Top Safety Pick +

MPG: 24

Price range: $26,795–$39,945

Midsize SUV

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Lexus RX

Consumer Reports’ take: The RX serves up “a combination of comfort, performance, safety and reliability.” Those who occasionally need more space can opt for the “slightly longer L version with a small third-row seat.”

Crash rating: NHTSA, 4 stars; IIHS Top Safety Pick

MPG: 22 (conventional engine), 29 (hybrid)

Price range: $45,170–$57,210

Midsize 3-row SUV

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Kia Motor Cars

Kia Telluride

Consumer Reports’ take: The Telluride dominates in the three-row SUV category. It is “highly competent in nearly every way” and provides “a lot of SUV for the money.”

Crash rating: NHTSA, 5 stars; IIHS Top Safety Pick

MPG: 21

Price range: $32,190–$44,390

Small car

spinner image 2021 Toyota Corolla (Apex)

Toyota Corolla

Consumer Reports’ take: The Corolla “delivers terrific fuel economy, has more standard safety features than some cars at twice the price, and earns top marks for predicted reliability.” It also has a hybrid version.

Crash rating: NHTSA, 5 stars; IIHS Top Safety Pick

MPG: 33 (conventional) 48 (hybrid)

Price range: $20,025–$28,310

Midsize sedan

spinner image 2021 Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry

Consumer Reports’ take: "The Camry fends off would-be challengers with its mix of efficiency, performance and reliability.” This “solid choice” is newly available with all-wheel drive, and the hybrid model has quick acceleration.

Crash rating: NHTSA, 5 stars; IIHS Top Safety Pick +

MPG: 32 (conventional), 47 (hybrid)

Price range: $24,970-$35,545


spinner image 2021 Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius

Consumer Reports’ take: The Prius, available only as a hybrid, is a “balanced overall package” that delivers “rock-solid reliability … year after year.” Recent innovations include an all-wheel-drive option and the Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid model with 25 miles of electric-only travel before the normal gasoline-electric hybrid system is engaged.

Crash rating: NHTSA, 4 stars; IIHS “good” (the highest score) in most categories, “acceptable” in a few, but not enough to earn one of the Top Safety Pick accolades.

MPG: 52

Price range: $24,525–$32,650

Electric car

spinner image  A Model 3 vehicle is seen at a Tesla flagship store on January 4, 2021
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Tesla Model 3

Consumer Reports’ take: The four-door sedan delivers “punchy acceleration that comes on in a quiet surge … matched with sharp handling and precise steering.” A futuristic 15-inch touch screen is home to most controls, “but the screen is distracting to use.” Relatively quick recharging.

Crash rating: NHTSA, 5 stars; IIHS Top Safety Pick +

MPG: Not provided in a miles per gallon equivalent, but range is stated as 353 miles.

Price range: $37,990–$54,990

Compact pickup

spinner image 2021 Honda Ridgeline

Honda Ridgeline

Consumer Reports’ take: “Highly innovative,” with the ability to tow a small trailer and also “excel in the daily commute, with room for the family.” The Ridgeline is the star of what the industry prefers to call “midsize” pickups, as opposed to “compact” pickups.

Crash rating: NHTSA, 5 stars; IIHS, “good,” the highest score, in most categories, “marginal” in others, earning an “acceptable” general rating, but doesn't win a Top Safety Pick designation.

MPG: 20

Price range: $36,490–$43,920

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close up of a gold car parked near the water during sunset

AARP Auto Buying Program Powered by TrueCar

Shop for a car with safety features you want. Buyers can get a free AARP Smart Driver course.

close up of a gold car parked near the water during sunset

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