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Here come the electrics! Or at least the partial electrics, according to Consumer Reports’ ranking of the top vehicles of 2023. For the first time, seven of the top 10 models are either fully electric or electric hybrids.
Hybrids are traditional gas-powered vehicles that also use battery-powered electric motors to improve fuel efficiency. Some automatically recharge the battery while driving; others — such as plug-in hybrids — can be charged at home and run for short distances on electric-only power (usually about 30 miles).
“Hybrids drive very nicely, and they are quiet, and they are reliable,” says Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ senior director of auto testing, noting that many are more reliable than their gas-only counterparts.
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Fully electric vehicles, including the Tesla Model 3, also made the list. However, Consumer Reports’ picks were chosen before Tesla announced a Feb. 16 recall of more than 360,000 of its vehicles with Full Self-Driving Beta features, due to the increased risk of accidents. Some of Tesla’s software may cause vehicles to travel straight through an intersection while in a turn-only lane, not come to a complete stop at a stop sign or drive into an intersection during a yellow traffic light without caution, according to a recall statement published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Every year, the nonprofit testing and review organization announces its choices for the best vehicles, as well as a brand report card. Top car, SUV and truck picks are based on four factors: road tests conducted by Consumer Reports (CR) staff members, predicted reliability (based on owner complaints and history), overall owner satisfaction (from surveys), and active safety systems and crash test results.
Safety is a big factor in CR’s evaluation, and the organization continues to add levels of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as automatic emergency braking and collision avoidance highway systems, into overall scores. Without some of these safety systems, cars will not qualify for CR’s best-of category. For the top picks below, we’ve also included safety ratings from the NHTSA, when available.
“The majority of cars today have systems that can automate steering and braking to some degree,” Fisher says.
As manufacturers add ADAS technology, CR plans to update its testing to evaluate it. For example, CR plans to deduct points if a vehicle with a semi-self-driving system doesn’t monitor driver attentiveness. GM vehicles with the semi-self-driving Super Cruise system monitor drivers to make sure they pay attention to the road even when the car is driving.
Fisher says the review and testing organization bases much of its ranking on overall driver experience, which in the case of fully electric vehicles means taking into account the company’s available charging network. That’s why Tesla’s Model 3 made the cut this year even though some other EVs, such as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6, tested better than Tesla’s models. Simply put, Tesla has a more extensive public charging network.
Also critical to CR’s annual assessments is reliability, and this year, two models were repeat winners from last year’s top 10: the Subaru Forester and Kia Telluride.
Here is Consumer Reports’ Top 10, plus the organization’s pick for best brands:
Less than $25K
Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Price range: $22,800-$26,640
NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars
A mainstream mainstay, Toyota’s Corolla is not only a crowd-pleaser, it’s a bargain. It includes many safety features once available only on higher-end models: adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and smart high beams (so you don’t blind oncoming drivers), to name a few. Not part of the standard package, blind spot warning can be added as an option.
Toyota Corolla Cross
Price range: $23,060-$28,465
NHTSA safety rating: Not yet rated
A practical subcompact SUV, the Toyota Corolla Cross is relatively roomy for this class of vehicle, particularly in the back seat. Drivers will find the Corolla Cross’ controls simple to master and have the option of choosing between front- or all-wheel-drive versions. CR noted the Cross’ “tepid” acceleration; however, like the original Corolla, the crossover scores well in terms of reliability. If you’re looking for better fuel economy, you might want to wait for the hybrid version of the Corolla Cross expected this year.