The increasingly competitive automotive landscape produced four new winners among the Consumer Reports' 2014 Top Picks announced Tuesday in 10 vehicle categories.
The list of best all-around vehicles by category is the highlight of CR's much-watched annual Auto Issue, which also includes top used cars, best safety rankings and other rankings.
The new vehicles to break through as Top Picks in their categories are the Hyundai Santa Fe for large SUV, the Ram 1500 among pickups, Subaru Forester for small SUV and the Tesla Model S luxury sedans as best overall vehicle.
CR noted that before the Ram, the last Chrysler-built Top Pick was the 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It also noted that the dominance of Japanese-brand winners has slipped from 70% of the categories in 1997 in the various segments to 50%, lowest in CR's 18 years of Top Picks. Also the 10 winners are from eight brands, with only Honda and Subaru having more than one.
"The competition in the marketplace has grown fierce. There was a time when a handful of brands dominated our Top Picks list, but in recent years we've seen a more diverse group make the cut," said Rik Paul, CR's automotive editor.
CR also cites other vehicles in each category that might be a buyer's best choice based on more individual needs, such as all-wheel drive, towing or more family room. And it provides the category ranking, including all the vehicle's getting CR's valuable "recommended" status.
The 2014 Top Picks and recommendations scored at or near the top in CR's testing of 260 vehicles, perform well in federal or insurance industry crash tests and have average or better predicted reliability in Consumer Reports's latest survey of owners of 1.1 million vehicles.
Here are the 10 Top Picks and the runners-up in the categories, with prices and some of the reasons CR cited for the picks (more details and videos of the Top Picks are available at the 2014 Autos Spotlight page on ConsumerReports.org.):
BEST OVERALL Tesla Model S electric luxury sedan ($89,650). Exceptional acceleration, handling and ride, a "versatile" cabin in a car "brimming with innovation," plus a 225-mile driving range and as fast as 5-hour charges.
MIDSIZED SEDAN. Honda Accord with four-cylinder engine ($23,270). Roomy, well-equipped, competitively priced, with impressive 30 mpg overall gas mileage and 40 on the highway. CR cited agile handling, though noted that some rivals have a more comfortable ride.
COMPACT CAR. Subaru Impreza (sedan, $21,345; hatchback $22,345) This is Impreza's fourth year on top of the category. CR called Impreza's two versions "well-round packages" that include all-wheel-drive at affordable prices. It also cited handling and "an impressively compliant, absorbent ride" among the best in the class, plus good fuel economy for an AWD car.
GREEN CAR. Toyota Prius ($26,750). While there are more hybrids on the market these days, CR says that for an 11th consecutive year, none beat the "combination of affordability, practicality, and fuel efficiency" plus room and hatchback practicality of the Prius. And it says the 44 mpg overall it measured is the most it has seen in a five-passenger, non-plug-in vehicle
LUXURY CAR. Audi A6. ($56,295) CR calls it "a joy to drive" with its supercharged V-6 and "super-smooth" eight-speed automatic in making A6 a Top Pick for a second year. It also cites "an impeccably finished, first-class cabin brimming with the latest in high-tech features." It also cites fuel efficiency that's a "respectable" 22 mpg overall, even with all-wheel drive; for the gasoline version and 28 mpg for the diesel.
SPORTS SEDAN. BMW 328i ($43,195). A winner for a second year, CR calls the current model roomier and more luxurious and says it "delivers excellent handling and a high fun-to-drive factor." CR also cites improved fuel efficiency of 28 mpg overall.
SMALL SUV. Subaru Forester ($26,814). The redesigned 2014 Subaru Forester dethroned the Honda CR-V this year for top small SUV. CR cited its "space-efficient design" and said the big windows and doors offer "the easiest access and best visibility" in the category. Also best in class: 26 mpg overall and 35 on the highway, with all-wheel-drive.
MIDSIZED SUV. Hyundai Santa Fe ($36,290). CR says the seven passenger SUV offers a "comfortable ride, a quiet interior, a limo-like rear seat, and generous cargo area—yet doesn't feel too bulky to drive or park." It also cites Santa Fe's feature for the price and a smooth V-6 that delivers a "decent" 20 mpg overall.
MINIVAN: Honda Odyssey ($36,830) CR calls this "the most complete family vehicle available." It cites comfy second- and third-row seats that can be arranged for seating up to eight or to handle a variety of cargo needs. It calls the minivan "relatively fun to drive" and the gas mileage "decent.".
PICKUP TRUCK: Ram 1500 ($42,810). CR calls the Ram "surprisingly refined and inviting" and says it unique coil-spring rear suspension make it "the most comfortable-riding truck." Also lauded was a "whisper-quiet" interior that seems like a luxury vehicle.