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What are the best cars brands to buy in 2022’s hot market, and how to get the car that’s right for you

Subaru_Legacy 2020 Red_front_10.1.20

Photo: Kevauto

The majority of the cars in the top 10 of Consumer Reports’ 2022 Brand Report Card rankings are made by Japanese automakers.

Six Japanese brands are among the top-10 in the rankings that shows which automakers are producing the most well-performing, safe, and reliable vehicles based on Consumer Report’s testing and member surveys.

Subaru climbed two positions to reclaim the No. 1 spot on this year’s list. Mazda is second, followed by BMW, Honda, Lexus, Audi, Porsche, Mini, Toyota, and Infiniti. 

“Brands that rise to the top tend to have the most consistent performance across their model lineups,” said Jake Fisher, senior director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports. “For mainstream brands like Subaru, Mazda, and Honda to have such a strong showing is remarkable. For consumers, it shows that you don’t need to splurge on a luxury brand to get a safe, satisfying, and reliable car.”

Domestic automakers didn’t fare as well in this year’s Consumer Reports rankings, said Marta L. Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports, a consumer research, testing, and advocacy organization.

Buick is the highest-ranking U.S. brand, dropping out of the top-10 to 11th place. Chrysler is close behind, 13th place, while Dodge is midpack, 16th place, and the remaining domestic cars are all in the bottom half of the rankings. Jeep, which had reliability issues with the Gladiator pickup truck, comes in last.

Tesla dropped seven spots to 23rd overall, mainly due to the difficult-to-use yoke steering wheel the automaker introduced in its Model S and Model X, which lowered their road-test scores. The Model 3 is the only Tesla model that Consumer Reports recommends.

Thirty-two brands are included in this year’s report card.

Again this year, Consumer Reports included the impact of emissions on the environment in its Brand Report Card with its Green Choice designation.

While Toyota, 9th overall, doesn’t produce a dedicated battery electric vehicle yet, its hybrid and plug-in hybrid choices helped it lead all brands with 11 Green Choice models. 

Consumer Reports conducts more than 50 tests on the vehicles it evaluates, including braking, handling, comfort, convenience, safety, and fuel economy. The overall score is a combination of predicted reliability, owner satisfaction based on member surveys, and an analysis that includes road performance, key safety features, and crash-test results, if available, for each model tested. The brands are then ranked by averaging the overall scores of their models to reveal the best and worst.

To pick out the right vehicle for you in this tight market, Consumer Reports recommends:

  • Identify the models that fit your needs. Browse ratings and reviews online, taking into account budget, size, and lifestyle needs, such as third row seating and towing capability. You can also check the reliability histories, owner satisfaction scores, and more at CR.org to help narrow your choices and choose alternative models.
  • Decide between new or used. Look at current transaction prices using CR.org to learn what’s a fair price for the model you want. Run the numbers to see if buying a new or used vehicle is right for you. Used-car prices are elevated now, so you may find that buying new is smarter than buying a three-year-old car. Also, lower finance charges, zero miles on the odometer, and a full factory warranty can make new cars more appealing. Buying used these days often means looking back several years in order to see a meaningful discount.
  • Research your trade-in value. Use Consumer Reports’ Trade-in Value Estimator, CR.org/tradein, to figure out how much your old car is worth. See what the local dealer is willing to offer and compare the two figures. Keep in mind that you’re likely to get more money for your old car if you sell it yourself, so check its retail value, and look at what similarly-optioned versions of the same model are listed for.
  • Secure financing. Get pre-approved for financing through your bank or credit union. Locking in a rate early on gives you a starting point for negotiating financing terms with the dealer. If the dealership can beat your secured loan, great.
  • Find your car at a fair price. Use a car listing aggregator such as Cars.com to locate cars nearby. But call the dealership before heading out to see a specific car; some dealers post online listings before the car is on their lot. Use Consumer Report’s Build & Buy Car Buying Service, CR.org/buildandbuy, to compare in-stock vehicles and see what others paid, and take advantage of additional incentive offers from select manufacturers.
  • Test drive and verify your features. Test drive the car to make sure you’re comfortable with its performance and features – and that it has all the features listed. Is it missing something you wanted? Ask if the manufacturer plans to install the items later if they’ve been temporarily suspended.
  • Be prepared to act fast. It’s a seller’s market. Finding the car you want may mean heading to a dealership outside your local area. It can be helpful to put down a refundable deposit on the car by phone to make sure it’s actually there when you arrive.

One-third of Americans who purchased a vehicle in the past year said that it cost more than they thought it would, according to a Consumer Reports survey.

Comments

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Tom at Sightings

We have a Subaru -- 75,000 miles and going strong!

Rita

Good choice. My Honda Accord 2002 is still going strong. I think I'll look for a Subaru when I need a new car.

Jennifer

I love my Subaru the best of all the vehicles I've had. Sadly, I think I'll need to go off-brand next time because I want a wider hybrid than their Crosstrex.

Rita

I'm glad your Subaru has been great. I had a Toyota and a Buick that I wasn't happy with.

Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski

Right now I have a 2007 Prius that recently got its catalytic converter stolen. It gets great mileage, though and my son wants to steal it away from me. LOL. I said, "Sorry, I'm not driving your truck."

Rita

Wow, how awful to get your catalytic converter stolen. It's happening more and more these days. What strange times we live in.

Diane Tolley

I love consumer reports! Makes my decisions sooo much easier!

Rita

Yes, I love Consumer Reports, too. I've subscribed since I was in college.

Carol Cassara

I bought a car a few months ago that was a 'want' rather than a 'need' ... in a way I feel I should regret it but...maybe I don't....even though it wasn't electric or any of the other things it should have been. Or I think it should have been. But...I love it. It's gorgeous.

Rita

Carol, I'm glad you love your new car. Buying a new or used car is so stressful. Figuring out what brand and model, deciding on financing, where to buy it, dealing with high-pressure sales. It's great when it's over and you have a vehicle that works.

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