February 25, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Chrysler makes Consumer Reports 2014 top vehicle list

Clockwise from top left, the Hyundai Santa Fe, Ram 1500, Tesla Model S and Subaru Forester all made Consumer Reports' Top Picks list. )

Consumer Reports said four new models cracked its 2014 top vehicles list, with Chrysler Group LLC making the list for the first time in 16 years, while luxury and Japanese brands dominated the overall brand ratings.

Consumer Reports said the Hyundai Santa Fe, Ram 1500, Subaru Forester and Tesla Model S won the top honors in four categories.

The Tesla Model S was Top Pick for Best Overall vehicle for its “exceptional performance and its many impressive technological innovations.”

The Ram 1500 won best Pickup Truck, a category that wasn’t rated last year because the magazine had not yet tested two newly released vehicles in that segment. The last Chrysler vehicle to earn Consumer Reports’ Top Pick honors was the 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The Chevrolet Silverado outscored the Ram but the magazine doesn’t have enough reliability data to rate it. Rik Paul, Consumer Reports automotive editor, said some staffers at the magazine thought the Ram was more comfortable than the Silverado.

The new Subaru Forester dethroned the Honda CR-V from the top of the Small SUV category, and the Hyundai Santa Fe took top honors in the Midsize SUV category.

This year, models from eight manufacturers are represented on this year’s list of 10 Top Picks. Only Honda and Subaru had more than one winner.

“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 Paul.

The influential magazine with more than 8 million subscribers is consulted by many prospective car buyers.

Lexus topped the list of best overall brands, followed by Acura and Audi, which moved up from eighth to third.

“A lot can go wrong when building cars packed with luxury features,” said Jake Fisher, director of Consumer Reports’ automotive testing. “It’s impressive to have three luxury brands score top marks when reliability is one of the defining factors.”

Japanese brands have won more than 70 percent of the spots on the list annually since 1997. But this year, Japanese brands took only five spots, the fewest in the 18-year history of Consumer Reports’ Top Picks.

In general, luxury brands outperformed their mainstream stablemates. But General Motors Co.’s Cadillac brand scored the lowest of any of GM brands based mainly on problems with the XTS’ CUE infotainment system.

Japanese brands dominated the rankings, taking seven of the top eight spots. Following the top three were Subaru, Toyota, Mazda, Honda, and Infiniti. Nissan was the only Japanese brand not in the top half.

Chrysler’s Jeep brand and the Ford brand tied for the lowest score. “Jeep has a mix of spotty reliability and mediocre road-test results. While a number of recent Ford models are very nice to drive and earn solid test scores, the brand continues to have reliability problems, especially with its MyFord Touch system. Three other Detroit brands, Dodge, Cadillac and Chevrolet” were in the bottom five.

The top domestic makes — Buick, GMC and Chrysler — were in the middle of the pack. Hyundai and Kia also lagged many competitors.

For its 11th straight year, the Toyota Prius was named Top Green Car. For the second year in a row, the Audi A6 and the BMW 328i top the Luxury Car and Sports Sedan categories.

Consumer Reports’ Top Picks were chosen from more than 260 vehicles the organization has recently tested. Top Pick models must meet the magazine’s criteria in road tests, reliability, and safety.

“They must rank at or near the top of their category on overall road test scores; they must have earned an average or better predicted-reliability Rating, based on problems Consumer Reports’ subscribers reported on 1.1 million vehicles in the latest survey; and they must perform adequately if tested in crash or rollover tests by the government or the insurance industry,” the magazine said.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com