GM nabs two top Consumer Reports picks

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Buick ranked No. 7 among brands on Consumer Reports' annual survey of best cars and trucks — the first time a domestic line has cracked the top 10 in the three years the influential magazine has ranked individual brands.

The ranking is a feather in Buick's cap: Automakers take the ratings seriously, because many prospective car buyers consult them before buying a new car or truck. Based on road tests and input from 1.1 million of its subscribers, Consumer Reports ranks brands, like Lincoln or Lexus; and specific models by category, such as small SUV or large sedan.

GM’s Buick Regal was named best sports sedan, dethroning the BMW 328i. The electric Tesla Model S was again named best overall model.

Among models in specific segments, the magazine crowned the Buick Regal as the year's best sports sedan, dethroning the vaunted, and more expensive, BMW 328i. Another General Motors Co. offering, the Chevrolet Impala, was named best large car over models like the Toyota Avalon. No other vehicle from the three Detroit automakers won any of the 10 vehicle categories.

"Both of those cars are really impressive vehicles and came such a huge way from where they were in the redesign — it was really incredible," Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' director of automotive testing, said in an interview Tuesday. GM's other brands were mostly below average: GMC ranked 14th out of 28 brands, Chevrolet came in at 19th and Cadillac was 20th.

The Tesla Model S, an electric car, was again named the best overall model.

The magazine's annual car issue goes on sale March 5.

Foreign automakers continued to dominate the magazine's brand rankings, while most U.S brands — especially those of Fiat Chrysler — struggled.

Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand held the top spot for the third straight year. Rounding out the top 10, Mazda came in second; Toyota third; Audi fourth; Subaru fifth; and Porsche sixth. Trailing Buick were Honda in eighth place; Kia in ninth; and BMW in 10th.

In the 1970s, Buick accounted for more than 8 percent of all U.S. vehicle sales — hitting a high of 746,000 sold in the United States in 1977. But its popularity tailed off.

GM has made a priority of reinvigorating the brand and attracting younger buyers. Last year, Buick sales were up 11.4 percent in the United States in 2014 to nearly 229,000 cars and SUVs.

Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln brand was 16th in the rankings; the namesake Ford brand was 24th out of 28.

Nameplates from Fiat Chrysler ranked among the lowest: Its Chrysler brand was ranked 23rd, Dodge 25th; Jeep 27th; and Fiat, last, at 28th.

Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book's, said the results showed GM continues its forward momentum. "The automaker has improved every metric within its control, including product quality, sales, revenue and market share," he said.

Currently, 83 percent of Buick's models are recommended by the influential magazine, up from 67 percent last year; the brand's No. 7 ranking was up from 12th last year. Buick even topped Honda, a brand long known for reliability. "Honda has lost some of its luster," said Consumer Reports' Fisher.

The magazine said GM vehicles "are showing stronger reliability, are more fun to drive and display technological advances that traditionally would have first appeared in import-brand cars."

Consumer Reports recommends just two Ford-brand vehicles — the Fusion and Flex — or 19 percent of its offerings. Ford "is improving, but they have a long way to go," Fisher said.

Japanese brands have dominated the "top picks," by category since 1997. Since then, more than 70 percent of all top picks came from Japanese automakers. This year, just six Japanese models topped the 10 categories — the fewest in the 19-year history of the ratings.

The Toyota Highlander was named best mid-sized SUV and the Prius was named best Green Car for the 12th straight year.

Subaru won three categories for the first time: The Impreza was best compact car, the Legacy was best midsize sedan — dethroning the Accord — and the Forester was again best small SUV.

Top 10 brands

1. Lexus

2. Mazda

3. Toyota

4. Audi

5. Subaru

6. Porsche

7. Buick

8. Honda

9. Kia

10. BMW

Source: Consumer Reports

Top picks by category

Best overall: Tesla Model S ($89,650)

Large car: Chevrolet Impala ($39,110)

Midsize sedan: Subaru Legacy ($24,837)

Compact car: Subaru Impreza (sedan, $21,345)

Sports sedan: Buick Regal ($34,485)

Green car: Toyota Prius ($29,230)

Luxury car : Audi A6 ($56,295)

Small SUV: Subaru Forester ($26,814)

Midsize SUV: Toyota Highlander ($38,941)

Minivan: Honda Odyssey ($38,055)

Source: Consumer Reports