Consumer Reports: Top Auto Picks of 2009

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Of the more than 300 vehicles we've recently tested, our Top Picks are the best all-around choices in their categories. This year's list includes two new models: The Toyota Highlander is our new pick for midsized SUVs, unseating the Hyundai Santa Fe. And thanks to improved reliability, the Chevrolet Avalanche replaced the Chevrolet Silverado as our choice for pickups. See full ratings, reliability and data on all Top Picks in our model overviews.

How We Choose
Top Picks must meet our criteria in three areas:

Road tests: Vehicles must rank at or near the top of their categories in our overall road-test score, which includes more than 50 individual tests and evaluations.

Reliability: Each must have an average or better predicted-reliability rating, which is based on the problems Consumer Reports subscribers reported for more than 1.4 million vehicles in our latest Annual Auto Survey.

Safety: Top Picks must perform adequately in overall safety, if tested by the government or the insurance industry. (For some models, we do not have enough crash-test data to assign an overall safety rating.) In addition, each must offer electronic stability control (ESC), a proven lifesaving safety feature, as standard equipment or as a readily available option.

See our video guide on how Consumer Reports tests cars.

Pickup truck
Chevrolet Avalanche

This full-sized crew cab is one of the most versatile and comfortable pickups we've tested. Its unified bed and cab helps give it a solid feel and a comfortable, quiet ride. Its innovative partition, between the cab and the bed, can be folded to allow longer cargo to extend into the back of the cab. A lockable, waterproof, three-piece bed cover protects cargo from the elements and prying eyes. If you need a tough work truck with a larger bed, consider the Ford F-150, which was considerably improved for 2009. Price: $36,000 to $47,000.

Fun to drive
Mazda MX-5 Miata

The Miata is a true sports car at a reasonable price. With quick, precise steering, a crisp-shifting manual transmission, and balanced handling, it virtually tied the Porsche Boxster in our test scoring, but it costs about half the price. This roadster is available with a power-operated hard top or a manual top that can be raised and lowered from the driver's seat using one hand. Price: $22,000 to $29,000.

Small SUV
Toyota RAV4

Thanks to a more powerful four-cylinder engine and other upgrades for 2009, the RAV4 narrowly outscored the Subaru Forester to remain our Top Pick for the third straight year. It provides agile handling, a roomy and quiet interior, a comfortable ride, and an optional third-row seat. The four-cylinder version gets the best fuel economy of any automatic, nonhybrid SUV we've tested. And the spirited V6 version accelerates as quickly as a Mazda Miata, while getting only 1 mpg less than the four-cylinder. ESC and curtain air bags are standard. Price: $23,000 to $30,000.

Small sedan
Hyundai Elantra SE

The Elantra SE is a comfortable, roomy small car that provides good fuel economy, a quiet and nicely finished interior, and plenty of features for the money. Only the SE version comes with standard electronic stability control, which is absent on many other small cars. The Honda Civic is more fun to drive, but ESC is available only on high-end versions. Price: $18,695.

Green car
Toyota Prius

Despite the arrival of more gas/electric hybrids, the Prius leads this category for the sixth straight year. The base model's 44 overall mpg is the best we've measured in any five-passenger car. The Touring model gets 42 mpg overall. The interior is roomy and versatile, and reliability remains excellent. A redesigned Prius will arrive in early summer, and Toyota promises even better fuel economy and power. Price: $22,000 to $24,000.

Toyota Sienna

The Sienna offers a spacious, versatile and comfortable way to carry up to eight people. We found that the quiet, well-finished interior rivals that of some luxury sedans. Electronic stability control is standard. This is the only minivan available with all-wheel drive. A redesign will arrive this summer. Another excellent choice is the Honda Odyssey, which is more agile but not as quiet. Price: $26,000 to $38,000.

Best overall vehicle
Lexus LS 460

With a road-test score of 99 out of 100, this is our highest-scoring vehicle (see image, above). It provides a luxurious, uncompromising driving environment, with a supremely comfortable ride and a roomy, well-finished and exceptionally quiet interior. The LS is brimming with electronic amenities, yet the controls are easy to use. Its 380-hp, 4.6-liter V8 and eight-speed automatic transmission deliver smooth, quick acceleration and relatively good fuel economy. All-wheel drive is available for 2009. Price: $64,000 to $77,000.

Upscale sedan
Infiniti G37

One of the highest-rated sedans we've tested, the G37 (formerly G35) combines sportiness and luxury in a very appealing package. It has a very lively powertrain, agile handling, a comfortable ride and a nicely appointed interior. For 2009, it also has a larger, 328-hp, 3.7-liter engine and a seven-speed automatic transmission, which improves fuel economy. Rear-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional. Price: $33,000 to $36,000.

Midsized SUV
Toyota Highlander

The Highlander is a very refined and versatile vehicle. It provides a comfortable and quiet ride, a nicely finished interior, three rows of seats, and decent fuel economy for its class. It is available with front- or all-wheel drive. The Highlander Hybrid's fuel economy, 24 mpg overall, is among the best of any SUV in our Ratings. Reliability has been excellent. Price: $26,000 to $41,000.

Family sedan
Honda Accord

This is a roomy, well-rounded sedan that's easy to live with and enjoyable to drive. It offers a comfortable ride, agile handling and efficient, refined four- and six-cylinder powertrains. Electronic stability control is standard, and crash-test results are impressive. Though the Nissan Altima edged out the Accord in our ratings, most Altima versions lack electronic stability control. Price: $21,000 to $31,000.


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