Consumer Reports’ Recommendations – How Good Are They?

This article examines Consumer Reports’ 2007 recommendations of automobile models for the Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and Kia brands in order to see how their reliability fared just 3 years later. It delves into the questions: (1) How good are CR’s recommendations? and (2) Is U.S.-based Consumer Reports biased in favor of the U.S.-based General Motors Corporation?

Consumer Reports’ reliability ratings are highly valued by many consumers as they are statistical studies of reported serious problems, or the absence of such, for hundreds of thousands of vehicles, as gathered from its subscribers in an annual survey. However, should its annual recommendations be accorded similar respect? To answer this question, I examine some of CR’s 2007 recommendations.

In the April 2007 issue of Consumer Reports, the magazine recommended three Chevrolet automobile models – one wagon, one sedan, and one SUV. They were:

Chevrolet HHR, the wagon
Chevrolet Impala, the sedan
Chevrolet Tahoe, the sport-utilityvehicle.

As there were only 3 Chevrolet models that were recommended, consumers might reasonably have anticipated that they merited consideration and that from one of the models they may confidently make a purchase. However, before the three 2007 models were 3 years old, all three were on Consumer Reports’ 2010 Worst Car list, a list based on reported serious problems.

The question arises: Were these just bad, or awful, recommendations, or are they evidence of a bias in favor of U.S.-based General Motors Corporation, owner of the Chevrolet brand, by U.S.-based Consumer Reports?

Evidence suggesting a bias in favor of U.S.-based General Motors comes from recommendations of Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai models. For the Toyota brand, Consumer Reports’ 2007 recommendations were:

Toyota 4Runner, a midsize sport-utility vehicle
Toyota Avalon, a large sedan
Toyota Camry, a midsize sedan
Toyota Camry, a convertible or coupe
Toyota Corolla, a small sedan
Toyota Highlander, a midsize SUV
Toyota Matrix, a small wagon
Toyota Prius, a hybrid 4-door hatchback
Toyota RAV4, a small SUV
Toyota Sequoia, a large SUV
Toyota Sienna, a minivan
Toyota Tacoma, a midsize pickup.

And for the Honda brand, CR’s 2007 recommendations were:

Honda CR-V, a small sport-utility vehicle
Honda Civic, a coupe or sedan
Honda Civic Si, a coupe or sedan
Honda Element, a small, boxy SUV
Honda Fit, a small 4-door hatchback
Honda Odyssey, a minivan
Honda Pilot, a midsize SUV
Honda Ridgeline, a midsize pickup.

And for the Hyundai brand, CR’s 2007 recommendations were:

Hyundai Entourage, a minivan
Hyundai Sonata, a sedan
Hyundai Tucson, a small sport-utility vehicle.

Of these 23 models recommended in 2007, not one was on CR’s 2010 Worst Car list.

Further evidence that U.S.-based Consumer Reports may have a bias favoring GM rests in its own 2007 Worst Car (Used Cars to Avoid) list. General Motors accounted for a whopping 37% of this list, suggesting that recommending any GM product was unwise.

However, evidence that these were merely bad recommendations may be found in CR’s Kia recommendations. In 2007, Consumer Reports recommended the following Kia models:

Kia Amanti, a sedan
Kia Sedona, a minivan
Kia Sorento, a small sport-utility vehicle.

Three years later, both the 2007 Sedona and the 2007 Sorento were on CR’s 2010 list of Worst Cars.

In summary, it is difficult to conclude that Consumer Reports’ recommendations unduly favor U.S.-based GM; however, it is clear that the consumer should be circumspect about a CR recommendation. And it may be best for him or her to toss such a recommendation to the wind when considering a car purchase and rely only:

(1) On CR’s reliability ratings, in the 10-year reliability tables if longer-term ownership is sought or anticipated, or alternatively on the online Auto Reliability GPAs, and

(2) On CR’s specific comments regarding ease of use of various components, CR’s tested stability, and CR’s summaries of crash worthiness.