The quality gap between mainstream and luxury vehicles has shrunk so much that one of the most closely followed auto industry reviewers no longer breaks them into separate categories.
Consumer Reports on Thursday revealed its 2020 Top Picks, its annual list of the best vehicles you can buy. And for the first time, the product-testing website named 10 winners across four price ranges, rather than splitting them into luxury and non-luxury models or dedicating awards to specific body styles.
That’s because mainstream vehicles’ interiors have become more sumptuous, ride handling has improved, advanced safety systems have become common and reliability has spiked.
“We’re seeing this big merge of luxury-branded vehicles with just normal vehicles. They’re overlapping incredibly,” said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports. “You can get a lot of luxury, quiet, comfort, all that, with the normal non-luxury-branded vehicles, and the luxury-branded vehicles are marching down-market too with some of their offerings.”
Luxury vehicles, he said, are more of a status symbol than ever, as evidenced by mainstream brands like Subaru, Mazda and Kia making the Top 10 on the Consumer Reports Car Brand Report Card for 2020. They beat luxury brands like Land Rover, Acura and Cadillac.
“You don’t have to pay a lot of money” to get a great vehicle, Fisher said.
Of the 10 Top Picks, Toyota and its luxury brand, Lexus, snagged five wins, demonstrating the brand’s even mix of reliability, safety and general satisfaction. Subaru, which scored two Top Picks, was the only other automaker with more than one win. (See the full list below.)
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The Tesla Model 3 also earned Consumer Reports’ Top Pick designation for the first time.
Of the 33 automotive brands tested, Porsche took the top spot, while Hyundai luxury brand Genesis came in second and Subaru third. Fiat landed at the bottom of the list, and Mitsubishi was second to last. (The full list is below.)
A big change Consumer Reports made this year was that vehicles must offer automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection as standard technology if they want to be considered for a Top Pick. In 2020, about 61% of models offer it as standard, compared with 38% in 2019, according to Consumer Reports.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also recently made a similar move, requiring the technology as standard to receive its Top Safety Pick+ designation.
Both organizations said pedestrian detection systems are critical to help combat the nation’s pedestrian safety crisis.
2020 Consumer Reports Top Picks
Toyota Corolla. Testers cited the compact car’s ride handling, efficiency and technology.
Subaru Forester: This small boxy SUV won praise for its “practical design, high owner satisfaction and impressive fuel economy.”
Subaru Legacy: Recently redesigned, this midsize sedan has “a strikingly smooth ride,” standard four-wheel-drive and a roomy interior.
Toyota Prius: This hybrid and its plug-in hybrid sibling, known as the Prius Prime, earned plaudits for exemplary fuel efficiency and excellent reliability.
Kia Telluride: This three-row SUV, which made its debut in 2019, earns another honor after already receiving the North American Utility of the Year and the MotorTrend SUV of the Year awards. It offers “a compelling blend of comfort, features, space and capability for the money.”
Honda Ridgeline: This mid-size pickup trails competitors like the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado in sales, but it’s a good buy for anyone looking for strong fuel economy, flexibility and good handling, according to Consumer Reports.
Toyota Avalon: This large sedan body style may be falling out of favor, but this vehicle achieved a “near-perfect score for ride comfort” and has the highest reliability of any sedan in the publication’s ratings.
Lexus RX: Considered to be the first midsize luxury crossover when it debuted in the late 1990s, this vehicle is still going strong. It offers “smooth power delivery, plentiful amenities and proven reliability.”
Tesla Model 3: This electric sedan is on this list for the first time due to its “thrilling driving experience” and “high-tech vibe,” though Consumer Reports expressed concern that the vehicle’s optional Autopilot system can lull drivers into a false sense of security.
Toyota Supra: Revived after about two decades off the market, this sports car was made in partnership with BMW. Its strong engine, solid fuel economy and exceptional handling stood out.
2020 Consumer Reports Brand Report Card
- Porsche (86)
- Genesis (84)
- Subaru (81)
- Mazda (79)
- Lexus (77)
- Audi (77)
- Hyundai (75)
- BMW (75)
- Kia (74)
- Mini (74)
- Tesla (73)
- Toyota (73)
- Lincoln (73)
- Infiniti (73)
- Honda (72)
- Volkswagen (70)
- Nissan (70)
- Chrysler (18)
- Buick (19)
- Mercedes-Benz (68)
- Dodge (68)
- Volvo (67)
- Ford (66)
- Acura (66)
- Chevrolet (61)
- GMC (59)
- Alfa Romeo (59)
- Jaguar (57)
- Cadillac (57)
- Land Rover (50)
- Jeep (49)
- Mitsubishi (46)
- Fiat (43)
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.