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Hybrids Gain Traction in Consumer Reports’ Annual Auto Rankings, but EVs Struggle

A lot has changed since the first hybrids came to market 2 decades ago. While they remain some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, they’re far more attractive and fun to drive — and they make up fully half of this year’s top picks in the annual Consumer Reports auto rankings.

2023 Toyota Prius(2023 Toyota Prius; photo/Paul Eisenstein)
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If you’re looking for a new car, there are plenty of options to choose from, including a growing number of “electrified” vehicles, whether hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or pure battery-electric. Conventional hybrids, in particular, stand out in Consumer Reports’ annual automotive report card

The 2023 Consumer Reports Top Picks and Auto Brand Report Card also includes two battery-electric vehicles, the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model 3.

A lot has changed since the original Toyota Prius and Honda Insight first rolled into U.S. showrooms more than 2 decades ago. They’re far less, well, odd when it comes to styling, as the completely redesigned 2023 Toyota Prius demonstrates. They’re also a lot more fun to drive, said Jake Fisher, Consumer Report’s head of automotive testing.

Great Hybrid Choice

Consumer Reports Annual Auto Reliability Report 2023
Ford Maverick Hybrid; (photo/Paul Eisenstein)

“Gone are the days of wacky-looking hybrids like the original Prius,” Fisher said in an interview ahead of the annual study’s release. New models, like the Ford Maverick Hybrid, Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid, and Lexus NX350h are sportier, better equipped, and lots more fun to drive making them “great choices,” said Fisher.

He also noted that those three models, along with the Toyota Corolla Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid, made up fully half of the influential magazine’s Top Picks for 2023.

“The over-arching message is that electrification is here and it’s changing the industry,” Fisher added.

The list of 10 Top Picks also included two EVs, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model 3. But Fisher was a little more cautious about recommending all-electric models.

While there are more to choose from and the newest ones are also fun to drive, he noted that a number of the newer models, such as the Hyundai Kona and Ford Mustang Mach-E have run into quality and reliability issues, some facing repeated recalls. 

“While their powertrains tend to be simpler, with less to go wrong, EVs tend to have lots of new technology subject to more problems,” he explained.

Quality Up Overall, but Beware the Asterisk

EVs aren’t unique there, however. On the whole, the 2023 automotive report card finds that new vehicles are improving in quality. But there are a couple of big asterisks. 

“We’re not seeing a lot of traditional problems,” like faulty engines and transmissions or misfit body panels. “But we’re seeing lots of problems with electronics,” like voice recognition and navigation systems. 

“It’s one thing when you get a locked-up screen on your phone or laptop. You can reboot it,” said Fisher. You can’t do that when your car’s screen goes blank.”

That’s in line with several other recent reports, including J.D. Power Initial Quality Study and Vehicle Dependability Study, which found electronic glitches becoming more and more common.

BMW Takes Home an ‘A’ but Land Rover Flunks Out

Consumer Reports Annual Auto Reliability Report 2023
(Screenshot capture/Heather Lea)

Not for all manufacturers, however. BMW, which was a pioneer in onboard electronics, ranked as the number one brand in Consumer Reports’ 2023 Automotive Report Card Rankings. 

The study looks at more than just quality and reliability, however, factoring in other metrics. This includes the fun-to-drive element in which BMW stands out, said Fisher. That’s why it topped the more reliable Toyota which was ranked sixth this year — though its more upscale sibling, the Lexus brand, came in fourth. Subaru ranked second. It was followed by Mini, a brand that typically doesn’t do all that well in quality-based studies. Honda was fifth.

At the opposite end, Land Rover was dead last in this year’s study. In ascending order, it was followed by Jeep, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, and Mitsubishi.

Tesla Trouble

Tesla Model 3

While Tesla landed its Model 3 sedan in the 10 Top Picks category, the EV manufacturer didn’t fare very well, overall, coming in a weak 17th among the 32 brands covered by the 2023 study. 

While the Texas-based carmaker scored well on the fun factor and had relatively few technical problems with its electric drive technology, “[t]he issue with Tesla is they’re still new at the game of making cars and have trouble with the basics that Ford worked out 100 years ago,” said Fisher. 

Tesla products have suffered from a variety of issues such as misfit body panels, faulty paint, rattles and squeaks, and wind noise. It’s also had its share of glitches, including balky touchscreens.

A Seller’s Market Demands Careful Choice

In today’s “seller’s market,” said Fisher, buyers need to do extra scrutiny to ensure they get the best vehicle possible, whatever type of product they’re looking for. 

Rising prices mean you’re likely to stick with your vehicle longer than in the past. And that could mean lots of headaches if you make a bad choice.

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