Travel 101 

Who Reports on Consumer Reports?

Consumer Reports (CR), the wonderful consumer product watchdog, has along with Ralph Nader and JD Power & Associates, done so much to improve the quality and safety of the vehicles we drive. We are safer and more comfortable for their work. Their "New Car Preview 2015" book is the latest of a series of publications (e.g. "New Car Preview 2014", "New Car Preview 2013", etc.). These have prodded, nudged and pushed manufacturers to do better.

And yet, it seems like no one is giving Consumer Reports feedback about how to improve their own product. Many of the following errors and omissions have gone on for years. Here are some suggestions and criticisms about "New Car Preview 2015" (NCP5).

New Car Preview 2015 features the Hyundai Sonata on the cover, but then omits it from the Vehicle Ratings.

New Car Preview 2015 lists the Hyundai Equus as a "Luxury Midsized" vehicle when in size and features, it competes squarely against the "Ultra Luxury" vehicles. It also completely omits the Kia K900 flagship. In contrast, the lovely, swoopy coupe-like Audi A7 sedan is featured as an "Ultra Luxury" vehicle though it is smaller than the Equus in almost every dimension. CR would improve its own quality and consistency by using a well-designed database.

Vehicles such as the Kia K900 are included in the Vehicle Profiles but omitted from the Vehicle Ratings lists (where vehicles are compared by class against comparable vehicles). CR does a great job promoting fuel consumption, but in the individual Vehicle Profiles, it only provides fuel consumption for one engine and not the various engine choices. The BMW 5 Series offers five engines, but CR only provides one EPA MPG rating.

And while we're on the subject, how about a nice graphic showing the range of all the different vehicles?

CR provides nice circles (solid red, half red, white, half black, solid black) to indicate "Better" to "Worse". Better or Worse than what? Also in other places, this same visual scale has different labels and a different scale: "Much Better than Average", "Better than Average", "Average", "Worse than Average" and "Much Worse than Average".

CR rates vehicles on 17 trouble spot metrics. The rating system appears to be subjective. For instance, both the 2013 Acura ILX and the 2013 Audi A6 have 14 solid reds. The Audi also has three half-red circles and is rated "Average" as a Used Car. The Acura has two half-red circles and a white one, but is rated "Better than Average". The BMW 5 Series and the Buick Enclave have the exact same 17 ratings, but the German sedan is rated as Much Better than Average as a Used Car while the American SUV is merely a Better than Average. The trouble spot metric inconsistencies mean that there must be a human assigning the Used Car Verdicts rather than a simple mathematical algorithm to provide a verdict. And while on the subject, why not simply provide a number of average problems per vehicle for each model and year?

How can a vehicle have all "Better than Average" or "Much Better than Average" scores on all 17 trouble spot metrics, but then have an overall "Average" rating? It seems like these metrics are based on all time data rather than yearly data. So a vehicle that has a "Better" rating for Engine Cooling is not "Better" than other 2013 models, but better than benchmarks probably established in 1980 or so. A very specific example is the "Engine Major" category. For 2013, only five vehicles were rated "Better than Average". The remaining 200+ or so vehicles were rated "Much Better than Average". The total of those rated "Average", "Worse than Average" or "Much Worse than Average"? Zero. These metrics are simultaneously misleading and meaningless.

The "Average Problem Rates" chart (on page 53) is virtually impossible to read. CR, make this bigger!

Owner Cost appears to be little more than an indicator of as-tested price. The groupings are not defined. Vehicles with extremely low running costs (e.g. Nissan Leaf at $.03/mile) have no "Owner Cost" metric. Really? The expensive vehicles are most predictably rated as "Worse" and so on. I could have predicted that myself.

Fuel Economy also has no categorization other than the five "Better" to "Worse" circles. If these are to provide visualizing data, then tell readers know what they mean (e.g. "Better" is 40+ MPG). Also show a Fuel Economy dot for each vehicle engine.

Safety Features should include the number of airbags!

And finally, CR, please provide a full-page for each Vehicle Profile. Use the second column to include beautiful photos of the interior and data from the Road Test Highlights and the Safety Features. Consumer Reports, you're great, but you can do much better, so I'm scoring you white circle (or "Average"). It's up to you to decipher average compared to what. Regardless, thanks for all that you have done already. Keep up the wonderful work.

Narayan Sengupta

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