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Consumer Reports lists 2011 Top Picks of cars

February 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Consumer Reports has named its top cars for 2011. But two new electric cars did not make the list.

The Ford Mustang has been a very popular car for some time, but this is the first time it has made the Consumer Reports annual Top Picks car list for 2011. The Mustang is the Consumer Reports top pick in the Sporty Car category.

The Kia Sorento made the list as the Top Pick in the Family SUV category, the first time for the vehicle.

Also for the first time, the Honda Fit was the Top Pick in the Budget Car category. The Toyota Sienna is the Top Pick Family Hauler, and the Toyota RAV4 is the Top Pick in the Small SUV category.

On the other hand, Consumer Reports is disappointed in two new electric cars that just became available to consumers.

The Chevrolet Volt is available on a limited basis. At the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, testers have checked out the Volt, which has a backup gasoline engine, and the Nissan Leaf, which is 100 percent electric.

How far an electric vehicle can go on a charge is a big issue. Testers have found that cold weather is a problem.

"The Nissan Leaf can go about 100 miles on a charge, but that's in ideal conditions," said Consumer Reports Auto Tester Jake Fisher. "In our experience, cold weather can shorten that to about 65 miles."

In low temperatures, the Volt has trouble fully heating. It can go anywhere from 25 to 50 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in, which can take the car up to 300 miles. But you pay a price for this.

"The added gasoline engine makes the Volt expensive, and on long drives you may actually wind up using more fuel than you would in a conventional hybrid like the Toyota Prius," said Fisher.

As for recharge time, with a 220-volt charger that you can install in your home, the Volt takes about four to five hours. The Leaf takes about eight hours on average.

The Leaf is less expensive, costing about $35,000. The Volt is about $45,000. But even with federal and state tax credits, neither is likely to save you money.

"Electric vehicles have come a long way," said Fisher. "But they still have a long way to go before they're ready to replace the average person's primary vehicle."

If you're interested in a car that will be kind to the environment and get good mileage, Consumer Reports recommends the Toyota Prius. It gets 44 miles per gallon overall and is the Consumer Reports Top Pick for 2011 in the Green Car category.