Thoughts while scanning the annual Consumer Reports Auto Issue (published by Consumers Union, which hates to be quoted in this fashion, only $4.95 at your newsstand):

There's something about Dodge.  The magazine's ongoing survey of car-buying (and leasing) satisfaction wasn't much different this year — Saturn, Lexus and Infiniti at the top, the usual Japanese suspects at the bottom — and overall, "65.8 percent of respondents said they were 'very satisfied' with their car-buying experience." For each make, there is an average and a range; the range is typically six or seven percentage points, and the average is, logically, somewhere in between. Which brings us to Dodge, which falls right on top of CR's 65.8-percent figure, but with a range of twenty-one points; some buyers consider their friendly Dodge dealer to be on par with the vendors of Benzes and Saabs, while others found the place even more annoying than the average Toyota store. No other marque commanded this level of buyer schizophrenia.

A lot of people are awfully scared.  The new CR Safety Assessment is a single rating that somehow manages to combine a vehicle's ability to avoid accidents (this, you'd think, would be somewhat driver-dependent) with its crash protection (mostly, this isn't). Exactly how much weight goes into each factor, they don't say, although to their credit, they do say that since individual drivers may value one characteristic more highly than the other, the Assessment should not be considered graven in stone. Unfortunately, buyers will view it with exactly that, um, density.

Whatever happened to Hyundai?  CR's reliability survey has data for only one Hyundai model — the Elantra, and that for two years only. Of course, there's always been the chicken/egg question of whether people weren't buying Hyundais because CR had no data, or CR had no data because people weren't buying Hyundais. I expect this question to be extinct after the 2001 sales figures come out and people marvel that Hyundai is now outselling Mazda. (You heard it here first, folks.)

Long live old tech!  There is now a separate classification for "Fuel-Efficient Cars", and needless to say, the new hybrids from Honda (the Insight) and Toyota (the Prius, yet another incomprehensible series name from those wonderful folks who gave you "Camry" and "Celica") are represented therein, but it does my heart good to see that the utterly-conventional (even the name!) Toyota Echo nearly outscored its green-dream brandmate, and a diesel-powered VW Golf beat them both.

Of course, from my point of view, the weirdest thing is that CR has no reliability data on the 2000 Mazda 626, not so much because I own one, but because the 626 has long been Mazda's top-selling vehicle. I mean, they have numbers for the B-Series trucks, which in their 2WD and 4WD versions combined don't move as many units as the 626. There are no numbers for the MX-5 Miata, either, so maybe it's a cultural phenomenon: if you believe in Zoom Zoom, you probably don't pay much attention to Consumer Reports — and vice versa.

The Vent

9 March 2001

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 Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill