The first of March is upon us, and this usually means the arrival of magazines with an April cover date. (Or maybe the January/February issue of Hollywood Life, if they're going to have one at all; at least their Web site I think it's their Web site, since it includes one of the magazine's signature features, The X & Y Files is more or less up to date.) And April is the month when the Consumer Reports Auto Issue comes out, which means that once more I've got a ready-made topic for the beginning of March, and besides, it beats the hell out of kvetching about taxes.
Each year they seem to come up with a new set of data points, and for 2008 they've devised something called "Owner Cost," a composite of depreciation, fuel cost, interest (those few folks who pay cash are blown off, I suppose), insurance, maintenance/repair, and sales tax. In Oklahoma, which doesn't charge sales tax on vehicles but does assess an excise tax, this last item is a trifle dubious, but let that pass. On the CR Web site, they give numbers for one, three, five and eight years, but we cheapskates who read only the magazine get only the Least and Most Expensive vehicles over a five-year period. In the "Family Car" bracket, for instance, the range runs from $27,500 for a Toyota Prius, probably because it doesn't inhale a whole lot of fuel, to $44,750 for a V6-powered Volkswagen Passat. I once did my own calculations for my much-missed 2000 Mazda 626, which over five years and eight months cost me $32,900, suggesting that the CR guys might actually be in the ballpark.
Last year's "Automaker Report Cards" are back, assigning a score to each of fifteen automakers derived from actual test results plus reliability data; they don't say how much weight is given to either factor, but clearly lack of reliability costs major points, since both Ford and General Motors averaged 61 points in CR tests, but Ford, which has "average" reliability, got a composite score of 61, while GM, whose reliability is "worse than average," got a 54. More striking: Mercedes-Benz, which outscored everyone at the test track with an 81 when it's not immobilized in a service bay, wound up with a mere 67. Honda, with the third-best test results and the best reliability, got the highest score: 78. Chrysler and Suzuki are at the bottom, tied at 49. Apparently not part of the calculation, but thrown in for the sake of completeness, is the percentage of vehicles by a manufacturer that received CR's "Recommended" tag. All tested Hondas and Subarus were so awarded; Suzukis and Benzes got zip. (Ford, with 64 percent Recommended, was the class of the domestics.) And I note with some glumness, having caught myself lusting after a C30, that Hyundai edged out Volvo for ninth place in the composite score, 66 to 64. Nissan, who built my current ride, was fifth, a hair behind BMW.
To the "Best and Worst Used Cars" they've added a new sidebar: "Best for Teenagers." The criteria: good test scores, high reliability, and good crash test results. Besides that:
We did not consider vehicles that were too fast or slow, have long braking distances, or have mediocre emergency handling scores.
Well, Junior, we know what they think of your driving. I'm just slightly more impressed by this dictum from Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers:
Buy the kid an early-1990s Volvo. That'll help protect him for a few years, until he grows up and gets a little smarter. Plus, it'll be old, it'll break down frequently and it'll be expensive to repair. That means he'll have to learn how to fix things, or how to pay someone else to fix things. Either one is a good lesson.
Now that's gonna leave a mark.
And I note with some amusement that they have test results for the Dodge Viper SRT-10. Their 600-horsepower reptile, they say, did zero-to-sixty in 4.2 seconds. (Car and Driver got an SRT-10 to 60 in 3.5 seconds, but I'm willing to bet that the CR car's clutch smelled better afterwards.) And five years of insurance on the Viper, says the Owner Costs table, will run $19,750. This is $329 a month, which I guess wouldn't faze you if you could afford a $90,000 two-seater in the first place.
| Vent menu | E-mail to Chaz
Copyright © 2008 by Charles G. Hill