The redesigned Toyota Prius remains the most fuel-efficient car consumers can buy at 44 mpg overall according to Consumer Reports' latest tests. The Prius has been CR's Top Pick for Green Car in the Annual Auto Issue for the past six years and the redesigned model received a Very Good Road Test score of 80 in Consumer Reports' November issue.
Long the standard-bearer for hybrid cars, the new third-generation Prius has several small improvements. A firm, steady ride, a better driving position, and improved rear seating are pluses. Highway fuel economy has improved to 55 mpg from 50 mpg, in Consumer Reports' own fuel economy tests, but city mileage has dropped to 32 mpg from the 35 mpg of its predecessor.
"The redesigned Prius has several small improvements," said David Champion, senior director of CR's Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Conn. "It feels more substantial to drive, and still gets great fuel economy."
Instead of testing a group of competing vehicles for the November issue, CR featured tests of several new and redesigned vehicles that are hot off the magazine's test track. In addition to the Prius, this issue also includes the redesign of the Chevrolet Equinox small SUV; the small, boxy Nissan Cube wagon; the redesigned Subaru Outback wagon; and the Chrysler-based Volkswagen Routan minivan.
The redesigned Chevrolet Equinox, which received a Very Good road test score of 69, is much improved over the previous version and offers a spacious interior for the money. It's now competitive in its category, although it's not on par with the category leaders, the Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester, it does offer a spacious SUV for the money. The Subaru Outback's redesign brings a quieter cabin and more rear seat and seat cargo space. It received a Very Good road test score of 79. The Nissan Cube received a Good road test score of 64 and is a space-efficient runabout, but overall it's not up to par with the similar Scion xB and Kia Soul boxy wagons. The Volkswagen Routan is essentially a rebadged Chrysler minivan with some modifications and received a Good road test score of 65.
Prices ranged from $36,215 for the Routan to $16,790 for the Cube. Above average reliability is predicted for the Prius and Outback. Both the Equinox and Cube are too new to have reliability data for CR to recommend them. Although the Routan is also too new to have reliability data, the Chrysler Town & Country, on which it is based, had below average reliability and CR expects the Routan to be the same. CR only recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR's Annual Car Reliability Survey of its more than seven million print and web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.
Full tests and ratings of the vehicles appear in the November issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale October 6. The reports are also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org. Updated daily, ConsumerReports.org is the go-to site for the latest auto reviews, product news, blogs on breaking news and car buying information.
Handling on the Prius is sound, but unexceptional and the ride is well controlled overall. The Toyota Prius IV ($26,750 Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price as tested) is powered by a 134-hp, 1.8- liter 4-cylinder engine and separate electric motor that provides adequate acceleration, but works hard while merging on the highway or climbing hills and gets 44 mpg overall in CR's own fuel economy tests. The continuously variable transmission is very smooth. Braking is Very Good. The interior is well assembled and most panels fit together well. Cargo space beneath the rear hatch is reasonably good, and the 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold down to extend it farther.
The redesigned Outback has a steady ride and a commendable fuel economy for an all-wheel drive wagon. The Outback's handling is good in routine driving but gets clumsy when pushed to the limits. The Subaru Outback 2.5 Limited ($30,099 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 170-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine whose acceleration is just adequate and gets a very good 24 mpg overall. The continuously variable transmission works well when driving leisurely but tends to cling to the higher-rev ranges, where the engine is noisy, when merging or climbing hills. Braking is Very Good. The interior is nicely finished and mostly well assembled. With the 60/40-split rear seatbacks folded, cargo space is fairly generous.
Consumer Reports tested both the 4-cylinder and V6 versions of the Equinox. The ride is supple and controlled, and handling is responsive and secure. The Chevrolet Equinox 2LT ($31,780 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 264-hp, 3.0-liter V6 engine operates smoothly and gets 18 mpg overall. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly enough but reacts slowly to throttle inputs, making it feel sluggish at times. Braking is Very Good. The interior is much improved, with nice details and good materials. The good-sized cargo bay can be enlarged by folding down the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.
The Nissan Cube is a funky-looking small wagon similar in theme and price to the Scion xB and the Kia Soul. Its virtues include a low price, good fuel economy, and exceptional practicality. But with lackluster handling and acceleration, the Cube trails the xB and Soul overall in CR's ratings. The Nissan Cube 1.8S ($16,790 MSRP as tested) is powered by 122-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that provides adequate acceleration and a very good 28 mpg overall. The continuously variable transmission works well and is smooth. Braking is Good. The decor is basic and austere except for whimsical details such as the concentric contoured headliner and bungee cords on the doors. Cargo space is ample with the rear seat-backs folded, but the seat doesn't fold completely flat with the floor, which robs cargo space. The hatch is hinged on the left, and you need a reasonable amount of space behind the vehicle to swing it open.
The Routan is not a German import but a rebadged Chrysler Town & Country with a few tweaks. The ride is pleasant and the cabin is quiet, but handling is clumsy and the engines lack refinement. The Volkswagen Routan SEL ($36,215 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 251-hp, 4.0-liter V6 engine that delivers better-than-average performance but racked up just 16 mpg overall. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is Good. Aside from the nicely-finished soft-touch upper dash, the interior looks and feels cheap, from the large gaps around the shifter to the wobbly center-console compartment. Folding the powered third row and removing the heavy second-row seats opens up a cavernous cargo hold.