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Top picks in 2011 Consumer Reports car issue: Ford, Kia, and Used

The 2011 Consumer Reports car issue recommends new models by familiar brands, including Toyota and Honda. And for value-conscious buyers, it offers this time-tested advice: Buy Used.

By Staff writer / February 28, 2011

In this Jan. 12 photo, a 2011 Honda Civic Hybrid is shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Paul Sancya/AP

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Consumer Reports released its closely watched annual ratings of automobiles Monday, putting the Ford Mustang and Kia Sorento newly on its "top picks" pedestals, and enshrining the Honda Fit as a new value-mobile.

Toyota came out as another winner in the rankings, with positive publicity for its Sienna minivan and Rav4 sport-utility vehicle after a rocky period of headlines about product recalls.

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Perhaps the biggest winner, though, isn't a 2011 vehicle at all.

It's the idea of buying a used car. Although that's a perennial option for budget-conscious consumers, the ranks of the thrifty have grown as a deep recession has been followed by a lackluster economic recovery.

"With the average new car losing 47 percent of its value in the first three years of ownership, buying a used car can be the best way for consumers to get the most vehicle for their money," Consumer Reports said in materials released to reporters Monday. The magazine's April issue, with the annual car-buying guide, is scheduled to be available on newsstands March 8.

Here's a look at winners and losers in the Consumer Reports analysis:

Winner: buying used

The magazine points to a number of 2008 models that are relatively trouble-free. In all, roughly, three-quarters of the three-year-old vehicles in its survey were problem-free, as were two-thirds of the five-year-old vehicles.

To some extent, the recession has already prompted consumers to shift toward used cars. One sign: Prices of previously owned vehicles have risen about 4 percent, on average, in the past three years (which includes the recession and its aftermath), compared with about 1.5 percent for vehicles bought new at a dealership, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Winner: Ford

The Ford Mustang ranks among 10 "top picks" for 2011 models, displacing the Volkswagen GTI as top sporty car. The Mustang ($28,880 to $43,880) "delivers scorching acceleration, a great exhaust sound, and good fuel economy for the class," Consumer Reports says.

In addition to scoring this victory, the magazine singles Ford out among US carmarkers for its new-car reliability rankings.

Winner: Hyundai

The South Korean carmaker has been gaining US market share in recent years, and in the 2011 rankings its Kia Sorento ($26,590 to $32,390) became the "top pick" in the family SUV category. Last year's title in that group went to GM's Chevrolet Traverse. The Hyundai Elantra ($18,445) retained its slot as top pick in the small car category.

Seven Hyundai or Kia models gain additional applause from Consumer Reports as "best value" vehicles, a list of cars with a premium blend of affordability and reliability. For comparison, Toyota has the lead among all carmakers with 11 best-value rankings.

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