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Confuser Reports

Prius C earns top reliability rating but little respect from misleading magazine

By Jennifer Hadley 12/05/2012

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Go ahead and call me an ideologist, but when I decide to peruse the pages of a magazine niftily titled Consumer Reports, I erroneously assume that what I’ll find inside are reports from consumers.   
 
Indeed, to my ears, Consumer Reports has a nice objective ring to it and conjures up images of me finally getting the truth about products from real, live consumers, kind of like Yelp! or Amazon.com used to be before crafty business owners took to Craigslist offering to pay for favorable reviews. 
 
In spite of the fact that Consumer Reports (a nonprofit organization) generates $200 million a year and employs hundreds of people, I still expect to get unbiased reporting. Just the facts as consumers see them — that’s what I’m all about. As such, until this week, Consumer Reports felt to me like the last vestige of honest reporting from consumers.  
 
However, upon reviewing the recently released Consumer Reports’ annual reliability survey of cars, I noticed something a little peculiar. No, it wasn’t that Japanese automakers continue to make cars that are overwhelmingly dependable and, as a result, took seven of the top 10 spots for predicted reliability for 2013 models. 
 
Nor was I stunned to find Jaguar in last place, again. I admit to being pleasantly surprised that Cadillac shot up 14 places from last year, and GMC climbed a sweet 10 places on the ranking. All the same, before I could get too excited over the progress American automakers were making, Ford dashed those hopes by plunging to next-to-last place, a mere two years after it had done us proud by being in the top 10.  
 
What surprised me was the fact that the Toyota Prius C, which earned the top reliability rating overall, (meaning it scored the highest by consumers) is not a car “recommended” by Consumer Reports. Yes, that’s right. Even though consumers report loving the Prius C, that doesn’t mean that Consumer Reports will recommend it. In fact, in its own words, the organization states on its Web site, “Just because a model is reliable, doesn’t mean it is recommended by Consumer Reports.”
 
In the case of the Prius C, the video review of the car on consumerreports.org seems to demonstrate why Consumer Reports won’t recommend the car. Although it mentions virtually nothing about safety in the nearly three-minute video, instead saying that “handling is helped by small size, and steering is reasonably weighted,” it twice refers to the interior of the car looking “cheap.” The video also claims that “the steering feedback is dead, robbing the car of being fun to drive.” Other assaults on the Prius C include “lackluster” and “noisy.” Perhaps it was this lack of visible extravagance that prompted Consumer Reports to actually name the Prius C one of the “Five Popular Cars to Avoid,” in August.
 
Wait, what? Consumer Reports’ own survey (which, for the record, included 800,000 subscribers reporting on 1.2 million cars, not more than 1 million readers’ responses, as the company claims on its Web site), showed conclusively that consumers love this car! 
So what gives?  Why would a magazine that claims to be an “expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves” blatantly discourage its readers from buying a vehicle so many people clearly love?  
 
I’m really not out to get Consumer Reports. I have no personal vendetta, and “Gotcha!” tactics seriously aren’t my thing. What I am is incredibly confused by its reporting, which seems pretty bent on encouraging consumers not to buy the Prius C.   
In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t driven the Prius C. I still drive a gas-guzzling SUV circa 2005 and have no plans (read: money) to buy a new car anytime soon. But, if I were to have an extra $19K, I might just buy myself a Prius C, just to spite Consumer Reports, as it sure seems like the organization is being pretty unfair to a car that saves people loads of money on gas, produces fewer emissions and is overwhelmingly, incredibly reliable. 

Contact Jennifer Hadley at jmhadley624@yahoo.com

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