Lists of recommended automobiles are an important resource for consumers, and many auto-related information companies and organizations issue them.
Oddly enough, though, the experts making segment-by-segment recommendations seldom pick the same makes and models.
For example, the current recommendations from Consumer Reports, Edmunds.com and Kiplinger come close to having no overlap at all.
That could mean there are small differences in the criteria used. For example, Kiplinger aims to determine the cheapest car to own, but clearly is still swayed as well by style and performance.
More likely the diversity means that experts, just like consumers, have their own personal preferences. And the ratings also reflect increased parity among the products of some major automakers.
Despite the lack of agreement between recommended auto lists, this much is clear: They work for consumers, and they work for auto dealers.
Randy Bayard, general sales manager of Kerbeck Cadillac Chevrolet Buick GMC in Atlantic City, said the lists bring customers into the dealership and lead to sales. The staff tracks such lists, passes the information along to sales reps, and sometimes uses the information in advertising.
“If a vehicle has gained some kind of award or recommendation, that becomes another tremendous attribute of the automobile that’s brought up when we talk about it,” said Bayard, of Marlton.
The Chevrolet Traverse and the Chevy Sonic are driving traffic into Kerbeck these days after Consumer Reports recommended the Traverse in the family crossover segment and Edmunds.com put the Sonic first among sedans under $15,000.
“Today’s generation of buyers is much more educated, so a lot of buyers will turn to third-party sources and look at reports such as Consumer Reports,” said Robert Frankel, sales representative and technical expert at Kerbeck. “They’re prepared in advance on the vehicles.”
That means they’ve probably already read that Edmunds called the Sonic a “great subcompact” that is “refined, economical and even fun to drive,” and that Consumer Reports said the Traverse “has a spacious and quiet interior, with a third-row seat that’s roomy enough to accommodate adults” and “handling (that) is relatively agile and secure.”
Frankel, of Wildwood Crest, said both the Sonic and Traverse are selling very well.
Longtime recommendations from Consumer Reports and others have boosted sales of the Honda Accord, which is that magazine’s pick again this year for midsized family sedan.
Kraig Friedman, a service adviser at Boardwalk Honda in Egg Harbor Township, said the Accord “has been a top-rated car for more than 25 years in a row.”
Another Honda, the Fit, is the Consumer Reports choice among budget small cars, praised for its roomy interior “that is unusually versatile and flexible” and “fuel economy that is enviable.”
Such recommendations tell buyers the vehicle will be reliable and have a high resale value, Friedman said, and Boardwalk Honda — one of 170 dealers in publicly traded Group 1 Automotive — uses the information in its personal and general marketing.
“We know what goes into the list, we see the reports when they come out, and we give sales reps a heads up that this is on the list,” said Friedman, of Absecon. “In some cases, we use it for advertising, as well.”
Consumer Reports said that while the redesigned Accord “gives up some pizzazz and style to its competitors, the new Accord is roomy, nice to drive, well-equipped and very fuel efficient.”
Such praise helps sell particular vehicles and draws customers who often end up buying that vehicle but sometimes shift to something else.
“Periodically, people come in to look at a certain car and end up with a different car, but normally when people come in and it involves the Sonic or Traverse and they’ve done their homework, they see the value in those vehicles,” Bayard said.
Friedman said buyers hear of the Accord and Fit being top picks, talk about them with their friends and come in to check out the vehicles, but a lot of times will gravitate to a model better suited for them.
“People almost always say, ‘I know what we’re looking for. I know what we need.’ Well, that doesn’t necessarily turn out to be the case,” he said.
At Kindle Auto Plaza in Cape May Court House, the hot car is the Ford Fusion, which is recommended this year by both Edmunds and Kiplinger.
“The Fusion is a terrific seller … the top seller among our cars,” said Dave Sharp, general manager of Kindle.
In naming the Fusion its choice for family sedan, Kiplinger said it has “killer new style, offers generous passenger and cargo space and is great to drive.”
Edmunds said, “If Aston Martin made an affordable midsize sedan, we imagine it would look a lot like a Ford Fusion,” its recommended sedan under $25,000.
Sharp, of Mays Landing, said styling is often what gets people to try driving a car, so the Fusion’s combination of sporty car and family car make it “a huge draw for a lot of people.”
Sometimes getting on a recommended list is only the start for an automobile’s cache.
Frankel said favorable mentions of vehicles from a variety of sources can build into considerable momentum for a model.
Besides the Edmunds recommendation, the Chevy Sonic was “the only subcompact to get the (federal) 5-star crash rating,” he said, and then the car turned up on a 10-best-interiors list.
Lining up several such positives gives buyers a lot of support for choosing that vehicle.
Criticism from auto experts also makes an impression, and not just on consumers.
Automakers notice when a model falls in the rankings and take steps to correct the weaknesses pointed out, Friedman said.
“Honda does pay attention to the reports and responds as quickly as possible,” he said.
Contact Kevin Post: