The top ten cars of 2015 (and 7 tips to help you buy one)

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Anyone who is in the market for a car, should be sure to check out Consumer Report’s 2015 Annual Auto Issue. Even if your car purchase is a few years down the road, you can benefit from starting your research now. As CR auto editor Jon Linkov notes, you can’t start shopping until you know what you want.

The issue covers everything from the top 10 to the best and worst among used and new cars, and even a flow chart to help you decide if you should buy now or wait. You’ll also find helpful information on safety features, infotainment and green cars.

Linkov recently drove through town (with a top 10 ranked Tesla Model S in tow) and offered some insight on what’s happening in the world of cars.

This year’s top 10 list included a few surprises — for the first time in more than a decade, three of the top picks are American made (Tesla Model S, Buick Regal and Chevy Impala). Three more of the top 10 cars come from the same manufacturer — the Subaru Legacy, Forester and Impreza. Rounding out the top 10 are the Toyota Prius, Audi A6, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Highlander.

Subaru isn’t huge in Atlanta, says Linkov, but they are reliable cars with good fuel economy and comfort. The Outback and Legacy handle well, he says, while the Forester is a great option for price sensitive consumers. At $24,000, it ranks as one of CR’s best new small SUV’s for under $25,000.  If you’re looking for a car with all wheel drive, this is a brand to consider. They are a quirky car company, says Linkov, but they haven’t lost what makes them a good consumer vehicle.

If you want to buy American, you have better options than in previous years as General Motors makes a strong comeback with making quality cars.

“It shows GM can build solid products when they are not running it through accounting to finalize it,” Linkov says. Detroit has learned the importance of shifting from a Detroit-centric approach to car making to a more worldly view and the results of that change in thinking are showing. They are doing much better than Ford, which has reliability issues, he says and Chrysler, which offers a mixed bag of mostly bad products.

While the $90,000 price tag of the bespoke Tesla brand puts it out of reach for many consumers, Linkov says the Model S is tops in technology and is an electric car which doesn’t have to compromise your lifestyle. “These are toys for people with money, but it is a functional toy. You can live with this vehicle every day,” he says. The massive battery got 180 – 225 miles per charge in CR tests, a much better outcome than most electric vehicles that only get about 70 miles. While lower priced Tesla models are on the horizon (about $30,000 – 45, 000 lower) they aren’t likely to offer the same range, Linkov says and it will be interesting to see how consumers will respond.

The Toyota Prius is still representing for green cars even as sales of hybrids have stalled in this time of lower gas prices. Priced at $29,230, it doesn’t make the cheap car lists, but Linkov says now may actually be a good time to invest in a green car. “When gas prices are high, you pay the difference between a hybrid and conventional car more quickly,” he says. When gas is $2 per gallon, it can take five or six years instead of two years to pay the difference, but you also see more incentives to buy hybrids. Manufacturers are still making hybrids and dealers need to move them, so buyers have negotiating power. Add to that the $7,500 federal tax credit (good for buying or leasing) and this could make a could choice for some drivers.

Once you’ve gotten up to speed on what’s happening, you can start shopping. Here are Linkov’s tips for a successful buying experience:

  • Know what you are really looking for in a car
  • Don’t wait until you desperately need a car to start shopping for one
  • Don’t be afraid to conduct the entire process online. You can do your advance research, get prices, negotiate with dealers, etc., all via email, website or by phone. Sometimes you may just want to go in, which is fine — but it may not have a huge (positive) impact on the sale. Conducting your search online can also makes it easier to solicit multiple offers and pit dealers against each other.
  • Set up your financing in advance and be sure you know your credit score. Sometimes dealers may give you better rates than banks, but the terms will be dictated by your credit worthiness.
  • Avoid buying an extended warranty. If you are buying a reliable car (and CR will help you do this), you do not need to buy an extended warranty. You can always decide to buy one later.
  • Time your purchase right. If a car has just had a redesign, wait until the second or third year to buy or buy the last model year before the redesign. This will help you avoid any issues that come up with newly designed cars.
  • Skip all the add-ons that dealers try to push at you. Undercoating, VIN etching, Simonizing  is all pretty much unnecessary. Just wax your car every month and it should be fine.

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