The good folks over at Consumer Reports are the ultimate rationalists when it comes to testing and buying cars.

They don't use media-fleet cars, but buy their test vehicles anonymously. Their rigorous assessments make hard-nosed fleet buyers look like flighty schoolgirls in comparison.

In the October issue, the CR gang has published its final assessments of four vehicles:

  • 2011 Chevrolet Volt (extended-range electric compact hatchback)
  • 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid (compact hybrid four-door sedan)
  • 2011 Lexus CT 200h (compact luxury hybrid hatchback)
  • 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (clean-diesel four-door compact sedan)
  • 2012 Fiat 500 (three-door minicar)

None of these four vehicles is rated as recommended by CR, but our experience with each vehicle differed from theirs in some ways. Let's break it down.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

CR says its Volt varied from a 99-mpg equivalent when running purely on grid power from the battery to no more than 29 mpg when the engine switched on and the Volt ran in range-extending mode. We registered more like 36 mpg, close to the EPA rating of 37 mpg, so we're scratching our head over how CR may have driven its Volt.

The magazine also points out that the Volt is more expensive to run than a traditional hybrid like the 2011 Toyota Prius, which averages 50 mpg, once the driver travels more than 70 miles without plugging in to recharge.

OK, that may be the case. But early plug-in buyers, especially at $39,995 for the 2012 Volt, aren't likely motivated solely by cost. They have a range of reasons to buy an electric car, and thus far most Volt owners seem to be ecstatic.

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid

Like us, CR was disappointed by the interior of the new 2012 Civic Hybrid. The magazine also criticized it for being noisy and rough-riding, and went so far as to remove the entire 2012 Civic line from its list of recommended cars.

Their testers got 40 mpg, whereas on our multi-day road test, we got much closer to the Civic Hybrid's combined EPA rating of 44 mpg. In fact, leaving the car mostly in "Econ" mode, we averaged 45.3 mpg over 400 miles of driving that included more freeway cruising than around-town stop-and-go.

CR called the Civic Hybrid's continuously variable transmission "very smooth and responsive," but didn't mention the surging and lurching we occasionally experienced from the Honda's IMA mild hybrid system.

2011 Lexus CT 200h compact hybrid hatchback, road test, June 2011

2011 Lexus CT 200h compact hybrid hatchback, road test, June 2011

2011 Lexus CT 200h

On our test drive, we ended up liking the Lexus CT 200h more than we expected. As a compact luxury hybrid hatchback, it pretty much occupies a category of one right now. Still, not only did we find it a comfortable and luxurious way to travel, but we got a genuine 40 mpg on our road test.

So did CR, though it dinged the car, saying, "nothing is special" and having an interior "more typical of a Toyota than a Lexus." We'd agree, but we didn't take it quite as seriously as their testers did.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

CR got 34 mpg overall in its Jetta TDI, which is exactly the EPA combined figure for the model. Jetta TDIs are widely known to get better fuel economy than the EPA ratings, so we're slightly surprised CR didn't do better.

As we did, CR slammed the new Jetta for a cheap interior, though crediting it with more interior room than the old model.

2012 Fiat 500C Cabrio, Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, NY

2012 Fiat 500C Cabrio, Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, NY

2012 Fiat 500

We liked the Fiat 500 just because it's new, different, and definitely stylish. It attracts attention even from jaded New York City residents, and we can only imagine what it would be like in the wide-open precincts of Texas--where, Fiat says, they're selling far more 500s than they expected.

CR says it got 33 mpg (so did we), and called it "nimble and easy to park," which it is. It criticized the "noisy cabin, flawed driving position, and jumpy ride." We were fine with the driving position, but think the other critiques rather miss the point.

Few Fiat 500 buyers are likely to substitute it for a compact sedan: It's a lifestyle car. And in that role, we thought it did fine, if you happen to want a three-door hatchback minicar with a gigantic dose of style.

So that's our comparison with Consumer Reports--but your opinions may differ from ours and theirs. As they say, your mileage may vary.

[Consumer Reports]


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