What most people want in a car or truck is pretty much what they look for in a good boyfriend or girlfriend -- something reliable, low-maintenance and comfortable, but still fun and able to surprise and delight them.
It's also just as hard to find. That car that looked so great in the showroom can be a disappointment down the road.
So if you're in the hunt for a good new vehicle, here is some help. These are this year's Consumer Reports Top Picks for 2013 cars and crossovers in 10 categories to meet anyone's budget, driving needs and desires. These picks, says CR, are "as close as it gets to no-brainers" in picking a new vehicle.
The Top Picks are part of CR's annual April auto issue, perhaps the most-influential annual auto report card. Details were announced today at a meeting of the Washington Automotive Press Association in Washington, D.C.
CR says that among the more than 280 vehicles it has recently tested, these Top Picks are the standouts. To be picked, the vehicle had to "rank at or near the top of its category" in overall CR road test score, must have an "average or better predicted-reliability" based on problems CR subscribers reported on 1.2 million vehicles and had to perform adequately in government or insurance industry crash tests.
The 17th annual Top Picks have new faces in seven of the 10 categories, including three Hondas, after the brand was shut out last year. And a BMW and an Audi made the list for the first time in a decade or more.
If you need a full-size pickup, however, you have to take your chances -- CR did not pick one, it says, because it has not yet been able to test the redesigned Ram and GM trucks.
Here are the picks by category,with CR's comments on the vehicle. Also included is the vehicle's CR "report card" with the overall road-test score (out of 100), the predicted-reliability (average, above average or excellent), the overall real-world fuel economy in CR's testing and the sticker price when CR bought their test car:
• Mid-size sedan: Honda Accord
"The Accord was redesigned for 2013, and Honda nailed it, sending this sedan to the top of its class. This new model is roomy, nice to drive, well equipped, and very fuel efficient. With its four-cylinder engine, the Accord squeezes out 30 mpg overall and 40 on the highway, which is as good as the tiny Honda Fit. Higher-trim models have safety features seldom found in this category. And the Accord's price is very reasonable: $23,270 to $30,860." Test score: 90. Reliability: Above average.. Overall mpg: 26-30.
• Sports car: Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ
"If you take your driving fun seriously, these almost identical twins were built for you. Co-developed by Subaru and Toyota, which builds Scion vehicles, both are exhilarating to drive, with super-sharp handling, excellent braking, and ample acceleration. Other draws: impressive gas mileage and reasonable sticker prices. Yes, they are purebred, rear-wheel-drive sports cars, with a jittery ride, noisy cabins, and small rear seats. So Camry lovers might want to cruise on by. FR-S $25,025; BRZ $27,117." Test score: 82-83. Reliability: Above average. Overall mpg: 30.
• Budget car: Hyundai Elantra
"You don't have to settle for a subcompact when looking for an under-$20,000 car. The well-rounded Elantra delivers a lot for the money, and it's one of our top-rated compact sedans. It's roomier and more refined than a typical subcompact yet gets competitive fuel economy. The Elantra also provides nimble handling; a fairly comfortable ride; a smooth, responsive powertrain; and a well-finished interior. And did we mention its affordable price? $18,445, Test score: 80. Reliability: Above average. Overall mpg: 29.
• Green car: Toyota Prius
"Sure, today's electric cars are getting the equivalent of 100 or more mpg. But no current plug-in car can match the Prius hatchback for its blend of fuel efficiency, practicality, and affordability. Its 44 overall mpg is still the best we've measured in any five-passenger, non-plug-in vehicle. And its roomy interior, comfortable ride, and hatchback versatility make it easy to live with. We also give a thumbs-up to the 41-mpg Prius V wagon, but skip the slow, noisy Prius C econobox. $26,750. Test score: 80. Reliability: Excellent. Overall mpg: 44.
• Compact car: Subaru Impreza
"Subaru's 2012 redesign breathed new life into the all-wheel-drive Impreza. Both sedan and hatchback versions are good, sensible cars, with nimble handling and a compliant, absorbent ride that rivals some luxury sedans. Fuel economy is impressive for an AWD car. And the roomy interior, spacious rear seat, simple controls, and refreshingly good visibility make it easy to live with. OK, noise isolation is so-so, but that's no deal-breaker. Sedan $21,345; hatchback $22,345. Test score: 79-82. Reliability: Excellent. Overall mpg: 26-27.
• Luxury car: Audi A6
"Redesigned for 2012, the A6 is agile, quick, and a joy to drive. It surrounds you with a sumptuous, impeccably finished cabin that's brimming with the latest high-tech features. Its potent supercharged V6 engine, super-smooth eight-speed automatic transmission, and comfortable ride add to the business-class feel. And it returns respectable gas mileage, even with all-wheel drive. Some controls are complicated, so be ready to cozy up with the owner's manual. $56,295." Test score: 93. Reliability: Average. Overall mpg: 22.
• Sports sedan: BMW 328i
"The 3 Series is legendary for its handling prowess and fun-to-drive character. With its recent redesign, it has also become roomier, more luxurious, and more fuel efficient. Ride comfort and fit and finish are impressive. And its 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers quick acceleration, while posting the best gas mileage in its class. Sure, the rear seat is snug and the start/stop system is a bit abrupt. We'll live with it." $43,195. Test score: 86. Reliability: Excellent. Overall mpg: 28.
• Mid-sized SUV: Toyota Highlander
"The Highlander is for people who want the practicality of an SUV with the refinement of a good sedan. It provides a quiet, well-finished cabin, as well as a cushy ride, sound handling, and a smooth powertrain. The Highlander has also consistently maintained above-average reliability. The V6 model delivers a competitive 18 mpg overall, and the hybrid model tops all SUVs at 27 " $38,578 to $47,255. Test score: 81-89. Reliability: Above average to excellent. Overall mpg: 18-27.
• Small SUV: Honda CR -V
"With redesigns of the Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester just arriving, the CR-V has taken over as our top small SUV. Virtues include a smooth, responsive powertrain, good fuel economy, a compliant ride, excellent braking, a roomy rear seat, and outstanding reliability. It's also one of the more competitively priced choices in the class." $26,455. Test score: 77. Reliability: Excellent. Overall mpg: 23.
• Minivan: Honda Odyssey
"Reliability of the Odyssey has improved, and it has earned our top spot among family haulers. It provides a comfortable ride and a roomy, quiet, and versatile cabin. The rear seat is generous and easy to access. The V6 engine performs well and delivers a competitive 19 mpg. And a backup camera-a great safety feature-is now standard on all models." $36,830. Test score: 83. Reliability: Average. Overall mpg: 19.
By Fred Meier