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Behind Consumer Reports' auto ratings

General Motors employees assemble a GM crossover SUV at the automaker’s Lansing, Mich., production facility.

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General Motors employees assemble a GM crossover SUV at the automaker’s Lansing, Mich., production facility.

Yes, GM and Ford scored some notable victories in Consumer Reports' most recent ratings. • Yes, GM and Ford still failed to crack CR's top five automakers, continuing to trail even Toyota, which fell to third place due to its many recalls. • And yes, plenty of Detroiters feel aggrieved. • Get over it.

Complaining about Consumer Reports is like complaining about gravity. It's a force of nature; you either accommodate it or fall on your face. Beyond that, CR is scrupulously fair and consistent. You may disagree — it's a free country — but there's no evidence the game is rigged.

Consumer Reports consistently rates as shoppers' most-respected source of information. Its tests are thorough and exhaustive. It gets input from thousands of vehicle owners every year.

Disliking the results won't make Detroit's problem go away. Building great cars will.

Consumer Reports puts every vehicle it evaluates through 50 tests on its private proving ground. It accumulates countless miles in real-world driving.

Those tests lead to reports like CR's recent headline, "Cadillac Beats Mercedes." The Cadillac CTS beat the Acura RL, Mercedes-Benz E350, Audi A6, Lincoln MKS and Lexus HS 250h hybrid.

Still, the CTS did not earn CR's coveted "recommended" status.

This is what makes some Detroiters crazy and convinces them the deck is stacked against U.S. automakers.

The reason, CR director of testing David Champion explains, is that no vehicle gets a recommendation unless its reliability rates above the industry average in the magazine's annual reader survey. High scores from readers alone won't win you recommended status, however. A vehicle must also do well in CR's tests and earn acceptable safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Champion — a car lover who worked as an automotive engineer for nearly 20 years before taking the reins at Consumer Reports — has plenty of praise for Ford and GM.

Most of the automakers' new models score well, and CR went out of its way to praise several.

The magazine gave a "recommended" status to 75 percent of Ford's lineup and praised many individual models, including "best-value" winners the Chevrolet Traverse and Silverado. Kudos also went to the Ford Fusion and Flex; Mercury Milan; Buick Enclave and LaCrosse; Cadillac CTS; Chevrolet Corvette, Equinox, Malibu, Traverse and Silverado and Equinox; and GMC Acadia.

Nothing trumps a low reliability score from CR's readers, however. Without their approval, no car — no matter how good — gets CR's ultimate seal of approval. CR rates only vehicles on which at least 100 readers completed reliability surveys.

Behind Consumer Reports' auto ratings 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 10:50am]

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