Think Pieces

Michael's thoughts on the auto industry, its products, and/or this website.

Unexplained anomalies within
Consumer Reports

Looking through Consumer Reports' New Car Preview 2006, I noticed many anomalies that beg for an explanation. Unfortunately, none is offered. This month I'll discuss these unexplained differences, and how TrueDelta would handle them differently.

Specifically, I noticed many large differences between different bodystyles of the same basic car. This surprised me. Logically, different styles of the same basic car should score about the same, as they share the great majority of their parts, including powertrains. This is especially the case if both are made in the same plant.

For example, the Dodge Magnum is essentially a Chrysler 300 with a wagon body, and both are assembled in a Chrysler plant near Toronto. However, the Dodge Magnum with the much-touted Hemi V8 scored about 55 points better than the Chrysler 300 with the same engine (with 100 being average). This is a huge difference, since only 40 points separate "worse than average" from "better than average." At the same time, the V6 Magnum scored about 25 points WORSE than the V6 300.

Comparing engines rather than models, the V8 scored over 60 points worse than the V6 in the 300, but scored about 20 points better than the V6 in the Magnum.

Basically, we have an 80-point anomaly. This is huge, since only 90 points (80 in past years) separate the dreaded "much worse than average" from the much-sought "much better than average."

This is the largest and oddest anomaly, but there are others. The Ford Freestyle is essentially a Ford Five Hundred with a wagon body, but it scored significantly worse. The largest difference between the two is that every Freestyle has a continuously variable transmission (CVT), while many front-wheel-drive Five Hundreds have a conventional automatic manufactured by Toyota's transmission supplier. This could be the source of the difference. However, while the Freestyle scored about 20 points lower than the Five Hundred in front-drive form, it scored 45 points lower in all-wheel-drive form. Since every all-wheel-drive Five Hundred has the CVT, if the CVT was the reason then the difference between front-drive models should be the larger of the two.

Large differences between different bodystyles of the same vehicle are actually very common:

The Volvo S40 sedan scored about 70 points better than the V50 wagon. This is especially odd since the sedan went into production a few months earlier, and thus was much more exposed to first-year issues.

The Volvo S60 sedan scored about 15 points higher than the V70 wagon. Unless we're talking AWD versions; then the S60 scored about 10 points lower than the V70 wagon.

The Subaru Outback wagon turbo scored about 20 points worse than the Subaru Legacy sedan turbo, with suspension height and bodystyle the only significant differences between the two.

The Malibu Maxx hatch scored nearly 30 points higher than the Malibu sedan.

The Passat wagon scored about 50 points worse than the Passat sedan.

It's actually much less common for different bodystyles of the same car to score about the same. A few that do: the Audi A4, the Ford Focus (sedan and hatch; the wagon is worse), and the Mazda3.

While Consumer Reports makes a big deal out of the 25-point difference that separates a "much better than average" car from one that is merely "average," differences this large or larger appear without explanation throughout their results.

Similar anomalies will no doubt creep up in TrueDelta's research. The difference: TrueDelta will investigate unexpected differences and report what it learns.

Thanks for reading.

Michael Karesh, TrueDelta

First posted: December 6, 2005
Last updated: November 15, 2006

Website Security Test