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Of the more than 300 vehicles we've recently tested, our Top Picks are the best all-around choices in their categories. This year's list includes two new models: The Toyota Highlander is our new pick for midsized SUVs, unseating the Hyundai Santa Fe. And thanks to improved reliability, the Chevrolet Avalanche replaced the Chevrolet Silverado as our choice for pickups. See full ratings, reliability and data on all Top Picks in our model overviews.
How We Choose
Top Picks must meet our criteria in three areas:
Road tests: Vehicles must rank at or near the top of their categories in our overall road-test score, which includes more than 50 individual tests and evaluations.
Reliability: Each must have an average or better predicted-reliability rating, which is based on the problems Consumer Reports subscribers reported for more than 1.4 million vehicles in our latest Annual Auto Survey.
Safety: Top Picks must perform adequately in overall safety, if tested by the government or the insurance industry. (For some models, we do not have enough crash-test data to assign an overall safety rating.) In addition, each must offer electronic stability control (ESC), a proven lifesaving safety feature, as standard equipment or as a readily available option.
See our video guide on how Consumer Reports tests cars.
This full-sized crew cab is one of the most versatile and comfortable pickups we've tested. Its unified bed and cab helps give it a solid feel and a comfortable, quiet ride. Its innovative partition, between the cab and the bed, can be folded to allow longer cargo to extend into the back of the cab. A lockable, waterproof, three-piece bed cover protects cargo from the elements and prying eyes. If you need a tough work truck with a larger bed, consider the Ford F-150, which was considerably improved for 2009. Price: $36,000 to $47,000.
Fun to drive
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Miata is a true sports car at a reasonable price. With quick, precise steering, a crisp-shifting manual transmission, and balanced handling, it virtually tied the Porsche Boxster in our test scoring, but it costs about half the price. This roadster is available with a power-operated hard top or a manual top that can be raised and lowered from the driver's seat using one hand. Price: $22,000 to $29,000.
Thanks to a more powerful four-cylinder engine and other upgrades for 2009, the RAV4 narrowly outscored the Subaru Forester to remain our Top Pick for the third straight year. It provides agile handling, a roomy and quiet interior, a comfortable ride, and an optional third-row seat. The four-cylinder version gets the best fuel economy of any automatic, nonhybrid SUV we've tested. And the spirited V6 version accelerates as quickly as a Mazda Miata, while getting only 1 mpg less than the four-cylinder. ESC and curtain air bags are standard. Price: $23,000 to $30,000.
Hyundai Elantra SE
The Elantra SE is a comfortable, roomy small car that provides good fuel economy, a quiet and nicely finished interior, and plenty of features for the money. Only the SE version comes with standard electronic stability control, which is absent on many other small cars. The Honda Civic is more fun to drive, but ESC is available only on high-end versions. Price: $18,695.