The Consumer Reports' annual auto issue finds that new cars are safer and higher quality, while used cars are more reliable.
The issue, which hits newsstands March 31, also has encouraging news on new car prices: They probably won't go up.The issue includes test results of 122 new cars and light trucks. It rates six of every 10 vehicles as "recommended" or "promising."
In used cars, a survey of about 600,000 readers found that 25 percent reported problems with 1-year-old vehicles. That's down from about 31 percent and 28 percent in the past two years.
Automakers "are getting the word that consumers want reliable cars," said David A. Champion, director of Consumers Union's auto test department.
Domestic manufacturers are quickly catching up with foreign competitors in terms of quality, Champion said.
The Oldsmobile Intrigue is one of the best new cars from General Motors Corp. "in a long time," Champion said. He also liked Ford Motor Co.'s Mercury Mystique, which he called a "poor man's BMW."
But foreign automakers continue to dominate the magazine's favorable ratings.
The top picks among new models included mainstay cars such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. But there were new foreign entries as well, including the Volkswagen Passat car and Toyota Sienna minivan.
None of the 30 used vehicles listed as "good bets" was an American brand. Of 32 used vehicles listed as "reliability risks," all but four were American brands.
The Acura Integra was the most trouble-free car of 1997, with only three problems reported per 100 cars. For domestic models, the most trouble-free was the Chrysler Concorde, which had 15 problems per 100 cars.
The issue also said vehicles are becoming safer. More vehicles have side-impact air bags, shoulder belts in the middle of the back seats and "pretensioners," which take up seat belt slack in collisions.
But there was at least one down-side to new models, the magazine said. Automakers' cost-cutting binge means there are fewer extras - such as automatic seat height adjusters - available in standard models, the magazine said.
Automakers take the issue's ratings seriously and have said "recommend" ratings can affect sales.