Why SUVs are outselling sedans

SUVs are the new king of the road. In 2016, they outsold sedans for the first time, knocking that category off its long-held throne and becoming the best-selling segment in America.

Much of the credit for this ascension goes to small SUVs. Car buyers purchased more than 2 million of them last year, including the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4, according to Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports busts a few of the more persistent myths.

-- Myth: SUVs are gas hogs. Reality: Small SUVs approach the fuel economy of midsized cars. The current Toyota RAV4 manages a respectable 24 mpg overall, and the RAV4 Hybrid gets an impressive 31 mpg.

-- Myth: SUVs aren't as safe as sedans. Reality: Consumer Reports has raised concerns about SUV handling and safety since the 1980s, but today's models benefit from electronic stability control, a technology proven to prevent rollovers. Today's SUVs are also designed to do less damage to cars in a collision.

-- Myth: SUVs perform poorly. Reality: Today it's common for a small SUV to meet or even exceed the performance of a comparably priced midsized sedan. For example, the Kia Sportage slices through Consumer Reports' accident maneuver test at 52.5 mph vs. the Optima's 51.5 mph.

-- Myth: Cars are more comfortable than SUVs. Reality: Because small SUVs are basically tall-roof versions of compact cars, most have the ride comfort of cars and drive much like them. Consumer Reports' top-rated small SUV, the Subaru Forester, has a spacious interior, a supple ride and secure handling.

Features That Make a Favorite

Small SUVs combine small carlike road manners with added utility. Here are attributes that have made them the most popular type of SUV.

-- Generous Cargo Room. An SUV's tall roofline and expansive cargo opening provide more luggage space than even most large sedans. Split-folding rear seats increase flexibility.

-- Available All-wheel Drive. It helps keep a car sure-footed in snow and on slick roads. Rare on compact and midsized sedans, all-wheel drive is available on every small SUV.

-- Parking-friendly Size. Although small SUVs are often a good 6 inches to 10 inches taller than sedans, they're the length of a compact car, making them relatively easy to squeeze into tight parking spots.

-- Elevated Driving Position. Small SUVs may be compact but they ride high and give a commanding view of the road. Tall windows offer excellent front and side views, although thick roof pillars typically compromise rearview glances.

-- Increased Ground Clearance. A taller ride height than the average car makes SUVs better at coping with dirt roads and modest off-road trails, and provides room to manage daily challenges from curbs, potholes, snow and road debris.

-- Easy Cabin Access. You have to duck to enter sedans and climb up to get into old-school SUVs. But the seat height and tall roofline of small SUVs make them easy to slide in and out of, which is one reason they're a hit with seniors.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

15 healthy eating tips for weight loss

If you are determined to adopt some healthier eating strategies and lose weight, you may need some inspiration and workable ideas. Consumer Reports offers this advice.

-- Talk to an expert. Begin by having a conversation with your doctor about your weight, nutrition and fitness wishes, says Andrea Spivack, a registered dietitian (R.D.) with the Stunkard Weight Management Program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

-- Change the way you think about weight loss. Instead of thinking of yourself as someone who is dieting, consider yourself a "weight manager," Spivack advises.

-- Set reasonable weight-loss targets. Gradual, steady weight loss of one to two pounds a week is associated with more success at maintaining that loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

-- Make changes gradually. Try adding just a couple of healthier habits to your life, such as resolving to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal.

-- Understand how to put together a healthy plate of food. Try to make your plates 50 percent produce, 25 percent whole-grains such as brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, and 25 percent lean protein such as grilled chicken or fish.

-- Plan ahead. Try tracking your food intake before meals because the simple act of considering what you will eat can help you make better choices.

-- Be ready for challenges. Use a month-at-a-glance calendar to denote social events for the month ahead. Strive to stay on track the rest of the time.

-- Cook more at home so you know precisely what you're eating, says Maxine Siegel, a registered dietitian and manager of food testing at Consumer Reports. Home-cooked meals may help because they're usually lower in calories, fat and sodium.

-- Choose less processed foods when you can. "Cut down on packaged foods with lots of ingredients," says Siegel.

-- Adopt some simple tricks to help you control cravings. For example, keep a bowl of fruit on your desk or countertop, so when hunger strikes, you can grab a piece instead of something less nutritious.

-- Be on the lookout for added sugars. Scan ingredients lists for the names of products you may not think of as sugars, such as agave, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, fructose and malt syrup.

-- Remind yourself to eat more slowly, says Siegel. Try putting your fork down between each bite; this gives your brain more time to receive the message that you're full -- before you spring for second helpings.

-- Shorten your eating hours. If you love a late-night snack, bear in mind that keeping your nibbling to a smaller chunk of the day could aid weight loss.

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-- Weigh yourself daily. Consumer Reports notes that the most current studies suggest a daily weigh-in, because it can motivate you to make changes in your diet or level of physical activity. Morning is best.

-- Be kind to yourself. You're seeking improvement, not perfection.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

How to avoid buying a lemon car

Finding a trouble-free used car has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with applying good research and investigative skills.

To help you determine whether a used vehicle is a good value or potential trouble, here's some advice from Consumer Reports:

-- Check the reliability record. A good way to reduce the risk of purchasing a trouble-prone vehicle is to select models with a good reliability record before you begin shopping. Consumer Reports' annual subscriber survey provides exclusive real-world reliability information that can help you narrow your selections.

-- Read the window sticker. Usually attached to a window, the buyer's guide must contain certain information, including whether the vehicle is being sold "as is" or with a warranty, and what percentage of repair costs (if any) the dealer is obligated to pay. The buyer's guide information overrides any contrary provisions in your sales contract.

-- Check the exterior. Begin by doing a walk-around of the car, looking for dents, chipped paint, mismatched body panels or parts, broken lamp housings and chipped windows. Paint overspray on chrome or rubber trim or in the vehicle's wheel wells is a telltale sign of body-panel repair.

-- Check the interior. A long look into the cabin can reveal such obvious problems as a sagging headliner, cracked dashboard and missing knobs, handles and buttons. Frayed seat belts or ones with melted fibers (because of friction) may be evidence of a previous frontal impact above 15 mph -- damaged safety belts should always be replaced. Prematurely worn pedals or a sagging driver's seat are signs that the vehicle has very high mileage.

-- Check under the hood. At first glance, the engine, radiator and battery should be relatively grease-free and have very little or no corrosion. Belts and hoses should be pliable and unworn. Look for wet spots, which can indicate leaking oil or fluids. Melted wires, tubes or lines, or a blackened firewall may be signs of overheating or even an engine fire.

-- Check the tires. Wear should be even across the width of the tread and the same on the left and right sides of the car. Tires that are frequently used while over-inflated tend to have more wear in the middle; tires driven while under-inflated tend to wear more on the sides. Heavy wear on the outside shoulder near the sidewall of the tire indicates a car that has been driven hard. This can be a sign that other parts of the car may suffer from excessive wear due to aggressive driving.

-- Check the vehicle's history. A vehicle-history report from CarFax or Experian Automotive can alert you to possible odometer fraud; reveal past fire, flood and accident damage; or tell you if a rebuilt or salvage title has ever been issued for the vehicle.

-- Visit a mechanic. Before you buy a used vehicle, Consumer Reports recommends having it inspected by a qualified mechanic who routinely does automotive diagnostic work. A thorough diagnosis should cost around $120.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

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