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Originally published February 25, 2014 at 7:11 PM | Page modified February 26, 2014 at 9:50 AM

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Tesla Model S first U.S. car to win ‘best overall’ ranking

Tesla’s battery-powered Model S beat the Audi A6, Toyota Prius and BMW 328i in Consumer Reports’ annual ranking, becoming the first U.S. car to receive a “best overall” pick from Consumer Reports.

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Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors has earned the ardor of investors and the highest U.S. safety ratings. It can also add the honor of having the best-reviewed car of the year by automobile testers at Consumer Reports.

Tesla’s battery-powered Model S beat the Audi A6, Toyota Prius and BMW 328i in Consumer Reports’ annual ranking, becoming the first U.S. car to receive a “best overall” pick, the independent product-testing magazine said Tuesday. The reviewers singled out the Model S for its “blistering acceleration, razor-sharp handling, compliant ride and versatile cabin.”

“It’s truly a groundbreaking car,” said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of auto testing who oversaw this year’s review of 260 vehicles. “You get into it, and it really stands out. It’s the very best car I’ve ever driven.”

The top model ranking for the youngest U.S. automaker may further the profile of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla, which has said Model S deliveries should increase about 56 percent to 35,000 cars this year. Tesla could almost double its share of the global car market to 1 percent if it succeeds in lowering battery costs, said Adam Jonas, a Morgan Stanley analyst.

“If it can be a leader in commercializing battery packs, investors may never look at Tesla the same way again,” Jonas, who rates the shares overweight, wrote in a note to clients. “If Tesla can become the world’s low-cost producer in energy storage, we see significant optionality for Tesla to disrupt adjacent industries.”

Tesla rose 14 percent to close at $248. The shares more than quadrupled last year, making it the second-best performer in the Russell 1000 index. Another Musk company, SolarCity, was the No. 1 stock in that index.

Tesla exceeded $30 billion in market value Tuesday as Morgan Stanley more than doubled its price target. Tesla’s stock value is now more than half that of General Motors at $57.4 billion and Ford at $59.8 billion. Toyota, a Tesla shareholder, is more than $200 billion.

Consumer Reports tests and evaluates cars for how well they drive, interior-finish quality, safety and reliability. The model rankings influence car buyers and are published in the Yonkers, N.Y.-based magazine’s annual auto issue.

Volkswagen’s Audi A6 was the Consumer Reports choice for best luxury sedan, while BMW’s 328i was named the top sports sedan. The Ram 1500 was selected as the best pickup, the first time a Chrysler vehicle has led one of the magazine’s 10 “top pick” categories since the 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, Consumer Reports said.

Japanese cars had earned 70 percent of the magazine’s best-car spots since 1997. This year, that was down to half. The Toyota Prius, a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, was named best “green car” for the 11th consecutive year.

As recently as a few years ago, a handful of Japanese brands swept the magazine’s best-picks list, Rik Paul, automotive editor for Consumer Reports, said in an interview. That’s no longer the case, he said. Brands like Nissan and Honda haven’t been as consistent, while their competition has gotten better, he said.

“Gone are the days when you could say buy a Japanese model, and it will be reliable,” Paul said.

The magazine also ranked car brands by total quality based on their vehicles’ performance in road tests and reliability data from an annual survey of subscribers.

Luxury brands generally scored the best. Toyota’s Lexus received 79 points out of 100, followed by Honda’s Acura with 75 and Audi with 74.

General Motors’ Cadillac, with a score of 54, fared worse than any luxury brand. It lost ground mainly because of problems with the CUE infotainment systems in its XTS sedan, the magazine said. It scored worse than GM’s other brands, including Buick (63 points), GMC (63) and Chevrolet (56).

Ford tied for last with Jeep of the 23 ranked brands with an overall score of 50. The brand’s reliability was deemed below average, brought down by the magazine’s assessment of the MyFord Touch infotainment system and the automatic transmissions in the Focus and Fiesta sedans.

Some Detroit-brand vehicles, such as Ford’s Fusion, drive as well and have interiors as fine as European luxury sedans, only to be marred by touch-screen dashboard controls that are difficult to use and balky, Fisher said.

Infotainment systems made by BlackBerry’s QNX were generally easier to use and more reliable, Fisher said. Ford is preparing to switch from Microsoft’s Windows to QNX, according to reports earlier this week.

Chrysler’s Jeep brand was dragged down by poor road testing of its Wrangler, dated Compass and Patriot models and new Cherokees that haven’t performed well, Consumer Reports said.

GM, Ford and Chrysler will probably move up in future Consumer Reports rankings, Fisher said at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Models redesigned following GM’s bankruptcy have tested well, including the Chevrolet Impala.

When reliability data for the new models is available, GM may be among the highest-ranking brands. If Ford fixes the software flaws with its infotainment systems, its ranking will rise, Fisher said.

“They’re going the right way,” Fisher said. “The future looks very, very good for the domestics.”

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