TIME FindTheBest

We Crunched the Numbers to See Which Country Makes the Best Cars

Poll a random sampling of drivers on car preference, and you’ll likely get a mix of responses like the following:

“I’ll never drive an American car again.”
“I don’t trust any automobile made outside of Japan.”
“Once I drove German, I never went back.”

If there’s one thing we humans do well, it’s swearing off entire product categories on the basis of one or two experiences. And why not? That’s every consumer’s privilege.

At FindTheBest, however, we were curious to see what the data would say. Which car stereotypes are backed up by the facts, and which aren’t? We started with 2014 models, compiling information on over 1,500 cars across 36 different manufacturers. We then calculated the average spec, rating or score for each of 10 key data points, with an overall focus on performance, safety, fuel efficiency and size.

Here’s what we found:

Performance

Horsepower

Thanks to a host of high-powered McLarens, Bentleys and Aston Martins, the Brits win round one rather handsomely. Even the mid-powered Land Rover can’t get Britain down. The most surprising loser here is probably Italy, whose Ferrari-Lamborghini-Maserati trifecta can do little to counterbalance the sputtering Fiat line, which drags down the Italian average significantly.

Acceleration (0-60)

Italy earns the acceleration crown with its 3.9-second 0-60 average, though its win here comes with a Barry Bonds-sized asterisk: slowpoke Fiat does not report 0-60 figures, while Britain’s slowest brand—Land Rover—does. So what if we took out Land Rover as well? Italy still wins, but only by eight-tenths of a second.

Top Speed

Once again, we see a strong Italian victory, inflated by the fact that Fiat didn’t bother to report top speeds (and in fairness, why should they?). Meanwhile, all those lumbering American trucks keep the U.S. far out of contention.

Towing Capacity

Here, America’s trucks rumble back, towing the USA into second overall. But Britain’s pesky Land Rovers roll in yet again, strong enough to stave off a slew of Fords, Rams and Chevys in a battle of the tow-friendly automobiles.

Note that we only considered towing-equipped vehicles for this category (sorry, Aston Martin), which helps explain Britain’s surprising win. It’s also worth mentioning that American cars easily dominate in sheer volume. In fact, 188 of the top 200 autos in this category were made in the U.S.

Safety

NHTSA Overall Safety Rating

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) runs automobiles through a variety of rigorous tests, including frontal crash, side crash and rollover, assigning a score from 1 (high chance of passenger injury) to 5 (low chance of passenger injury). They then provide an overall score out of 5.

Sweden wins here on the strength of Volvo’s safe, sturdy line-up. Meanwhile, the Italians place last—the plight of the small and speedy.

Fuel Efficiency

Gas Mileage (combined)

With gas mileage, the efficient Japanese score their first win, narrowly edging out their Korean neighbors. Our calculation was based on the EPA’s combined MPG figure, which assumes 55% city driving and 45% highway driving. Korea actually does a bit better than Japan if you focus exclusively on highway MPG.

(We left out Italy because we didn’t have a big enough sample size of reliable gas mileage figures.)

Size

Seating Capacity

The average Swedish car has nearly six seats, big enough to beat out the rest of the world in size. That said, if you want a giant car, you might as well still shop American, as 33 of 2014’s 50 largest cars were made in the U.S.

Overall Weight

Forget about seating capacity. What about raw weight? The standard measurement in the industry is “curb weight”—it includes any necessary components for operating the car (i.e. fuel), though it does not include any passengers or cargo.

America finally snags an outright win, barreling past Germany and Sweden on its way to heaviest in the world.* The Italians might be nimble, but fittingly, the U.S. remains the champion of girth.

* Though, naturally, this depends on whether you believe a bigger car is better.

Price

MSRP

Thanks largely to a couple of insanely priced autos (we’re looking at you, Lamborghini Veneno and Ferrari LaFerrari), Italy’s average cost per car is over three times that of its closest competitor (Britain). (For numbers geeks, Italy wins easily on median MSRP as well, with a $192,000 price tag next to Britain’s $93,000.)

Ratings

Smart Rating

Finally, we calculated a Smart Rating, which combines expert awards (73%), safety (18%), and value over time (9%) for every car on the list. Experts included North American Car of the Year, Popular Mechanics, The Car Connection, Motor Trend, Cars.com, Automobile Magazine, Car and Driver, and About.com Best New Cars.

The big winner? Sweden. The Swedes ride Volvo’s solid, consistent line-up past a multi-tiered assault of luxury cars from Britain and classic favorites from Germany. Meanwhile, America fares poorly, though it avoids a last-place fate. In the end, it’s Italy that ends up with the lowest score of all, confirming that raw performance can’t always beat a well-rounded package.

Not convinced? No problem. You already knew you liked Japanese cars, and who are we to say otherwise? Besides, we hear they “drive better than anything else on the road.”

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

MONEY Ask the Expert

How to Know When Your Car is Really a Lemon

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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q. My new car has been in the shop for a month. Will a “lemon law” be of help? — Mark Wisner, Morrisville, N.C.

A. Assuming your car is deemed a lemon, you’re entitled to—your choice—either a replacement car or a purchase price refund (see below). The definition of “lemon” varies by state; in your home of North Carolina, a car qualifies if it has been out of service for a total of 20 business days over 12 months or has been ­repaired for the same problem at least four times. The car must have fewer than 24,000 miles on it and be less than 24 months old.

Before submitting a claim, notify the manufacturer in writing of the problem (via certified mail) and give the company a reasonable chance to fix it, says Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. Check your state attorney general’s office for details, and carefully document your complaints and attempted repairs.

LEMON LAW

TIME Automakers

Chrysler Recalls Up to 800,000 Jeeps Over Ignition-Switch Problems

A 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolls down the assembly line Wedn
A 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolls down the assembly line Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2004, at Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, Michigan. John F. Martin—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Older Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Commanders may have a faulty ignition switch

Around 800,000 older Chrysler Jeeps could be affected by a recall due to a problem with the ignition switch, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

The company said it is aware of one reported accident associated with the defect, but no injuries.

The recall will affect a still-undetermined number of model year 2006-2007 Jeep Commanders and 2005-2007 Jeep Grand Cherokees. In vehicles affected by the problem, contact with a driver’s knee or other outside force can move the ignition switch from on to off, causing the engine to stall and cutting power brakes and power steering.

The company said its investigation is ongoing but that around 792,000 vehicles could have faulty switches, including 659,900 in the U.S. and others in Mexico, Canada, and elsewhere. Newer models have been redesigned are unaffected, the company said.

Chrysler’s recalls come as rival automaker General Motors has recalled nearly 28 million automobiles worldwide for similar ignition switch issues. The GM problems have been linked to at least 13 deaths, and the company has faced federal investigation over its handling of the situation.

Chrysler also announced that 21,000 vehicles, including certain 2014 Ram pickups, 2015 Jeep Cherokees and 2015 Chrysler 200 sedans, will be recalled for inspection and, if necessary, have their shocks and struts replaced.

TIME energy

New Poll Shows Americans Won’t Give Up Their Cars

Stuck in Traffic
Cars stuck in traffic. Maureen Sullivan—Getty Images

Our car-crazy culture lags behind global competitors in using public transportation

Gas prices are high, roads are clogged and driving alone is worse for the planet. But Americans still prefer to commute in their air-conditioned cocoons.

A new global survey conducted for TIME on attitudes toward energy reveals that Americans are more reluctant than international counterparts to ditch their cars for public transportation.

Only 16% of Americans prefer using public transportation to get to work, compared with 41% of respondents overall in the poll, which compared U.S. attitudes toward energy and conservation with those in Brazil, Germany, India, South Korea and Turkey. Just 8% of U.S. respondents said they always take public transit instead of a personal vehicle, sharply below the overall total of 27%.

Americans’ reluctance to ditch their cars may be a symptom of their overall disinclination to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. One in three U.S. respondents said they were willing to change their behavior in their name of conservation, 10 percentage points below the overall average and ahead of only South Korea.

Or it may stem from our long-running love affair with the automobile. A full 79% of respondents from the U.S. said they rely on their car for transportation, about double the overall average of 39%. (Germans were the second biggest gearheads, with 47% relying on cars to get around.) Just 9% of Americans said they lean most heavily on trains, metro systems or public buses.

The survey was conducted among 3,505 online respondents equally divided between the U.S., Brazil, Germany, Turkey, India and South Korea. Polling was conducted from May 10 to May 22. The overall margin of error overall in the survey is 1.8%.

TIME Environment

Finland’s Capital Plans on Making Private-Car Ownership Obsolete in 10 Years

HKL company's trams from line 9, 10 and
HKL company's trams from line 9, 10 and 6 pass on the main street Mannerheimintie on Jan. 20, 2010, in Helsinki's city center. Olivier Morin—AFP/Getty Images

Are you paying attention, rest of world?

Finland’s capital, Helsinki, plans on revamping its entire transportation system by linking together several modes of shared transportation to potentially render private cars obsolete by 2025.

It might sound like a far-fetched project, but Sonja Heikkilä, a transportation engineer whose master thesis inspired the new model, says that young adults nowadays are more concerned about affordable and convenient commutes. “A car is no longer a status symbol for young people,” Heikkilä told the Helsinki Times.

Under the new system, city dwellers would be able to plan their journeys and pay fares ahead of time via their smartphones, which would aggregate several transportation options — like ferries, buses, trains, carpools, shared bikes and taxis — into one app, and come up with the most efficient route.

A report in the Guardian said the service would be like “popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle hire service and a taxi app such as Hailo or Uber, with only one payment required.”

The new system will be piloted this year in Helsinki’s Vallila neighborhood.

This isn’t the first time that the Finns have taken steps to create environmentally conscious transportation. Last year, the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority rolled out Kutsuplus, an on-demand minibus system, which aggregates the destinations of everyone sharing the vehicle into the most efficient route, again using smartphones. The service works out to be more expensive than a regular bus but cheaper than a taxi.

The greatest challenge facing the new plan is making it accessible to all, given that it requires everyone to use a smartphone and be willing to pay higher prices than what they pay for current public transportation. Heikkilä also admits that it might be difficult for the older generation to give up their cars. “Change comes gradually,” she says.

MONEY Autos

What Booming Luxury Car Sales Really Say About the Economy

Rolls-Royce sales are up 33%, and luxury brands like Audi and BMW are having a huge year thus far in 2014 too. Does this mean boom times for the economy are here at last?

+ READ ARTICLE

Not so fast. While Rolls-Royce sales have taken off—up 60% in Europe and 33% overall for the first half of 2014, according to the BBC—the total number of vehicles sold remains tiny: 1,968 worldwide from January through June, compared with 1,475 during the same period a year ago.

If anything, rising sales of its $263,000 (and up) models indicate high times for the ultra-elite, whose numbers are increasing. An Associated Press story on the subject pointed out that there are 219 more billionaires than there were a year ago on the planet. So the 1%, or more accurately the .01%, are doing pretty good lately, as opposed to the times when, you know, they “struggled.” Bentley sales have been exceptionally strong as well, but again, that’s probably only an indication that a small portion of the elite feel good enough to splurge a bit more than usual.

What about the rest of the luxury car market’s rise? Doesn’t the fact that luxury auto sales were up 11% overall through early 2014 show that consumer confidence among the reasonably well off is soaring? And isn’t that an indicator that the economy is revving up and kicking into a higher gear?

Again, not necessarily. A major reason luxury auto sales are up is that the luxury brands like Mercedes and Audi have been pushing the boundaries of “luxury” with low-priced models that start in the Honda-Toyota $30,000 vicinity, with the CLA line and the A3, respectively.

Audi sales in the U.S. leaped 23% in June, boosted in a big way by the brand’s ability to attract younger, less affluent buyers with the A3. The vehicle’s sticker price starts at just under $30,000, and Edmunds.com data shows that the average transaction price is around $35,000. Audi executives told Edmunds that the typical A3 buyer is a “move-up customer,” or a first-time Audi owner who used to drive a non-luxury brand like Toyota, Honda, or Ford.

Essentially, it’s the same demographic sought by Mercedes with its CLA, which also starts a smidge under $30,000, but is typically filled with extras and sells for around $39,000. A Bloomberg News article credited the Audi A3′s cheaper prices (averaging $32,530 in June), as well as a sportier look and feel, as reasons why it was gaining ground on Mercedes in the increasingly important affordable luxury category.

In any event, what this all means is that today’s luxury car buyers are different than the luxury car buyers of yore. They’re younger and less wealthy, and they’re spending less than their grandparents did to buy a Mercedes, BMW, or Audi. What’s more, they’re probably not even buying the luxury rides they’re driving outright. The Wall Street Journal reported that the percentage of cars being leased hit a new high earlier this year, representing 28% of all new car “purchases,” and a far higher portion (more than half) of all luxury car purchases are leases. So while aspirational consumers feel in a good enough financial situation to justify a new (affordable) luxury car, they’re not confident enough to actually buy such a car. These consumers are “still spooked about taking on large amounts of debt,” according to Bloomberg Industries analyst Kevin Tynan.

There is one anomaly in the luxury auto market that needs to be mentioned. Cadillac is the only only luxury brand with a decrease in sales thus far in 2014. The colossal failure of the $75,000 Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid certainly didn’t help the brand’s prospects. More importantly, sales of the once hot Cadillac ATS, its sporty affordable luxury contender, have fallen 22% this year.

The ATS has struggled, Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell told Motley Fool, partly because luxury buyers “want the latest thing,” and the model, introduced in 2012, now seems old compared to newer models from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. It’s also noteworthy that the ATS has a sticker price starting about $3,000 higher than the Mercedes CLA and Audi A3.

TIME auto industry

GM Recalls Another 7.6 Million Vehicles

Six recalls announced on Monday greatly expand total number of recalled vehicles to over 25 million

+ READ ARTICLE

GM announced Monday that there will be six more safety recalls involving 7.6 million vehicles made from 1997 to 2014.

Among the recalled vehicles, GM said it is aware of seven crashes, eight injuries and three fatalities. “We undertook what I believe is the most comprehensive safety review in the history of our company because nothing is more important than the safety of our customers,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement on the company’s website. “Our customers deserve more than we delivered in these vehicles.”

“We have worked aggressively to identify and address the major outstanding issues that could impact the safety of our customers,” Barra said. “If any other issues come to our attention, we will act appropriately and without hesitation.”

The latest recall brings the number of vehicles affected to over 25 million, USA Today reports. GM expects to set aside $1.2 billion in the second quarter for the cost of recall-related repairs, which includes $700 million already announced.

TIME Gadgets

How Google and Apple Plan to Invade Your Next Car

Jared Newman for TIME

Between Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the road to smarter cars is looking less rocky.

Just plug in your phone.

That simple step is how Apple and Google will shave years off the process of getting their software into automobiles. Instead of trying to bake iOS and Android into car makers’ infotainment systems, the two tech giants have come up with a workaround: You just plug in whatever phone you have, and send the software to the car by wire.

We’ve known for a while now that Apple was going this route with CarPlay. As announced in March, users will connect their phones to supported vehicles through a Lightning cable, and a specialized version of iOS takes over the center screen. You can then ask Siri for directions, put on some music, make a phone call through the car’s speaker system or dictate a text message. It’s supposed to be just as safe as any in-car dashboard–and much safer than looking down at your phone while driving.

Last week, Google announced a similar system called Android Auto. Instead of using a Lightning cable, it uses MicroUSB. Instead of speaking to Siri, you use Google voice search. Instead of Apple Maps for directions, you get Google Maps. Both Apple and Google are also soliciting app developers so that certain apps on your phone–such as your favorite streaming music service–will show up in the car.

Naoki Sugimoto, Senior Program Director for Honda’s Silicon Valley Lab, told me during Google’s I/O conference that it can take five years to develop a new car. But since Android Auto doesn’t involve specialized hardware, Honda has figured out how to quickly integrate Google’s software.

“These are mostly software features, so the way we work is to try to decouple software architecture from hardware architecture,” he said. “So this way, in the five-year process, we can wait until the last moment to put a new feature into the production schedule.”

And here’s the kicker: Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are similar enough in their underlying architecture that some auto makers–including Honda and Volvo–are planning to support iOS and Android at the same time. So at least in some vehicles, you won’t have to pledge allegiance to a single platform when you buy your car.

The plug-in system doesn’t just provide more choice for users. It also allows auto makers to retain some control over the dashboard, and frees Google and Apple from having to support things like FM radio, climate control and Bluetooth connectivity. For all those things, you’d still use the car’s built-in system. But when you want your car to be a little smarter, you’ll just bring along your cable of choice–MicroUSB or Lighting–and plug in the phone you’ve got. (Both Google and Apple are letting auto makers decide how the car’s native systems should integrate with Android Auto and CarPlay. Google is also letting auto makers add some of their own features to Android Auto, such as vehicle diagnostics and roadside service requests.)

The trade-off is that performance can be a little laggy–at least that was the case in my Android Auto demo at Google I/O last week–and you’ll always have to take the phone out of your pocket to use Android Auto or CarPlay. Maybe someday we’ll see a system that connects wirelessly to your phone while still providing the entire Android or iOS interface, but doing so today would cause a huge hit on the phone’s battery life. I imagine people will still rely on Bluetooth connectivity some of the time, even if it means having no apps and no on-board navigation.

I haven’t tried CarPlay yet, but I spent some time in a Honda demo car with Android Auto at Google’s I/O conference this week. In short, it looks like a much safer way to listen to music, make phone calls and get directions while driving. Both Apple and Google claim that their software will start showing up in cars later this year; I’m looking forward to when plugging in your phone is as common as popping in a CD once was.

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