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To help members understand the latest automotive technology so they can purchase vehicles that best suit their needs, the Automobile Club of Southern California's Automotive Research Center (ARC) began testing and reviewing vehicles nearly a decade ago in the AAA Green Car Guide, which initially focused entirely on rating fuel-efficient, low-emitting vehicles.

For the 2020 edition, we're expanding the focus of the guide to include testing and ranking cars and light trucks with the latest technology, including having at least one advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) feature. To further reflect this change, we've renamed the guide: It's now the AAA Car Guide. In addition to vehicle evaluation, the guide covers a number of pertinent automotive topics in detail-for example, the latest advanced safety features, the dangers of distracted driving, and the development of autonomous vehicles.

2020 AAA Car Guide
Chapter 1: The Right Car for You

The tremendous number of vehicles available for sale-the huge number of current models, vehicle types, powertrains, and standard and optional features-can make purchasing a new vehicle seem overwhelming. But with a little planning, it all falls into place. In this chapter, the AAA Car Guide lists the kinds of things you need to consider to determine what type of vehicle is best for you; then it describes various available options according to body type, size, and powertrain.

Read more about different vehicle types in Chapter 1 of the 2020 AAA Car Guide.

Chapter 2: The Quest for Safer Cars

Car crashes have traditionally been one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. In 2018, for example, nearly 37,000 people were killed in car crashes. This chapter takes a look at what manufacturers are doing to reduce deaths and injuries on the road. First, it describes the various features that have been incorporated into vehicles over the years to make driving safer and more convenient, such as rearview cameras and LED headlights. Next, it discusses ADAS features, explaining how (and how well) they work. Finally, it describes how vehicles are tested for safety.

Read more about vehicle safety in Chapter 2 of the 2020 AAA Car Guide.

Chapter 3: Choosing, Testing, and Ranking Vehicles

To help AAA members make sense of the changing automotive scene, the Auto Club of Southern California's Automotive Research Center (ARC) evaluates and ranks passenger cars and light trucks. The vehicles the ARC selects for testing are reviewed according to the following 13 criteria: number of ADAS features, fuel efficiency, EPA emission score, acceleration, braking, crashworthiness, handling, ride quality, interior size, ease of entry and exit, visibility, interior noise, and cargo capacity.

Read more about the testing and ranking of vehicles in Chapter 3 of the 2020 AAA Car Guide.

Chapter 4: On the Horizon

Automakers face an endless series of challenges as they attempt to meet the changing demands of customers and comply with government emissions and safety regulations. Also, significant changes are occurring in the industry: the rapid development of autonomous vehicles, vehicle electrification, and new models of car ownership. This chapter provides you with snapshots of the latest vehicles coming to market during the next several years.

Read more about future vehicles in Chapter 4 of the 2020 AAA Car Guide.

Chapter 5: Autonomous Vehicles: The Next Big Thing?

The possible widespread deployment and use of autonomous vehicles is the biggest change in personal transportation since the automobile was invented. This chapter explores the future of AVs and how they may be utilized-personal vehicles, delivery services, ride hailing, or long-haul trucking-over the next couple of decades, dramatically transforming personal and commercial transportation as they replace traditional human-driven cars and trucks. The chapter also discusses alternatives to vehicle ownership.

Read more about autonomous vehicles in Chapter 5 of the 2020 AAA Car Guide.

Chapter 6: AAA Tests Auto Tech

For more than a century, one of AAA's ongoing missions has been to conduct objective, independent research and testing of the latest automotive technology to help members get maximum value for the time and money they spend on purchasing, driving, and maintaining their vehicles. AAA also uses the results of its research to advocate for motorists with government agencies and the automotive industry.

AAA's technical research covers a wide variety of topics, from gasoline quality to the effectiveness of advanced automotive safety systems. The following are summaries of some of AAA's most significant projects, including the effectiveness of the latest pedestrian-detection systems, the risks of wet-weather driving on worn tires, the best gasoline for your car, the most effective headlights, and whether synthetic oil is worth the extra cost.

Read more about AAA automotive research in Chapter 6 of the 2020 AAA Car Guide.

2020 Car Guide Winners
Car Guide Winner: 1st Place
2020 Volvo S90 T8 E-AWD R-Design
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Vehicle Type:  Large
Fuel Type:  Hybrid
mpg: 28/31
Price as Tested:  $73,840
 out of 130
When you consider European luxury sedans, chances are you’re thinking German, not Swedish. That’s a shame, because high-end four-doors don’t come much more refined than the Volvo S90. Start your tour in the roomy passenger cabin, where you’ll discover tasteful Scandinavian design and premium materials, including genuine wood trim. The front seats are among the most comfortable you’ll find anywhere, making the S90 an ideal road-trip companion. A 9-inch vertical touch screen looks slick but can make even simple tasks like tuning the radio complicated and distracting; there’s also a shortage of storage options for small items like cell phones. Under the S90’s hood is a 4-cylinder engine that’s both supercharged (to boost low-speed output) and turbocharged (which adds power as speed begins to build). Integrated into this powertrain is a plug-in hybrid system with an electric motor and battery pack that give the S90 up to 21 miles of whisper-quiet all-electric range. The combined 400-hp output is impressive, but our tests revealed a slight hesitation when the powertrain switches between gasoline and electric power. Other useful technology includes LED headlights with auto high beams, a head-up display, a 360-degree surround-view camera system, and standard AWD.
Car Guide Winner: 1st Place
2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited
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Vehicle Type:  SUV/Minivan
Fuel Type:  Hybrid
mpg: 29/30
Price as Tested:  $50,005
 out of 130
The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid remains a compelling choice for minivan customers because of its plug-in hybrid capability, which provides an EPA-estimated 82 MPGe on electric power and 30 mpg on gasoline in combined city/highway driving. The Pacifica’s drivetrain consists of a 3.6-liter V6 engine, a 16.0-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, and two electric drive motors, giving it a total of 260 hp, up to 32 miles of electricity-only driving, and a possible 520 miles of total driving range. A strong package of advanced driver-assistance systems —included on our test vehicle—is optional on the Pacifica Hybrid. Another desirable feature is Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system; it has wireless streaming, is intuitive to use, and is paired with an entertainment package that includes a Blu-ray/DVD player and rear-seat entertainment screens for both second-row passengers. Although the Pacifica comes with plenty of positive features, it does have areas that could use improvement. Chief among them are a noisy drivetrain and a mediocre driving experience—including, for the latter, numb steering and an uneven brake-pedal feel. Also, other plug-in hybrids allow the user to control EV battery usage, but the Pacifica does not.
Car Guide Winner: 1st Place
2019 Nissan Leaf SV Plus
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Vehicle Type:  Small
Fuel Type:  Electric
MPGe: 114/94
Price as Tested:  $42,580
 out of 130
For 2019, the Nissan Leaf’s drivetrain received a major upgrade with the intr oduction of the Leaf Plus, which has a 214-hp electric motor (vs. 147) and a 62-kWh lithium-ion battery (vs.40). This gives the Leaf Plus decidedly more punch and, more importantly, boosts its range from an EPA-estimated 151 miles to 215 miles, depending on the trim level (the standard Leaf is still available). The Leaf’s exterior styling, less funky than the previous generation’s, is still sufficiently unconventional to be polarizing. The front cabin feels spacious, with a cleanly designed, easy-toread instrument panel and, unfortunately, more cheap-looking hard plastic than is warranted in a car costing nearly $43,000. Backseat legroom is a little tight, and there’s not much cargo space. The Leaf’s seats are comfortable and supportive, the cabin is quiet, and the ride is smooth, albeit on the firm side. Handling is very good, and the steering is responsive, with decent feel. Using the e-Pedal feature, drivers can slow or stop the Leaf via regenerative braking by simply lifting their foot off the accelerator. Stopping the Leaf using the brake pedal requires considerable foot pressure, however. Forward-collision warning and forward automatic emergency braking are the only standard advanced safety features; others are optional.
Car Guide Winner: 1st Place
2019 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
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Vehicle Type:  Midsize
Fuel Type:  Hybrid
mpg: 44/47
Price as Tested:  $38,215
 out of 130
The Toyota Camry, redesigned for 2018, replaced its previous bland exterior with bold, aggressive sheet metal. Other upgrades include an improved drivetrain, better fuel economy, and a suspension tuned for sportier handling. The top-trim XLE Hybrid’s interior features high-quality plastics and soft-touch surfaces on the dash. The front bucket seats are firm but comfortable. All controls are well marked and easy to use. The backseat is fine for two people but tight for three. The trunk is large and deep, because the hybrid battery pack is now under the backseat. The Camry’s hybrid powertrain—a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that generates 176 hp, a 118-hp electric motor, and a CVT—is smooth, with great drivability. Total power output is 208 hp. The XLE Hybrid has good acceleration, with responsive and sporty handling, although the steering is imprecise and has an artificial feel. Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of advanced safety features is standard. The Hybrid XLE’s fuel economy is an EPA-rated 46 mpg in combined city/highway driving, excellent for a midsized sedan.
Car Guide Winner: 1st Place
2020 GMC Sierra 1500 2WD Crew Cab SLT
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Vehicle Type:  Pickup
Fuel Type:  Diesel
mpg: 23/30
Price as Tested:  $57,595
 out of 130
Although the 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT has a relatively high MSRP, it comes packed with numerous standard and available performance and convenience features, technology, and safety systems that make it a highly capable full-size pickup truck. Examples include a rearview camera system that aids in lining up trailer hitches, a six-function power liftgate, a carbon-fiber cargo box, a bed-view camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights, front and rear parking assist, and a wide-ranging set of available advanced driver-assistance systems. Our test vehicle came equipped with a new 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline 6 engine that generates 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque; it’s paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. This setup contributes to a good overall driving experience, with lots of available low-end torque, quick acceleration, and large towing and payload capacities. The Sierra also has a spacious cab, with excellent front and rear legroom for all passengers; the backseat easily accommodates three adults. For this vehicle class, respectable fuel economy and handling aren’t usually a consideration, but that’s not the case with this diesel-powered, full-size pickup: The Sierra gets an EPA-estimated 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway/26 mpg combined, which is impressive given its size and towing capabilities.
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IIHS Top Safety Pick Vehicles:  Top Safety Pick |  Top Safety Pick+