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Consumer Reports: 2007 New Car Reliability Predictions, Mercedes-Benz Last


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Lexus Slips, Lincoln Improves, Infiniti, Audi, and GMC also show big improvements, while Jeep falters; Mercedes-Benz drops to last place

YONKERS, NY – Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand known for excellent reliability, slipped to fifth place from last year’s first in new car predicted reliability, based on Consumer Reports’ Annual Car Reliability Survey. Other drops seen by previously high-scoring brands show that even the best cars can stumble.

For the third year in a row, Consumer Reports has ranked automakers based on the average predicted reliability scores for their model line. Most models with the best predicted reliability are again from Asia, though Lincoln and GMC improved considerably, along with a few other domestics that got better over last year. For the second year in a row Mercury was the only domestic brand to land in the top ten. Most domestic brands fell in rank, if only slightly. European brands were mixed, Audi had the biggest gain, but most are still predicted to have worse-than-average reliability.

A full description of predicted reliability findings, along with more useful car-buying information, can be found in Consumer Reports’ Annual April Auto Issue, which goes on sale March 6 everywhere magazines are sold. The reports are also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org. Free highlights from the April Auto Issue are available http://Cars.ConsumerReports.org.

Lexus’ drop can be attributed to its GS models receiving only an average rating. Toyota is predicted to have the most reliable cars, moving up to first from third place last year. Honda remained unchanged in second place while Scion, Toyota’s youth brand, moved up to third place, from seventh. The top-five most reliable brands of vehicles are all made by Toyota or Honda, according to the Consumer Reports survey.

“Even manufacturers that have had historically reliable cars have had some glitches with new models,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center.

Consumer Reports’ predicted reliability score is based on the three most recent model years’ data for models whose design has not changed for 2007. Sometimes, CR makes a prediction for a redesigned or new model if the model or manufacturer has an outstanding history. One or two years of data might have been used if the model was new or redesigned in 2006 or 2005.

Moving up 20 slots to eighth place, Infiniti made the biggest improvement of any brand, mainly due to the still troublesome QX56 SUV cutting its high problem rate by half, however it is still below average. A Korean brand, Hyundai, is also in the top ten. Acura moved up two places to fourth, while Subaru changed one place, moving to sixth, from fifth last year. Mitsubishi fell to ninth position, from fourth. Suzuki dropped to 26th place, from 10th, realizing the biggest slide of any Asian brand. That fall, however, can be linked to a 2006 redesign of the Grand Vitara, the only Suzuki model with sufficient data to generate a ranking.

Domestic brands make strides, Europeans mostly lag

As Asian brands jockeyed for top spots, some domestic brands started to close in. Lincoln showed the biggest improvement among domestics, moving into 13th position, from 30th , mostly due to outstanding first year reliability of the Zephyr (now named MKZ) sedan. GMC followed closely, moving up 11 positions to 14th due to high reliability marks given to its redesigned Yukon full-size SUV.

Ford, in 16th position, remained unchanged, while Buick and Chevrolet improved slightly. Jeep, marketed as a maker of rugged off-road vehicles, dropped the most of any domestic brand to 32nd place, from 19th. Its Grand Cherokee was far below average.

In the European theater, Audi saw seven of its eight models in the average or better rating, resulting in a 15-spot improvement. Premium brand Mercedes-Benz fell four positions to replace Porsche in last place. Mercedes’ new or redesigned-for-2006 models were all far below average. However, no brand fell further than MINI, now in 28th place. Both S and non-S convertible versions, of the Mini Cooper dropped to below average.

Findings are based on Consumer Reports’ Annual Car Reliability Survey, conducted in Spring 2006. The Survey went to subscribers to CR and its web site, www.ConsumerReports.org. Subscribers were asked to report any serious problems (due to cost, failure, safety, or downtime) experienced with their cars, vans, SUVs, or trucks during the previous 12 months. Consumer Reports’ survey garnered responses on about 1.3 million vehicles, nearly double that collected in 2003. The responses allow CR to present detailed reliability ratings, to predict reliability for 2007 models, and to determine which vehicles to recommend.

Study sheds new light on how vehicles age

For the first time CR’s Annual Car Reliability Survey has expanded to include vehicles up to 10 years old, spanning from the 1997 model year to 2006. Questions pertaining to some of the 16 different trouble areas, ranging from the engine and transmission to body hardware and electrical systems, were also revised to give more details into the types of problems which vehicles experienced.

Cars still develop more problems as they age. But, CR found that some 9-or 10-year old models can have fewer problems than some newer models. For example, the 1998 Lexus LS400 had slightly fewer problems than the 2006 Mercedes-Benz ML500. The Lexus LS has been the most reliable car in CR’s survey, year in and year out.

CR’s data show Asian, American, and European vehicles age differently. On average, Toyotas and Hondas hold up best. Ford had fewer problems than Chrysler and GM for 3-year-old and older vehicles. Volkswagen showed the steepest problem increase as its vehicles age. The biggest increase in problem rates is between five- and six-year-old cars, but there is less of a difference in reliability between eight- and ten-year-old models as a whole.

Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. CR has the most comprehensive auto-test program and reliability survey data of any U.S. magazine or web site. Our team of automotive experts brings decades of experience to the unbiased, independent Ratings, Recommendations and advice in the Annual April Auto Issue: Engineers test the cars featured in our magazine at the organization’s 327-acre Auto Test Center in Connecticut (www.ConsumerReports.org/Autotest); statisticians and the Consumer Reports National Research Center's researchers design and analyze the surveys that tell us about our subscribers' experiences with their cars; and our editors investigate and report on important automotive issues, making all the information easily understandable for consumers.