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Consumer Reports' Auto Reliability Study Surprises

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Annual Auto Reliability Rankings Announced

By Steve Purdy
Photo by Bob Benko
Michigan Bureau

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Detroit October 28, 2013; At the APA meeting held at the Detroit Athletic Club; Jake Fisher, auto test director for Consumer Reports, offered a few surprises as he previewed that respected organization’s Annual Auto Reliability Ratings to the assembled Automotive Press Association in downtown Detroit. Fisher is both and engineer and a CPA so understands the cars and the numbers.

Though Consumer Reports does extensive testing of hundreds of cars and trucks each year at their test track in Connecticut and other facilities around the country this report is based on solicited feedback from subscribers, in this case1.1 million of whom submitted surveys. The rankings reflect real world experience, or “what really broke,” according to Fisher.

The survey results in a ranking of brands against each other and against an “average.” A great deal of attention is paid by the media and consumers to those brands that gain or loose ground from year to year. Remaining at the top of the heap are Lexus at number one and Toyota at number two. Acura holds number three spot and Audi move up into the number four position.

As a side note, the biggest surprise of the day is the announcement that the top-selling Toyota Camry along with RAV4, Prius V, Audi A4 and others were dropped from Consumer Reports’ “Recommended Buy” list. (More on that at the end of the story.)

Japanese automakers have traditionally dominated the top ten spots but this year both Audi and Volvo landed in that prestigious lineup with 4th and 7th place rankings respectively. GMC also broke that ceiling with a 9th place finish. These manufacturer rating are based on all models produced but individual model rankings are included in the survey as well.

Top score for an individual model went to the Subaru Forester. Ford’s new C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid sored at the bottom.

Ford overall continued a decline and find themselves at the bottom of the domestic heap with only the F-150 V6 gaining ground. GM advanced slightly scoring 4% above average and Chrysler 18% above. Tesla, the new kid on the block, scored 17% above average represented by 600 responses to the survey.

The Japanese automakers remain strong with 7 of the top 10 brands. Nissan is the exception scoring 22nd out of 28 brands ranked. Honda overall ranked 8th but the bread-and-butter Accord V6 failed to make the coveted “Recommended Buy” list along with the Nissan Altima. The Koreans, Kia and, Hyundai, had been scoring strongly but slipped a bit this year ranking 16th and 21st respectively.

The other German manufacturers – Mercedes, Porsche and BMW – held fast in the middle of the pack at 13th, 14th and 15th respectively. Volkswagen came in 20th of the 28 manufacturers ranked.

While some of the reported problems and system failures relate to mechanical and engineering issues a substantial number are related to infotainment, navigation and electronic control systems. Particularly at Ford the infotainment and in-car communications systems took the lead in the industry and had paid a price in niggles and failures.

Another, more subtle surprise is how well some brand new models scored right out of the box. It has been conventional wisdom that the first year of a product, particularly if it is on a whole new platform, will be fraught with more problems than a model that has had a few years to sort things out. That is much less the case now, for example the Cadillac ATS, all new, scoring the best in the entire Cadillac line.

At the very bottom of the manufacturers list is Mini.

Now, back to that the story of the Camry and others falling off the recommended list:

It seems the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the organization that conducts crash testing and rates cars according to safety, instituted a new test this year involving an off-center front side crash test called a “small overlap” test. Camry and about 13 others failed the test and lost as a result lost their recommended status. Incensed Toyota officials at the event made the point that the new test measures elements of design and structure not required by regulation. They also said they will be making some design changes and applying for a retest in the next few months.

Consumer Reports’ Press Release: Car Reliability Survey Shows Brands Rising and Falling

Japanese car brands continue to dominate in car reliability, but brands from all corners of the globe showed movement in the latest analysis. Lexus, Toyota, and Acura claim the top three spots in predicted reliability rankings by brands. But that is not to say choosing a Japanese-branded car ensures fewer problems.

In fact, we’ve seen some Japanese brands tumble, with Subaru, Scion, and Nissan all losing several positions over last-year’s rankings. Meanwhile, Audi, having shown steady improvement in vehicle reliability during recent years, moved up four places this year to finish fourth overall—the top European carmaker in the survey. Three Audis—the A6 2.0T sedan, Q7 SUV, and Allroad wagon—have "much better than average" reliability. Volvo jumped 13 places to seventh.

Domestic brands are led by General Motors, with GMC, Buick, and Chevrolet ranking above the brands from Chrysler Corp. and Ford Motor Company. GMC is the lone domestic brand in the top 10, claiming the 9th spot. Buick is close by in 12th spot. All Buicks except the V6 LaCrosse were average or better. The only dark spots for Chevrolet are the Camaro and Cruze, both of which earned below-average reliability scores.

Despite climbing five spots to 18th, Chrysler models are still below par overall. Ram is next in line at 19th, with Jeep at 23rd and Dodge at 24th. (Because the Fiat line was limited to the 500 when the survey was conducted, we do not have sufficient models to have included that brand in the rankings. We require at least two models for this ranking.) Some of the automaker’s most reliable models, such as the Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot SUVs, didn’t score well in our testing rendering them ineligible for a recommendation. And the better-performing Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 has fallen well below average in reliability.

Ford and Lincoln crowd the bottom, with only Mini scoring worse. These domestic brands are hampered primarily by the MyTouch infotainment systems, and some problems in versions with the V6 EcoBoost. There are problems with components associated with those heavily marketed engines, rather than the engines themselves. In-car electronics have been a challenge for other manufacturers, but we’re seeing these systems prove especially troublesome for Ford and Lincoln. As a follow-up survey revealed, there is a learning curve with advanced infotainment systems, but with the reliability survey, we’re focused strictly on serious problems that might require a trip to the dealer. And with MyTouch, the problem rate is high, partially contributing to two thirds of the 34 Fords and Lincolns in our reliability survey getting scores that were much worse than average. The F-150 pickup with the 3.7-liter V6 was the only one above average. Seven achieved an average score.

Consumer Reports Most Reliable and Unreliable Models

The most-reliable new car in our latest survey is the 2014 Subaru Forester. This small SUV has done great in our testing. It has excellent crash test scores. And now it is the reliability champ. A true grand slam.

The worst score goes to the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, with the regular C-Max Hybrid not faring much better. To be clear, this should not cast a negative light on other electric cars or hybrids. In fact, the Toyota Prius, Lexus ES 300h, Toyota Prius C, and Honda CR-Z hybrids, along with the pure-electric Nissan Leaf, were among the top models in reliability. This is more of a Ford issue.

Digging into the data, there are interesting findings throughout. For example, Japanese nameplates do not always make reliable cars. The Honda Accord V6, once the paragon of reliability, has a below-average rating. And the redesigned Nissan Altima, in both four- and six-cylinder forms, is well below average and last among midsized cars.

At the other end, the high-tech, high-test-scoring Tesla Model S earned an average predicted reliability score, enabling us to formally recommend it.

For more findings, read our complete report at:

Full reliability details, broken down across 17 problem areas, can be found on the individual model pages.

See Consumer Reports Complete Guide to Car Reliablity.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved