The J.D. Power 2019 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study is the gold standard for those who want to identify the most reliable vehicles, and its just-released results had some surprises. For instance, which car do you think is more dependable, a Chevrolet Cruze or a Honda Civic? (Hint: don’t pick the “obvious” choice.) Now in its 30th year, the study is littered with tidbits that can be extremely helpful in deciding which car, truck, SUV or minivan you want to invest your hard-earned money in.
The J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) gauges vehicle reliability by measuring the number of problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of three-year-old model-year vehicles. For the 2019 study that means 2016 model-year vehicles. The key statistic in the study is problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100.) A lower score reflects higher quality, and the study covers 177 specific problems grouped into eight major vehicle categories.
Lexus’s place at the top was no surprise
Of course, some of the findings of the study came as no surprise at all. For instance, Lexus ranked highest in vehicle dependability among all brands, with a score of 106 PP100. That means on average an owner of a three-year-old Lexus vehicle experienced 1.06 problems with the vehicle over the past 12 months. This is the eighth consecutive year Lexus ranked highest.
Toyota, Lexus’s sister brand and a brand renowned for its product quality and reliability, ranked second. But that second-place came in a tie with a brand that might come as a surprise — Porsche. The German marque is frequently noted for the driving enjoyment its vehicles provide but is not typically in the conversation when it comes to reliability.
Over the past few years, however, Porsche has been steadily improving its dependability while sacrificing nothing on the fun-to-drive score. It has also widened its product offering considerably by offering crossover SUVs and a sedan in addition to sports cars.
To emphasize Porsche’s improvement, the Porsche 911, its signature sports car model, was honored by J.D. Power as the most dependable vehicle overall.
“This vehicle has for years been one of the more dependable vehicles in our study,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of Global Automotive at J.D. Power. “Some years it has been the most dependable, we just didn’t call it out. These vehicles are obviously very expensive, fun to drive and they also just don’t go wrong very often.”
The final two members of the top five brands might also come as a surprise to many. Chevrolet ranked number four and its fellow General Motors brand, Buick, ranked number five. Other brands in the top 10 were MINI (119 PP100), BMW (122 PP100), Audi (124 PP100), Hyundai (124 PP100) and Kia (126 PP100.)
Chrysler is the most-improved brand, with a reduction of 65 problems per 100 vehicles since 2018. MINI (with an improvement of 34 PP100) and Subaru (better by 31 PP100) were other brands that turned in much better dependability scores than they had for the year prior.
At the bottom of the list, well below industry average of 136 PP100 were, in descending order Volvo (204 PP100), Land Rover (221 PP100) and Fiat (249 PP100.) In at least partial defense of Volvo and Land Rover, Sargent noted that each brand had introduced completely new models for the 2016 model year and that first-year models typically experience teething problems.
Honda, a brand that has been well-known for its product quality, wasn’t near the bottom of the list, but it did finish below industry average. According to Sargent, “Part of that is, I think, getting away from the things that made them so reliable in the first place. I think they’ve made some design decisions and some technological solutions that have not worked particularly well.”
Since the 2016 model year, Honda has made some product changes that, Sargent believes, will help restore the brand’s position as one of the most dependable.
The 2019 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study is based on responses from 32,952 original owners of 2016 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. The study was fielded in October-December 2018.