Some brands were big losers and other big gainers in Consumer Reports’ latest Annual Auto Reliability Survey, but one thing that stayed largely the same was the dominance of Toyota’s Lexus and Toyota brands in dependability. For the fifth straight year, Toyota brands took their places on top of the ranking of 27 brands for predicted new-car reliability, but other Asia-based manufacturers, notably Acura and Mazda, saw their reliability averages fall. In contrast, Korea-based Kia continued to surprise observers with its rapid rise in the rankings. Kia continues to make impressive strides in reliability, rising to third. General Motors, on the other hand, took a nosedive with three of its four brands — Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC — in the bottom third.
The Chrysler brand has had a difficult time in previous reliability surveys, but this year it registered the biggest gain, jumping 10 positions from last year. Even with the big gain it remains in the lower half of all 27 brands ranked by CR, but the general trend at Chrysler is up. Its new Pacifica minivan has average reliability, affected by some minor transmission issues, and overall the brand is greatly improved. Other FCA brands – Jeep, Dodge and Ram – also registered gains, though the improvement did not push them into the top ranks. CR said Jeep seems to have worked out some of the transmission problems that plagued the early years of the Cherokee, but the Grand Cherokee and Renegade remain below average despite showing “marked improvement with these models each year.” The only Dodge model that did not have below-average reliability was the Grand Caravan, while the Charger and Challenger improved over last year, yet ranked below average. The Ram 1500 pickup improved to average, but the low standing of the 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups keeps the brand near the bottom of the overall list.
Ram has domestic-manufacturer company at the lower reaches of the rankings. GMC and Cadillac are at the bottom of Consumer Reports’ brand list. The much-touted GMC Acadia debuted with well-below-average reliability, and it has the dubious distinction of being among the 10 least-reliable new models. Aside from some infotainment issues in the Acadia, problems with drive system, power equipment, and climate system were also reported. Equally dismal for General Motors is the fact that all of luxury-brand Cadillac’s models had below-average reliability, including the new-for-2017 XT5 compact SUV that Cadillac hopes will become a volume-driver.
For GM, Buick was the lone bright spot among the brands, but after ranking third last year, it dropped five spots to eighth. Its biggest “miss” was the redesigned LaCrosse large sedan, which debuted with reliability well-below average. The much-better-than-average reliability of the Encore crossover, and the better-than-average reliability of the Cascada convertible and Envision crossover enabled Buick to stay in the top 10.
Chevy presented a mixed bag, but lagged most major players. Its new Bolt electric car is Chevrolet’s most reliable model with above average reliability, but the Volt plug-in hybrid remains below average, and the Cruze compact, which debuted with well-above-average reliability last year, plunged to below average this time around.
The third major domestic manufacturer, Ford, gained several spots in this year’s survey but ranks mid-pack at 15th. The mainstay F-150 pickup improved to average reliability, but the Focus and Fiesta small cars are still well below average with ongoing clutch and transmission problems. Another somber note was that some respondents reported a few problems with the new Sync3 infotainment system in the Fusion midsize sedan. Ford had hoped Sync3 would cure its ongoing infotainment headaches. Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand didn’t fare that well either. Its MKZ sedan had average reliability, and the MKC and MKX crossover SUVs were below average.
Plagued by infotainment woes over the past couple of years, Honda has fallen from its perch as a top-echelon brand for reliability, but it improved by one spot this year, with all of its models having average or better reliability. Serious improvement included solving the bugs with the Civic’s in-car electronics, and those enhancements were echoed in the redesigned-for-2017 CR-V, which in many ways is a tall Civic. But Honda’s luxury Acura brand took a nosedive this year, dropping to the bottom third of the brand rankings. While the RDX, which was last redesigned in 2013, is above average, the other Acuras were all below average.
As noted earlier, Kia continues to move forward positively in reliability, rising two spots to rank third overall. To demonstrate Kia’s efforts, the new Niro hybrid debuted as the most reliable new car in the entire survey. Kia’s lowest scoring model is the Sportage, which has average reliability. Subaru is another brand on the upswing. It gained five spots to rank sixth this year, despite the “below average” reliability of the redesigned Impreza compact.
Hyundai fell three places to rank 10th. The Elantra compact car, which was renewed for 2017, had well-above average reliability, but problems with the new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission dropped the Tucson compact crossover to below average. Nissan had a slight gain, with the popular Altima sedan improving to better-than-average and the Pathfinder SUV finally improving to average.
Some suggest that highly complex European vehicles deliver poor reliability, but the Consumer Reports survey suggests that, as with vehicles that are designed elsewhere, some European brands are stellar while others are laggards. For instance, despite travails on the diesel engine front, Audi retained the fourth spot on the survey, and BMW jumped four places to land fifth. All of BMW’s models featured average or better reliability.
Mercedes-Benz had mixed results. Its redesigned 2017 E-Class bucked the debut jinx to turn in better-than-average reliability in its first year, while the flagship S-Class, one of the world’s most sophisticated models, finally improved to average. The report on Volvo wasn’t as good. The Chinese-owned Swedish brand remained near the bottom of the heap, dragged down by the much-worse-than-average XC90 crossover SUV, which ranks as the third least reliable model among new vehicles covered in the survey. The problem rate for the XC90’s infotainment, which has been much touted by vehicle reviewers, was the worst in CR’s Survey at 21 percent. That negative rate was nearly as high as the now notorious Ford/Lincoln’s MyTouch system when it debuted several years ago.
For more information on Consumer Reports’ Annual Auto Reliability Survey, or to get the latest ratings and scores for more than 300 models, visit www.CR.org.