The New York Times
After results of Consumer Reports Annual Auto Reliability ratings were released on Monday, there appeared to be a crack in the dominance of Japanese brands over automotive reliability. Two of America’s most popular cars, the V-6-equipped Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima, no longer have the consumer advocacy publication’s coveted “Recommended” rating, according to the report.
The 2014 Subaru Forester was the highest-scoring vehicle over all in predicted reliability. Worst-rated was the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid. The Dodge Dart 2-liter was the top domestic model. After performing poorly in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s new, more stringent small overlap front crash test, the Audi A4, the Toyota Camry, the Toyota RAV4 and the Toyota Prius V were also absent from the list.
The results of Consumer Reports’ annual survey, which tries to highlight the most reliable 2014 vehicles by evaluating past years’ models, were released in Detroit during a news conference before members of the Automotive Press Association. The report is based on data from 1.1 million 2004-13 model-year vehicles leased or owned by Consumer Reports subscribers. Subscribers were asked whether, in the last year, they had a serious problem with their vehicle that required a visit to the dealer.
To determine predicted reliability, the publication’s staff averages the overall reliability scores for the most recent three model years, assuming that a given model has not changed during that period and was not redesigned for 2013. If it were, Consumer Reports may use one or two years of data to calculate a rating.
At first glance, the slipping reliability stances of Japanese vehicles do not seem significant. After all, seven of the top 10 spots in the brand rankings are still held by Japanese brands, with Lexus in first place, followed by Toyota, Acura, Mazda, Infiniti, Honda and Subaru. That is only one less than last year.
But the slip in stature emerges upon closer inspection of the data. Along with the rankings of the Accord V-6 and Altima, the twin models shared by Scion and Subaru, the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ, scored below average in predicted reliability and were responsible for Scion falling from first place last year to 11th this year, and for Subaru falling from fifth to 10th.
“On the whole, Japanese brands are still more reliable than Europeans or Americans,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, in a telephone interview. “But we are talking about an Accord, Altima, Pathfinder, FR-S and BRZ, all below average. That’s something that’s kind of new.”
Also, Nissan fell nine places from last year to its current 22nd out of 28 brands.
“We aren’t used to seeing Japanese nameplates being that low on the list,” he said, adding that most European manufacturers had improved.
The prime example is Audi, which rose four places from last year to take 4th place. It was the top European manufacturer in the survey. The A6 sedan, the Q7 sport utility and the Allroad wagon all had “much better than average” reliability. Mr. Fisher said that it was rare to see a non-Japanese automaker among the top five.
Volvo jumped 13 places this year to seventh. GMC, a brand with only trucks, moved up three places to finish ninth, making it the only domestic brand in the top 10.
These are some of the other conclusions from the survey:
In-car electronics, including audio, navigation, communication and connected systems, continue to be a problem. The category that includes in-car electronics generated “significantly” more complaints than any of the 17 categories of problem areas in the survey, Mr. Fisher said. Complaints include issues with screen freezes, touch-control lag, voice recognition malfunctions and compatibility problems with cellphones and MP3 devices.
Almost two-thirds of the 34 Ford and Lincoln models in the survey scored much worse than “Average,” which is the lowest rating. In-car electronics is one reason those models occupy the bottom of the list (26th for Ford and 27th for Lincoln).The brands have fallen the last few years because of problems with the MyFord and MyLincoln Touch infotainment systems.
Ford continued to have problems with its 6-speed dual-clutch PowerShift transmissions as well, Mr. Fisher said.
In this year’s survey, several of Ford’s EcoBoost turbocharged V-6 models have poor predicted reliability ratings as well.
“In every example where there is a non-EcoBoost engine, the models with the EcoBoost engines tend to have worse reliability than the ones that don’t have those engines,” Mr. Fisher said, adding that it was too early to tell whether those issues are because of the EcoBoost engine or other factors. “That is true throughout their lineup.”
EcoBoost engines, which come in a variety of sizes, are crucial to Ford, which planned to have more than 90 percent of its North American lineup available with the fuel-efficient turbocharged engines by this year.
The Tesla Model S electric car did well enough in the survey to earn a Recommended rating for the first time based on data from more than 600 2012-13 models. Although owners of 2012 models reported very few problems, 2013 owners reported “quite a few” more, according to the Consumer Reports survey. Those problems included wind noise, squeaks and rattles, and problems with body hardware, like sunroofs, doors and locks.
General Motors fared better than other domestic brands over all.
Chrysler continued to perform poorly, with the exception of the Chrysler 300C, which scored above average in this year’s survey.
Hybrids and electric cars continued to do well, with the exception of the Ford Fusion Hybrid, the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and the Ford C-Max Hybrid.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz models were in the middle of the field, with most models receiving scores of average or better.