Luxury doesn’t always mean reliability.
This is the lesson of the latest brand rankings from Consumer Reports.
Mazda, one of the smaller mainstream brands, topped the organization’s latest assessment of automotive brands that excel in quality, safety and reliability. Consumer brands made up six of the top 10 nameplates in Consumer Reports rankings.
Luxury brands such as Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Land Rover and Alfa Romeo have all landed towards the back or the end of the pack. The organization ranked 32 brands for its annual car report.
“It really shows that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a desirable, reliable vehicle with all the technology and safety you want,” said Jake Fisher, senior director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports.
Subaru, ranked No.3, Honda, 5, Toyota, 7, Chrysler, 8, and Buick, 9, all prove this point and present good choices for buyers looking for different vehicle features, said Fisher.
“If anyone cares about safety and reliability the most, the answer is Toyota. If you want that, but also something more fun to drive, there’s Mazda. Subaru is practical, reliable and offers all-wheel drive on every model, ”said Fisher.
Features, Tech Fell Some premium brands
Many expensive luxury brands struggle to pack vehicles with newly designed equipment, technologies and features. The new technology is bug-prone, Fisher said. Still, BMW and Porsche finished second and fourth.
While two national brands, Chrysler and Buick, made it into the top 10, most other American brands did not fare as well. Cadillac was 22, Chevrolet 24, Ford 25, GMC 26, Lincoln 28, and Jeep 29.
Fisher attributes much of their reliability issues to the same syndrome that plagues many luxury car manufacturers. These brands have unveiled in recent years a flurry of redesigned models that have flaws that still need to be ironed out.
“These extensive redesigns where you have new platforms and new powertrains, these are the things that reliability issues are often associated with,” Fisher said.
By comparison, Chrysler and Buick have older models where engineers have gradually eliminated design flaws, he said.
Tesla ranks 15th out of 32. Fans Still Love Tesla
Tesla placed in the middle for 15th (tied with Genesis and Mini). Reliability issues with the S, Y and X models are hurting the electric vehicle maker. Tesla’s fourth vehicle, the Model 3, is its biggest seller. But Consumer Reports noted that the brand enjoys “remarkably high scores for owner satisfaction and in CR road tests.”
A slew of new models also took a toll on the reliability of vehicles from South Korea, with sister brands Hyundai, Kia and Genesis all slipping up the rankings.
Hyundai is launching a series of newly designed rear-wheel drive vehicles in its luxury brand Genesis, mimicking the European brands targeted by Genesis, instead of using the front-wheel-drive platforms it uses for the Hyundai and Kia brands.
“These will be the vehicles that will perform really well, but it will take a few years to achieve the kind of reliability that will put them at the top of the product rankings,” Fisher said.
European brands mainly below average
European brands, including luxury brands, mostly performed below average. Italian automaker Alfa Romeo takes last place. German automaker Volkswagen was 18 years old.
Many of these brands perform poorly year after year, Fisher said. But consumers still buy them because they offer great driving dynamics, plush interior, lots of tech, make an image statement or provide some other feature that buyers are looking for, Fisher said. Reliability is not the only determining factor in purchasing vehicles, he said.
But it creates problems for brands like Fiat, which have models that score poorly in driving dynamics and reliability, leaving almost no reason for a consumer to buy the brand, Fisher said. Fiat was not ranked in this year’s report, but its Fiat 500X achieved one of the worst overall scores of any vehicle tested. The brand sold just 4,000 vehicles in the United States last year, less than half of the number it sold in 2019, according to Motor Intelligence.
Common findings from Consumer Reports, JD Power
Consumer Reports’ findings reflect a long-term reliability study from automotive market research firm JD Power.
This 2018 Model Year Vehicle Reliability Vehicle Reliability Study (VDS) found that Asian brand vehicle owners were experiencing an average of 115 problems per 100 vehicles, the least of all groups. This compares to 126 problems for national brands and 131 for European brands. The industry average was 121, according to JD Power.
Top 10 CR picks: 4 from Toyota, Lexus
Consumer Reports also highlighted their 10 favorite models, organized by price segments. Eight of CR’s top 10 picks are Japanese nameplates, including four from Toyota and its luxury brand Lexus. Subaru had two models. Tesla was the only national automaker.
Its top picks in the under $ 25,000 segment are the Toyota Corolla sedan and the Mazda CX-30 subcompact crossover. He liked the Subaru Forester SUV, the Toyota Prius Hybrid and the Toyota Camry in the $ 25,000 to $ 35,000 segment.
Consumer Reports picked the Subaru Outback SUV-style station wagon, the Kia Telluride three-row SUV, and the Honda Ridgeline mid-size pickup in the $ 35,000 to $ 45,000 category. It nodded at the Lexus RX SUV and the Tesla Model 3 electric sports sedan in the $ 45,000 to $ 55,000 segment.
Consumer Reports only considered the new vehicles it tested on its 327-acre test track in Connecticut for its brand ranking. CR says it performs more than 50 tests on each vehicle, evaluating braking, handling, comfort, convenience, safety and fuel economy. It then compiles an overall score based on several factors. Ratings take into account expected reliability and owner satisfaction based on Consumer Reports member polls, test results, key safety features, and crash test results, if applicable.
Ram has not been ranked despite selling nearly half a million pickup trucks in 2020. To be included in the brand rankings, an automaker must have at least two vehicles tested; CR tested the Ram 1500 but not the larger 2500 or 3500 which are rarely used as station wagons. Fiat only has one model left in the United States, the 500X crossover, and if it had been classified as a brand it would have been the last.
CR also adds a new Green Choice endorsement in its individual model recommendations. It will use a green leaf icon to denote cars and trucks in its ratings that are in the lowest 20% group for greenhouse gas production and smog-forming emissions, according to data from the EPA.
“For a long time we’ve included fuel efficiency in our road test results for vehicles, but so far we haven’t looked at what comes out of the tailpipe,” Fisher said. “Green Choice will make the least polluting vehicles in terms of greenhouse gas and smog emissions easily visible to consumers. “