Japanese brands took the top seven spots in Consumer Reports’ annual reliability rankings, pushing aside their U.S. and European rivals. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Scion, Lexus and Toyota brands took the top three spots, and the Toyota Prius C, a subcompact hybrid, got the best overall score. Mazda, Subaru, Honda and Acura were close behind.
“Really, I’m not surprised though,” said Skip Welborn at Riverside Toyota-Scion in Rome. “They’ve stepped up their game. They are re-investing a lot of time as well as money and human resources into quality control. There’s no question that all the other players, the Europeans and the domestic manufacturers, have stepped up their game as well.”
The rankings, released Monday, predict the reliability of 2013 model-year vehicles based on surveys of Consumer Reports’ readers. This year, 800,000 people submitted information about 1.2 million vehicles from the 2010 to 2012 model years. The rankings are critical for auto companies, since Americans frequently cite Consumer Reports as a main source of car-buying advice.
Mike Barron Sr., at the Heritage Auto Group, 965 Veterans Memorial Highway, said several Honda models are still performing very strongly.
“We’re seeing tremendous results with the new redesigned 2013 Honda Accord. Demand is huge. The Odyssey (minivan) was redesigned in 2012, and that’s been a great seller,” Barron said. “The Honda Civic generates great fuel efficiency. Its sheet metal is being redesigned because of bad reports it got in Consumer Reports last year.”
Ford and Lincoln, once top performers, plummeted to the bottom of this year’s rankings because of persistent problems with glitchy touch screens and bumpy transmissions. Ford was also hurt because three normally reliable models — the Ford Escape, Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ — are all new for 2013, so Consumer Reports couldn’t predict their reliability.
Kim Leggett, at Courtesy Ford Lincoln Mercury, 101 Highway 411 East, said that the Fusion and Escape models are both top sellers.
“There have been updates to the My Ford Touch system that have straightened out a lot of those problems,” said Leggett.
He expressed some frustration with the ratings, citing one Ford model that numerically scored higher than a competitor’s model, yet the competitor got a “Recommend” from Consumer Reports and the Ford model was “Not Recommended.”
Also near the bottom were Chrysler Group’s Chrysler, Dodge and Ram brands, which have been getting a fast makeover since partnering with Italy’s Fiat three years ago. Consumer Reports says models with more features and more powerful engines, like the V-8 versions of the Chrysler 300 and Jeep Grand Cherokee — had the most issues.
Bob Williams, owner of Bob Williams Dodge Chrysler Jeep, 2500 New Calhoun Highway, said he has never really understood how Consumer Reports does its ranking and that very few of his customers ever bring up the magazine when they come into his shop.
“I don’t know why they rank us there because my warranty repair is down 80 percent from where it was just a few years ago,” Williams said. “I just don’t know what to say — we never have ranked very high, but I know we don’t have as many recalls.”
The best-performing U.S. brand was Cadillac, from General Motors Co.
John Welborn at Riverside Chevrolet Cadillac said he wasn’t surprised Cadillac fared well.
“They look at five years, not just the first year,” Welborn said. “Most cars are pretty good the first year or so, but at the end of five years Cadillac has a very high rating, better than the other products.”
As for the rest of the General Motors stock, Welborn said the products are so much better than they were just a few years ago.
“The worst car today is still better than the best car was ten years ago,” Welborn said.
Volkswagen AG’s luxury Audi brand made the biggest strides in this year’s survey, climbing 18 spots to No. 8. It was the best-performing European brand. Glitch-free new models like the A7 sedan got high marks from Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing.
“They’re out-BMWing BMW, easily, in terms of the driving dynamics,” he said.
Electric cars also got impressive results. The all-electric Nissan Leaf was Nissan’s best performer, partly because its electric motor has fewer parts than a gasoline engine, Fisher said. Barron said Heritage Nissan has two of the Leaf vehicles in stock right now, but demand for the all-electric vehicle hasn’t taken off because consumers have become accustomed to the price of gasoline.
“It has a range of 90 miles, and you can charge it off 110 (volts), but you really need a different charging system that is set up for it,” Barron said.
But the Chevrolet Volt — an extended-range electric car that has both an electric system and a conventional engine and transmission — also got the highest score of any GM vehicle.
“GM took a lot of painstaking time to develop that car,” Fisher said.
The Volt was recalled earlier this year because vehicles crash-tested by the government showed a risk of fire when coolant leaked from the battery. But Consumer Reports’ rankings don’t reflect that, since the magazine only asks respondents to note issues that have happened on their own vehicles. Only vehicles with 100 or more responses are included. Among 2012 models, the magazine got the most responses for the Honda CR-V, with nearly 3,000.
Fisher said the magazine is getting about the same number of complaints as it did five years ago. But issues with electronics, audio and touch-screen systems have increased while complaints about mechanical problems are down.