Consumer Reports Reliability Study: Top 10 Has Japanese Brands, Mini, Buick

Lexus Lexus GX
Lexus Lexus GXLexus

Japanese import brands dominate the Top 10 brand reliability rankings in the annual Auto Reliability survey from Consumer Reports. Six out of the Top 10 brands are Toyota, Nissan and Honda, and their respective luxury divisions, Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura.

Mazda and Subaru are also among the Top 10 brands. The only domestic brand in the Top 10 is Buick from General Motors, and the only European brand is BMW’s Mini.

Other highlights from the survey:

  • Gasoline-electric hybrids and plug-in hybrids are among the most reliable individual models in the survey—partly because some of them are based on tried-and-true models that have been in production for years, so manufacturers have gotten all the bugs out.
  • High-end, battery-powered, electric SUVs, a category dominated by the Tesla brand, are among the least reliable vehicles — but for issues other than their electric powertrains, like fit and finish, or how well features like climate control work.
  • Technologically advanced transmissions, often aimed at greater fuel efficiency, were the source of many complaints. Those included belt-driven, continuously-variable transmissions, and gearboxes with eight or nine gears. Transmission complaints cropped up for certain models for the Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, and Toyota brands, Consumer Reports said.

(For the record, Consumer Reports refers to itself as CR, and refers to its more than 6 million online and magazine subscribers as members.)

Brand rankings are compiled based on detailed survey responses about individual models, for the most recent three model years, said Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, in a phone interview.

CR Auto Reliability survey
Luxury midsize SUVs bookend the extremes of the 2021 Consumer Reports 2021 Auto Reliability report: The Lexus GX is best of the best and the Mercedes-Benz GLE is the very-lowest rated vehicle. Most of the top-rated cars either offer an electrified powertrain (hybrid, plug-in or EV) or the current generation has been around for years. The current generation of the Lexus GX has been offered since 2010.

CR Survey Helps Predict Reliability of 2022 Cars, Trucks

The idea of the survey is to predict the reliability of new, 2022 model-year cars and trucks, based on their recent history, for the benefit of new-vehicle shoppers today, Fisher said. Consumer Reports also rates used cars separately.

That’s in contrast to another well-known survey that sounds similar, the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study. But it’s not quite the same thing. Instead of compiling responses for vehicles up to and including three model years old, the Power survey asks owners solely about 3-year-old vehicles that they purchased new.

The Consumer Reports 2021 Auto Reliability Report is based on data collected from subscribers, about their experiences with more than 300,000 vehicles. The annual survey is an omnibus questionnaire, which asks respondents to rate a long list of household purchases, not just autos.

Individual models that were introduced for the first time, or which recently got an all-new redesign, are an exception to the rule, Fisher said. If the current, 2022 model is based on a design that’s less than three years old, ratings are based on survey results for the latest one or two model years, as the case may be. That’s to keep the results relevant for today’s new-vehicle shoppers, instead of rating the “old” model, he said.

While there are exceptions, one takeaway from the survey is that on average, new or redesigned models have more than their share of problems, so it might be advisable to postpone buying a new model until the manufacturer gets early problems ironed out.

“We don’t tell people what to buy. But if reliability is important to you, that is good advice,” Fisher said. On the other hand, a lot of consumers are willing to overlook a problem here and there, to get the latest technology, he said. 

“People Love Tesla. Do They Expect Trouble-Free? Probably Not”

“What’s important is, that you know what you’re getting into. Tesla is a great example of this,” Fisher said. “People love the purchase. Do they expect it to be the most trouble-free? Probably not.”

In J.D. Power surveys earlier this year, Tesla wasn’t officially ranked because of a small sample size. However, its unofficial score was near the bottom in the 2021 Initial Quality Study, based on the number of “things gone wrong” in the first 90 days of ownership. Yet Tesla’s unofficial score was No. 1 in the 2021 Automotive Performance Execution and Layout (APEAL) study, which measures how much people like their recent purchase.

In the Consumer Reports Auto Reliability survey, the Top 10 Most Reliable models are: Lexus GX (most reliable), Kia Niro EV, Toyota Prius Prime, Toyota Prius, Cadillac XT5, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Honda Insight, Toyota Highlander, Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-9.

According to Consumer Reports, the Bottom 10 Least Reliable models are: Subaru Ascent, Chrysler Pacifica, Tesla Model Y, Volkswagen Tiguan, Volvo XC90, Chevrolet Corvette, Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500, Ford Mustang, Ford Explorer, Mercedes-Benz GLE (least of the least reliable).

Consumer Reports 2021 Auto Reliability Study
Mini leaped 13 places to land in the top 10 of the CR 2021 Auto Reliability Report while Ram fell 12 spots to 23. Four of the six bottom brands this year are luxury vehicles. Consumer Reports says the brands are in five bands of reliability, noted by the shading behind the scores: The top band comprises vehicles CR considers Well Above Average or Above Average, followed by bands for Average, Below Average and Well Below Average.

This article, Consumer Reports Reliability Study: Top 10 Has Japanese Brands, Mini, Buick, originally appeared on Forbes Advisor.