Luxury brands rule the roost this year as Acura and Audi moved up a few spots to join Lexus with the top three highest scores in Consumer Reports’ annual car brand report cards.
A perennial top scorer, Lexus earned the highest marks (79) for the second straight year. Consumer Reports’ analysis finds the bulk of its models are usually quiet, comfortable, and fuel-efficient. Lexus was the only brand to achieve an excellent average overall reliability score.
Following close behind were rivals Acura and Audi, whose scores were just one point apart. Moving into second from fifth place last year, Acura earned a score of 75 with reliable, well-finished and somewhat sporty models. Audi’s score (74) has trended upward in the past two years due to improved reliability. The brand moved from 8th to 3rd—thanks to its cars’ well-crafted interiors, nice handling, and good gas mileage from its range of modern, efficient engines.
The complete report and scores for all 23 brands in Consumer Reports Car Brand Report Cards for 2014 is available in the annual auto issue of Consumer Reports or by visiting the 2014 Autos Spotlight on www.ConsumerReports.org.
“A lot can go wrong when building cars packed with luxury features,” said Jake Fisher, director of Consumer Reports automotive testing. “It’s impressive to have three luxury brands score top marks when reliability is one of the defining factors.”
Consumer Reports’ Annual Car Brand Report Cards are intended to show which brands are making the best all-around vehicles, based on how their models perform in Consumer Reports comprehensive road tests and how they rate in reliability. The reliability findings are based on CR’s annual survey of its subscribers, in which they tell us about problems with their 1.1 million vehicles.
Consumer Reports calculates each brand’s overall score using an equally weighted composite of its road-test scores and reliability scores for each model that the organization has tested and for which its subscribers have provided reliability data in its Annual Auto Survey. To be included, each brand needs at least three models for which Consumer Reports has test and reliability data.
In general, luxury brands outperformed their mainstream stablemates. The only exception was Cadillac, which scored the lowest of any of General Motors’ brands, based mainly on problems with the XTS’ CUE infotainment system. Audi’s luxurious, fun-to-drive, and fuel-efficient cars earned it the highest overall average road-test score. Mercedes-Benz followed, and Chrysler, Infiniti, and Subaru tied. Jeep has the lowest road-test score, dragged down by score for the Wrangler, the dated Compass and Patriot, and the unimpressive new Cherokees.
In addition to Audi’s surge, other European brands improved somewhat this year. Mercedes-Benz placed ninth in the rankings, moving up one place over last year. BMW and Volvo tied with an overall score of 66. Volkswagen held position, scoring a 59. Though it has a number of high-scoring cars in Consumer Reports’ tests, several have reliability problems, which dragged down the brand’s overall score.
Japanese brands dominated the rankings, taking seven of the top eight spots. Following the three highest-scoring spots were Subaru, Toyota, Mazda, Honda, and Infiniti. The only Japanese brand that wasn’t in the upper half is Nissan, which ranks 18th out of the 23 makes in Consumer Reports’ analysis. Subaru builds a range of all-wheel-drive cars and SUVs with very good fuel economy and solid reliability, except for the rear-wheel-drive BRZ sports coupe. Toyota builds impressive hybrids and very reliable cars that are quiet and comfortable but rarely engaging. Mazda has come on strong with models that deliver impressive fuel economy while still being fun to drive.
Honda is another consistent performer, delivering well-constructed cars that do well in Consumer Reports’ tests and hold up over the long haul. The brand’s troublesome new infotainment system hurt reliability on high-end versions of the Accord, but it didn’t drag down the brand score significantly. Nissan dropped five places following reliability problems with redesigns of the Pathfinder and the midsized Altima. The Sentra and Versa made backward steps in Consumer Reports’ testing, with each model getting lower tests than previous generations did. The older Armada and Titan were extremely unreliable, as well.
At the other end of the spectrum, Jeep and Ford tied for the lowest score (50). Jeep has a mix of spotty reliability and mediocre road-test results. While a number of recent Ford models are very nice to drive and earn solid test scores, the brand continues to have reliability problems, especially with its MyFord Touch system. Three other Detroit brands, Dodge, Cadillac and Chevrolet round out the bottom five.
The top Domestic makes—Buick, GMC and Chrysler—scored mid-pack. Last year’s leading U.S. brand, Cadillac, ran into similar problems as Ford with its CUE system, but it didn’t affect a wide swath of cars. Cadillac dropped six places after replacing its large DTS with the XTS and introducing the small ATS. The redesigned CTS sports sedan is engaging to drive, but a tight rear seat and trunk and complicated controls hurt its road-test score. GM has recently revamped most of its cars and pickups, and the redesigned Impala and Silverado impressed Consumer Reports in tests, boosting Chevy’s average road test score.
South Korean brands Hyundai and Kia rank in the lower third, between the best American brands and the stragglers. A bargain alternative, Consumer Reports finds Hyundai builds good cars that are well-rounded and comfortable, with good fuel economy. But Hyundai’s average reliability lowered the brand’s overall score. Like its sister brand, Kia builds well-rounded, functional models that rapidly improve with every redesign.
This year Consumer Reports doesn’t have report cards for Fiat, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mini, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Ram, Scion, Smart, and Tesla because either the organization has too few currently tested models from those makes or it lacked sufficient reliability data to make a valid determination. Ratings on individual models from those makers are available at www.ConsumerReports.org.
The complete report and scores for all 23 brands in Consumer Reports Car Brand Report Cards for 2014 is available in the annual auto issue of Consumer Reports and at the 2014 Autos Spotlight on www.ConsumerReports.org starting February 25, 2014. Updated daily, ConsumerReports.org is the go-to Website for the latest auto reviews, product news, blogs on breaking news and car buying information. Check out CR’s ongoing Twitter feed at @CRCars.