Consumer Reports' most reliable car brands: Toyota, Lexus...Buick?

There's one at the top you may not expect. 

Gene J. Puskar/AP/File
The Buick logo on the grill of a 2013 Buick Regal on display at the 2013 Pittsburgh Auto Show in Pittsburgh.

Critics are a lonely bunch, and the folks at Consumer Reports are no exception. While many shoppers trust what the magazine has to say, more than a few think it's been unduly judgy when it comes to Detroit car brands.

If you're one of those people, this will come as something of a shock. 

Consumer Reports has published its rankings of the most reliable car brands in America, and at the top of the list sit Toyota (duh), Lexus (also duh), and Buick.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, Buick--the General Motors brand that was, until recently, the butt of so many jokes that Buick used consumers' low expectations to power some very memorable ads. As you can see in the clip above, the "That's A Buick" campaign poked fun at Buick itself and at people's perceptions of a marque that many had written off years ago.

Buick's bronze medal marks the first time in Consumer Reports' 30+ years of issuing reliability rankings that a Detroit brand landed in the top three. No small feat, that.

How did this happen?

To generate its reliability rankings, Consumer Reports polled its 500,000+ subscribers about the problems they'd experienced with their vehicles. Some of the 17 potential trouble spots were fairly minor, like squeaky brakes. Others were major headaches, like transmission failures. 

Then, Consumer Reports compiled that data, paired it with its own test-track findings, and looked at the various problems that specific brands experienced over time. For its new reliability predictions, the company looked at 16 model-years' worth of information. 

Consumer Reports then created a Predicted Reliability Score ranging from 0 to 100. Today's average scores range from 41 to 60 on that scale. 

The magazine even feels comfortable predicting the reliability of new and redesigned models, although there's limited real-world data on them. "[B]y combining what we know about the reliability of the brand with detailed information about previous models, we can give a rating for models that are new to the market."

Da winnas, da loozas

Asian marques all fared well in Consumer Reports' reliability study. In fact, all of them finished in the top half of the survey--even Subaru, though it didn't land in the top ten because of low reliability scores from the 2016 Legacy, Outback, and WRX/STi.

In Europe, the bag was much more mixed. Audi rose, but its sibling Volkswagen tumbled, earning below-average scores on most models. Mercedes-Benz also climbed a bit, even though its GLS, C-, and S-class models received shoddy rankings. Volvo's popular XC90 proved to be the brand's undoing, due to its dodgy infotainment system. 

In America, Ford continued to suffer due to its dual-clutch automatic transmission, and brands like Chevrolet and GMC took hits for some problem-prone SUVs and pickups. Fiat Chrysler fared worst of all, though, with no Fiat or Ram vehicle earning even an "average" rating.

Tesla was included in the rankings for the first time because it now has two vehicles in its lineup--the minimum Consumer Reports allows. Though the Model X fared very poorly (thanks to uncooperative falcon doors, among other things), the Model S earned an "average" rating.

However, the magazine has some moderately harsh words for Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk with regard to the rollout of Autopilot:

"Consumer Reports has serious concerns about how some automakers, including Tesla, have designed, deployed, and marketed semi-autonomous technology. We believe automakers need to clearly communicate what these systems can and cannot do."

Is Consumer Reports "killing people" by making statements like that? We're afraid you'll have to ask Mr. Musk.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Consumer Reports' most reliable car brands: Toyota, Lexus...Buick?
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Business/In-Gear/2016/1026/Consumer-Reports-most-reliable-car-brands-Toyota-Lexus-Buick
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe