Tesla, Lexus reign atop Consumer Reports' industry score card

Consumer Reports published its annual brand Report Card for automakers on Tuesday and for the second year in a row Tesla received the highest award for a motor vehicle.

Paul Sakuma
File - Tesla workers cheer on the first Tesla Model S cars sold during a rally at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif.

Consumer Reports (CR) revealed its annual Report Card for automakers on Tuesday and for the second year in a row Tesla received the highest award for a motor vehicle.

In its April issue, Consumer Reports tested 270 automobiles on performance, reliability, and safety. Tesla’s Model S sport sedan won the top spot on CR’s top 10 list for best vehicle.

“Tesla has our overall top pick,” says Jake Fischer, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. “They are producing a vehicle that is luxurious, sporty, roomy, practical, [and] extremely energy efficient.... They are really being quite innovative in the whole user experience.”

As Consumer Reports writes on its website, no other vehicle “was able to eclipse the innovation, magnificence, and sheer technological arrogance of the Tesla.” The $89,650 Tesla Model S – a “technological tour de force” – received a test score of 99 and managed what CR refers to as an “average” reliability score (three out of five points).

To make it to the top of the coveted charts, vehicles must preform at or near the top on overall road test scores, respond effectively in crash and rollover tests executed by insurance companies or governments, and rank average or better on predicted reliability based on problems reported by 1.1 million CR subscribers.

While the Model S may have won best in show, Tesla was not the top brand performer. That honor went to Toyota’s luxury division, Lexus, which held tight to its supremacy of brand rankings and received the highest scores for the third year in a row.

“To take full measure of how the automakers stack up, our brand Report Cards provide a composite of the average road-test score and predicted reliability across their lineup,” CR writes on its site. “The overall scores show which automakers get it right in performance and reliability.”

Lexus vehicles preformed at a “very good” level during road tests and showed “solid reliability across the board.”

Consumer Reports has been evaluating auto brands since 1997, but began ranking vehicles on both reliability and performance just three years ago. The Report Cards have showed a pattern of Japanese automakers dominating the industry, but this year brought “some shuffling up of the deck.”

While Tesla and Lexus hogged the spotlight, Buick, one of three American companies to make the top 10 list, also made out quite well this year.

“It was interesting to see Buick break into the top 10 at No. 7,” Mr. Fischer says. “Buick is really getting things together and making some vehicles that drive well, they test well, and the reliability continues to improve.”

As Fischer went on to say, “you really can’t discount Subaru, which is not only in the top 10, but has three of our 10 top picks this year ... which is quite amazing for a single manufacture to have that.”

With winners, there must be losers, and there is no question who the biggest loser is this year.

“Fiat [is] right down at the very bottom of the list, which was attributed to both the performance of the car’s testing and the reliability,” Fischer says. “The worst vehicle reliability that we have in our data set is the Fiat 500L.”

Fiat need not hang its head too low; its misery has plenty of company. Jeep, Mini, Dodge, Ford, and Chrysler rounded out the bottom of the list with the Italian automaker (which is also owned by Chrysler).

“As a whole ... all of [Chrysler’s] products seems to be having some reliability issues,” Fischer says. “There are very few Chrysler or Fiat products that [rank] average or above.... Most of them are below average.”

Fischer went on to mention that Jeep and Dodge also have very few vehicles that meet even average standards, though one might wonder how anyone preforms well on this list with the record recalls in 2014. The second annual automotive industry warranty and recall study was released Tuesday and showed a record number of recalls last year, which included Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The company ended up recalling 4.3 times more cars and trucks than it sold last year, but as Fischer went on to explain, the number of recalls is actually a positive thing for consumers.

“There is a story in the April magazine all about the recalls.... We’re trying to explain what that means to consumers, because it doesn’t necessarily mean your car is unreliable if it gets recalled,” Fischer says. “Really, the issue is that the bar is being raised and we’re getting to the point where even a chance of something going wrong is just not acceptable.”

As Fischer puts it, we are in a new era of more recalls: “Cars are more reliable than they have been, they’re safer than they have been, so even though there are many recalls, that doesn’t mean the industry is going down hill.”

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