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Buick Cracks Consumer Reports’ Top 3, Giving US Brands a Boost

Oct. 24, 2016
Tesla and Honda are booted out of their top spots, while Lexus and Toyota rank first and second.

Buick, the 117-year-old General Motors Co. brand seeking to shake its geriatric image, became the first from the U.S. to crack the top three in Consumer Reports’ reliability rankings, trailing only Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus and namesake marques.

Tesla Motors Inc.’s Model S sedan recovered its recommendation, after losing it last year, in the annual survey of Consumer Reports readers. But its Model X sport utility vehicle wasn’t recommended because of multiple issues, including problems with the electronic controls on its 17-inch dashboard screen and failures of its falcon-winged doors, said Jake Fisher, the magazine’s director of automotive testing. The Tesla brand ranked 25th among the 29 rated.

The survey, a buying bible to car shoppers that has been dominated by Japanese automakers, has more international representation this year. As other automakers catch up to Japan’s manufacturers, both Subaru and Honda tumbled from the top group of “more reliable” brands, with Honda’s Civic compact car losing its longstanding recommendation from Consumer Reports.

Besides GM’s Buick, Volkswagen AG’s Audi luxury line ranked fourth and Kia Motors Corp.’s namesake brand came in fifth. Sedans, selling poorly amid low fuel prices, scored best, while hot-selling SUVs are among the most error-prone models because of their complexity, Fisher said. Dashboard infotainment systems and fuel-saving multispeed transmissions caused the most trouble.

“Certainly, Lexus and Toyota know what they’re doing, but look at the top five: We’ve got America, Germany and South Korea -- it’s anybody’s ballgame at the top,” Fisher said in an interview Monday before the survey was released. “GM is making some very good cars today and Buick’s cars are very reliable.”

The magazine’s survey started in 2001 and at the time looked back at more than 20 years of data. That means Buick’s entry into the top three is the first for a domestic brand in more than 35 years of record-keeping.

Wake-Up Call

Buick has consistently scored in the top 10 of the Yonkers, New York-based magazine’s list, and climbed higher this year in part because of the simplicity of its model line, which is heavy on sedans and short on SUVs. Buick’s most reliable model is the Verano compact car, one of its slowest sellers, while its Enclave SUV scored the lowest in the brand.

Buick’s high rating is “sure to be a wake-up call to other manufacturers,” Fisher said.

GM’s Chevrolet was the second-highest U.S. brand, moving up five places from last year to 15th. Its most reliable model was the Cruze subcompact, while its Suburban SUV scored the lowest. GM’s Cadillac Escalade SUV was the lowest scoring model among the more than 300 evaluated, earning a score of 3 on a scale of zero-to-100. Cadillac rose four places to 21st, but remained among the “less reliable” brands. GM’s GMC fell five places to 24th, pulled down by a low score for its Yukon XL.

“GM is going to continue to improve, but their Achilles’ heel is that truck platform,” Fisher said of the mechanical foundation of the automaker’s big SUVs. “A couple years down the road, I fully expect they’re going to get a lot of the kinks worked out.”

Ford Motor Co.’s namesake brand fell one spot to 18th, while its Lincoln luxury line fell four places to 20th, ranking it among the “less reliable” brands. Ford’s Expedition large SUV, based on a design that has been around for years, was the brand’s most reliable model, while its Focus compact car was the worst. Lincoln’s top scorer was the MKZ sedan, while its MKC compact SUV was its worst.

Less Reliable

Four of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s brands -- Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat and Ram -- were at the bottom of the list. The company’s Jeep line rose four places to 23rd, but remained among the “less reliable” brands. The Ram pickup line was the lowest rated in the survey. The Jeep Patriot, which ends production next year, was that brand’s most reliable model, while its new small Renegade SUV scored the lowest.

“They have struggled for years,” Fisher said of Fiat Chrysler’s brands. “They really struggled this year with the 9-speed automatic transmissions,” which are aimed at improving fuel economy, but have many moving parts that can fail.

Honda Motor Co., traditionally near the top of the rankings, fell two places, mostly due to the poor performance of the new Civic car, which lost its recommendation as it scored just 17 points on the 100-point reliability scale. The Civic was named the North American Car of the Year by a panel of journalists at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

“The redesign of the Civic was huge, the car drives differently, a completely different body, a new transmission, a turbo powertrain for the first time, a new infotainment system that’s very buggy,” Fisher said. “People wrote in to say that while they were driving, the gauges would go out and reboot, so they would just lose their gauges.”

The Civic’s big problem was its electronic infotainment system, which was second only to Volvo Car’s XC90 SUV in terms of problems. The XC90, which was the North American Truck of the Year, scored poorly in reliability and dragged Volvo down four places to 19th, among the “less reliable” marques.

Fisher said the XC90 “has the absolute worst infotainment system problems.”

Asian Brands Lead

Asian brands continued to outperform those from other regions, with all of them in the top half of the survey.

Lexus and Toyota were first and second for the fourth consecutive year. All nine Lexus models had above-average reliability ratings, as did all Toyota models except the 2016 Tacoma pickup. The Lexus CT200h hybrid and its corporate sibling, the Toyota Prius, each scored 94, the highest among the more than 300 models rated by Consumer Reports readers.

Tesla’s Model X ranked sixth from the bottom of the survey, with a score of just 12. The Model S scored 44, giving it average reliability, enough to win back the magazine’s recommendation, Fisher said. Tesla’s electric-drive system is reliable, but the brand loses points for fancy features, such as power door handles that pop out from the side of the car, touchscreen controls and the Model X’s falcon-wing doors.

“What’s bringing them down is the gizmos,” Fisher said. “We saw many complaints with the falcon-wing doors, with people not being able to get in or out of the vehicle.”

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Licensed content from Bloomberg, copyright 2016.

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