Lexus, Toyota and Buick are the most reliable brands in the US Consumer Reports’ latest survey, a reward for their conservative approach to new technology.
It’s the fourth straight year Lexus has come in first and Toyota second. Two of their hybrids, the Toyota Prius and the Lexus CT 200H, were named the most reliable vehicles.
But Buick, General Motors Co’s near-luxury marque, is the first US brand to crack the top three since the magazine began tracking vehicle reliability in the early 1980s.
Audi and Kia rounded out the top five brands.
Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat and RAM, all owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, were the worst performers. Electric car maker Tesla Motors also fared poorly.
The survey, released this week, is closely watched by the motor industry, since many buyers in the US look to the magazine for recommendations.
Consumer Reports predicts the reliability of 2017 model-year brands and individual vehicles based on survey responses from its subscribers. The magazine collected subscribers’ comments on vehicles they own from the 2000-2017 model years. Around 500,000 subscribers responded.
Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing, says the best performers have something in common — they add new technology slowly, and bit by bit, rather than all at once.
When Lexus introduced its new 2016 RX SUV, for example, it used an older engine and an eight-speed transmission that had been used in another Lexus vehicle.
By contrast, Honda fell in this year’s survey partly because of its 2016 Civic small car, which has two new engines, a new steel underbody and a new continuously variable transmission.
Fisher says GM has been improving its cars and small SUVs for several years. The Chevrolet Cruze was the survey’s top-performing small car, while the Chevrolet Trax was the top-performing small SUV.
But the company continues to struggle with pickups and larger truck-based SUVs, which gets low marks for steering and suspension issues.
The Cadillac Escalade large SUV is the worst-performing vehicle due to its combination of transmission problems and its difficult-to-use infotainment system.
Tesla, added to this year’s survey because the magazine had enough owner responses, had problems with its new Model X SUV, including water leaks and climate control issues.
Fisher said Tesla should perform better than average, since electric cars have fewer mechanical parts than petrol-powered cars. But it gets tripped up by flashy features such as the Model X’s glitch-prone falcon-wing doors.
“The problem with Tesla has always been the gimmicks,” he said.