Who Makes the Best Cars?
Honda and Subaru still make the best vehicles overall, but Ford posted the largest gain in the past year, improving in its road test and reliability scores. General Motors and Volvo also improved in both areas. On the other hand, Mercedes-Benz is the only manufacturer whose scores dropped in both measures.
Our automaker report cards reflect the performance, comfort, utility, and reliability of more than 270 vehicles that we’ve recently tested. Here are other highlights from this year’s analysis:
- Honda, Subaru, and Toyota are the top three automakers for the third year in a row. Most of their vehicles do well in our tests and are relatively trouble-free.
- Newer GM models have performed well in our tests, but the company still fields a few lackluster cars that drag down its overall score. Reliability has improved, but it’s still not stellar.
- Chrysler came in last, with the lowest average test score by far. But the company, now run by Italian automaker Fiat, is currently overhauling its lineup. Newer models, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Ram have done better in our tests than older models, and we’re encouraged by our early looks at upcoming redesigns. Chrysler’s reliability needs to improve for the automaker to be competitive.
- European cars perform well in our tests, but many have confusing controls and inconsistent reliability. Volvo is the only European make with an above-average reliability score.
Each automaker’s overall score is based on a composite of road test and predicted-reliability scores for all of its models that we’ve tested. The road tests comprise more than 50 tests we perform, covering performance, safety, fuel economy, comfort, and convenience. Reliability scores come from our Annual Auto Survey. We also show the percentage of each carmaker’s tested vehicles that we recommend. We revised our methodology this year, now giving equal weight to reliability and test scores. Previously, test scores carried more weight. So the overall scores are not directly comparable with last year. We also had insufficient data on one brand we included last year, Mitsubishi.
Asian Makes Lead the Pack
Honda, including its Acura division, has had the best reliability record of any manufacturer and has made mostly good to outstanding vehicles. The subcompact Fit, midsized Accord, and Acura MDX SUV have been at or near the top of their categories for years. In fact, no Honda product scores less than average in reliability. But some new Hondas have been unimpressive, including the CR-Z and Insight hybrids, which didn’t score well enough in our tests to be recommended. The redesigned Odyssey, still our top-ranked minivan, dropped a few points in our testing.
Subaru, which has the highest average road-test score, makes only about a half-dozen models, but almost all do well in our road tests and are reliability stalwarts. The Forester is a top-rated small SUV, and the Legacy, a good-performing sedan, has improved with each generation. Only one model, the sporty Impreza WRX, has below-average reliability.
Toyota, Lexus, and Scion models remain solid choices overall, but some newer Toyotas have slipped in interior fit and finish, with the Sienna minivan and Venza wagon being two recent examples. Two Toyotas, the subcompact Yaris and the FJ Cruiser SUV, have shown superb reliability but scored too low in our road tests for us to recommend them.
Hyundai’s overall road-test score is a bit higher than last year’s and could further improve with the impressive new models we are now testing.
Ford Rules Detroit
Ford has outpaced its crosstown rivals in reliability in recent years. In our road tests, we have been impressed by current Fords such as the Fusion, Flex SUV, and Mustang. Even the new small Fiesta drives nicely. But the Ford Escape and Edge SUVs are nothing special, the large Ford Taurus has limited visibility, and the touch-sensitive controls in some new Fords and Lincolns are difficult to use.
Newer GM vehicles such as the Buick Enclave and LaCrosse, and the Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse, have done well in our road tests and have average reliability. The new Chevrolet Cruze performed well in our tests, but reliability remains to be seen. The below-average reliability of some Cadillac and GMC models hurts the automaker’s overall score, as did subpar older models such as the Chevrolet Impala sedan, Colorado pickup, and the outgoing Aveo subcompact.
Europe Is Mixed
If front-seat comfort, fit and finish, and driving dynamics were all that counted, European cars would rule the roost. As it is, subpar reliability hounds some European brands. Volkswagen’s brand reliability has improved of late, but Audi’s spotty reliability brings the combined automaker’s score down. If the new Jetta sedan, with its low-grade interior and mediocre fuel economy, is an indication of where Volkswagen is headed, it’s going in the wrong direction. Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with below-average reliability, are near the bottom of our ranking. Their SUVs, especially, had reliability problems, according to our survey, despite being good performers. And although the BMW 1-Series has an excellent road-test score, it is hobbled by terrible reliability.
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