Given that Consumer Reports is among the most influential sources of information for new cars, people tend to pay a lot of attention to its new press releases, whether they agree with the publication or not. Having released its list of the most reliable vehicle brands this week, USA Today dug a bit deeper to find out who fell at the other end of the spectrum — the least reliable brands, if you will. “Less-expensive European brands are having more problems,” says Consumer Reports’ testing engineer Jake Fisher. It raises the possibility that “they are trying to save money in these vehicles” by scrimping in ways that hurt reliability, USA Today adds.
That explains Volkswagen’s and Mini’s situations, but what about Ford (NYSE:F) and Lincoln? Fisher explained that the brand appears to have tried to make too many changes at once. Consumer Reports says of the 31 Ford models in its survey, only one was above average, the F-150 pickup with a 3.7-liter V6 engine. Typically, it appears that electronics tend to be a driving force behind reliability ratings. Interestingly, the general way people think about reliability seems to be changing. Of the 17 problem areas Consumer Reports asks about, the electronics generated more complaints from owners of 2013 models than for any other category.
This coincides with the exponentially more complex infotainment systems that are being implemented that feature data connections and far more components that can “go wrong.” Fisher even noted that this year’s results demonstrated that new cars are for the most part mechanically sound. For its survey, the Consumer Reports National Research Center looked at the experiences of drivers of 1.1 million vehicles, the Los Angeles Times reports, adding that Consumer Reports then uses the survey data to compile reliability histories on vehicles and predict the dependability of new models. Here are the 10 brands that sank to the bottom in that measure.
Under its new owner, Fiat (FIATY.PK), the Ram truck brand — now thoroughly isolated from its former Dodge heritage — rounds out the top ten most unreliable. Interestingly (but perhaps not surprisingly) the entry-level 1500 yieled the fewest issues. The larger, heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 turbodiesels were the most problematic.
Reliability has been a thorn in Volkswagen’s side for a while, but it seems to be relegated to the entry-level brand. Its luxury counterpart, Audi, did quite well in the rankings, and may just be that VW is cutting costs to appeal to more people as Fisher surmises.
No one will argue that Hyundai has come a long, long way since it arrived in America, but judging by the latest results, it seems the Korean brand still has some ways to go. Like other brands, it’s possible that Hyundai has bitten off a larger bite than anticipated with its driven desire to cater to a more upscale market.
Nissan (NSANY.PK) has been enjoying considerable sales success with its Altima recently, and although the Leaf EV did quite well (simpler powertrain, less than can go wrong), the rest of the lineup didn’t fare so well.
Jeep falls under the same umbrella as Ram, having been obtained by Fiat’s purchase of the Chrysler family of brands. The Patriot proved to be the most reliable model of the lot, though the tech-laden Grand Cherokee (pictured above) didn’t do as well, consistent with the electronics-issue trend.
For Dodge, it was the Dart that was the brand’s most reliable vehicle, but the ubiquitous Grand Caravan minivan was a rough patch for the company. The good news is, with Ram, Jeep, and Dodge all making the bottom ten, Fiat should know exactly where to put its attention when it looks to make broad improvements in the future.
Cadillac (NYSE:GM) was one of the brands that suffered most from failing electronics systems. Its corporate cousin GMC was able to break into the top ten most reliable set, indicating that the reliability problems that Cadillac is having are most likely skin deep. “We are seeing a lot of issues with Ford, Honda, and Cadillac,” Fisher said, referring to systems that would freeze and not respond to touch commands or recognize voice commands, cellphones or music players.
As mentioned earlier, Ford’s problems stemmed mostly from the complaints around the MyFord Touch program, and the new infotainment system that the company implemented into its cars. Thirty Ford vehicles tested fell below the average threshold, the lone standout being the F-150, equipped with the 3.7 liter V6.
Chances are Lincoln’s problems are closely correlated with Ford’s MyTouch issues, as the two share an underlying algorithm for the infotainment setup. Further, Lincoln’s turnaround is still very much in its infancy, and with much of its product still so new, the company likely has numerous bugs to work out, as many products have early in their life-cycles.
The beloved Mini — a subdivision of BMW, no less — has found itself in the bottom position for reliability, scoring the lowest in Consumer Reports’ testing. The standard Cooper was the brands most reliable model, but apparently it doesn’t scale up well. The Cooper Countryman posed the most issues.