You don’t have to spend big to find a reliable vehicle. Over the past five years, the Kia brand went from a mainstay on the list of deadliest cars to the top of J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study. It usually takes awhile to translate to sales figures, but consumers eventually get the picture. Through years of dedication, an upstart brand can make headway on its pricier competition by simply producing great vehicles.
So when J.D. Power heard back from consumers about the worst brands for initial quality, many weren’t surprised to find Jaguar, Volvo, and Land Rover among the big losers. Some automakers rely on their past reputation and marketing to do the hard work, but it becomes clear who made a lemon after three years on the road. Not coincidentally, that’s exactly how long J.D. Power waits to survey consumers about the dependability of their vehicles.
In another post, we looked at the 15 SUVs that flunked the J.D Power test, and some of the losers were surprising. Here, we turn to the many cars of the same model year (2014) that took a beating in these surveys. The following 14 passenger cars scored at the bottom of their class for dependability in 2017, according to J.D. Power.
1. Mercedes-Benz CLA
It’s safe to say the “best or nothing” tagline does not apply to Mercedes-Benz CLA, the cheapest vehicle offered by the automaker at $35,000. The 2014 edition scored the lowest possible J.D. Power rating in powertrain, brake system, and interior dependability (e.g., fit and finish, noise, and other imperfections). Overall, you might say CLA is simultaneously the most affordable and most overpriced Benz on the auto market.
2. Dodge Charger
You could run a clinic on poor branding by showcasing Fiat-Chrysler’s run from 2013 to 2015. Vehicles by Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, and Fiat consistently ranked among the worst in reliability and the most maligned by consumers. The J.D. Power survey for ’14 models yielded much of the same results. Dodge Charger posted the lowest score of any vehicle in any class, with poor ratings for powertrain, brakes, transmission, interior quality, and infotainment.
3. Acura RLX
Buyers of luxury cars expect quality, and according to most expert reviews and consumer surveys they mostly get it. Acura RLX was the lone exception in J.D. Power’s survey of midsize premium cars for 2017. RLX owners reported issues with the engine, transmission, brake system, infotainment features, and other basic functions. That tally landed Acura’s performance sedan light-years behind Mercedes E-Class and Lexus GS, the top vehicles in the category.
4. Ford Focus
If you look at Consumer Reports ratings for Ford Focus from 2012 to 2016, you’ll find the compact car among the worst in its class for reliability and owner satisfaction. That assessment matches the latest J.D. Power ratings, which showed Focus at the bottom for powertrain, interior features, and tech. This model’s transmission has been particularly problematic for owners in recent years, making it a car to avoid on the used market.
5. Volkswagen Passat
In the crowded and competitive midsize sedan field, Volkswagen Passat proved unable to match models, such as Camry and Accord, in recent years. Specifically, this model showed major weaknesses in climate control, electronics, power equipment, and fuel gauges in the dependability survey. Combined with poor marks for powertrain and transmission — some possibly owing to the Dieselgate scandal — Passat found itself among the worst in its class for the 2014 model year.
6. Chrysler 200
The Chrysler 200 might be gone, but it’s certainly not forgotten by consumers who bought the midsize car before its demise. Above all, 200 was famous for rotten reviews, dreadful reputation for reliability, and the amazing number of folks who ditched them before a full year passed. J.D. Power’s dependability survey yielded largely the same results. Whether engine, transmission, interior quality, or brake systems were the subject, owners of Chrysler’s midsize sedan said it was the worst in its class.
7. Cadillac ATS
Folks working hard at GM’s Cadillac division were likely disappointed to find their brand landed below the average in initial quality for 2017. It turns out there was some bad news in the results of the dependability survey, as well. While the larger XTS and CTS were around the middle of the pack for midsize models, Cadillac ATS ranked 12th among 14 vehicles in the compact premium segment. Though ATS did well in body/interior dependability, its scores in powertrain and infotainment dragged it to the bottom.
One of the surprises of the J.D. Power study was finding Mazda6 among the worst performers in the midsize sedan segment. This car’s electronics suite (i.e., cruise control, cameras, and sensors) earned a reputation for breaking down over the years and, combined with a noisy cabin, owners graded it very low on everything but powertrain (still Mazda’s specialty). The 6 showed improvements in recent years, so it has a shot at escaping from the list of the worst in 2018.
9. Dodge Dart
Like other FCA vehicles on this list, Dodge Dart was bludgeoned by reviewers and scorned by consumers before its run on the U.S. market ended in 2016. For those still dealing with the ’14 model, that death didn’t come soon enough. Dart was one of two models that got the worst possible score in every category of the J.D. Power dependability rankings. Whether you want a great driving experience, comfortable ride, or simple controls in a vehicle, you won’t find any of the above here.
10. Infiniti Q50
Complaints about the Infiniti Q50 came with the territory beginning with the redesigned 2014 model. Buyers hated the electronics system in general (and the camera/sensors in particular), so the low marks on interior features were no surprise. Negative feedback about ride quality, hard-to-reach controls, and a subpar engine finally doomed Q50. It joined Mercedes CLA as the worst of the bunch among compact luxury cars.
11. Dodge Challenger
In the class of “midsize sporty cars,” the three American muscle legends found themselves in yet another race. However, while Camaro and Mustang scored well across the board, Dodge Challenger got hammered by owners in every category. You might think muscle car drivers wouldn’t care much about infotainment and touch screens, but today’s consumers do. Challenger lost big on that front and even got low scores for its powertrain. Without a satisfying engine, there’s almost no selling point for this car.
12. Ford Fiesta
Subcompact cars never fare particularly well in consumer surveys, but the ’14 roster got solid feedback in the 2017 dependability survey. The motley crew of Nissan Versa, Chevy Spark, Mitsubishi Mirage, and top-scoring Chevy Sonic somehow managed to avoid the worst ratings. Ford Fiesta had no such luck. This mini’s disastrous reliability run began in 2011 and continued through the ’14 model year. In brief, Fiesta’s transmission and infotainment system made it an also-ran in a segment with low expectations.
13. Dodge Avenger
Though its final year on the market came in 2014, that didn’t exclude the Dodge Avenger from making this list one last time. The midsize sedan pulled in dreadful scores for powertrain and interior dependability. So, if you’ve been counting along, Dodge posted four of the 14 least dependable cars in this survey of 2014 models. And yes, unless we count the six-figure Viper supercar, that means every Dodge car on the market that year ranked among the worst in their respective classes.
14. Chrysler 300
Joining the Dodge Charger with the lowest marks in the large car segment is Chrysler 300, which runs on the same platform. While owners rated the body and interior quite dependable, the scores for powertrain, brakes, and infotainment dragged 300 down to the bottom of the barrel. Kia Cadenza, Buick LaCrosse, and Toyota Avalon (best overall) scored at the top of this segment, and Fiat-Chrysler once again found itself in the basement. If you buy an FCA model from this era, don’t say you haven’t been warned.