Since they began flooding the U.S. market in the mid-1970s, Japanese cars have always enjoyed a reputation for reliability American companies could seem to only covet. So, naturally, it comes as no surprise that Lexus and Toyota continue their best Jimmie Johnson and Sebastian Vettel impressions, respectively landing the top two spots of Consumer Reports’ Annual Brand Reliability Survey for the 4th straight year. Instead, this year shoppers will need to scroll down to the 3rd place finisher if they’re looking for a shock. Buick, of all brands, has brought an American nameplate to Consumer Reports’ podium for the first time in over three decades.
Buick isn’t the sexiest name in autos, but admittedly, Buick has been perennially contending around the top-10 as of late. Buick’s success aside, however, U.S. brands, overall, still remain less-than-stellar in terms of reliability; Chevy ended up in 15th place this year, which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize only 29 brands were included in Consumer Reports’ study. Ford landed at 18th, and although Jeep climbed up to 23rd from 27th, the rest of the Fiat-Chrysler stable—Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, and Ram—sit at the very bottom, ranking 26th through 29th, respectively. Exclude Buick, and when it comes to reliability, American cars are patently worse than average.
One reason for our country’s struggles may be the prevalence of pickup trucks and body-on-frame SUVs in manufacturer model line-ups. Buick doesn’t have any of these, and their absence helped buoy the company’s reliability. Even for the top performers, trucks were problem areas. Toyota would have succeeded in bearing a full slate of vehicles with better-than-average reliability, if not for below-average work from the new Toyota Tacoma. Lexus, devoid of pickups, managed to score above-average marks on all 9 of its models.
Of course, not all companies from across the Pacific came away scot-free. Honda slipped to number 10, largely because of lackluster performance from the new Pilot and disturbingly poor results from the Honda Civic’s power equipment and infotainment system. The Civic, which was named the North American Car of the Year in 2016, impressed Cliff Atiyeh in his Test Drive Review for CarGurus, so its poor showing on Consumer Reports’ survey is disheartening.
A final takeaway from the survey: in order for a car company to be represented, it has to field at least two models, meaning Tesla qualified this year for the first time. Although the Model S improved to an “average” standing, the brand-new Model X and its myriad malfunctions anchored the newest automaker on the list to the 25th spot out of 29.
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