As anyone who’s shopped for a used car knows, cars retain value inconsistently. In this era of Big Data, armies of statisticians are gathering and analyzing all sorts of car numbers by maker, body style, price, location, model, and so on to see what we can learn. J.D. Power recently published its 2017 Vehicle Dependability Study, which rates both makers and models, and it shows that Lexus and Porsche had the fewest reported problems per 2014-model-year vehicle, followed by Toyota, Buick, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, and BMW.
Each year J.D. Power polls owners of 3-year-old cars to determine the number of problems they experienced during the previous 12 months, then ranks each maker and model by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles. Last year we built a list of Reliable Rides featuring 10 cars that performed well in studies based on model years 2010 through 2013, and this year we’re going to take a look at some new winners and returning champs as well as some cars that have made important changes since 2014.
We’re sure the improving quality of new cars owes some debt to the work of J.D. Power and other statisticians who’ve gathered, analyzed, and published data on important features like dependability for decades now in order to help shoppers make better decisions. We believe in the value of Big Data, of course, but we also think no one should buy any used car without taking 2 critical steps: Test-drive any car you’re considering buying, and purchase a vehicle history report for that car, too. Here are some 2014s you should consider.
In J.D. Power’s Small Car category, the Chevrolet Sonic, which debuted for the 2012 model year and has consistently been available as a sedan or hatchback, took top dependability honors. We noted the arrival of the Sonic as a worthy vehicle for anyone looking for a small American car—which at the time was a sparse category—on our blog back in 2011. That version was intended to fill the hole left by the Aveo, which never got great reviews and was retired after the 2012 model year. The ’14 Sonic got new standard and optional safety features, including a reversing camera, forward-collision warning, and lane-departure warning. CarGurus users prefer the sedan and use it primarily for commuting, although shoppers may want to note that Chevy didn’t offer 4G LTE hotspot capability in the Sonic until 2015, which commuters might want.
The Toyota Prius managed to take the top dependability mark in the Compact Car category from J.D. Power this year, beating out the tied Buick Verano and Honda Civic. The Prius was no newcomer to Power’s Dependability Study, either, having earned third place last year with the 2013 version, which earned strong reviews from Chris Wardlaw as well as CarGurus users. The Prius was basically a carryover for 2014, offering a new lane-keeping-assistance system and over 50 mpg on the highway, and the distinctively shaped Prius has always offered exceptional cargo capacity. Anyone interested in a look at the cutting edge of technology might want to check out the brand new Prius Prime plug-in hybrid, which offers a total driving range of 644 miles.
The dependability award in the Midsize Car category went to another Toyota more appreciated by practical types than by driving enthusiasts: the Toyota Camry. Our Test Drive Review gave that car a perfect 10 for Cost Effectiveness, which makes sense given all the features included and offered on the Camry at less than $30K. Its bargain starting price combined with the Camry’s exceptional value retention limits the appeal of used Camrys compared with new ones, but top-notch dependability has strong value for any shopper. Our reviewer made sure to mention that Toyota sold two slightly different Camrys in the 2014 model year, and it was the 2014.5 version, built after December 2013, that earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS. If the 2014 version of the Camry looks boring, what do you think of the 2018 version, which debuted in Detroit?
The Chevrolet Camaro took its fifth straight award in J.D. Power’s Midsize Sporty Car category. It also appeared in last year’s Reliable Rides, but since the version we covered there, the 2013, did not include the new track-ready Z/28 and its 7.0-liter V8, we thought a reappearance would be worthwhile. The Camaro got other updates for ’14, including a more aerodynamic overall look, better interior materials, and the MyLink infotainment system with available navigation. If you’re looking for something newer, the 2016 Camaro is admittedly a redesign that rides an entirely different platform, but George Kennedy liked the V6 available in non-SS trims and appreciated its head-up display.
J.D. Power’s dependability king in the Compact SUV category is the Toyota FJ Cruiser, the last version of a car that achieved a rare honor for a non-Ferrari, as we noted in a blog post a little over a year ago: At one point, FJ Cruisers cost more used than they did new. As regular readers know, we love the Jeep Wrangler, so it should be clear that we appreciate non-traditional vehicles, and the FJ is certainly that. We do have a few reviews that compare the FJ directly to the Wrangler, and while the Wrangler got higher marks for its handling, looks, and value, the FJ won for its back seat and cargo capacity. As we noted, you won’t be able to find an FJ newer than 2014, but Toyota will add TRD off-road-ish versions of the Sequoia, Tundra, and RAV4 to those lineups for 2017.
This year’s winner in J.D. Power’s midsize pickup category was the Honda Ridgeline. The 2014 Ridgeline is typical of this model in that it’s sort of a pickup (albeit without the same capacities as most full-size pickups) and sort of a crossover. Cliff Atiyeh reviewed and liked the only version more recent than J.D. Power’s award winner, which arrived for the 2017 model year, calling it an “open-face minivan.” Whether you buy a first-generation ’14 or a second-generation 2017 model year Ridgeline, both share a very distinctive feature that isn’t available on any other pickup straight from the factory: Honda’s trademark “Dual-Action Liftgate.” Able to drop open along the bottom like those on most trucks, the Ridgeline’s liftgate can also open to the side, which is how you access another distinctive and convenient feature: a drainable compartment under the floor of the bed that can hold an 82-cubic-foot cooler. This may not be the most traditional truck for a tailgate, but given that compartment and the unibody Ridgeline’s car-like ride, we’d be willing to give it a try.
The Ford F-150 was not only the best-selling vehicle of the 2014 model year, despite a sales decline from the previous year, but it was also the last version of the truck that didn’t use aluminum in its body panels. That aluminum body inspired lots of worry about durability and repairs, which probably helped Ford sell more pre-aluminum trucks in 2014. And customers apparently liked the ’14 F-150, because it took top dependability honors in this year’s Large Light Duty Pickup category. Unfortunately, we did not get an up-close look at the 2014 F-150, and as we already noted, the ’15 version got a bunch of updates and aluminum body panels to launch a new generation, but Chris Wardlaw reviewed the 2016 F-150 very positively, giving it a perfect 10 for Form and Function.
The Toyota Sienna extended its winning streak in J.D. Power’s Minivan category, having taken the #1 dependability spot every year since 2011, when the 2008 model was in consideration. Dependability is particularly important in a vehicle that will regularly carry loved ones in addition to the driver, and being based in New England, we also appreciate another feature of the Sienna that’s probably not so popular in places that don’t get snow: The Sienna is the only minivan that offers all-wheel drive (AWD). The Sienna does lack a feature shared by two competitors, one of which is very new to the market, the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica, which used an old name on a new model when it arrived for 2017. The regular Pacifica’s look and functionality impressed George Kennedy, and we look forward to checking out the first-ever hybrid minivan.
J.D. Power’s Midsize Premium SUV category’s dependability award went to the Lexus RX. The GX won last year and was a strong second to its fleetmate, but the RX costs less and looks less stodgy. The RX has to make do with a less-powerful engine, too, but given its appeal to parents who have crowds of kids to cart around, horsepower probably shouldn’t be a primary concern. The cabin is quiet and refined, at least until you pack it with children, and it lives up to Lexus’ “premium” image. With more than 80 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats down and 3,500 pounds of towing capacity, the RX 350 also offers plenty of utility. Although it can’t keep up with the third-place finisher in its category, the Porsche Cayenne, the RX will most likely need fewer trips to the mechanic, who will work at lower hourly rates than those required for the Porsche.
Heavy-duty pickups are a mostly American business. The Big Three have dominated the Large, Heavy-Duty Pickup category in J.D. Power’s Dependability Study for years now, with the Chevrolet Silverado HD having taken the crown for the last three years straight. Those three straight victories all featured the same generation of the Silverado HD, which arrived in 2011 and featured strengthened fully boxed frames and quieter cabins in addition to stronger and cleaner engines than previous versions. The 2014 edition of the Silverado HD got another boost courtesy of a new 4.10 axle that boosted towing capacities by 4,500 pounds, an optional spray-in bedliner, and a compressed natural gas option for the 6.0-liter V8. Chevy will need to continue improving the Silverado to keep up with Ford’s Super Duty trucks, which got redesigned for 2017 and earned high marks from George Kennedy for performance and technology.
Is dependability one of the primary things you consider when shopping for a car? Do you usually buy new or used cars?
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Used Chevrolet Sonic
Used Toyota Prius
Used Toyota Camry
Used Chevrolet Camaro
Used Toyota FJ Cruiser
Used Honda Ridgeline
Used Ford F-150
Used Toyota Sienna
Used Lexus RX
Used Chevrolet 2500HD