Honda and Subaru still make the best vehicles overall, but Ford posted the largest gain, improving both its road-test and reliability scores in the past year, according to Consumer Reports annual Automakers Report Card for 2011. Ford has outpaced its cross-town rivals in reliability in recent years, and this year its average test score for all tested models rose from 66 to 70. Current offerings such as the Fusion, Flex, and Mustang have been impressive, and even the new Fiesta scores well in tests. Consumer Reports currently Recommends 71 percent of the Ford vehicles it has tested.
The Consumer Reports annual Automakers Report Card reflects the performance, comfort, utility, and reliability of more than 270 vehicles that Consumer Reports recently tested. Each automaker's overall score is based on a composite of road-test and predicted-reliability scores for all of its tested models. The road tests score is based on more than 50 tests and evaluations, covering performance, safety, fuel economy, comfort, and convenience. Reliability scores come from Consumer Reports Annual Auto Survey, which included histories of 1.3 million vehicles.
Honda, Subaru, and Toyota are the top three for the third year in a row. Most of their vehicles do well in Consumer Reports tests and are relatively trouble-free.
Honda, including its Acura division, has had the best reliability record of any manufacturer and has made mostly good to outstanding vehicles. In fact, no Honda product scores less than average in reliability. Currently, Consumer Reports Recommends 76 percent of the Honda vehicles it has tested. But some new Hondas have been unimpressive, including the CR-Z and Insight hybrids, which didn't score well enough in CR's tests to be Recommended. The redesigned Odyssey, still CR's top-ranked minivan, dropped a few points in its test score, compared with the previous year.
Subaru, which has the highest average road-test score (81), makes only about a half-a-dozen models, but almost all do well in Consumer Reports road tests and have been 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. Reliability remains better than average with a steadfast average test score of 74 for all tested vehicles. However, some newer Toyotas have slipped in interior fit and finish. Two Toyotas, the subcompact Yaris and the FJ Cruiser SUV, have shown superb reliability. However, these two vehicles are not Recommended because of their low roadtest scores. Consumer Reports currently Recommends 74 percent of the Toyota vehicles it has tested.
General Motors has also improved in both its average road-test and reliability scores. The newer GM models, such as Buick Enclave and LaCrosse, and the Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse have performed well in Consumer Reports tests. GM's average test score for all tested models has improved to 67 from 65 last year. But the company still fields a few lackluster cars, including some Chevrolet Impala sedan and the Colorado pickup. The below-average reliability of Cadillac and GMC models also drag down its overall score. Reliability has improved to average overall, but it's still not stellar for many models. Currently, Consumer Reports Recommends 46 percent of GM models it has tested.
If front-seat comfort, fit and finish, and driving dynamics were all that counted, European cars would rule the roost. European cars generally perform well in Consumer Reports road tests, but many have confusing controls and inconsistent reliability. Volvo is the only European make with an above average reliability score.
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. Consumer Reports Recommends 53 percent of the Volkswagen and Audi models tested.
Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with below-average reliability, are near the bottom of Consumer Reports Automakers Report Card rankings. SUVs from both carmakers, especially, had reliability problems, according to Consumer Reports Annual Auto Survey, despite being good performers.
Mercedes-Benz is the only manufacturer with the dubious distinction of having year over year drops in both its average road-test (77 to 73) and reliability ratings (from average to below average). And although the BMW 1 Series has an excellent road-test score, it is hobbled by terrible reliability.
Chrysler came in last in the class, with the lowest average test score by far (50). As it overhauls its lineup, newer models, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Ram, have done better in Consumer Reports tests than older models, and Consumer Reports is encouraged from early looks at upcoming redesigns. Chrysler's reliability, which is below average, needs to improve for the automaker to be competitive. Consumer Reports currently recommends only one Chrysler model, the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck.
See the complete Consumer Reports Automaker's Report Card for 2011.
Visit the annual auto issue special section for quick access to the latest Ratings, articles, and videos.