Consumer Reports: Infotainment, Transmissions Hurt Reliability. Detroit Three Quality Dismal

The latest published Consumer Reports’ Annual Auto Reliability Survey data shows that “growing pains” for new models is common for many manufacturers. The survey of 640,000 vehicles revealed that all-new or updated models are now more likely than older ones to have a “wonky engine, a jerky transmission, or high-tech features that fail outright.”

“These new technologies can add features and improve fuel efficiency, but are more prone to have issues. Often our data suggests it’s prudent for consumers to wait for the technology to mature” said Jake Fisher of CR at the Automotive Press Association in Detroit.

Nothing new here as veterans of the car wars will tell you. For current examples, consider that more eight- and nine-speed and continuously variable transmissions (CVT) are coming to market. Many owners have reported issues with them breaking down or shifting badly. Infotainment systems are another frequently noted trouble spot in new or newly redesigned models. CR’s survey this year showed that owners of first-year models had twice as many complaints about in-car electronics.

CR’s survey does show that some – but not all – automakers quickly remedy the problems that surface so they’re mostly gone by the next model year (good luck if you’re stuck with un-mostly). The 2016 Hyundai Tucson SUV scored poorly with owners due to transmission issues, but complaints about the 2017 Tucson transmission dropped by more than half. Similarly, the in-car electronics of the 2017 Honda Civic are so improved the complaint rate was only a third of that for the 2016 version.

Detroit Three –  Chrysler improves, GM brands drop, Ford Motor bottom half

Overall, there was movement among car brands in CR’s Annual Reliability Rankings this year. The perennially lagging Chrysler brand climbed the most in this year’s report, jumping ten positions from last year from an admittedly low baseline.  Nonetherless, Chrysler remains in the lower half of all 27 brands ranked by CR.  The all new Pacifica minivan has average reliability a Pyrrhic victory since the vehicle’s rating was affected by some minor transmission issues.

Other FCA brands also made incremental improvements. Jeep seems to have worked out some of the transmission problems that plagued the early years of the Cherokee, but the Grand Cherokee and Renegade remain below average. Still, CR’s data shows marked improvement with these models each year. The only Dodge model that did not have below-average reliability was the Grand Caravan. Charger and Challenger improved over last year, but are still below average. The Ram 1500 pickup improved to average, but the low standing of the 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups keeps the brand near the bottom.

GM’s brands took it on the chin this season, with Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC in the bottom third. Buick, which ranked third last year, dropped five spots to eighth, with the redesigned LaCrosse debuting with reliability that is well-below average. The much-better-than-average reliability of the Encore, and the better-than-average reliability of the Cascada and Envision helped Buick to stay in the Top Ten – but no pennant earned here, paralleling the Tiger disastrous season in Detroit.

The new Bolt electric car is Chevrolet’s most reliable model with above average reliability. However, the Volt plug-in hybrid remains below average. Chevy Cruze, which debuted with well-above-average reliability last year, plunged to below average.

GM continues to struggle building cars. Could it be that all the attention is going to Crossovers, SUVs and Pickups, or is it all the talent that is going to or is assigned to the most profitable segments?

Selling Luxury from Last Place?

GMC and Cadillac are at the bottom of Consumer Reports’ brand rankings – just what a premium buyer doesn’t demand or desire. GMC Acadia debuted with well-below-average reliability, and is among the 10 least-reliable new models. Aside from some infotainment issues in the Acadia, problems with drive system, power equipment, and climate system were also reported. All of Cadillac’s models had below-average reliability, yes all, including the new-for-2017 XT5 compact SUV.

Trouble here, consider that Porsche ranks highest in the overall ratings of the 2017 J.D. Power APEAL* survey for the 13th consecutive year, with an index score of 884. The Hyundai Genesis ranks second overall (869) followed by BMW (855), Audi (854) and Mercedes-Benz (851).

Ford Motor “gained several spots” and ranks 15 of 27. The F-150 pickup improved to average reliability. However, the Focus and Fiesta are still well-below average, with ongoing clutch and transmission problems. AutoInformed has learned that the next Fiesta and Focus will likely be built in China and sold in North America. Some respondents reported a few problems with the new Sync3 infotainment system in the Fusion. As for Lincoln, the MKZ sedan had average reliability, and the MKC and MKX SUVs were below average.

Toyota Remains Ichiban

For the fifth straight year, Toyota brands sit at the top of the ranking of 27 brands for predicted new-car reliability by CR. Other Asian-based manufacturers, including Acura and Mazda, saw their reliability averages plummet. Subaru gained five spots to rank sixth this year, despite the “below average” reliability of the redesigned Impreza.

Honda improved by one spot this year. All Honda models have average or better reliability. Honda has managed to work out most of the bugs with the Civic’s in-car electronics, and those improvements were reflected in the redesigned-for-2017 CR-V, which shares an engine and the infotainment system with the Civic. Acura took a nosedive this year, dropping to the bottom third of the brand rankings. While the redesigned in 2013 RDX is aging but above average. All other Acuras were below average.

Nissan had a slight gain, with the Top Ten selling Altima sedan improving to better-than-average and the Pathfinder SUV (finally?) improving to average.

Kia rose two spots to rank third. The new Niro hybrid debuted as the most reliable new car in the entire survey. Kia’s lowest scoring model is the Sportage, rated at average reliability. Hyundai dropped three places to rank 10th. The redesigned-for-2017 Elantra compact car had well-above average reliability, but the problems with the new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission dropped the Tucson compact SUV to below average.

European Brands Mostly Tread Water

European brands remained relatively unchanged from last year. Audi stayed in the fourth position. BMW gained four spots to join the top five brands this year. All BMW models had average or better reliability.  Mercedes-Benz’s redesigned 2017 E-Class had better-than-average reliability in its first year, and the S-Class finally improved to average. Volvo remained near the bottom, hurt by the much-worse-than-average XC90, which ranks as the third least reliable model among new vehicles. The problem rate for the XC90’s infotainment was the worst in CR’s Survey at 21% – nearly as high as Ford/Lincoln’s MyTouch system when it debuted. See Ford, Lincoln Change Touch Screens after Quality Ratings Dive, Ford Finally Kills MyTouch name with Sync3 as Replacement.

For more information on CR’s annual #CRCarReliability survey, visit CR.org/reliability or follow Consumer Reports on Facebook at facebook.com/consumerreports and on Twitter @consumerreports.

The latest Consumer Reports Annual Auto Reliability Survey, gathered information from Consumer Reports subscribers who collectively owned or leased more than 640,000 vehicles, from model years 2000 to 2017, covering more than 300 models. More information can be found at www.consumerreports.org and in the December 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Footnote

*The 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study measures owners’ emotional attachment and level of excitement across 77 attributes, ranging from the power they feel when they step on the gas to the sense of comfort and luxury they feel when climbing into the driver’s seat. These attributes are combined into an overall APEAL index score that is measured on a 1,000-point scale. The J.D. Power study, now in its 22nd year, is based on responses gathered from February through May 2017 from nearly 70,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2017 model-year vehicles who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study, which complements the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, is used to varying degrees by manufacturers to help them design and develop more appealing vehicles and by some consumers to help purchase decisions.

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.

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