Japanese Dominate Reliability Ratings, Ford Lags

By: CBS News (posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: CBS News (posted by Melissa Brunner)

(CBS MoneyWatch) Japanese brands continue to dominate, but Volvo, Audi and GMC cracked the Top 10 in the Consumer Reports annual reliability ratings.

The remaining seven of the Top 10 are Japanese (with Lexus, Toyota and Acura the top three), following a pattern of recent years. Audi was fourth, Volvo seventh and GMC ninth. Among domestic automakers, General Motors fared best even beyond the GMC success. Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac brands all beat Ford, which lagged at 26th out of 28 places. Ford bested only its own Lincoln brand and Mini. Chrysler Group's Chrysler brand finished 18th, and the company's Dodge was 24th.

The reliability ratings are available in the December issue of Consumer Reports or on its website if you are a subscriber. The magazine surveys its readers and their experiences with 1.1 million vehicles to come up with the rankings. It then uses the data to predict how reliable 2014 models will be.

The top ranking for an individual model went to the newly-redesigned 2014 Subaru Forester, which has been on sale for only a few months. CR earlier gave a strong test drive rating to the Forester. The Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid got the worst overall score, and the regular C-Max hybrid fared nearly as poorly.

Other than Ford C-Max and Ford Fusion hybrid, hybrid and electric cars continued to rank well for their reliability. The Nissan Leaf electric car and hybrids Toyota Prius, Lexus ES 300h and Honda CR-Z all ranked among the top models.

Here are some other highlights and lowlights from the rankings:

*Electronic systems posed the biggest issue for problematic brands. The Ford and Lincoln MyTouch system, a negative since its introduction in 2011, continued to plague these brands. Problems with new audio, navigation and communication systems led CR to drop the Honda Accord V-6 from its recommended list. (The Accord four-cylinder is still recommended). The new Cadillac CUE infotainment system also hurt its brand's ratings (25th).

*Ford's problems don't end with the perennial MyTouch issues. Several models powered by the turbocharged V-6 EcoBoost engine -- Ford's answer to retaining power while boosting gas mileage -- got poor ratings. Of 34 Ford and Lincoln models in the survey, only the F-150 pickup with the 3.7-liter V-6 engine was rated above average. Nearly two-thirds of those models ranked much worse than average.

*In recent years, the Korean corporate siblings Hyundai and Kia had risen higher in the reliability ratings even as their U.S. sales grew. But this year they slipped back to 16th for Kia and 21st for Hyundai.

*The Tesla Model S electric car, which earlier received one of the highest scores ever recorded by CR's test drivers, ranked average in reliability and thus remains a recommended model. Complaints from owners centered on wind noise, squeaks and rattles and body hardware, including sunroof, doors and locks. Few Tesla owners reported electronic problems.

If you are or soon will be shopping for a new or used car, look up the models you are considering on the CR reliability list. It could save you money and trouble later.

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