Buick only U.S. brand in top 15 of reliability survey

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Only one American car brand — Buick — cracked the top 15 list in Consumer Reports’ latest Auto Reliability Survey. Cadillac struggled the most in the annual ratings because of problems with its infotainment system. And fuel-saving transmissions emerged as trouble spots for some makes.

Dual-clutch transmissions and those with as many as nine speeds were developed as part of the race to build more fuel-efficient vehicles. But they have led to cars breaking down, according to Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing.

This undated image made available by Toyota shows the 2015 Lexus LS 460.

“The types of issues we’re seeing now are issues that could leave people stranded; much more large mechanical systems as opposed to nuisances or whether or not the power seat works,” Fisher said. “I think there’s more manufacturers going to multi-speed transmissions, so there’s going to be a learning curve.”

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with Autotrader.com, said, “All these new transmissions are because we’re trying to make the cars as fuel-efficient as possible. But I think what you’ll see is that they’ll evolve, they’ll get there. But it doesn’t help the consumer who has one of these things.”

The Consumer Reports study looks at vehicle data as far back as three years and surveys 17 problem areas: everything from major mechanical issues to loose door panels and other mild annoyances. Major issues are weighed more heavily in a vehicle’s overall score.

The report, which surveys about 740,000 vehicles, found Lexus, Toyota and Audi were the most reliable brands. General Motors Co.’s Buick brand was the only Detroit brand to make the “most reliable” category, while most domestic brands fell in the “least reliable” category. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Fiat, Jeep and Ram brands were the three least reliable brands.

Cadillac, which has struggled to gain footing in the competitive luxury market and earlier this year moved from Detroit to New York, tied with Acura for the biggest decline in reliability (down seven places) from a year ago. Consumer Reports said its main issue was its CUE infotainment system, along with build-quality issues in its newest models.

All of GM’s brands besides Buick were in the bottom third of the rankings. Chevrolet gained one spot from a year ago while GMC stayed the same. The Chevy Corvette, Suburban and GMC Yukon XL all struggled more than in previous years, Fisher said.

Ford Motor Co.’s Ford brand saw the biggest jump (up six spots) to 17th place, but it still placed among the lower half of all auto brands.

Fisher noted the gains it’s made in recent years thanks to the redesigned F-150 and Expedition. Nine of Ford’s 13 vehicles had average or better scores. Consumer Reports found the new Mustang had a number of issues, including problems with its body hardware, drive shaft and stability/traction control systems.

FCA’s ranking have been consistently low for years as they deal with transmission problems and other issues. Consumer Reports rated the Fiat 500L as the industry’s least reliable car.

Japanese and Korean brands historically perform well in the survey, while European and American brands fluctuate depending on how long their offerings have been on the market. Cars and trucks that tend to do well have been in the market a few years and have corrected serious problems.

Among the Japanese brands, Lexus earned the top spot after all seven of its vehicles scored well. Toyota finished second.

Other Japanese brands like Infiniti, Mazda and Honda, fell because of infotainment system glitches.

“You can no longer say all Japanese cars are better,” Krebs said. “If you look at the list, some Japanese automakers are having some issues.”


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