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Detroit automakers struggle in Consumer Reports ratings

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Detroit automakers continue to struggle in annual ratings of brands and new vehicles by Consumer Reports.

Buick — at seventh — was the only brand from the Detroit automakers to rate in the top 10 of the consumer magazine’s 2016 Brand Report Card for a second-consecutive year.

All other brands from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV were in the bottom half of the 30 brands rated. Four Fiat Chrysler brands were among the worst six ratings.

Consumer Reports Director of Automotive Testing Jake Fisher said Detroit automakers continue to be hurt by having older models in their lineups, and by reliability rankings that have been dragged down in recent years largely because of faulty infotainment systems.

The highest overall brand scores went to Audi (80) and Subaru (78), which the magazine recommends all of each brand's models that it has tested. Luxury brands Lexus (76), Porsche (76), and BMW (76) rounded out the top five in the rankings. Mazda (74), Buick (74), Toyota (72), Kia (72) and Honda (71) rounded out the top 10.

“It’s very impressive to see Subaru and Mazda, for that matter, hold their own with many luxury brands,” Fisher said. “That’s a testament to them making very good performing vehicles as well as good reliability, as you’d expect.”

Consumer Reports changed its rating system for 2016 to include an overall score that’s based on road-test performance, reliability, safety performance and owner satisfaction data. Previously, the vehicle ratings in previous years were listed by the road test score, and then the magazine would “recommend” the vehicles based on crash-test, reliability and other metrics.

“We’re combining all that to a brand-new overall score,” Fisher said. “That new overall score is how we’re rating the vehicles now, and that’s also how we’re determining who makes the best brands because we’re simply averaging the vehicles of each one of those brands to come up with a brand score.”

Fisher said vehicles that have active safety features such as forward collision prevention systems and automatic emergency braking are rated better: “For the first time ever, we’re taking into account those particular active safety features ... if they are standard equipment, will have an impact on the overall score.”

He said the technologies have “absolutely proven themselves,” and Consumer Reports is recommending that every vehicle should have them. He called them the most promising safety breakthroughs in the automobile industry since the advent of electronic stability control almost two decades ago.

Among cars and trucks in specific segments, Ford and GM were each awarded one Top Pick each: The Ford F-150 was crowned best pickup, while the Chevrolet Impala was named best large sedan for a second-straight year. No other vehicle from the three Detroit automakers won any of the 10 vehicle categories.

Other top pickups include the Toyota Sienna, dethroning the Honda Odyssey for the first time since 2011, for minivans; Lexus RX for luxury SUVs; Kia Sorento for mid-sized SUVs; Subaru Forester for small SUVs; Mazda MX-5 for sports cars under $40,000; Toyota Camry, its fifth title in 20 years, for best midsize sedan; and Subaru Impreza an Honda Fit for best compact and subcompact cars, respectively.

“This year several automakers have really hit the mark with their redesigned vehicles,” said Consumer Reports’ Cars Content Development Team Leader Mark Rechtin in a statement. “This year’s Top Picks include refreshed models, like the Lexus RX, that have vaulted back to the top of their respective categories after lengthy absences.”

Consumer Reports did not name a best overall vehicle for 2016. The Tesla Model S luxury electric sedan took the top spot the past two years. The magazine actually pulled its recommendation on the car in October due to its reliability.

All of the top 15 brands besides Mercedes-Benz and Volvo had at least 50 percent of their vehicles recommended.

Consumer Reports did not recommend any vehicles from the bottom five brands — Chrysler, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Jeep or Fiat.

“When you look at Jeep, they sell image; they sell style; they’ll sell certain things that may not come out when you pragmatically evaluate the vehicle,” Tews said. “People do buy Jeeps and they get what they pay for.”

Matt Liddane, Fiat Chrysler North America vice president of quality, said although the company appreciates feedback from consumers and third like Consumer Reports, he encourages “customers to experience our vehicles for themselves.”

“We continue to aggressively pursue both product and launch-quality improvements as they are top priorities for the Company and our internal measurements are showing progress,” he said in a statement.

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Top picks by category

Pickup truck: Ford F-150

Minivan: Toyota Sienna

Luxury SUV: Lexus RX

Mid-size SUV: Kia Sorento

Small SUV: Subaru Forester

Large car: Chevrolet Impala

Sports car under $40,000: Mazda MX-5

Mid-size car: Toyota Camry

Compact car: Subaru Impreza

Subcompact car: Honda Fit