Tesla slips while Mazda rises in Consumer Reports auto rankings

Skylar Woodhouse and Keith Naughton

Tesla Inc. fell in Consumer Reports’ latest auto brand rankings, outdone by Mazda Motor Corp.’s mainstream models.

The electric-car maker dropped five spots from last year’s report to rank No. 16 – the middle of the pack – in the closely watched annual assessment based on road tests, reliability data, owner satisfaction surveys and safety performance. While Tesla scored high on customer satisfaction and road testing, its vehicles were less reliable than others, according to Jake Fisher, senior director of automotive testing for the Yonkers, New York-based magazine.

Jake Fisher appears on the "Talking Cars with Consumer Reports" video series.

“The only model we’re able to recommend is the Model 3. All the other ones have below-average reliability,” Fisher said in an interview.

Mazda, meanwhile, climbed three steps in the rankings to knock Porsche out of the top spot. “Mazda is putting out very desirable vehicles that drive very well,” Fisher said.

Mazda's 2021 CX-5.

It’s the first time Mazda has captured the top spot. The company was among five mainstream brands to make Consumer Reports’ Top 10, which in the past has been packed with luxury lines. Other “reasonably priced” brands that landed in the upper ranks include Subaru, Honda, Toyota, Stellantis NV’s Chrysler and General Motors Co.’s Buick.

Touchscreen Controls

For Tesla, a recurring reliability issue is failures with its tablet-style touchscreen that controls many of the car’s functions, Fisher said. The company’s plans to put gear-shift controls on the panel could exacerbate the issue going forward, he added.

The interior of Model Y is shown with a 15-inch touch screen.

“You lose this screen in a Tesla and you lose major controls and safety equipment on the vehicle,” Fisher said.

The magazine named Tesla’s top-selling Model 3 a “Top Pick” in the $45,000 to $55,000 price range, saying it offered “an otherworldly driving experience, with punchy acceleration.” But the brand’s Model S, Model Y and Model X vehicles showed shortcomings in “build quality,” including back hatches that don’t close properly and poor paint finish, Fisher said.

The Model Y, Tesla’s latest vehicle, is a midsize crossover that’s competing with Ford Motor Co.’s electric Mustang Mach-E.

The drop is a new obstacle for Elon Musk, who is expanding Tesla globally with factories in Shanghai and Berlin.

Consumer Reports is a car-buying bible for many that has built a reputation for thorough and meticulous testing, complemented by reliability reports from thousands of its members. The organization buys all the vehicles it tests and doesn’t accept any marketing dollars from manufacturers.

The 12th generation Corolla returns for a second year with a new Apex Edition and updated safety features. The Corolla Apex Edition adds updated suspension changes, a body kit and new 18-inch wheels that combine for a better-handling Corolla.

Toyota Motor Corp. had four models land on the magazine’s Top Picks list, including the Corolla, Prius, Camry and Lexus RS. The Japanese automaker historically does well in quality rankings because it takes a “slow, methodical” approach to redesigning its models, Fisher said.

Consumer Reports launched a new Green Choice designation, which assesses which vehicles emit the lowest amount of greenhouse gases and smog-forming emissions. Tesla’s Model 3 made the Top 10 along with Toyota’s Prius, Corolla Hybrid and Camry.