Revealed: Who makes the most (and least) reliable cars?

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Words: Matthew Hansen
20 Nov 2020

Each year American non-profit data firm Consumer Reports (CR) issues a series of surveys with data sourced from new-car buyers in order to determine who performs best in a variety of metrics — including reliability.

Its latest 2020 reliability survey has been published; showing Mazda at the top of the pile for the first time in CR history, after the marque edged out Toyota and Lexus. Buick was ranked an incredible fourth, 14 spots up on where the firm placed it last year, ahead of Honda in fifth. The full list of 26 manufacturers is at the bottom of this story.

CR puts Mazda’s strong showing down to its lack of next-gen experimentation technology. While the firm’s first SkyActiv-X vehicles are well into the delivery stage, it’s done much less in the realm of electrification than some of its rivals — meaning that, according to CR, its current line-up represents a reliable choice.

Toyota lost points over claims around the RAV4’s transmission, CR says, while Lexus was hobbled by its BMW 7-Series rival, the LS. At the other end of the list, meanwhile, Ford luxury arm Lincoln ranked last, with Tesla, Volkswagen, and Mini also occupying the bottom of the list. Perhaps the most curious ‘cellar dweller’ name is Ford, which was weighed down by the new Explorer; CR reporting it as “one of the lowest scoring models from any manufacturer this year”.

CR’s data comes from its wide membership, who together own around 300,000 vehicles. Owners of vehicles feed reports back to CR around any issues they come across, from transmission problems to issues with touchscreens to hair appearing in the paintwork. This is where readers should take results with a grain of salt. Some car owners are much more fastidious than others, meaning it’s sometimes best to not take surveys like these purely on face value. As New Zealanders, it's worth noting too that some of the models detailed in the study aren't sold locally.

Still, there’s some interesting points to note looking at the full list of 26. Kia’s relatively weak ranking down in 15th (six down on where it was last year) is down to CVT issues in the Forte and Soul. Porsche in ninth ranks as the top European brand. While Mini is owned by BMW, it rates significantly lower than its parent company; 12th playing off against 23rd. And Tesla’s spot at the bottom has been significantly hampered by reports from Model Y owners.

It’s also interesting to compare the CR survey results with those generated by rival data firm J.D Power earlier this year. Rating car brands according to the number of reported issues per 100 vehicles sold on three-year-old cars, it rated Hyundai’s luxury arm Genesis in number one over Lexus, Buick, Porsche, and Toyota, with Mazda only appearing 10th. 

It's worth noting that Genesis was one of the brands that CR didn't have enough data on to include in its survey, along with the likes of Mitsubishi, Jaguar, Land Rover, Fiat, Maserati, Acura, Alfa Romeo, and Chrysler.

“A car might be great to drive and have all the features you want, but all that won't matter to you much if you have to keep going back to the dealer for repairs,” said CR senior director of testing Jake Fisher. “We use extensive feedback from owners to help you avoid hassles by choosing a reliable car.”

“Consumers deserve products that are safe, secure and provide good value,” added CR CEO Marta Tellado. “At a time when people are faced with so much uncertainty and misinformation, CR continues to provide people with trusted information rooted in science, evidence and data. Our annual auto reliability, combined with our comprehensive auto testing, helps to shape a marketplace that puts consumers first.”

Consumer Reports Reliability Rankings, 2020

1. Mazda
2. Toyota
3. Lexus
4. Buick
5. Honda
6. Hyundai
7. Ram
8. Subaru
9. Porsche
10. Dodge
11. Infiniti
12. BMW
13. Nissan
14. Audi
15. Kia
16. GMC
17. Chevrolet
18. Volvo
19. Jeep
20. Mercedes-Benz
21. Cadillac
22. Ford
23. Mini
24. Volkswagen
25. Tesla
26. Lincoln

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