Consumer research firm J.D. Power’s annual Vehicle Dependability Study ranks 31 automotive brands according to the number of problems reported by owners of three-year-old cars and trucks (2014 models were examined this year).
By Mark Toljagic
Whether it’s a $60 toaster or a $60,000 sport-utility purchase, everybody wants a flawless ownership experience. We’ve come to expect it after becoming accustomed to spending $2,800 on a refrigerator when a $900 model used to suffice. It’s got to be better, right? Unfortunately, how much you spend seems to have little bearing on the quality of the product you get. Surprisingly, some of the most expensive automotive nameplates rate below the industry average, while some of the most affordable accumulate near the top of the rankings.
Overall dependability scores are generally higher (worse) in this year’s study, largely due to the added complexity of new electronic driving aids that can frustrate owners. Dependability is expressed as the number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100); the lower the score the higher the quality and the industry average of 156 PP100 has gone up for the second year in a row. Wrong direction!
We’ve already revealed the 10 least dependable automotive brands for 2017, so let’s look at the top 10 nameplates that get it right. Some do it quite consistently year after year; after all, quality shouldn’t be a fleeting, er, quality. Here are the top 10 automotive brands in the 2017 Vehicle Dependability Study presented in ascending order.
Tata Motors’ Jaguar brand is one of those automakers that’s experienced mercurial rises and falls in the J.D. Power rankings over the years. It seems to have its good model years and its bad – which may not be a good thing in terms of the brand’s reputation for dependability if Jaguar can’t deliver it consistently.
However, 2014 seems to be one of Jaguar’s better years and for good reason: it marked the debut of the F-Type sports car, its first bona fide roadster in a generation. In addition to the glowing press reviews, the car appears to be holding up well with owners, which helps bolster vehicle valuations at lease return or trade-in time. The good vibe can cast a healthy aura over the whole product line, which uses a lot of the same high-performance engines and transmissions. In the F-Type, Jaguar has a winner on its hands and the entire brand is elevated for it.
A Canadian favourite, Honda has been toiling away to keep its models relevant and appealing in a highly competitive marketplace. The 2014 model year did not see much in the way of new product – there was just a redesigned Accord Hybrid model and an updated Odyssey minivan – so consumers did not flock to the brand in renewed numbers. The Civic continued to sell well, often to repeat customers, as it quietly delivered the qualities expected of it. For that, it received an honourable mention in the compact car category rankings (Toyota’s Prius hybrid won).
The unibody Ridgeline pickup truck earned the lone segment win for Honda in the slim midsize pickup category, beating out the Nissan Frontier. The Odyssey didn’t even rate a mention in the minivan category; owners reportedly have been unhappy with the automatic transmission’s jerky gear changes. Honda ranked seventh in last year’s study with a score of 126 PP100, so it dropped a couple places.
General Motors’ mainstream division has been riding a wave of popularity and good mojo with its improved lineup of vehicles. For 2014 that lineup included an all-new Corvette and updated versions of the Malibu, Camaro and all-important Silverado pickup. The models were well received and, more importantly, didn’t disappoint buyers over three years of ownership.
In fact, Chevrolet was the second-most decorated brand for segment wins with four, including the Sonic (small car), Camaro (midsize sporty car), Tahoe (large SUV) and Silverado HD (large heavy-duty pickup). Other Chevrolets garnered honourable mentions, those being Malibu, Equinox and the Silverado light-duty pickup. Last year, Chevrolet ranked sixth with a score of 125 PP100 so it, too, dropped a couple spots.
Consumers often mistakenly equate expensive European brands with quality and dependability, but it’s not always the case. Germany’s BMW has not often cracked the top 10 in the J.D. Power Dependability Study; last year it ranked 14th from the top and very close to the industry average score. This year it fared better.
Its new turbocharged four-cylinder engines had some teething issues, and owners have not been enamoured with the cars’ navigation and infotainment systems. BMW’s predilection for run-flat tires has also frustrated owners due to their high failure rate, rapid wear and expensive replacement cost. Still, BMW has worked hard to resolve reliability issues and enhance the appeal of the performance-oriented brand with more eco-friendly drivetrains – no easy feat. However, the “ultimate driving machine” has a way to go if it wants its product quality to match its boastful tagline and owners’ lofty expectations.
A newcomer to the top 10 is South Korean manufacturer Hyundai. Once the butt of jokes – who can forget Alec Baldwin’s insult in the film Glengarry Glen Ross? Or the Pony, or Excel! Indeed, Hyundai has come a long way in a few short decades. There have been a few missteps during its progression; the new Alabama-built 2011 Sonata sedans used locally produced engines that exhibited metallurgical problems, and power-steering racks in older Elantras have been failing in significant numbers.
Yet Hyundai is a fast learner and has engineered its way out of a lot of issues by introducing ever more sophisticated models. In the latest study, the 2014 Sonata and Tucson crossover earned honourable mentions in their respective categories. Hyundai is very much riding the Up escalator and is no longer considered the default discount brand in Canada, nor does it have to trade on price alone. The fact that it’s sandwiched between BMW and Mercedes-Benz in this study speaks volumes.
As the most recognizable of the coveted luxury brands, Mercedes-Benz has long been associated with advanced engineering and meticulous construction, a reputation forged decades ago in stark contrast to the Detroit makers, which in those days were driven to accelerate production to boost quantity over quality.
Mostly a consistent top-five finisher in recent J.D. Power studies (though it missed the cut last year when it ranked 12th), Mercedes has managed to bolster its reputation even as it aggressively expanded its range of vehicles to include everything from subcompact to large automobiles, sport utilities and commercial trucks. In this year’s J.D. Power study, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class won the compact premium SUV segment, while the C-Class and E-Class models earned honourable mentions in their premium car categories.
General Motors’ Buick division continues to outperform all its corporate cousins, especially Cadillac, which has been saddled with finicky technology that’s proven to be too clever by half. Buick seems to bring the right mix of sophisticated drivetrains and comfortable ride to a very loyal audience. Some say Buick fans may be a little too old, but the high average buyer age has also shielded the nameplate from overly critical feedback (studies show younger buyers are a harder cohort to satisfy).
In the latest dependability study, the 2014 Verano received an honourable mention in the compact car category (tied with the venerable Honda Civic), and the innovative Encore earned props in the small SUV segment. The Buick LaCrosse also received an honourable mention in the large car category.
The world’s second-largest automaker has demonstrated unfailing consistency in the J.D. Power studies year after year by building durable cars and trucks that place it high among the most dependable nameplates in the industry. It’s especially impressive for a manufacturer that makes such a wide array of models for virtually every market segment on every continent. In the 2017 dependability study of 2014 models, Toyota walked away with the most segment wins, bar none.
The Prius hybrid was the highest ranked compact car, the larger Prius V snagged the compact MPV segment, while the bestselling Camry topped the midsize car category and had the lowest PP100 score of any model in the study. The Avalon captured the large car segment, the Sienna snatched the minivan segment and the final year of the FJ Cruiser dominated the compact SUV category. Finally, the Camry-based Venza was the least troublesome midsize SUV in the study.
Despite its expanding product line, Porsche has often occupied an elevated position in J.D. Power’s dependability top-10 over the past decade due to its dedication to meticulous engineering that was the creed of Ferdinand Porsche, its founder. Porsche did not win any segments this year due to a tightening of the eligibility rules, although the Cayenne earned an honourable mention in the midsize premium SUV category.
Porsche resides at the top of the rankings tied with Lexus. No longer a relatively small manufacturer of high-performance sports cars, Porsche developed the Cayenne and Macan sport utility vehicles and its first luxury car, the Panamera, to avert insolvency. The new products were so well received, they brought newfound riches to the German automaker – almost two-thirds of Porsche’s sales are derived from the utilitarian Cayenne, Macan and Panamera – that have allowed it to craft better and faster sports cars in the 911, Cayman and Boxster.
For the sixth consecutive year, Toyota’s premium Lexus brand has been named the most dependable nameplate in the industry – though it’s technically a tie score with Porsche this year. But only Lexus enjoys an enduring dynasty: Lexus began dominating the J.D. Power dependability studies soon after its showrooms opened in America in 1990, and 1991 in Canada. While its models may not deliver the same invigorating driving experience that the German makers provide, Lexus knows how to design and assemble vehicles that can avoid repair centres.
Part of that reputation for durability can be attributed to the introduction of several gasoline-electric hybrid versions of its popular models. Lexus has three individual models in the winners’ circle in the 2017 dependability study by segment: the ES sedan ranked highest as a compact premium car, the GS earned the midsize premium car title and the RX won the midsize premium SUV title.
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