DETROIT - Japan's lock on Consumer Reports' vehicle reliability rankings is starting to ease.
Three Japanese brands -- Lexus, Toyota and Acura -- took the top spots in this year's survey, and seven of the top 10 brands are Japanese.
But three non-Japanese brands -- Audi, Volvo and GMC -- cracked the top 10. And the magazine announced Monday it's not recommending that consumers buy 2014 models of the Honda Accord V6 and Nissan Altima sedans, two of Japan's top sellers, because of poor reliability scores. Two other Japanese mainstays, the Toyota Camry and Toyota RAV4, won't be recommended because they flunked a frontal crash test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
That's a blow that could impact sales. Consumer Reports' recommendations are frequently cited among the top reasons people buy particular cars and trucks.
Yonkers, N.Y.-based Consumer Reports predicts the reliability of 2014 model year cars and trucks based on a survey of subscribers who own vehicles from current or prior model years. This year, the survey questioned the owners of 1.1 million vehicles.
Problems with infotainment systems, from frozen touch screens to poorly performing voice-operated navigation systems, were frequent complaints. Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' automotive testing director, said electronic problems may even be underreported, since some drivers find the systems so confusing they don't use them. German cars tended to have the best infotainment systems.
The 2014 Subaru Forester got the top score for predicted reliability, but the magazine noted that the 2014 Forester had only been on sale for a few weeks in the spring when owners were surveyed, so there wasn't much time for errors to crop up. The Subaru Legacy was the top-performing midsize car.
Electric cars and hybrids generally performed well, but the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid got the worst reliability scores. Ford and its luxury Lincoln brand were near the bottom of the rankings because of customer complaints about their glitch-prone touchscreen dashboard systems and lower-than-expected fuel economy numbers.
The key to reliability is a conservative approach to vehicle redesigns. The brands that do best, like Toyota and Honda, often use time-tested engines, transmissions and other parts from prior models in their newer cars, Fisher said. Automakers with new engines or other untested features in their new cars -- like Ford or Cadillac -- tend to do worse.
"When you redesign cars from the ground up, you're going to expect those issues," Fisher told The Associated Press.
Brands with many older models, like GMC and Volvo, also tend to do better.
Here are the brand rankings, the number of spots the brand moved up or down from the previous year and the best-performing and worst-performing model in each brand. Porsche was not on last year's list because the magazine didn't have enough data from readers.
|Rank||Brand||Change||Best Model||Worst Model|
|1||Lexus||+2||ES 300h hybrid||GS|
|2||Toyota||(same)||Prius hybrid||Prius plug-in hybrid|
|4||Audi||+4||A6 (four-cylinder engine)||Q5 (four-cylinder engine)|
|6||Infiniti||+3||G sedan (all-wheel-drive)||JX|
|8||Honda||-2||CR-Z||Accord Coupe (V6 engine)|
|12||Buick||+9||Verano||LaCrosse (V6 engine)|
|13||Mercedes-Benz||+1||E-Class Convertible||M-Class (diesel engine)|
|15||BMW||+1||X1 (four-cylinder engine)||335i sedan|
|16||Kia||-6||Optima hybrid||Optima (turbo)|
|17||Chevrolet||-2||Tahoe||Cruze (1.8-liter engine)|
|18||Chrysler||+5||300 (V8 engine)||Town and Country|
|19||Ram||+6||1500 (V8, four-wheel-drive)||2500 and 3500 (diesel)|
|23||Jeep||-4||Patriot||Grand Cherokee (V6 engine)|
|24||Dodge||(same)||Dart (2.0-liter engine)||Grand Caravan|
|25||Cadillac||-14||ATS (2.0-liter engine)||XTS|
|26||Ford||+1||F-150 (V6 engine)||C-Max Energi|
|27||Lincoln||-1||MKS||MKT (EcoBoost engine)|
Source: Consumer Reports
Here are the top three models in each category.
|Category||Top Three Models|
|SUBCOMPACT CARS||Honda Fit||Hyundai Accent||Mazda2|
|SMALL CARS||Scion xB||Dodge Dart||Subaru Impreza|
|MIDSIZE CARS||Subaru Legacy||Toyota Camry||Mazda6|
|COUPES||Mercedes-Benz E-Class||Infiniti G||Audi A5|
|LARGE CARS||Lexus ES||Acura TL||Toyota Avalon|
|SPORTS CARS||Porsche Boxster||BMW M3||BMW 1 Series|
|HYBRID/ELECTRIC CARS||Toyota Prius||Lexus ES 300h||Toyota Prius C|
|LUXURY SMALL CARS||Infiniti G37 (AWD)||Infiniti G37 (RWD)||Acura TSX (4-cylinder engine)|
|LUXURY SEDANS||Audi A6||Lexus LS||Audi A7|
|WAGONS||Mazda5||Toyota Venza||Audi Allroad|
|MINIVANS||Toyota Sienna (FWD)||Nissan Quest||Toyota Sienna (AWD)|
|SMALL SUVs||Subaru Forester (non-turbo)||Mitsubishi Outlander Sport||Toyota RAV4|
|MIDSIZE SUVs||Toyota 4Runner||Toyota Highlander (V6)||Toyota Highlander (4-cylinder engine)|
|LARGE SUVs||Toyota Sequoia||Chevrolet Tahoe||Chevrolet Yukon|
|LUXURY SMALL SUVs||BMW X1 (4-cylinder engine)||Infiniti EX||Audi Q5 (V6)|
|LUXURY SUVs||Lexus RX||Lexus RX hybrid||Audi Q7|
|SMALL PICKUPS||Honda Ridgeline||Nissan Frontier||Toyota Tacoma (4-cylinder, FWD)|
|LARGE PICKUPS||Toyota Tundra (V8, 2-wheel-drive)||Toyota Tundra (V8, 4-wheel-drive)||Ford F-150 (V6)|
Source: Consumer Reports