The most problem-free cars and trucks are made by Honda and Toyota, but U.S. automakers Ford and General Motors are closing the gap in quality, according to an annual survey by Consumer Reports magazine.
Ford and GM continue to narrow the disparity that once separated Asia-based automakers from their Detroit rivals. Large overhauls of American car companies in the last few years have resulted in fewer brands and better vehicles from Detroit.
For the third year in a row, Toyota's Scion had the fewest problems of any brand in the survey. It was followed by Porsche, Acura, Honda, and Nissan's Infiniti luxury brand. The Toyota brand ranked sixth, down from third last year. It was followed by Subaru and Volvo. Lexus, which had been a top finisher in past years, fell to ninth. Ford was 10th, but rose from 16th the previous year.
Consumer Reports rankings, released Tuesday, are widely used by buyers shopping for cars and trucks. The magazine ranks No. 3 on the list of information sources used by Americans to pick vehicles, topped only by brand loyalty and recommendations from friends and family.
Scion, Toyota's youth brand, was tops because it sells just three models, the xD hatchback, xB wagon and tC coupe. Those models haven't been revamped recently. As a result, they have fewer reliability problems, said David Champion, senior director of auto testing for Consumer Reports.
Toyota generally fared well in the survey despite recalling more than 10 million vehicles worldwide for safety problems including sticky gas pedals, floor mats that can trap accelerators and brake fluid leaks.
"Toyota's taken a slight knock from the issues with their recalls," Champion said.
He said the magazine's survey asks owners to ignore recalls unless they have experienced a problem, easing the impact. Toyota's luxury brand, Lexus, has expanded its model lineup and the quality has slipped, he said.
The survey of about 960,000 of the magazine's subscribers also restored recommended ratings for eight recalled Toyota brand models.
Toyota in January recalled 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. due to sticky gas pedals, including the 2009-10 RAV4 crossover, 2009-10 Corolla, the 2009-10 Matrix hatchback, the 2005-10 Avalon, the 2007-10 Camry, the 2010 Highlander crossover, the 2007-10 Tundra pickup and the 2008-10 Sequoia SUV models.
It stopped selling the models until the vehicles on dealer lots were fixed. When sales were halted, Consumer Reports yanked the recommended ratings.
Champion said Honda is the top manufacturer for reliability, with the Honda and Acura brands consistently at the top of the survey due to a continued emphasis on quality.
Champion said the Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford has several individual models that have better quality than Toyotas. Ford's quality resurgence was led by the Fusion midsize sedan, which outranked Honda's Accord and Toyota's Camry, two of the most reliable cars on the road. Ford's improvements began five years ago and have continued, Champion said.
General Motors showed the most improvement. GM had 69 models with average or better reliability, up from only 21 last year. GM's top-ranked brand was Chevrolet at 17, up from 25 last year.
GM shed some poor-quality models when it got rid of Saturn, Hummer and Pontiac, Champion said, and its new models like the Chevrolet Equinox crossover and Buick LaCrosse sedan are performing well.
The Chrysler brand was ranked last of 27 brands shown in the survey, the magazine said, while Jeep ranked 20th and Dodge was 24th. No Chrysler vehicles scored above average in reliability.
Champion said the company under its previous owners cut costs, and it's showing in the quality rankings. The company's in the process of updating its entire model lineup. New models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee are showing promise.
The most reliable vehicle in the survey was the Porsche Boxster sports car, while the least reliable was the Jaguar XF luxury car.
Complete rankings and recommendations will be revealed in the magazine's December issue.