Japanese models soar in new Consumer Reports rankings

Lexus' luxury vehicles topped Consumer Reports' annual Car Brand Report Card, followed by Subaru, Mazda, Toyota and Acura. Audi and Mercedes-Benz were the only non-Japanese brands in the top 10 - a ranking revised this year to separate individual nameplates under single manufacturer's umbrella.

And the Americans? Cadillac scored the best for the home team, nosing out Chevrolet and GMC largely thanks to its high-scoring CTS model.

Among individual categories, Honda's redesigned Accord topped the list of midsize sedans, and Audi's A6 led the lurxury category, and Hyundai's Elantra led in the budget (sub-$20,000) category. You can find the top models here, though much of Consumer Reports' more detailed content will be behind a pay wall.

The report is frustrating news, undoubtedly, for Ford, whose overall scores were dragged down by consumer frustration and electronic problems affecting the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch control interfaces. CR said Ford’s road-test scores "have also been handicapped by some models’ unrefined dual-clutch automated manual transmissions and a new lineup of EcoBoost turbocharged engines that don’t deliver the performance and fuel economy of some competitors’ larger engines."

Jake Fisher, CR's director of automotive testing,  said the troubles were especially frustrating  "because many of Ford’s new models ride and handle as well as European luxury cars costing much more. And Ford’s latest hybrids, the Fusion Hybrid and C-Max, are impressive.”

Complex electronics don't have to be the bane of a car brand, Fisher said.  CR recommends every Lexus model, and they score consistently high on reliability, even though Lexus' cars "are brimming with technology including impressive hybrid drivetrains and complicated infotainment systems,” he said.

Yes, that kind of refinement comes at Lexus prices. But it's unmatched by many vehicles costing as much or more.

Outside the Japanese nameplates, CR reports sees an variable landscape. Its announcement also said:

European inconsistency

European brands ended up scattered across the middle of the spectrum, distinguished from each other more by reliability than test score. Audi and Mercedes-Benz were the only non-Japanese nameplates to crack the top 10. They were ranked 8th and 10th, respectively. Audi separated itself from the pack as the only European brand to achieve very good reliability overall along with an excellent average road-test score.

Mercedes-Benz wasn’t far behind Audi and was tied with Acura for having the highest average road-test score. Volkswagen lost ground with some redesigned sedans that didn’t score as well as their peers. Several of its niche models, such as the Touareg SUV and the New Beetle, have well-below-average reliability.

Mini had the worst overall score of any European brand, placing 20th among the 26 brands. Only nonturbocharged Minis deliver average or better reliability. Recent Volvos, such as the S60 and XC60, are competitive and reliable, but the brand is saddled with older models.

Detroit’s struggles

General Motors is revamping its lineup and building several promising models, but some of its brands still anchor the bottom of Consumer Reports Brand Report Cards. Cadillac scored three places ahead of Chevrolet and GMC, based largely on the strength of the CTS. Cadillac’s small and midsized models perform well and their reliability is average. Some of its newer designs are hurt by complicated CUE controls. Buick, with subpar reliability, lagged farther behind, just ahead of Ford and Chrysler. ...

None of Chrysler’s brands fared well. The only Dodge Consumer Reports recommends is the Durango SUV. Although the new Dart is an improvement over the car it replaced, it still lags behind the best compact sedans. Jeep doesn’t fare much better; the only model that is CR Recommended is the V6 Grand Cherokee. The unreliable Wrangler joins the clumsy Compass and Patriot in weighing down the brand. The Chrysler brand is saddled with many older, uncompetitive models. Only the V6 Chrysler 300 scored well and is reliable. Overall, Consumer Reports Recommends fewer than half of the domestic models the organization has tested, and most of them come from Chevrolet and GMC.