Every year, Consumer Reports rolls out its "Brand Report Card", which ranks major auto brands based on reliability and road-test scores. CR's 2013 scoresheet has just come out, with Lexus at the top of the heap.
In previous years, CR's report card has lumped all of an automaker's sub-brands under the parent brand. So, for example, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC didn't have scores of their own, but instead contributed to one overall score for General Motors.
Thankfully, CR realized that that's not a very useful way of aggregating data for shoppers. (After all, you can't buy a new car from "GM".) So, for 2013, the magazine finally began tracking scores for sub-brands like Acura, Infiniti, Dodge, etc. The magazine's only rule was that to be considered for inclusion, CR had to have both road-test info (supplied by CR staff) and reliability data (supplied by CR readers) on at least three models from those sub-brands. That left a few brands like Fiat and Smart out of the running.
JAPANESE MARQUES DOMINATE
Of the ten best-scoring auto brands on CR's 2013 Report Card, eight were from Asian automakers. Lexus sat at the very top of the list, scoring 79 out of a possible 100. CR admits that Lexus models aren't especially showy, but they're hugely reliable, and they perform very well in road tests. In fact, after road-testing, the magazine has listed every Lexus vehicle currently in production as a recommended purchase.
Mazda and Subaru tied for second place, with scores of 76. Mazda was helped by its extreme reliability and efficiency, while Subaru's scores were lifted by the company's new BRZ model, which drew raves for its sportiness and handling. (FYI, we like it too.)
Toyota and Acura rounded out the top five. Honda came close to beating its luxury sibling, but it's still plagued by underwhelming scores for the CR-Z and the Insight.
Nissan didn't fare so well due to critiques of its trucks and SUVs. Two other Asian brands, Hyundai and Kia, were also top-ten no-shows.
EUROPE: FAIR TO MIDDLING
European automakers earned mixed reviews from CR reviewers and readers. The highly popular MINI, for example, landed near the bottom of the pile, ranking 20th out of 26th due to reliability issues. Volvo didn't fare much better, thanks to an aging lineup. And Volkswagen also hit the skids -- due in no small part to the "well-below-average reliability" of vehicles like the New Beetle.
In fact, the only European brands to break the top-ten list were Audi (8th) and Mercedes-Benz (10th). CR readers praised Audi's reliability, while reviewers gave Mercedes big ups for its road-test scores.
DETROIT'S MIXED BAG
CR has a range of things to say about Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors.
Cadillac was the best-performing of GM's brands, with scores boosted by the CTS. Chevrolet and GMC also fared well, particularly on road tests. And CR notes that GM has some very promising models in the works. However, CR says that despite GM's improvements, much of the company's lineup simply doesn't shine when parked next to comparable models from other automakers.
A major problem plaguing both GM and Ford are their infotainment systems. (This isn't the first time we've heard this, folks.) In particularly, CR characterizes MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch as "very difficult to use". The magazine also notes that Ford has had some reliability problems (something we've seen in its newest models) and that the brand's EcoBoost turbocharged engines fail to match either the performance or the fuel economy of competitors.
The real trouble spot in Detroit, though, appears to be Chrysler. CR only recommends one model each from the Dodge and Jeep brands: the Dodge Durango and the V6 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The magazine notes that the highly anticipated Dodge Dart is better than some of the company's previous compact sedans, but it's no match for the competition. (Many of you have expressed similar feelings.) CR's major beef with Chrysler is its aging lineup -- something that's beginning to change, now that the company's tie-up with Fiat is finally beginning to produce results.