Choosing a Reliable Car: Two Lists

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Feb 26, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I really, really want a reliable car. The few times I’ve been stranded—usually in the dark, while it was raining, with traffic rushing all around—were so memorable that I don’t want a repeat performance.

This Lexus IS is part of an ultra-reliable stable of cars. (Lexus photo)And that’s why I made the same decision as Tom Magliozzi and bought a Dodge Dart (bulletproof Slant Six). The stable also includes a Volvo 122S (the B18 is legendarily long lived) and Mazda Miata (a Lotus Elan that actually works). Not one has ever left me by the side of the road.

In its annual auto issue, Consumer Reports yields to a rare burst of exuberance about the new Miata: “We love this car!” it said. Sorry, the exclamation point was mine.

The Buick Verano (the brand made both lists) will get you there and back. (Buick photo)CR measures reliability as a key indicator, and so does J.D. Power, and both surveys are available for 2016. Power measures “problems per 100 vehicles,” and this year (with three-year ratings of 2013 models) the chart-topping brands were:
  • Lexus (which had 95 such problems)
  • Porsche (97)
  • Buick (106)
  • Toyota (113)
  • GMC (120)
  • Chevrolet (125)
  • Honda (126)
  • Acura (129) tied with Ram (129)
  • Lincoln (132)
It’s no stop-the-presses story that Toyota and Honda make reliable cars, but it is a man-bites-dog moment when Buick, General Motors and Lincoln are all top-rated. Incidentally, there’s a big gap between the stars on this list and the also-rans. Dodge, in 32nd place at the bottom of Power’s list, had 208 problems per 100 vehicles, and Ford (in 31st place) had 204.

Power also found that complaints about infotainment systems are up—accounting for 20 percent of all problems reported. This is a big issue, one that Ford has tried to address with its revamped SYNC3 system. The Detroit News notes the “built-in voice recognition systems that misinterpret commands” and "navigation systems that are difficult to use.” I’ve been flummoxed by both things on test cars recently.

If you can afford one, Porsches are actually both fuel-efficient and reliable. Have you heard they're fun to drive, too? (Porsche photo)Am I wrong, or are drivers defecting from their built-in navigation systems to phone-based apps like Waze and Google Maps? That’s certainly true for me—both get me where I’m going with a minimum of drama. The whole point of today’s infotainment is to smoothly integrate with phones, of course, and on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that’s pretty seamless.

With Subaru, the reliability comes with all-wheel drive. (Subaru photo)CR rates cars a bit differently; it chose “best” brands based on road-test performance, reliability, safety and owner satisfaction. CR’s Top 10, followed by their overall score on a 100 scale:
  • Audi (80)
  • Subaru (78)
  • Lexus (76)
  • Porsche (76)
  • BMW (76)
  • Mazda (74)
  • Buick (74)
  • Toyota (72)
  • Kia (72)
  • Honda (71)

Brands that appear to be tied actually aren’t, because their road-test and reliability scores were different. Note that only Buick among the domestics makes that list. Otherwise, there’s a lot of overlap. Lexus/Toyota, Buick and Porsche can take a bow. Here's Consumer Reports video on its 2016 reliability report:


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