October 20, 2015 - 12:45 pm ET
New transmission systems designed to boost fuel economy and infotainment proved troublesome for the auto industry this year, with Acura and Cadillac taking the biggest falls in Consumer Reports’ 2015 Annual Auto Reliability Survey.
Lexus was the top brand again as Japanese brands set the pace with five companies in the top 10. Ford was the biggest gainer of the year, moving up six spots to 17th place thanks to strong performances by the redesigned F-150 and Expedition SUV.
“Ford launched a lot of new products not too long ago,” Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing, said in an interview.
“The products were completely new. Everything from infotainment, new transmissions, new powertrains, new platforms, everything was new. They really brought the reliability down. Now that those products and platforms begin to mature, we’re seeing them continue to improve.”
Toyota followed Lexus in second place, while Audi ranked third as the top European brand, Mazda came in fourth and Subaru was fifth.
Buick, in seventh place, was the only domestic brand in the top 10 for the second year in row.
Acura and Cadillac both dropped seven spots to 18th and 25th place, respectively. Acura owners had issues with in-car electronics and transmissions in the newest RLX and TLX sedans, while Cadillac was dragged down by its CUE infotainment system.
Cadillac also was dinged by platform issues with the Escalade SUV.
“When [GM] launched last year with the large pickup truck platform, that had many problems. As we see that platform moved into the Suburban, the Tahoe, the Yukon and the Escalade, we’re seeing all of those vehicles have all types of problems.”
Things weren’t smooth for every Japanese brand.
Honda dropped four spots to eight place this year due to infotainment glitches in its redesigned and freshened vehicles. Infiniti also dropped four spots as problems continued with its InTouch infotainment system.
Typical infotainment malfunctions people experience include system lockups and screen freezes. Infotainment problems sometimes require replacement components to fix, Fisher said.
Porsche had a noticeable dip, slipping out of the top 10 to 14th place after losing five spots in the rankings. Consumer Reports said the Cayman declined, while the Macan crossover had a “below-average debut.”
The Tesla Model S had a worse-than-average predicted reliability score with problems stemming from the drivetrain, power equipment, charging equipment, center console, body and sunroof squeaks, rattles and leaks.
After Ford, the largest improvements came from Kia, Hyundai and Volkswagen --with each brand moving up four spots. German rivals BMW, in 11th place, and Mercedes-Benz, in 21st place, each bettered their rankings by three spots.
Audi, Dodge, in 23rd place, and Subaru each gained two spots in the rankings. Nissan, in 15th place, and Chevrolet, in 20th place, each improved by one spot this year.
Consumer Reports says Audi and BMW each have reliable dual-clutch transmissions. The continuously variable transmissions in Honda and Toyota hybrids are “strong performers” as well, according to Consumer Reports.
“All manufacturers are trying to get better fuel efficiency whether it be for CAFE or just competitive advantage,” Fisher said. “Some manufacturers are able to get that fuel efficiency in ways that retain the reliability. Some are struggling.”