The magazine said Ford's drop from 10th place last year to 20th in the survey released today stemmed from problems with three new or redesigned models: the Explorer, Fiesta (at right) and Focus. In particular, CR's survey respondents reported problems with MyFord Touch -- a system for playing music and making phone calls -- and with a new automated manual transmission used in the Fiesta and Focus, which allows shifting without a clutch pedal.
Ford continues to have some high-scoring models in the survey, especially the Ford Fusion hybrid.
"We have often found that new or revamped models have more problems in their first year than in subsequent model years," says David Champion, the senior director of CR's automotive test center. "Ford's problems illustrate why we recommend to our subscribers to hold off buying a first-year model."
The Ford problems echo complaints seen in the J.D. Power Quality Survey released earlier this year, which also cited problems with the MyFord Touch system.
Meanwhile, Chrysler Group's Jeep -- long a brand with reliability problems -- gained seven spots in the rankings, to become the most reliable domestic brand, and No. 13 of 28 brands overall. The company's Chrysler brand also gained, landing in 15th place.
The rankings are based on survey scores for the last three model years where the cars remained mechanically similar, but also take new models and redesigns into account. They are considered good reliability predictors for 2012 models.
Here are other findings from the survey, which is based on responses for about 1.3 million vehicles owned or leased by CR subscribers.
- General Motors also slipped. GM's Buick and Cadillac brands slipped to near the bottom, landing at 24th and 25th place out of 28. The magazine cited poorer ratings this year for the Buick LaCrosse sedan and the Cadillac SRX. Chevrolet held steady at 17th. A bright spot for GM: Its new Chevrolet Volt electric car (at left) with a backup gas generator got above-average reliability ratings, although it involved a small sample.
- Asian brands keep top ratings. In a return to a longtime pattern, Japanese brands topped the reliability list, occupying the top nine places. Toyota's youth brand, Scion, landed in the top spot for the second year in a row -- and 96 percent of Japanese models were rated average or better in reliability. The top nine were: Scion, Lexus, Acura, Mazda, Honda, Toyota (despite recall problems in recent years), Infiniti, Subaru and Nissan. Following Volvo in 10th place, Korean corporate stablemates Hyundai and Kia ranked 11th and 12th.
- Mixed results for European brands. In the overall rankings, Volkswagen ranked 16th, Mercedes-Benz 18th and BMW 19th -- not a particularly strong showing. But CR noted that results varied widely for individual models. For instance, BMW's redesigned X3 SUV did well, but the 5 Series sedan fell to below average after a makeover. Porsche plummeted from second-best brand last year to second-worst this year, because of a problem-filled redesign for its Cayenne SUV. Jaguar, with a long history of quality problems, finished last among brands. Overall, what CR describes as European brands tied with domestic brands in reliability, with 64 percent of both European and domestic models scoring average or better. (For CR's purposes, European models include Volvo, made in Sweden but now owned by a Chinese company.)
Photos courtesy of the manufacturer