Japanese automakers once again dominated the closely watched reliability ratings, but U.S. automakers are steadily improving, David Champion, senior director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, said Thursday.
"You're almost chasing a moving target," said Champion, who presented the findings from the magazine's annual reliability survey and testing in Detroit. "The quality of cars has improved dramatically."
"The Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans actually scored slightly better than the Honda Accord V-6 and the Toyota Camry V-6 in our survey," Jonathan Linkov, Consumer Reports' Managing Editor for Autos, told
The magazine bases its reliability forecasts on information provided by consumers for the past three model years. In the case of the Fusion and the Milan, the rating is based on only one model year because the vehicles were new for 2006.
"We had 47 vehicles that got the best scores. Thirty-nine of those are Japanese," Linkov said.
U.S. manufacturers had six, including the Fusion, the Milan and the Lincoln Zephyr — all from Ford Motor Co.
"The newest SUVs from General Motors, the Chevrolet Tahoe and the GMC Yukon, did very well in the large Sport Utility Vehicle category. They were tops in reliability," Linkov said.
GM's Pontiac Vibe wagon was another top-scorer.
But "the Europeans are falling off the map. They don't have anything on our highest rates of reliability score," Linkov said. "In fact, Mercedes-Benz has eight vehicles on our least-reliable scores."
Champion said the key for Ford and GM will be maintaining the success in the coming years.
"It's that last year that (a consumer) owns the car that's probably most important in terms of reliability," he said. "If it's been pretty reliable over the first three years and then the fourth, fifth and sixth year it's dropped apart, he's not going to buy another one."
Consumer Reports sends the auto reliability survey to print and online subscribers. Some 950,000 people responded this year, providing answers on about 1.3 million vehicles.
The survey results appear in the magazine's new car preview special edition, which is sold at newsstands. A more comprehensive analysis of the data will be published in the magazine's April issue.
Gadgets can be troublesome in new cars, reports Hartge, especially in European cars.
Consumer Reports also listed the Fusion among the new or redesigned vehicles that most impressed its testers, saying its smooth ride and good handling made it feel "like a much more expensive European car."
Champion said the Hyundai Azera sedan was another pleasant surprise and praised it as "very comfortable, very quiet," with a good price, though he said fuel economy was not a strong point. Other hits among new or redesigned vehicles were the Kia Sedona and the Mazda5.
Among the biggest disappointments was the Dodge Caliber crossover, the magazine said, calling its acceleration sluggish, its fuel economy unimpressive and its interior cheap. The magazine said "many of the same low-quality components" in the Caliber are being used in other DaimlerChrysler AG products.
The magazine also criticized the Subaru B9 Tribeca, the Mitsubishi Eclipse and the Pontiac Solstice.
Speaking of the Solstice, a two-seat roadster, Champion cited a lot of little flaws.
"There is no place to put your cell phone," he said. "The cup holders are behind you, so every time you try and take a drink, you spill your drink."