Japanese auto brands Lexus, Mazda and Toyota once again snagged the top three spots in Consumer Reports' annual Auto Reliability Report, with Lexus edging out Mazda as the most reliable.
Asian brands accounted for eight of the top 10, according to Consumer Reports. Mazda, which held the top spot last year, took second. Toyota took third. The Japanese luxury brand Infiniti finished fourth, and Buick finished fifth — the only domestic brand to secure a top 10 spot.
The survey found complicated electronics systems, not electric powertrains, tanked reliability in crossovers such as the Audi E-tron, Volkswagen ID4 and Tesla Model X and Model Y. Problems in those models stemmed from climate controls, in-car electronics and power equipment, Consumer Reports said.
The vehicles are technological tours de force, but their reliability often takes a hit because they can become oversaturated with random equipment, said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' senior director of auto testing.
"It goes without saying: When you add all these new types of equipment, there's more opportunities for something to go wrong," Fisher told Automotive News.
Hybrids and plug-in vehicles — the Honda Insight, Kia Niro and Toyota Prius, to name a few — proved particularly reliable because they have not undergone radical, constant changes over the years, according to the survey.
Mini was the top-ranked European brand. It rose 13 spots to No. 10, mostly because of the reliability of the Countryman compact crossover.
Domestic brands Chrysler ranked 12th; Chevrolet, 14th; Cadillac, 16th; and Ford, 18th. Ram slipped 12 spots to 21st on the list, the largest decline.
Chrysler's 300 large sedan had "outstanding" reliability, but its Pacifica minivan did not because of issues with its transmission and sliding doors. Chevrolet nameplates logged a wide range of performances: the Trailblazer and Trax crossovers were "excellent," but the Bolt electric vehicle fell to below-average reliability because of its documented battery problems and electric-drive failures.
Cadillac jumped six spots in 2021 thanks to the reliability of its XT5 midsize crossover, according to the survey.
The Ford's Escape and the redesigned F-150 scored below average, while its Mustang and Explorer were well below average. But Ford's Bronco Sport, Mustang Mach-E and Ranger were all at the top of their classes for reliability, the survey found.
Jeep, Tesla and Lincoln finished in the last three brand spots.
The Tesla Model 3's reliability was average, according to the survey. The Model Y had paint defects and body hardware issues with the tailgate and door alignment, Consumer Reports said. Meanwhile, the Model X crossover and Model S sedan reportedly both had body hardware, climate system and in-car electronics problems.
Lincoln's last pace finish was a repeat of its ranking last year. Lincoln's three vehicles in the survey — the Aviator, Corsair and Nautilus crossovers — all apparently had transmission, in-car electronics and power equipment problems.
American models did come out on top in seven of 17 vehicle categories, Consumer Reports said:
- Buick Envision, luxury compact utility vehicles
- Chevrolet Trailblazer, subcompact utility vehicles
- Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and GMC Sierra 2500HD, full-size pickups
- Chrysler 300, midsize/large cars
- Ford Bronco Sport, compact utility vehicles
- Ford Mustang Mach-E, electric vehicles
- Ford Ranger, midsize pickups
The 2021 Auto Reliability Report is based on data collected from Consumer Reports members about their experiences with more than 300,000 vehicles in the annual surveys, according to the organization.
Members report "everything from transmissions needing replacement after as little as 5,000 miles to display screens that required hardware replacement and misaligned tailgates and doors," Consumer Reports said. The organization then analyzes that annual member data to calculate brands' overall reliability.