Reliability may mean fewer trips to the dealer, but it doesn’t necessarily bring happiness.
That’s the takeaway from Consumer Reports new ranking of brands that most consistently please their customers across their brand line-up. Tesla wound up on top of the charts, despite the influential publication repeatedly faulting the brand for quality problems.
And that helps explain why Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, rather than the Tesla Model 3, was named CR’s “Top Pick” among electric vehicles this year. The accolade reinforces Ford CEO Jim Farley’s belief that Ford can compete with and beat Tesla.
The magazine rates the Mustang Mach-E as having much better than average reliability, something no Tesla can claim. While Consumer Reports rates the 2022 Model 3 as having average reliability, the brand’s other vehicles, the 2022 Model Y, Model X and Model S, all suffer from much worse than average reliability, and are not recommended.
And as automakers introduce new technology with unfamiliar designs, consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated. This is especially true of the yoke steering wheel Tesla is now using opn its Model S and Model X vehicles. Owners’ unhappiness with the new design has clearly had an effect on its ratings at Consumer Reorts. Yet, at the same time, the magazine sites the brand as having the highrst owner satisfaction. So which is it?
The most and least satisfying brands
According to consumer Reports, when it comes to brands that most satisfy their owners, Tesla ranked number one with a score of 82, followed by Porsche at 80, Genesis at 75, and Chrysler and Dodge at 74.
Rounding out the middle was Ram placing 6th with a score of 73, BMW at 72, Ford at 71, Mazda and Hyundai at 70, Toyota at 69, Volvo, Lexus, Subaru and Lincoln at 68, Mini, Chevrolet and GMC at 67, Honda at 66, Volkswagen and Audi at 65, Mercedes-Benz and Kia at 64 and Jeep at 62.
When it came to least-satisfying brands, Buick ranked 25th with a score of 61. Faring even worse was Nissan at 59, followed by Acura at 57, Cadillac at 56 and Infiniti dead last at 29th with a score of 43. The bottom of the rankings remains unchanged from last year, while at the top of the rankings, Dodge moved up three spots from last year.
The consumer organization said it analyzed data to determine which automakers excel at specific factors such as comfort, how easy the infotainment system is to use, and perceived value. Notably, reliability is less of a factor.
Other brand considerations
If you’re looking for a vehicle with comfortable seats and ride, and little cabin noise, Lexus is rated number one at 88, followed by Lincoln at 82, Mercedes-Benz at 85, Chrysler at 83, Volvo at 83 and Audi at 82. Jeep was ranked least comfortable, with a rating of 55.
But perhaps you’re more of a driving enthusiast; then you’d want to consider Consumer Reports’ list of brands with the best handling and acceleration. Tesla tops the ranks at 96, followed by Porsche at 95, BMW at 91, Dodge at 87, Audi at 86 and, surprise, Genesis at 86. Jeep also anchors the bottom of this list at 62.
Or maybe a car with a great infotainment setup and flawless in-car electronics is your top priority. Consumer Reports ranks Tesla at the top of this list as well, with a score of 70. Chrysler trails at 69, followed by Dodge and Lincoln at 66, followed by GMC and Chevrolet at 64. Acura brings up the bottom of the list with a rating of 34 — which shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s had to wrestle with their funky electronics.
Some of us are captivated by styling, and when it comes to how a car looks, the Genesis brand took the lead at 97, followed by Mini and Porsche at 96, Lincoln and Audi at 91, and Cadillac at 89. Nissan’s styling was least-favored with a ranking of 74.
When it came to brands that delivered owners expected for the price, it’s no surprise that brands that have long been perceived at giving you more for less placed at the top of the list. So, Subaru placed first at 64, followed by Genesis at 63, and Mazda at 62. They were followed by Buick, Chrysler and Hyundai, all tying with a score of 60. The bran that offered the least value for the price? Porsche, with a score of 36.
Anomalies among the results
But none of these factors are the ones that consumers think about first when choosing a new vehicle: reliability.
Among the top five brands in owner’s satisfaction, Tesla and Genesis are rated by Consumer Reports as having worse than average reliability, while Chrysler, Dodge and Porsche are predicted to deliver average reliability.
But reliability isn’t the sole factor affecting a purchase decision, as indicated by the ancillary lists the magazine also published. Someone looking for driving comfort would consider a Mercedes-Benz which ranks third among all brands for driving comfort. But overall, it ranks 22nd, a reflection of other factors that impact total satisfaction.
And while consumers liked Cadillac’s styling, overall, it ranks 28th of 29 brands for owner satisfaction. By contrast, its crosstown rival ranked higher for styling, and placed mid-pack in owner’s satisfaction at 15. It also outranked Cadillac for comfort and infotainment, placing among the industry’s best brands for both.
But perhaps what’s most revealing about the list is that you don’t have to spend a lot money to get a vehicle that’s satisfying to drive. Dodge outranks BMW, while Honda outflanks Mercedes-Benz. That said, the most reliable brands don’t necessarily deliver owner happiness: Toyota ranks 11th, while Honda ranks 19th. They’re outranked by Hyundai at 10, and Ford at 8.
J.D. Power begs to differ
The biggest issue with Consumer Reports ratings is that they come from the magazine’s subscriber base, and so its ratings aren’t random samplings. That’s where the J.D. Power Consumer Satisfaction Survey appears to be somewhat more accurate of overall consumer sentiment, not just Consumer Reports subscribers’ sentiment.
J.D. Power’s most recent survey for 2021, has some similarities to the Consumer Reports list, but in other ways differs significantly.
Among premium brands, J.D. Power ranks Porsche first, followed by Lexus, Infiniti, Cadillac and Lincoln. Acura, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Genesis, Volvo, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover and Alfa Romeo all ranked below average in owner happiness. (Consumer Reports didn’t even include Jaguar, Land Rover and Alfa Romeo in its ratings, while J.D. Power doesn’t include Tesla.)
Among mainstream brands, J.D. Power rates Mini first, followed by Buick, Mitsubishi, GMC, Kia, Nissan, Chevrolet, Honda, Toyota, and Subaru. Other brands were ranked below average including Mazda, Hyundai, Ford, Dodge, Volkswagen, Jeep, Chrysler and Ram. (Consumer Reports didn’t include Mitsubishi in its rankings.)
The disparity in the lists from Consumer Reports reflects the difference between the magazine’s specialized readership, and a true random sampling.
Regardless of which list you may believe, the point of the survey is this: it takes more than reliability to make for a happy ownership experience. At best, these serve as starting points on your shopping trip.