JD Power’s recently released Vehicle Dependability Study says automotive dependability is at historically high level, boosting resale value and reshaping customer perceptions. According to the annual report, which examines the number of problems experienced by owners of three-year-old vehicles, Lexus vehicles are the most dependable, followed by Porsche, Cadillac, Toyota and Scion. The report says Toyota Motor Corporation’s vehicles were among the most dependable overall – topping a whopping eight separate categories – while Ford’s models came in second by leading three vehicle classes.
But for several automakers, consumer awareness hasn’t changed as rapidly as dependability. JD Power says Buick, Cadillac, Ford, Hyundai and Lincoln all suffer from negative consumer perceptions of quality even though each brand is well above industry average quality levels. According to the industry analytics firm, buyers often base their perceptions on historical experiences or anecdotal evidence rather than actual facts and figures. To help reshape those perceptions, we’ve compiled a list of JD Power’s top vehicles in each category, aiming to give buyers more information about some of the most dependable vehicles on the road today.
Toyota’s recently redesigned Yaris starts under $15,000 including destination and is available in three- or five-door hatchback body styles after a four-door sedan variant was discontinued last year. Featuring a standard 106-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder, the Yaris is offered in base-level L or upscale LE trim levels, while a sporty SE trim adds fog lights, anti-lock brakes, a rear spoiler and 16-inch wheels. Standard features include curtain side airbags, air conditioning and a CD player, while a 4-speed automatic replaces the standard 5-speed manual for $725 extra. Subcompact runners up include the Scion xD and Honda Fit.
Toyota’s popular Prius hybrid took home JD Power’s award for the most dependable compact car. With a starting price of just over $24,000 including destination, the hatchback – which is capable of more than 50 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving – is a great choice for buyers looking for a roomy small car that makes a minimal impact on the environment. Standard features include air conditioning with automatic climate control, keyless access and starting and Bluetooth, while options include leather upholstery, a navigation system and a rearview camera. Compact cars also ranking high in the study include the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra.
Compact Sporty Car
Scion’s recently redesigned tC was the only compact sporty car that scored above the industry average in long-term dependability. While that means consumers looking for a fun, dependable car don’t have a lot to choose from, it’s hard to deny that the tC packs a compelling punch. Featuring a standard 180-horsepower four-cylinder capable of reaching 60 miles per hour from a standing stop in under seven seconds, the tC is certainly quick in a straight line – and its standard 18-inch alloy wheels help it go around corners with ease. But the tC also features a host of standard luxury goodies like a Pioneer CD player with HD radio, Bluetooth, a power sunroof and remote keyless entry – all for a base price of around $19,500 including destination.
After teetering on the brink of collapse, Ford is quickly reestablishing itself as a major competitor to established Japanese brands like Honda and Toyota – and the midsize Fusion is leading the charge. While today’s model starts just over $20,000 and offers a choice between two four-cylinder and two six-cylinder powerplants, an all-new Fusion – first shown earlier this year at the Detroit Auto Show – will go on sale later this year. The redesigned Fusion, which features handsome new lines and an upscale interior, will offer four different four-cylinder engines including a turbocharged powerplant for consumers looking for muscle and a plug-in hybrid motor for drivers looking to shrink their carbon footprint. Other top midsize sedans include the Mitsubishi Galant and Toyota Camry.
Despite its consumer perception problems, Buick has significantly improved its reliability, placing among the top ten manufacturers in many of JD Power’s latest dependability studies. The Lucerne headlines the brand’s improvements, topping the large car class and finishing ahead of major rivals like the Ford Taurus and Toyota Avalon. Starting at just over $30,000, the Lucerne offers a standard 227-horsepower V6, while a muscular 292-horsepower V8 is available for buyers looking for a little extra zip. Standard features include Bluetooth, automatic headlights and auto dimming mirrors, while a long options list offers impressive gadgets like a lane departure warning function and a blind spot alert system.
Entry Premium Car
Ford and Toyota continued their success in the Entry Premium Car segment, where the automakers’ luxury brands shared the top spot. While Lincoln’s MKZ sedan starts around $35,000 and features a standard 263-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, the Lexus ES350 is offered solely with front-wheel drive and includes a 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 in its base price of just over $37,000. Both sedans also come standard with a host of luxury features ranging from leather upholstery to Bluetooth, dual-zone automatic climate controls and an in-dash 6-disc CD changer. According to JD Power, the category’s runner up is the sporty Acura TL.
Midsize Premium Car
Surprisingly, the competitive Midsize Premium Car title doesn’t belong to a European luxury brand or even a Japanese one, but rather by Korean automaker Hyundai and its lavish Genesis sedan. Featuring a standard 333-horsepower V6, the Genesis offers impressive bang for its $35,000 buck – especially considering its standard equipment list that includes Bluetooth, alloy wheels, an iPod connection, leather upholstery and keyless starting. Shoppers who want even more power won’t be disappointed by the Genesis 4.6, which offers a 385-horsepower V8 and a standard navigation system for only a touch over $46,000 including destination. Runners up include the Mercedes E-Class and Volvo S80.
Compact Multi-Purpose Vehicle
Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion brand continues its success in the Vehicle Dependability Study with the boxy xB’s first place finish among compact multi-purpose vehicles. Featuring a standard 158-horsepower four-cylinder and a base price of around $17,000, the distinctive xB is aimed at younger buyers looking for a practical vehicle that will stand out from the crowd. Considering the hatchback is the only vehicle in JD Power’s compact multi-purpose category to score above the industry average in dependability, we think this is just the car for such buyers – especially considering its host of standard safety features and endless Scion-approved accessories that make for easy customization.
Sales of the compact Equinox have exploded since the SUV’s 2010 redesign due to potent new powertrains, handsome styling and an impressive list of standard features. Starting around $23,000, the affordable Equinox is offered with a standard 182-horsepower four-cylinder or an optional 3.0-liter V6 that can tow up to 3,500 pounds thanks to a whopping 264 horsepower. Featuring compact yet robust styling, the Equinox offers standard Bluetooth, satellite radio and automatic headlights, while its options list includes luxurious items like forward collision warning and a navigation system. Runners up among compact crossovers include the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Redesigned for 2011, Ford’s handsome Explorer SUV shares the podium in the competitive midsize crossover class with Nissan’s aging Murano. Although the study was based on the smaller 2009 Explorer, today’s model could hardly be considered midsized thanks to a segment-busting redesign that left the $29,000 SUV only slightly smaller than the bulky Chevrolet Tahoe. The Murano, however, is all midsize thanks to its sub-190-inch length and car-based design that features a standard continuously variable automatic transmission and 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. JD Power says the segment’s top runner up is the popular Toyota Highlander.
Midsize Premium Crossover/SUV
Now in its third generation, the midsize Lexus RX remains the luxury brand’s most popular vehicle thanks to competitive pricing, agreeable styling and an impressive equipment list. With a base price of under $40,000, the 270-horsepower V6-powered SUV offers front- or all-wheel drive, a standard 6-speed automatic transmission and a host of luxury goods that include keyless starting, automatic headlights, an in-dash 6-disc CD changer and 10-way power front seats. According to JD Power, only the Lincoln MKX joined the RX350 in scoring above the industry average in this competitive segment.
Although many pundits say the midsize truck segment is dying, some automakers beg to differ – and Nissan is one of them, claiming the top spot in JD Power’s study with its popular, robust Frontier pickup while simultaneously boosting advertising to increase sales. Although the pickup features a standard 152-horsepower four-cylinder, the available 261-horsepower V6 is the engine to have thanks to a towing capacity of more than 6,000 pounds, vigorous acceleration and fuel economy of up to 20 miles per gallon in highway driving. Runners up include the recently discontinued Ford Ranger and Honda’s car-based Ridgeline.
There always seems to be a constant battle between the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey for the top spot among minivans, whether it’s a comparison test, sales numbers or – in this case – dependability. And while Honda won the sales contest last year by outselling Toyota 116,000 to 111,000, the Sienna scored a big hit by topping the minivan category in this year’s Vehicle Dependability Study, finishing just ahead of the runner-up Odyssey. Featuring a base price of less than $26,000, the Sienna offers a standard 187-horsepower four-cylinder or, for buyers who need a little extra verve, an available 266-horsepower V6. The Sienna also offers all-wheel drive, which is a feature that neither the Odyssey nor any other minivan on sale today can claim. Ultimately, for many buyers, it may come down to styling – but our jury’s still out on which van can boast more handsome lines.
Toyota’s impressive showing in this year’s long-term dependability awards is capped by its title among large pickups with the brawny full-size Tundra. While the Tundra may not outsell rivals, JD Power says it’s more durable, finishing ahead of runners up including the GMC Sierra HD and Chevrolet Silverado. Standard features in the Tundra include a 5-speed automatic transmission, a 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V6, a CD player, curtain side airbags and an iPod hookup, while options range from differing bed sizes to luxury appointments and even an athletic 381-horsepower 5.7-liter V8.
What it means to you: For most buyers, any doubts about Toyota’s quality are like to be dismissed by this year’s Vehicle Dependability Study.