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Annual 2011 Consumer Reports' Reliability Survey

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author photo by Jean Halliday October 2011

Japanese carmakers captured nine of the top 10 spots in Consumer Reports' annual Reliability Survey, released here at an Automotive Press Asssociation event. Scion was tops, followed respectively by Lexus, Acura, Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Infiniti, Subaru and Nissan. Chinese-owned Volvo landed in tenth place. Jaguar ranked last in the survey, based on consumer responses on 1.3 million vehicles and Consumer Reports' own testing of more than 80 vehicles.

The Ford brand slipped the most in reliability among 28 major car makes in the latest survey. Ford slipped from 10th place in last year's survey to 20th, due mostly to its three, all-new models: Fiesta, Focus and Explorer, said David Champion, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports.

"Ford had been on a roll for the past five or six years," he said. The brand developed what Champion called "significant problems" this year due to issues with new technologies: the new MyFord Touch infotainment system and the new automated-manual transmission used in the Fiesta and Focus.

The My Ford Touch screen went black sometimes in extreme cold or hot weather and sometimes rebooted for no apparent reason, leaving the driver in limbo, Champion said. "This may be a wake-up call for Ford and it has been working to improve the system."

Ford said it has made a number of upgrades to the system's software to improve performance.

Consumer Reports said Ford's Fusion Hybrid sedan remained outstanding, and other Fusion versions were above average.

While Ford's star has fallen, Chrysler Group's has risen, thanks to the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango and Chrysler 200. Chrysler brand rose by 12 slots to number 15 and Dodge rose three places to 21.

Jeep moved up seven spots to number 13, becoming the most reliable domestic brand. Last year the Chrysler Group lagged signifcantly, with a dozen of its 20 analysed models rating below average in reliability.

On the down side for the automaker this year, Consumer Reports said the freshened 2011 Chrysler Town & Coutry minivan and Dodge Ram pickup were below average in reliability in this year's study.

General Motors, which improved the most among Detroit's Big Three last year, stumbled in the latest survey. While Chevrolet's ranking held steady at number 17, the brand's new Cruze small car ranked below par in reliability. Champion said the Cruze strugged from a number of small issues, such as body rattles, and not one major reason.

The GMC brand rose one place to number 22 and its Terrain improved to average reliability. The automaker's Buick LaCrosse, an all-wheel-drive version of the Buick Enclave, and the Cadillac SRX were all deemed reliable last year by Consumer Reports, but dropped to below average and are no longer recommended. The new Buick Regal is also rated below average this year.

Bright spots for GM include the above-average Chevrolet Avalanche and Cadillac CTS, which has improved to average. The gas-electric Chevrolet Volt is GM's most reliable car.

European marques were a mixed bag, with their overall reliability slightly below Detroit's. Of the 58 European models Consumer Reports surveyed and tested, 37 of them scored average or better.

Volkswagen held its number 16 place along all brands with 7 of its 11 models scoring average or better. The new Jetta was rated with average reliability, but the TDi version dropped from last year and the Routan ranked lowest among all VWs.

Mercedes-Benz jumped four slots to 18. While reliability of its compact GLK improved from 2010, the flagship S-Class sedan fell to below average.

BMW, at 19, also moved up 4 slots, but showed similar mixed results. Its redesigned X3 did well, but the redesigned 5 Series sedan was well below average, Consumer Reports said.

Mazda improved the most among Japanese brands, rising 8 spots to number four with all its models rated above average.

Lexus, with 11 of its models covered in the survey, bounced up seven places from last year to second place. The Lexus CT 200h was the highest-ranked single model in the entire survey.

Sibling Toyota kept its place as number 6. All of its models, except the all-wheel-drive version of the Sienna minivan, ranked average or better.

South Korea's two affiliate brands, Hyundai and Kia ranked 11th and 12th respectively. Hyundai had only one below-par model, the V6 Sante Fe. Its cousin, the six-cylinder Kia Sorento, also finished below average.

Price does not impact reliability, Champion noted. "Jaguar is at the bottom and Scion is at the top, so you don't always get what you pay for."

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Annual 2011 Consumer Reports' Reliability Survey - Autotrader