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Release Date: 02/27/2009

Automaker Report Cards: Honda Leads Again, Mercedes-Benz Improves, Chrysler Lags

CR April '09 Cover YONKERS, NY — For the third consecutive year, Honda has earned class leader status for building the best all-around vehicles for American drivers, according to the Automaker Report Cards published in Consumer Reports’ Annual Auto Issue. At the opposite end of the annual ranking is Chrysler, which fared even worse than last year. The company’s poor performing products and sinking reliability results have kept all Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep badged vehicles off CR’s Recommended list.

With an overall score of 78 out of 100 points, Honda was followed closely by Subaru (75), and Toyota (74) in the overall score. Subaru is also the only automaker with 100% of its tested vehicles Recommended, although it has a relatively small model lineup. Mazda (73), came in 4th, followed by Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Volkswagen, and BMW, all tied at 72. 

How manufacturers compare While the top four overall scores belong to Japanese automakers, a Japanese nameplate is no guarantee that every car in a model range will be a reliable and good performer.  For example, the Honda Element and Toyota Yaris scored too low in Consumer Reports’ tests to be recommended. Conversely, despite overall scores of 63 and 57 respectively, that placed Ford and GM toward the bottom of the results, new models like the Ford Flex, F-150, Chevrolet Malibu, and Cadillac CTS have done well in CR’s tests and rank near the top of their classes in its ratings. 

Full details and rankings are available in the article “Who makes the best cars?” in the magazine on sale March 3 to May 4 and at www.ConsumerReports.org.

The overall score for each automaker is based on the average of its vehicles’ overall scores in Consumer Reports’ road tests and their average predicted-reliability ratings from Consumer Reports’ Annual Auto Survey.  Manufacturers received a report card only if five or more of its vehicles were tested.

Of the three class leaders, Toyota regained lost ground after last year’s disappointment of having three of its vehicles fall below average in reliability.  All three – the Toyota Camry V6, the Toyota Tundra V8 4WD variant, and the all-wheel-drive Lexus GS– improved to average reliability this year.  Of the Asian automakers, Subaru, Nissan, Mazda, and Hyundai improved their overall scores.  Nissan and Hyundai also improved their reliability rating. Of the four, Hyundai showed the most improvement, increasing its overall score from 66 to 70. The Hyundai Genesis also topped Consumer Reports’ upscale-sedan ratings, contributing to the automakers continued progress.

European automakers, traditionally great performers overall, have lagged in reliability but there have been notable improvements with several models from Audi, BMW, Saab, Volkswagen, Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz.  Mercedes-Benz showed the most significant improvement, moving up in the overall ranking (72) to tie with BMW and Volkswagen. Reliability was greatly improved across most of the Mercedes-Benz model line, with 67% of tested vehicles now recommended compared to none in the prior year. 

All three Detroit automakers continued to be at the back of the class, although General Motors and Ford improved their overall scores. Chrysler disappointed the most — it had the lowest overall test score and none of its vehicles are Recommended.

There was some positive news for the struggling domestic automakers.  The latest models from General Motors now rank among the best in testing, and models like the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook, Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Corvette, and Chevrolet Malibu all scored well. Some Ford models now rival their competition from Honda and Toyota in reliability, perhaps a promising sign for new models now coming out of the product pipeline.  For Chrysler, the sole glimmer of hope in the model-year is the new Dodge Ram, which is now very competitive with the other full size trucks.

Less than a quarter of Consumer Reports’ recommended vehicles are from U.S. companies, a result of inconsistent reliability and performance.  About half are Japanese.

“While Japanese automakers continue to set the standard for the industry in terms of real-world performance and reliability, many domestic, European, and Korean manufacturers are narrowing the gap by building better and more reliable cars,” said David Champion, senior director of automotive testing, Consumer Reports. “While some automakers are still dragged down by old product investments, we expect the race for the front of the class to become even more competitive which may lead to some excellent values for consumers in the near future.”

In the end, the companies that make the best vehicles are those that excel in performance, interior craftsmanship, safety, comfort, and reliability.  The best continue to set a higher and higher standard, a competition in which consumers are the ultimate winners.

With more than 7 million print and online subscribers, Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Web site; the magazine’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To become a subscriber, consumers can call 1-800-234-1645.  Information and articles from the magazine can be accessed online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

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