When it comes to making cars, Lexus pushes all of the right buttons: Its luxury models are quiet, comfortable, and fuel efficient, and they are among the most reliable. That’s quite a feat for a brand whose cars are brimming with technology, such as hybrid drivetrains and complicated infotainment systems. All of that earned Lexus the highest overall score, 79, in Consumer Reports’ 2013 brand report cards.
Just off Lexus’s pace are two smaller makes, Subaru and Mazda, with scores of 76. They don’t usually get much attention, but both build solid cars with good handling, fuel economy, and versatility at relatively affordable prices. Toyota and Acura round out the top five with scores of 74.
This year Consumer Reports took a different look at who makes the best cars by grading each automaker’s individual brands. Rather than calculating a single score for Toyota, for example, its analysis looked at Toyota, Lexus, and Scion models separately to bring its scores more in line with the way people shop for cars.
Each brand’s overall score was calculated using an equally weighted composite of the road-test and reliability scores for each of its models that was tested and for which Consumer Reports’ subscribers provided reliability data in magazines’ annual auto survey. To be included, each brand needs at least three models for which there is test and reliability data.
The top seven brands are Japanese, with Toyota accounting for three and Honda two. Most Detroit brands fall toward the bottom, with several marred by subpar reliability. European brands usually score in between, with cars that are comfortable and enjoyable to drive but usually offer only average — or worse — reliability. Audi is the notable exception this year.
Not all brands from the same automakers delivered similar performance. Cadillac, for example, was midpack with a score of 63; other GM brands trailed with scores of 54 to 58. Notably, Buick earned a higher average road-test score than Cadillac but was hurt by weak reliability.
Acura and Mercedes-Benz tied for the highest average road-test score, 82, and Jeep got the lowest, 52.
Scion was the only brand to get a top reliability rating. Six came in below average: Buick, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Lincoln, and Mini.
Some automakers’ luxury brands tended to outshine their more basic counterparts. Audi and Infiniti outscored Volkswagen and Nissan, and Acura edged out Honda.
GM is revamping its lineup and building several promising models, but some of its brands still anchor the bottom of Consumer Reports’ roster. Cadillac scored three places ahead of Chevrolet and GMC, based largely on the strength of the CTS.
Ford’s and Lincoln’s overall scores have been dragged down by various drawbacks. The MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch control interfaces, which are very difficult to use, have hurt their models in testing, and electronic problems in those systems have affected their reliability in Consumer Reports’ surveys.
None of Chrysler’s brands fared well. The only recommended Dodge is the Durango SUV.
Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.