Japanese automakers continue to produce the most dependable models, placing nine out of the top 13 models. Did you car make the grade?
As vehicle owners have become increasingly testy over inconveniences like onerous infotainment systems, balky Bluetooth cellphone pairing, and testy voice-command interfaces, the concept of reliability has been stretched in recent years. Issues with electronics now account for 20 percent of all consumer-reported car glitches in JD Power’s dependability ratings, and have caused Consumer Reports to give poor marks for what some might otherwise consider to be amenable rides.
Still, it’s the hardcore mechanical issues that could strand an owner at the side of the road or otherwise require frequent trips to the dealer’s service department for repairs that should matter most to car and truck buyers, particularly those who intend to keep them for longer than the original warranty period. To that end, we dug deep into the results of the latest JD Power U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, based on over 35,000 surveys conducted among original owners of three-year-old cars, to determine which models should, in fact, mechanically stand the test of time better than others.
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While JDP ranks models for overall reliability, which includes body and trim aspects and issues with features and accessories, we instead zeroed in on the survey’s “Powertrain Dependability” scores. According to JDP these are, “Based on problems with the engine or transmission as well as problems that affect the driving experience (i.e. vehicle/brakes pull, abnormal noises or vibrations).”
By that method, we’re featuring the 13 cars that received perfect five out of five “Power Circle” scores for powertrain dependability, based on the performance of 2014 models. We’re offering a list of the least-reliable cars, based on those models achieving the lowest JDP powertrain ratings in a separate post, as well as those that identify the most- and least-reliable pickup trucks, SUVs/crossovers, and minivans.
Be aware that JDP focuses its surveys on mainstream models, eschewing low-volume sports cars and high-end luxury cars. And keep in mind these recommendations are based on the historic performance of 2014 models, and as such may not reflect as accurately on more-recently introduced or fully redesigned models.
1. Buick Verano
Buick’s near-luxury compact sedan gets top marks both for powertrain performance and overall dependability from JD Power, and it also earns top marks in the latter regard from Consumer Reports. Unfortunately for new-car buyers, the Verano was discontinued at the end of the 2016 model year.
While JD Power gives the Camaro sports coupe/convertible perfect ratings for both overall and powertrain reliability, it scores only three out of five points for feature/accessibility dependability. Consumer Reports likewise knocks the Camaro for its in-car electronics, though it achieves top scores in most mechanical performance areas. The Camaro was redesigned for the 2016 model year, and CR acknowledges the current version as “recommended.”
In addition to powertrain performance, Chevy’s subcompact Sonic gets top marks from JD Power for overall reliability and feature/accessory performance, though it gets a four out of five score for body and interior dependability. Consumer Reports gives the 2014 vintage top marks for electronics and average or above average scores for most mechanical issues.
4. Honda Civic
JD Power’s survey respondents gave the compact Civic sedan/coupe top marks nearly across the board for dependability, scoring it four out of five for feature/accessory performance. And while Consumer Reports gives the 2017 model low marks for projected reliability, due largely to its sorry in-car electronics (the Civic was redesigned for 2016) the 2014 version upon which the JDP report is based gets top or above average scores for mechanical issues.
5. Lexus ES
Though it affords more of a quiet luxury driving experience than a sporty one, the Toyota Camry-based midsize ES sedan gets top scores from JD Power in powertrain, body/interior, and overall dependability, though it gets just a rating of four for feature/accessory dependability. The car’s balky infotainment system could be to blame for the latter, but Consumer Reports gives it top marks for electronics, along with overall reliability.
6. Lexus GS
In addition to getting perfect marks across the board from JD Power for powertrain, body/interior, feature/accessory and overall dependability, the midsize GS sedan gets a top reliability rating from Consumer Reports. It’s a quicker and more agile alternative to the above Lexus ES sedan. It was last updated for 2016, with both the 2014 and current versions recommended by CR.
While this sporty compact sedan/hatchback combo gets top marks for powertrain dependability from JD Power, it gets somewhat lower scores for body/interior and feature/accessory performance. Consumer Reports likewise calls out the 2014 version for its balky electronics, and to a lesser degree, its paint and trim, though it otherwise gives it a top score for mechanical reliability
Mercedes’ Midsize luxury line gets top scores from JD Power for powertrain dependability as well as for its body/interior, though it gets a tick lower for feature/accessory and overall dependability. Consumer Reports is a bit less generous here, giving the 2014 E-Class a four out of five score for reliability, with power equipment and electronics getting only middling scores. Of note, the E-Class was redesigned for 2016 and both the current and 2014 versions are CR-recommended.
9. Nissan Versa
One of the cheapest cars sold in the U.S., the subcompact Nissan Versa sedan represents basic transportation at best, but at least it gets a top score from JD Power in terms of powertrain dependability; marks are a bit lower, however, for body/interior, feature/accessory, and overall dependability, and the 2014 vintage has not yet been rated for reliability from Consumer Reports, so consider this a somewhat cautious recommendation.
10. Toyota Avalon
Another Toyota Camry-based sedan, the large and in charge Avalon is roomy and comfortable, with easygoing road manners. It gets perfect scores for powertrain and overall dependability from JD Power, but misses the mark slightly in body/interior and feature/accessory dependability. Again, we fault Toyota’s confounding dashboard electronics for a three-circle score in the latter category. Consumer Reports rates the 2014 model highly for reliability, though it does get points off for electronics and body integrity (squeaks, rattles, etc.).
11. Toyota Camry
Of course, if the midsize Camry sedan’s various corporate cousins get a JD Power recommendation for dependability, one would expect the same from the midsize Camry sedan itself. In fact, it gets perfect marks in all categories, along with a top reliability rating from Consumer Reports (though CR does take it down a tick for its adversarial electronics). The Camry recently underwent a full redesign for the 2018 model year.
12. Toyota Corolla
We’d be shocked not to find Toyota’s popular compact sedan on this list, though it doesn’t quite score as highly as its larger showroom sibling, the Camry. Specifically, it gets a perfect score for powertrain dependability, but slightly lower marks for body/interior, feature/accessory (Toyota’s clumsy dashboard electronics strike again), and overall dependability. The 2014 model receives a top score for reliability from Consumer Reports, though it does get marked off for electronics performance and body integrity (squeaks and rattles, primarily).
13. Toyota Prius V
The midsize Prius V wagon is the most practical model in the Prius line of gas/electric hybrid-powered vehicles, and it would get top scores across the board for dependability from JD Power if it weren’t for those polarizing Toyota electronics. Consumer Reports likewise gives the Prius V top honors for reliability, though it does knock off points for electronics and paint/trim issues.