BMW was named the number one automotive brand in the annual Consumer Reports automotive report card — but hybrids dominated the influential magazine’s list of its top 10 models.
The study found that, on the whole, automotive quality is on the rise. But there were some problems, especially when it came to some of the new high-tech features becoming ever more commonplace on today’s new vehicles, said Jake Fisher, head of automotive testing for Consumer Reports. That meant that some of the most problematic vehicles fall into the luxury category, though some of the latest battery-electric models also were problem-plagued.
The bottom line, said Fisher, is “(i)f you’re buying a new car you need do your research. It’s a seller’s market (and the) days of deep discounts are gone. You may keep your vehicle a long time,” he stressed, and want to make sure it is reliable and fun to drive.
As in years past, what’s officially called the Auto Brand Report Card Rankings takes into account a variety of different factors beyond reliability. And that, Fisher said, is why BMW scored so well, even though it didn’t have the highest quality score in CR’s tests, the brand “builds many high-performing, full-featured and reliable models, so it’s not surprising to see it at the top of our brand rankings.”
Quality does matter, and brands that traditionally do well in that category stood out in the CR report card. Lexus was ranked third, and its mainstream sibling Toyota rounded out the study’s top five.
But Mini, never known as a quality benchmark, ranked second, with Honda ranked fourth. And Mazda and Kia also landed in the top 10, noted Fisher, “ensuring that consumers don’t have to sacrifice affordability to get a high-quality car.”
Land Rover, one of the highest-priced among 32 brands covered by the report card, landed dead last, according to CR. Followed, in ascending order, it was followed by Jeep, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Mitsubishi.
Tesla, the newest entry in the study, landed mid-pack — 17th. Owners gave it strong kudos in the fun-to-drive category. And its electric drivetrain was one of the most reliable among all EVs. But the “issue with Tesla is they’re still new at the game of making cars and have trouble with the basics that Ford worked out 100 years ago,” said Fisher.
Tesla also faced problems with its high-tech systems, including Autopilot and the big touchscreen used to control virtually all vehicle operations.
But there, it wasn’t alone. In general, systems like voice recognition, infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems have proven to be an industry Achilles Heel.
“We’re not seeing a lot of problems with engines,” and other mechanical systems, Fisher said. “But we’re seeing a lot of issues with electronics,” and this could get even worse as manufacturers continue to load up even entry-level models with more technology.
Some high-tech features have actually improved over the years, notably hybrid drive systems. That helps explain why five of the 10 Consumer Reports Top Picks for 2023 use gas-electric drive technology.
Era of the hybrid
While early hybrids, such as the original Toyota Prius, stood out for high mileage, they required buyers to make sacrifices in terms of performance, looks and that fun-to-drive factor. As the total makeover of the 2023 Prius suggests, hybrids are changing.
“Gone are the days of wacky looking hybrids like the original Prius,” Fisher said in an interview ahead of the annual study’s release. New models, like the Ford Maverick Hybrid, Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid and Lexus NX 350h are sportier, better equipped and lots more fun to drive making them “great choices.”
Even with the redesign, the 2023 Prius didn’t land a Top Pick endorsement this year. But Toyota did score with two other models: the Corolla Hybrid and Camry Hybrid.
As strong as hybrids performed in CR’s latest automotive study, battery-electric vehicles failed to keep pace — notably due to faulty electronics and issues with batteries. But there were two exceptions. The Top Picks included both the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model 3.
Fisher expects EVs to do better going forward as manufacturers get a good grip on battery drive technology.
“The overarching message is that electrification is here and it’s changing the industry.”