Consumer Reports' Latest Survey Shows More of the Same and a Few BIG Surprises

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

The numbers have been tallied and the data compiled in Consumer Reports’ latest Auto Reliability Survey. Toyota has a lot to be happy about but Ford has taken a tumble.

The influential consumer magazine made these announcements and more at an Automotive Press Association luncheon in Detroit this afternoon. Consumer Reports collected more than 800,000 responses from its 8 million subscribers. That represents some 1.2 million vehicles ranging from model years 2010 to 2012.

Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion division took top honors. It was followed by the Toyota brand with Lexus coming in third.

“It’s really exciting to sweep the medals stand,” Curt McAllister, Toyota’s Midwest Public Relations Manager said. “My colleagues in California are excited.”

Two years ago Toyota was in trouble. Its sterling reputation for quality had been tarnished by a spate of recalls and a widely publicized unintended-acceleration issue. To counteract the effects of this the company changed the way it brings new product to market. “We’ve decided to add six weeks of product development to our product development (process).” McAllister said. This gives the company more time to make sure everything is right before a new vehicle launches. That extra effort appears to be paying off.

But Consumer Reports is not in love with everything Toyota has done. The Prius C was the most reliable vehicle in this year’s survey, but the magazine is not enthusiastic about the pint-sized hybrid. Jake Fisher, Auto Test Director for Consumer Reports said the vehicle doesn’t break but “we don’t recommend it because of the way it performs.”

Toyota is unfazed about this news. “We’re proud of Prius C even though Consumer Reports may not be high on the vehicle,” McAllister said, adding “Toyota wants to be No. 1 with customers.”

The news was good for Toyota but Ford was savaged by the survey. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker plummeted seven spots in the overall reliability ranking. It’s now second from the bottom, one spot ahead of Jaguar.

Ford’s Lincoln division also took a hit, falling 12 places to one above the Blue Oval. “Ford really had a bad year.” Fisher said. The MyFord and MyLincoln Touch infotainment systems as well as the company’s PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission used in some of its small cars are largely to blame for its poor performance.

Consumer Reports’ findings were no surprise to Ford. “Our research was very much in line with what their data shows,” Mark Schirmer, the company’s Global Product Communications Manager said. “We have some work to do.” Schirmer added.

Software updates for its in-vehicle electronics and transmissions has been rolling out since spring, but these improvements were not reflected in this survey. For customers with these updates Schirmer said “we’ve seen a 25 percent improvement in our data in terms of satisfaction.”

Aside from Ford’s dramatic tumble there were other surprises as well. Chrysler took a step back but not as far as Ford. Fisher said “these are really, really nice cars” but that the company probably rushed too much getting them to market.

The Chrysler 300 V6 and the RAM truck were both recommended and surprisingly Fisher said “the Fiat 500 has average reliability in its first model year.”

Unlike its cross-town rivals, GM’s reliability has improved. “ Cadillac has made it up to 11” Fisher said, adding “they’re really doing well.” Chevrolet, Buick and GMC all improved as well.

Audi was another surprise. The German luxury brand dramatically improved its overall rank, jumping 18 spaces compared to last year. It’s doing better than Infiniti, Nissan, Kia and Hyundai.

“Audi is really pulling ahead” Fisher said. He also said “they’re great-designed vehicles, but they’re reliable, too.”

The overall takeaway from Consumer Reports’ 2012 Reliability Survey is that Japanese automakers are consistently performing the best, the Europeans are improving and the Americans are falling behind, a reversal of fortunes from the past few years. Also, the problems subscribers report are different than they were just five years ago. There are many more issues with in-car electronics while engines, transmissions and other hardware is more trouble free than ever.

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

More by Craig Cole

Join the conversation
  • B Hogan B Hogan on Oct 30, 2012

    Looks like Ford forgot to send their donation check to CR this year. Anybody who actually believes that these reports are not bought is on something. The markers of bought endorsements has been all over this magazine for a looooong time. I have seen them give incredibly low marks to solid reliable products while simultaneously giving high marks to stuff that I have seen first hand room be HORRIBLY pathetic in every way. So I give them NONE of my money and make my own informed decisions without them.

    • Tm7536 Tm7536 on Nov 28, 2012

      Lots of accusations and no proof Mr. Hogan. CR at least has a program that they follow year to year. Who knows what your biases are?

  • Caseylamaster Caseylamaster on Jan 17, 2013

    Hmmm 7 of the top 8 spots going to companies in Japan. Feel sorry for those poor saps who settle for sub-par vehicles just to say they bought "American."