Good news: despite ever-increasing complexity, cars are more reliable than ever, on average.
J.D. Power has released its 32nd annual Vehicle Dependability Study. The industry-wide study quizzes thousands of owners of 2018 models across the country on the number of issues they’ve run into over the last 12 months. J.D. Power uses eight categories, from exterior to infotainment, with 177 specific problems amongst them. The company tallies up every model’s issues and assigns it a problems-per-100-vehicles score (PP100).
The industry took a big jump in reliability this year. Every one of the eight categories saw improvements, leading to an industry average of just 121 PP100. That’s a 13-point reduction over 2020, larger than the last few years combined. Audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation (ACEN) was the one category that saw only small improvements. It appears companies can still struggle to produce intuitive infotainment systems, and the easy availability of smartphone mirroring means buyers can skip the native system almost entirely.
The big winners this year were the Japanese and Korean marques. Lexus found itself back on top for the ninth time in 10 years, after a drop to second place last year. Toyota wasn’t far behind in fourth, but it couldn’t clinch the highest mainstream spot thanks to a huge jump from Kia. The Korean automaker shed 35 PP100 over last year, squeaking into third overall. Last year’s winner, Genesis, moves to eighth, though it’s only 5 PP100 behind Kia.
Tesla was scored this year (176 PP100), but not included in the official ranking because it doesn’t grant J.D. Power permission to survey owners in 15 states. Had it been included, it would’ve ranked 30th, ahead of Jaguar (186 PP100), Alfa Romeo (196 PP100), and Land Rover (244 PP100). The industry average? 121 PP100.
Also important to note: cars remain the most dependable body style, averaging 111 PP100. Trucks and SUVs average 130 and 122, respectively. Despite this, the latter two now account for nearly 80 percent of US sales each month.
Read on for the full list.
Acura had one of the biggest improvements this year, shaving 31 PP100 off last year’s score to crack the top 10. The brand is in the middle of a renaissance currently, with the second-generation TLX rediscovering the driving fun that made Acura so well-loved back in the ’90s and early ’00s. Up next for the Japanese brand is the fourth-generation MDX, which was Acura’s first in-house SUV when it debuted almost 20 years ago.
The Blue Oval’s luxury brand dropped two positions this year, despite a 13-point improvement to its PP100 score. That’s how close this year’s results are at the pointy end. Like Acura, Lincoln is a dramatically different brand now than it was only a few years ago: both the Continental and MKZ have been discontinued leaving the brand an SUV-only affair.
Last year’s surprise winner took a tumble this year, with a 13-point increase bumping it to 102 PP100. Of last year’s top 10, only one other brand saw a bigger dip: Volkswagen. Late 2018 saw the sweet-driving Genesis G70 arrive, expanding the brand’s car lineup to three. We’ll have to see how the more recent additions of the GV80 and GV70 will affect the brand down the road.
SEE ALSO: 2021 Hyundai Elantra Review: First Drive
The Korean brands buck the general trend within the study, with their luxury marque scoring slightly lower than the mainstream ones. We do mean slightly, too: Hyundai was just a single point ahead of Genesis this year. Hyundai’s been on a product offensive for what feels like years now: 2018 saw the first Kona and second-gen Veloster debut, and we’ve welcomed the latest Sonata, Palisade, and Elantra since.
05. Cadillac (tied)
GM takes a two-pronged approach to luxury, using both Cadillac and Buick to draw buyers in. No matter which they choose, drivers will find a reliable car according to J.D. Power: they both scored an even PP100 this year. Cadillac has greatly expanded its lineup since then, augmenting the XT5 and Escalade SUV lineup with the XT4 and XT6. The brand also switched around its car lineup, converting to the CT4 and CT5 names. Moving forward, Cadillac will lead GM’s EV charge.
05. Buick (tied)
Buick is a softer take on luxury than Cadillac’s tech-forward, enthusiast-friendly lineup. Buyers appreciate the affordable pricing, comfort, and ease of use. Like cross-town rival Lincoln, Buick has dropped cars from its lineup here in the present time, though the Envision—which sees a whole new model this year—topped the compact SUV list here.
SEE ALSO: 2021 Toyota Sienna Review: First Drive
Toyota is never very far from the top of this list, and so it remains the case this year. Three category wins bolster the Japanese brand: large cars (Avalon), minivan (Sienna), and full-size truck (Tundra). Many of its best-sellers, like the Corolla, RAV4, and Highlander, aren’t far off their respective segment leaders, either. Toyota is one of four brands to dip under 100 PP100.
While Korea may not have won outright again this year, Kia does clinch the top mainstream brand title. Thank a huge improvement in the brand’s PP100 score, with three category wins in the Optima (now K5), Sorento, and Sportage. Like Genesis and Hyundai, Kia has been firing on all cylinders lately, delivering cars that are visually interesting, economical, and—as it turns out—pretty darned reliable, too.
Porsche continues to prove that sports cars need not be temperamental, with another high finish in this year’s J.D. Power survey. In fact, the iconic Porsche 911 was the highest-rated car overall, which is quite an accomplishment. Of course, the brand is more than just the long-lived Neunelfer: the sporty Cayenne and Macan make up the bulk of the brand’s sales. The last year saw Porsche expand into pure EVs with the very quick, very pretty Taycan.
SEE ALSO: 2021 Lexus IS 350 Review: First Drive
Lexus is back on top after an unexpected dip last year. At just 81 PP100, the Japanese luxury brand scored the best result J.D. Power has seen in years. It’s the ninth time in 10 years Lexus has topped the list; little wonder that buyers remain so loyal. Surprisingly, Lexus only scores two segment wins with the ES sedan and GX SUV, but it’s the brand’s consistency across all categories that earns it a well-deserved win yet again.
Check out the full list below:
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