Another strong year for domestic brands, netting four of the top 10 (11) spots.
J.D. Power this week released its annual Initial Quality Study (IQS) for 2021. Like last year, American brands had a strong showing, topping the list and scoring four of the top 10 spots—technically 11, because ties.
Last year, the company redesigned the study, adding more questions for owners to address problems they were experiencing. The average number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) went up because of this, but drops two percent across the industry for 2021.
According to J.D. Power, for the first time in a decade, voice recognition is no longer the most common problem amongst new-vehicle owners. Instead, it’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto pairing. This is especially problematic as more and more companies switch over to wireless pairing: trouble-shooting isn’t as intuitive as the old “unplug and plug it back in” approach. The company says 25 percent of all problems are related to infotainment, and six of the top 10 problems all fall under the category.
The highest-rated single model? The aging Nissan Maxima, with just 85 PP100. Once again, Tesla doesn’t qualify, as the EV manufacturer refuses to allow J.D. Power to poll its owners in some states.
As a reminder, the IQ Study polls new-car owners on the various issues and problems they might encounter in the first 90 days of ownership. A better illustration of what it might be like to own a car from these brands comes from the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, which polls buyers after three years of ownership.
With that out of the way, let’s get to those top makes, in ascending order.
The cutesy British-but-Bavarian brand moved up the rankings this year, tying Chevrolet and thus earning a spot in the Top 10. That’s a full 23 fewer problems per 100 cars than last year, putting Mini on the right side of the industry average (162 PP100 for this year).
Chevrolet slipped in 2021, seeing an additional 10 problems per 100 cars in the first 90 days of ownership. That’s enough to see it fall from the podium to the bottom of the top 10. The brand’s best-selling Equinox sees a revision for 2022; will the addition of wireless phone pairing help or hurt the brand?
The first of three—three!—Stellantis brands on this list, Jeep improved with six fewer problems per 100 cars this year, scoring 149 PP100. Uconnect 4 no doubt helps: it remains one of the easiest infotainment systems to use. The brand will adopt the latest iteration of Uconnect this year with the introduction of the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.
Hyundai also improved this year, but by less than Jeep, resulting in the brands sharing ninth place. As we’ll see later in the list, Korean brands as a whole did well, scoring consistently for another year. Hyundai in particular has gone on a product offensive the last 12 months, introducing a new Elantra, Tucson, and Santa Cruz, with the dedicated Ioniq 5 EV coming before the end of the year.
Genesis saw an increase of 6 PP100 this year, enough for the Korean brand to lose the title of top-performing luxury brand. The number of models has grown from three to five in the past 12 months, with the mid-size GV80 and compact GV70 SUVs joining the lineup. Next up from the brand are electrified options, in the form of an adapted G80 sedan, and the dedicated EV-only GV60.
Kia was a joint winner in the 2020 IQ Study. A new brand has moved up to snatch the crown, on account of Kia tumbling from 136 to 147 PP100. While the brand has put out a lot of excellent new product this year—the K5 is a great sedan, and the Carnival makes minivans cool again—it has also put an emphasis on wireless phone pairing, this year’s bugbear.
Not to be outdone by the likes of Kia and Hyundai, Nissan has had its own lineup refresh, bringing in a new Versa, Sentra, Rogue, and Pathfinder, plus revisions to the Kicks and Armada. The brand’s renewed focus on quality has seemingly paid off, with a big 15-point PP100 jump landing it in the top five. Up next, the turbocharged Z sports car and electric-power Ariya.
Like its now-partner Nissan, Mitsubishi improved its IQS score year-over-year, shaving 4 PP100 off for a tally of 144. That’s the highest rating for any non-premium import brand. Mitsubishi has quietly turned out reliable, easy-to-learn models at affordable prices, and owners are recognizing that good work. Tying the best-performing luxury brand is one heck of an accomplishment.
After a disappointing 2020, Lexus is back in the pointy end of the results with a 144 PP100 score. The Japanese brand is the best-performing luxury brand in the IQ Study, knocking Genesis from its perch. A fussy touchpad has long dogged the brand’s infotainment systems; with a move towards more intuitive touchscreens, it’s little surprise Lexus has moved up.
Dodge won last year, and even a slight increase of 3 PP100 wasn’t enough to see it leave the podium for 2021. Chalk this consistency up to two factors: the low learning curve for the brand’s Uconnect 4 system, and the sheer age of most of its offerings. The Charger and Challenger have been around for well over a decade at this point, as has the Durango, which saw a refresh this year—including a move to Uconnect 5.
Dodge may not have won, but at least another of its Stellantis siblings did. The current Ram 1500 generation has enjoyed critical and sales success since debuting in 2019, with a class-leading interior and the same Uconnect system found elsewhere in the Stellantis empire. For 2022, the brand will graduate to the latest Uconnect 5 system, which is faster and more feature-rich.
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