Friday, November 21, 2008

A second reliability survey this year — this one just out from Consumer Reports — shows that fuel-efficient vehicles are very reliable. This is more good news for consumers who want to cut fuel costs with smaller vehicles and for anyone who just wants to conserve precious fossil fuels.

The 2008 Consumer Reports’ Annual Car Reliability Survey is more proof that small cars can no longer be equated with being cheap and poor in quality.

The first study this year to show that small cars had good reliability was the 2008 Vehicle Dependability Study from J. D. Power and Associates, which measures the problems experienced by the original owners after they have owned a vehicle for three years.

In the new Consumer Reports survey, which predicts the reliability of 2009 models, fuel-efficient cars with the best predicted reliability are the Honda Civic sedan and Fit; Hyundai Elantra; Mazda3 sedan; Mini Cooper Clubman; Scion xD; smart fortwo; Suzuki SX4; and Toyota Yaris. The least reliable is the Nissan Versa sedan.

Gas-electric hybrid models are proving to be reliable, too. Nine for which Consumer Reports has sufficient data had above average predicted reliability. They are the Ford Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid; Honda Civic Hybrid; Lexus GS450h Hybrid and RX400h; Nissan Altima Hybrid; and Toyota Prius, Camry Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid.

Findings are based on responses on more than 1.4 million vehicles owned or leased by subscribers to Consumer Reports or its web site, Consumer Reports’ uses the survey data to predict reliability of 2009 models.

Predicted reliability is its forecast of how well these models are likely to hold up. To calculate predicted-reliability ratings, CR averages the overall reliability scores for the most recent three model years, provided that the model remained unchanged in that period and also didn’t substantially change for 2009. If a model was new or redesigned in the past couple of years, one or two years’ data may be used, if that’s all that’s available.

Ford Motor Company’s three brands — Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury — lead the domestic automakers, as they did last year. Except for some truck-based vehicles, almost all Ford products are now average or better. The Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan continued to rank among the most reliable family cars.

European automakers such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo all did better this year. Still one-third of Mercedes’ models have reliability problems and no models scored above average. Japanese cars are still the most reliable overall in Consumer Reports’ predicted reliability ratings, with the Scion xD having the best predicted reliability score for all new cars.

Nissan improved, with its Armada, Titan and Infiniti QX56 finally gaining average predicted reliability.

The twin South Korean brands, Hyundai and Kia, ranked in eighth and tenth places, respectively, for predicted reliability, as most of their models scored above average or better.

Among the bright spots for General Motors is the redesigned Chevrolet Malibu with above-average reliability for the four-cylinder model and average for the V-6. But a quarter of GM models are still well below average.

Almost two-thirds of Chrysler’s products are below average, although the Dodge Caliber hatchback and Jeep Patriot sport-utility are above average in predicted reliability.

Full reliability history charts and predicted reliability on hundreds of 2009 models are available to online subscribers at and in the latest Consumer Reports Cars publication, Best & Worst for ‘09, which is currently on sale.

For those looking for used vehicles, Consumer Reports compares how vehicles from eight major manufacturers fared over 10 model years from 1998 to 2007. Below are some of the findings:

• Toyota and Honda have significantly fewer problems than do cars from other manufacturers overall. Moreover, seven-year-old Toyotas and Hondas have roughly only the same number of problems as three-year-old vehicles from most other automakers.

• Volkswagen is the manufacturer with the most problems. The typical eight-year-old Volkswagen has nearly three times the number of problems as the typical eight-year-old Toyota.

• Newer Hyundais are fairly reliable as the quality of its vehicles has greatly improved, but the average Hyundai vehicles of five years and older are among the least reliable.

• Ford vehicles are now more reliable across all these model years than those from General Motors and Chrysler.

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