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Consumer Reports announces most, least reliable cars - with plenty of surprises

New cars and cars with lots of technology continue to be a challenge for automakers to build and buyers to figure out, according to Consumer Reports’ annual car reliability ratings. The 2016 poster child is Tesla and its new Model X crossover with falcon-wing doors (read: complexity). Tesla as a company ranks just 25th of 29 brands, and the Model X is the sixth least reliable car measured.

Meanwhile, Asian brands led by Lexus and Toyota took seven of the top 10 spots along with Buick (!) in third, Audi fourth, and BMW ninth. The reader survey is based on three-year reliability, although many of the individual models’ rankings are only based on the most recent year.

Lexus, Toyota, Buick, Audi, and Kia were the top five brands, while the Toyota Prius, Lexus CT 200h, Infiniti Q70, Audi Q3, and Lexus GX were the top five individual models. (Full lists below.)

A lot of the media have been hitting on Tesla’s problems. Basically, the Model S has been in production that Tesla has many of bugs ironed out and the reliability is up to average, which is good enough to rate the Model S as recommended. (CR, recall, says it is the best car they’ve ever tested.) But the Model X is brand new and it has falcon doors, which fold in the middle as they swing up. That makes them a bear to manufacture, install, and keep in alignment. They do look cool, but owners’ ratings pushed the Model X into the 10-worst-models ranking and dragged Tesla down to 25 of 29 brands.

Here are some key trends that we see. First, the Asian brands rule the rankings. The 10 brands rank 1-2-5-6-7-8-10-11-12-13, all in the top half. The average ranking is 7.5 (out of 29). Kia and Hyundai are 5 and 7 (and no model was ranked below average), meaning the Korean brands are as good as the Japanese brands. Thus you can buy most any Asian car coming off lease and expect decent reliability.

Among US automakers (meaning US-headquartered), Buick was the outlier with its third place finish, same as it earned on the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Index three-year-reliability survey. After that, the best for GM was Chevrolet in 15th among 29 brands (Chevrolet Cruze was the lone US car in the top 10 for individual models), the best for Ford was 18 (Ford), and the best for the Fiat-Chrysler US brands was 23 for Jeep; its other three US brands were 26-27-29 (28 was Fiat). Consumer Reports does note that even low-rated brands can have passable individual models, such as Chrysler minivans.

Europe’s premium automakers have often fared poorly in long-term reliability rankings. They argued that when you a build a complex car, there may be more things that need attention. Still, Lexus at No. 1 overall has a lot of complexity, as does Audi (No. 4) and BMW (No. 9). Note also that the two top-scoring models are Toyota and Lexus hybrids, which have additional complexity as well.

Reliability surveys have evolved over to include perceptual components, meaning how did the buyer like the dashboard and the controls on the infotainment system. One J.D. Power survey let customers take off for brake dust, which is common when owners drive their cars hard.

Honda slipped slightly to No. 10 overall. Its Honda Civic sedan, the 2016 North American Car of the Year and a PCMag Editors’ Choice among compact cars, fared much worse than average on reliability. CR said the Civic had problems with power equipment and infotainment. Honda’s Display Audio is the poor man’s version of Cadillac CUE, forcing the user to tap the glass display panel, since there are few or no function buttons or controllers.

Honda may be starting a return to usability this fall when the all-new 2017 Honda CR-V Display Audio gets — drum roll — a volume knob. Back in 2010, the CR-V’s simpler system sported function buttons on either side of the display.

Recent reports suggest Apple is standing down from plans to build a car of its own from scratch and may, as a fallback, offer infotainment systems to automakers. Apple may have thought about building its own. It was widely reported Apple checked in with BMW and Mercedes-Benz about building Applemobiles on contract, but that fell through when corporate cultures (and egos?) clashed. Tesla’s experience may be instructive for Apple: It might have to suffer through three to five years of difficult times before getting a factory of its own to run smoothly.

These are the 10 most reliable cars for CR’s 2016-17 rankings. Note that five are Toyota-Lexus, with two from Audi and one each from Infiniti, Mercedes, and Chevrolet.

Here are the least reliable cars. All are American cars except the dead-last Fiat 500L.

This is the best-to-worst list of all 29 brands with enough responses to be included. CR says Buick’s third place is the first top-three finish by a Detroit Big Three brand in three decades.

Consumer Reports now recommends these cars, meaning they have average or better reliability (and good test scores):

These cars were recommended, but no longer:

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