Consumer Reports 2022 Rankings Rate Mainstream Cars Over Luxury Models

For the ninth straight year, the Subaru Forester is Consumer Reports’ Top Pick in the small, mainstream SUV category. Subaru was cited as the top brand in CR’s 2022 auto report card. Bill Howard

Consumers may be better off picking the top trims levels of mainstream auto brands rather than splurging on the luxury nameplates, according to Consumer Reports 2022 annual car brand rankings. 

The consumer research organization said that most vehicles it recommends tend to be from Japanese brands. Six placed among consumer reports top-10 recommendations. 

Subaru was the top brand in Consumer Report’s 2022 rankings. It was followed by Mazda, BMW, Honda and Lexus. Audi, Porsche, Mini and Toyota rounded out the top brand rankings. 

Buick was the highest-rated domestic brand, placing 11th. 

Jeep ranked the lowest of all brands, followed by GMC, Mitsubishi, Land Rover and Alfa Romeo.

Despite its consumer chic, sport electric car manufacturer Tesla ranked 23rd of the 32 brands, well below average. Luxury brands mainly were relegated below average. Other low scorers included Mercedes-Benz, Genesis, Volvo, Cadillac and Jaguar. 

“Just like other luxury goods, sometimes you are paying for the brand as opposed to getting more substance for the dollar,” said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ senior director of automotive testing.

Gimmicky Tech May Hurt Satisfacton

Luxury auto brands typically attempt to differentiate themselves by offering the latest technology features. But as often as not, those turn out to be “tech gimmicks that complicate the driving experience rather than making it better,” Fisher said.

Mercedes-Benz, for example, relies on capacitive controls for many functions. That turns and adjusting the radio or climate systems into a multistep task. 

“It’s easy to miss-hit buttons. If you accidentally brush a button while turning the steering wheel, suddenly the radio station has changed,” Fisher said.

Moreover, packing a car with the latest technology features often hurts reliability because it typically takes a year to identify and correct glitches. 

A similar problem is showing up in electric vehicles. 

“The control systems and things like the door handles are often different than previous gasoline models. All this new technology creates an unreliable vehicle, which is strange because the electric vehicle on its own should be a very reliable system,” Fisher said. 

2021 Mustang Mach-E
The only U.S. car to be a Consumer Reports Top Pick (best in class) is the Ford Mustang Mach-E. CR says U.S. brands aren’t, in general, as reliable. The exception is brands with older cars that have the bugs ironed out. Ford

Domestic manufacturers generally scored lower because their latest models aren’t as reliable as previous vehicles. Buick and Chrysler both scored above average because they have older vehicles, which provided time to work out the kinks. Likewise, according to Fisher, the Ram half-ton pickup truck also did well because the current version has been in the market longer than rivals such as the Chevrolet Silverado or Ford F-150. 

The Japanese brands tend to follow a slower product change cadence and share many platforms and powertrains across vehicles. That often reduces quality problems, Fisher said. 

“The dirty secret of the imports is that they will launch their models in other markets, and some of the growing pains have been worked out by the time they hit our market. Getting a vehicle in the second year of that generation’s production helps a lot,” he said. 

Common Findings by Consumer Reports, J.D. Power

The Consumer Reports findings mirrored a study of long-term dependability from automotive market research firm J.D. Power.

Its 2022 Vehicle Dependability Study released earlier this month also found that mainstream brands were typically more reliable than luxury names. It also found that technology glitches are the most significant source of consumer complaints. That study looked at the reliability of vehicles sold in the 2019 model year. 

Power’s top five brands in VDS were Kia (18th on CR’s report card), Buick (11th), Hyundai (14th), Genesis (19th) and Toyota (9th).

2022 Toyota Prius
The 2022 Toyota Prius hybrid was a Consumer Reports Top Pick for the 19th year, more than any other vehicle. Toyota

CR’s 10 Top Picks: Japanese brands dominate

Consumer Reports also highlighted the 10 models it likes best, organized by price segments. Eight of CR’s 10 Top Picks are Japanese nameplates, including three from Toyota and its Lexus luxury brand. Honda and Nissan each had two models. Kia had one. With the new Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle, Ford was the only domestic automaker.

The consumer research organization’s top choices in the under $25,000 segment are the Nissan Sentra sedan and Nissan Rogue Sport subcompact crossover. It liked the Subaru Forester SUV, Toyota Prius Hybrid, Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid, and the Honda Accord in the $25,000 to $35,000 segment.

Consumer Reports picked the Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid, the Kia Telluride three-row SUV and the Honda Ridgeline midsize pickup truck in the $35,000 to $45,000 category. It gave the nod to the Lexus RX SUV and the Ford Mustang Mach-E in the $45,000 to $55,000 segment.

Consumer Reports considered only new vehicles tested at its 327-acre test track in Connecticut for its brand rankings. CR says it conducts more than 50 tests on every vehicle, evaluating braking, handling, comfort, convenience, safety, and fuel economy. It then compiles an overall score based on multiple factors. The rankings consider predicted reliability, and owner satisfaction based on Consumer Reports’ member surveys, the test results, key safety features and crash-test results, if available.

In making its picks, the consumer research organization said it emphasized safety and environmental impact. 

In the brand report card below, Consumer Reports rates the Subaru brand as much better than average, Mazda through Ford (21 brands) as better than average and Tesla through Jeep (10 brands) as average. Consumer Reports internally scores brands to hundredth of a point, so models with the same reported score are slightly different.

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