Conservative design principles may be the key to building a more reliable automobile, say engineers from Consumer Reports who studied vehicle reliability for their 2018 auto issue.
The study’s reliability list, revealed in the magazine’s April issue, was dominated by cars built by Toyota and Lexus, as it has been for many years. Not coincidently, both brands are known for their conservative adoption of new technology. “Toyota and Lexus, when it comes to reliability, are absolute standouts,” Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, told Design News. “And they continue to be standouts year over year.”
Nine of the ten vehicles receiving “much better than average” overall scores in every available year of the survey were either from Toyota or Lexus. The only exception was the Acura TSX mid-sized sedan, which received a perfect score in every model year from 2010 to 2014.
Consumer Reports’ ratings of vehicle reliability are based on survey responses from more than half a million vehicle owners. The surveys ask questions about 17 different potential trouble spots, ranging from engines and transmissions to fuel systems, electrical, suspension, brakes, body hardware, and in-car electronics, among others.
Fisher said that conservative adoption of new high-tech features -- such as nine- and ten-speed transmissions, small-displacement turbocharged engines, and Apple CarPlay -- was again the key to getting higher scores from consumers. Toyota was slow in adopting all those technologies, in contrast to many competitors who have aggressively designed them into new models. “Every manufacturer seems to be jumping ahead, trying to put all the latest gadgets in their cars,” he told us.
Toyota and Lexus eventually do adopt new technology, he added, but only by dipping a toe in the water first. An example of that is Toyota’s use of Apple CarPlay in the Avalon full-sized sedan. “Nearly all the other manufacturers are using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for multiple years,” he said. “But Toyota has been very slow to adapt. And that’s right out of their playbook. They could have launched it on the Camry, but that would have been far riskier. Instead, they launched it on a lower-volume product.”
In the ratings, the Camry received “much better than average” ratings (the magazine’s highest score) for in-car electronics in four of the last eight model years on the Consumer Reports survey. It also received perfect scores in all eight years for three engine categories and two transmission categories.
Toyota’s conservative approach does have a downside, however, Fisher added. The company’s vehicles are often dinged by automotive writers for being “dowdy,” or just plain lacking in excitement, he said. “Other manufacturers are willing to take risks for the sake of a performance increase, or for fuel economy boost, or for excitement and drive-ability,” he said. “And those manufacturers continue to get accolades from their peers. However, I would argue that none of those accolades consider reliability.”
Here, we offer a look at the ten vehicles that received top scores in every model year when they were surveyed by Consumer Reports. To see them and learn about their strengths and weaknesses, flip through the following slides.
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