Volvo, Cadillac, Tesla Top List of Most Unreliable Nameplates

Here are the ten most unreliable automotive nameplates. Four are luxury vehicle manufacturers.
  • Three luxury automakers headed the list of most unreliable nameplates published by Consumer Reports this week.

    Volvo, Cadillac, and Tesla were designated the three worst of 29 manufacturers in the new list. Lincoln, which makes luxury vehicles, was also among the most unreliable nameplates, coming in tenth worst.

    The proliferation of luxury manufacturers at the low end of the list came as no surprise to engineers at Consumer Reports, however. “Luxury has never equated to reliability,” Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, told Design News. “It’s harder to make a complicated, luxurious vehicle reliable than it is to make a simple vehicle reliable.”

    But Fisher said that fact is often lost on consumers. “It’s confusing because consumers expect to get more for their dollar,” he said. “And they will get more features, but they won’t necessarily get something that’s more reliable. A simple Corolla or Camry doesn’t have a lot of gimmicks, and that’s what makes it more reliable.”

    Consumer Reports drew its conclusions from owner surveys of more than 500,000 people. The surveys look at numerous problem areas including engine, transmission, suspension, cooling, electrical, climate, brakes, exhaust, paint, trim, noises, leaks, power equipment, and in-car electronics, among others.

    A few automakers climbed or fell in this year’s nameplate survey—most notably Mazda, which moved up nine spots to third best, and Buick, which dropped 11 spots to number 19.

    For the most part, however, the new survey proved what Consumer Reports engineers have been saying for years: that good reliability is about reducing complexity and fostering gradual change. “You can be complex and have all those features, as long as you roll them out in a slow, methodical way,” Fisher told Design News earlier this year. Lexus and Toyota, which are known for designing conservatively, grabbed the first and second spots, respectively.

    Companies that violated conservative principles fared poorly in the survey. One key example: A few automakers who employed small-displacement turbo engines had problems. Those included Lincoln, Hyundai, Mini, Volkswagen, and Buick.

    Tesla was another violator. Its Model X crossover had problems with its falcon-wing doors and center display screen. Those ongoing problems have been well-documented, but still not fixed, Consumer Reports said. “They tried to give it excitement, and they succeeded at that,” Fisher told Design News last March. “But there are needless complexities.”

    Consumer Reports ranked the Model X as one of the worst vehicles among 300 models reviewed in this year’s survey. The organization also retracted its recommendation of Tesla’s Model S sedan.


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    Here, we offer a peek at the ten worst nameplates in the Consumer Reports survey. To view them and find out which of their models were the biggest violators, flip through the following slides.

  • Volvo came in 29th of the 29 manufacturers reviewed in Consumer Reports' latest survey of nameplate reliability. Its least reliable vehicle was the S90 mid-sized luxury sedan, which was cited for problems with engine knocking and in-car electronics. Survey respondents also complained about Volvo’s XC60 and XC90 sport utility vehicles (SUVs), citing display screen freeze-ups, climate control issues, and interior cabin rattles. Almost across the board, Volvo’s ongoing issues (which began long before this latest nameplate survey) have involved in-car electronics, power equipment, noises, and leaks. (Image source: Volvo)

  • Cadillac landed in the 28th spot on the basis of poor reliability showings by the ATS sedan and coupe, the CTS mid-sized luxury car, and SRX compact. Of that group, Consumer Reports said the ATS was the worst. The ATS exhibited problems with in-car electronics, power equipment, climate system, and noises and leaks. Consumer Reports also cited the CT6 sedan and Escalade SUV for rough shifting. (Image source: Cadillac)

  • Tesla, Inc. fared poorly, coming in 27th. Consumer Reports' director of auto testing, Jake Fisher, cited Tesla for numerous complexities, including its gullwing doors, complicated seats, long windshield, and door hardware. “Tesla has three models and each one of them has a different door handle mechanism,” he told Design News. “And I would argue that none of them work as well as what you’d find on a Toyota Corolla or a Hyundai.” Complaints about Tesla vehicles led Consumer Reports to yank the Model S electric sedan from its recommended list. (Image source: Tesla, Inc.)

  • FCA’s Ram trucks have universally performed poorly in Consumer Reports’ surveys, landing the truck manufacturer in 26th place out of 29 nameplates. The Ram 1500 pickup received an average rating; the 2500 pickup has had a “worse than average” evaluation in three of the last five years. And the 3500 was Ram’s worst of all, according to Consumer Reports. (Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • GMC was another American truck maker that performed poorly in the survey, landing in 25th place. Its worst vehicle, according to Consumer Reports, was the Sierra 2500 HD, which has had problems in the past with its fuel system and exhaust. But the Sierra 2500 wasn’t alone. The GMC Acadia sport utility vehicle got dinged, too, for complaints about its infotainment and power equipment systems. (Image source: GMC)

  • Chrysler came in 24th place, largely based on a poor showing by the Chrysler 300 and Pacifica minivan. The 300 has in the past exhibited problems with in-car electronics and power equipment, although it has improved slightly. But the Pacifica was considered the automaker’s worst, receiving a below average rating. Survey respondents complained about a frozen or blank display screen, as well as navigation and radio issues. Worse, Pacifica’s owners cited problems with the transmission’s computer. (Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • Chevrolet came in 23rd place, mostly on the performance of the Chevy Traverse mid-size crossover. The Traverse had “much worse than average” reliability as a result of transmission problems and an infotainment display that tended to freeze up. In the past, it also had problems with the climate system and suspension, although those issues have improved. All the news wasn’t bad for Chevy, however. The Equinox, Suburban, Tahoe, and Bolt all received average or better ratings. (Image source: Chevrolet)

  • The Jeep nameplate had what Consumer Reports described as “mixed results,” landing it in 22nd place. The nameplate’s worst performer was the Compass SUV, which had an overall below-average rating based on multiple complaint areas. The company’s flagship Cherokee also fared poorly, getting dinged for in-car electronics, power equipment, noises, leaks, suspension, drive system, and minor transmission issues. (Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • Dodge came in 21st place (ninth worst in the survey), based on poor performance by Challenger, Durango, and Journey. The Challenger exhibited transmission and brake problems. The Durango had problems with power equipment and in-car electronics. But the Journey was considered Dodge’s worst, with respondents citing problems with brakes, suspension, drive system, power equipment, and in-car electronics. (Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • Lincoln was yet another luxury car manufacturer that received poor reliability grades. Its MKC and MKX sport utility vehicles were cited for below-average performance, and its MKZ sedan’s ratings nose-dived. Consumer Reports named the MKZ Lincoln’s worst, largely on the basis of in-car electronics, power equipment, suspension, and climate system issues. The good news for Lincoln, however, was that its old-standby, the Continental, received a “much better than average” reliability rating. (Image source: Lincoln)

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 34 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.


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