Consumer Reports just released the results of its Annual Auto Reliability Survey and — as we wrote about from last year’s Connected Car Expo at the LA Auto Show — infotainment systems and continuously variable transmissions are giving automakers a major black eye, and Tesla owners feel a lot differently about their cars than Consumer Reports did when they tested it.
In terms of reliability, Toyota and Lexus came out on top. CR also singled out Audi for praise, noting its impressive run of improvements over the last few years. Surprisingly, Subaru, Kia and Mazda all scored higher than Honda in the ownership survey.
Both Honda and Acura took it on the chin for transmissions, though. “Honda models with the new continuously variable transmissions (or CVTs) are troublesome,” said Mark Rechtin, CR‘s auto editor. “Acura was hit with a double-whammy. It experienced problems with the eight-speed dual clutch and nine-speed automatic transmissions in newer vehicles.”
It was the same situation for both Nissan and Infiniti, which have placed wagers on continuously variable transmissions almost across the board. Both brands had models “plagued with problems,” according to Rechtin’s read on the owner surveys. “Nissan uses CVTs in most of their vehicles,” he says, “but the new on in some redesigned products has been particularly troublesome.”
Buick ranked in the top 10 manufacturers once again, but that was the end of the really good news for the American brands. Ford owners continue to complain about the brand’s six-speed Power Shift automatic transmission. Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet occupied the bottom third of the survey, and FCA produced “five of the seven worst brands” in terms of reliability. “No Fiat, Jeep or Ram model even managed an average score,” says Rechtin.
Consumer Reports famously heaped praise on the Tesla Model S in its in-house testing, noting that the “The all-wheel-drive Tesla Model S P85D sedan performed better in our tests than any other car ever has, breaking the Consumer Reports Ratings system.” But it was forced to update its recommendation when more than 1,400 CR survey respondents complained that the car “just wasn’t very reliable.”
“The main problem areas involved the drivetrain, power equipment, charging equipment, giant iPad-like center console, and body and sunroof squeaks, rattles, and leaks,” read the updated Tesla entry.
“Specific areas that scored worse on the 2015 model, compared with the 2014 model in last year’s survey, were the climate control, steering, and suspension systems. Complaints about the drive system have also increased as the cars have aged—specifically for the 2013 model, which was the car’s first full model year.”
Overall, Consumer Reports readers are simply unsatisfied with the infotainment systems in their cars. “The area that has garnered the most frequent complaints in recent years has been infotainment systems and their integrated bundle of audio, navigation, and communications systems, and their display screen,” Consumer Reports says. “There’s nothing inherently faulty about these systems, and they’re among the most desirable feature sets of a contemporary car. But when the technology isn’t executed just right it can cause endless aggravation.”
Acura owners “experienced headaches” from the AcuraLink infotainment system. “Infiniti continues to experience woes with its InTouch infotainment system,” Rechtin notes, and “Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system continues to be particularly troublesome.
It’s a phenomenon we mentioned from last year’s Connected Car Expo at the L.A. Auto Show. Consumers want these technologies, but they’re frustrated by them even after owning them for years. Renee Stephens, J.D. Powers’ Vice President of US Automotive Quality drove the point home by showing a video of a dozen average consumers attempting to interact with the voice controls in their cars. Regardless of the brand, they all failed to understand the simplest, clearest commands. “Consumers are struggling with the value that advanced technology adds,” said Stephens.
CR chalks it up to technologies being new. “This says something about new technologies in general: It often takes a while to work out the kinks. That’s why we recommend you wait a year or more after any brand-new car design is introduced before taking the plunge,” it says.