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Who makes the best cars?

Lexus is tops, with Acura and Audi challenging

Published: February 2014

A lot can go wrong when building cars—especially ones packed with luxury features and advanced technology, such as hybrid powertrains and cutting-edge infotainment systems. That’s why it’s quite impressive that Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, earned the highest score in our brand report cards for the second straight year. Its models are usually quiet, comfortable, and fuel efficient, and they’re among the most reliable cars made.

Following close behind Lexus, which scored 79, are two rivals: Acura, the luxury division of Honda, and Audi, Volkswagen’s luxury brand.

With models that are reliable, well-finished, and somewhat sporty, Acura earned a score of 75. Audi came in at 74, thanks to its cars’ well-crafted interiors, nice handling, and good gas mileage from its range of modern, efficient engines. Plus, Audi models have shown improved reliability.

Our brand report cards are intended to show which brands are making the best all-around vehicles, based on how their models perform in our comprehensive road tests and how they rate in reliability based on subscribers telling us their experiences with 1.1 million vehicles.

We calculate each brand’s overall score using an equally weighted composite of our road-test and reliability scores for each of its models that we’ve tested and for which our subscribers have provided reliability data in our Annual Auto Survey. To be included, each brand needs at least three models for which we have test and reliability data. This year we don’t have report cards for Fiat, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mini, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Ram, Scion, Smart, and Tesla because we have too few currently tested models from those makes or we lack sufficient reliability data to make a valid comparison.

Here are other notable findings:

  • Japanese brands dominated, taking seven of the top eight spots. Following the three highest-scoring are Subaru, Toyota, Mazda, Honda, and Infiniti. The only Japanese brand that wasn’t in the upper half is Nissan, which ranks 18th out of the 23 makes in our analysis.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, Jeep and Ford tied for the lowest score. Jeep has a mix of spotty reliability and mediocre road-test results, and Ford continues to have reliability problems, especially with its MyFord Touch system.
  • Audi’s luxurious, fun-to-drive, and fuel-efficient cars earned it the highest overall average road-test score of 83. Mercedes-Benz followed at 81, and Chrysler, Infin­iti, and Subaru tied at 80. Jeep has the lowest road-test score, dragged down by the Wrangler, which scored 20 points; the dated Compass and Patriot; and the unimpressive new Cherokees.
  • Lexus is the only brand to achieve an excellent overall reliability score, with the following six makes earning a very good rating. Only Cadillac, Dodge, and Ford had a below-average reliability score.
  •  In general, luxury brands outperformed their mainstream stablemates. In other words, Lexus outscored Toyota, Acura was higher than Honda, Audi outpaced Volks­wagen, and Infiniti fared far better than Nissan. The only exception was Cadillac, which scored the lowest of any of General Motors’ brands, based mainly on problems with the XTS’ CUE infotainment system.

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