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2009 Annual Auto Reliability Survey: Where Ford really stands

Consumer Reports News: October 29, 2009 02:48 PM

Since we announced the results from our latest auto reliability survey, there has been a lot of buzz—and a wide range of interpretation—in the media and blogosphere about Ford’s strong showing. On one hand, I’ve seen a headline that said Ford is number one. (It’s not.) And I’ve seen writers wondering aloud if we’re shilling for the company—casting it in an overly rosy light. (We’re not.)
We are always glad to see an automaker raise the level of quality and reliability in its cars. It’s good for consumers who don’t want the hassle and expense of a lot of problems down the road. But, let’s be clear: while Ford is easily the best of the domestic automakers in terms of reliability, it’s still no Toyota or Honda. (Read our full report on car reliability.)
Here’s the picture in nutshell:
Toyota and Honda clearly dominate in reliability. They have five of the top seven brands in our ranking: Scion, Honda, Toyota, Acura, and Lexus. All of their models are average or better. Of the 48 models that get our top predicted-reliability rating, 17 are built by Toyota and seven by Honda. That’s half. If you just look at the top 10 models, seven are built by Toyota and two by Honda. (The other is a Mercedes-Benz.) And of the 16 vehicle categories for which we have predicted-reliability ratings, nine are topped by a Toyota-built vehicle and two by Hondas. Overall, that’s a pretty convincing case.
When it comes to Ford, we’ve said that it’s the only Detroit automaker that’s building cars with world-class reliability. What do we mean by “world class”? Ninety percent of the 51 models for which we have data are average or above. It is the only American automaker to earn our top rating, received by eight of its models. And only five models are below average. That’s also impressive.
Here are some highlights:
The Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan are among the top models in the family cars class, under only the Toyota Prius. Six versions rate higher than any versions of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, which have typically done very well in our survey results and are often perceived as the paradigms of reliability.
The front-wheel-drive Lincoln MKZ tops the upscale cars category, beating out such high-scoring competitors as the Acura TL and Lexus ES. The front-wheel-drive Ford Edge and V6 Mustang rank near the top of their classes. And most other Ford-built models are in the upper half of their categories.
Despite all of this goodness, Ford still has its weaknesses. The mighty Ford F-250 turbodiesel 4WD pickup has the fifth worst score in the survey results. The front-wheel-drive Lincoln MKS is at the bottom of the upscale cars category. And three all-wheel-drive Lincolns (MKS, MKX, and MKZ) were also below average.

So, of the 33 brands that we rank, Mercury came in at number 10.  Ford ranked at 16th (still made the top half), and Lincoln’s problematic models sank it to 20th place. (In contrast, Buick, which is GM’s highest-ranked brand, is 19th and Jeep, Chrysler’s highest, is 30th.)

The bottom line
Ford has made some very reliable vehicles, right in there with other generally reliable Asian automakers Honda, Toyota, and the company has been able to maintain that consistency for several years now. So, yes, we think that’s worth a hearty attaboy. But, no, Ford is not yet at the top of the heap.

For more information, visit our guide to reliability. See how the automakers compare (available to online subscribers).

 — Rik Paul

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