Top 20 car brands as named by consumers

Toyota leads in the 2014 Car-Brand Perception Survey

Published: February 05, 2014 06:00 AM

The perennial leaders Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Chevrolet stand out as the top brands in consumers’ minds based on the 2014 Car-Brand Perception Survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Several other brands—including Tesla and Subaru—are moving up the rankings.

These scores reflect how consumers perceive each brand in seven categories: quality, safety, performance, value, fuel economy, design/style, and technology/innovation. Combining the scores for those factors gives us the total brand-perception score.

Of course, perception and reality often differ. Perception can often be a trailing indicator, influenced by word-of-mouth, marketing, and anecdotal hands-on experience. Analyzing the data collected from interviews with 1,578 random adults in car-owning households, we see that there is often a notable correlation as to what might inspire someone to think a brand excels. For instance, a company may be known for clever infotainment systems, giving it a perception edge in technology/innovation, but a closer look can reveal satisfaction and reliability concerns among owners.

The annual brand rankings provide a horse-race view of how consumers think of the brands. As you scan the list, and read the full brand-perception report, consider if your own impressions match those of others. And think about what might be affecting the ranking. Doing so will help make you a more critical car shopper and hopefully make it easier to separate the actionable, objective data—such as what's readily available at—from subjective impressions.

Best overall    
Brand Score Change
Toyota 145 +4
Ford 120 +3
Honda 109 -16
Chevrolet 105 +13
Tesla 88 +41
Subaru 87 +40
Mercedes-Benz 83 +8
Volvo 80 +8
Cadillac 78 +15
BMW 73 +12
Buick 59 +20
GMC 56 +12
Audi 54 +9
Nissan 54 +12
Smart 53 +19
Dodge 53 -2
Lexus 52 +5
Volkswagen 50 +15
Hyundai 41 -8
Kia 40 +5

In some cases there was rather dramatic movement, with many brands capturing a higher score. Tesla and Subaru were the big movers, each buoyed by a standout year for headlines, safety accomplishments, and media accolades. Gains made by Buick, Cadillac, Smart, and Volkswagen are noteworthy too.

Toyota’s high score seems to reflect the brand’s overcoming the damage due to the publicity in 2009 to 2010 regarding sudden acceleration concerns with some its models. As brands gain or lose points throughout the seven factors, the annual shift can add up to a dramatic one. The key here is momentum, and we’re seeing many brands on the rise over time.

Read our complete report on the 2014 Car-Brand Perception Survey to see how the brands measured up in the seven categories and which brands are the lowest ranked.

Providing a true reality check, Consumer Reports will be publishing its annual automaker report cards on Feb. 25, ranking the brands based on a composite score that factors road test overall score and predicted-reliability score.

Jeff Bartlett

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