Consumer Report’s annual auto reliability survey results are out, and auto maker press flacks will be in CYA mode for the next few days. Here’s the link to CR’s report.

The “topline” results are that Toyota’s brands are back on top, perhaps thanks to the loss of underperformer Scion. Buick is up there too, Chevy even narrowly beat out Ford, but GMC and even Caddy is still stuck in the basement reliability wise… You don’t always get what you pay (more) for. Same at FoMoCo, where Fords were more reliable than the gussied up Fords otherwise marketed as Lincolns. But at VW group, Audi was right up there with the best while Porsche barely bested Chevy, and VW flirted with long time bottom dweller Fiat Chrysler. Kia/Hyundai put in solid performances at the high end of the pack along with Mazda, with BMW, Nissan and Honda merely “above average”. Mercedes tied Ford, and FCA easily held on to their title of least reliable, thanks to Ram trucks no-star performance of 15 on a 1 to 100 scale. Tesla slumped further into FCA’s basement dwelling, and wasn’t FCA looking for a “Partner” to build cars for them? Sounds like a marriage made in hell…

But for us stats geeks, it’s the details in the “cross tabs” that are revealing. For example, on first glance it appears that none of the domestic pickup trucks, even Ford’s, have risen above “below average”. But follow CR’s links back and look up the results for individual models, and you find in almost every case the problem is the 1/2 ton models, with the 3/4 and 1 ton equivalents in almost every case performing more reliably. That suggests that the 1/2 ton pickups, which are essentially old school ‘merican cars missing a trunk lid, aren’t up to real truck duties.

Digging further in the details, VW’s score of 30 on that 1-100 scale is dragged down by the poor performance of the latest generation of VW’s Golf/Jetta, and Audi’s A3 twins is dragging Audi down too. The current Golf has slipped all the way to “far below average” and is off the shortlist for replacing my TDI, but that’s a couple years away so VW gets a do-over on that. One finds similar disparities in Ford’s lineup, with the Fiesta and Focus far below average, largely thanks to the problems Ford and their customers are having with those model’s dual clutch automated manual transmission. The Fusion and Transit Connect use much the same engines with a conventional automatic, and despite having more bulk and mass to haul around, they rate average on CR’s reliability survey.

This shows some of the weaknesses in CR’s survey- CR’s statistical rigor is above reproach and no one else has as vast a sample size, but their statisticians don’t seem to understand that many of these vehicles are available with a variety of powertrains, and lumping them together screws the validity of some of CR’s findings. For example, if you search out and find a Fiesta or Focus with a manual transmission, you might get a damn reliable car. In the mass market models like the pickups, there surely are big enough sample sizes to break out results by powertrain like CR used to do. Same at VW, where the loss of the diesel option from the 2016 models may cause the remaining gas engines to drag down the brand’s reliability.

So take CR’s results with a healthy helping of salt. And the motorcycle survey results… Appear to have disappeared from CR’s web page. They included motorcycles in this years survey, and hopefully those results will appear again next spring or earlier.

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