Tesla, Lincoln flunk Consumer Reports’ 2020 reliability survey, Mazda takes first win

2020 Mazda3

The excellent Mazda3 small car is one of the reasons Mazda topped CR’s survey for the first time.


It’s that time of year again. Consumer Reports has rounded up data collected from owners of more than 300,000 vehicles and presented its annual auto reliability survey. The 2020 survey sees a significant reshuffling of the usual suspects in the non-profit organization’s findings, including a new dependability top dog. Mazda headlines the survey for the first time, while respondents have their knives out for Tesla and Lincoln — these two American brands have been judged as the survey’s least-reliable carmakers.

Consumer Reports credits Mazda’s first to the Japanese automaker’s conservative approach to powertrain and infotainment technologies. By avoiding big, unproven changes year over year, Mazda has continued to hone its dependability. And as it uses many of its technologies and components across its stable of vehicles, those reliability improvements are shared across the brand.

The second and third highest spots are held, respectively, by dependability darlings Toyota and Lexus. The story here is similar to that of Mazda; Toyota, after all, wrote the book on quiet, conservative dependability. All of Toyota’s current models received “average or better reliability” scores in the survey and most Lexus models boasted “outstanding reliability” — the only exception being the new LS Sedan with a “much-below-average” score.

The most-improved award goes to Buick… sort of. The most reliable domestic automaker climbed 14 places to rank fourth overall this year. However, the irony is that its most-improved ranking is due to making the least improvements to its smaller and older lineup. The Encore is basically unchanged since 2012 and the Enclave is two years old, so Buick has had plenty of time to suss out those cars’ gremlins.

Honda also saw a large improvement, climbing seven spots to rank fifth place despite issues reported with its Passport SUV and Odyssey minivan. At ninth overall — down five places from last year — Porsche is the highest-ranking European brand. 

FCA’s Ram Trucks brand managed to rank seventh overall, despite seeing different reports for its two models. The surveyed reported “below average” reliability for the new Ram 1500, citing myriad electronics issues. At the same time, the Ram 2500 heavy-duty truck — which was redesigned alongside the 1500 and should boast similar, if not identical, electronics — earned a “well above average” score. Go figure.

2020 Ford Explorer ST

Between multiple recalls and CR calling it “one of the lowest-scoring models from any manufacturer,” the new Ford Explorer is off to a rough start. 

Emme Hall/Roadshow

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Ford, dragged down by the recently redesigned Escape and Explorer SUVs — the later of which saw multiple recalls this year and CR called “one of the lowest scoring models from any manufacturer — domestic or foreign — this year.” Sharing platforms with Ford, Lincoln suffers similarly. However, without the recently cancelled Continental and MKZ sedans to bolster its score, Ford’s luxury arm drops to the bottom of the list of 26 brands.

Second from the bottom of the barrel is Tesla. The electric car manufacturer’s new Model Y SUV is seeing more than its fair share of first model year woes with owners reporting misaligned body panels, mismatched paint and “even human hair stuck in the paint.” And it’s not just the Model Y: The Model S and Model X dropped to “below average” ratings this year, losing CR’s recommendation in the process. In fact, the only Tesla that earned CR’s recommendation is the Model 3 sedan.

This is, of course, a “most reliable brands” list, not a list of “best” cars. New models tend not to fare well among the surveyed with about 44% of all-new or redesigned 2020 models earning “much worse than average” reliability ratings. With new engines, infotainment suites and components come new quirks, kinks and problems for automakers to solve. With time, these models should work out their launch-year glitches and dependability should improve. For now, it would seem it doesn’t pay to take chances.

I won’t spoil the entire list, here. To see where your favorite automaker landed, check out the rest of Consumer Reports’ guide to car reliability.

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