Foreign brands shut out Detroit in Consumer Reports’ 2013 top car rankings


Every year, Consumer Reports lists its picks for the best cars and trucks for sale based on a combination of road test and reliability surveys from its 8 million subscribers. This year, for the first time since 2007, every top spot was taken by Asian and European automakers — and by its measures, every Detroit automaker has a long road back to the top.

Of the 11 cars named as top in their class by the magazine, Toyota and Honda won three titles apiece, with the rest split between Hyundai, Subaru, Audi and BMW. The Ford Mustang was unseated as Consumer Reports’ favorite sports car in favor of the twin Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ.

And while Detroit usually wins the pickup category, as it did in 2012 with the Chevrolet Avalanche, Consumer Reports gave no award this year, citing the yet-to-be-build redesign of the Chevy and GMC pickups and that it hadn’t tested the updated Ram full-size truck.

[See all of Consumer Reports' Top Picks for 2013 here]

Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of testing, said the revival of Honda a year after it was shut out of the top picks was the biggest surprise, with the Honda Accord named best sedan, the Odyssey best minivan and the new CR-V best small SUV.

“The Japanese brands are raising the bar,” Fisher said.

In a change, the magazine also broke down its scores by brand instead of manufacturer this year, charting their results based on road tests and reliability. By that measure, Lexus, Subaru and Mazda were the top three brands, followed by Toyota, Acura, Honda, Scion and Audi.

Cadillac was the top-ranking Detroit brand, which Fisher said was largely due to the CTS. The magazine editors had praise for the handling and poise of several new models from Detroit, such as the Ford Fusion, but said a combination of new-model wonkiness such as underperforming engines and below-par reliability on older models had left Detroit’s automakers struggling.

“With a lot of these new models, there's this giant transformation where the whole car is new, the powertrain is new, and sorting those out takes time,” Fisher said.

And Consumer Reports once again noted that problems with electronic dash systems had caused much of the reliability demerits. While Ford has vowed to give owners of its Sync system better guidance, Fisher said owners were reporting system errors that were often not fixed. Mechanical reliability rankings dragged down Chrysler's scores.

Jeep, Lincoln and Dodge ranked as the lowest brands in CR’s take, which excluded Jaguar, Land Rover, Ram, Fiat and Porsche because the magazine didn’t have enough reliability data from subscribers. As for European brands, the report was more mixed, with Audi, BMW and Mercedes on top, and Mini ranked among Detroit brands due to subpar reliability.

The report will do little to dissuade many enthusiasts who've long complained that Consumer Reports has a bias toward foreign-branded vehicles over Detroit. And while the rankings have more sway over buyers than any other publication, they're not a portent of doom; despite Jeep's poor showing in years of Consumer Reports, Chrysler sells as many Wranglers as it can build. As Honda showed, it's possible to come back from a skunking quickly.