Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus brand took back the top spot among luxury brands in Consumer Reports’ reliability ranking, beating BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, which fell the most of any vehicle line.
Winning the luxury crown as well as the top spot among all brands with its youth-oriented Scion line may help Toyota restore confidence among consumers following two years of falling U.S. sales, recalls, unflattering reviews and production lost because of the March earthquake in Japan.
The Toyota City, Japan-based automaker’s Toyota brand held at sixth place for a second year, a further sign of resilience after recalling millions of vehicles in 2009 and 2010 amid unintended-acceleration claims.
“Toyota has always made a pretty good car,” David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Automotive Test Center, said in a phone interview. “They have fixed a lot of the problems that they had. The recall situation was totally overblown.”
Lexus’s key rivals, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW, both improved this year, while still finishing in the bottom half of the survey among all vehicle types. Mercedes ranked 18th and BMW was 19th. Volkswagen AG’s Audi ranked 26th, Porsche fell to 27th and Jaguar, owned by India’s Tata Motors Ltd., ranked last.
This year’s resurgence of Lexus was pushed largely by two models. The survey’s most-reliable vehicle was the new Lexus CT 200h hybrid, a luxury version of the Toyota Prius, the world’s best-selling gas-electric vehicle.
The automaker has also fixed squeaks and rattles that consumers reported last year with the Lexus IS 250 convertible. The model was the brand’s worst last year, the Yonkers, New York-based publication said. Lexus addressed those issues this year, Champion said.
Fortunes have moved in the opposite direction for Stuttgart, Germany-based Porsche SE. The brand ranked second last year and tumbled in the latest report because of complaints about the new Cayenne sport-utility vehicle. Consumers griped that controls failed for the heat, air conditioning, stereo and navigation system, Champion said.
Porsche sells just four other models. Because the sample size for the Boxster coupe was too small to count in the survey, the Cayenne’s problems can drag down the entire brand, Champion said. Nick Twork, a Porsche spokesman, declined to comment.
Chrysler Group LLC, controlled by Fiat SpA since its 2009 bankruptcy, showed improved results. The Chrysler brand moved up from 27th last year to 15th. Jeep is the highest-ranking U.S. domestic brand at 13th.
Most brands owned by Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. fell in the rankings. The Ford brand fell 10 spots to 20th. GM’s top-selling Chevrolet brand stayed at 17th. Buick, 24th, and Cadillac, 25th, both fell six places.
Japanese carmakers took nine of the top 10 spots in the rankings, up from seven a year ago. Honda Motor Co.’s Acura luxury brand took third place, Mazda Motor Corp.’s brand rose from 12th place last year to fourth. Honda ranked fifth, Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti ranked seventh behind Lexus, Fuji Heavy Industry’s Subaru was eighth and Nissan finished ninth.
For Lexus, a top reliability ranking for the CT 200h from Consumer Reports will counter some criticism that the magazine levied against the car in a review.
“Lexuses are famed for their soft rides and quiet cabins, but you won’t find either one here,” Consumer Reports wrote in its October issue. “Road bumps punch through as hard, rubbery kicks, and frequent, quick ride motions persist even on a smooth highway. Lots of road noise enters the cabin, and the engine sounds loud when revved high, which happens often.”
Improved survey results can also help overcome the reputational damage Toyota incurred two years ago, Champion said.
After Toyota’s recall of more than 8 million autos worldwide in late 2009 and 2010, the company began assessing all of its vehicles, the components used to produce them and the factories that build them. To woo buyers, the company promised standard free maintenance for two years on all new Toyota and Scion vehicles sold in the U.S.
“Consumer Reports has tremendous credibility with consumers because of the way they test vehicles,” Brian Smith, vice president of U.S. marketing for Lexus, said in an interview. “To have the CT do so well in its category -- a brand-new car in its first year -- is indicative of the brand.”
A renewed commitment to quality helped Toyota and Lexus brands regain their pre-recall rankings in J.D. Power & Associates annual new-car quality study. In the report released in June, Lexus was again the top-ranked brand, a position it lost in the 2010 review, while the Toyota brand jumped to seventh place from a year earlier.
“They said they were going to focus on the customer,” said Jim Hall, principal of 2953 Analytics Inc., an automotive consulting firm in Birmingham, Michigan. “Looks like it paid off.”