Three months is scarcely enough time to form an opinion about your toaster oven, never mind a new automobile you’ve bought or leased at considerable expense and sacrifice.
Yet when consumer research firm J.D. Power asked 76,000 Americans how their 2019 model-year car or truck held up after 90 days of ownership, they didn’t hold back. J.D. Power’s 2019 Initial Quality Study (IQS) reveals early hiccups have bottomed out at a record low average of 93 problems per 100 vehicles, the same result as last year. The lower the number, the better the quality.
J.D. Power’s analysts believe there’s a lot to learn from dissecting the consumer’s experience 90 days in, because a badly made car or truck can reveal itself early in the relationship. There’s such a deviation in the sum of reported problems by brand – ranging from 63 problems per 100 vehicles for Genesis to 130 PP100 for Jaguar – that it aptly demonstrates vehicle quality has no correlation to the amount of money spent.
The IQS survey is designed to document all the things that have gone wrong for the owner. Researchers don’t differentiate between a design issue, such as needlessly complex audio controls, and an obvious lapse in assembly quality, such as paint imperfections.
As the study notes, infotainment issues related to interface design, Bluetooth compatibility and voice recognition efficacy are decreasing as manufacturers refine their software and hardware. At the same time, problems with driver assistance systems, such as adaptive cruise control and automated braking, are increasing as these systems become more sophisticated and commonplace.
Here are J.D. Power’s 10 best-rated brands in terms of initial quality; the 10 poorest-ranked brands will follow further below.
1 – Genesis – 63 PP100
Since Hyundai spun off its posh Genesis and Equus sedans into a standalone luxury brand with the original sedan renamed the G80 and the redesigned Equus becoming the range-topping G90, the Genesis mission has been to keep Lexus dealers awake at night.
The nameplate debuted in the 2017 IQS and beat stalwarts such as Porsche, BMW and Lexus right out of the box. This year’s all-new G70 rear-drive sedan won the IQS compact premium car category, while the G80 earned an honourable mention in the midsize premium car class.
2 – Kia – 70 PP100
Having been plagued by engine durability issues, Kia upped its quality significantly and made it integral to its success story. Having opened its first Canadian dealerships just 20 years ago, this relative upstart has won over hearts and wallets with its versatile lineup that’s backed by a comprehensive five-year factory warranty. Kia ranked first in the 2016 and 2017 IQS studies.
In the latest report no less than four models finished highest in their categories: the subcompact Rio, the Forte compact sedan, the Sportage small SUV and the Sedona minivan. Honourable mentions include the all-new Stinger compact premium car, Optima midsize sedan and Sorento midsize SUV.
3 – Hyundai – 71 PP100
Remarkably, the top three brands in the 2019 Initial Quality Study all belong to one conglomerate: Hyundai Motor Group of South Korea. Hyundai, Kia and Genesis all share the same motive power technology and supply chain, so what works successfully for one should yield similar results, and quality scores, for the others.
For Hyundai, that amounts to a category win for the redesigned 2019 Santa Fe crossover in the midsize SUV segment, and honourable mentions for the Accent subcompact, Elantra compact sedan, the redesign Veloster compact sporty car, Sonata midsize sedan and Tucson small SUV. All that’s missing is some kind of Hyundai pickup truck – which reportedly is in the pipeline.
4 – Ford – 83 PP100
Ford hasn’t always enjoyed a stainless reputation for dependability, having been beset by wonky electronic throttle bodies on several models, an ill-mannered dual-clutch automatic transmission used in the Focus and Fiesta, and hiccups with the Sync interface system. Fortunately, Ford has seen its stock in trade rise in the 2019 IQS rankings.
Two models won their categories: The Fusion tied with the Chevrolet Malibu in the midsize sedan segment, and the all-new Ranger lorded over the midsize pickup class. Honourable mentions include the ever-popular Escape compact SUV, the Ontario-built Flex midsize SUV, the Expedition large SUV, and the F-150 large light-duty and Super Duty pickup trucks.
5 – Lincoln – 84 PP100
After betting the farm on the re-introduction of its Continental luxury sedan a couple years ago – which didn’t exactly light sales records on fire – Ford’s luxury division wisely doubled down on lucrative SUV sales to keep Lincoln’s flag flying high. The redesigned Navigator has been a hit, and the Oakville, Ontario-built Nautilus and upcoming Aviator three-row utility are expected to do well, too.
Initial quality scores have been better than average, evidenced by the fact that the Nautilus got an honourable mention in the highly competitive midsize premium SUV segment alongside Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. So did the Lincoln MKC in the compact premium SUV segment and the Navigator in the large premium SUV category.
6 – Chevrolet – 85 PP100
General Motors’ largest division has been on a roll lately, which leads us to believe that bankruptcy may be an effective way to cull the herd and renew a moribund brand. In this year’s results, Chevy garnered four IQS category wins for the Malibu midsize sedan (tied with the Ford Fusion), Equinox compact SUV, Tahoe large SUV, and Silverado HD large heavy-duty pickup.
There were no honourable mentions for the bow-tie brand. Chevrolet is expected to remain in the top 10 three years into the ownership experience, just as it did in this year’s J.D. Power dependability study, where it ranked fourth right behind Lexus, Toyota and Porsche.
7 – Nissan – 86 PP100
Nissan is the only other Japanese brand besides Toyota/Lexus to break into the IQS top 10 this year, a feat that’s all the more impressive considering that Nissan had been plagued in the past by unreliable and poor-performing continuously variable (CVT) transmissions supplied by its subsidiary, Jatco.
A pair of Nissan models received 2019 IQS Awards, including the Maxima large sedan and the Titan large light-duty pickup truck. The U.S.-market subcompact Versa sedan received an honourable mention, as did the Rogue compact SUV, the long-in-the-tooth Frontier midsize pickup and the Murano midsize SUV.
8 – Dodge – 90 PP100 (Tied)
Fiat Chrysler’s Dodge nameplate shares the same 90 problems per 100 vehicles score that Toyota and Lexus garnered, which is great company to keep. The good news is three well-regarded Dodge models hail from FCA’s assembly plants in Windsor (the Grand Caravan) and Brampton (Charger and Challenger) in Ontario, making them exemplary Canadian products.
High IQS scores are indicative of excellent assembly, which is something car buyers are on the lookout for in the early days of the ownership experience. The Challenger won its IQS midsize sporty car category, while the Grand Caravan earned an honourable mention in the minivan segment.
9 – Lexus – 90 PP100 (Tied)
With so many shared powertrains and technology, it makes sense to see Toyota and Lexus tied in terms of the number of reported problems. Toyota’s luxury nameplate has dominated J.D. Power’s annual dependability studies since the brand debuted in 1990.
Lexus earns an IQS category win for the RX midsize premium ute. It’s hard to find fault with the crowd-pleasing Lexus models currently for sale. The relatively new NX sport utility did receive demerits from owners for a tight back seat and some ergonomic blunders in and around the dashboard.
10 – Toyota – 90 PP100 (Tied)
This mainstream Japanese brand usually ranks at or near the top of J.D. Power’s seminal dependability study. Perhaps the only surprise here is that Toyota is rated as low as it is in initial quality. IQS does uncover some early problems often related to teething issues with new tech, such as the blind side monitor not working correctly, or sensors that can be compromised by snow or ice accumulation.
A number of popular Toyotas received IQS honourable mentions, including the Corolla and Avalon sedans, Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks, the Sienna minivan and the Sequoia large SUV. J.D. Power notes that the Corolla’s assembly plant in Cambridge, Ontario is the world’s best by its quality measures.
RANKING THE POOREST IQS BRANDS
There are winners and losers in quality assessments. Presented below are the 10 poorest-ranked nameplates in the J.D. Power 2019 Initial Quality Study. To help dissect the IQS information, we’ve looked at common complaints posted online to learn what owners are griping about in terms of significant faults.
If you don’t see your favourite brand in these two lists, then it resides somewhere in between, likely clustered around the study average of 93 problems per 100 vehicles. What follows are the 10 nameplates with the most reported problems after 90 days of ownership, ranked out of a total of 32 manufacturers in the study.
23 – Mini – 107 PP100
England’s seminal brand soldiers on with a more streamlined model lineup that includes the two- and four-door hardtop, convertible, Clubman wagon, and Countryman crossover. While earlier Minis suffered with mechanical problems often traced to the Peugeot-sourced engine, the newest Minis use a BMW platform to great effect, although they are bigger than Mini creator Alec Issigonis likely ever imagined.
Owner complaints involving 2019 Mini models largely entail ergonomic issues inside the cabin that rub owners the wrong way, such as a poor infotainment interface, as well as wind and drivetrain noise, and underwhelming fuel economy.
24 – Acura – 110 PP100
Once the aspirational goal of Honda owners, Acuras have become expensive and buyers’ expectations are similarly elevated. Relatively minor quality missteps can drive IQS scores down. The launch of the redesigned RDX sport utility for 2019 is a good example. The ute uses an unpopular auto start-stop system that activates at traffic lights – a nuisance some motorists view as intrusive and nanny-like.
Acura’s 10-speed automatic transmission can be jerky in operation and some units have been replaced early on. The RDX’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine may exhibit stalling, and owners felt the crossover’s infotainment interface is confusing to use, a common lament.
25 – Chrysler – 113 PP100 (Tied)
After jettisoning the notorious Chrysler 200 sedan that had been plagued by mysteriously stalling engines and a nine-speed ZF transmission that shifted harshly, there’s very little left under FCA’s Chrysler banner. There are precisely two models: the ancient rear-drive 300 sedan and the relatively new Pacifica minivan, both of which are assembled in Ontario.
Despite critical acclaim, the Pacifica has had some significant drivetrain issues, including engines that stall and transmissions that slip, jerk, and clunk. Bizarre electrical issues have also cropped up, reminiscent of the TIPM issues that haunted a number of Chrysler and Jeep products earlier in the decade.
26 – Subaru – 113 PP100 (Tied)
Remember when Subaru was a cult? The Japanese automaker has seen remarkable North American sales growth ever since consumers learned the benefits of its horizontally-opposed engine architecture that offers symmetrical all-wheel drive and a lower centre of gravity.
Subaru relies on continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) to meet fuel economy targets, a transmission design that hasn’t always enjoyed a sterling reputation. Owners note its tendency to jerk and shudder. Buyers of the all-new Ascent three-row SUV have reported CVT stutter and outright mechanical failure. EyeSight driver assist technology can cut out when torrential rain, snowfall, and foggy windshields effectively blind the twin cameras.
27 – Volkswagen – 113 PP100 (Tied)
Even as Dieselgate fades from public consciousness, Volkswagen is left to manage nagging questions about its product quality in North America. Fresh model introductions threaten IQS scores as green assembly lines work out the kinks. The all-new Atlas and redesigned Tiguan sport utilities are illustrative of the challenges.
Owners complain about stalling, poor assembly quality, rattles, bad Bluetooth connections and poor-shifting automatic transmissions. Owners of the Tennessee-built Atlas have cited its fussy auto start/stop system, poor paint, short-lived coolant and fuel pumps, and more. Waiting weeks for repair parts to be delivered can degrade VW’s IQS scores, too.
28 – Volvo – 114 PP100
Volvo is back in the hunt with its Scalable Product Architecture platform that underpins all of its fetching new models. Long celebrated for their longevity (like the Swedes who build them), the enduring trait should not be confused with reliability, which is an entirely different matter.
Unfortunately, new-generation Volvo owners have had to contend with electronic glitches, faulty instrument displays and air conditioners, slipping transmissions and non-operative door locks. The Sensus console is slow to respond to commands. Volvo’s automated braking system reportedly may activate at random, which could potentially result in a collision.
29 – Alfa Romeo – 118 PP100
After years of exile, Fiat Chrysler brought the Alfa Romeo brand back to Canada in 2015. It may well be the definitive Italian brand: exhilarating to drive, but mechanical problems are common occurrences and buyers should get used to making warranty claims.
In four separate tests by a major U.S. auto magazine, every Giulia sedan managed to light a check-engine lamp, go into limp-home mode or jam the sunroof in the open position. The Stelvio sport-ute similarly lit a fault light for the auto stop-start system during a test drive. Owners likewise have reported some engine, transmission, and intermittent electrical issues.
30 – Mitsubishi – 121 PP100
As a long-established automaker – its automotive history dates back to 1917 – Japan’s Mitsubishi hasn’t always scored well in quality surveys. Yet, curiously, there aren’t many complaints by Mitsu owners online. The company’s adherence to CVT transmissions has been shaken by some reliability complaints in the past.
The updated Outlander SUV introduced some electronic snafus related to the forward collision mitigation system and other high-tech driving aids. It’s a problem common to other brands, too. Owners complain about poor paint that chips easily. The new Eclipse Cross gets a raspberry for the very thing that buyers were attracted to: the split-view rear glass quickly becomes annoying.
31 – Land Rover – 123 PP100
Land Rovers are de rigueur in Canada’s toniest neighbourhoods these days, thanks to their royal pedigree, runway styling and tractability in bad weather. Yet they continue in the LR tradition of exhibiting reliability issues early in the ownership experience. English electronics can present numerous problems from blank instrument displays to slow and malfunctioning cameras.
Owners report plenty of Check Engine lights to decode and software upgrades to perform. The Evoque was the first model to adopt the ZF nine-speed automatic transmission, which is reputed for its rough, jerky shift action at times. Vehicles may default to limp mode, often requiring a rescue by flatbed truck.
32 – Jaguar – 130 PP100
Jaguar’s sleek and sexy automobiles were considered peerless for the longest time, although they had a reputation for being fussy and unreliable. It seems nothing’s changed, even while its lineup of sporty cars, and now the F-Pace and I-Pace sport utilities, garnered fawning reviews.
Owners talk about random stalling, unreliable electronic interfaces and displays that have to be reset by shutting down the engine. Air conditioning performance can be subpar and sunroof mechanisms may jam. J.D. Power notes Jaguar’s IQS score has actually improved, yet it remains entrenched in the basement of the rankings.