J.D. Power’s 2020 Study Reveals Most Dependable and Least Dependable Car Brands
J.D. Power defines dependability as the number of reported problems per 100 vehicles (PP100)
It’s an incremental uptick, but many car buyers will gladly accept any improvement in vehicle quality if it means fewer trips back to the dealer.
Building on positive gains documented last year, the 2020 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study reveals overall vehicle quality continues to improve, registering a small 1.5 percent decline in reported problems. The U.S. study asked 36,555 buyers of 2017-model-year cars and trucks how their vehicles held up after three years.
J.D. Power defines dependability as the number of reported problems per 100 vehicles (PP100); the industry average of 134 problems per 100 vehicles this year is lower – hence better – than the 136 PP100 average recorded last year.
Manufacturers are getting better at creating less buggy entertainment and climate-control interfaces that don’t frustrate and distract drivers. But some mechanical problems persist, including a preponderance of jerky or hard-shifting transmissions, and automatic emergency braking systems that may activate the brakes unprovoked – an unsettling flaw.
Perennial winners Lexus, Buick, Porsche, and Toyota swap positions at the top of the quality rankings, but are eclipsed by Genesis for the first time. Hyundai’s nascent luxury brand was introduced in 2017 and rocketed to the top of the chart – much like Toyota’s Lexus did three decades earlier.
Still, there are more manufacturers ranked below the industry average score than above it. So buyers beware. Let’s recount the top-five most dependable and five least dependable automotive brands in J.D. Power’s latest study.
#1 Genesis – 89 PP100
The 2017 model year marked the genesis of Genesis as the new standalone luxury brand of South Korea’s Hyundai. The former Hyundai Genesis four-door sedan was rechristened the G80 and was updated with a generous dollop of high-tech gear including electronic driver’s aids such as adaptive cruise control and automated emergency braking. The added doodads did not sink quality scores, however, unlike some other brands that introduced overly complex interfaces.
The Genesis G90 sedan represented the second model of the franchise, essentially a replacement for the Hyundai Equus. The colossal flagship rides on a stretched G80 chassis in rear-drive or all-wheel-drive form, with either a twin-turbo 365-hp 3.3-L V6 or a 420-hp 5.0-L V8 under the hood. The slightly trimmer G80 sedan topped J.D. Power’s midsize premium car segment with a strong dependability rating by U.S. owners.
#2 Lexus – 100 PP100
Lexus began dominating the J.D. Power dependability surveys soon after Lexus showrooms opened in Canada in 1991. By marshaling Toyota’s extensive expertise in building reliable and durable vehicles, Lexus became the beneficiary of all that knowledge and skill, a freshly minted brand that never lost its lustre. Well, until Hyundai’s Genesis brand set up its own stores. Lexus has two models in the winners’ circle in the 2020 dependability study by segment.
The Lexus GX ranked highest as a midsize premium sport utility – no surprise, being mechanically similar to the Toyota 4Runner SUV – and the ES sedan was the top-ranked compact premium car. In fact, the ES is the highest-ranked model in the 2020 dependability study overall. Its score of 52 problems per 100 vehicles is the lowest ever documented in the 31-year history of the study.
#3 Buick – 103 PP100
General Motors’ Buick division continues to outshine its GM brethren, having earned the distinction of being the top-rated “mass market” brand in J.D. Power’s dependability study this year. Buick delivers the right mix of sophisticated drivetrains and a comfortable ride to a loyal following. Buick buyers may skew a little too old, but the high average age has also shielded the nameplate from overly critical feedback since younger buyers tend to be a fussier demographic.
Interestingly, the brand continues to rely on former GM of Europe subsidiary Opel for some of its platforms and models. In the latest dependability study, the 2017 Regal sedan won the midsize car category and the Encore reigned supreme in the small SUV category. Shoppers kicking the tires of the 2020 models better be in the market for a crossover sport utility, as the aging Regal is just about the only car left at dealerships.
#4 Porsche – 104 PP100
No longer a maker of high-performance sports cars exclusively, Porsche introduced the Cayenne and Macan sport utility vehicles to appeal to a broader audience and avoid bankruptcy. Purists were horrified at first, until they recognized it was a self-preservation strategy. Porsche’s SUVs were so well received by the public, they enriched the German automaker sufficiently to allow it to craft better sports cars in the 911, Cayman and Boxster.
Porsche has usually occupied a lofty position in J.D. Power’s dependability rankings over the past decade due to its obsession with meticulous engineering that was the creed of founder Ferdinand Porsche. The impressive Macan earned a win in the compact premium SUV segment this year, while Porsche’s vaunted sports cars were nowhere to be seen in the rankings, likely due to insufficient sample size.
#5 Toyota – 113 PP100
Toyota has demonstrated remarkable consistency in the J.D. Power surveys over the years, placing it high among the most dependable nameplates in the industry. It’s no surprise, then, that the automaker – which is ranked first or second in the world (depending on how the numbers are calculated) in terms of production volume – had the highest number of models in J.D. Power winners’ circle at four.
The Toyota Avalon won the large car category and the venerable Sienna was the winning minivan in a shrinking segment. The 4Runner was the highest ranked midsize SUV in the study, while the Tundra pickup truck tied with Ford’s bestselling F-150 to share the title of highest ranked large light-duty pickup. Toyota did slip from an overall third-place finish in last year’s rankings as plucky Buick snatched two category wins away from the Japanese automaker.
New and especially used-vehicle shoppers should make note of the brands in the basement of the dependability rankings. There’s a strong correlation between vehicle quality and depreciation rates that can hit consumers’ wallets hard. Caveat emptor and all that.
#28 GMC – 162 PP100
There is little in the way of new product in the GMC lineup of 2017 – the subject of the 2020 dependability study – with the exception of the redesigned Acadia, GM’s three-row crossover SUV that’s the mechanical twin to the Chevrolet Traverse. Owners have reported that the infotainment interface doesn’t always respond, and the fuel-saving auto engine stop/start function is largely despised – scorn that extends to every carmaker that offers the feature.
GM’s six-speed automatic transmission had some teething problems, owners noted in online forums, with some autoboxes giving up the ghost soon after leaving the factory. The transmission can exhibit hard shifts and a reluctance to go into Park; software updates don’t always correct the problem. The transmission was used in the aforementioned Acadia, as well as the popular Sierra 1500 light-duty pickup truck.
#29 Volvo – 185 PP100
It’s taken some time for Volvo – now a subsidiary of Chinese automaker Geely – to find its mojo and introduce its new design language that evokes the strengths of the brand stemming back to the heydays of Swedish auto making. In 2016 and 2017 impoverished Volvo dealers welcomed boatloads of new products, including the range-topping S90 and V90 luxury sedan and wagon, and the matching XC90 sport utility, all of which used Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture.
A range of turbocharged four-cylinder engines promised mean and green power, including a turbocharged and supercharged version generating 316 horses. The bad news is owners have been beset by electronic glitches related to the infotainment and other systems, including entire dashboard displays going black. Some criticized Volvo’s new-generation engines for their faulty sensors, turbos and even pistons. Oil consumption may be an early sign of things turning sour.
#30 Jaguar – 186 PP100
Jaguar, a subsidiary of India’s Tata Motors for a decade now, is one of those automakers that has experienced mercurial swings in its J.D. Power rankings over the years. Inconsistency is not helpful in forging a brand reputation for reliability. The 2017 model year marked the launch of the automaker’s first sport utility, the stylish F-Pace, with an optional 180-hp 2.0-L four-cylinder diesel engine.
While often the subject of glowing press reviews and adoring glances at curbside, Jaguars tend to disappoint their owners over time, reflected in the vehicles’ plunging valuations at lease return or trade-in time. The notorious English-car curse related to bad electrics still apply. Navigation and entertainment system faults mar the experience, along with engine issues. Jaguar’s five-year warranty helps to assuage the quality missteps, but it remains a brand that doesn’t seem to encourage serial ownership.
#31 Chrysler – 214 PP100
Fiat Chrysler’s flagship brand tumbled from just below the industry average of 146 PP100 in 2019 to very near the bottom of the rankings this year, an ignoble decline that could be attributed to two troublesome models out of the three it sold in 2017: the Chrysler 200 sedan and the Pacifica minivan. With cramped rear seating, mysteriously stalling engines and a harsh-shifting ZF transmission that sometimes failed altogether, the 200 was euthanized early in 2017.
While lauded by auto reviewers, the all-new Pacifica turned out to be a bit of a dud mechanically. Owners reported the automatic transmission can shift hard or refuse to shift into Park; the engine may stall while underway; sliding doors may open randomly or refuse to open; sunroof assemblies may be loose or noisy, and the electrical system can display all kinds of faults reminiscent of Chrysler’s TIPM headaches.
#32 Land Rover – 220 PP100
Now formally joined with Jaguar under the corporate auspices of Tata Motors, Land Rover benefits from the shared resources and brain trust of another English automaker. Too bad it lives in the basement of the dependability rankings. Land Rovers continue to exhibit reliability setbacks early in the ownership experience – forever challenging the notion that a lofty price tag ensures quality.
Onboard electronics can present numerous problems ranging from failed instrument displays to malfunctioning cameras. Sensors, navigation, Bluetooth, software glitches can all act up at various times. Redesigned for 2017, the Discovery is a handsome three-row family conveyance, but one that can suffer from leaky roofs and windshields. Owners also report an unreliable air conditioner that requires lengthy service and parts that take a long time to arrive from the U.K. Batteries frequently die due to mysterious drains.