The most dependable cars in the U.S. are Lexus, Toyota, and Porsche

Among the surprises in the J.D. Power annual survey: British-based Mini is ranked as more dependable than a BMW.
Image: Lexus
The Lexus LX on display at the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on March 28, 2018 in New York City.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

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By Paul A. Eisenstein

Today’s cars are more reliable than ever, according to the J.D. Power 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study, or VDS. There are a few familiar names at the top of the chart, starting with Lexus in the overall number 1 spot, while the luxury brand’s parent, Toyota, is tops in the mainstream category and third overall. Sandwiched in-between them is Porsche which, Power reports, also has the single most dependable vehicle among three-year-olds, the iconic 911 sports car.

All three are familiar names for those who follow automotive quality and dependability — this is Lexus' eighth year at the top of the list — but there are still “a few surprises” in this year’s results, said Dave Sargent, J.D. Power’s vice president of automotive research.

To start with, jump to the number four spot on the survey and you’ll find Chevrolet. General Motors’ bowtie brand wasn’t always a stellar performer, and it has made some notable improvements in recent years.

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“They’re the star of the GM line-up now,” says Sargent, noting that the owners surveyed for the VDS reported having an average of just 115 problems per 100 vehicles — 115 PP100 in Power-speak — compared to 108 for Toyota.

The news isn’t as good for the rest of the GM line-up, however. Buick, with a score of 115 PP100, is the only other one of the automaker’s four North American brands that manages to beat the industry average of 136 problems per 100. GMC clocks in at a weak 161, while lofty Cadillac falls into the bottom third of the industry, at 166.

That said, “Cadillac is the most improved of all the premium brands this year,” said Sargent, who also places Mini, Subaru and Volkswagen on the “most improved” list. British-based Mini actually manages to outperform its own parent, BMW, this year, coming in just behind Buick as the number six brand.

While Toyota and Lexus set the benchmarks for mainstream and luxury brands, this year's study shows that Japanese automakers no longer have a lock on vehicle dependability. Honda, with a score of 146, was below average and barely mid-pack while its own luxury brand, Acura, landed sixth from the bottom, something that Sargent attributed to problems with all-new products that came to market three years ago with some serious problems.

Three European brands make the list, with Fiat at a rock bottom average 249 problems per 100, or nearly 2.5 times the headaches of a typical Toyota. Land Rover and Volvo score only slightly better, with Fiat Chrysler’s Dodge and Ram finishing out the bottom five.

Looking forward, Sargent said automakers are “desperate” to improve reliability as it serves as a “brand foundation,” improving loyalty rates, raising residuals — or trade-in values — and reducing the need for incentives.

But he warned that some of the new advanced driver assistance systems, like Lane Departure Warning and Automatic Emergency Braking, are causing problems that could lower scores in the years ahead.

As for the problems owners surveyed in the latest Power VDS most frequently complained about, Sargent points to three: balky voice technology, unreliable transmissions, and batteries. The latter issue isn't something nagging just electric vehicle owners, it turns out. With all the new digital technology being added to modern cars, even conventional batteries are starting to go bad at an alarming rate.