Mainstream Car Models More Dependable Than Luxury Brands, Survey Shows

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News

Prospective buyers planning to splurge on a luxury car may want to reconsider. Mass-market brands now are more reliable than premium models.

For the first time in its 30-year vehicle-dependability study, J.D. Power found that mainstream brands ranked higher than upscale ones, based on problems per 100 vehicles for 3-year-old autos. Nameplates from companies including Toyota Motor Corp., General Motors Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. had an average of 135 problems, six fewer than for brands such as BMW AG’s namesake line and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.

The shift is a combination of mass-market cars catching up in overall quality and less new technology in these vehicles that can increase the chance of something going wrong, according to Dave Sargent, J.D. Power’s vice president of global automotive.

“Partly, it’s just a lot of hard work and learning, and partly, it’s lower penetration with some of these features,” Sargent said. “There is no inherent reason why a more-expensive car should be better or worse in terms of reliability than a less-expensive car, so my guess is they’ll track each other fairly closely going forward.”


The industry averaged six fewer problems per 100 vehicles compared with a year ago, according to J.D. Power. That was a slower pace than the decline of 14 between 2017 and 2018, with new technologies such as voice recognition and enhanced safety systems contributing to the lag in improvement.

Toyota’s Lexus luxury line topped the list for the eighth consecutive year with 106 problems, followed by Volkswagen AG’s Porsche with 108 — even though their totals rose from 99 and 100, respectively, last year. Toyota-brand vehicles tied for second place with Porsche, and GM’s Chevrolet and Buick brands rounded out the top five.

For the first time in the U.S. study’s history, all German brands ranked above the industry average, which was 136 problems per 100 vehicles. Honda, Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln and Nissan ranked below the average after beating it last year. Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Chrysler brand showed the most improvement, with 65 fewer problems than in 2018.

The J.D. Power report is based on responses from 32,952 original owners of 2016 model-year vehicles. It measures 177 problems in eight major categories experienced in the past 12 months.