For the first time in a quarter-century, new vehicles from Detroit automakers on average have surpassed those from European competitors in reliability, although the most reliable cars and trucks continue to be built by Asian companies, according to a survey by Consumer Reports.
The magazine's 2004 auto issue also reports that imports continue to outscore domestically built vehicles in owner satisfaction and that finding a car or truck with a high safety rating is much easier than it was a few years ago.
Consumer Reports, known for its scrutiny of products, sent questionnaires to 4.1 million subscribers of its magazine and website, seeking insight on vehicles they own. Reliability trends are based on 675,000 responses.
This year's survey marked the first time in 25 years that American cars and trucks from General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group scored better in reliability than their European counterparts, the publication said.
"To our subscribers and to many people, reliability is what they're looking for," David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' auto test staff, said Monday. "The domestics are making tremendous progress in putting to bed a lot of the problems they were stuck with."
To establish reliability, Consumer Reports asked subscribers to report problems in any of 14 areas, such as engine or electrical trouble, for vehicles up to 8 years old.
For the 2003 model year, the industry average was 17 problems per 100 vehicles, down from 18 in the 2002 survey.
The survey revealed that among cars and trucks less than a year old, the average problem rate for European brands was 20 per 100 vehicles -- two more than domestic brands.
Last year, Consumer Reports said, U.S. and European brands were tied at 21 problems per 100 vehicles less than a year old.
The problem rate for the newest models from Japanese and South Korean automakers held steady year over year at 12 per 100 vehicles. The magazine said Japanese vehicle brands Acura, Honda, Infiniti, Lexus, Mazda and Toyota have been the most reliable over the last five years.
Among European brands, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jaguar and Land Rover were rated below average in the survey.
In owner satisfaction, Asian and European brands filled all but three of 33 slots in Consumer Reports' list of "most satisfying" vehicles. The list was based on responses from 226,000 subscribers.
Consumer Reports said it also gave an "excellent" overall safety rating to 21 sedans, up from nine three years ago. The number of sport utility vehicles with an excellent rating rose to 11 from only two during the same period.
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Consumer Reports' top-ranked models in six categories based on testing and other assessments:
Family sedans: Mazda6 s (V-6), Volkswagen Passat GLX (V-6) Mazda6 i (four-cylinder)
Small sedans: Honda Civic EX, Volkswagen Golf TDI, Volkswagen Jetta GLS TDI
Upscale and large sedans: Lexus IS 300, Mercedes-Benz C320, Audi A4 3.0 Quattro
Minivans: Honda Odyssey EX, Ford Freestar SEL/Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest 3.5 SL
Small SUV: Subaru Forester 2.5 X, Saturn VUE (V-6), Honda Element EX
Mid-size SUV: Lexus RX 330, Chrysler Pacifica, Nissan Murano 3.5 SE
The most satisfying vehicles, based on survey responses from 226,000 subscribers:
Small cars: Toyota Prius, Mini Cooper, Honda Civic Hybrid
Mid-size/large cars: Honda Accord, Toyota Avalon
Upscale/luxury cars: Lexus LS 430, BMW 3-Series
Coupes/convertibles: Infiniti G35 coupe, Lexus SC 430
Sports/sporty cars: Chevrolet Corvette, Honda S2000, BMW Z4, Nissan 350Z, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Subaru Impreza WRX, BMW M3, Porsche Boxster
Minivans: Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey
Car-based SUVs: Lexus RX 330, Honda Element, Nissan Murano, Honda Pilot, Volvo XC 90, Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, Infiniti FX, Subaru Forester
Conventional SUVs: Toyota 4Runner (V-8), Lexus GX 470, Hummer H2
Pickups: Toyota Tundra, Chevrolet Avalanche
Source: Consumer Reports