Technology, Miserly Engines Lead to Drop in Initial Quality

Newly introduced models have 10% more problems than they did last year, according to J.D. Power and Associates’ Initial Quality Study. The study points to advanced technology systems causing confusion among buyers. New engines geared to fuel efficiency over performance are also a cause of consumer ire, the company says.

J.D. Power’s controversial Initial Quality Study measures problems in the first 90 days of ownership. It causes a furor among automotive observers because many of the issues raised by those surveyed deal with how things work and if they work intuitively, not solely that they don’t work at all as a dependability study would measure. However, the Initial Quality Study still is a measure of how buyers are reacting to their new cars and whether they’re saying good or bad things about them to friends and families.

Meanwhile, models that are basically the same as the previous model year have improved five points this year to their lowest mark ever of 103 problems per 100 vehicles, which is down from 108 last year.

When you look at which models lead their respective segments, almost all of them have been on the market in their current design for a few years.

The top brand in the study, Lexus, it should be noted, has no all-new models included in the study. Honda and Acura follow Lexus, and they also have few all-new models.

Conversely, Ford, which finished fifth in last year’s study, fell to 23rd this year. The company has been rolling out new models left and right, helping its bottom line but perhaps damaging its ranking. All of its new vehicles like the Fiesta, Edge and Explorer feature both advanced tech and miserly engines. The Edge’s and Explorer’s multimedia systems have caused concerns for us as well as Consumer Reports. However, all three cars are strong sellers.

Ford’s fall in the rankings also illustrates why there is such debate about the study’s relevance.

Only two domestic brands were listed in the top 10, landing above the industry average of 107 problems per 100 vehicles.

We list the top brands and models below supplied by J.D. Power.

2011 Nameplate IQS Ranking: Problems per 100 vehicles

  • Lexus 73
  • Honda 86
  • Acura 89
  • Mercedes-Benz 94
  • Mazda 100
  • Porsche 100
  • Toyota 101
  • Infiniti 102
  • Cadillac 103
  • GMC 104
  • Industry Average 107
  • Hyundai 108
  • Subaru 108
  • BMW 109
  • Chevrolet 109
  • Volvo 109
  • Chrysler 110
  • Lincoln 111
  • Audi 113
  • Kia 113
  • Buick 114
  • Jaguar 114
  • Ram 114
  • Ford 116
  • Nissan 117
  • Jeep 122
  • Land Rover 123
  • Scion 123
  • MINI 131
  • Volkswagen 131
  • Mitsubishi 133
  • Suzuki 136
  • Dodge 137

Top Three Models per Segment

Sub-Compact Car

  • Highest ranked: Honda Fit
  • Kia Rio
  • Hyundai Accent

Compact Car

  • Highest ranked: Honda Civic (tie)
  • Highest ranked: Honda Insight (tie)
  • Toyota Prius

Compact Sporty Car

  • Highest ranked: Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • Volkswagen Eos
  • Volkswagen GTI

Compact Premium Sporty Car*

  • Highest ranked: Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet/coupe

Entry Premium Car

  • Highest ranked: Lexus ES
  • Acura TSX
  • Lexus IS

Midsize Premium Car

  • Highest ranked: Lexus GS
  • Jaguar XF
  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan/wagon

Midsize Sporty Car*

  • Highest ranked: Dodge Challenger
  • Chevrolet Camaro

Large Premium Car

  • Highest ranked: Lexus LS
  • Hyundai Equus
  • Porsche Panamera

Midsize Car

  • Highest ranked: Honda Accord
  • Subaru Legacy
  • Toyota Camry

Large Car

  • Highest ranked: Ford Taurus
  • Buick Lucerne
  • Nissan Maxima

Compact Crossover/SUV

  • Highest ranked: Honda Element
  • Honda CR-V
  • Toyota FJ Cruiser

Compact MPV*

  • Highest ranked: Chevrolet HHR

Entry Premium Crossover/SUV

  • Highest ranked: Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
  • Acura RDX
  • Volvo XC60

Midsize Crossover/SUV

  • Highest ranked: Honda Accord Crosstour
  • Dodge Durango (tie)
  • Subaru Outback wagon (tie)

Large Crossover/SUV

  • Highest ranked: Chevrolet Tahoe
  • GMC Yukon
  • Chevrolet Suburban

Midsize Premium Crossover/SUV

  • Highest ranked: Lexus GX
  • Lexus RX
  • BMW X6 (tie)
  • Infiniti FX Series (tie)
  • Volvo XC70 (tie)

Large Premium Crossover/SUV

  • Highest ranked: Cadillac Escalade
  • Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
  • Lincoln Navigator

Large Pickup

  • Highest ranked: Ford F-150 LD
  • Toyota Tundra
  • Chevrolet Avalanche

Midsize Pickup

  • Highest ranked: Honda Ridgeline
  • Nissan Frontier
  • Ram Dakota


  • Highest ranked: Chrysler Town & Country
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Dodge Grand Caravan

NOTE: For a segment award to be issued there must be at least three models with sufficient sample that comprise 80% of market sales within an award segment. There were only two premium sporty models with sufficient sample size, thus no premium sporty award has been issued.

*No other model in this segment performs above the segment average.

Lexus Ford Car Buying

Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David