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Toyota, Honda lead quality rankings but GM gains

DETROIT — The most problem-free cars and trucks are made by Honda and Toyota, but Ford is closing in fast and General Motors is making big quality improvements, according to Consumer Reports magazine’s 2010 reliability rankings.

Ford and GM continue to narrow the large quality gap that once separated Toyota and other Asian automakers from their Detroit rivals. Large overhauls of American car companies in the last few years have resulted in fewer brands and better vehicles from Detroit.

This year’s rankings, based on a survey of about 960,000 magazine subscribers, also restored recommended ratings for several recalled Toyota models and bumped up a pair of Korean brands. Chrysler, however, continued to languish.

Consumer Reports ratings are widely used by buyers shopping for cars and trucks. The magazine is the third-largest factor used by Americans to pick vehicles, topped only by brand loyalty and recommendations from friends and family.

For the third year in a row, Toyota’s Scion brand had the fewest problems of any brand in the survey. The Toyota brand ranked sixth. Lexus, which had been a top finisher in past years, fell to ninth.

Scion has only three older models with few options, and as a result, there is less chance for reliability problems, said David Champion, senior director of auto testing for Consumer Reports.

Toyota generally fared well in the survey despite recalling more than 10 million vehicles worldwide for a variety of problems including sticky gas pedals, floor mats that trap the accelerator and brake fluid leaks.

“Toyota’s taken a slight knock from the issues with their recalls,” Champion said. The magazine’s survey asks owners to ignore recalls unless they have experienced a problem, easing the impact, he said.

Lexus, however, has expanded its model lineup but the quality has slipped.

The Ford brand ranked 10th, still four slots below Toyota and six below Honda. But Champion said the Dearborn, Mich., automaker has several individual models that are better quality than Toyotas.

The company is led by its Fusion midsize sedan, which outranked Honda’s Accord and Toyota’s Camry. Ford’s quality resurgence began around 2005 and has continued in small steps ever since, Champion said.

General Motors showed the most improvement, but Champion said it still has a long way to go. GM had 69 models with average or better reliability, up from only 21 last year. GM’s top-ranked brand was Chevrolet at 17th.