Most-reliable cars ‘continue to improve’ – J.D. Power

Shopping for a good used vehicle isn’t easy.

But that’s what around 40 million consumers will do this year.

Many will be looking for the most-reliable cars in the sweet spot – three years old – when a large portion of depreciation already has happened for most vehicles and when the model year is recent enough to have many of the features found on newer cars.

And that brings us to J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, which names one overall winner, 20 category winners and 56 total vehicles its most-dependable three-year-olds.

Woman inspecting Lexus ES on production line
Credit: Lexus via Newspress USA
Dependability starts here for the top-rated Lexus ES compact premium car.

The most-dependable used car from 2017, according to the survey, is the Lexus ES, which also was the top-rated model in the compact premium car category. Its score of just 52 problems per 100 vehicles sold (PP100) is “the best ever recorded in the 31-year history of the study.”

“Despite the increased adoption of complex vehicle technology, dependability continues to improve,” said Dave Sargent at J.D. Power. “There’s no question that three-year-old vehicles today are better built and more dependable than same-age vehicles were in previous years.”

The study measures the number of problems experienced during the previous 12 months by 36,555 original owners of three-year-old vehicles – in the case of this study, 2017 model-year cars, trucks and SUVs. The study, which was conducted July through November of 2019, covered 177 specific problems in eight categories with a lower score reflecting higher quality.

Following are J.D. Power’s 20 category winners and runners-up among SUVs, trucks and cars:

SUV categories

Small SUV

  • Buick Encore (winner)
  • Kia Niro and Volkswagen Tiguan

Small premium SUV

  • Mercedes-Benz GLA (winner)
  • Audi Q3 and BMW X1

Compact SUV

  • Chevrolet Equinox (winner)
  • GMC Terrain and Toyota RAV 4

Compact premium SUV

  • Porsche Macan (winner)
  • Lexus NX and BMW X3

Midsize SUV

  • Toyota 4Runner (winner)
  • Kia Sorento and Buick Enclave

Midsize premium SUV

  • Lexus GX (winner)
  • Cadillac XT5, Lexus RX and Mercedes-Benz GLE (tie)

Large SUV

  • Chevrolet Tahoe (winner)
  • Nissan Armada and Chevrolet Suburban

 Pickup trucks and minivans

Midsize pickup truck

  • Nissan Frontier (winner)
  • Honda Ridgeline and Toyota Tacoma

Large light duty pickup

  • Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra (winners)
  • Ram 1500

Large heavy duty pickup

  • Chevrolet Silverado HD (winner)
  • GMC Sierra HD and Ram 2500/3500


  • Toyota Sienna (winner)
  • Dodge Grand Caravan

Car categories

Small car

  • Honda Fit (winner)
  • Chevrolet Sonic and Chevrolet Bolt

Small premium car*

  • BMW 2 Series (winner)
  • BMW i3

Compact car

  • Nissan LEAF (winner)
  • Chevrolet Cruze and Toyota Corolla

Compact sporty car*

  • Mazda MX-5 Miata (winner)
  • MINI Cooper

Compact premium car

  • Lexus ES (winner)
  • BMW 4 Series and Lexus IS

Midsize car

  • Buick Regal (winner)
  • Volkswagen Passat and Toyota Camry

Midsize sporty car*

  • Ford Mustang (winner)

Midsize premium car

  • Genesis G80 (winner)
  • Audi A7 and Audi A6

Large car

  • Toyota Avalon (winner)
  • Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Impala

* No other model in this segment performed at or above segment average.

Highest-rated brands

  1. Genesis (89 PP100)
  2. Lexus (100)
  3. Buick (103)
  4. Porsche (104)
  5. Toyota (113)
  6. Volkswagen (116)
  7. Lincoln (119)
  8. BMW (123)
  9. Ford (126)
  10. Mazda (130)
  11. Cadillac (131)
  12. Hyundai (132)
  13. Kia (132)

Industry average 134 PP100

In-vehicle audio/communications/entertainment/navigation technology was the most-improved category since last year, but still accounts for more problems than any other category in the study, according to J.D. Power. Owners continue to cite problems with voice recognition, Bluetooth connectivity and navigation systems.

“Many owners complain about these systems early in the ownership experience and, three years later, they’re still frustrated with them,” said Sargent. “We’re seeing improvement, but automakers still have a long way to go before they can declare victory in this area.”

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