Reliability Ratings: Top Surprises of 2020 Models

As my alter ego Tom the Car Pro, whenever I make a vehicle recommendation, it must be one with a strong reputation for reliability. After all, nobody wants extra trips back to the dealership for repairs, or worse, to be left stranded and broken down on the side of the road.

By utilizing owner surveys, Consumer Reports compiles the most comprehensive reliability data available. Upon reviewing reliability predictions for 2020 vehicles, I’ve compiled some reliability surprises below. Three are pleasant surprises, where certain models are likely to be more reliable than you might expect. But three are unpleasant surprises. Vehicles which you may expect to be free of issues, but might end up being more troublesome than you’d think.

There are a lot of preconceived ideas about reliability reputations for certain manufacturers. For example, Land Rovers do not have a great reputation in this regard. Upon reviewing Consumer Reports’ data for 2020, that is likely to continue. But since the data matches that perception, I didn’t discuss it below. Also, Lexus has enjoyed an excellent reputation for reliability since their conception back in the late 1980s. And for 2020, the data indicates that Lexus models will continue to be reliable choices, so with one huge exception, I didn’t call out Lexus below. Read on to find out more.

Three Pleasant Reliability Surprises

Mazda SUVs: the CX-3, CX-5, and CX-9

Generally speaking, Mazdas have been easy to recommend due to their attractive styling and fun-to-drive characteristics relative to their competition. As far as reliability, they’ve historically been good, but not excellent. If Toyota’s reputation for dependability is at a 10 out of 10, I’d say Mazda is probably around a 7. Fine, but below the top tier brands in this area.

Image of Mazda CX-5 from an auto show. A pleasant reliability surprise.
2020 Mazda CX-5

But, I was surprised to see that Mazda’s three established SUVs, the subcompact CX-3, compact CX-5, and three-row CX-9 all show excellent predicted reliability for the 2020 model year.* Aside from the typical Mazda virtues mentioned earlier, the addition of high dependability makes these Mazda SUVs an excellent all around choice.

Image from auto show of the 2020 Mazda CX-9. A pleasant reliability surprise.
2020 Mazda CX-9

*Mazda just introduced a fourth SUV into its lineup, the confusingly named CX-30, which slots in between the small CX-3 and compact CX-5. Consumer Reports predicts average reliability of this model as of this writing.

Hyundai Kona

Hyundai’s reputation for dependability got off to a bad start when they first entered the United States in the 1980s. Fast forward to today, and Hyundai couldn’t be farther away from where they were 35 years ago. Their cars are well engineered and smartly designed, and have a solid reputation for quality. This was reinforced by Hyundai’s famous warranty protection. For 2020, most Hyundai models show average or better-than-average predicted reliability.

But Hyundai’s subcompact SUV, the Kona, has an excellent, top-tier reliability prediction. This fact in itself doesn’t warrant it making this list, however. Rather it’s the fact that the Kona is still a relatively new design. A general rule of thumb dictates that it may not be wise to purchase a brand new or freshly redesigned model during its first or second model year. There can be growing pains with new designs and new technologies. These are minor (or major) quality issues which the manufacturer will sort out as production of that model continues. The Kona was a brand new model for 2018. This prediction of excellent reliability is based on owner experience with the Kona’s first and second model years.

Ford EcoSport

The Ford EcoSport made my list for reasons similar to the Hyundai Kona above. The EcoSport is a relatively new subcompact SUV in America so the fact that it shows excellent predicted reliability is noteworthy. But also, it’s a Ford. Looking at the major domestic manufacturers, I’d say that Ford and General Motors have similar reputations for reliability. Some models have a decent reliability rating, and some are poor. But the rule about not buying a vehicle during its first model year applies all the more when talking about American manufacturers. Domestic vehicles tend to have more teething pains in their first and second years than would a new design from Toyota, for example.

Image of the Ford EcoSport. A pleasant reliability surprise.
2020 Ford EcoSport

That Ford could pull this off so early in the EcoSport’s American lifecycle is impressive. Perhaps the EcoSport’s strong showing is partly due to the fact that this same basic design has been on sale globally since 2012. It only went on sale in the United States for the 2018 model year. Ford had the opportunity to sort out any kinks by the time we started seeing the EcoSport on American streets.

Regardless, in spite of the EcoSport’s high predicted reliability, I still wouldn’t recommend it. It’s cramped and dated inside, awkwardly styled, and has weak engines yet returns no fuel economy advantages. It is too expensive for what you get in the hyper-competitive subcompact SUV market.

Three Unpleasant Reliability Surprises

Lexus LS

Image of the Lexus LS. An unpleasant reliability surprise.
The 2020 Lexus LS is sharp looking, but not as reliable as you’d expect based on previous generations of the luxury sedan.

As I hinted earlier, the 2020 Lexus LS is a major outlier in the Lexus lineup. All Lexus cars and SUVs show excellent predicted reliability except for its largest sedan, the LS. Fully redesigned in 2018, perhaps the Japanese manufacturer is experiencing an uncharacteristically high level of growing pains with this new design. The LS is also the showpiece in the Lexus lineup for all the latest in new technology. Generally the more high-tech a vehicle is, the greater the likelihood of quality issues during the beginning of a model’s lifecycle. But digging into Consumer Reports’ reliability data on the 2020 LS indicates that owners have experienced issues with the vehicle’s transmission, braking system, and body integrity (typically squeaks, rattles, and other miscellaneous annoying noises).

Full-size Pickup Trucks

Full-size trucks are as American as apple pie, and the major American manufacturers sell a ton of them. As you’ve likely seen reinforced in television commercials, big pickups have a perception for being tough and capable of handling any task you throw at them. You would expect this to also translate into strong ratings for reliability. But all full-size trucks from the major American manufacturers (the Ford F-150, the Ram 1500 made by Fiat Chrysler, and GM’s Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra) have poor predicted reliability for the 2020 model year.

In a recurring theme, the Ram, Silverado and Sierra are all fresh redesigns which may partly explain this poor showing. Owners of the Ram 1500 have seen issues with the braking system as well as issues with in-cabin electronics. Complex touchscreen infotainment systems and digital instrumentation displays are very common sources of reliability headaches with new designs. Similarly, the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra show issues with in-vehicle electronics, and squeaks and rattles from body and interior components.

For the Ford, this same version of the F-150 has been in production since 2015, but has shown a history of poor reliability each year since that last redesign. Most recently, F-150 owners have seen a considerable increase in problems with in-cabin electronic systems. In spite of all this, I wouldn’t expect reliability concerns to halt the sales dominance that these trucks have enjoyed over the rest of the American market.

Basically the Entire Honda Lineup

Until recently, Honda has enjoyed an outstanding reputation for dependability in the United States. But in its latest redesigns, Honda has been quick to embrace new engine and transmission technologies to keep fuel economy as high as possible (and casting aside tried-and-true engine and transmission designs in the process). Honda has also been including greater levels of technology and electronics inside the vehicles. Again, unproven newly engineered high-tech designs can spell trouble for owners. Even manufacturers like Honda are subject to this rule.

Many consumers have the perception that Hondas are bulletproof, and in the past that was true. Shoppers may operate under that outdated notion and blindly purchase a new Civic or Odyssey and expect a completely trouble-free ownership experience. But that’s just not the case anymore. Predicted reliability for 2020 Hondas is largely poorer than the automaker’s established reputation.

Some Hondas still have good predicted reliability

To be fair, there are still some Honda models that show predicted reliability higher than the average new vehicle. The Clarity electric and hybrid vehicle shows excellent expected reliability. The Fit subcompact, HR-V subcompact SUV, and Insight hybrid all show better than average anticipated reliability as well.

But some are only average

But the four best selling vehicles in Honda’s showroom (Accord, Civic, CR-V, and Pilot) along with the Ridgeline pickup only have average predicted reliability for 2020.

And some Hondas have poor predicted reliability

The popular Odyssey minivan has predicted reliability worse than the average for 2020. Owners noted issues with in-vehicle electronics and power equipment. The mid-sized Passport SUV has poor expected reliability, surprising since it is basically a Pilot with a shorter body and no third-row seat. The Pilot doesn’t share the same poor reliability prediction as the Passport. Regardless, Passport owners have reported issues with in-vehicle electronics, the climate control system, and experienced squeaks and rattles.

With the exception of the Odyssey and Passport, the rest of the 2020 Honda lineup has acceptable predicted reliability. While owners of Honda’s most popular models have experienced more issues with their vehicles than you might expect based on Honda’s stellar reputation, these issues are comparable to the rest of the industry. The Accord, Civic, CR-V, and Pilot are all still excellent choices. They’re worthy of a long hard look if you’re in the market for that class of vehicle. Just don’t expect a completely trouble-free ownership experience.

In Conclusion…

Say that you’re in the market for a compact SUV. You might march into a Honda showroom and pick out a new CR-V. And even if Honda’s reputation for top-tier reliability may be slightly outdated today, the CR-V would still be a great choice. But public perception of Honda and the resulting high demand for CR-Vs might leave Honda dealers less willing to cut you a good deal. After all, if you don’t pay the price that they want you to pay on that CR-V, fine – someone else will.

Maybe you wouldn’t even consider the Mazda CX-5. Your needs might be served just as well by the Mazda. You’d also be getting a crossover with a more engaging driving experience and a beautifully appointed interior. Plus, a much higher predicted reliability rating than the Honda. And a Mazda dealership might be more willing to work with you to get the price and payment down to a more comfortable level than a Honda dealer would.

The automotive industry is changing all the time. New designs and technologies mean you can’t depend on your preconceived notions about a model’s expected reliability. It takes time and research to make sure you’re selecting a vehicle that ticks all the correct boxes for your needs while also producing the most trouble-free ownership experience possible.

Or, contact me and let me compile and analyze all the data and statistics for you. I’m here so you can be confident that you’re making the right choice when you’re shopping for a new vehicle. Thanks for reading!

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