Lordstown’s Cruze ranked most reliable compact by Consumer Reports

LORDSTOWN — Consumer Reports lists the locally built Chevrolet Cruze as the top-performing small car in predicted reliability rankings for brands and vehicles in 2017.

The vehicle rankings, released Monday, are based on a survey of the magazine’s subscribers, along with road tests and added points for safety features.

Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing, credited General Motors with improving its cars and small SUVs for several years now.

Chevrolet saw gains, moving up five spots since last year, being helped in particular by what Consumer Reports called “stellar reliability of the redesigned 2016 Cruze,” which topped all compact cars.

“We are ecstatic  about this report,” said Sherry Gaunt, vice president of United Auto Workers Local 1714, which represents some of the workers at the GM Assembly Plant in Lordstown. “It is a good morale booster for our rank and file members. This car has always been number one in our minds.

“Getting this kind of recognition simply shows that others recognize the quality and workmanshp that we’ve worked, on both sides of the plant, to place in this vehicle,” she said. “We always strive to build a number one quality car.”

The Cruze, GM’s best-selling compact car, is sold in 115 countries. More than 3.5 million units of the popular small car have been sold around the world since 2008, and more than 1.25 million of those have been made in Lordstown, where some 4,500 workers are employed, since the car launched here in 2010. The Cruze’s second generation went into production at Lordstown in February.

Also moving up in the rankings was the Chevy Corvette. Cadillac has two models with below-average reliability – the Escalade and small ATS sedan – while the CTS and XTS sedans were average or better. GMC has dropped, hurt by its versions of the same large SUVs and pickup trucks that haunt Chevrolet.

Overall, the magazine ranked Lexus, Toyota and Buick as the most reliable brands in its latest survey, a reward for their conservative approach to new technology.

It was the fourth straight year that Lexus came in first and Toyota came in second. Two of their hybrids – the Toyota Prius and the Lexus CT 200H – were named the most reliable vehicles. But Buick – GM’s near-luxury marque – is the first domestic brand to crack the top three since the magazine began tracking vehicle reliability in the early 1980s.

Audi and Kia rounded out the top five brands. Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat and Ram – all owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – were the worst performers. Electric carmaker Tesla Motors also fared poorly.

The magazine’s annual reliability survey is closely watched by the industry, since many buyers look to the magazine for recommendations.

Consumer Reports predicts the reliability of 2017 model-year brands and individual vehicles based on survey responses from its subscribers. The magazine collected subscribers’ comments on vehicles they own from the 2000-2017 model years. Around 500,000 subscribers responded to this year’s survey.

Fisher said the best performers have something in common: They tend to add new technology slowly, and bit-by-bit, rather than all at once. When Lexus introduced its new 2016 RX SUV, for example, it used an older engine and an eight-speed transmission that had already been used in another Lexus vehicle. When Buick introduced the Encore small SUV in the U.S. in 2012, it was built on a small-car platform used in prior vehicles and had a six-speed transmission, rather than the eight- and nine-speeds coming into vogue.

By contrast, Honda fell in this year’s survey partly because of its 2016 Civic small car, which has two new engines, a new steel underbody and a new continuously variable transmission. Cue the problems: Shortly after the Civic went on sale, it was recalled for engine failure. Consumer Reports said Civic customers also have reported problems with the car’s infotainment system.

“It’s the choice of making such a big change,” Fisher said. “They pay the penalty for trying to get it all right.”

The Chevrolet Trax was the top-performing small SUV. But GM continued to struggle with pickups and larger truck-based SUVs, which received low marks for steering and suspension issues. The Cadillac Escalade large SUV is the worst performing vehicle in the magazine’s survey due to its combination of transmission problems and its difficult-to-use infotainment system. Buick has no truck-based vehicles.