April 23, 2024


The ideal Automotive

Driving By Numbers: Did Canadians buy reliable vehicles in 2020?

Do you want a car that’s fun to drive? Possibly. Do you want a car that looks great in your garage? Maybe. Do you want a car that combines cabin flexibility and fuel efficiency? Probably. Do you feel that the performance of all-wheel-drive in inclement weather appeals to you? Perhaps.

But those qualities only scratch the surface on an endless list of factors that new-car buyers take into account. For many shoppers, a reputation for reliability is initially either at or near the top of the list. Yet when push comes to shove, other factors – such as payment terms or the allure of early adoption – often become preeminent.

Based on reliability data from Consumer Reports, a long-time leader in automobile dependability research, it’s clear Canadians do, in fact, turn en masse to some of the most reliable brands on the market. Even so, large numbers of them purchase and lease some of the least-reliable vehicles as well.

Consumer Reports doesn’t come up with its lists based on the subjective assumptions of biased editors. To establish the publication’s latest reliability findings, Consumer Reports collected information from the owners of 329,000 vehicles across the last 20 model years. There are 17 categories weighted by importance, and owners are asked about problems with their vehicles over the last 12 months.

Here, we’ll look at the three most-reliable and three least-reliable brands and models, to see how much of an effect vehicle reliability has when car buyers go out to shop.

Least-reliable Brands

2020 Volkswagen Jetta Execline

24. Volkswagen

Although Volkswagen’s affiliated brands (Audi in 14th, Porsche in 9th) rank in the upper portion of reliable auto brands, Volkswagen itself is very near the bottom. Its 36/100 score would be far better were it not for the Jetta and Atlas, which happen to account for 40 per cent of the brand’s Canadian volume.

Volkswagen lost Canadian market share in 2020, sliding by more than three-tenths of a percentage point to 3.2 per cent. The company reported 49,830 sales in 2020, down 28 per cent from 2019 levels.

2021 Tesla Model Y

25. Tesla

Tesla is famous for its performance on the stock exchange, its headline-making CEO Elon Musk, and the degree to which it brought electric cars into the mainstream consciousness. On the other hand, Tesla is also infamous for failing to deliver on its promises, and for building cars with all manner of embarrassing quality concerns. That’s borne out by its second-worst placement on this list.

Tesla doesn’t report vehicle-specific or market-specific quarterly sales figures, but Automotive News estimates that Tesla sold somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15,000 vehicles in Canada in 2020. That’s roughly double Lincoln’s volume, and roughly half what Mercedes-Benz produced.

2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring

26. Lincoln

A last-place ranking is bad news for Ford’s low-volume luxury brand, but it’s not terribly surprising. The recency of generational changeovers (Navigator); all-new models (Aviator); and major updates (Nautilus) are traditionally linked to poorer reliability results, and Lincoln’s lineup is stuffed full of such models. Its poor result, with a score of 8/100, is also not surprising given the results of its parent brand: Ford is ranked 22nd overall, only four spots ahead of Lincoln.

The Lincoln brand remains a small player in Canada’s luxury market: 7,170 Lincolns were sold in 2020, compared with 25,493 BMWs, for example, or 14,281 Acuras. But Lincoln sales did decrease at a slower rate than the industry average in 2020, sliding 17 per cent in a market that was down 20 per cent.

Most-reliable Brands

2020 Lexus RX 350

3. Lexus

A Lexus podium placement in an annual reliability report is as expected as, well, Lexus reliability. Luxury-car shoppers are entirely accustomed to high levels of dependability in a Lexus, and two of the top four models are Lexus products as well.

Lexus volume slipped in 2020 – that was typical in a dreadful COVID-19 year – but the 19-per-cent drop to 20,822 sales drew fourth-ranked Lexus closer to Canada’s three most popular premium brands. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi all declined at a much faster rate.

2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

2. Toyota

Car shoppers haven’t always turned to Toyota for excitement, futuristic features, or the absolute cheapest prices. But they have generally assumed that a Toyota in the driveway will result in long-term durability. In Consumer Reports’ latest results, Toyota is the second-ranked brand; and it builds the most reliable vehicle overall, as well as the most reliable full-size pickup truck.

It is Canada’s second-best-selling auto brand, an indication that long-term reliability success can correlate with top-notch sales success. 170,598 Toyotas were sold in Canada in 2020, and that’s 11 per cent of the market.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature 2.5T

1. Mazda

Mazda is artfully playing Toyota’s game: steady, cautious improvement across its lineup, without too much in the way of sudden change. For example, Mazda will introduce a new model, but it may continue to use established powertrains. Or it will plug a new engine into a vehicle, but it’s an engine proven first in an older model.

It’s been a recipe for success at Mazda, which now ranks first in overall reliability, and the company greatly increased its Canadian market share in 2020. Mazda finished the year with 57,773 sales, equal to 3.7 per cent of the market, up from 3.4 per cent in 2019.

Least-reliable Brands

3. Volkswagen Atlas

When it comes to reliability, the Volkswagen Atlas that began production in Tennessee in 2017 is way down at the bottom of the pack. But when it comes to marketplace success, the Atlas is soaring toward the top.

In a remarkably challenging year for the auto industry, in which sales fell by a fifth, Atlas sales increased 5 per cent to 9,370 units. That slots this model into third place in its segment, behind only the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander.

2. Subaru Ascent

’s a big difference between the Subaru Ascent and Volkswagen Atlas on Consumer Reports’ list of the least-reliable vehicles. Volkswagen is listed as one of the least-reliable brands, while Subaru ranks near the top for reliability, at eighth overall.

So the Ascent is an exception for Subaru; and for a variety of reasons – reliability perhaps being one of them – this SUV hasn’t moved up the sales charts the way the Atlas has. Ascent sales in 2020 plunged 27 per cent to 3,028 units in Canada.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 RST 4x4

1. Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra

Combined, GM’s two full-size pickup trucks produced 104,259 Canadian sales in 2020, enough to outsell every vehicle save for the Ford F-Series. GM’s full-size pickup market share actually increased rather substantially last year, climbing two points to 32 per cent in 2020.

It apparently doesn’t matter that Consumer Reports ranks these trucks as the least-reliable vehicles on the market, because they’re very nearly as popular as it gets.

Most-reliable Models

3. Buick Encore

Increasingly overshadowed by the larger Encore GX, which outsold the smaller Encore by nearly two-to-one in the fourth-quarter of 2020, the long-in-the-tooth Encore is a nearly trouble-free subcompact crossover. Longevity is generally part of the recipe for reliability – the Encore has remained largely unchanged since its introduction in 2013.

But its age, and the presence of the Encore GX, aren’t doing any favours for its popularity. Encore sales tumbled 36 per cent to 6,480 units in 2020.

2019 Lexus NX

2. Lexus NX

The third-most-reliable brand on the market produces both the fourth-most-reliable vehicle – that would be the Lexus GX – and this, the number-two model on the list. The NX is rapidly advancing toward a second-generation model, but Toyota and its Lexus sub-brand are famous for eliminating all trouble spots as a vehicle ages.

And age the NX most definitely has – it’s been around for more than six years with little change that would effect its high reliability scores. It’s popular, too, with 6,144 NXs sold in 2020, placing it among the 10 top premium-brand sellers in Canada.

2020 Toyota Prius AWD-e

1. Toyota Prius

The Prius’s placement among the most-reliable vehicles on the market isn’t a newfangled idea. The hybrid and plug-in hybrid Prius lineup offers legendary quality tucked inside a unique body.

No longer the futuristic animal it was once perceived to be, the Prius is also no longer the green car choix du jour. Its volume took a hit in 2020, sliding 45 per cent to only 5,808 units. For perspective, Toyota sold 33,181 Corollas in 2020 and 4,275 RAV4 Hybrids in the fourth quarter alone.

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