Toyota, Ford, Honda and Chevrolet top Consumer Reports rankings

Tesla and Subaru move up in the rankings.


Consumers continue to distinguish Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Chevrolet as the leading brands overall, but several others, including Tesla and Subaru, are moving up the rankings, according to Consumer Reports' annual Car-Brand Perception Survey. 

Toyota has a 25-point advantage over second-place Ford, reflecting a five-point gain over the year prior for Toyota and a three-point improvement for Ford. It could be interpreted that the safety concerns that saw the Toyota score stumble a few years ago have faded, returning the brand to its position as the perceived industry leader.

Consumer Reports brand perception scores reflect how consumers perceive each brand in seven important buying factors, ranked here in order of the importance to consumers: quality, safety, performance, value, fuel economy, design/style, and technology/innovation. Combining those factors gives us the total brand-perception score. While the scores reflect a brand's image, they do not reflect the actual qualities of any brand's vehicles.

"The key word is 'perception'. Consumers are influenced by word of mouth, marketing, and hands-on experience. Often, perception can be a trailing indicator, reflecting years of good or bad performance in a category, and it can also be influenced by headlines in the media," said Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports deputy automotive editor. 

Consumer Reports survey shows the brand to watch is Telsa Motors, which jumped from 47 points last year, to fifth position with 88 points. Tesla had a strong, very public year, with soaring stock prices, magazine awards, and exceptional crash-test performance. Innovation, performance, and sleek styling is clearly gaining attention and making a positive impression. By gaining points in several categories, Tesla was able to raise its overall score. This highlights the value of being good at multiple things, rather than rely on a single facet.

Consumer perception of Subaru's safety is a key factor in that brand's ascension into the top 10. This modest-scale automaker has made big news over the past year with its "good" crash-test performance, among other accomplishments. All its models, except for the aged Tribeca, have earned coveted Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The survey results suggest consumers are paying attention.

That the remainder of the Top 10 all score 73 or higher is notable, for last year, there was a wider spread. Many brands impress consumers, creating a challenge for brands to distinguish themselves in the fast-moving marketplace. Likewise, consumers need to determine where to spend their money.

For more information on Consumer Reports 2014 overall brand perception rankings visit www.ConsumerReports.org, starting Feb. 5.

Consumer Reports survey ranks the seven key factors by how important they are to consumers when buying a new car. The percentage is based on the number of respondents who said the factor was among their top three priorities: quality (90 percent), safety (88 percent), performance (83 percent), value (82 percent), fuel economy (81 percent), design/style (70 percent), and technology/innovation (68 percent).

Quality:

The top factor for car buyers remains quality, scoring 90 points both this year and last. What has changed is the number of brands that are distinguished by this attribute. In 2013, Consumer Reports had four brands show a clear advantage; this year, there are six that stand out from the herd, including Cadillac in sixth place. Toyota has an advantage here, with the other brands clustered close behind. Seeing the brands that are considered exemplar for this virtue underscores how "quality" can be broadly interpreted, ranging from tactile first impressions to long-term durability.

Safety:

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