Auto Reliability: Consumer Reports Slaps Acura, Cadillac and, Yes, the Tesla Model S

Lexus Pulls a Clean Sweep.

All good things must come to an end. One of those “things” is the ongoing loveliest Consumer Reports has had with Tesla Motors, especially the Model S.

The nonprofit consumer organization released the results of its 2015 Annual Auto Reliability Survey on Tuesday, noting that Lexus, Toyota, Audi, Mazda and Subaru are the most reliable brands. At the same time, CR found that Acura and Cadillac had slipped the most, while Buick’s seventh-place finish accounted for the lone domestic brand ranked in the Top 10.

Tesla Model SPerhaps most surprising were the results for the Tesla Model S. CR received approximately 1,400 survey responses from Model S owners and that feedback outlined a pattern of problems with the sedan’s drivetrain, center console, charging equipment, power accessories, along with an assortment of squeaks, rattles and leaks.

As a result of the accumulated data, CR bestowed the Tesla Model S with a worse-than-average predicted reliability score.

The consumer feedback is in stark contrast to CR’s own rating for the Tesla electric sedan. Earlier this year CR noted that the “all-wheel drive Tesla Model S P85D sedan performed better in our tests than any other car ever has, breaking the Consumer Reports Ratings system.”

CR lauded the sedan’s instant acceleration, calling it “brutally quick,” its thrust “forceful and immediate.” The organization also said that the P85D has “better braking and handling” than the standard Model S and pointed out its efficiency, achieving a fuel mileage equivalent of 87 mpg.

CR’s 2015 Annual Auto Reliability Survey weighed information supplied by subscribers covering more than 740,000 vehicles. Both Acura and Cadillac experienced the largest year-over-year drops, with each brand falling by seven places.

Acura was faulted for its in-car electronics and transmissions found in its newest sedans, the RLX and TLX. Similar problems have plagued other manufacturers in recent years including Fiat Chrysler, Nissan, and Ford.

Lexus RC F

Pictured: Lexus RC 350F Sport

Cadillac continued to fall with CR noting complaints about its Cadillac User Experience or CUE infotainment system.

One of the more persistent problems with today’s cars are new transmissions. Complaints about rough shifting and slipping CVT belts have dragged down the scores for several brands. Some of those transmissions involve new systems with eight or nine gears. At the same time, CR praised Audi and BMW for delivering reliable dual-clutch transmissions, while recognizing Toyota and Honda with delivering hybrid models with strong CVTs.

In the CR survey, the organization tracks seven vehicle lines. All seven were led by Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand. CR noted the continued ascendancy of Audi, a brand that once had its share of demons to exorcise. Today, only Lexus and Toyota are ranked higher than the Volkswagen Group’s premium brand.

Hyundai Sonata Turbo

Pictured: Hyundai Sonata Turbo

Kia and Hyundai, Korean manufacturers joined at the hip, placed sixth and ninth respectively in the latest survey. Both brands are enjoying a steady ascendancy with Kia now ranked ahead of Honda.

Most US brands, with Buick the exception continue to perform below average. Chevrolet and GMC are in the bottom third of the rankings and Cadillac has fallen near the bottom. As for Ford, respondents seem pleased with the F-150 and Expedition, but shared complaints about the Mustang, including its body hardware, drive shaft and vehicle stability control systems.

As for Fiat Chrysler, the lone bright spots are its minivans as both the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan achieved average reliability. As for the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Fiat brands, they bring up the rear in the annual survey once again.

2016 Fiat 500X

Pictured: Fiat 500X

The annual CR survey will receive its due inspection and dissection, and perhaps more attention than it deserves. Nevertheless, the independent nature of this consumer organization means that the results are objectively dispensed and will be given careful review by car manufacturer executives over the coming days.

Photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

Scion iA, iM Enter Toyota Showrooms

Scion, the Toyota sub-brand, has been given a new lease on life. Founded in 2002 in a bid to reach young drivers, Scion quickly peaked at more than 170,000 units sold in 2006, but has declined to nearly one-quarter that number since. Blame old products and a profusion of excellent competitors for that decline.

Things got so tough that by 2013 the automaker gave Toyota dealers permission not to sell Scions in their showrooms, the only place where you can buy one as they are not marketed independently. At least 200 Toyota dealers weren’t selling Scion anyway; adding to those numbers has simply allowed the company to align Scion availability with demand.

2016 Scion iA

2016 Scion iA, courtesy of Mazda.

Two New Scion Models

That demand may soon see a spike going forward as beginning today two new Scion models are now on sale. The Scion iA is a subcompact sedan. The Scion iM is a compact 5-door hatchback. The two new models join a pair of sport coupes — the FR-S and the tC. A fifth model, the boxy Scion xB, is also available.

If the sleek silhouette of the Scion iA seems familiar to you, it is. Sold elsewhere as the Mazda2, this model is a visible representation of the recently crafted relationship between giant Toyota and diminutive Mazda.

No, Toyota has not taken a stake in Mazda, rather the two are working together on projects that on the surface seem to benefit Toyota more than Mazda. Indeed, Toyota told reporters when the new models were introduced at the 2015 New York International Auto Show that the company would also have access to Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology, what has yielded a family of modern and efficient engines and transmissions.

Seemingly, Mazda receives a much-needed cash infusion, what should help this automaker survive in an ultra competitive industry. Toyota, long a leader in small car manufacturing, thus leaves some of the work to others, especially where Scion is concerned. The Scion FR-S, by the way, is a Subaru-Toyota collaboration as Toyota holds a one-sixth stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent.

The Scion iM also offers a look that should be entirely familiar to Corolla fans. Indeed, the iM is a rebadged Toyota Corolla, and perhaps the answer to customers who prefer something besides a sedan when shopping the Corolla. The iM’s relationship with Toyota’s global leading model should give shoppers confidence to commit to this product.

2016 Scion iM

The 2016 Scion iM, courtesy of the Toyota Corolla.

2016 Scion iA

The 2016 Scion iA is priced from $15,700 when paired with a 6-speed manual transmission and $16,800 when paired with a 6-speed automatic. A 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine making 105 horsepower is standard. The top-of-the-range fuel economy is 33 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway.

Among the iA’s more notable standard features include keyless entry, power accessories, air conditioning, cruise control, a tilt and telescopic steering column, a 7-inch color audio display, Bluetooth connectivity, a low-speed pre-collision system, and a backup camera. Voice recognition, two USB ports, and 16-inch alloy wheels are standard. This model competes with the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa Note, Volkswagen Golf, Chevrolet Sonic, Kia Rio, and the Hyundai Accent.

2016 Scion iM

The 2016 Scion iM starts at $18,460 for the manual model and $19,255 for the CVT. It is powered by a 137-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and is paired with a 6-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission. The CVT can be operated in manual mode, mimicking seven gear shifts (steps) as you shift your way up or down. The top fuel economy comes in at 28 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

Every iM comes equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, automatic headlamps, and power heated side mirrors. Keyless entry, air conditioning, power accessories, cruise control, a tilt and telescopic steering column, a 6-speaker Pioneer sound system, an auxiliary input jack, a USB port and Bluetooth connectivity are standard.

Scion Considerations

The badges may say Scion, but the two new cars enjoy the Toyota treatment. That means when you buy one, your factory recommended service is covered for the first two years or 25,000 miles of service. Complimentary roadside assistance is provided for the first two years too.

Furthermore, all Scion models are backed by a three-year, 36,000-mile limited warranty and a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. A 60-month, unlimited mileage rust warranty also applies.

Auto Trends will share additional information in the coming months once our comprehensive test drives have been completed.

Scion FR-S: Attainable Fun!

2016 Scion FR-SThe Scion FR-S may be the most anonymous of all sporty cars built. This 2+2 rear-wheel drive sport coupe is also sold as the Subaru BRZ, with the two automakers collaborating to build what is essentially a bare bones model to reach first-time buyers.

Unfortunately, the combined sales for the twins is just 10,140 units year-to-date (6,806 Scion and 3,334 Subaru through July 2015) with sales down 22.9 percent and 33.6 percent, respectively. Those figures do not bode well for a pair of models now in their fourth model year. Rumors that the twins won’t see a second generation may have merit and that’s a darn shame as I’ve driven both and have come away impressed each time.

Both manufacturers tout this vehicle as a 2+2 sports coupe. The rear seat, however, is mostly useless. There is simply no way anyone would want to sit back there. Quite possibly there could be an insurance reason for the second row seat, otherwise you just might be tempted to discard the seat.

No matter, the front seats are fine for two and if you’re a 20-something first time car buyer, this little Scion certainly impresses.

2016 Scion FR-S

The FR-S (Front-engine, Rear-wheel drive, Sport) has the heart and soul of a larger sport coupe affixed to a smaller frame. Weighing in at just 2,806 pounds, the FR-S is a lightweight model with a broad and open lower grille, tear-dropped shaped headlamps, and embedded fog lamps set within scalloped recesses on either side of the grille.

A muscular hood, deeply arched wheel wells, and sleek profile lines are also evident. To the rear this sport coupe has a slight, but noticeable haunch punctuated by circular brake lights. Its rear diffuser is marked by a twosome of chrome exhausts and amplified by its centered backup lights and a third brake light. It is an uncomplicated visage that is far from plain, one that is familiar on far more expensive models.

2016 Scion FR-S

View manufacturer details and pricing

2016 Scion FR-SInside, every model is outfitted with firm, sporty front bucket seats. Generously bolstered, both seats are comfortable and provide the confidence you need as you take on the twisty roads this sport coupe is built to traverse. Twin stitching and contrasting shoulder pads give this seat design some pop. Those accents also appear around the steering wheel, on the transmission shifter and across the door inlays.

Aluminum pedals are standard with this model. You also have three overlapping analog displays with speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, and fuel gauge read outs present. The center display doubles as a digital driver’s information center, providing additional details such as gearing position and speed.

The center stack is an uncomplicated affair topped by a pair of vents, followed by a small color display, and knobs controlling audio and climate functions. A recess at the bottom of the stack holds your smart phone. The transmission shifter splits the front seats with a coin tray, two cup holders and open storage are also present. Each door comes with storage compartments and bottle holders. A tiny, but useful glove box is present too.

2016 Scion FR-S

Oh, yes, I would be remiss if I left out what is probably one of the most important features of all in the FR-S — drive mode switches for Sport, Snow and VSC Sport mode. More about these modes and my driving experience later.

Under the hood of every Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ is a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated boxer (horizontally opposed cylinders) engine. The engine cover lists both Toyota and Subaru, but it is mostly Subaru’s handiwork, a company that has long relied on this layout. However, Toyota did supply the injectors and other engine enhancements. By the way, Porsche is another builder of formidable boxer engines.

Boxer engines are not common and for several reasons: they are more expensive to produce and require unique transmissions to pair with the rear-facing block. Nevertheless, such engines are dynamically balanced and have a low center of gravity, ideal for sport-minded vehicles such as the Scion FR-S.

The two liter powerhouse under the Scion’s hood is Subaru’s latest design, with four valves per cylinder, aluminum blocks and heads, and chain-driven dual overhead camshafts fixed to each cylinder bank. It is a high compression engine, one prized for its high-revving attributes. Two hundred horsepower may not seem like a lot these days, but it is sufficient for this little deuce coupe.

2016 Scion FR-S

The engine also benefits from its identical bore and stroke dimensions, 3.39 inches, what promotes its rapid revving and 7,400 RPM redline. You get a long torque curve and this normally quiet engine booms when you zip down the road. It is a sound that no other four-cylinder matches and provides feedback that typically comes only with larger engines.

My test model came with a six-speed automatic transmission and that, my friends, means a good deal of the fun factor was sucked out of it. Nonetheless, you make do with what you have, but this model definitely is best outfitted with the six-speed manual gearbox. Yes, you can operate the automatic in manual mode, but it only restricts performance further.

You won’t think for a moment that you are sitting in a Corvette or a Cayman when you are behind the wheel of the FR-S, but you will enjoy a familiar vantage point that these and other low-slung models provide. The front sight lines are quite good and even the blind spots are not overwhelming. I always sensed a certain connectedness to the car as I maneuvered my way on serpentine roads.

Shift this Scion in gear and take to the open road. Indeed, if you have anything that passes for twisty and banked roads in your area, this is where you will discover whether a coupe of the Scion’s caliber is right for you.

For the ultimate in driving pleasure (notwithstanding the punishment of being assigned with a slush box, a matter you can correct), the Scion should be enjoyed in VSC Sport mode. It is one step up from the Sport mode whereby vehicle stability control is turned off. Well, at least it reduces intervention because if the rear wheels should slip from underneath you, stability control intervenes. You can override the interference by pressing your finger on the traction control off button and counting to three. That’s long enough to disable the safety protocol and allow you to make your doughnuts.

2016 Scion FR-S

Sport mode also tweaks the engine by holding the gears at higher revs, and hastens the throttle and shift process. By the way, Snow mode starts things off in second gear in an effort to reduce slip.

When tasked with driving an automatic, you make do with what you have. In this case I shifted to manual and was profoundly disappointed as the revs were sorely limited in sixth gear and the shifting was clunky. As I switched back to automatic mode on the fly, the engine came back to life, allowing me to pick up speed. At some point I also redlined the Scion as a flashing warning light briefly appeared before the revs eased.

One of my favorite drive loops is composed of nearly 25 miles of bending, twisting and banking roads. It isn’t mountain driving, but it is imbued with enough hills and twists to gauge just how well any sport-minded model performs. It also moves from thick pine woods to open fields and on to small town Americana before passing through farmland. Zero traffic lights and just two stop signs mean the driving can get lively at times.

Early complaints about the Scion’s handling were addressed in the previous model year as a more rigid front suspension and retuned rear shock absorbers were added, improving control. This sport coupe is agile, composed, and confident.

2016 Scion FR-S

Will Scion and for that matter Subaru ever offer a turbo engine? After all, the WRX STi offers one, so why not the sport coupes? Well, there may be a few things that will stymie forced induction from ever coming to these models. The added cost is one factor, but an overarching reason has everything to do with space as there is simply no room to fix a bottom-mounted turbocharger to this low-slung ride. Moreover, the added weight would throw off the coupe’s 52-percent-front to 48-percent-rear weight balance, impacting steering in the process.

To sum up, the Scion FR-S is a value-oriented sport coupe that shouldn’t be casually dismissed. But its price rivals that of the larger coupes, including the 348-horsepower, Hyundai Genesis Coupe. While it is definitely an enjoyable car, the likes of the Hyundai along with the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro as well as the Mazda MX-5 Miata and even the Ford Fiesta ST mean that there are some excellent choices for the money.

2016 Scion FR-S

  • Sticker price from $26,405
  • Price as tested: $27,175
  • Seats 4 occupants
  • 2.0-liter 16-valve BOXER gasoline engine
  • 200 horsepower @ 7,000 RPM
  • 151 foot-pounds of torque @ 6,600 RPM
  • 3.39 inches bore by 3.39 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 12.5-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
  • Length: 166.7 inches
  • Width: 69.9 inches
  • Height: 50.6 inches
  • Passenger volume: 76.5
  • Storage volume: 6.9 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: NR
  • EPA: 25 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
  • Premium grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 13.2 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 2,806 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Not Tested
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 60 months/60,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 60 months/unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Ota, Gunma Japan

2016 Scion FR-S photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

See AlsoMiata and Me: Not Quite a Love Story

Mazda Has the Zoom-Zoom in its Product Line

We need to give the Mazda North American Operations team a lot of credit. Not too long ago Mazda’s position in the United States was tenuous at best, with some analysts, including this one openly wondering if the company would exit, stage right, ala Suzuki, Isuzu and Daihatsu.

Instead of retreating, Mazda is following in the footsteps or the smoothly paved road of another smaller Japanese competitor: Subaru. Unlike Toyota, Honda and Nissan, both of the lesser manufacturers have had to become innovative and creative in order to survive a tough market. Subaru has won people over with its mostly all-wheel drive product line and high quality, while Mazda operates in a variety of segments, always desiring to advance its zoom-zoom mantra wherever it goes.

Mazda CX-3

This CX-3 is one of two new models released by Mazda this year.

Because Mazda is so small — the company sells half as many vehicles as Ford builds F-Series pickup trucks in a year — the automaker has to work vigorously. Thus, getting one new model to the market in a given year takes much effort. And introducing two new models within a few months is simply astonishing.

But that is what Mazda has done with its Miata MX-5 sports car and its all-new CX-3 crossover. No, this writer has yet to drive either model, but the press coverage from my colleagues has been nothing short of overwhelmingly positive.

Toyota to the Rescue

For Mazda to survive in what is arguably the toughest automotive market in the world, it needs to show much ingenuity as well as pluck and determination. It also must maintain pressure on its existing product line, to ensure that its deep-pocketed competitors never get the upper hand.

However, one deep-pocketed competitor has chosen to look at Mazda more as an ally instead of as a threat.

Specifically, Toyota is working with Mazda to plug some of the inconsistencies in its own lineup. An example of this can be found in the Scion iA, a subcompact model based on the Mazda2. Mazda no longer directly sells its smallest model in the US, but in the body of the diminutive Scion it still does. That stipulation yielded an undisclosed amount of money for Mazda, funds it sorely needs and can use elsewhere in the Mazda cosmos. Mazda will also lend Toyota its expertise with all things SKYACTIV, specifically its fuel efficient engines and transmissions. About Toyota can you say, “cash cow?”

Product Line Changes

For its remaining product line, Mazda is not sitting still. Indeed, its best selling Mazda3 line will experience several updates for 2016, including the addition of rear view cameras and new sport and touring equipment packages. Those Sport and Touring packages will also find a way to the Mazda6, its beautiful midsize sedan. Look for new color screen options, LED lighting updates and a sport mode button, among other changes of note.

Where the Mazda CX-3 now competes with the smallest crossovers, including the Fiat 500X, the Jeep Renegade, Honda’s CR-V and the Nissan Juke among others, its compact CX-5 gains a larger and more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Moreover, this model receives a new cloth seat design, a standard rear view camera, and offers three new packages. For example, the GT technology package brings in LED lighting , radar cruise control, smart brake support with collision warning, lane departure warning and high beam control. You should know that not every package is available across the product line.

Mazda Koeru Concept

Just as Mazda has added two models it is also discontinuing one model, the Mazda5. That multi-purpose vehicle is essentially a minivan and operates in a segment that continues to shrink. At the same time, Mazda is looking at a replacement for its largest SUV, the CX-9. Indeed, the Koeru concept will bow at the Frankfurt Motor Show, pointing to a possible replacement model yet more proof that Mazda intends to remain competitive.

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations. 

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