Reliability Survey: Infotainment ‘Plagues’ New Cars

Consumer Reports says infotainment systems appear to be the most troublesome feature in 2014 vehicles.In fact, it considers them a “growing first-year reliability plague,” referring to models in the first year after introduction or a redesign.

That conclusion is part of the results announced today of the publication’s annual Auto Reliability Survey. The publication solicits replies from readers to a questionnaire about their cars and analyzes the results — this year based on more than a million responses — to predict the reliability of new vehicles by brand and model.

CR said the worst example of the infotainment phenomena in this year’s crop of new models is the In Touch system in the Infiniti Q50 sedan. More than one in five owners said it didn’t work right. That, combined with other reliability issues in the Infiniti QX60 SUV, pulled Infiniti’s overall brand reliability ranking down 14 places to 20th — the biggest drop of any of the 28 brands in the survey this year.

Electronic issues also can be a signal that the vehicle may have other problems, the magazine said.

“Infotainment system problems generally don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports. “A close look at the results suggests that cars with a lot of in-car electronic issues usually have plenty of other troubles, too.”

The survey is widely followed, but reliability isn’t the only way to judge a car, says Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book’s KBB.com. It is “one of many aspects that make up a car’s total ownership experience,” he says. And “it has to be considered among factors like purchase price, resale value, performance and fuel efficiency.

“Measuring reliability is also not a straightforward process,” Brauer says, “because for some it means how many unexpected problems arise while for others it means satisfaction with the cupholders. Car shoppers should keep all of these factors in mind, rather than fixating on a single factor, when considering their next purchase.”

According to CR, first-year models from Infiniti, Jeep, Fiat, Ram, Cadillac, Ford and Honda all have suffered significant rates of complaints due to infotainment bugs and glitches.

Of the 17 problem areas CR asks about in its survey, the category that includes in-car electronics generated more complaints from owners than any other category.

Common electronics issues identified in past CR surveys include unresponsive touch screens and a reluctance to pair phones. Those issues continue, CR said, and this year’s results also showing growing problems with other aspects of infotainment systems, including multi-use controllers.

Infotainment is a hot item in today’s cars and trucks and the word generally refers to electronic systems that can include links to the user’s cellphone, connections for an iPod or other music device, built-in navigation, vehicle controls from climate to lighting and apps that provide other features, such as reminding you where you parked or whether you locked the doors.

The most modern not only pair a phone to the car without using a cord, but also let you control most of the car’s and the phone’s features via voice command and display the phone’s features on the vehicle screen.

And as with the horsepower race of old, carmakers are rushing to be able to tout the most new features.

General Motors, for example, is trying to trump rivals by installing built-in 4GLTE connections and Wi-Fi in more and more models.

But being first to market has risks. Ford Motor was an infotainment pioneer, with its Microsoft-based Sync voice control system. But it was quite unreliable at first and knocked down Ford’s reliability scores. Ford has hinted that it will replace the Microsoft system with other, unnamed software that it expects to be more dependable.

Here are Consumer Reports’ tally of predicted reliability by brand for 2015 models, and the best and worst individual models in this year’s survey:

Rank (Rank last year), brand, worst model, best model

1. (1) Lexus, IS 250, CT 200h
2. (2) Toyota, Avalon, Prius C
3. (5) Mazda, Mazda3 (2.5L), Mazda6*
4. (8) Honda, Odyssey, Civic Coupe
5. (4) Audi, S5*, Allroad*
6. (12) Buick, LaCrosse (V-6), Verano
7. (10) Subaru, BRZ*, Forester (non-turbo)*
8. (1) Scion, FR-S*, xB
9. (14) Porsche, 911*, Cayman*
10. (16) Kia, Optima Hybrid*, Cadenza
11. (3) Acura, RLX*, ILX
12. (7) Volvo, XC70, S60 (5- & 6-cyl.)
13. (21) Hyundai, Santa Fe Sport (turbo), Azera
14. (15) BMW, 320i & 328i (RWD), 4 Series*
15. (27) Lincoln, MKT Ecoboost,*, MKZ (V-6)*
16. (22) Nissan, Pathfinder, Maxima
17. (20) Volkswagen, CC, Passat 1.8T*
18. (25) Cadillac, ATS (turbo)*, ATS (V6)*
19. (9) GMC, Sierra 1500 (V8 4WD), Terrain (4-cyl.)
20. (6) Infiniti, Q50*, QX80*
21. (17) Chevrolet, Cruze 1.4T, Equinox (4-cyl.)
22. (18) Chrysler, 300, Town & Country
23. (26) Ford, Fiesta, Fusion (1.5L Ecoboost)
24. (13) Mercedes-Benz, CLA 250*, GLK (diesel)
25. (24) Dodge, Dart 1.4T*, Dart (2.0L)*
26. (19) Ram, 2500 & 3500 (turbodiesel),1500 (V-8 4WD)
27. (23) Jeep, Cherokee (4-cyl.)*, Patriot
28. (NA) Fiat, 500L, 500

*Based on one model year; redesigned or introduced for 2014

Consumer Reports‘ most — and least — reliable individual models of cars and SUVs

Most reliable cars
Scion xB
Lexus CT 200h
Lexus ES 300h Hybrid

Most reliable SUVs
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Toyota Highlander (V6)
Lexus RX

Least reliable cars
Fiat 500L
Ford Fiesta
Mercedes-Benz CLA 250

Least reliable SUVs
Jeep Cherokee (4-cyl.)
Nissan Pathfinder
Jeep Grand Cherokee (diesel)

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