Ford's high-tech touch screens and dual-clutch transmissions sank the U.S. automaker in the latest Consumer Reports reliability survey, but hybrid and all-electric vehicles fared well.
The survey's most reliable U.S. automaker just two years ago, Ford fell seven places from 20th place in 2011 as rival GM's four brands, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC, improved. Ford and its upscale Lincoln brand were ranked 27th and 26th, respectively, by Consumer Reports subscribers with many respondents complaining about the multimedia "MyFord Touch" and "MyLincoln Touch" infotainment systems and the six-speed "PowerShift" automatic transmissions.
The magazine said more than 20 percent of Ford Explorer owners and lessees who responded to the reliability survey reported vehicle problems. That compares to only 1 percent of owners of the sub-compact Prius c hybrid, the most reliable vehicle in the 2012 Auto Reliability Survey.
"This data shows we have some work to do," Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer told The Wall Street Journal.
Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, told a meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit Ford's expanded use of touch screen multimedia systems and fuel-saving PowerShift transmissions in Fiesta and Focus models "doesn't bode well for the future," the Journal said.
"Ford's bumpy road can been seen in the numbers," said Fisher. "Sixty percent of Ford-branded models and half of Lincoln's were below average in predicted reliability, and none placed above average."
In March, Ford re-booted "MyFord Touch," sending owners a software upgrade to make displays simpler and virtual buttons bigger. Ford owners can also ask dealers to install new software to improve the performance of their PowerShift transmissions.
Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and Ram, ranked 19th, 23rd, 24th and 25th, respectively, were rated slightly better than Ford in the survey and GM vehicles showed the most improvement among domestic brands.
The biggest winners were hybrids and electric vehicles.
The slow-selling all-electric Leaf was Nissan's most reliable car and the plug-in hybrid Volt was Chevrolet's, both with above average reliability. Toyota's Prius family, the standard Prius hybrid, the hatchback wagon Prius v and the new plug-in Prius all were rated above average in predicted reliability.
Fisher said some Priuses have been on the road for more than a decade and have more than 200,000 miles on them with few problems with batteries and drivetrains.
"There's no rocket science to electric cars. There were electric cars before there were gas-powered cars. It seems to be a reliable technology," he said.
Overall, Toyota's three brands -- Scion, Toyota and Lexus -- were the most reliable sold in the United States, with 16 of the Japanese automakers' 27 models at the top of the ratings. Cadillac's CTS coupe was the most reliable domestic passenger car and at No. 11 and Cadillac was the most reliable U.S. brand.
The tiny Prius c had the survey's best score despite criticism from Consumer Reports for a stiff ride, excessive cabin noise and cheap-looking interior trim.
Mazda was No. 4 in the survey, Subaru fifth, Honda sixth, followed by Acura, Audi, Infiniti, Kia, Cadillac, GMC, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Chevrolet, BMW, Hyundai and Volkswagen.
The least reliable vehicles in the survey were Jeep, Volvo, Buick, Mini, Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Lincoln, Ford and Jaguar at 28th. Porsche was not included because of an inadequate sample size of vehicles.
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