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Audi tops consumer reports rankings, emission scandal aside
[NEW YORK\ Luxury carmaker Audi was named best brand in the US by Consumer Reports despite the emissions-cheating scandal engulfing its parent company, Volkswagen AG.
The German maker of the A6 sedan beat out rivals like Lexus, Porsche and BMW through a combination of consistently excellent road tests and owners reporting few trips to the mechanic, according to the magazine.
"We're seeing consistency over the last several years of Audi getting it right," Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports director of automotive testing, said. "They're combining good reliability with good performing vehicles, and that's why they're on top.''
The 2016 rankings, released Tuesday, influence car buyers and are published in the Yonkers, New York-based magazine's annual automobile issue. Consumer Reports tests and evaluates cars for how well they drive, interior-finish quality, safety and reliability. The brand report card aggregates information about every individual model reviewed, as well as results from satisfaction surveys submitted by the magazine's 8 million subscribers.
Audi earned the best-brand distinction even though several models with 3-liter diesel engines - such as the A6 Quattro, A7 Quattro, A8, A8L and Q5 - remain under investigation for violating US emissions laws. Those models weren't included in the magazine's evaluations, which are based solely on road tests and predicted reliability of models currently for sale.
"The rankings don't account for corporate practices or brand perceptions," the magazine said. It believes Volkswagen "should be held accountable for manipulating emissions testing with its vehicles."
Brands with a lineup of mature, continuously updated vehicles do best in the rankings, the magazine said. That was the case with Audi, which has opted for incremental improvements to its lineup over dramatic, across-the-board changes, said Mark Rechtin, the magazine's car content development team leader.
"All the things that used to bedevil the brand, like gremlins in the electronics, we're not seeing it in our survey data," Mr Rechtin said.
Transmission Issues Brands that have rolled out balky new transmissions across their lineups all at once, like Honda Motor Co and Nissan Motor Co, dropped in this year's rankings, Mr Rechtin said.
Audi was one of three brands to receive a magazine endorsement of every model reviewed, along with Subaru and Mazda Motor Corp. Subaru, the brand made by Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd, was second in the brand rankings, followed by Toyota Motor Corp's Lexus brand, Porsche and BMW AG.
BMW and Porsche scored the highest in Consumer Reports tests at its track in Connecticut, but they were rated slightly lower than Lexus because of average predicted reliability. Lexus and Toyota had the highest scores in that category.
Buick was the only US brand to crack the top 10. Brands with below-average reliability made up the bottom third of the 30 brands ranked, including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's Jeep brand at number 29 and Fiat in dead last. Ford Motor Co. was 16, and Chevrolet was 20.
Fiat Chrysler issued a statement saying feedback from outside evaluators such as Consumer Reports help guide product improvements. Internal measurements are showing progress, it said.
"We encourage customers to experience our vehicles for themselves," the London-based company said. "We continue to aggressively pursue both product and launch-quality improvements."
The magazine also released its top picks for different categories of cars and SUVs. Japanese brands won seven of the 10 awards, including Toyota's Camry, the best midsize car and the Sienna minivan. Its Lexus RX won best luxury SUV. Subaru, whose parent company is half-owned by Toyota, won the best compact car award with its Impreza and best small SUV with the Forester.
The Honda Fit won best subcompact car, and the Mazda MX-5 Miata was named best sports car under US$40,000. The Kia Sorento was named best midsize SUV, which shows the Korean brands are achieving or exceeding the highest benchmarks in the industry, Mr Rechtin said.
"When you get into a Sorento now, it feels like a really nice vehicle," Rechtin said. "It drives well, and the transmission is smooth. They used to be kind of raspy and agricultural."
US automakers had two vehicles in the magazine's best-of categories. The Chevrolet Impala repeated as best large car. And Ford's F-150, which underwent a major design overhaul including widespread substitution of aluminum for steel, won best pickup truck.
"Going aluminum with such a huge volume vehicle, and not having heating problems right out of the gate was really good for them,'' Mr Fisher said. "It moves the technology forward, and it moves the industry forward. It was a big gamble for Ford, and Ford hasn't always been successful in its gambles.''
The magazine declined to name a best overall vehicle, a category won by Tesla Motors Inc's Model S in each of the last two years. It also passed on picking a best green car, denying an accolade that had gone to the Toyota Prius for the previous four years.
Tesla owners have reported quality problems like balky door handles, mechanical flaws in the powertrain and failing batteries, which mean the magazine may not be able to recommend new vehicles like the Model 3, expected later this year, Mr Rechtin said.
The magazine changed its methodology this year in an effort to get automakers to offer more safety features as standard equipment. Crash-avoiding technology like forward-collision warning systems and automatic emergency braking have been proven effective at saving lives, but too often auto companies only offer them as options that have to be purchased separately, according to the magazine. They should be standard, it said, and brands that include them in every model will get extra credit in the rankings from now on.