Initial Quality Winners
Korean car companies continue to be standouts in terms of quality — for the second consecutive year, Genesis, Kia and Hyundai are the three highest-ranking car brands in the annual J.D Power U.S. Initial Quality Study. For five years in a row Kia has topped the mass-market brands. Global marketing information services company J.D. Power has been conducting this important auto industry study for more than 25 years. An automaker’s initial quality ranking is based on the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100). A lower IQS score indicates higher quality. The study is based on responses from 76,256 purchasers and lessees of new 2019 model-year vehicles, surveyed after 90 days of ownership.
Decline in Quality
According to the 2019 IQS survey, new-vehicle quality stayed flat compared to last year — the first year without an improvement since 2014. A sign that perhaps car companies are not concentrating on the right features, more brands worsened than improved over the past 12 months. “Automakers continue to make progress in areas like infotainment that attract a lot of consumer attention,” said J.D. Power Vice President of Global Automotive Dave Sargent. “However, some traditional problems crept up this year including paint imperfections, brake and suspension noises, engines not starting and the ‘check engine’ light coming on early in the ownership experience. Also, more people are having issues with their advanced driver assistance systems, which are critical for building consumer trust in future automated vehicles,” Sargent concluded.
The category with the most complaints continues to be infotainment systems; however, this area has also experienced the most improvement for this year. Another area that continues to see more problems each year is driver-assistance systems, which include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, collision avoidance/alert systems, and blind-spot warning. These are among the most complex systems in a vehicle, but they are so integral to the driving experience that issues or failures within these systems cause great frustration.
Winners and Losers
For the second year in a row, the Porsche 911 ranks highest for an individual model with a score of 58 PP100. Also repeating its success, the Genesis brand ranks highest overall with 63 PP100. Kia ranks second while Hyundai takes the third spot, making this the second time that three Korean brands are at the top of the rankings. Ford and Lincoln round out the top five, making this the first time both Ford brands are in the top five at the same time. Land Rover is the most improved brand with 37 PP100 less than in 2018. Jaguar, Dodge and Volvo also show impressive improvement, and this is the highest Dodge has ever placed in the study. Even with these improvements, Land Rover and Jaguar sit at the bottom of the rankings, with the latter showing 130 PP100 for 2019. In addition to evaluating manufacturers, J.D. Power ranks vehicles in 20 different categories. Here’s a look at the IQS category winners for 2019.
Small Car — Kia Rio
The least expensive car in the Kia lineup, Rio was all new for the 2018 model year and ranks as the highest-quality small car for the second year in a row. Longer and wider than the previous model, the new Rio fits well with the rest of the Kia lineup thanks to the latest version of Kia’s “tiger nose” grille. The Rio gets power from a 1.6-liter engine producing 130 horsepower while delivering up to 37 mpg on the highway. The LX is the entry-level trim of the Rio with standard features that include a 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, a split-folding rear seat, air-conditioning, and a 5-inch display with an AM / FM / MP3 / Satellite audio system.
Small Premium Car — BMW 2 Series
BMW’s small entry-luxury model for the U.S. market, the 2 Series joined the lineup as a 2014 model to replace the 1 Series. The 2 Series is a modern example of the sporty, agile, fun-to-drive cars on which BMW built its reputation in the 1960s. Available as a coupe or convertible, the 2 Series features an upscale interior and can be had with a range of powerful engines as well as rear- or all-wheel drive. For those looking for the ultimate in performance, BMW added the M2 Competition for 2019, which boasts a 405-horsepower turbocharged engine and handling befitting a BMW M car.
Compact Car — Kia Forte
Completely redesigned for the 2019 model year, this entry-level Kia receives updated features and a fresh new look. Forte takes on many styling cues that originated with the sporty Stinger, including the signature Kia grille, long hood and fastback-like shape. Unique headlights and a sculpted hood add to the strong presence, as do a rear lip spoiler and available LED taillights. Inside, the Forte has a standard 8-inch touchscreen display as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Forte also is available with the latest high-tech safety features, including automatic emergency braking.
Compact Sporty Car — MINI Cooper
One of the smallest cars available in America, the MINI Cooper received an update last year that included a new MINI logo, new alloy wheels, MINI logo projection from the driver’s side exterior mirror, new interior features such as wireless phone charging and rear LED lights with a Union Jack design. A rearview camera and park-distance control are standard across the MINI lineup. Even though the styling has been updated, there’s still no mistaking that classic “bulldog” look, and the MINI retains its fun-to-drive characteristics. The MINI Cooper is great fun with its base-level turbocharged 3-cylinder engine; however, the top-level MINI Cooper John Cooper Works takes that same small package and turns up the heat. With 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque on tap from the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine as well as suspension upgrades, a rear spoiler, sport seats and an aero kit, the MINI JCW feel like a go kart for the road with precise handling and potent acceleration.
Compact Premium Car — Genesis G70
Genesis spun off as an entirely new brand for the 2017 model year, launched by parent company Hyundai to move its clientele upscale. The luxury brand now offers three models with the new G70 introduced for 2019. Earlier this year the G70 was named the North American Car of the Year. Well equipped with features such as power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-inch color touchscreen display and 18-inch wheels, the G70 also features the latest advanced safety tech as standard equipment across the board. This includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, high-beam assist and driver attention warning.
Midsize Car — Chevrolet Malibu (tie)
A familiar name in the Chevrolet lineup off and on for more than 50 years, the Malibu gets fresh styling and upgraded features for the 2019 model year. Sales are not as high as they once were, since typical passenger cars buyers now tend to opt for more popular crossovers, but the Malibu is still the best-selling passenger car in the General Motors portfolio. Chevrolet is hoping to give the Malibu a boost with the all-new Malibu RS, which stands out via a black sport grille, black bowtie emblems, a rear spoiler, dual exhaust and 18-inch machined wheels. Malibu is also available as a very efficient hybrid — the most fuel-efficient American vehicle without a plug. The 1.8-liter direct-injection 4-cylinder gas engine teamed with a 2-motor drive unit delivers 182 horsepower and up to 49 mpg on the highway.
Midsize Car — Ford Fusion (tie)
Ford has announced that it will be ending production of its passenger car models, including the best-selling American passenger car — the Fusion. Despite its imminent demise, the Fusion is holding its own with this high ranking in initial quality. Fusion has been refreshed for the 2019 model year with subtle exterior design changes, interior improvements and standard Co-Pilot360, which includes automatic emergency braking, a blind-spot information system, lane-keeping assist and a rearview camera.
Midsize Sporty Car — Dodge Challenger
Plenty of retro-designed vehicles have been marketed in America, but Dodge does one of the best jobs at this, this time capturing the look of the classic muscle car and incorporating it into the thoroughly modern Challenger. The 2-door Challenger offers the latest in high-tech entertainment and safety features, but this retro-looking coupe is really all about performance. The Challenger is available with a variety of high-powered engines, ranging from a 305-horsepower V6 to the extreme Challenger Hellcat Redeye that boasts a massive 797-horsepower supercharged V8 that moves this modern muscle car to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds on to a top speed that exceeds 200 mph. Even more impressive, this beast can seat up to 5 passengers and has an EPA rating of 22 mpg highway.
Midsize Premium Car — Mercedes-Benz CLS
A sedan with the lines of a coupe has become a common design style in America, but in 2003 Mercedes-Benz arguably started this trend when the first CLS hit the market. An all-new third generation of the groundbreaking CLS has been introduced for the 2019 model year. Still exhibiting the 4-door coupe look, the new CLS showcases a Mercedes-Benz design with a new forward-slanting grille flanked by low-set headlights that seem to wrap around the corners. Inside are many of the high-end features and displays found in the recently launched S-Class.
Large Car — Nissan Maxima
At one time dubbed the “4-Door Sports Car,” the current-generation Maxima retook this nickname when it was introduced for the 2016 model year. For 2019 the Nissan flagship gets revised exterior styling including a larger V-Motion grille, interior updates and available Nissan Safety Shield 360 with advanced driver-assist systems. Inside, the updated Maxima features a driver-oriented cockpit and seating for five occupants, with a new seat insert pattern and charcoal headliner for the Maxima SR and Platinum Reserve Package. The exclusive powertrain for all trim levels is a 300-horsepower version of Nissan’s award winning 3.5-liter V6 engine combined with a CVT transmission.
Small SUV — Kia Sportage
The Sportage has been in the Kia lineup for more than 20 years, and the small crossover has come a long way since that original. The current version was last redesigned in 2017 when it received updated styling to match the rest of the Kia lineup, featuring the signature Kia tiger-nose grille. The Sportage is also one of the safest SUVs in its class with an available forward collision warning system and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, which can anticipate a potential collision with another vehicle or pedestrian and automatically apply the brakes to lessen or avoid the impact. Look for an all-new 2020 Kia Sportage to begin arriving in showrooms later this year.
Compact SUV — Chevrolet Equinox
Chevrolet’s best-selling SUV, the Equinox was updated last year with new styling and an array of standard features. Equinox stands out with projector-beam headlights, LED running lights, wider horizontal taillights and LED taillights for upper trim levels. Inside, the new Equinox features a down-and-away instrument panel with a low windshield base for improved outward visibility. Three engine choices for Equinox are a 170-horsepower 1.5-liter turbo, a 252-horse 2.0-liter turbo combined with a new 9-speed automatic transmission, and a 136-horsepower 1.6-liter turbodiesel.
Compact Premium SUV — BMW X4
BMW introduced a new second-generation X4 Sport Activity Coupe for the 2019 model year featuring a new, more aggressive front end with larger kidney grilles and swept-back headlights that follow the new look of its sibling, the redesigned X3. The X4 continues to separate itself from the X3 with a sloping fastback roofline and offers a sportier drive than its predecessor, with a lower center of gravity and revised suspension. The 2019 BMW X4 offers standard Navigation Professional with a 10.25-inch touchscreen display, iDrive Touch Controller, and real-time traffic and parking information. Standard safety equipment includes active guard with frontal collision warning, automatic city collision mitigation and braking, including daytime pedestrian detection, and speed limit information. BMW X4 now features 3-Zone climate control, standard xLine design with sport seats and 19-inch wheels, and an available Panoramic moonroof. A new high-performance X4 M will join the lineup shortly, boasting more than 500 available horsepower.
Midsize SUV — Hyundai Santa Fe
Santa Fe has been Hyundai’s most successful SUV in the U.S. market, and this success is likely to continue with the arrival of an all-new fourth-generation 2019 model which features a bolder design, more interior space and improved ride comfort. The new Santa Fe replaces the Santa Fe Sport as the Korean brand’s 5-passenger offering, while a new Santa Fe XL will offer three rows of seats. This fourth-generation Hyundai SUV comes with the latest high-tech safety features as standard equipment, including automatic emergency braking and blind-spot collision warning, as well as lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Also standard is safe exit assist, which locks the rear doors to prevent rear-seat occupants from opening them into traffic when vehicles are approaching from behind.
Midsize Premium SUV — Lexus RX
One of the first luxury crossovers when it debuted more than 20 years ago, the current RX continues to combine the utility of an SUV with the ride and comfort of a luxury sedan. The most recent design features the Lexus signature spindle grille as well as a luxurious interior trimmed in leather, wood and other fine materials. The RX remains the best-selling model in the Lexus lineup, and this success is likely to continue since Lexus upped the utility of the RX with a new RX L trim, which is slightly larger and offers seating for up to seven with a new third row. The RX is available as the RX 350 or the RX 450h — the latter featuring a powerful and fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain.
Midsize Pickup — Ford Ranger
Following an eight-year hiatus, the Ford Ranger returns to the U.S. market for the 2019 model year. The new Ranger is available in three trims (XL, XLT, Lariat), two body styles (SuperCab, SuperCrew) and 2WD or 4WD. All variants come standard with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine that produces 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Inside, the 2019 Ford Ranger offers seating for up to five, a center stack with an 8-inch touchscreen for the available SYNC 3 system and dual LCD screens in the instrument cluster to display vehicle, navigation and audio information. Even though Ranger is already sold in other markets around the world, the 2019 model has been engineered specifically for the North American market.
Minivan — Kia Sedona
The minivan hasn’t been completely replaced by the SUV, and the Kia Sedona is one of the reasons why. With styling similar to the rest of the Kia lineup, the Sedona receives refresh for the 2019 model year with a bolder appearance as well as a more refined interior. Sedona is available with the latest in advanced safety technology including forward collision avoidance and blind-spot collision warning. Sedona can also be equipped with a new rear entertainment system that adds 10.1-inch dual touchscreens located on the backs of the front seats. Adding to the level of available luxury are the second row “First Class” reclining lounge seats with retractable footrests.
Large SUV — Chevrolet Tahoe
There aren’t many vehicles on the road that compete with the Chevrolet Tahoe. With seating for up to nine occupants, plenty of cargo capacity, the capability to tow more than 8,500 pounds, and 9 inches of ground clearance for off-road adventures, the Tahoe is one of the most capable SUVs on the road. Available with 2WD or 4WD, Tahoe can also be equipped with a suite of safety features as well as 4G LTE connectivity with a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless phone charging, power-folding second- and third-row seats, an 8-inch color touchscreen and multiple USB ports. Last year Chevrolet added the Tahoe RST special edition featuring a street-performance look with most of the chrome deleted; a gloss black grille and mirror caps; and black roof rails, window trim, badging and Chevy bowties. The available Performance Package includes a 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 engine, a new 10-speed automatic transmission and Magnetic Ride Control suspension with performance calibration.
Large Premium SUV – Cadillac Escalade
The largest luxury SUV on the U.S. market, the Escalade makes a statement with its massive chrome grille, unique vertical LED lighting that projects through stacked crystal lenses, and 22-inch aluminum wheels. Carrying its occupants in the utmost comfort, Escalade is available with heated front- and second-row seats, an advanced Bose audio system and an optional Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system. Thanks to triple-sealed doors, acoustic-laminate glass and Bose Active Noise Cancelation technology, the Escalade provides a quiet, solid ride.
Light Duty Pickup — Nissan Titan
When Nissan introduced an all-new Titan XD in 2016, it became a serious contender in the very competitive full-size pickup segment. The Titan XD is big — even by truck standards – slotting between a half-ton and three-quarter-ton truck. A year later Nissan followed up with a proper half-ton Titan. The Titan is easy to spot with its large grille and bold styling, and the truck can be configured as a Regular Cab, King Cab or 4-door Crew Cab. Powered by a 5.6-liter V8 engine producing 390 horsepower, the Titan can tow almost 10,000 pounds when properly equipped.
Heavy Duty Pickup — Chevrolet Silverado HD
When consumers climb into the heavy-duty truck market, their choices narrow considerably. The Silverado HD combines impressive capability with a comfortable cabin and driving ease. The latter is further improved with Chevrolet’s New Digital Steering Assist power steering — designed to make hauling and trailering more manageable via electronic controls that enhance road holding and stability on the highway. Silverado HD can tow as much as 23,300 pounds when properly equipped. Look for an all-new and more capable 2020 Silverado HD arriving later this year.