Initial Quality Winners
For the first time in the history of the annual J.D. Power U.S. Initial Quality Study, Ram takes top honors as the highest ranking automotive brand in America. The Dodge brand — Ram’s sibling under the Stellantis umbrella — ranks second after claiming top honors in 2020. Overall, new vehicle quality improves 2 percent in 2021 versus a year earlier. The 2021 IQS marks the 35th year that global marketing information services company J.D. Power has been conducting this important auto industry study — one that winning automakers highlight in advertisements and shoppers use to help determine their purchase decisions.
Determining IQS Winners
An automaker’s initial quality ranking is based on the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles, or PP100. A lower IQS score indicates higher quality. The study is based on responses from 110,827 purchasers and lessees of new 2021 model-year vehicles, surveyed early in the ownership process. For 2021 the IQS study is based on a 223-question survey organized into nine vehicle categories: infotainment; features, controls and displays; exterior; driving assistance; interior; powertrain; seats; driving experience; and climate.
Infotainment continues to be the category with the highest number of problems, accounting for 25 percent of issues overall. The 2021 study reveals that smartphone connectivity causes the most headaches among new-car buyers. “Owners are caught in the middle when vehicle and phone technologies don’t properly connect,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power. “This year there are many examples of smartphone technology not working as intended in new vehicles. With more vehicles being fitted with the wireless technology owners want, the study reveals an increase in connectivity problems between smartphones and vehicles, leaving many owners unhappy,” Sargent observed.
The Nissan Maxima ranks highest in the 2021 study with a score of 85 PP100. From a brand standpoint, Ram trucks score highest at 128 PP100, followed by Dodge, Lexus, Mitsubishi and Nissan. The 2021 study marks the sixth-consecutive year that mass-market vehicles rank higher than premium brands. In addition to evaluating manufacturers, J.D. Power evaluates vehicles in 23 different categories. Here’s a look at the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Initial Quality Study vehicle category winners.
Small Car — Hyundai Accent
One of the lowest-priced cars in America, the Accent underwent some revisions a few years ago, including fresh styling that fits well with the rest of the Hyundai lineup. Last year this entry-level model received an updated Smartstream 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine producing 120 horsepower. When teamed with Hyundai’s new Intelligent Variable Transmission, Accent fuel economy improves to 41 mpg on the highway. The base-level Accent SE is the only trim with a 6-speed manual transmission, and the car comes well equipped with air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, a 5-inch display screen, a rearview camera, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with four speakers, and 15-inch steel wheels.
Small Premium Car — BMW 2 Series
BMW offers the entry-level 2 Series in coupe or convertible form, available as either the 230i or the more powerful M240i. The 2 Series received updates last year including darker taillights; a high-gloss-black kidney frame for the 230i; Cerium Gray kidney frame, badges and front/side air inserts for M240i; and high-gloss black mirror caps on the M240i. The 230i is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that produces 248 horsepower, while the sportier M240i gets an M Performance TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cylinder engine that produces 335 horsepower. Watch for a new 2 Series arriving later this year for 2022.
Compact Car — Kia Forte
Redesigned in 2019, Kia Forte continues as the highest-quality compact car in the J.D Power 2021 U.S. Initial Quality Study. The stylish Forte is powered by a fuel-efficient 2.0-liter 147-horsepower engine matched to a 6-speed manual gearbox. According to the U.S. EPA, the base-level Forte FE is rated at 37 mpg on the highway. Standard equipment on this small sedan includes air-conditioning, an 8-inch touchscreen display, a rearview camera with dynamic parking guide, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, forward collision avoidance, lane-departure warning and driver attention warning.
Compact Premium Car — Lexus RC
Coupes are not typically best-sellers in America, although Lexus offers two of these sporty models with the RC as the entry point. This stylish 2-door incorporates the large signature Lexus grille with sharply angled headlights. Optional triple-beam LED headlights give this sport coupe a high-tech look. Inside, the RC has a pleasant mix of leather and satin-finish trim for a luxury / performance vibe. The RC is available with rear- or all-wheel drive in a range of powertrains that includes a 3.5-liter V6 engine producing 311 horsepower.
Midsize Car — Nissan Altima
One of only a few passenger cars still maintaining places on the U.S. best-sellers list, the Altima received major styling updates in 2019 with a look that fits well within the Nissan lineup. Two engines are offered, including the first production engine that uses variable compression — a lower compression ratio provides more power, while a higher ratio gets better fuel economy. Available with front- or all-wheel drive, the Altima comes with a range of advanced safety features including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, high-beam headlight assist, lane departure warning, rear door alert and a rearview monitor.
Midsize Premium Car — Cadillac CT5
Cadillac introduced the CT5 compact sedan for the 2020 model year, and this relatively new model repeats last year’s feat as the highest-ranked midsize premium car. Built on Cadillac’s rear-wheel-drive architecture, the CT5 features a fastback profile inspired by the Escala concept car, moving away from Cadillac’s hard-edged designs to a more fluid, sculpted aesthetic. The CT5 is offered in multiple trim levels ranging from luxurious to sporty. The standard powerplant is a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, while a more powerful 3.0-liter 335-horsepower twin-turbo V6 is also available. Cadillac’s Super Cruise technology — hands-free assistance for highway driving — is also available on select CT5 trim levels.
Upper Midsize Premium Car — Genesis G80
After Hyundai launched the Genesis luxury brand about five years ago, the G80 became the second model in the lineup. As an all-new G80 for the 2021 model year, the car takes many styling cues from the flagship G90: the new G80 wears the large Crest Grille flanked by double-lined quad headlights — now a signature look for the brand. Power comes from either a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine or a V6 powerplant, and both are available with rear- or all-wheel drive. The interior of the G80 exudes luxury thanks to available leather and open-pore wood trim, narrow air vents that span the dashboard, and a 14.5-inch infotainment system display.
Premium Sporty Car — Chevrolet Corvette
After years of rumors about a mid-engine Corvette, last year Chevrolet came to market with the eighth generation of this legendary sports car — the first mid-engine Corvette in history. Maintaining its Corvette identity but with new styling, the all-new Stingray is designed with better weight distribution, vastly improved performance and a high-tech cockpit. Chevrolet powers the C8 Corvette with an all-new LT2 6.2-liter V8 engine producing 495 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. No manual transmission is offered — instead, the engine gets teamed with a quick-shifting dual-clutch 8-speed automatic gearbox. This combination allows the Stingray to jump to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds — the fastest time ever for an entry-level Corvette.
Large Car — Nissan Maxima
At one time dubbed the “4-Door Sports Car,” the current-generation Maxima retook this nickname when it premiered for the 2016 model year. In 2019 the Nissan flagship received revised exterior styling including a larger V-Motion grille, interior updates and Nissan Safety Shield 360 with advanced driver-assist systems as standard equipment. 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 Soul
All new for the 2020 model year, the Kia Soul offers fresh styling and an array of new features. The Soul retains its iconic shape while adopting a modern look with slim headlights, LED daytime running lights and boomerang-shaped taillights that frame the rear window. Available in multiple trim levels, the Soul’s entry-level LX comes with cloth seat trim, a trip computer, a 7-inch color touchscreen display, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, one USB outlet, a split-folding rear seat and 16-inch steel wheels.
Small Premium SUV — Lexus UX
Toyota’s premium brand introduced the entry-level UX for the 2019 model year as the first Lexus to use the company’s new Global Architecture — Compact platform. Although it has an exterior design similar to the larger NX and RX models, the UX possesses a more aggressive look with a large spindle grille and flared fenders that dominate the front view. The UX is offered in two versions: UX 200 and UX 250h — the latter using a new fourth-generation hybrid drive system for a total system output of 181 horsepower. E-Four All-Wheel Drive adds an additional electric motor at the rear axle to give the 250h AWD capability.
Compact SUV — Kia Sportage
As Kia’s compact crossover, Sportage has been one of the Korean automaker’s top-selling models in the U.S. market for many years. Redesigned for the 2020 model year, the Sportage has a more aggressive exterior including new headlights with available LED turn indicators, redesigned projector-beam fog lights, available LED headlights with available LED fog lights, as well as a new grille, front bumper and wheel designs. Sportage comes well equipped with a standard 8-inch touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and available wireless smartphone charging.
Compact Premium SUV — BMW X4
BMW introduced a second-generation X4 Sports Activity Coupe in 2019, featuring a 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 thanks to a sloping fastback roofline; it offers a sportier driving experience than its predecessor thanks to a lower center of gravity and revised suspension. The extensive X4 standard equipment list includes 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.
Midsize SUV — Nissan Murano
One of the more stylish crossovers on the market, Nissan’s Murano received exterior updates in 2019 including a larger, more prominent V-Motion grille flanked by redesigned LED headlights and new LED fog lights. Murano comes with Nissan Safety Shield 360 as standard equipment — a package of active safety and assistance technologies that provides active driver assist, crash avoidance and pedestrian detection. Offered with front- or all-wheel drive, the Murano gets motivation from a 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 powerplant teamed with an Xtronic continuously variable transmission.
Midsize Premium SUV — Lexus RX
One of the first luxury crossovers when it debuted as a 1998 model, the RX combines the utility of an SUV with the ride and comfort of a luxury sedan. A few years ago, Lexus upped the utility quotient of the RX by introducing the RX L, which is slightly larger and offers seating for up to seven via a third row. Both the original and L versions are available as the RX 350 or the RX 450h, the latter featuring a potent yet fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain. The RX was also the first Lexus to offer Android Auto connectivity in addition to existing Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa integration.
Upper Midsize SUV — Kia Telluride
The largest SUV ever offered by Kia and created specifically for the U.S. market, the Telluride arrived last year with seating for up to eight occupants. The big SUV is powered by a 3.8-liter V6 engine producing 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission and an available active on-demand all-wheel-drive system. The stylish Telluride gets many high-end features such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel; optional heated and ventilated seats for the first and second rows; available double-stitched, quilted leather-trimmed seats; simulated brushed metal and matte finish wood; and reclining third-row seats — all adding to this big SUV’s appeal.
Upper Midsize Premium SUV — BMW X6
More than 10 years ago, BMW debuted the X6 — a Sports Activity Coupe that combines the attributes of a sport-utility vehicle with a coupelike roofline. For the 2020 model year, BMW introduced the third generation of this sporty crossover. The X6’s updated styling features slim, trapezoidal Adaptive Full LED headlights and slim L-shaped LED taillights. The roofline flows into a double bubble at the rear, with twin spoilers above the rear glass. Three trim levels are offered, topping out with the X6 M50 sporting a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter TwinPower V8 engine producing 523 horsepower.
Large SUV — Toyota Sequoia
Even as the American automotive landscape remains dominated by car-based crossovers, Toyota remains one of the few manufacturers continuing to offer a range of truck-based SUVs, headed up by the Sequoia. Although it hasn’t undergone a major update in many years, the Sequoia still stands tall with a bold grille flanked by large LED headlights and fog lights. Although the Sequoia is one of the oldest SUVs in the Toyota lineup, the company has done an admirable job keeping it up to date. Sequoia offers an abundance of storage up front with dual glove boxes, multiple cupholders and a massive center console. Motivating the Sequoia is a 5.7-liter V8 engine producing 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque, teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Large Premium SUV — BMW X7
As the flagship Sports Activity Vehicle of the BMW lineup, the X7 takes its place as the next logical progression from the X1, X2, X3, X4, X5 and X6. While clearly identifiable as a BMW, the X7 is a thoroughly modern take on BMW design with slim twin headlights flanking the largest kidney grille ever crafted for a BMW; together these give the X7 a wide, aggressive stance. The X7’s luxurious interior has leather and wood trim as well as dual 12.3-inch display screens. Power emanates from either a turbocharged 335-horsepower 6-cylinder engine or 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 that produces 456 horsepower.
Midsize Pickup — Jeep Gladiator
Although a pickup truck had not been part of the Jeep lineup in nearly 30 years, for 2020 the brand returned to this lucrative market with the all-new Gladiator. Much more than simply a Wrangler with a pickup truck bed, the Gladiator shares only about half its parts with the legendary off-roader. Yet this versatile pickup carries the attributes and standout features of the Wrangler — including its off-road capability, open-top driving, and even the removable doors and folding windshield. But Gladiator also is a proper truck with the utility and equipment to meet or exceed all other midsize trucks on the market.
Minivan — Kia Sedona
The minivan hasn’t been completely supplanted 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 received a refresh last year with a bolder appearance as well as a more refined interior. Sedona is available with the latest advanced safety technologies including forward collision avoidance and blind-spot collision warning. The van can also be equipped with a new rear-seat entertainment system that adds 10.1-inch dual touchscreens located on the backs of the front seatbacks. Adding to the available luxury are second-row “First Class” reclining lounge seats with retractable footrests. Sedona production ends after the 2021 model year, to be replaced by the all-new 2022 Carnival MPV.
Light Duty Pickup — Toyota Tundra
With the idea of creating something for everyone, Toyota offers nearly 50 configurations for this full-size pickup via multiple cabs, bed lengths, powertrains and trim levels. Trims range from the basic SR to the luxurious Platinum, and Tundra offers impressive capability as well as Toyota’s reputation for reliability in a very tough truck market. Toyota also offers a TRD Sport version of the Tundra, which features sport-tuned Bilstein shocks and TRD front and rear anti-sway bars, as well as a mesh grille, LED headlights and fog lights, and a color-keyed hood scoop.
Heavy Duty Pickup — Ram 2500 / 3500
Completely redesigned for the 2020 model year, the Ram Heavy Duty is available in dozens of configurations to fit a wide variety of towing, cargo and passenger needs as both the Ram 2500 and Ram 3500. The bold exterior design of the RAM HD is a case study in form following function — Ram engineers needed a 30 percent increase in the grille size for increased airflow, so the new truck has the largest grille ever offered. Inside, the Ram HD follows the same design as the popular Ram 1500 with an available 12-inch touchscreen display as well as a roomy and versatile rear seat. Available with a powerful 6.7-liter Cummins High Output turbodiesel engine that generates 400 horsepower and a mind-boggling 1,075 lb-ft of torque, the Ram Heavy Duty can tow up to 37,100 pounds or carry 7,680 pounds of payload.