J.D. Power has released its annual US vehicle dependability study for 2021, which saw Lexus, Porsche, and Kia rise to the top of the ranks as the most “dependable” vehicle brands on sale in the United States.

The study, now in its 32nd year, measures the number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of three-year-old vehicles (i.e. manufactured in approx. 2018). A lower score in the J.D. Power study means that the model is more “dependable”.

For the 2021 study, the company received responses from 33,251 verified owners, fielded from July 2020 through November 2020.

The Lexus ES ranked first in dependability within its segment.

What is slightly contentious though, is that the study gives equal weightage to all 177 specific problems from eight different categories: audio/communication/entertainment/navigation (ACEN); engine/transmission; exterior; interior; features/controls/displays (FCD); driving experience; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; and seats.

The equal weightage system means that a small Bluetooth connectivity issue with the infotainment system is essentially as “problematic” as a faulty gearbox. According to J.D. Power vice president of global automotive, Dave Sargent, the method is justified as “most owners aren’t experiencing their vehicles breaking down or falling apart” these days, but vehicle technology continues to function poorly or inconsistently.

“If an owner can’t rely on a system to work as they expect, it is also considered a lack of dependability. It affects their overall view of the vehicle and their likelihood of staying loyal to their automaker,” Sargent explains.

Lexus’s infotainment system with its trackpad-based controls is far from ideal.

We might not agree with their standards for gauging “dependability”, but even when disregarding that, we were still surprised to see the Japanese luxury brand topping the charts in this study, given that our recent experiences with Lexus’ infotainment system have been less than ideal… but we digress.

Are infotainment systems really as important as a working engine these days?

In terms of scores, Lexus took first place again for the ninth time in the last 10 years, with a score of 81 PP100. Porsche ranked second at 86 PP100, followed by Kia at 97 PP100. Toyota loses out on the top three by just one single point, coming in at 98 PP100.

Kia was the Most Improved Player this year, with a reduction of 35 PP100 from its results in 2020. This is also the first time Kia has ranked the highest overall among the mass market brands. However, the “Most Dependable Model” title once again went to the Porsche 911, taking the crown twice in the last three years.

The Porsche 911, ranked as the most dependable model in the United States.

Overall, J.D. Power says that vehicle dependability has improved to the best level ever, with an industry average of just 121 PP100 – the lowest in the study’s history, and a 13 PP100 (10%) improvement from 2020. This is also one of the largest improvements the study has ever seen in recent times; the past two years had improvements of just 2 PP100 and 6 PP100, respectively.

Of course, being the cynical bunch that we are, we can’t help to think that a large part of this is due to Covid-19 pandemic, which means people are driving lesser than before, thus have lesser opportunities to discover these problems.

Anyway, the results in full can be seen in the chart below. Do you agree with the rankings, and our take on it? Let us know in the comments below!

Tesla, although given a score, was not officially ranked in the results as J.D. Power was not granted permission (by Tesla) to survey its owners in 15 states. If included, it’ll be ranked 30/34.

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Believes that a car is more than just numbers and facts, it's about the emotions they convey. Any car can be the right car for someone, but he'll probably pick a hot hatch over anything else.