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Market Insight: Survey uncovers infotainment woes

Lost touch: Malfunctioning multi-function controllers and unresponsive touch-screens have come under fire in the latest Consumer Reports car reliability survey.

Consumer Reports identifies infotainment as leading source of new car unreliability

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Market Insight logo30 Oct 2014

THE annual Consumer Reports car reliability survey has identified infotainment systems as a “growing reliability plague” among vehicles during their first year on the market, with in-car electronics generating more complaints from respondents than any other category.

Although Consumer Reports is United States-based and some models tested are either specific to that market or built in different factories to their equivalent Australian-sold models, the survey’s broad brush reveals some useful insights for prospective car-buyers Down Under.

Of the brands represented in Australia, owners of Fiat, Ford, Honda, Infiniti and Jeep models reported “significant problem rates from infotainment bugs and glitches”.

The Infiniti Q50 sedan was the worst infotainment glitch offender, with more than one in five owners surveyed having complaints in this area.

Previous Consumer Reports surveys uncovered complaints about unresponsive touchscreens and problems pairing phones using Bluetooth but more problems arose in this year’s survey, such as malfunctioning multi-use controllers.

Consumer Reports automotive testing director Jake Fisher said problems with infotainment systems can be an indicator of deeper reliability issues.

“A close look at the results suggests that cars with a lot of in-car electronic issues usually have plenty of other troubles, too,” he explained.

However there are signs that some manufacturers are addressing such problems, with Consumer Reports using the Ford Explorer’s MyTouch system as an example – complaints peaked at 28 per cent in previous years, while the 2014 model had just a three per cent complaint rate.

Similarly, Consumer Reports refused to recommend the Honda Accord V6 last year due to a glitchy HondaLink system, but technology updates mean this model has since been upgraded to recommended status.

Consumer Reports auto engineer Tom Mutchler reiterated the organisation’s advice: “If reliability is really important to you, skip the first year of a new model, give the manufacturer time to get the bugs out.”

Predictably, Lexus and Toyota respectively held onto first and second place in the overall rankings but Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion brand came eighth, below seventh-placed Subaru.

Scion’s performance was dragged down by the FR-S sportscar (sold in Australia as the Toyota 86) which also scored poorly in Subaru-badged BRZ guise but the Scion xB, sold in Australia as the Rukus, scored well.

After Toyota and Lexus, the top four was completed by fellow Japanese brands Mazda and Honda but it was not all glory for the Land of the Rising Sun, with Infiniti being the only Japanese brand not improving its reliability scores and plummeting 14 places to 20th position.

Infiniti’s parent company Nissan was also deemed below average as 16th most reliable of the 28 brands rated (having climbed six places from last year), with the Altima sedan, Pathfinder SUV and Sentra small car (sold here as the Pulsar sedan) achieving lacklustre reliability.

Other brands making up the top 10 were Audi (achieving an impressive fifth position in contrast to the 17th place occupied by parent company Volkswagen), Buick (the only US brand rated above average), Porsche (up five places) and Kia (up six places).

Kia’s sister company Hyundai ranked 13th, climbing eight places to secure the largest gain of brands also represented in Australia (15th placed Lincoln was up 12 places).

Of the mainstream German luxury brands, BMW was mid-table in 14th, having risen one place up the ranks, while Mercedes-Benz performed worst with 24th position – and having dropped 11 places, was also the only European brand to significantly decline in the rankings.

But the real wooden spoon went to Fiat-Chrysler, with four of its five brands occupying the lowest reaches of the reliability table, with Dodge in 25th, Ram in 26th, Jeep in 27th and Fiat at the very bottom in 28th while Chrysler led the charge in 22nd place, between Chevrolet and Ford.

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