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Porsche and Hyundai Lead 2014 J.D. Power Initial Quality Results

DETROIT - Porsche leads J.D. Power's 2014 Initial Quality Study with 74 problems per 100 vehicles in their first 90 days with owners. Hyundai, ranked fourth overall, is the best non-luxury brand with 94 problems per 100 vehicles. Jaguar was second overall with 87 problems, followed by Lexus with 92.

J.D. Power also singles out General Motors for having the most models that lead individual categories, including the Chevrolet Malibu as best among midsize cars with 76 problems per 100 vehicles, and Ford for having improved its MyFordTouch and related Lincoln infotainment systems. Number-six Chevrolet, tied with Kia at 106 problems per 100, and number-ten Lincoln, with 109 problems, are the highest-ranked domestic brands.

"Ford has solved a lot of MyFordTouch problems," which had sunk the company in past surveys, said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive for J.D. Power. He unveiled the findings before the Automotive Press Association luncheon meeting at the Detroit Athletic Club on Wednesday.

As in recent years, the 2014 survey uncovered more design flaws than traditional product defects. Top problems were 1.) Voice-recognition software issues; 2.) Bluetooth/mobile pairing problems; 3.) Easily scuffed or soiled materials; 4.) Excessive wind noise; and 5.) Hard-to-use navigation systems. "Vehicles don't typically break anymore," Sargent said.

His firm sent about a half-million online queries to consumers who registered new cars between November 2013 and February 2014, and received about 86,000 responses. It ranks 33 brands, 207 models and 150 assembly plants.

Traditional quality powerhouse Toyota is fifth, with 105 problems, and Honda is tied with BMW for eighth, with 108. Audi is tied with Chrysler for eleventh, at 111, and Cadillac is tied with Mercedes-Benz at thirteenth, with 115.

Fiat brought up the bottom of the U.S. market, reinforcing old brand stereotypes with 206 problems per 100 vehicles, compared with 146 problems for Jeep, ranked thirty-second. All-new models tend to bring any brand's score down, and Sargent ascribes Fiat's poor number to the launch of the 500L. On the other hand, Jaguar earned second place of the 33 with 87 problems, thanks largely to its latest model.

"The new F-Type is really good," British-born Sargent said, "according to people who own it."

The Porsche Panamera is the single model with the best initial quality, at just 62 problems per 100 vehicles. The Hyundai Accent is second, at 65 per 100, followed by the Mazda2 (66). Because the Accent and the 2 are in the same segment, only Hyundai can advertise it has J.D. Power's "highest ranked small car."

Hyundai also grabs the award for highest-ranked compact, the Elantra and highest-ranked midsize premium car, the Genesis sedan. The Kia Cadenza is the highest-ranked large car, though Sargent noted the car was sold in South Korea for three years before it was introduced here. The new GMC Sierra 1500 brought down its brand's rank to sixteenth, tied with Ford and Ram at 116 problems per 100, equal to the industry average. Buick and Nissan were tied for nineteenth, falling below standard with 120 problems per 100.

Introduction of the '14 half-ton GMC Sierra typifies what happens when an all-new model arrives in showrooms. "The 2013 GMC Sierra was one of the best we've ever seen" in terms of its score, Sargent said. "The 2014 model is about average."

He blames the cold, snowy winter for the industry average rising to 116 problems per 100 vehicles in MY14, compared with 113 in MY13.

"Problems increased by at least six per hundred in colder regions versus 2013," he said, with the Midwest and Northeast averages up, and the South and West mostly flat. Reported problems included engine start-up failures and heated seat malfunctions. "Almost all the things we saw had to do with cold-weather climates."

Introduction of high-volume models can also sink a brand with best-ranked models in other categories. For example, the Mazda Miata is J.D. Powers' highest-ranked compact sporty car, and the Mazda5 is its highest-ranked compact MPV while the Mazda2 is the second-highest-ranked small car, but Mazda overall is ranked twenty-ninth, with 139 problems per 100. Sargent attributed that to the launch of an all-new Mazda3, the brand's most popular car.

Toyota's Cambridge South, Ontario plant, with just 12 problems per 100 vehicles, is J.D. Power's best-ranked plant for assembly line quality, based on vehicle defects and malfunctions only. It assembles the Lexus RX.

See the gallery below for the full list of manufacturers and top-ranked individual models.