Consumer Reports pulls recommendation for Toyota Camry

Reuters

* Magazine drops Camry, Prius v, RAV4 after poor crash testscores

* Toyota, Lexus brands top new-car reliability survey

* Subaru Forester rated most reliable vehicle

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp's reputation for quality took a hit on Monday when influentialmagazine Consumer Reports pulled its recommendation on three ofthe Japanese automaker's vehicles, including its popularflagship Camry sedan, due to poor crash test results.

While Toyota's luxury Lexus and namesake brands were rankedmost reliable in the U.S. auto industry in Consumer Reports'annual new-car reliability survey, the magazine said it will nolonger recommend the Camry, Prius v model or RAV4 sport utilityvehicle because they received "poor" ratings in a crash teststarted last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"We're a year into it, we've got over 50 vehicles tested andthere's enough that are doing adequately on this test that nowwe're making the shift and pulling recommendations from any carthat gets a poor" rating, Jake Fisher, director of auto testingat Consumer Reports, said of the IIHS test.

"Honestly, we don't take this lightly, but virtually everyvehicle now in the family sedan category has been tested and theonly one that has gotten a 'poor' is the Camry," he added. "Atthis point, we don't feel we can continue to recommend peoplebuy a Camry when there's other good choices out there that dobetter on the test."

Consumer Reports is one of the most widely trusted names forconsumers shopping for cars, and companies try to ensure theirvehicles earn the magazine's coveted "recommended" rating.

Last year, the IIHS, a non-profit group funded by theinsurance industry, increased the rigor of its tests to includecrashes that involve only a front corner of a vehicle. ConsumerReports waited to adjust its buyer recommendations until it sawhow the entire industry was affected by the test.

The magazine does not recommend consumers buy a car thatfares poorly in any crash tests.

In the first nine months of the year, the Camry was thethird-most-sold vehicle in the United States, behind twofull-size pickup trucks. Its sales were up 1.3 percent from theyear-ago period to 318,990 cars, compared with an increase ofalmost 14 percent by rival Honda Motor Co's Accordsedan.

Toyota has made changes to the Camry to improve itsperformance in the crash tests and IIHS is planning to retestthe car in December, IIHS spokesman Russ Rader said. Companiesthat have modified a vehicle design sometimes seek a retest.

Last December, when IIHS gave the Camry its "poor" rating,it said the company's engineers had "a lot of work to do tomatch the performance of their competitors." Toyota officials said on Monday they "are looking at a range ofsolutions" to address the car's performance in the crash test.

Last month, Toyota's Corolla small car, which was redesignedfor the 2014 model year, received a "marginal" rating on theIIHS crash test.

In addition to the three Toyota vehicles, Consumer Reportsalso dropped Volkswagen's Audi A4 car from itsrecommended list due to a "poor" rating on the IIHS test, Fishersaid.

Ten other vehicles also lost their recommended status, butthat was due to the overall quality of vehicles in theirsegments and not related to their crash test performances, hesaid.

The IIHS, which continues to score vehicles on side, rear,roll-over and front-end crashes, added an overlap test becausenearly one-fourth of U.S. front-of-vehicle crashes that resultin serious injury or death involve a single corner that strikesanother vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.

In the overlap test, IIHS crashes a vehicle at 40 miles perhour into a 5-foot-high barrier on the driver's side thatoverlaps one-quarter of the vehicle's width.

LEXUS TOPS RELIABILITY SURVEY

In its annual reliability rankings, Toyota's Lexus was atthe top, followed by the Toyota brand. Rounding out the top 10were Honda's Acura, Audi, Mazda, Nissan's Infiniti, Volvo, Honda, General Motors Co's GMC truckbrand and Subaru.

The vehicle with the top predicted reliability score was the2014 Subaru Forester SUV, while Ford Co's C-Max Energiplug-in hybrid vehicle received the worst score, ConsumerReports said.

Two popular models, Honda's redesigned 2013 Accord with a V6engine and the 2013 Nissan Altima, scored too poorly forConsumer Reports to continue recommending them.

One of the main problem areas in the survey was in-carelectronics, including infotainment systems. Of the 17categories tracked, the area generated the most complaints,including buggy systems with screen freezes, touch control lagor a reluctance to recognize a cell phone or other device.

For instance, last year, Ford tumbled to nearly the bottomof the survey due to flaws in its touch-screen navigation andentertainment system, MyFord Touch.

This year, continued problems with the infotainment system,as well as several EcoBoost turbocharged V6 models having poorreliability, left Ford's namesake and Lincoln luxury brandsranked No. 26 and 27, respectively, ahead of only BMW's Mini. Of the 31 Ford models in the survey, only one, the F-150pickup with the 3.7-liter V6 engine, was above average, whileseven scored average.

GM's Cadillac brand fell the most in the survey, dropping 14spots to No. 25 as its CUE infotainment system suffered fromissues similar to Ford's. The GM brand also lost the benefit ofolder cars that typically have fewer problems than newer models.

GM's Buick and Chevrolet brands ranked No. 12 and No. 17,respectively.

Smaller U.S. rival Chrysler ranked No. 18, whileits Ram truck, Jeep SUV and Dodge brands were No. 19, No. 23 andNo. 24, respectively.

Tesla Motor Inc's Model S electric sedan performedwell enough in the reliability survey to earn a recommendationfor the first time.

Consumer Reports said the findings in its survey are basedon subscribers' experiences with 1.1 million vehicles. It usesthe findings to compile reliability histories on vehicles andpredict how well new cars will hold up.

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