America’s Best (and Worst) Car Brands

September 12, 2016 by Mike Sauter

Car on asphalt road in summer
Source: Car on asphalt road on summer day at park
American car owners seem to love their Lincolns while they are least satisfied with their Acuras, according to a recent survey of the auto industry.

These are some of the findings from the 2016 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Automobile Report 2016, a nationwide survey measuring customer experience among the major car brands. Along with record car sales, customer satisfaction appears to have improved as well. Of the 24 brands surveyed, 16 improved their customer service ratings in the ACSI compared to 2015.

While American companies tend to perform poorly compared to foreign automakers, a number of domestic brands improved their customer satisfaction scores this year. Still, while Japan-based Acura had the worst score, five of the nine worst rated brands are American. Among the eight brands with the best customer satisfaction, three are American.

Click here to see the best car brands.

Click here to see the worst car brands.

Cars are one of the most expensive purchases most people ever make, and American motorists expect their vehicles to meet certain standards. Performance and dependability are two important components of customer satisfaction. Not surprisingly, automakers with higher quality and dependability ratings from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power — authorities on product quality — tend to also have higher customer satisfaction scores.

In some cases, customer satisfaction is tied to less tangible attributes than vehicle reliability and performance. German automaker Volkswagen has consistently received high customer satisfaction marks over the last decade. However, after the company was caught in 2015 cheating on emissions tests for its diesel vehicles — a scandal that could end up costing the company tens of billions of dollars — customer satisfaction took a hit. This year, for the first time in a decade, VW’s customer satisfaction score dipped below 80, and is now second lowest in the industry.

Luxury brands tend to have higher customer satisfaction, likely due to overall vehicle quality and dependability, among other factors. Half of the brands scoring at least an 84 are luxury cars, while only two of the nine worst ranked brands are luxury makes.

Still, a number of mass-market brands have improved their standings with customers. This year, Honda and Toyota, two of the top-selling auto manufacturers in the world, ranked second and tied for third, respectively.

To produce the customer service scores in its Automobile Report 2016, the American Customer Satisfaction Index surveyed 3,776 randomly chosen people on their experience with one of 28 of the largest car brands based on U.S. auto share. The best rated cars scored at least 84, while the worst brands scored 79 or less. The benchmark for the auto industry for 2016 was 82.

The Best Car Brands

8. Infiniti
> 2016 ACSI score: 84
> 2015 ACSI score: 77
> 2016 YTD sales: 85,362

Luxury brands tend to receive better customer ratings in the ACSI, and Infiniti is no exception. The Nissan luxury brand’s rating improved significantly this year, rising from a score of 77 in 2015 to 84 this year. No automaker had a greater uptick in customer satisfaction. Infiniti’s high ratings may be reflected in improved sales. Infiniti set a global sales record this past August.

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7. Subaru
> 2016 ACSI score: 84
> 2015 ACSI score: 82
> 2016 YTD sales: 391,969

Due to their improved quality and relatively low prices, mass market cars received a considerable rating boost in this year’s ACSI. Subaru was one of the makes benefiting from the trend, scoring two points higher in customer satisfaction compared to the previous year. According to Consumer Reports, Subaru is one of the top ranking car manufacturers in overall quality, surpassing several luxury automakers.

6. Lexus
> 2016 ACSI score: 84
> 2015 ACSI score: 84
> 2016 YTD sales: 210,392

Lexus was the top rated car brand in last year’s ACSI survey of the auto industry with a customer satisfaction score of 84. While the Toyota-owned luxury brand’s score did not change, several other manufacturers improved their score — in this year’s survey eight brands have a score of 84 or higher. Sales of most auto manufacturers are up year-to-date, but Lexus sales are down by more than 5%.

5. GMC
> 2016 ACSI score: 84
> 2015 ACSI score: 78
> 2016 YTD sales: 348,164

Customer satisfaction among GMC owners has fluctuated considerably over the years. In the most recent ACSI survey, however, the American automaker’s score of 84 is only one point shy of its highest score in nearly two decades. Historically, foreign automakers have dominated the ACSI rankings, but this year, GMC is leading the resurgence in satisfaction among mass-market, American made vehicles.

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4. Toyota
> 2016 ACSI score: 85
> 2015 ACSI score: 82
> 2016 YTD sales: 1,625,158

Customer satisfaction tends to be higher among owners of luxury brands than owners of mass-market vehicles. Yet despite being one of the biggest mass-market carmakers in the world, Toyota surpassed high-end makes such as Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Performance and dependability are two important components of customer satisfaction, and Toyota received one of the highest scores in the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study.

3. BMW
> 2016 ACSI score: 85
> 2015 ACSI score: 82
> 2016 YTD sales: 204,744

BMW is the third highest rated automaker and the second highest rated luxury automaker in this year’s survey. The German manufacturer has historically ranked relatively high on the ACSI automobile report. The luxury car maker also received near top marks from Consumer Reports for overall quality.

2. Honda
> 2016 ACSI score: 86
> 2015 ACSI score: 80
> 2016 YTD sales: 987,811

After its customer service rating improved from 80 in 2015 to 86 this year, Honda became the highest rated mass-market auto brand and the second highest rated brand overall. Like the industry as a whole, Honda sales are up year to date, with the Civic — one of the company’s core models — posting a 15.4% increase.

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1. Lincoln
> 2016 ACSI score: 87
> 2015 ACSI score: 83
> 2016 YTD sales: 71,638

Lincoln, Ford’s luxury division, tops ACSI’s ranking for customer satisfaction with a score of 87. Historically, luxury automobile owners report higher overall satisfaction that owners of mass-market vehicles. Despite widespread satisfaction among owners, Lincolns are not especially popular. The company sold only 71,638 units in 2015, fewer than all of the high-ranking brands.

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The Worst Car Brands

9. Mitsubishi
> 2016 ACSI score: 79
> 2015 ACSI score: 77
> 2016 YTD sales: 67,160

Mitsubishi’s sales have been in decline recently. In August, the Japanese manufacturer sold 7,336 units in the U.S. market, a decline of 11.5% from August of last year. The company’s poor performance may be tied to low customer satisfaction. In addition to rating as one of the worst brands in the 2016 ACSI survey, Mitsubishi received the third worst score on Consumer Report’s overall rating of car brands.

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8. Chrysler
> 2016 ACSI score: 79
> 2015 ACSI score: 74
> 2016 YTD sales: 167,151

Overall satisfaction among Chrysler owners has increased considerably since 2015. Still, the brand ranks among the worst in the auto industry for customer satisfaction. Dependability is one of the most important vehicle attributes to American motorists, and J.D. Power found that Chryslers are more prone to problems than most other vehicle makes.

7. Buick
> 2016 ACSI score: 79
> 2015 ACSI score: 80
> 2016 YTD sales: 148,845

While the rating of nearly every mass-market car brand improved on the 2016 ACSI survey, the rating of just two brands, Buick and maligned automaker Volkswagen declined. Buick’s rating dropped from a score of 80 in 2015 to 79 this year. The brand’s customer satisfaction score has not always been so poor. It was 88 in 2010, tied for the second highest rated brand that year.

6. Kia
> 2016 ACSI score: 79
> 2015 ACSI score: 78
> 2016 YTD sales: 442,544

Despite improving slightly compared to last year, the Korean automaker has one of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of any car maker. So far this year, the Soul has overtaken the Optima as the company’s most popular model, selling nearly 100,000 units.

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5. Cadillac
> 2016 ACSI score: 79
> 2015 ACSI score: 80
> 2016 YTD sales: 103,918

While the auto industry’s total sales year to date through August rose by 0.6%, Cadillac’s U.S. sales fell by 6.2%. Luxury brands tend to receive higher customer satisfaction ratings, but Cadillac received one of the lowest scores in the ACSI, behind nearly every luxury brand as well as most mass-market brands.

4. Jeep
> 2016 ACSI score: 78
> 2015 ACSI score: 75
> 2016 YTD sales: 630,182

Dependability is one of the most important vehicle attributes for American motorists. According to studies published by both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power, Jeep is one of the least dependable and lowest quality vehicle makes. The company, which manufactures SUVs exclusively, is one of five American auto brands with especially low customer satisfaction ratings.

3. Dodge
> 2016 ACSI score: 78
> 2015 ACSI score: 76
> 2016 YTD sales: 355,998

Dodge’s customer satisfaction may be suffering because its vehicles are less reliable. In J.D. Power’s annual Vehicle Dependability study, Dodge had the most reported problems of any vehicle brand.

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2. Volkswagen
> 2016 ACSI score: 78
> 2015 ACSI score: 80
> 2016 YTD sales: 207,156

Volkswagen last year was caught cheating on diesel emissions tests. The ensuing scandal resulted in the company agreeing to pay $15 billion in compensation to U.S. customers. Not surprisingly, customer satisfaction among Volkswagen owners has declined in the past year and is now lower than all but one other brand. Sales for the German automaker have also declined through the first eight months of 2016 — by 13% from the same period last year.

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1. Acura
> 2016 ACSI score: 76
> 2015 ACSI score: 83
> 2016 YTD sales: 106,914

According to the 2016 ACSI survey, Acura owners report the worst customer experience of any major car brand. As is the case with many of the worst rated brands, Acura’s poor customer satisfaction may be reflected in poor sales. Year to date through August, sales at Honda’s luxury division fell by 8.9%