What Does JD Power Have Against Subaru?

Every year, when JD Power comes out with its Vehicle Dependability Survey, Subaru owners feel a lot like Charlie Brown at Halloween (he always gets rocks instead of candy). Even though Subaru makes some of the safest, affordable, and most durable vehicles, JD Power snubs the brand every year. And those same years, Consumer Reports — the gold standard for reliability — awards the 2021 Subaru Forester an 84 overall rating.

So the snub leaves Subaru owners wondering: Is it the brand, or is it JD Power?

JD Power uses an unusual methodology

Subaru makes some of the most popular all-weather cars on the market. According to The Car Connection, Subaru Forester owners keep their cars for 15 years, so why does JD Power deem them not dependable? It all comes down to JD Power’s survey methodology. It measures the number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) that original owners of 3-year-old vehicles experienced in the past year, so the most recent study surveyed 2017 models. 

So far, so good. But JD Power’s methodology doesn’t weight the difference between a loose piece of trim or glitchy infotainment system and something as major as a blown engine. The truth is that infotainment systems account for more problems than anything else, but a wonky touchscreen isn’t nearly as big a deal as a leaky transmission. 

Consumer Reports ranks Subaru 7th overall

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So why does Consumer Reports rate Subaru so much higher? For one thing, CR surveys over 400,000 Subaru owners and has no length-of-ownership restrictions. Also, only CR subscribers participate in the survey, and that demographic is more educated and discriminating about its purchases. Subaru has overhauled its flagship models — the Outback, Forester, and Crosstrek — since the 2017 model year and added the Ascent. CR is rating the current model year as opposed to JD Power rating outdated models. 

Most of the JD Power issues are already under warranty

Another quirk of the JD Power survey is that it looks at problems occurring within the first 90 days off the lot and determines initial quality by that PP100. But does the Initial Quality Survey (IQS) number really matter when the warranty covers any early issues? Most car buyers aren’t interested in the early problems because they don’t have to pay for them, but once they’re on the hook for a new radiator, they care a lot more about real dependability than a poor IQS score. 

There might be price-point bias in the JD Power results

If you’re wondering which vehicles rank high on the JD Power survey, here they are. Genesis gets a PP100 score of 89, Lexus is second with 100, Buick is third with 103, and Porsche comes in fourth with 104. Three of the four are luxury brands, and Buick is a premium domestic badge. Savvy car buyers extrapolate from this that buyers who pay a lot for their cars are much likelier to give them strong ratings, perhaps to justify the premium they paid for a brand-new luxury ride. Mid-market buyers might be more realistic about their purchasing decisions and be more forthright in their opinions. 

To boost this theory, let’s look at the car that JD Power considers most dependable in the United States: the Porsche 911. JD Power gives Porsche an overall 96 and ranks the 911 the most reliable car in America, with a 58 PP100. If you’d dropped six figures on a new car, wouldn’t you rave about it to a survey team? This isn’t to say the 911 isn’t a dependable sports car, but it’s obviously not for everyone. Subaru is still an overall better bet despite JD Power’s lousy ratings.