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Why Subaru Scores Low The Last 5 Years In J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study

Subaru falls short again in the 2020 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, and top-selling models like Outback do not get any individual awards. Why does Subaru always score so low?

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The Subaru Outback, Forester, and Crosstrek do not get any individual awards, and Subaru scores poorly again in the 2020 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study. But that’s not anything new because the Japanese automaker has not scored well the past four years and now this makes five years in-a-row. Why does Subaru always score well below the industry average in this study?

The study measures the number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of their three-year-old vehicles. The 2020 study measures problems in 2017 model-year vehicles.

2020 Subaru OutbackThe Subaru brand scores low the last 5 years in J.D. Power study

In 2016, Subaru scored a total VDS ranking of 166 (Problems per 100 Vehicles), in 2017, the Japanese automaker ranked 164 PP100 well below the industry average of 156. In 2018, Subaru slipped into the bottom quarter of all automakers with a 167 PP100 while the overall industry average improved 9 percent to 142.

This year, Subaru improves with a score of PP154 but is number 10 from the bottom. The industry average improves from 2018 and is PP134 (problems per 100), but no Subaru vehicles were in the top three models in their individual segments. Subaru does seem to improve according to the study but why are they ranked in the bottom 10?
Watch this video report discussing the benefits of keeping your old Subaru Outback vs buying the 2020 model and click to subscribe to Torque News for daily automotive news analysis.

2020 Subaru Outback, 2020 Subaru ForesterTop-selling Subaru Outback, Forester, and Crosstrek score poorly according to Power

Keep in mind you’re getting information on things that were true with cars people bought new in 2017. Since then the Subaru Outback, Forester and Crosstrek have all received major makeovers. But it still doesn’t make sense that Subaru continually scores low (23rd) in this study and high in other studies like Consumer Reports (subscription required) where they rank number 7 among all automakers. CR singles out the all-new Ascent family hauler as a car with some new-model problems or Subaru would have scored higher.

The groups of owners of those surveyed are very different between J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. J.D. Power surveys those who've owned a vehicle for three years, while CR's survey of 400,000 owners of 640,000 vehicles places no restriction on the length of ownership. Those surveyed are CR subscribers, who are likely even pickier and discriminating regarding consumer goods.

Is the J.D. Power VDS study showing the correct picture?

A report a few years ago from Autoblog’s Consumer Editor, Jeremy Korzeniewski may help shed more light on it. The problem, as Jeremy pointed out, is one of methodology: When he wrote his article, there was no weighting assigned to the problems reported in the survey, and this still appears to be the case.

Therefore, a problem with in-vehicle technology (infotainment) or a loose piece of trim is deemed as serious as a blown engine or leaky transmission (infotainment still accounts for more problems than any other category in the 2020 study). Jeremy's point is, if the categories of problems were weighted, you'd see a different picture with Subaru’s J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study score.

What are the most dependable brands according to J.D. Power?

Among all vehicle nameplates, Genesis ranks highest in overall vehicle dependability among all brands, with a score of 89 PP100. Lexus ranks second in vehicle dependability with a score of 100 PP100. Buick follows Lexus with 103 PP100, Porsche (104 PP100) ranks fourth.

Three of the top four automakers are all luxury brands and Buick is marketed as a premium automobile brand, selling luxury vehicles positioned above GM’s mainstream models. There are likely human feelings and biases that are in play in surveys like J.D. Power’s VDS. If you bought an expensive Genesis, Lexus or Porsche you're probably going to say, and believe, that the car you paid dearly for is worth every penny.

There are many sources for automotive information, so do your homework and cross-reference your information. This annual study hasn’t hurt sales of the popular 2020 Outback wagon, Forester SUV and Crosstrek subcompact SUV all-wheel-drive vehicles. The Subaru brand scores high in brand loyalty, and they’ve also been rated with the highest residual values in the industry.

You Might Also Like: Subaru Officially Joins Toyota Group, What It Means For New Outback And Forester Models

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a variety of roles. All of his reports are archived on our Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Subaru Report. Check back tomorrow for more Subaru news and updates at Torque News!

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Photo credit: Subaru USA

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Jack (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 10:56AM

I have a 2015 Crosstrek and it appears to be one of the few model years free of problems. That said, I do not plan to buy another Subie due to all these darn recalls.

Bobby Diaz (not verified)    February 14, 2020 - 8:59AM

In reply to by Jack (not verified)

I have had 4 su arus and the only recall was for the passenger air bag on my Forrester. I do not know what this report is talking about since it doesnt mention anything on mechanical or other issues. Looks like an overall negative report!

Alex McDonough (not verified)    February 27, 2020 - 7:28PM

In reply to by Jack (not verified)

A: Recalls allow the manufacturer to pay for things that need fixing
B: Look at brand loyalty. Subaru sells owners over and over for a reason.
C: Yes there are too many recalls but that is true every brand. More stuff, more stuff to break.

Mark Reinthaler (not verified)    February 14, 2020 - 7:39AM

In reply to by Keith (not verified)

JD power sent me a survey to fill just months after I bought my Acura RDX. I told them in the survey it was to early to answer most of these questions since the car was only 3 months old. If this is how they rate cars there opinions are useless.

Thomas Franklin (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 12:28PM

You're missing some important information and that's recalls. The 2017 Impreza has had 4 of them. That's a ton compared to any car make. This is anecdotal, sure, but my 2017 Impreza has not been reliable. The battery went dead in less than 23,000 miles and I've had numerous problems and bugs with the infotainment system (re-boots, failures to connect and more) which are a PAIN and every bit as important as mechanical or parts issues. I also own a 2017 Legacy, which has had one recall and one defect, but which otherwise has been fine. My main point, look at the recalls. Way too many on multiple models.

JS Allen (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 1:58PM

In reply to by Thomas Franklin (not verified)

You're also missing that recalls are a good thing.
For example, the new VW Atlas has a leaky sunroof issue. However, VW refuses to warranty or recall the work, they stick consumers with the defect. It's much better to have a recall than to tell customers too bad

George Plerbouski (not verified)    February 15, 2020 - 2:25AM

In reply to by Thomas Franklin (not verified)

There’s always a lemon in mass produced cars. My 2018 Impreza runs like she did when I drove her off the lot at 8 miles. She now has 22k miles, no issues. Dim headlights but I replaced those with 6500k led lights. Few recalls but every car has em.

Marc Kruse (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 1:55PM

Was this article written by Subaru or did Subaru paid to publish it?

Why is the Author trying to sugar coat a bad JD Powers quality ranking for Subaru? If it's bad its bad....they should work on improving it and had 5 years in doing so!

JS Allen (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 2:00PM

Failure to weigh trim and infotainment low is the biggest failure for JD power.

If your app radio is crappy it doesn't prevent the vehicle from functioning safely. A blown transmission or a leaking sunroof is significantly worse than a bad infotainment system. Especially since infotainment not only is customizable and changeable, but it makes major changes infrequently. 2017 didn't have Apple/Android auto either, something to think about

Keith (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 5:25PM

All I know is what I see. While all cars have bugs and an occasional lemon. I see a lot more used Subaru’s and Toyota’s on the road that are aging well. Not so much with any GM or Ford.

Toby Baly (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 6:00PM

I am on my third Subi, two of the older Legacys and for five years a used certified Outback 3.6 L. It had 38K miles when acquired, had a trouble free 50K miles and major service (all fluids etc.) at 90K and am now over 100K. Other than oil changes, occasional brakes and tires havent had a lick of problems. Love Subis

CARMEN FONSECA (not verified)    February 14, 2020 - 1:19PM

In reply to by Toby Baly (not verified)

Im with you. I live my Subie. Went in to buy a 2020 and found a 2017 Forrester Turbo with a panoramic sunroof went for a test drive and was sold. Had an airbag recall and a 2020 loaner which was a let down after my peppy turbo. OMG that car moves. Love my Subie too

Jim (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 6:24PM

I own a 2015 Outback Limited. I bought it certified with 16k from a Subue dealer. The problems I have had are as follows: hatch struts, motor, rebuilt transmission, entire front axle, blind spot cameras on both sides, new radio, maintenance reminder 4x and still does not retain the memory. I have more but didn’t want to bore you. The car has 70k all highway miles and I am going on my 3rd set of tires- no more Bridgestone

mike s (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 8:10PM

When I bought my first Subaru, the repair technicians had so much free time that they used to play frisbee in the service bays. When I got my second Subaru, 6 years, later, I could drop my car off without an appointment and get reasonably fast service. When I got my 3rd Subaru, 5 years later, I had to call for an appointment about a week in advance. 5 years later I got another Subaru and when I brought that in for service they told me I needed a new engine and the independent mechanic said all I needed was a set of spark plug wires and plugs. Subaru has a cult like following...and we know how cults end up. I'm done with Subarus for so many reasons. The gimmick of lifetime warranty is a joke because they have a deductible for each problem they find.

CARMEN FONSECA (not verified)    February 14, 2020 - 1:26PM

In reply to by mike s (not verified)

I dont usually take my vehicles back to dealer for oil changes minor stuff. I have a mechanic that I question and doesn't reccommend unnecessary work or replacement tires. Lucky that way.

Dan Kramer (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 10:10PM

I think the JD Power ratings are a joke... not at all representative of actual quality or reliability. Consumer Reports are actually much more accurate and helpful for buyers.

Samkomer (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 11:19PM

Never trusted jdpower. Unreliable source.
I have always found Consumer Reports a very reliable source.

Nathan (not verified)    February 13, 2020 - 11:56PM

I own a 2014 XV Crosstrek. I have already had to replace a CV axle and I have multiple worn out shocks which need to be addressed and just recently o had the infamous AC compressor decided to not turn on. Everything else seems fine but there is a TSB for this issue because it is so common. Now they want me to pay them to diagnose it even though I figured it out all ready. Also the dealer near me sucks and can't do an oil change on less than 24 hours. This had happened to me twice. They sick and I will never buy another so Subaru ever.

George pitowski (not verified)    February 15, 2020 - 2:34AM

In reply to by Nathan (not verified)

I fail to see how this is Subaru’s fault. Shocks need replaced typically after 5 years or 50-100k miles. Cv axel can go bad around the age of your car as well it’s the blunders of owning a car. Some things are to be expected and it’s part of the expense of Maintaining your vehicle.

Moon1056 (not verified)    February 20, 2020 - 8:19PM

In reply to by George pitowski (not verified)

I own three Outbacks: 97. 07,2011. They ALL leaked oil at less than 90k miles. Subaru's have the worst reps for blowing head gaskets. The CVT trans are known to be weak. I will sell my 2011 with 90K soon before it needs a trans