Here’s a little secret other sites won’t tell you: these days, it’s difficult to find a truly “bad” new car. Why? Manufacturing processes, build materials, quality assessment, distribution — basically every element of automotive construction — has improved dramatically in the last two decades, meaning the vehicles on sale today are the most reliable cars in history. With few exceptions, anyone can walk onto any dealer lot, pick out any new car, and wind up with a reasonably trouble-free product for the first several years of ownership.
Yet automakers do still define themselves by how long their new products act like new products. More commonly, we call these vehicles “reliable.” There are more than a few organizations that make it their business to weed out the reliable from the maintenance disasters, but for our purposes of choosing today’s most worry-free vehicles, we’ll refer to a mix of Consumer Reports, J.D. Power, and our own hands-on assessments.
Here are Digital Trends’ top picks for a new, reliable motor vehicle.
Why should you buy this: Fewer fill-ups, fewer repairs.
Who’s it for: High-mileage commuters.
How much will it cost: $23,475+
Why we picked the Toyota Prius:
Despite its mildly complicated powertrain (when compared to an internal combustion engine), the Toyota Prius is as basic a form of transportation as it gets. The Prius is appealing for several reasons, but its highlights include an affordable starting price, excellent gas mileage, and hybrid class-leading reliability.
The 2017 model year kicks off a new generation of Toyota’s trend-setting gas-electric model. With a stiffer platform, wild styling, improved battery, and more efficient four-cylinder, the new Prius is a better value proposition than ever. Most significantly, Toyota gave the new Prius an interior makeover, classing up the cabin considerably to accommodate those that spend hours each week behind the wheel.
Toyota also overhauled its plug-in variant, the Prime. For a small premium over the standard hybrid, shoppers have access to 25 miles of pure electric range, 55 city/53 hwy/54 combined mpg, and 640 total miles of driving range. An electric motor and battery adds components that will need to be replaced after several years, but the added efficiency more than justifies the Prius as a great buy for those in search of a reliable commuter companion.
The most reliable compact car
Why should you buy this: The new Cruze feels more upscale than its rivals and has high-tech features.
Who’s it for: Style-conscious, connected commuters.
How much will it cost: $17,850+
Why we picked the Chevrolet Cruze:
Chevrolet’s second-generation Cruze compact is a massive leap for the automaker as it tries to compete with class leaders like the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, and Mazda3. With a new steel and aluminum structure, the Cruze has shed 250 pounds from the first generation and has a 27-percent stiffer chassis, meaning it’s more enjoyable to drive and more efficient.
All new Cruze models feature Chevy’s 1.4-liter Ecotec turbocharged 4-cylinder that deliver 155 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, which translates to the fastest acceleration in its segment. Combined with 42 mpg highway fuel economy and an upscale design, compact shoppers should be giving Chevy’s entry a long look. A 1.6-liter diesel engine is now available as well, delivering 137 hp, 240 lb-ft, and 52 mpg highway.
Best among the new Cruze’s features is its connectivity equipment. A standard Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and an intuitive MyLink infotainment system helps the Cruze appeal to socialites. Cutting-edge technology will keep the Cruze relevant for longer than its competition, and its noticeably improved build quality means a more durable vehicle.
The most reliable luxury car
Why should you buy this: The Lexus GS is one of the most reliable luxury cars you can buy.
Who’s it for: Those who like a mix of style and comfort.
How much will it cost: $46,310+
Why we picked the Lexus GS:
Lexus may be taking a risk with its latest design language, but that doesn’t mean owners should have any concerns about reliability. Beneath its spindle grille and sweeping bodywork, the modern Lexus GS is every bit as dependable a luxury car as previous generations. While competitors are plagued with electrical issues or mechanical failures, the GS offers class-leading comfort with the peace of mind that comes from a Toyota product.
The Lexus GS won’t win any drag races if stacked against BMW’s 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class, but if it’s an endurance battle covering hundreds of thousands of miles, Lexus GS drivers can relax in their plush leather cabins while parts start failing on the competition. Additionally, if you really need to move quickly, the GS F offers a 5.0-liter V8 with 467 hp and 369 lb-ft.
More important to most luxury car buyers, however, is ride quality. Here, the GS jumps to the front of the pack, with one of the most compliant, well-dampened rides you can find — at any price point. Inside, the GS is a mix of analog and digital, with a contemporary driver display next to a more lackluster infotainment system. Tech aside, the GS boasts a clean, sharp interior design.
The most reliable crossover
Why should you buy this: The Q3 adds a touch of utility to the entry-luxury segment.
Who’s it for: Would-be luxury hatchback shoppers who caught crossover fever.
How much will it cost: $32,900+
Why we picked the Audi Q3:
Audi’s Q5 and Q7 SUVs offer sophisticated driving dynamics, clean interiors, and sleek styling, but their prices transcend mass-market affordability. With the introduction of the Q3, Audi delivers that same blend of refinement, styling, and performance in a smaller, more affordable package. The Q3 is still a “luxury” vehicle, but drivers will experience the meaning of the word in how the car looks and feels more than how it’s priced.
With 200hp available via a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, power won’t blow anyone away, but with broad application of this engine throughout Audi’s stable, it has proven reliable and fun. Front-wheel drive comes standard, along with HID headlights, LED taillights, heated power leather seats, MMI infotainment, and a panoramic sunroof. Quattro all-wheel drive is available.
Interior volume is limited in the Q3, but it’s still possible to pack five passengers and a few suitcases inside. Though the Q3 hasn’t been on the market long, we predict its top-notch build quality, proven motor, and clean design will stand the test of time well.
The most reliable SUV
Why should you buy this: If you need versatility, dependability, and off-road capability, look no further.
Who’s it for: Adventure-hungry drivers who double as sophisticated suburbanites.
How much will it cost: $34,410+
Why we picked the Toyota 4Runner:
In truth, Toyota could fill this entire roster of reliable vehicles, but its purpose-built models are most impressive. The 4Runner SUV has always been a dependable off-roader with incredible versatility, but these days, it’s become a dual-purpose machine. The rugged potential remains (and has even increased), but the move upmarket also introduces the 4Runner to upper middle class errand runs and dinner dates.
Styling hasn’t changed much in the last three decades. The masculine, boxy design remains, but refinements to body moldings, trim, wheel designs, and fascias make the 4Runner look appropriate in any setting. Power comes exclusively from a 4.0-liter V6 that serves up 270 hp and 278 lb-ft via a five-speed automatic. Rear wheel drive is standard on entry-level models, but all-wheel drive with advanced off-road hardware is available.
It may not be fast, and the interior may feel dated, but the 4Runner can always be counted on to get you to, up, down, and from the mountain in quiet comfort. With a durable truck platform, high resale value, and generations of 4Runners to prove its dependability, buyers won’t regret choosing the 4Runner.
The most reliable performance car
Honda Civic Si
Why should you buy this: It’s a great blend of performance and practicality.
Who’s it for: People who need a fun car that still works as a daily driver.
How much will it cost: $24,100+
Why we picked the Honda Civic Si:
The Civic Si has been a staple of the sport compact scene for decades, offering buyers an affordable performance car with the same reliability as the standard Civic. The Si was redesigned for the 2017 model year, moving onto the new 10th-generation Civic platform. It’s currently available as a coupe or sedan.
The new chassis is both lighter and more rigid than the previous generation, which should help to improve performance. Honda also gave the Civic Si its first turbocharged engine, based on the 1.5-liter four-cylinder used in the standard Civic. It produces a healthy 205 hp and 192 lb-ft, which is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission.
The Civic Si also looks the part, thanks to more expressive styling than previous generations. A revised front fascia, 18-inch wheels, rear spoiler, and polygonal exhaust outlet set the Si apart from other Civic models. On the inside, the Si and other current-gen Civics are remarkably roomy, and can sport quite an array of features when all of the option boxes are ticked.
The most reliable minivan
Why should you buy this: It’s a dependable family hauler.
Who’s it for: Parents who don’t have time for breakdowns.
How much will it cost: $23,900+
Why we picked the Toyota Sienna:
Not surprisingly for a Toyota product, the Sienna is among the most reliable minivans available. In fact, Consumer Reports named it the most reliable vehicle of its type. If a nuclear war occurs and cockroaches become the only remaining life on Earth, any remaining Siennas will be able to shuttle them to soccer practice.
The Sienna has other good qualities besides reliability, though. It’s the only minivan currently offered with all-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is standard), making it the best option for buyers who live in snowy climates. The sole available engine is a 3.5-liter V6 that provides a healthy 296 hp and 263 lb-ft, which is sent to the wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
While the basic design itself has been around for a few years, Toyota has continually updated the Sienna to keep it fresh and competitive with the handful of other minivans currently on sale. For the 2018 model year, Toyota is adding an array of standard safety features including a pre-collision system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, and automatic high beams. A built-in 4G LTE connection can provide WiFi connectivity for up to five devices — helping to pacify kids.
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team scrutinizes vehicles on the road through a comprehensive testing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested, as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.
It’s always a bit of a reliability gamble when it comes to newly introduced models. First generation cars are likely pioneering technology and manufacturing practices for an automaker, and the results could be great or woeful. Fortunately, auto brands don’t build new vehicles on a whim — the average development cycle for a new model is three to five years.
In that time, automakers research the competition, secure partners, develop internals, choose construction materials, assemble prototypes, and put hundreds of thousands of miles on pre-production test mules. If a modern car is discovered to have a fault after it goes on sale, chances are, it’s a quick fix that is facilitated through a recall at your local dealer. Additionally, as the automotive industry relies more heavily on vehicle software, updates will be made via the cloud, while your car sits in the garage.
New car tech of course introduces potential for new reliability issues, but diagnosing problems and testing scenarios for potential failures will be easier than ever. In short, cars have never been more reliable, so choosing your next vehicle can be more about aesthetic preference, driving dynamics, fuel economy, and safety and less about maintenance concerns.
Want to learn how to buy your own? Start here:
Update: We’ve added the Toyota Sienna to our list.