Owners of cars that were new or redesigned for the 2011 model year are reporting more quality problems, partly because of glitches with the navigation screens, voice-activated systems and other technology packed into their dashboards.
In the J.D. Power and Associates annual survey of new vehicle quality, released Thursday, Lexus, Honda and Acura were the top performers. Dodge was the worst-performing brand.
The survey questioned 78,000 people about problems with 2011 model-year vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership. Owners reported an average of 107 problems per 100 vehicles. That jumped to 122 problems for cars that were new or redesigned for 2011, up 10 percent from 2010 model-year cars and trucks.
J.D. Power said new technology was partly to blame. Complaints about audio, entertainment and navigation systems are up 28 percent from 2009.
"Consumers are interested in having new technology in their vehicles, but automakers must ensure that the technology is ready for prime time," David Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of global research, said in a statement.
New technology is responsible for Ford's declining quality. The brand dropped from fifth place in 2010 to 23rd this year.
Ford launched its My Ford Touch dashboard system on the Ford Edge and Ford Explorer crossovers in the 2011 model year. The system allows drivers to control climate, navigation, entertainment and other features by voice or through a touch screen.
Ford says 73 percent of owners with My Ford Touch say they're satisfied with the system. But the company acknowledges that My Ford Touch is complex and has been difficult for some buyers to use.
Owners have also complained that the My Ford Touch system takes a long time to boot up and has many glitches, including failing to recognize voice commands or properly link up with mobile phones.
Ford says it has made software updates to improve the system. It is now offering workshops at dealerships to help owners get more familiar with the system.
"We expected mixed quality results this year, after closely listening to our customers. This same feedback now shows that we largely are back on track after addressing near-term quality issues," Mark Fields, Ford's president for the Americas, said in a statement.
The Toyota brand posted a big leap in quality, jumping 14 spots to seventh place. Toyota's 2010 rankings were hurt by a series of safety recalls. Also, Toyota introduced few new products for 2011, so it didn't experience the glitches other manufacturers did.
Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus luxury brand moved up three spots to take the lead in the survey from Porsche. Lexus had 73 problems per 100 vehicles. Dodge, the worst performing brand overall, had 137 problems per 100 vehicles.
Cadillac and GMC, both General Motors Co. brands, and Mazda rose into the Top 10 performers this year. Hyundai, Ford and Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln luxury brand dropped out of the top tier.
Honda was the best performer in segment-level awards. The Fit subcompact, Civic and Insight small cars, Accord midsize car, Element compact crossover, Crosstour midsize crossover and Ridgeline pickup all were the best performers in their segments.
While J.D. Power's rankings are used in advertising and are important to the industry, some critics question whether they show any real statistical difference between automakers.
Lexus' rating, for example, equates to 0.73 problems per vehicle, while the rating for Dodge, which finished last, equals 1.37 problems per vehicle.
So on average, less than one problem per vehicle separates the best brand from the worst.