The Most Reliable Cars of 2021
In 2020, motorists who buy a new car rightfully expect it to provide many years of trouble-free operation. Warranties are gradually getting longer and more generous, too, so odds are an issue that occurs during the first few years of ownership will be covered by the manufacturer. Cars aren’t perfect, but they’re better than ever.
And yet, there are cars, trucks, and SUVs that are more predictably reliable than others. Some come from companies with a decadeslong reputation for making long-lasting vehicles, while others are built with time-tested components known for their durability. There are more than a few organizations that make it their business to weed out the reliable from the maintenance disasters, but we’re relying on Consumer Reports scores and our own hands-on assessments to single out the most reliable cars of 2020.
At a glance
|Toyota Prius||Most reliable car overall|
|Hyundai Elantra||Most reliable compact car|
|Lexus GS||Most reliable luxury car|
|Lexus NX||Most reliable crossover|
|Toyota 4Runner||Most reliable SUV|
|Honda Civic Si||Most reliable performance car|
|Toyota Sienna||Most reliable minivan|
|Ford Fusion||Most reliable family sedan|
|Toyota Tundra||Most reliable truck|
|Chevrolet Bolt||Most reliable EV|
The most reliable
Why you should buy this: Fewer fill-ups, fewer repairs.
Who it’s for: High-mileage commuters
How much it will cost: $24,325+
Why we picked the Toyota Prius:
Despite its mildly complicated powertrain (at least compared to an internal combustion engine), the Toyota Prius is as basic a form of transportation as it gets. It’s appealing for several reasons, but its highlights include an affordable starting price, excellent gas mileage, and hybrid class-leading reliability. Its looks aren’t to everyone’s taste, but it offers a comfortable cabin that comes with all of the tech features you’d expect to find in a modern car; Toyota even added Apple CarPlay after resisting the software for years.
For a small premium over the standard hybrid, the plug-in Prius Prime provides 25 miles of pure electric range, 55 city/53 highway/54 combined mpg, and 640 total miles of driving range. The electric motor and the battery are 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, fuel-sipping commuter companion that’s comfortable and practical. And, fear not if you live in an area regularly slammed by blizzard: The Prius is available with all-wheel drive.
The most reliable compact car
Why you should buy this: It’s cheap to buy and cheap to own.
Who it’s for: People on a budget
How much it will cost: $19,300+
Why we picked the Hyundai Elantra:
Hyundai’s rival to the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla used to be a good value and nothing else, but it has evolved into a well-rounded compact over the years. Its bargain-basement status doesn’t stop it from offering a decent array of tech features. An 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and wireless phone charging are all available, although you’ll have to upgrade from the base model to get them.
Most Elantra models get a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine, which sends 147 hp and 132 lb.-ft. of torque to the front wheels. But Hyundai also offers Eco and Sport models that lean towards efficiency and performance, respectively. The Eco gets a smaller 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated 128 hp and 156 lb.-ft. of torque, and it achieves an EPA-rated 35 mpg combined. The Elantra Sport spices things up a bit with a 201-hp, 1.6-liter turbo four. Either way, its reliability promises to keep ownership costs low for years to come.
The most reliable luxury car
Why you should buy this: The Lexus GS proves more features doesn’t necessarily mean more problems.
Who it’s for: Those who like a mix of style and comfort
How much will it cost? $51,065+
Why we picked the Lexus GS:
Lexus may be taking a risk with its current design language, but that doesn’t mean owners should have concerns about reliability. Beneath its spindle grille and sweeping bodywork, the GS is every bit as dependable as its predecessors. While some competitors suffer from chronic electrical issues or mechanical failures that occur alarmingly early, the GS offers class-leading comfort with the peace of mind that comes from a Toyota product.
The base 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, drivers can relax in their plush leather cabins while parts start failing off the competition. Additionally, if you really need to move quickly, the GS F offers a 5.0-liter V8 that puts 467 hp and 369 lb.-ft. of torque under the driver’s right foot.
Ride quality is more important to luxury car buyers. 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, and it’s as luxurious as the badge on the steering wheel suggests. It feels as well built as it looks, and it will stay that way over time.
The most reliable crossover
Why you should buy this: The NX adds a touch of utility to the entry-level luxury segment.
Who it’s for: Would-be luxury hatchback shoppers who caught crossover fever
How much will it cost? $36,870+
Why we picked the Lexus NX:
The RX, GX, and LX occupy the top three spots in the Lexus SUV hierarchy, but their prices transcend mass-market affordability. With the introduction of the NX, Lexus delivers that same blend of refinement, styling, and tech in a smaller, more affordable package. It’s still a luxury car, but drivers experience the meaning of the term by how the car looks and feels rather than how it’s priced. It’s also more spacious than the UX, the entry point into the range.
The base engine is a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 235 hp. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission come standard, and all-wheel drive is offered at an extra cost. Alternatively, and unsurprisingly considering Lexus is owned by Toyota, buyers can select a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain built around a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. All of these components are used in other models, so they’re proven and time-tested.
Look beyond the polarizing design, and you’ll enjoy a cabin made with top-notch materials and designed with comfort in mind. Lexus recently added Apple CarPlay compatibility, and Android Auto can’t be far behind.
The most reliable SUV
Why you should buy this: If you need versatility, dependability, and off-road capability, look no further.
Who it’s for: Adventure-hungry drivers who double as sophisticated suburbanites
How much will it cost? $36,120+
Why we picked the Toyota 4Runner:
The Toyota 4Runner has always been a dependable off-roader with incredible versatility, but it’s gradually morphed into a dual-purpose machine. While the rugged potential remains and has even increased, the move upmarket also introduces the 4Runner to upper-middle-class errand runs and dinner dates.
Its styling hasn’t changed much over the past few years. It’s still boxy, but several design tweaks ensure the 4Runner looks appropriate in any setting — on or off the road. The only engine available is a 4.0-liter V6 tuned to 270 hp and 278 lb.-ft. of torque and bolted to a five-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive comes standard on entry-level models, while all-wheel drive and a long list of off-road-friendly goodies are available at an extra cost.
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 it.
Honda Civic Si
The most reliable performance car
Why you should buy this: It’s a great blend of performance and practicality.
Who it’s for: People who need a fun car that still works as a daily driver
How much will it cost? $25,200+
Why we picked the Honda Civic Si:
The Honda Civic Si has been a staple of the sport compact scene for decades, offering buyers affordable performance 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, and it received minor updates inside and out for the 2020 model year.
Pop the hood to find the first turbocharged engine fitted to the Si in the nameplate’s long history. It’s a 1.5-liter unit rated at 205 hp and 192 lb.-ft. of torque. It spins the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential.
The Civic Si also looks the part thanks to more expressive styling than previous generations. It stands out from other Civic models with a sportier-looking front end, 18-inch alloys, a rear spoiler, and a polygonal exhaust outlet. Inside, the Si and other current-gen Civics are remarkably roomy and offer quite an array of features when all of the option boxes are ticked.
The most reliable minivan
Why you should buy this: It’s a dependable family hauler.
Who it’s for: Parents who don’t have time for breakdowns
How much will it cost? $31,640+
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, they’ll hop in the Sienna to take their little cockroach kids to soccer practice.
The Sienna has other qualities besides reliability. 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. It’s certainly not as slow as it looks; 300 hp was sports car territory up until recently.
While the basic design itself has been around for a few years, and a new model is due out soon with hybrid power, Toyota has continually updated the Sienna to keep it fresh and competitive with the handful of other minivans currently on sale. Safety is important to buyers, so the list of standard features includes a pre-collision system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, and automatic high beams. The built-in 4G LTE connection provides Wi-Fi for up to five devices, so everyone stays connected and entertained on long road trips.
The most reliable family sedan
Why you should buy this: It’s a solid sedan that will stand the test of time.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a stylish sedan
How much it will cost: $23,170+
Why we picked the Ford Fusion:
The current-generation Ford Fusion is quite old by industry standards, and it’s getting close to the end of its life cycle without a replacement in sight. Ford has lost interest in passenger cars as it continues to focus on trucks and SUVs, but the Fusion remains a solid midsize sedan with a good track record for reliability and all-around usability.
It starts with the styling. The Fusion remains a cut above most other mainstream cars when it comes to design, with a distinctive look that transcends its family-sedan status. Ford also offers tech features like Amazon Alexa and Waze connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot that connects up to 10 devices.
Most trim levels come relatively well equipped, so the Fusion is a great value despite its age. Act fast if you want one; production is ending in July 2020, and there won’t be another Ford-badged sedan to take its place.
The most reliable truck
Why you should buy this: It can survive anything.
Who it’s for: Survivalists
How much it will cost: $33,375+
Why we picked the Toyota Tundra:
Toyota has a strong, enviable reputation for reliability, so it’s not surprising that its trucks are known to be virtually indestructible. Whether it’s by logging more than a million miles or surviving California wildfires, the full-size Tundra pickup proudly upholds that reputation. This is a model that has stood the test of time like the Great Pyramids. The trade-off is that it feels almost as old when you sit behind the steering wheel.
The current-generation Tundra made its debut over a decade ago, though it has received several rounds of updates since. It’s now equipped with electronic driving aids like adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Still, if you want the latest and greatest tech features, you’ll have to look elsewhere or wait for the new model.
In the meantime, the Tundra has the fundamentals covered. Its 10,200-pound towing capacity is respectable, and the TRD Pro model offers genuine off-road capability. If you want a no-nonsense truck, it’s hard to beat a Tundra.
The most reliable EV
Why you should buy this: It’s a Chevrolet that happens to be electric.
Who it’s for: Motorists who hate pumping fuel
How much it will cost: $36,620+
Why we picked the Chevrolet Bolt:
Many electric car manufacturers emphasize straight-line speed and a smooth, quiet ride to convince motorists that giving up gasoline is the right thing to do. Chevrolet took a much more low-key approach to designing and marketing the Bolt. It’s a Chevy that just happens to be electric, meaning it’s a solid, straight-forward car that will get you from A to B. The Silverado does that, too, but the Bolt will shuttle you and yours around town without burning a drop of fuel.
Bolt production started in late 2016, and we’d suggest avoiding early examples because problems weren’t unheard of during the first few months of production. And, keep in mind a battery packages differently depending on how (and how often) it’s charged, and the environment it operates in, so battery degradation is difficult to accurately predict, but a majority of motorists who own a Bolt with six-digit mileage say it still holds a charge. The hatchback entered the 2020 model year with up to 259 miles of range, an increase over the 238-mile range in early models.
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.
During that three-to-five-year period, automakers research the competition for their new vehicle, secure partners for production, develop the internal components, choose construction materials, and test both the car and its parts for hundreds of thousands of miles.
Often, companies will find problems after vehicles have been released to the public. These problems will never endanger passengers and usually require a quick fix. Many of the most common issues are related to malfunctioning software. Usually, the company can make these fixes using the cloud. Today, cars are among the most advanced technological devices, with manufacturers focused on designing a quality user experience. Although this opens the door to a world of new possibilities, it also increases the risk of new failures.
It’s an undeniable fact that today’s vehicles are more reliable than they’ve ever been before. We foresee that they will continue in this positive direction. Even though the technology has improved safety and convenience, it’d be unwise to forget that more features can lead to more potential problems. Your vehicle needs to be reliable and safe. Fortunately, many companies keep these two qualities as priorities during the design process, putting the power in your hands. Since many manufacturers are focused on offering a standard for safety and reliability, you can turn to your own personal preferences to help you make your decision.
It’s safe to say that car technology has come a long way. However, we must also acknowledge that it remains far from perfect. New vehicles are improving each year, so we may reach the top soon. With the list we’ve created, you now know how to determine the car models with the best features so you can make the smartest purchase for your specific needs.