For all of the emphasis that America places on being the best, its fascination with so-called “snubs” is quite interesting. There’s always a brouhaha about who wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, who was left off an all-star sports team, and who was eliminated from American Idol, The Bachelor, or other reality TV shows. Why does a nation that ostensibly venerates excellence obsess so much about who falls short of that standard?
This phenomenon is also true when looking at cars. Consumer Reports (and many other publications) ranks the new models each year and showers praise on what it believes are the “best and brightest” of the latest automotive offerings. But by the same token, Consumer Reports (et al.) also doesn’t hesitate to point out which products are disappointing or unsatisfactory.
And for the 2013 model year, there were a couple of surprising “snubs” among the substandard automakers – namely Honda and Toyota.
Wait, What? Honda and Toyota?
Yup. The two foreign automakers each have an entry on Consumer Reports’ “Five Cars to Avoid” list for 2013. The publication says that the Honda Civic’s redesign from the 2012 version yielded “a choppy ride, noisy cabin, vague steering and mediocre interior quality.” Similarly, the Toyota Prius C garners low marks when compared to its full-size brethren, with researchers pointing to a cabin that’s loud, acceleration that’s lousy, and a ride that should be looser. (The other three vehicles on the “avoid” list are the Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Edge, and Jeep Liberty.)
So What Changed?
Did Honda and Toyota suddenly each jettison any and all quality initiatives?
Not likely. The truth is, it’s difficult for any carmaker to wow the automotive critics every year with an entire product line. And while the Civic and Prius C were demeaned on some fronts, Consumer Reports did admit that both vehicles still produced impressive gas mileage numbers. In addition, the Prius C was noted for its small sticker price (under $20,000 for a hybrid is extraordinary) while the Civic still drew praise for its reputation of reliability.
Finally, there’s no indication that other cars in the lineup of either Toyota or Honda are suffering from significant quality deficiencies. (If there were, auto insurance premiums for these cars would be sky-high.)
Why the Brouhaha?
Why is this development so shocking to autophiles? Because Honda and Toyota both have a long and storied history of producing high-quality vehicles, especially when compared to those created by American carmakers. Granted, U.S. brands have caught up to Honda and Toyota in the quality race in recent years, but it’s still surprising to hear the term “inferior” applied to those Japanese companies.
Perhaps the major takeaways from Consumer Reports’ designations have more to do with American attitudes than the two cars themselves. The hoopla surrounding the placing of the Prius C and the Civic on the “to be avoided” list stem from two practices often seen in the American media: the newsworthiness of something unusual, and the (almost gleeful) revelation of the failure of an entity (or person) which has previously established a long track record of success. These narratives tend to boost readership and page views despite their frequent lack of perspective, context, or reality.
So if you’re thinking about purchasing the new Honda Civic or Toyota Prius C, don’t let any publication dissuade you from checking these cars out for yourself. Gather the necessary information, weigh the relevant data, and make a decision based on what you believe to be important. After all, you are the ultimate judge of “quality” when it comes to which vehicle is right for you.