Best cars in 2019: Consumer NZ's People's Choice winners revealed

The best cars in our reliability and satisfaction survey, as judged by our members.

Car driving on road to Mt Cook

Our survey of 9736 cars shows which brands are best for reliable motoring, which have the most satisfied owners and which cost the least to maintain and repair.

We’ve analysed 19 brands and 94 models. We’ve awarded the best our People’s Choice accolade, and highlighted the worst to help you avoid picking a lemon.

What is the People’s Choice award?

Our People’s Choice award recognises products and services with highly satisfied owners and users. If you choose a People’s Choice brand or model, you’ll be more likely to be satisfied with the customer experience.

Consumer NZ People's Choice logo.

The car awards are based on our reliability and owner satisfaction survey, conducted with our members. A brand or model must have at least 30 responses in our survey to be eligible for the award. Then, it must be clearly ahead of the others. For categories with no clear winners or no brands that meet our benchmark, we won’t award People’s Choice.

Brand and model winners

Brand winner: Suzuki

Reliability index: 73% (serious and major faults: 8%; trouble-free cars: 63%)
Very satisfied owners: 90%
Would recommend this brand: 89%
480 cars

Suzuki Consumer NZ People's Choice Car Awards winner
Of 480 Suzuki cars in our survey, just 8% had a serious or major fault.

Of 480 Suzuki cars in our survey, just 8% had a serious or major fault (one that needs to be fixed, is likely to need time off the road and could cause a breakdown). Significantly more Suzuki owners than average said their car was completely trouble-free.

More Suzuki cars in our data were newer than the average, but the brand remained in our top four most reliable brands for cars in all year groups from pre-2005 to post-2015.

Excellent reliability means Suzuki owners spent less on unscheduled repairs: 92% (significantly more than average) shelled out less than $500 in the past year, and just 2% were hit with bills totalling more than $2500.

Significantly more Suzuki owners than the average were very satisfied with their car. Top reliability contributes to owner happiness, but there’s more to it than that. Suzuki owners also rated their car’s value for money and fuel efficiency highly. However, significantly fewer than average sang about the comfort of their car.

Small Car winner: Suzuki Swift

Reliability index: 75% (serious and major faults: 8%; trouble-free cars: 63%)
Very satisfied owners: 92%
Would recommend this model: 89%
224 cars

Suzuki Swift Consumer NZ People's choice car award winner
Swift owners were significantly more satisfied than the average small-car owner, and more likely to recommend this car to others.

The fourth generation of the Swift has been available since 2017. Most cars in our data are from the second (2004 to 2010) and third (2010 to 2017) generations. All are 3- or 5-door hatchbacks with a petrol engine.

Swift owners were significantly more satisfied than the average small-car owner, and more likely to recommend this car to others. Owners particularly rate the value for money and fuel efficiency, but fewer than average were very satisfied with comfort.

The Swift is reliable, scoring 75% on our index (compared to the average of 54%). Just 8% were reported with a serious or major fault and 63% were trouble-free. If a Swift goes wrong, it’s most likely to be a fault in the electrical system, or trouble with suspension or brakes.

Medium Car (and Overall) winner: Nissan Leaf

Reliability index: 89% (serious and major faults: 2%; trouble-free cars: 87%)
Very satisfied owners: 98%
Would recommend this model: 96%
181 cars

2019 Consumer NZ People's Choice car award winner Nissan Leaf
Owners of the Nissan Leaf reported being very satisfied with their car’s comfort, driving performance and safety features.

The battery-electric Leaf was launched in 2011, with the second (current) generation released in 2017. The first generation was sold new in New Zealand until 2014 and the second generation from late 2019, but almost all examples in our survey are used imported vehicles.

It’s not just ditching the petrol pumps that satisfies Leaf owners – more than average were very satisfied with their car’s comfort, driving performance and safety features.

Leaf owners were least likely of all to follow a strict service schedule (only 39% do and 94% spend less than $500 on servicing annually), yet only 1% spent more than $500 on unscheduled repairs in the past year.

Only 13% of Leafs had any faults at all (with 2% of faults deemed serious or major). The most troublesome area was in-car electronics, which was a problem in 4% of cars.

Large Car winner: Toyota Aurion

Reliability index: 72% (serious and major faults: 7%; trouble-free cars: 53%)
Very satisfied owners: 96%
Would recommend this model: 86%
45 cars

2019 Consumer NZ people's choice car award winner Toyota Aurion
Just 7% of Toyota Aurion owners reported serious or major faults. I

The Aurion is a large car based on the Camry, with restyled front and rear ends and interior – think of it as a “luxury Camry”. It was produced in Australia and sold in New Zealand between 2006 and 2017. It was never sold in Japan, so there are no imports in our survey.

In a category where just three models beat the average reliability index of 54%, the Aurion was a step ahead – just 7% of owners reported serious or major faults. If your Aurion suffers a fault, it’s most likely to be a minor problem with body hardware or the audio/infotainment system. More Aurion owners were very satisfied than owners of any other large car (96%).

For a large car, owners told us their Aurion was cheap to run. Only 4% spent more than $1000 on servicing in the past year (compared to 18% of large car owners on average) and 93% spent less than $500 on repair (compared to 77%).

Crossover SUV winner: Subaru XV

Reliability index: 88% (serious and major faults: 2%; trouble-free cars: 88%)
Very satisfied owners: 93%
Would recommend the model: 89%
56 cars

Consumer NZ people's choice car awards SUV winner: Subaru XV
The Subaru XV stands out with just 12% of cars exhibiting even a minor fault.

The XV is based on the medium-sized Impreza model. It was first developed from the fourth-generation Impreza in 2013, using a 2.0L petrol engine and Subaru all-wheel-drive system. The fifth generation Impreza spawned a second XV model in 2017.

All the Crossover SUVs in our survey are newer than average, so you’d expect them to be more reliable than average – and they are. However, the XV stands out with just 12% of cars exhibiting even a minor fault. No XV in our survey suffered even a minor engine, gearbox or drive system fault.

All XVs in our data are the latest model, launched in 2017. However, the related Impreza model, which has more older cars in our survey, rides high in our reliability index – a good sign for the future of the XV.

Medium/Large SUV winner: Lexus RX

Reliability index: 73% (serious and major faults: 12%; trouble-free cars: 61%)
Very satisfied owners: 95%
Would recommend the model: 94%
41 cars

Consumer NZ people's choice car award winner Lexus RX
Overall, only 5% of Lexus RX owners were less than very satisfied.

The RX is a crossover between a luxury sedan and an SUV. It’s into its fourth generation now (since 2015), developed from the same platform that spawned the Toyota Highlander. It has either a petrol or hybrid-petrol engine (almost half of the cars in our data are the hybrid RX450h model). Previous generations (2008 to 2015 and 2003 to 2008) have similar specifications and a hybrid option. Earlier cars (the 2003 to 2008 second generation) were sold as the Toyota Harrier in Japan and appear here as used imports.

Lexus RX owners are a very satisfied bunch. Overall, only 5% were less than very satisfied, and significantly more owners than average rated the interior design and equipment, comfort and safety of their cars very highly.

Just 12% of RX owners reported a serious or major fault with their car, and 61% said it’s been free of all faults in the past year. There were no areas where the Lexus is more likely than the average car to have problems. The most common cause of trouble in this model is the engine electrical system.

Brands and models to avoid

Not all cars can be the most reliable and satisfying to own. We’ve picked out the brands and models that prop up our tables – where owners reported more faults and lower satisfaction with their cars. Choosing one of these cars doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to run into trouble, but there’s more chance you’ll end up with a lemon.

Brand loser: Chrysler/Jeep

Reliability index: 26% (serious and major faults: 30%; trouble-free cars: 37%)
Very satisfied owners: 72%
Would recommend this brand: 67%
46 cars

People's choice car awards brand loser chrysler jeep
Just 39% of Chrysler/Jeep owners were very satisfied with fuel efficiency.

If you’re looking for an SUV or large car, you’d be best avoiding those from Chrysler/Jeep. Owners reported serious and major faults in almost a third of them (30%). Fewer than three-quarters of owners (72%) said they were very satisfied with their car and just two-thirds (67%) willing to recommend the brand to others.

Owners said their Chrysler/Jeep cars were costly to run too – just 39% were very satisfied with fuel efficiency, a quarter spent more than $1000 on servicing in the past year, and 17% spent more than $2500 on unscheduled repairs.

As 63% of cars had some type of trouble, there’s a higher risk your Chrysler/Jeep will become a money pit.

Small Car loser: Holden Barina

Reliability index: 30% (serious and major faults: 36%; trouble-free cars: 47%)
Very satisfied owners: 72%
Would recommend this model: 81%
36 cars

People's choice car awards small car loser holden barina
More than a third of Holden Barinas owners reported serious or major faults.

The Barina name has been used on three different cars. Holden discontinued the sixth generation (from 2011) in 2018 – it was based on a Chevrolet. The fifth generation (from 2006) was a Daewoo Kalos and the fourth generation (from 2001) was an Opel Corsa.

When asked: “Given your experience with this car, would you have chosen the same model when you did?”, fewer owners than average would choose a Barina again.

More than a third of cars has serious or major faults, which is a particular concern as there were more newer Barinas in our survey than average and they’d travelled fewer kilometres – statistically a newer, lower–kilometre car is more reliable.

Many owners ended up hot and bothered over a hot and bothered car – the most common faults reported were with the climate system and engine cooling.

Medium Car loser: Peugeot 306 / 307 / 308

People's choice car awards medium size loser Peugeot 308
A quarter of owners (27%) reported a serious failure in the engine or transmission.

Reliability index: 22% (serious and major faults: 46%; trouble-free cars: 41%)
Very satisfied owners: 78%
Would recommend this model: 61%
41 cars

The 306 model, dating from 1993, was replaced by the 307 in 2002. The 308 replaced that in 2007. The second generation 308 is available new in New Zealand as a hatchback with a petrol engine. Our survey includes 306, 307 and 308 models with petrol and diesel engines.

The three generations of this euro model, the oldest 306 (12% of the cars in our survey), later 307 (32%) and latest 308 (56%), recorded the highest proportion with serious or major faults of any model we analysed (46%). A quarter of owners (27%) reported a serious failure in the engine or transmission.

More than a fifth of owners spent more than $1000 to service their car, and 5% spent more than $2500 on repairs in the past year. Just 61% would recommend this model to others.

Large Car loser: Subaru Legacy

Reliability index: 21% (serious and major faults: 36%; trouble-free cars: 26%)
Very satisfied owners: 76%
Would recommend this model: 65%
97 cars

People's Choice car awards winner large car loser Subaru Legacy
More than a third of owners reported serious or major faults, and just a quarter had trouble-free cars.

The Legacy name has been around since 1989. Third (1998 to 2004), fourth (2004 to 2009) and fifth generation cars (2009-2014) are popular used imports and it’s also sold new in New Zealand. The sixth generation from 2014 was replaced in 2019. The Legacy is available as an all-wheel-drive sedan or wagon with petrol engines and, from 2003, a diesel option. It is the base for the Outback SUV.

The Legacy is a rarity – a Japanese car that sits near the bottom of our reliability index. More than a third of owners reported serious or major faults, and just a quarter had trouble-free cars. Problems were most likely with the engine, fuel system, suspension and steering.

A quarter of owners spent more than $1000 on servicing in the past year, and when a Legacy goes wrong, it is more likely than the average car to cost a lot to fix – 5% of owners spent more than $2500 on unscheduled repairs in the past year.

At 76%, no other large car had fewer very satisfied owners. Poor fuel efficiency was a significant bugbear for many – only 25% noted it as a point of satisfaction.

SUV / Crossover loser: Holden Captiva

Reliability index: 23% (serious and major faults: 34%; trouble-free cars: 41%)
Very satisfied owners: 66%
Would recommend the model: 57%
41 cars

People's car awards SUV loser Holden Captiva
Only two-thirds of Captiva owners said they were very satisfied, and 57% would recommend one to others.

Holden sold the Korean-produced Captiva in New Zealand between 2006 and 2018. It was available until 2016 as the Captiva 5 (a 5-seater) and the Captiva 7 (a 7-seater). In 2016, the Captiva 5 was discontinued and the Captiva 7 became just “Captiva”. Throughout this time there was just one generation. It was available with 2WD and 4WD options and a choice of petrol and diesel engines.

The Captiva isn’t the least reliable SUV in our data (it comes close, but that honour goes to the Ford Territory), but it is the least loved car of any of the 91 models we analysed. Only two-thirds of owners said they were very satisfied, and 57% would recommend a Captiva to others.

A third (34%) of Captiva owners report serious or major problems with their car, and 7% (significantly more than average) have spent more than $2500 on repairs in the past year. Ten percent of Captivas have needed major engine work (significantly more than the 2% average across all models).

Our survey

We only analyse makes or models that receive more than 30 samples.

Reliability

We wanted to know about reliability problems that occurred in the past year. We asked respondents to tell us if they thought the fault was serious, major or minor.

Serious faults are likely to cause a breakdown, take a car out of service for more than a few days and be expensive to repair. Major faults could still cause breakdowns or result in significant repair costs and time off the road. Minor faults are less critical, but may still need repair or affect owner satisfaction. We reported cars with no serious, major or minor faults as trouble-free.

Our reliability index, scored from zero to 100%, is calculated from serious, major and minor faults reported in our survey – with more weight given to serious faults and less to minor niggles.

Our index allows for age: if a brand or model has better (or worse) reliability than you’d expect for the age of the cars in its sample, our index accounts for it.

Satisfaction

We asked owners how satisfied they were with their car. We also asked “given your experience with this car, would you still have chosen this model at the time you purchased it?” and “would you recommend this model to friends and family?”

Answers were rated on a scale from zero to 10; we considered a rating between eight and 10 as very satisfied, would recommend or would buy again.

People’s Choice

When making our People’s Choice awards, we considered owner satisfaction (percent very satisfied and percent highly likely to recommend the model) and reliability (our index, percent reported with serious and major faults, and percent reported as trouble-free).

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