You will never find a mid-sized SUV that has no problems. It’s better to simply accept that your vehicle will be imperfect and look for the models that have the least amount of problems. In most cases, you’ll be very happy with them as well!
The Toyota 4runner is the mid-size SUV with the least problems. In fact, most Toyota vehicles tend to have very few problems, to the point where they often dominate most reliable vehicle lists. The Kia Telluride and the Lexus RX Crossover also have very few problems.
Now you have a basic overview of some of the best mid-size SUV models, but there are a lot of factors that influence this decision. We must now explore what makes these particular mid-sized SUVs better than others, and maybe we’ll even get to explore some other ways of looking at the issue.
Why Is The Toyota 4Runner So Reliable
Toyota is historically a very reliable brand and the 4Runner is no exception. In fact, the 4Runner’s most common problems are all rust-related, meaning that problems with things like the engine or the transmission are incredibly uncommon, even for very old models.
Of course, we could keep listing Toyota SUVs for pages and pages and they would all belong in this discussion. Very few of them have glaring issues even going far back into the past. Toyota has done a great job building a reputation for reliability because they consistently deliver on that promise.
The Lexus GX 460
The Lexus GX series is also known for being very reliable. While it certainly doesn’t have the 4Runner beat, most Lexus GXs can reach two hundred thousand miles easily if they’re well maintained. While they do occasionally have small problems, these don’t tend to be particularly severe, and the average maintenance cost for one year of operations is just a little over $700.
So it’s a fine, reliable vehicle, that will hold up for a long time. If you like Lexus SUVs, this is probably the one to get!
The Kia Telluride
The Kia Telluride definitely is a reliable car. It also has impressed a lot of people, despite its newness to the scene. Even compared to longer running series, the Telluride is both reliable and fun to drive.
It’s actually kind of surprising how cool this vehicle is. It has a neat and unique design, it handles really well, it’s spacious, it gets fairly good mileage, and so far it seems to be remarkably durable.
This vehicle has almost no complaints online, which is probably a combination of the vehicle’s newness and its good reception. We will see if the Kia Telluride continues to be reliable in the coming years, but for now, it definitely belongs on your radar if you’re looking for a new SUV that will probably last for quite some time.
Measuring The Number of Problems With Each Mid-Sized SUV
Of course, you’ll note that we have not yet talked about how many problems these vehicles have, and in an article that asks which mid-sized SUV have the fewest problems, that probably seems like a bit of an oversight.
The reason for this is that it can be very difficult to discern the number of problems that a car might have based on the data available online. Let’s look at a couple of examples that show us why the online numbers can be misleading.
We used carcomplaints.com to find which vehicles had the most complaints about them, and for a lot of vehicles, the number provided made sense. It was usually aligned with the consensus regarding their reliability. The 4Runner, GX Crossover, and Telluride all had fairly low numbers of complaints considering the length of time since they’d first been introduced. This was combined with professional opinions that said they were reliable (the complaint numbers were 452, 51, and 7 respectively.)
The GLE, however, had about eight complaints on the website across all its different models. This may look like the GLE should be an extremely reliable vehicle, but that is not actually the case. The GLE has below-average reliability and actually has quite a number of common problems.
The most likely reason that the GLE only has a few complaints on carcomplaints.com is that the problems that it has are of a nature that makes people unlikely to report them. It’s also possible that the people who buy Mercedes-Benz GLEs aren’t the kind who are likely to post on online forums, or that not as many people purchased these vehicles.
For the GLE, I think that the last possibility is the most likely. Mercedes-Benz’s are infamously expensive, and this one being unreliable probably made it unappealing to buyers, leading them to choose a better vehicle that was cheaper and more durable.
While there are other services that track the number of problems that occur with any given vehicle online, they all tend to have this same kind of bias, which is known as selection bias. Selection bias refers to a set of data that is biased because it is not truly random, in this case, because only people who bought GLEs could have reported about them. Fewer purchases = fewer overall complaints.
Like the Mercedes Benz GLE, the Subaru Ascent only has a few complaints online, namely 35. For a number this low, you would expect it to have only a few problems, but like the GLE, this is not the case. However, unlike the GLE we know exactly why the number is so low.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent faced massive recalls in 2019 because of dangerous problems with the exhaust, the drive shaft, and the transmission. Furthermore, it has been recalled every year since 2018, which is an absolutely horrific record of catastrophic problems.
The Subaru Ascent’s low complaint count is probably a result of survivorship bias, a statistical bias arising from a large part of the story being left out of the data. The only Subaru Ascents left to talk about are the ones that weren’t recalled, meaning that the vast majority of the vehicles that had the worst problems are no longer in circulation.
The classic example of survivorship bias is, of course, the case of WWII fighter jets. After each run, engineers would study where on the plane it was hit the most often by checking the craft for bullet holes. They would usually find the bullet holes on the wings and the tail of the vehicle, and so they decided to increase the armor on those parts of the plane in order to decrease casualties.
Of course, what was more important was the story that wasn’t being told by the data. Most planes that got hit on the wings returned. Planes that got hit in the cockpit or the engines never came back because they crashed. Similarly, there’s no need to complain about a car that’s already been recalled, no matter how bad the problem is.
The Ford Explorer is a fine vehicle, but you’d never realize this based on the number of complaints it has on carcomplaints.com. It has 13,001 different complaints, which is a huge number. Despite this, experts say it’s about as reliable as any other SUV. What gives?
It’s hard to say why the number of complaints is so high. What we were able to figure out was that the problems tended to be with the paint or the cosmetics of the vehicle. Legitimate problems to be sure, but they are also fairly easy to fix and are non-threatening.
Plus, most of the complaints came from a couple of specific years. Our current guess is that the Ford Explorer’s high popularity combined with low average severity means that lots of people encounter and report minor problems, then report problems again for the same car when they arise later on because the problems are easy to fix and most people keep the cars even after encountering these minor flaws.
This would greatly inflate the number of complaints while not actually saying anything about the overall reliability of the vehicle. Of course, this vehicle wouldn’t have been notable for its reliability anyways, since all those little problems can add up to be a big deal. All it means is that the 13,001 complaint number is actually much worse than the actual number of problems the car faces.
The Problem of Statistics in Determining Vehicle Reliability
The fact is that it’s hard to figure out which car has the fewest problems because the numbers on websites like Carcomplaints.com represent more than just a catalog of issues.
Rather, the numbers are stand-ins for the story of each model, which can be long and complicated or too short to really have much value.
Not only do we see massive statistical biases based on the life of the vehicle and the number of people who can report on it (You can only report a problem with a completely destroyed vehicle once, you can report little problems again and again) but also based on how long the model has even been in existence.
Any website that aggregates reports of car issues is going to have problems like this, but they are still extremely helpful for getting a feel for what’s normal to expect from a given model of vehicle.
However, they can’t be solely relied upon to give us an idea of how reliable a car is.
Expert reliability ratings are better, but again, they don’t tell the whole story. Going back to the Ford Explorer, experts say it’s fairly reliable, but at the same time, even if it lasts for years, is it really reliable if it constantly needs to have little problems fixed every year?
The more time passes after the vehicle’s original introduction, the more likely the expert opinion is to become useless as unforeseen issues in the vehicle’s design come to light.
That means that any assessment of which vehicles are going to be the most reliable is going to favor newer models like the Kia Telluride over more established models.
Of course, the numbers have the same problem. These trends are things that you need to take into account when you’re buying an SUV for its reliability.
This is why it’s important to take your research from as many sources as possible when you’re trying to figure out which mid-sized SUV to buy.
You aren’t going to get the whole story from one article or one complaints page. Look at several web pages before you make the decision, and see if you can talk to someone you know who has the model of car you’re looking at buying.
Of course, you also need to take your own tastes into account, which no amount of research could ever help you figure out. Choosing a car is as much a personal decision as it is a practical one, and no amount of data could ever change your own personal tastes.
How To Find Reliable Vehicles
When looking for a reliable vehicle, it’s important to remember everything we’ve already talked about in the last two sections, plus a few extra bits of advice.
If you’re buying new, look at the history of the particular model you want to buy, especially in the last few years.
If there have been a lot of recalls or other problems, maybe think about getting something else. It’s nice to think that companies that make a lot of mistakes can change, but usually, they drag their feet on things like safety until their hands are forced. A vehicle that got recalled last year is likely to get recalled this year too.
If the model doesn’t have much of a past like the Kia Telluride, then look at the other vehicles the company makes to see if they are reliable.
If they make lots of fairly reliable vehicles like Toyota or Kia, then the new vehicle is also likely to be pretty trustworthy. Otherwise, maybe it’s best to look elsewhere, no matter how good the outward reviews are.
If you’re buying a used vehicle, look at the history of the model that you like. This will give you an idea of which years are the best for you to buy.
More recent years tend to have more features, while older years tend to be cheaper. Remember that even if the up-front cost of buying a cheap year is lower, it may end up costing you more in repairs down the line.
Once you feel informed, you can confidently make your decision!