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Subaru surges, Jeep stumbles in annual auto report

Subaru, which has quietly grown its sales in the U.S. over the last 10 years, is now winning praise for the quality and reliability of its cars and crossover utility vehicles.

The Japanese automaker climbed three spots, to second place, in Consumer Reports' 2016 Brand Report Card, released Tuesday.

The annual ranking of auto brands, which is based on the predicted reliability of dozens of models and road tests, is considered to be one of the most important independent evaluations of vehicles. (See the full list below).

"When you drive a Subaru, they actually drive extremely well. They ride well, they handle well, they are reliable, they do have a lot of the features including a lot of advanced safety features that you really only normally see in higher-priced cars," said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' director of automotive testing.

The only brand to top Subaru was Audi, which also rose three spots from last year's rankings. Both automakers had 100 percent of their tested models recommended by Consumer Reports.

The ratings organization this year changed its methodology, including giving higher weighting to models that come with collision-mitigation systems, such as auto emergency brakes. This helped Audi, in particular.

Consumer Reports' auto ranking also highlights a split between its evaluations and the popularity of certain brands. Jeep, which was the fastest-growing mass-market brand in the U.S. last year, was ranked the second-worst auto brand by Consumer Reports.

Fisher said the styling of the current Jeep vehicles may be attracting buyers, but in the organization's opinion, the models have numerous reliability issues.

"Unfortunately, since Fiat has taken over many of these brands, with Fiat Chrysler the reliability continues to not be very good," Fisher said. "[There are] lots of problems with these vehicles, trips to the dealership, trips to the mechanic, and that is not good when you spend $30,000 for a new vehicle on average."

Subaru Outback vehicles sit on display at Uftring Subaru in East Peoria, Illinois.
Daniel Acker | Getty Images
Subaru Outback vehicles sit on display at Uftring Subaru in East Peoria, Illinois.

In response to the ranking, Matt Liddane, vice president of quality at FCA North America, said, "We respect Consumer Reports' opinion, as they're one of the many third-party evaluators we receive comments from."

"With that being said, we encourage customers to experience our vehicles for themselves. We continue to aggressively pursue both product and ... quality improvements as they are top priorities for the company, and our internal measurements are showing progress."

The 2016 Brand Report Card is based on dozens of evaluations and testing that Consumer Reports does at its automotive test center in Connecticut.

However, the reviews did not include any of the diesel models Volkswagen is restricted from selling as it tries to make those models compliant with EPA emissions rules.

Consumer Reports also has not yet tested the Tesla Model X. And with only Tesla vehicle, the Model S, being evaluated, Consumer Reports said there was insufficient data to rank the brand.

Consumer Reports 2016 Auto Brand Rankings

A brand must have at least two models with test and reliability data to be included. Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Maserati, Ram, Smart and Tesla lack sufficient data.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.