2012 Ford Explorer

Ford has taken it on the chin from J.D. Power since the carmaker rolled out its new MyFord Touch system in the 2011 Explorer. Ford's ranking in the influential Initial Quality Survey dropped from fifth last year all the way down to 23rd, in large measure because of customer dissatisfaction with the new technology and its voice recognition interface, but also because of refinement complaints about the PowerShift dual-clutch transmission in the Fiesta. But unlike, say, the Houston Cougars, who plummeted in the Bowl Championship Series rankings after getting blown out in the Conference USA title game this weekend, Ford can make a pretty good case that it's getting jobbed.

The traditional definition of quality when it comes to new cars and trucks has been based on those vehicles being free of defects. But in the last few years, the tide has been turning, in large measure because J.D. Power is increasingly weighing customer complaints related to design and, in particular, new electronic technology. Car and Driver paints the complaints that have dogged Ford among the latter, suggesting that these are less valid quality metrics than something like a poorly assembled door panel.

The venerable buff book doesn't stop at defending Ford, however, cautioning against what it sees as a trend "toward the lowest-common-denominator solutions to reduce design 'problems.'" Citing examples like BMW moving its cruise control from a separate stalk to buttons on the steering wheel to appease whining customers and Porsche getting dinged on IQS for using brake pads that generate too much dust, C/D doesn't say it outright, but certainly implies that J.D. Power is no longer pushing automakers in the right direction.