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Honda slips; Mazda, Chrysler gain in key quality report

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co <7267.T> lost its top spot in an influential annual automotive report on quality, while Mazda and Chrysler showed the biggest gains.

Honda, the winner the past four years in Consumer Reports' annual report card, slipped to fourth place among 13 major automakers at 72 points.

The Japanese automaker was hurt by problems with several redesigned models, including the Civic small car and Odyssey minivan. Those models scored lower than the popular earlier versions they replaced.

Subaru <7270.T> earned the top score of 75 points for the first time in the influential consumer buying guide's 2012 report, followed by Mazda <7261.T> (74 points) and Toyota <7203.T> (73 points).

"While Japanese automakers still hold the top five spots, their lead is shrinking," David Champion, senior director for the magazine's automotive test center, said in a statement. "In some of Honda's and Toyota's recently redesigned models, cost cutting has become noticeable."

Surveys by Consumer Reports are used heavily in auto industry marketing and are seen as influential in shaping consumer perceptions.

Mazda showed the most dramatic improvement, climbing from seventh place last year and increasing its overall score by 9 points. It was helped by shedding two low-scoring models, Consumer Reports said.

Although Chrysler remained in last place, its overall score jumped 8 points to 51, making it the second most improved automaker due to extensively redesigned vehicles, Consumer Reports said.

Ford Motor Co , on the other hand, dropped the farthest, from fifth place last year to 10th place in the 2012 report. While the U.S. automaker's road-test score rose by two points, Ford's rating was hurt by consumer complaints about the complexity of touch-screen navigation and radio controls in the MyFord Touch system.

Volvo <0175.HK>, at 64 points in sixth place, earned the best grade of any of the European brands tested.

Nissan <7201.T> was fifth (67 points), Hyundai <005380.KS> and BMW both finished with 63 points and Volkswagen had 62 points. The other automakers tested were Mercedes-Benz (58 points) and General Motors (56 points).

The complete Consumer Reports report is available at www.consumerreports.org.

(Reporting By Ben Klayman)