Best Quality Cars, 2012 By Clifford Atiyeh of MSN Autos

 

New cars continue to become more reliable and better built, according to the latest Initial Quality Study by J.D. Power and Associates. The annual survey, which ranks automakers by the number of defects and design-related problems that owners see in the first 90 days of ownership, showed an industry average of 102 problems per 100 vehicles, a 5 percent improvement over 2011. But while 26 of the 34 brands included in the survey rated higher this year, J.D. Power says that audio and infotainment systems caused more frustration, with 45 percent more reported problems than in 2006. Here, we feature the highest-ranked vehicle in each model segment.

Top Subcompact Car: Toyota Yaris

The Yaris, with its old 4-speed automatic transmission and plebian interior, isn’t a stellar compact car compared with its more sophisticated competition. The redesigned, edgier 2012 model carries over much of the same equipment. But befitting a typical Toyota, the Yaris is cheap to maintain and simple to operate in either hatchback or sedan form. Toyota, at 88 problems per 100 vehicles, clearly has something right on its hands. Runners-up: Honda Fit, Mazda2

Top Compact Car: Toyota Corolla

Is it any wonder the world’s best-selling car winds up here? The Corolla name is nearly as old as Mustang, and when it comes to no-frills, dead-reliable transport, nothing is more renowned. Like the Yaris, the current Corolla is outclassed by its many rivals in technology, design and performance. That doesn’t seem to matter. Runners-up: Toyota Prius, Honda Civic

Top Compact Sporty Car: Mazda MX-5 Miata

When it was introduced 23 years ago, the Miata was meant to re-create the spirit of those iconic British roadsters — the lightweight and zippy MGs, Austin Healeys and Triumphs. What it left out were the atrocious electrical failures and other mechanical problems that plagued those old roadsters. A true enthusiast’s car, the Miata sets the standard for affordable sports cars that can go the long mile. Runners-up: Volkswagen Eos, Scion tC

Top Compact Premium Sporty Car: Volvo C70

Refreshed for 2011, the Volvo C70 is an attractive alternative to the usual crop of $40,000 German convertibles. The folding hardtop, floating center control stack and understated interior blend well with the car’s turbocharged engines. But don’t get confused; the C70 is a cruiser, not a corner-dicing sports car. Safety, of course, is paramount; the C70 was the world’s first convertible with head curtain airbags. Runner-up: Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe/Cabriolet

Top Entry Premium Car: Lexus ES

Lexus once again leads the J.D. Power list as the most reliable automaker, with an average of 73 problems per 100 vehicles. The ES 350 is all new for 2013, with a more aggressive front end and sculpted interior, plus a hybrid trim. In any model year, the ES is smooth, steers with a finger and offers a lot of luxury for the money. Runners-up: Acura TL, Lincoln MKZ

Top Midsize Premium Car: Infiniti M

The M, redesigned for 2011, has some of the most dramatic, flashy styling in its segment, especially with the sport model’s 20-inch wheels and sparkled wood trim. Its adaptive cruise control can start and stop the vehicle in rush-hour traffic without fault. There’s also a hybrid and available all-wheel drive. Keep in mind it’s not cheap or good on gas. Runners-up: Lincoln MKS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan/Wagon

Top Midsize Sporty Car: Ford Mustang

A perennial favorite, the Mustang continues its formula of big-engine, rear-wheel-drive fun for little money. Newer models have higher-quality interiors and more fuel-efficient V6 engines that make as much power as the old V8s. Whether coupe or convertible, GT or the 200-mph Shelby GT500, the Mustang is as much a generational symbol of American progress as it is a serious sports car. Runner-up: Dodge Challenger

Top Large Premium Car: Lexus LS

Like the Miata, the Lexus LS changed the preconceptions of its market segment when it was introduced in 1989. While the latest LS looks somewhat dated, it’s still a solid tank of a car that glides like it’s riding on glass, much like the Mercedes S-Class (which the LS now almost matches in price). The hybrid 600hL doesn’t save fuel, but boy, the sound system is incredible. Not much breaks on this big car, either. Runners-up: Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche Panamera

Top Midsize Car: Chevrolet Malibu

Chevy’s 2008 redesign turned the Malibu from humdrum into something worth humming about. The fuel economy, styling and overall comfort were right up there with it Japanese peers, and while it’s taken some time to catch on, the people have spoken. For 2013, the Malibu adds an electric motor to the base 4-cylinder engine to save fuel and emissions, and promises more connectivity. Runners-up: Ford Fusion and Honda Accord (tie)

Top Large Car: Ford Taurus

Now being offered as a police car, the Taurus is everything the Crown Victoria wasn’t: fresh, refined and available with fuel-efficient turbocharged engines and all-wheel drive. The Taurus is a slick-looking car and it’s well-built, as it’s based on the Volvo S80 chassis. The small windows make visibility more difficult than in other large cars, however. The complicated MyFord Touch infotainment system was redesigned after poor J.D. Power ratings last year and works just fine. Runners-up: Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300

Top Premium Sport Car: Porsche 911

Somehow, Porsche ends up having fewer problems than Honda or Mercedes (we’ll chalk it up to lower production volume and fewer miles traveled). Whatever the reason, the 911 is a fantastic way to spend upwards of $80,000. It’s practical, conservative-looking, yet altogether badass when the time comes to push it on a favorite back road. Among sports cars, the 911 is an indisputable legend that’s been going strong for five decades. Runner-up: BMW 6-Series

Top Compact Crossover/SUV: Honda CR-V

In 1997, the CR-V was one of the few compact crossovers, and Honda got it right from the start. With its slim proportions, all-wheel drive and generous cargo room, the CR-V is about as utilitarian as anyone really needs. The 4-cylinder engines are snappy and good on fuel, and while the interiors need some improvement and the doors feel flimsy, there’s a lot of well-engineered car here. Runners-up: Toyota RAV4, Toyota FJ Cruiser

Top Compact MPV: Kia Soul

While hip-hop hamsters drive it on TV, in real life the Kia Soul is driven by all sorts of people, much like how Scion has attracted buyers beyond its original “youth” demographic. The boxy Soul, with its pulsing speaker lights and oddball cloth textures, is fun to drive and invites stares. Generous cargo space, simple controls and Kia’s impressive powertrain warranty seal the deal. Runner-up: Toyota Prius V

Top Entry Premium Crossover/SUV: Infiniti EX

The EX crossover is essentially a G sedan with more headroom and a hatch. Therefore, it nearly matches the G’s aggressive attitude, with crisp handling and powerful acceleration that’s livelier than an Audi Q5. The interior is feeling a little old next to Infiniti’s other models, and the ride can be rough at times. But it’s nice to have a crossover exhibiting some old-fashioned soul. Runners-up: Acura RDX, Mercedes-Benz GLK

Top Midsize Crossover/SUV: Buick Enclave

Among three-row SUVs, this Buick outsells them all. It’s a stylish, ultraquiet family hauler with all the trimmings — and unlike previous Buick SUVs, it’s not a carbon copy of a cheaper Chevrolet. For 2013, the Enclave gets a mild refresh with more soft-touch interior materials and other moderate improvements. If you can stand minivans, you won’t do much better for the price than this Buick. Runners-up: Honda Crosstour; Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander

Top Large Crossover/SUV: Ford Expedition

This is a weird choice, considering that the Expedition has been long forgotten in the Ford lineup in favor of smaller, more fuel-efficient SUVs. For its sheer towing capacity, living-room size and brute strength, it’s hard to argue with an Expedition or its luxury cousin, the Lincoln Navigator. We’d like to think that better, more modern V8-powered 3-row SUVs are available. Runners-up: GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe

Top Midsize Premium Crossover/SUV: Lexus RX

Lexus pretty much invented the luxury crossover segment with the first RX 15 years ago. It had a level of quality and style that other automakers couldn’t match for many years. Today, it’s still one of the best. The RX’s ride is quiet and smooth, and the interior is posh. The mouse controller on the infotainment system is almost impossible to use, though. Runners-up: Infiniti FX, Cadillac SRX

Top Large Premium Crossover/SUV: Cadillac Escalade

This old-school Cadillac is huge and dripping with chrome all the way down to its 22-inch rims. It’s not even as nice as it could be inside for its $80,000 price tag. But high-tech features such as magnetic suspension give this rig outstanding poise for its supersize weight. Choosing an Escalade means you have little concern for gas prices or getting your car stolen, which insurance companies agree is likely to happen. Runners-up: Infiniti QX56, Land Rover Range Rover Sport

Top Large Pickup: GMC Sierra 1500

Tough construction, good reliability and above-average resale value make full-size General Motors pickups easy choices. Plus, they come in many configurations and styles to fit any budget and occupation. Denali models are especially well-trimmed and chromed without being gaudy. Plus, a natural-gas option is now available for those who have access to the cheap fuel. Runners-up: Chevrolet Silverado HD; Chevrolet Avalanche and Nissan Titan (tie)

Top Midsize Pickup: Nissan Frontier

American manufacturers aren’t paying much attention to smaller pickups anymore, so it goes without saying that Nissan has a good — if extremely basic — truck for this segment. The Frontier is short on refinement, but it offers a spacious bed and enough torque for most jobs. It’s a prime example that keeping things simple can pay off in the long run. Runner-up: Honda Ridgeline

Top Minivan: Nissan Quest

If you can live with its funky, upright design, you’ll find the Nissan Quest perfectly capable for minivan duty. Folding seats, an under-floor cargo bin, available DVD entertainment systems, power doors, a dual glass moon-roof — it’s all here. That Nissan has beaten its more popular van rivals from Honda and Toyota is impressive, although we’re still partial to the Odyssey. Runners-up: Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna

This content was written by Clifford Atiyeh of MSN Autos

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