If you're in the market for a new car, you know the conventional wisdom. For top-notch driving dynamics, shop German brands. If safety is your priority, head for Swedish-made cars. For plenty of straight-line muscle, buy American. Budget-conscious buyers should check out the latest cars from Korea. And if you prize reliability above all else, you should shop cars from ... Detroit?
Seriously, is that a typo?
Not according to J.D. Power's 2009 Initial Quality Study (IQS). The study, conducted between February and May 2009, is based on responses from more than 80,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2009 model-year cars surveyed after 90 days of ownership. Though the top spots are traditionally filled by foreign brands, General Motors' Cadillac has managed to break into the top five. The number one spot, previously filled by Porsche, goes to Lexus. Other brands in the top five include Hyundai and Honda.
The most surprising trend is that domestic brands outpaced the industry when it comes to improvements in initial quality. In a press release announcing the results, J.D. Power explains, "new vehicles sold by Chrysler, Ford and GM's domestic brands have improved in initial quality by an average of 10 percent, compared with 2008, surpassing the 8-percent rate of improvement by the industry overall."
So, while foreign makes still dominate when it comes to initial reliability, American automakers are making great strides in quality, and even managed to snag some coveted awards in the J.D. Power survey. Car shoppers seeking reliable rides might want to reconsider the conventional wisdom and keep some of these award-winning (and reliable) American models on their lists.
Highest Ranking Compact Multi-Activity Vehicle (tie)
In the 2009 Initial Quality Study, J.D. Power grouped cars by function. Those that had multiple uses (think wagons, SUVs and crossovers) competed against each other in the Multi-Activity Vehicle (MAV) segments. When it comes to compact MAVs, the highest ranked car in initial quality may come as a surprise. It wasn't the Toyota RAV4. Instead, it was the Chrysler PT Cruiser, which shared the top spot with the Honda CR-V. That's right: when it comes to initial quality, a Chrysler beat a Toyota and tied with a Honda. With that kind of quality, the PT Cruiser should be on any compact-wagon shoppers list.
Highest Ranking Midsize Multi-Activity Vehicle (tie)
The Ford Edge combines midsize SUV utility with the kind of sleek, upscale styling usually associated with luxury crossovers. And, according to the 2009 IQS, the Edge beats some of those luxury cars when it comes to reliability. Not only did the study find that the Edge has a particularly good engine and transmission (which is where reliability really counts), it also showed that the Edge's quality has been improving. From 2008 to 2009, the Edge moved from seventh place to a tie for the top spot. Even more impressive is the finding that the Edge is now one of the top 10 Multi-Activity Vehicles in the industry when it comes to initial quality.
Highest Ranking Midsize Multi-Activity Vehicle (tie)
When it comes to midsize SUVs and Crossovers, the Chevrolet TrailBlazer shows that Ford isn't the only domestic automaker worth watching. The 2009 IQS found that consumers had fewer problems with the TrailBlazer's navigation and entertainment systems compared to other models. The TrailBlazer is also one of the highest ranked Multi-Activity Vehicles overall -- not just in its size segment -- when it comes to initial quality.
Highest Ranking Midsize Sporty Car
Sure, sports cars are all supposed to be about a love of the road, but it's awfully hard to love driving when your car won't even start. Enter the Ford Mustang. According to the 2009 IQS, the Mustang is the highest-ranked sporty midsize car in initial quality, thanks in part to its easy-to-use interior displays and controls. The Mustang won this award in 2008 as well -- making it an attractive candidate for used and new car shoppers looking for a passionate ride they can depend on.
Highest Ranking Large Multi-Activity Vehicle
More and more families are opting for large SUVs, rather than minivans, for their cavernous interiors and increased capabilities. Those same families need something they can depend on, and that's just what J.D. Power found the GMC Yukon is. The Yukon beat out all other large SUVs and crossovers in initial quality, moving up from a third-place finish in 2008. If you have a lot of people and stuff, and need to haul them all dependably, the Yukon is a compelling choice.
Highest Ranking Large Pickup (tie)
New and redesigned models usually have some quality issues in their first year on the market. The Ford F-150, redesigned for 2009, is the exception. Even though it's new to the market, the 2009 F-150 managed to pull ahead of the competition when it comes to initial quality, scoring particularly well in the interior category -- something that, in the rough-and-tumble truck segment, is hard to do.
Third Highest Ranking Brand in Initial Quality
When it comes to ranking entire car brands by initial quality, the top two spots went to Lexus and Porsche -- no surprises there. But screaming into third place (from a tenth place finish in 2008) was Cadillac. General Motors' luxury marquee has been racking up fans and awards lately, including a nod for being the top brand in customer satisfaction in a 2009 AutoPacific Survey, Top Safety Pick awards from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and a 2008 Car of the Year award from Motor Trend for the popular CTS Sedan. Throw in well-reviewed new models like the CTS-V and SRX and it seems likely that Cadillac will continue the upward trend, both in initial quality and automotive passion.