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) -- The auto industry is making better vehicles than it has in at least two decades, with


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winning honors for the most-top quality models.

In releasing the results of its 2012 vehicle dependability study, which considered 2009 vehicles,

J.D. Power

said dependability improved 13% from a year earlier, leading to the lowest problem rate since the inception of the study in 1990, when 1987 vehicles were measured.

The Buick Lucerne got the nod as best large car in J.D. Powers' latest reliability rankings.

The improvements in 2009 models came even though the year was, financially, one of the toughest in auto industry history.

J.D. Power said


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ranks highest in vehicle dependability among all nameplates in 2012. Rounding out the top five are




, Toyota and


, respectively.


and Scion posted the greatest year-over-year improvements.

Overall, Toyota, along with its Lexus and Scion nameplates, won eight segment awards, while Ford, along with its Lincoln, won three.


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, with its Buick and Chevy, won two awards, as did



. Additionally, the


Genesis won its segment. Ties were recorded in two segments, bringing the total number of winners to 16.

The study, conducted between October and December, is based on responses from more than 31,000 original owners of 2009 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. It measures problems experienced during the past 12 months. Overall dependability is determined by the level of problems experienced per 100 vehicles, with a lower score reflecting higher quality.

The overall dependability average in 2012 was 132 problems per 100 vehicles. This compares with last year's average of 151 problems per 100 vehicles.

These are the top eight cars. Next week, we will list the top eight crossovers and trucks.

Best subcompact: Toyota Yaris

Toyota was the fourth-highest-rated brand, with 104 problems per 100 vehicles. The Yaris had 97 problems per 100 vehicles, according to Toyota, which provided the number of problems per 100 vehicles for its cars.

Runners-up for best subcompact were the Scion xD, which had 113 problems per 100 vehicles, and the


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"We are extremely pleased that not only did we win awards in eight of the 14 model segments, but that in two segments we finished one-two and made the podium in 12 segments overall," said Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer for Toyota USA, in a statement.

The subcompact Yaris is offered in three-door hatchback, five-door hatchback and sedan styles. All models share the same 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with a choice of transmissions. The Yaris is rated at 29 mpg city and 35 mpg highway -- fuel economy numbers that approach hybrid territory.

Best compact: Toyota Prius

The Prius had 80 problems per 100 vehicles.

Runners-up for the best compacts were the Toyota Corolla, which had 93 problems per 100 vehicles, and the Hyundai Elantra.

In 2009, the Toyota Prius was available in standard, base and touring Edition models. Toyota introduced an all-new, third-generation Prius for the 2010 model year.

Best sporty compact: Scion tC

The Scion tC had 123 problems per 100 vehicles.

No runners-up were selected in the category.

The 2009 Scion tC, a two-door coupe, is Scion's sportiest car. All models have 17-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic moonroof and a 160-watt sound system. The tC is powered by a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine.

Best midsize: Ford Fusion

The Ford brand had 124 problems per 100 vehicles.

The Fusion was the top midsized car for the second year in a row. Runners-up were the


Gallant and Toyota Camry, which had 105 problems per 100 vehicles.

"The vehicles we are building today are more reliable than ever," said Bennie Fowler, Ford group vice president for global quality and new model launches, in a statement. "Ford has made significant strides over the past few years to achieve world-class levels of long-term quality and desirability."

Introduced in 2006, the Fusion added new standard features for the 2009 model year. Depending on the model, they included ambient lighting for the interior, satellite radio and a five-speed automatic transmission with traction control. A six-speed automatic was standard on the 3.0-liter V-6 model.

Best entry premium (tie): Lexus ES 350

Have you noticed? This is the fourth Toyota car to win its category.

The Lexus ES350 had 81 problems per 100 cars. The Acura TL was runner-up.

The Lexus ES 350 is a midsize luxury sedan that offers a 272-horsepower V-6 engine, automatic transmission and an array of standard luxury features. It was redesigned in 2007 and little changed in the following two years.

Incidentally, the Lexus LS has the fewest problems in the industry, with just 72 problems per 100 vehicles.

Best entry premium (tie): Lincoln MKZ


The Lincoln MKZ is one of three Ford vehicles to lead categories.

The Lincoln brand had 116 problems per 100 vehicles, ranking seventh among the 32 brands and second among U.S. brands. Cadillac ranked third among all brands, with 104 problems per 100 vehicles. Ford ranked eighth, with 124 problems per 100 vehicles.

The 2009 Lincoln MKZ featured standard AdvanceTrac, Ford's electronic stability control program. Sync was available, as were other tech features such as voice-activated navigation, satellite radio, THX II audio system and a reverse-sensing system.

Best midsize premium: Hyundai Genesis

The Hyundai brand had 125 problems per 100 vehicles.

Runners-up were the


E-Class and



The Genesis sedan, new for 2009, represented the first rear-wheel-drive model for the Korean automaker -- and the first Hyundai model carrying a V-8 engine. The 2009 Genesis was available in two models: The Genesis 3.8 came with the 3.8-liter V-6 engine, while the Genesis 4.6 carries the 4.6-liter V-8 engine.

Best large car: Buick Lucerne

Buick ranked ninth among all brands, with 125 problems per 100 vehicles.

Runners-up in the segment were the Toyota Avalon, with 100 problems per 100 vehicles, and the Ford Taurus.

The Lucerne got several upgrades for the 2009 model year, including GM's OnStar telematics system; standard Bluetooth hands-free communication and enhanced satellite radio display. Under the hood, the three Lucerne models feature enhanced V-6 and V-8 engines.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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