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) -- Consumers who bought new cars this year are happier with the cars than they have been in three years, but they are not so happy with the technology of the hands-free communications devices inside them.

Those conclusions are contained in the J.D. Power 2012 U.S. Initial Quality Study, which surveyed about 74,000 buyers and lessees of new 2012 model-year vehicles after 90 days of ownership. The survey took place between February and May.

Manufacturers posted the strongest improvement in initial quality since 2009 and "are producing higher-quality vehicles than ever before (with) year-over-year gains in most areas of initial quality," J.D. Power said, noting that the single "notable exception" is that "audio, entertainment, and navigation problems have increased by 8% from 2011 (and) by 45% since 2006."

"As manufacturers introduce increasingly sophisticated multimedia systems designed to enhance the ownership experience, owners more frequently cite these systems as a source of quality problems," the firm said. For the first time in the 26-year history of the study, owners reported more problems related to to audio, entertainment, and navigation systems than in any other vehicle area.

The most commonly reported problem was that hands-free devices do not recognize driver commands.

As for brands, Lexus ranks highest for the second consecutive year, followed by Jaguar and Porsche, which tied for second. Cadillac and Honda rounded out the top five positions.

Of the top 11 cars, four were from


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or Lexus, while


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had two. Of the top 11 trucks and other vehicles, three were from

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and three from


or Infiniti.

In the nameplate ranking, Lexus scored first among 34 brands with 73 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100.) The industry average was 102 PP100. That represents an improvement of five problems per 100 vehicles from the 2011 average score, the biggest improvement since 2009. Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet were all above the industry average.

Here are the winners in each of the 11 car segments.

Sub-Compact Car

Toyota Yaris was the highest rated sub-compact.

The Honda Fit ranked second and the Mazda MAZDA2 ranked third.

In the nameplate ranking, Toyota ranked eighth with a score of 88 PP100, compared with the industry average of 102. Toyota said the Yaris had 79 PP100.

Compact Car

Toyota Corolla was the highest-ranked compact car.

The Toyota Prius was second and the Honda Civic was third.

Toyota said Corolla had just 59 PP100, while Prius had 75 PP100.

"We are very pleased with this year's Initial Quality Study honors", said Ray Tanguay, Toyota senior vice president and chief quality officer. "These accolades echo our enduring commitment to quality, value, and customer satisfaction."

Compact Sporty Car

The Mazda MX-5 Miata was the top-ranked compact sporty car.

The Volkswagen Eos finished second and the Scion 1C finished third.

As a brand, Mazda ranked 11th with 97 pp100.

Compact Premium Sporty Car

The Volvo C70 was the highest-rated premium sporty car.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet/Coupe finished second.

Volvo ranked 21st among the 34 brands with 108 PP100.

Entry Premium Car

The Lexus ES350 was the highest-rated premium car.

The Acura TL finished second and the Lincoln MKZ finished third.

Lexus said the ES350 had just 69 PP100 and the brand had 73 PP100. The company noted that it has ranked highest in the IQS study in 14 of the last 23 years, beginning with the brand's first model year in 1990.

Midsize Car

Chevrolet Malibu was the highest-ranked midsize car.

Ford Fusion and Honda Accord tied for second.

GM said it was pleased by the results of the survey because each of its four brands earned a segment award and nine of its vehicles either received a segment award or placed in the top three in one of the 22 segments. GM said it received "its best-ever company score compared to the industry average in the 26-year history of the widely watched third-party quality measure."

Midsize Premium Car

Infiniti M-Series was the highest-rated midsized premium car.

Lincoln MKS finished second and Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan/Wagon finished third.

As a brand, Infiniti tied for sixth with Acura, with 84 PP100.

Midsize Sporty Car

Ford Mustang was the highest-rated midsized sporty car.

Dodge Challenger ranked second.

Overall, Ford did not perform well in the Initial Quality Study, ranking 27th among 34 brands.

Ford had a 118 PP100, compared to the industry average of 102. Ford's biggest problem was dissatisfaction with the MyFord Touch infotainment system. Ford said it fixed the problem in March, too late to boost its score this year.

"The dramatic improvement we're expecting will come in the third quarter," Ford quality boss Bennie Fowler told reporters, according to

Automotive News


Large Car

Ford Taurus was the highest-ranked large car.

Toyota Avalon was second and the Chrysler 300 Series was third.

Dodge Challenger and The 300 Series were the only Chrysler cars to be named among the top cars, while Jeep Grand Cherokee, tied for second among midsize crossovers, was the only Chrysler named among the top trucks and utility vehicles. Overall, Chrysler brand ranked 25th, Ram ranked 14th, and Dodge ranked 28th.

Large Premium Car

Lexus LS was the highest-ranked large premium car.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class was second and the Porsche Panamera was third.

Lexus said the LS had just 50 PP100. The car placed first in its segment for the fifth year in a row and the 12th time in the past 15 years.

Premium Sporty Car

The Porsche 911 was the highest-ranked premium sporty car.

The BMW 6 Series finished second.

As a brand, Porsche finished third with 76 PP100, while BMW finished 10th with 97 PP100.

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

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