6 of the World's Most Satisfying Cars

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Cars built by U.S. manufacturers surged ahead in the latest new car performance study by J.D. Power, but European automakers upheld their reputation for turning out top sporty and premium models.

The firm's Automotive Performance Execution and Layout (APEAL) study was released last week. For the first time since 1997, domestic auto brands surpassed import brands in vehicle appeal, the study showed.

J.D.Power measured evaluations of more than 80 vehicle attributes by folks who owned new cars for more than 90 days. Between February and May, J.D. Power surveyed more than 76,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2010 model-year vehicles.

Ford ( F) performed best, with rankings among the top three in five separate model segments. Five other brands got two segment awards each: Chevrolet, Audi, BMW, Mercedes- Benz and Volkswagen.

In the half-dozen categories involving premium or sporty cars, however, European automakers won five times. The only exception was the midsized sporty car category, in which General Motors' Camaro took the top prize (that's the Camaro pictured above).

Read on for the six premium and sporty car winners.

Volkswagen GTI

The compact sporty car winner was the Volkswagen GTI, a two-door hatchback or four-door coupe with a five-passenger cabin. Essentially, it's a high performance Volkswagen Golf. The car was redesigned for 2010 and has a 210 horsepower, 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Mercedes Benz E-Class Coupe

The compact premium sporty car winner was the Mercedes Benz E-Class Coupe. It is a midsize, luxury two-door that debuted in 2010 as a replacement for the outgoing CLK-Class. Mercedes says it is the most aerodynamic production car on the market, with a drag coefficient of just .24.

BMW 3 Series

The entry premium car winner was the BMW 3 Series. The best-selling model in BMW's lineup, the car is sold worldwide and is offered in 16 different models ranging from family-oriented station wagons to high performance coupes.

Chevrolet Camaro

The midsize sporty car winner was the Chevy Camaro. The Camaro, which debuted in 1966 for the 1967 model year, was discontinued at the end of the 2002 model year. GM brought it back this year as a compact, two-door coupe with a retro-style appearance and a six-cylinder or eight-cylinder engine, intending it to be a competitor to the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger.

BMW 5 Series

The midsize premium car winner was the BMW 5 Series, which is designed to be sporty yet luxurious, with a midsize five-passenger sedan, station wagon and grand touring model. The 5 Series has been in production since 1972 and is now in its fifth generation. In 2010, BMW introduced the roomy Gran Turismo models. A replacement platform has been announced for the 2011 model year.

Mercedes Benz S-Class

The large premium car winner was the Mercedes Benz S-Class, the flagship of Mercedes' sedan lineup and the largest car in its inventory. The 2010 version is offered in six different models including a hybrid, but in North America, the more powerful engines are the most common.

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