Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Highest-Quality Luxury Cars

Mercedes-Benz E Class buyers enjoy a burl walnut interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power-adjustable front seats and rain-sensing intermittent windshield wipers.

They also get the satisfaction of knowing they are behind the wheel of one of the industry's highest-quality cars.

That's because the E-Class is among the 15 luxury cars named to J.D. Power's annual Initial Quality Study. The Infiniti M-Series, Audi A6, Lexus ES350 and Porsche Cayman also make the list.

In Pictures: Highest-Quality Luxury Cars

In the study, released last week, J.D. Power and Associates, a global marketing information company headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., surveyed 81,500 purchasers and lessees of new 2008 model-year cars and trucks, after 90 days of ownership, between February 2008 and April 2008. Vehicles with less than 100 respondents were not ranked.

The largest reported problems were design-related. Though luxury cars boast some of the industry's most technologically advanced innovations, including wireless communication devices, and navigation and audio systems, this roster of gizmos has resulted in design flaws automakers are working to address.

"Minimizing design problems remains a major challenge for the industry," says David Sargent vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates, "particularly since new technology, such as navigation and entertainment devices, is becoming increasingly common in today’s new vehicles."

What's more, "issues with difficult-to-use audio and entertainment controls and voice command recognition failure are among the top ten problems most frequently reported by customers," says Sargent of the trade-off that manufacturer’s face of introducing new technology and maintaining quality.

The silver lining, however, is that luxury automakers are heeding the call. The study found that overall quality improvements in the luxury car segment have remained in-line with long-term trends, increasing by 6 % this year over the year prior.

It's no surprise then that luxury brands top J.D. Power’s list of cars with the fewest problems per 100 vehicles. Customer qualms may range from paint chips to inadequate lighting of the dashboard in daylight. Porsche is ranked highest for the third consecutive year averaging 87 (the industry average is 118.) Infiniti occupies second with 98; its EX-Series is the No. 1 entry premium vehicle in the J.D. Power study. This is no mean feat according to Sargent, as in past years "automakers have frequently struggled to achieve very high initial quality with new models."

Infiniti also takes second place in the entry premium vehicle category with its G-Series. The Acura TSX and the Volvo S40 tie in third and fourth to complete the group.

What amenities do you look for in a new car? Weigh in. Post your thoughts in the Readers' Comments section below.

In the compact premium sporty car category the Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class tops the list, while the Porsche Cayman takes second and the Volvo C70 third.

Infiniti claims its second award with its M-Series tying with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class for the highest-ranked midsize premium car. The Audi A6 and the Lexus ES 350 rounded out the group.

The Lexus LS tops the large premium car segment followed by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Cadillac DTS. The Mercury Sable and the Mercury Grand Marquis complete the large car segment led by the Pontiac Grand Prix Sedan.

Increased quality, says Sargent, will lead to greater owner loyalty, a long-term benefit as new users are more likely to criticize than loyal customers.

And given the ubiquity of high technology in vehicles today, he continues, luxury cars can no longer use this to differentiate themselves and instead use pricing and brand image to maintain their premium status.

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