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Surprise! Non-luxury car brand now tops quality study

Kia, the upstart South Korean brand that spent years trying to overcome a reputation for shoddy cars, placed first Wednesday in one of the auto industry's most closely watched quality surveys.

It marked the first time in 27 years that a non-luxury brand has come in first in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, which rates brands by the number of flaws found by owners in their cars in the first 90 days of ownership. Mainstream brands collectively had a cumulative higher quality score than all the luxury brands for the first time since 2006.

In placing first out of 33 brands, Kia owners reported 83 problems per 100 cars, beating the industry average of 105. In winning, Kia moves up from second in the study last year.

Kia executives in the U.S. expressed elation.

"Ranking number one in the entire industry for initial quality is the result of Kia's decade-long focus on craftsmanship and continuous improvement, and reflects the voice of our customers, which is the ultimate affirmation," said Michael Sprague, chief operating officer for Kia Motors America, in a statement. "As the highest ranked brand in the industry, there is no doubt Kia is a world-class automaker."

In the 2016 survey, Kia's corporate cousin in the U.S., Hyundai, came in third behind Porsche, last year's winner. Toyota and BMW round out the Top 5, J.D. Power said.

Overall, the annual survey points to big gains in the overall quality of vehicles. Some 21 of the 33 brands in the study showed an improvement over their 2016 scores in the study.

"Manufacturers are current making some of the highest-quality products that we've ever seen," says Renee Stephens, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power. "It has become clear that automakers are listening to the customer, identifying 'pain points' and are focused on continuous improvement."

Among the most encouraging signs in the survey: For only the second time in study's 30-year history, Detroit's Big 3 brands collectively had fewer problems than their import-brand counterparts. They had 103 flaws per 100 vehicles, compared to an average of 106 for foreign brands.

Chrysler and Jeep were the most improved brands. Both had 28 fewer reported problems than a year ago, though both are still worse than the industry average.

Power says the study matters because owners who perceive their new models are high quality are likely to stay with brand when they buy their next car. Those who didn't find a single problem in the first 90 days of ownership were, by a 54% margin, likely to stay with the brand the next time they buy a new car. That number falls to 50% among those who reported a single problem.

Among worst car brands, Mercedes-Benz Smart unit far outdistanced the others. It had 216 problems per 100 cars with Fiat coming in second to last with 174 and Volvo with 132.

Here is Power's ranking and the number of flaws reported per 100 cars:

Kia 83
Porsche 84
Hyundai 92
Toyota 93
BMW 94
Chevrolet 95
Buick 96 (tie)
Lexus 96 (tie)
Lincoln 96 (tie)
Nissan 101
Ford 102
GMC 103 (tie)
Infiniti 103 (tie)
Volkswagen 104
Audi 110
Mercedes-Benz 111
Cadillac 112
Jeep 113
Ram 114
Chrysler 115
Mitsubishi 116
Dodge 117
Subaru 118
Honda 119
Acura 122
Scion 123
Jaguar 127 (tie)
Mazda 127 (tie)
Mini 127 (tie)
Land Rover 132
Volvo 152
Fiat 174
Smart 216

Top Three Models Per Segment

City Car: Chevrolet Spark

Small Car: Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Sonic, Kia Rio

Small Premium Car: Lexus CT, BMW 2 Series, Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

Compact Car: Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra

Compact Sporty Car: Buick Cascada (tie), Scion tC (tie), Hyundai Veloster

Compact MPV: Kia Soul

Compact Premium Car: Lincoln MKZ, Lexus ES, BMW 3 Series

Compact Premium Sporty Car: Audi TT, Porsche Boxster, Porsche Cayman

Midsize Car: Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord

Midsize Sporty Car: Dodge Challenger

Minivan: Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan

Midsize Premium Car: Lexus GS, Audi A7, Hyundai Genesis

Midsize Premium Sporty Car: Porsche 911

Large Car: Hyundai Azera, Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala

Small SUV: Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Buick Encore

Small Premium SUV: Audi Q3, BMW X1

Compact SUV: Chevrolet Equinox (tie), GMC Terrain (tie), Ford Escape

Compact Premium SUV: Porsche Macan, Lincoln MKC, BMW X3

Midsize SUV: Toyota Highlander, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano

Midsize Premium SUV: BMW X5, BMW X6, Lexus RX

Midsize Pickup: Nissan Frontier, GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Colorado

Large SUV: Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota Sequoia, Ford Expedition

Large Premium SUV: Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX80, Land Rover Range Rover

Large Light Duty Pickup: Chevrolet Silverado LD, GMC Sierra LD

Large Heavy Duty Pickup: Chevrolet Silverado HD, Ford Super Duty, GMC Sierra HD

bY: usatoday.com