Want to know which carmakers make the best-quality cars? That’s a tougher question to answer than you might imagine.

 Strategic Vision conducts an annual Total Quality study that has recently placed some Chryslers, Kias and Volkswagens at or near the top of its list. But these same brands also tend to do poorly on J.D. Power studies that measure quality and dependability.

Answering the question of which automaker makes the highest-quality cars comes down to which study you believe more.

The best avenue to research a potential purchase, though, might be to look at both, checking Consumer Reports and, of course, reading AOL Autos and Autoblog reviews. That should give you a thorough picture of a car and a company’s performance before you buy.

Here’s our take on a couple of the more divergent opinions between the Strategic Vision and J.D. Power studies. Click through, and we cut through the disparities between the rankings on these popular cars:

Kia Soul

Kia Soul

Sticker price: $14,400 to $19,900
 Invoice: $14,090 to $18,985
 Fuel economy: 25 city/30 highway

The Soul is a hot seller. Buyers like the boxy design, the tight handling and handy hatchback package. Kia reports difficulty keeping them on the lot. Strategic Vision ranks the Soul at the top of all vehicles it describes as "small multi-function" with a score of 858 out of a possible 1,000.

J.D. Power, too, ranks the Soul atop its Initial Quality Study ranking of "compact multi-activity-vehicles". The Soul also ranks third in Power's Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) among its rivals. That's a very good score. The only issue comes up to give pause is that Kia on the whole is ranked well below industry average on its Vehicle Dependability Study with a score of 140, which translates to 140 things gone wrong per 100 cars. The industry average is 126, and Kia ranks 20th out of 31 brands.

Looks like Kia could do a lot better if it could identify what it does so right with the Soul and spread it to other models.

Volkswagen CC

Volkswagen CC

Sticker price: $30,545 to $41,835
 Invoice: $29,292 to $40,120
 Fuel economy: 21 city/32 highway

The VW CC tops Strategic Vision's "Large Car" ranking, which seems odd to us, as it is not a very large car. It does not show up as a leader on Power's IQS or VDS rankings.

Volkswagen as a brand ranks fourth from the bottom on Power's IQS ranking of brands, and fifth from the bottom on VDS.

What is VW's problem? The company has a talent for creating cars and SUVs that handle extremely well, and are well-appointed with top-notch interior materials. But where owning a VW can be a headache is with a 36,000-miles, and a comparatively short (versus other automakers like Chevy and Hyundai) 60,000-mile power-train warranty. VW reports that its warranty payouts have been trending downward after many years of being high. But when something on a VW goes wrong, replacing German parts are often much more expensive than American or Asian brand parts.

Even an oil change on a VW Jetta can run a customer $75.

Audi A4

Audi A4

Sticker price: $32,500 to $33,400
 Invoice: $30,227 to $31,062
 Fuel economy: 24 city/31 highway

The Audi A4 tops Strategic Vision's "near luxury car" category, tied with the Hyundai Genesis. We don't find the A4 on Power's IQS or VDS Studies.

And Audi, part of the Volkswagen Group, has a history of being fussy and expensive to own over time. As a brand, Audi ranks well below average on both Power's IQS and VDS studies.

Why ranked so high by Strategic Vision? Audi has impeccable interiors, which are studied and bench-marked by other auto manufacturers all the time. It also has among the very best systems for connecting one's phone to the car's entertainment/communications systems. Owning and driving an Audi while it's under warranty has long been a great experience for drivers.

MINI Cooper

MINI Cooper

Sticker price: $19,500 to $24,950
 Invoice: $17,550 to $22,455
 Fuel economy: 29 city/37 highway

Few cars shout "fun" better or louder than MINI Cooper. Strategic Vision ranks the MINI Cooper hardtop at the top of its "specialty coupe" category.

But you won't find MINI Cooper or the MINI brand on either Power's IQS or VDS studies. In fact, MINI as a brand ranks third from the bottom in the industry on Initial Quality and eighth from the bottom on VDS.

A large part of the reason MINI ranks so high with Strategic Vision is that the car is such an aspirational purchase for many people. MINI buyers choose the car to make a style and lifestyle statement. The cars often reflect the buyer in that each MINI usually gets a lot of customization. MINI executives say improving their Power scores is a priority to enhance its image and lift it to a brand known for quality, as well as fun.
Chrysler Town & Country

Chrysler Town & Country

Sticker price: $30,530 to $40,745
 Invoice: $29,227 to $38,625
 Fuel economy: 17 city/25 highway

Minivan buyers are typically very persnickety, demanding an excess of upholders and bins, and choosing their van based a good deal on how well the seats stow away when not in use.

The Chrysler T&C, which boasts its clever Stow ‘N Go system by which the second and third rows of seats disappear into the floor, scores a lot of points with new owners for style and innovation.

Strategic Vision also names it number one. But the T&C falls a bit short of rivals when it comes to both short-term and long-term quality and dependability. On Power's IQS, it gets beat by Nissan Quest, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. And on VDS it gets beat by Odyssey and Sienna.

Chrysler is gaining in quality under management of Fiat, but as a brand, it still lags rivals by quite a bit -- well below average in IQS and seventh from the bottom on dependability.
Volkswagen Tiguan

Volkswagen Tiguan

Sticker price: $22,995 to $37,130
 Invoice: $22,075 to $35,645
 Fuel economy: 18 city/26 highway

Volkswagen also topped the "entry utility" category for Strategic Vision. The Tiguan, though, does not show up on either Power study--IQS or VDS. And VW ranks well below industry average on both Power rankings.

The Tiguan, though, has VW's signature slick interior and superb handling. It's priced a bit higher than rivals, and has a shorter warranty than some others as well. That makes it a bit of a tough sell for many.

Dodge Durango

Dodge Durango

Sticker price: $29,495 to $42,345
Invoice: $28,076 to $39,838
Fuel economy: 16 city/23 highway

Dodge, as a brand, ranks even lower than its sister brand Chrysler in terms of Power's IQS and VDS. But it tops Strategic Vision's ranking of "mid-sized traditional utility" vehicles.

Why? The Durango has been restyled under Fiat so that it is much more refined and enjoyable to drive compared with the old version. But its "things gone wrong" score drags it down on Power's IQS ranking. The new version is not old enough to be reflected in the VDS.

The Durango is a sweet SUV, and we like it, especially as it is mechanically related to the excellent Jeep Grand Cherokee now. Strategic Vision's study may have this one right, but only time will tell if its dependability is better than the old Durango.


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