• Image Credit: Hyundai

    Every year, J.D. Power releases its Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures how dependable a vehicle has been over the previous three years of ownership. It is a valuable study, some would say more important for your consideration than its better known Initial Quality Study, which measures quality issues and problems as reported by customers after just three months of ownership.

    We have chosen to show you vehicles that are at the top of their categories based on Power's 2012 VDS, as well as what we think their counterparts are. Power does not tell is which vehicles score at the bottom of the heap in their category, but we have applied our expertise and weighed that against Consumer Reports and IIHS safety ratings to offer the worst choices in the category. That's not to say that our picks are bad cars. In many cases, they are just less good than their rivals.

    It's important to remember that the VDS champ is a car the car that was sold three years ago. In some case, these models have been substantially upgraded, and will have to be scored again. But in our experience, models that score tops in VDS rarely fall very far from the top even after a redesign unless the automaker really messes up. We are showing you the picture and information links of the 2013 models of all vehicles. But it's also worth noting that the fact that these cars have been the most reliable over the last three years means that the 2008 versions make for excellent used car purchases.

  • Best Sub-Compact Car: Toyota Yaris
    • Image Credit: Toyota

    Best Sub-Compact Car: Toyota Yaris

    MSRP: $14,115 - $16,400
    Invoice: $13,551 - $15,743
    Fuel Economy: 30 mpg City, 38 mpg Highway

    The Toyota Yaris has been known as the most basic of basic transportation ever since it showed up on U.S. shores.

    It is the 2008 model that scores the top spot on J.D. Power's VDS tally, but the car you can buy today was much upgraded for the 2012 model year.

    Toyota has gone back to the drawing board for the 2012 model year, combating the dullness of the old Yaris with a combination of more expressive exterior styling and the promise of improved driving dynamics. It has even tuned the Yaris SE with a stiffer suspension and bigger tires as an olive branch of sorts to budget-minded enthusiasts.

    It has been upgraded all the way around the interior with better materials and more carefully done surfaces and controls. The SE model is equipped with a six-speaker sound system made more desirable with the addition of a USB input, auxiliary jack, Bluetooth streaming music and hands-free calling. The sound system is great for a vehicle that costs only $16,400.

    This new model should score even better, we think, than the old Yaris as owners will almost have to be happier with the overall package than they used to be.

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  • Worst Sub-Compact Car: smart fortwo
    • Image Credit: smart

    Worst Sub-Compact Car: smart fortwo

    MSRP: $12,490 - $17,890
    Invoice: NA
    Fuel Economy: 34 mpg City, 38 mpg Highway

    The smart fortwo is the other end of the spectrum for us. Consumer Reports and AOL Autos editors rate it at the bottom of the scale for entry-level cars. For a car with only two seats and a bone jangling ride, it presents neither a good fuel economy story, nor a particularly good buying value. At more than $15,000, we'd rather buy a used anything-else than a new fortwo.

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  • Best Compact Car - Toyota Prius
    • Image Credit: Toyota

    Best Compact Car - Toyota Prius

    MSRP: $24,000 - $29,805
    Invoice: $22,560 - $27,744
    Fuel Economy: 51 mpg City, 48 mpg Highway

    The Toyota Prius is the king of all hybrids in terms of sales, and it also scores the top spot in the entire compact car category, beating its own showroom-mate, the Corolla, as well as the Hyundai Elantra.

    Prius owners have rated the car extremely reliable over three years of ownership. And we have never had reasons to doubt that the car is reliable. We find the driving experience a bit bloodless, but people buy the Prius for fuel economy, which is an impressive 51 city/48 highway. Prius owners tend to really love the their car like people loved their Volkswagen Beetles.

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  • Worst Compact Car - Suzuki SX4
    • Image Credit: Suzuki

    Worst Compact Car - Suzuki SX4

    MSRP: $15,845 - $19,349
    Invoice: $15,212 - $18,575
    Fuel Economy: 23 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway

    It's not that the Suzuki SX4 is a bad car. In fact, some of our editors have told tales of its competent all-wheel-drive system barreling through a foot of fresh snow on the streets of Michigan.

    But Suzuki scores terribly on quality and reliability and the dealer network is, well, challenged to provide good customer service.

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  • Best Compact Sporty Car - Scion tC
    • Image Credit: Toyota

    Best Compact Sporty Car - Scion tC

    MSRP: $18,725 - $21,815
    Invoice: $17,789 - $20,725
    Fuel Economy: 23 mpg City, 31 mpg Highway

    Scion tC, a Toyota product sold at Toyota/Scion dealers, is a well-built, inexpensive sports coupe that sits atop Power's VDS tally in the "compact sporty" category where it doesn't really have much competition.

    There is a newly designed tC that will have to work hard to keep its spot. The Hyundai Elantra coupe, for one, should challenge. The new tC has a somewhat cheaper feeling interior than the old one. And the engine doesn't feel as well tuned as the original tC. It feels like a step backward to us, but we will see what the owners say about living with it day in and day out.

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  • Worst Compact Sporty Car - Honda CR-Z
    • Image Credit: Honda

    Worst Compact Sporty Car - Honda CR-Z

    MSRP: $19,695 - $21,255
    Invoice: $18,763 - $20,243
    Fuel Economy: 31 mpg City, 37 mpg Highway

    The least desirable competitor to the Scion tC for us is the Honda CR-Z. The 1.5 liter four cylinder engine is mated to an electric motor to make for a hybrid drivetrain. Honda just seems to be in a muddle about what to do in the hybrid category, and this model shows it.

    The design is awkward looking and makes for poor rear visibility. It only has two seats where its competitors have four. The interior seems cheap and is devoid of some common features. We love Honda engines and many of their models, but this is a miss.

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  • Best Midsize Car - Ford Fusion
    • Image Credit: Ford

    Best Midsize Car - Ford Fusion

    MSRP: $21,700 - $32,200
    Invoice: $20,235 - $29,705
    Fuel Economy: NA

    Ford Fusion is a car that Ford launched with a thud, but one into which it poured improvements as it restructured itself and refocused on quality. It has been steadily working up the sales ladder, and Power said all that hard work paid off starting with the 2008 model that topped the list for dependability among owners of mid-sized cars. That means it beat Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

    All that learning in the old Fusion was applied to the all new 2013 Fusion, which is better looking, sleeker and better equipped. Time will tell for dependability, but we have high expectations for the new Fusion to live up to the reputation of the old one.

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  • Worst Midsize Car - Dodge Avenger
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    Worst Midsize Car - Dodge Avenger

    MSRP: $18,995 - $25,495
    Invoice: $18,730 - $24,330
    Fuel Economy: 21 mpg City, 29 mpg Highway

    The Dodge Avenger is a car we can feel a bit sorry for. It was a car developed while Chrysler was owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital, which, like most private equity firms, knew more about cost cutting than product development. The car competes in one of the most brutal categories in the auto industry, and just barely competes.

    Chrysler owner Fiat has made many improvements, but is in process of phasing out the car in favor of one that it developed from scratch. We don't hate the Avenger, but we can only recommend it if it is much cheaper than the other cars in the category when the rebates and incentives are factored in.

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  • Best Midsize Premium Car - Hyundai Genesis
    • Image Credit: Hyundai

    Best Midsize Premium Car - Hyundai Genesis

    MSRP: $34,200 - $46,800
    Invoice: $32,070 - $43,320
    Fuel Economy: 19 mpg City, 29 mpg Highway

    Hyundai Genesis is a charmer. Owners appreciate how the Korean company studied and benchmarked both BMW and Lexus to try and learn the best from both about performance and creature comforts. The result is the Genesis, which surprises and delights both on the road and in the wallet.

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  • Worst Midsize Premium Car - Volvo S80
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    Worst Midsize Premium Car - Volvo S80

    MSRP: $38,950 - $46,800
    Invoice: $36,613 - $43,992
    Fuel Economy: 19 mpg City, 28 mpg Highway

    It's not that we dislike the S80 or would feel ashamed to own one. It's that the car competes in a fiercely competitive category and seems to stand off to one side of the field watching he action. Safe as ever, yes. But the performance of the base engine is weak and the driving dynamics about as interesting as a 1980s Toyota. Except for those who put safety first and only in their consideration, the S80 just isn't in the game.

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  • Best Minivan - Toyota Sienna
    • Image Credit: Toyota

    Best Minivan - Toyota Sienna

    MSRP: $26,435 - $41,325
    Invoice: $24,453 - $38,020
    Fuel Economy: 18 mpg City, 25 mpg Highway

    Minivan buyers really do pay attention to studies and surveys more than in any other category. Sienna owners put their minivan at the top of the dependability survey, and that was before this minivan got an overhaul that made it even better.

    A versatile, nicely appointed interior and more than acceptable road manners makes the Toyota a top choice.

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  • Worst Minivan - Kia Sedona
    • Image Credit: Kia

    Worst Minivan - Kia Sedona

    MSRP: $24,900 - $29,190
    Invoice: $24,165 - $27,275
    Fuel Economy: 18 mpg City, 25 mpg Highway

    It's the cheap one. Kia has been manning the lower end of the price ladder as Chrysler, Honda, Toyota and Nissan have been moving up in price and features.

    For that, Kia should be commended. Offering a cheaper alternative to families who need seating for seven but not necessarily the wood trim and DVD package is a noble calling. But cutting corners just makes it not as competitive with the big boys.

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  • Best SUV - Ford Explorer
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    Best SUV - Ford Explorer

    MSRP: $29,135 - $40,720
    Invoice: $27,459 - $37,972
    Fuel Economy: 17 mpg City, 24 mpg Highway

    In the mid-sized SUV category there is a tie between Ford Explorer and Nissan Murano. No surprise that Ford led in dependability. The company has poured a lot of quality improvement into its SUVs, especially since it does not even offer a true minivan any more. The old Explorer was a winner. It will be interesting to see if the new one launched for the 2012 model year with much better fuel economy grabs and pleases its owners as much as the old one did.

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  • Worst SUV - Toyota FJ Cruiser
    • Image Credit: Toyota

    Worst SUV - Toyota FJ Cruiser

    MSRP: $26,880 - $28,470
    Invoice: $24,999 - $26,477
    Fuel Economy: 17 mpg City, 20 mpg Highway

    The Toyota FJ Cruiser seemed like a good idea. It was meant to be an homage to the old Toyota Land Cruiser of the 1970s, a Jeep-like, fun-to-drive beauty that was loved the world over.

    But the FJ has always just been…well…awkward. Awkward and clunky to drive, park and see out of. The whole thing. It comes in pretty colors, but it's beastly to drive.

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