• 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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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