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June 13, 2007

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 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study 2007

Each year, the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS) SM surveys consumers who have purchased new model-year vehicles and have owned them for at least 90 days. The 2007 IQS measures consumer satisfaction with vehicle design and mechanical quality: design quality to gauge how the vehicle works (i.e., control operation and layout) and mechanical quality to determine how the vehicle is assembled and functions. Awards are given to the top-ranked models in 19 vehicle segments, as well as to assembly plants that produce vehicles with the fewest reported defects.

This year’s IQS results are based upon approximately 97,000 responses from verified purchasers and lessees of new 2007 model year cars and trucks. Key findings of the 2007 IQS include:

Vehicle quality levels have remained stable since 2006. Overall, the industry is on par with the 2006 IQS study results.

New product launches remain problematic for many manufacturers. For every new redesigned model that is introduced without quality concerns, three new redesigned models perform worse in initial quality than their predecessors.

Modern technology integration remains a challenge for automakers. Even when the technology works as intended, steep learning curves result in customer dissatisfaction. Based on IQS survey results, consumers want technology to be easier to understand and use.

Ford Motor Company: Lincoln MKZ

Ford Motor Company shows dramatic quality improvement in this year’s study, particularly its Land Rover and Lincoln divisions. Land Rover was the most improved nameplate in the 2007 IQS, and Lincoln rose from No. 12 to a No. 3 overall industry ranking behind No. 2 Lexus and Porsche, which is the highest ranked nameplate in the study. Mercury and Ford also performed well in the 2007 IQS.

Mercedes-Benz also showed dramatic improvement in the nameplate rankings, largely on the strength of these segment award recipients: the S-Class (which ties for the award with the Audi A8 in the large premium car segment), the E-Class, and the SL-Class. The Mercedes-Benz M-Class was also one of the study’s most improved models year over year.

Subcompact segment: 2007 Kia Rio and Kia Rio5

Although fuel-efficient subcompact cars have traditionally been used as a foothold by automakers entering the U.S. market, Kia was relatively late in introducing its own mini car. Though Kia did build the Festiva and Aspire for Ford back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it wasn't until 2001—more than five years after the launch of the Sephia compact sedan and Sportage SUV—that Kia launched the pint-sized Rio.

Compact segment: 2007 Honda Civic

With 183 possible combinations of models, trim levels, and colors available, the Honda Civic would seem to offer something for everyone. The Honda Civic comes in 4-door sedan and 2-door coupe versions, offers four distinct engines, and four transmissions. There are gasoline, gasoline-electric hybrid, and natural gas-powered versions.

Midsize and Large Cars: 2007 Mercury Milan

The Milan is one of a trio of products built off the modified Mazda6 platform. It shares many drivetrain components with the Ford Fusion and the Lincoln MKZ. The 5-passenger Milan doesn’t offer all of the top-end amenities of the MKZ, but has more standard features than the Fusion. The Milan also features unique sheetmetal and a different interior than its siblings.

Large segment: 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix

The Grand Prix has been part of the Pontiac lineup since the early 1960s, first as a sporty version of Pontiac's big Catalina coupe, and later as Pontiac's 2-door "personal luxury" car. The Grand Prix returned to its big-car roots with a 2004 redesign and cemented its position as the largest Pontiac when the Bonneville was dropped from the lineup after 2005.

Compact Sporty Car segment: 2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda, a Japanese automaker, reinvigorated the venerable British-style roadster in 1989 when it launched the Miata. In 2006, the now-classic Miata underwent its third design and technology update. For the 2007 model year, the two-seat roadster gets a second version, this one with a power-retracting hardtop instead of the traditional manually operated canvas convertible top. Officially, Mazda calls it the Power Retractable Hard Top, or PRHT, and considers it a separate model. Most people simply will call it a Miata and accept that it now comes with a canvas or a power metal roof. Either way, the MX-5 Miata is a nimble sports car with impressive driving dynamics.

Compact Premium Sporty Car segment: 2007 Porsche Boxster

The Boxster is Porsche’s two-seat, mid-engine roadster. The car has front and rear trunks and thus holds a surprising amount of cargo—something very rare for a sports car. The placement of the engine immediately behind the two-seat passenger compartment also gives the Boxster balanced handling dynamics.

Midsize Sporty Car segment: 2007 Ford Mustang

The Mustang has been a part of the American motoring lexicon for over four decades. When it first debuted in 1964, the Mustang spawned a new class of cars called pony cars—a segment Mustang has led ever since, and that Chrysler and GM are planning to re-enter with the upcoming 2008 Dodge Challenger and 2009 Chevrolet Camaro. Like the original Mustang, the 2007 model is a rear-wheel-drive 2-door coupe with a choice of 6-cylinder or V-8 engines, the latter known as the Mustang GT. For 2007, the GT lineup adds the GT California Special (which, despite its name, is available in all 50 states). It features unique exterior styling, a lowered suspension, California Special tape stripes, and a black leather interior with contrasting inserts.

Premium Sporty Car segment: 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

The 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class of two-seat roadsters with retractable hardtops are descendents of the famed 300SL “Gullwing” Mercedes racing cars of the mid-1950s. In fact, 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of the first 300SL roadster model with a convertible top, and thus 550 special anniversary SL550 models will be built, each with Pewter Metallic exterior paint, Cognac Brown leather seating, and Black Ash interior wood trim.

Entry Premium segment: 2007 Lincoln MKZ

While the Lincoln MKZ (formerly the Zephyr) is akin to the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, it does get more of its own personality for 2007. It retains the signature waterfall grille, but has been refined to incorporate more brightwork (polished metal parts) and unique headlamps. The MKZ also gets chrome trim on the beltline as well as on the mirror caps to differentiate it from its siblings. Painted 17-inch alloy wheels are standard, but if you prefer a machined aluminum or chrome look, you can choose that as well. The MKZ also features rear, twin chrome-tip exhausts.

Midsize Premium segment: 2007 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

The E-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s midsize executive sedan. The current generation was introduced in 2003 but has been redesigned and updated for 2007. All E-Class vehicles now come with the Pre-Safe safety system that Mercedes launched with the latest generation of its S-Class, the company’s largest and most luxurious sedan. Pre-Safe sensors take protective measures when a crash is impending by tightening seat belts, properly positioning a reclined front passenger’s seat, and automatically closing the sunroof and side windows. Pre-Safe also reacts to emergency braking, fishtailing, or to a vehicle that’s plowing ahead instead of turning by engaging vehicle stability controls to help the driver maintain safe control.

Large Premium segment (tie): 2007 Audi A8

Audi's largest car model, known for its lightweight aluminum space-frame construction, is available in both standard (A8) and extended-wheelbase (A8 L) form. For 2007, the A8's standard 4.2-liter V-8 gets Audi’s FSI direct fuel-injection system, which boosts output to 350 hp and increases EPA fuel economy estimates by 1 mpg compared to last year's model. The top-line version of the A8 lineup is the A8 L W12. According to Audi, its 12-cylinder engine, which produces 450 hp and 428 lb.-ft. of torque, propels the A8 to 60 mph in 5 seconds. All engines are backed by a Tiptronic 6-speed automatic with Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system.

Large Premium segment (tie): 2007 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Mercedes is the world’s oldest automaker. For much of its 120-year history, the S-Class has been its flagship, showcasing technology, performance, and luxury. Mercedes says the S-Class was the first car with anti-lock brakes (in 1978), with a supplemental restraint system that included air bags (1982), with Electronic Stability technology (vehicle dynamics control, 1996), and with Pre-Safe, a system that automatically prepares vehicle safety features when an accident is imminent (2002). While the various electronic systems may have distinctive technical names such as Distronic, they use advanced sensors, including radar, to warn of dangerous situations, to maintain the distance between your car and the one ahead on the highway, and even to help the driver back into a parallel parking space.

Compact MAV segment: 2007 Honda CR-V

Honda’s CR-V was one of the original multi-activity vehicles (MAVs), combining car-like handling dexterity and fuel economy with very practical and versatile cargo-carrying functionality. Such functionality is fine, but for 2007, the CR-V adds a good degree of sophistication with its all-new and updated version.

Midsize MAV segment: 2007 Toyota 4Runner

The 4Runner has been part of Toyota's lineup since 1984. The original 4Runner was little more than a short-bed pickup with a fiberglass top, similar to the full-size Ford Broncos and Chevy Blazers of the 1970s. It wasn't until 1990 that the 4Runner became a proper sport utility vehicle (SUV), with an all-steel body and available 4-door configuration. The current 4Runner is the fourth-generation model, which made its debut in 2003. Rather than switch the 4Runner to a car-based platform, Toyota introduced another midsize SUV—the Camry-based Highlander—and retained the 4Runner's rugged body-on-frame construction. The 4Runner is positioned between the Highlander and the full-size Sequoia in Toyota’s SUV lineup.

Large MAV segment: 2007 Toyota Sequoia

The Sequoia is the largest of Toyota's sport utility vehicles (SUVs), though not the most expensive (that distinction goes to the slightly-smaller, but more upscale, Land Cruiser. Based on the previous-generation Tundra pickup, the Sequoia first went on sale in 2000 (as a 2001 model) exclusively in North America. The Sequoia's powertrain—a 273-hp, 4.7-liter V-8 engine coupled to a 5-speed automatic transmission—is shared with the Tundra.

Midsize Premium MAV segment: 2007 Lexus RX

Lexus’ freshened RX 350 is available in two trims this year: front- and all-wheel drive (AWD); both get their power from a 3.5-liter V-6 producing 270 hp and 251 lb.-ft. of torque connected to an electronically controlled, 5-speed automatic transmission. AWD versions get a revised viscous limited-slip center differential, which enhances drivability in all types of driving conditions. The full-time AWD system provides a constant 50/50 front-to-rear power split. If slippage occurs, the viscous differential directs torque to the wheels with the most traction. The Lexus RX 400h hybrid model returns for 2007 with minor exterior updates and fewer standard features to better match the RX 350’s equipment levels. Safety features include front, driver’s knee, front-side, and side curtain air bags; 4-channel ABS-assisted brakes with Brake Assist and electronic brake force distribution; stability control; traction control; and a tire-pressure-monitoring system.

Large Premium MAV segment: 2007 Lincoln Mark LT

Now that the truck wars have heated up with the introduction of new models from Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC, as well as Toyota, the pressure is on the Mark LT luxury pickup to hold its own. The only direct competitor to the Mark LT is the Cadillac Escalade EXT, which is based on a MAV platform. The Mark LT has outsold its competitor from Cadillac for two consecutive years, but the redesigned 2007 Escalade EXT promises to make things interesting.

Midsize Pickup segment: 2007 Toyota Tacoma

Rugged compact pickups have been an integral part of Toyota's lineup for decades. The latest version, the Tacoma, is available in a variety of models from a stripped-down bench-seat work truck to the high-performance X-Runner. The Tacoma is available in three cab choices: Regular Cab, Access Cab, and Double Cab, the latter offering a choice of long (73.5-inch) or short (60.3-inch) beds. The Tacoma is available as a 4x2, 4x4, or PreRunner, which combines the high ground clearance of a 4x4 with a 4x2 drivetrain.

Large Pickup segment: 2007 Chevrolet Silverado Classic HD

For 2007, Chevrolet’s Silverado Classic HD (heavy duty) line of full-size pickup trucks maintains the style and features that helped make the Silverado a best seller in the large family of General Motors vehicles. The brawny Classic HD models are designed and built to handle more of a workload than the conventional Silverado Classic series. These pickups come in a dizzying variety of configurations that permit customers to tailor their purchasing decisions to their specific criteria. The Silverado Classic HD is categorized into three basic models: half-ton 1500HD, 3/4-ton 2500HD, and 1-ton 3500. Three trim levels (LT1, LT2, and LT3) are offered on the 1500HD, while the 2500HD and 3500 add two more (entry-level LS and work truck WT). All models are available in Regular, Extended, or Crew Cab configurations, and with long- or short-bed cargo boxes. Four-wheel drive is available, and the 3500 also comes in a dual-rear-wheel configuration. Chassis-cab and chassis-cutaway models are also available.

Van segment: 2007 Chevrolet Express

Chevrolet has offered a full-size van for more than 40 years, filling a consumer niche that demands the ultimate in passenger and cargo volume. Although often used in commercial applications, Express vans are also popular among those desiring conversion-van configurations.

All Photos: Manufacturers

(June 5, 2007)

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